Anti-Semitism rows highlight challenges of religious pluralism in Germany

Germany is often perceived as a country that has dealt exceptionally well with the ghosts of its past, most notably with respect to the reflection on the Holocaust. Yet upon closer inspection, the old demons do resurface and intermingle with contemporary political predicaments.

Nothing shows this more clearly than a series of ongoing rows that touch upon the phenomenon of anti-Semitism in the context of a pluralistic society marked by strong immigration. Several events in recent months have shone a particularly harsh spotlight on the question of the prevalence of anti-Semitic attitudes among Germany’s growing Muslim population.

 

Anti-Semitic bullying at a Berlin school

In spring, a case of anti-Semitic bullying at a public school in Berlin made headlines. A 14-year-old pupil of Jewish faith was withdrawn from his school by his parents after having experienced four months of what appeared to be anti-Semitically-motivated taunts as well as severe physical aggression. The perpetrators had mostly been of Arab and Turkish extraction.(( http://www.spiegel.de/lebenundlernen/schule/antisemitismus-junge-verlaesst-schule-in-berlin-friedenau-nach-angriffen-a-1141494.html ))

The boy’s parents accused the school of having done too little too late to protect their son. The Friedenau Comprehensive School prides itself on being a multicultural and diverse environment and has the tagline “school without racism” as its motto. Consequently, the reproach implicit in many of the ensuing criticisms of the school’s handling of the case revolved around the fact that ‘political correctness’ towards mainly Muslim children appeared to have prevented a clear and resolute stance against anti-Semitism.(( https://www.welt.de/debatte/kommentare/article163675459/Der-hilflose-Anti-Antisemitismus.html ))

Defending the school

This, in turn, propelled into action a group of parents, who issued a public letter defending the school against what they deemed “unreflective and one-sided” reporting. The parents asserted that they were “left aghast by the attack” on the Jewish pupil and declared their solidarity with him and his family.

Yet they also stressed that tensions between different groups of students were the “outgrowth of international conflicts” in the Middle East, which made “religiously motivated disputes” inevitable.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/berlin/antisemitischer-vorfall-in-berlin-eltern-der-friedenauer-schule-nehmen-stellung/19623020.html )) The letter was met with a sceptical echo from Jewish voices, as well as from politicians.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/berlin/nach-uebergriff-an-friedenauer-schule-volker-beck-sieht-antisemitismus-in-elternbrief/19635496.html ))

Muslim anti-Semitism

The Friedenau school case highlights the complexities of religious coexistence in an increasingly pluralistic society. In recent years, Germany has witnessed a marked growth of both its Muslim and its Jewish population.

At the same time, a sociological study conducted in Germany has highlighted a persistently higher level of anti-Semitic attitudes especially among young people of Arab extraction, but also among their Turkish counterparts.(( https://causa.tagesspiegel.de/gesellschaft/antisemitismus-unter-muslimen/muslimische-jugendliche-haben-haeufiger-antisemitische-einstellungen-als-deutschsstaemmige.html ))

Derviș Hızarcı, chair of the Initiative against Anti-Semitism in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin, nevertheless sought to stress in an op-ed for the Jüdische Allgemeine newspaper that while there is Muslim anti-Semitism, “there has also never been more Muslim engagement against anti-Semitism and for Jewish-Muslim dialogue than today.”(( http://www.juedische-allgemeine.de/article/view/id/28253 ))

Islamic voices for inter-religious dialogue

Subsequently, a group of six Imams and 12 Muslim organisations based in Berlin issued a brief public statement in which they condemned anti-Semitic hatred and urged all Muslim believers to “act in ways that are worthy of our faith”. The statement also suggested that Muslim and Jewish representatives join hands for joint visits to schools in Berlin where anti-Semitic incidents have been reported.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/downloads/19752144/2/gemeinsamer-brief-von-muslimen-gegen-die-diskriminierung-und-ausgrenzung-von-juedischen-mitschueler.pdf ))

Responding to the Friedenau case, Ármin Langer and Ozan Keskinkılıç, the respectively Jewish and Muslim founders of the “Salaam-Schalom” initiative for inter-religious dialogue, stressed that both Jews and Muslims are often made to feel foreign in Germany. Similarly, both groups are constantly identified with external political groups and agendas – with political Islam or jihadism in the case of Muslims, with the policies of Benyamin Netanyahu in the case of Jews.(( http://www.fluter.de/antisemitismus-und-islamophobie-bei-salaam-schalom-kaempfen-juden-und-muslime-gemeinsam-dagegen ))

Against this backdrop, the two men urged a Muslim-Jewish entente against various racisms. Muslims should not be presented as a homogeneous anti-Semitic problem group; rather, care should be taken to strengthen the potential for inter-religious dialogue and to harness Muslim voices to a quest against discrimination targeting Muslims and Jews alike.

Division tactics by the populist right

Needless to say, bringing about this unity is far from easy. In the aftermath of the events at the comprehensive school, Frauke Petry, chairwoman of the far-right AfD party, sought to play upon the tension between Jewish and Muslim communities by asserting that her party was the “guarantor of Jewish life” in Germany.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/frauke-petry-nennt-afd-garant-juedischen-lebens-a-1142090.html ))

She went on to suggest that the increased immigration of Muslims was a direct threat to Germany’s Jewish population. This particularly blatant justification of the AfD’s Islamophobic agenda came shortly after a high-ranking AfD politician had disparaged the central Holocaust memorial in Berlin as an objectionable “memorial of shame” and called for “a 180 degree turn” in the ways in which Germans remember their past. Unsurprisingly, leading Jewish voices thus retorted that the AfD continued to be “unelectable” for Jewish voters.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/frauke-petry-nennt-afd-garant-juedischen-lebens-a-1142090.html ))

Shelved anti-Semitism documentary

The debate on anti-Semitic attitudes among Muslim immigrants and their descendants received further nourishment when the Franco-German TV channel Arte refrained from airing a documentary on anti-Semitism that it had commissioned in a joint venture with German public broadcasters WDR and ZDF.

The Central Council of Jews in Germany demanded that the documentary be shown and a range of public figures accused Arte of censorship. Conservative circles’ particular ire was reserved for the fact that the movie, which had focused on anti-Semitism of Muslim populations, had been shelved for what was deemed ‘political correctness’.

To right-wing commentators, the decision not to air it pointed to the widespread complicity of the liberal media in the Jew-hatred of the Islamic world.(( https://www.welt.de/kultur/article165401199/So-ist-die-Doku-die-von-Arte-zurueckgehalten-wird.html )) Conservative German-Israeli historian Michael Wolffsohn spoke for many like-minded observers when he accused Arte of “caving in to Islamist terrorism in preemptive obedience ”.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/medien/streit-um-antisemitismus-doku-zensur-bei-arte/19907424.html ))

Bumbling defence of the broadcaster

Initially, the WDR broadcaster’s editorial team asserted that the documentary had been shelved for its “one-sidedly pro-Israeli” stance.(( https://www.welt.de/kultur/article165401199/So-ist-die-Doku-die-von-Arte-zurueckgehalten-wird.html )) Subsequently, Arte issued a second, more elaborate press statement defending its decision not to air the documentary.

The channel’s director for programming, Alain Le Diberder, asserted that the commission for the documentary feature had explicitly demanded that the film provide “an overview of the contemporary strengthening of Antisemitism in various countries of Europe […], including in Norway, Sweden, Great Britain, Hungary and Greece”.

However, the directors had taken the liberty to fundamentally alter the project by creating a product focused on the Middle East. “We cannot accept that a producer and writer attempts to choose his subject freely in a unilateral manner and without consultation with Arte.” Le Diberder argued that Arte had been “consciously left in the dark with respect to these fundamental changes” to the film.(( http://www.arte.tv/sites/de/presse/files/antwort-von-alain-le-diberder-an-den-zentralrat-der-juden-in-deutschland.pdf ))

Limited Muslim reactions

Public comments by Muslim figures on the affair surrounding the documentary were relatively scarce. Ahmad Mansour, a well-known psychologist and public commentator on issues of (de-)radicalisation, wrote in a Facebook post that while he had not been part of the film crew, he “support[ed] the movie and its contents”. He castigated Arte’s decision to shelve the movie as “unacceptable and worrisome”.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/medien/streit-um-antisemitismus-doku-zensur-bei-arte/19907424.html ))

Yet for the most part, the discussion of the documentary subsequently turned into a shouting match as to whether and how the critique of Israel and of Zionism could be distinguished from anti-Semitism.(( http://www.berliner-zeitung.de/kultur/-maischberger–zur-antisemitismus-doku-wolffsohn-lobt-wdr-haemisch-fuer–gelungene-pr–27839684 ))

Ultimately, the documentary did air on German public TV, yet with critical commentary and an additional “fact checking” feature. Of course this fact-checking device was hardly able to counter-balance the fiercely ideological positions that many of the documentary’s viewers undoubtedly held already before the turned on the TV to watch the film.

How to deal with extremist voices: Inclusion of hard-line Salafi in TV debate causes uproar in Germany

‘My life for Allah’

Recent reports indicate that the flow of German recruits to the jihadist groups on the Syrian battlefields is declining.((https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/jihad-reisen-101.html )) Nevertheless, among all European countries, Germany comes second in terms of the number of its citizens that have joined ISIS, al-Nusra Front, or related groups. Against this backdrop, the German public broadcaster ARD used its flagship political talk show Anne Will to discuss the reasons behind the foreign fighter phenomenon.((The full show is available at http://www.ardmediathek.de/tv/Anne-Will/Mein-Leben-f%C3%BCr-Allah-Warum-radikalisie/Das-Erste/Video?bcastId=328454&documentId=38785504 ))

Debating under the title “My life for Allah – why do more and more youth radicalise themselves?”, guests included Ahmad Mansour, a Muslim sociologist and anti-radicalisation activist; Mohamed Taha Sabri, a Berlin-based Imam; Sascha Mané, father of a girl who has joined ISIS in Syria; and conservative CDU politician Wolfgang Bosbach.((For a portrait of Ahmad Mansour and some of his work, see http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/02/20/ahmad-mansour-on-generation-allah-radicalisation-of-young-muslims-in-germany/ ))

Ties to the Syrian jihad

Yet the most controversial guest proved to be Nora Illi, converted Swiss Muslim woman serving as women’s affairs commissioner at the ‘Islamic Central Council of Switzerland’ (IZRS). In spite of this seemingly inclusive name, the hard-line Salafi IZRS represents only 0.5 per cent of Swiss Muslims.((https://www.welt.de/vermischtes/article159313844/Nikab-Nora-liebt-die-Provokation.html ))

The organisation is the target of a criminal investigation in Switzerland for facilitating the travel of foreign fighters to Syria.((http://www.nzz.ch/schweiz/strafverfahren-gegen-izrs-vorstandmitglied-eroeffnet-1.18665759 )) The IZRS has also publicly screened a movie shot by one of its board members while in Syria during the war. Ostentatiously presented as a travel documentary, the movie in fact contains a host of interviews with Syrian jihadists.((http://www.tagesanzeiger.ch/schweiz/standard/islamischer-zentralrat-setzt-sich-provokativ-in-szene/story/30538028 ))

Calculated provocation

Against this backdrop, the talk master Anne Will undoubtedly expected Illi to play a certain provocative role during her show; a role which she fulfilled splendidly. Wearing a niqab, she appeared to defend the jihadist fighters joining the Syrian conflict: Illi asserted that breaking free from the constraints of European life was “not at all objectionable from an Islamic perspective”, and that doing so even “needed to be highly lauded as an example of moral courage.”((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/medien/warum-lud-anne-will-die-islamistin-nora-illi-ins-studio-14517143.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 ))

Illi went on to assert that wearing the niqab was liberating her as a woman. She claimed that Western societies were consistently oppressing Muslims and preventing them from living in accordance with the fundamental tenets of their faith.

Reacting to the radical challenge

Subsequently, the entire rest of the round rallied against Illi. All other Muslim participants denounced her as propagating a hateful ideology and of condoning or actively fostering the atrocities in Syria. The father of the ‘jihadi bride’ provided an insight into what he believed were his daughter’s thought processes when travelling to Syria – most notably her fervent belief to contribute to the making of a better world by joining the Islamic State.((For an excerpt on this, see http://www.ardmediathek.de/tv/Anne-Will/Die-Jugendlichen-m%C3%B6chten-gern-die-Welt-/Das-Erste/Video?bcastId=328454&documentId=38785454 ))

However, among Muslim discussants further fault-lines opened up quite quickly. Most notably, Ahmad Mansour criticised Imam Sabri for his defensive attitude and for his somewhat hapless attempts to dissociate Islam from the Islamic State by simply asserting that ISIS and its actions are ‘un-Islamic’. Mansour accused the mainstream Sunni Muslim clergy of having failed to “offer youth an understanding of Islam that is reconcilable with democracy and human rights without ifs and buts”. This failure, according to Mansour, coupled with the conservatism of much of established theology, provides fertile soil for subsequent radicalisation.((http://www.rp-online.de/panorama/fernsehen/anne-will-tv-kritik-welcher-islam-passt-zu-deutschland-aid-1.6379034 ))

Islamists and populists

Beyond demonstrating the very strained nature of the entente between different Muslim voices standing against radicalisation, however, the discussion round also cast into sharp relief the difficulty of reining in hateful fringe discourses. Critics noted that without the concerted help of her other guests, host Anne Will not have been able to deconstruct Illi’s blunt yet powerful rhetoric. At times, the crude logic of Illi’s argument threatened to overwhelm the host.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/medien/tv-kritik/tv-kritik-anne-will-nora-illi-macht-offen-propaganda-fuer-den-is-14516141.html ))

This highlights the fact that offering a public forum to voices like Nora Illi is challenging, because she is not willing to abide by the rules upon which discussion in such a forum is based – notably a willingness to build an argument based on hard facts, or a minimum requirement of civility. Unfazed by facts and conventions, Illi proceeded to offer her own concoction of theological rigidity, conspiracy theories, and distorted truths.

In this respect, the predicament faced by Anne Will in relation to the Swiss radical propagandist is not altogether different from the challenges encountered by media across Western democracies in their dealings with ‘populists’. Donald Trump’s victory has been widely hailed as signifying the triumph of anti-establishment post-truth politics. Similarly, in Germany the established parties struggle to unravel the elaborate edifice of anxieties, fears, and half-truths exploited by the rising Alternative für Deutschland party.((Another recent TV debate provides a perfect instantiation of this point: In the episode of Maischberger broadcast on September 22, AfD leader Frauke Petry gleefully manipulated the discussion. Exasperated by the populists’ ability to blur the line between facts and fictions, SPD Secretary General Katharina Barley at some point noted with bewilderment that the AfD had managed to make the burka ban a central topic of the electoral contest in regional elections in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, in spite of the fact that no burka-wearing women had been spotted on the state’s streets. http://www.ardmediathek.de/tv/Maischberger/Das-schwarz-rote-Debakel-Volksparteien-/Das-Erste/Video?bcastId=311210&documentId=37887778 ))

Enlarging the discussion or providing a forum for hate speech

Consequently, like in the case of populists, the media are faced with the difficult question of whether to engage with voices like Nora Illi. Anne Will’s decision to invite Illi was heavily criticised, with some accusing Will of unnecessarily providing a platform for the spread of hateful propaganda. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung asked whether Anne Will wanted to invite neo-Nazis to her next debate.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/medien/warum-lud-anne-will-die-islamistin-nora-illi-ins-studio-14517143.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 ))

Will herself reacted by asserting that “the editorial team has carefully considered the invitation of Mrs. Illi”, especially given Illi’s “controversial position” regarding foreign fighters travelling to Syria. Will argued that by including Illi “the discussion offered many insights […] in the field of the tension between religion and liberal pluralistic values that preoccupies our society.”((http://www.zeit.de/2016/47/anne-will-ard-talkshow-islamismus-verschleierung-frauenrechte/komplettansicht ))

Forcing extremist views to justify themselves

Irrespective of whether the host’s intentions were as noble as that – or whether she was more concerned with increasing the market share of her show – simply blanking out positions like Illi’s does not appear to be a viable option. It is only when they are forced out into the open that such views can be engaged with. It is also only in such a public context that we can hope to demystify them and showcase their flaws.

By the end of Anne Will’s show, the participants had been more or less successful in this regard. Yet wrestling down Illi and her blunt argumentation had proved to be a formidable undertaking; an undertaking that on multiple occasions teetered on the verge of failure.

More than just a Muslim punk band

Since setting up their band, The Kominas have come under fire from all sides: some punks say they aren’t real punks, while conservatives are critical of their politics. But who decides what punk is anyway? Isn’t the very essence of punk to push boundaries and upset the status quo? According to Richard Marcus, despite feeling ostracised by the white indie/punk scene and being the focus of media articles for reasons completely outside their control, the Kominas just keep on speaking their minds and making great music

Like any other creed, punk rock is widely open to personal interpretation. British punk of the 1970s was wildly different from American punk of the same period; New York punk was different from California punk, while Toronto’s punk scene was a sort of mash-up of all three. After nearly 40 years of listening to punk, the only generalisation I’m willing to make on the subject is that it’s more of an attitude than a style of music. Punk is a willingness to speak your mind and live with the consequences; it’s about taking chances and not accepting the status quo.

So using a catch-all phrase like “punk Islam” or Taqwacore (a name derived from the book of the same name by American author Michael Muhammad Knight) won’t give you an idea of a band’s nature, save that the members might share the same religious background. While using this term also seems to be fairly insulting (after all, how many “Christian punk” or “white punk” bands do you know of?), that hasn’t stopped the labelling from happening.

This is part of an overall syndrome that the band The Kominas was railing against in a recent post on their Facebook page: “There’s a lot of publicity that comes with Muslims performing normalcy for the West. ‘Oh wow, look at these Muslims who skateboard and are totally average,’ ‘hey, look at these Muslims who listen to & make music,’ ‘wow, this Muslim is just a normal shithead (just like me!)’. You can call it whatever you want (we would say tatti, but it’s your choice), we just wanted to say fuck that. We are more than a label. Fuck your binaries. Fuck all of them, fuck American:Muslim, Male:Female, white:other…” (Kominas Facebook page, 13 June 2015)

The Kominas have been associated with Taqwacore through both their association with Knight and with a documentary movie they were featured in, Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam. The movie was split between documenting “Islamic” punk bands touring together with Knight on an old school bus around America and a trip by Knight to Pakistan where he visited various Sufi shrines, the madrassa he had attended and the Kominas, who were in the midst of a two year sojourn in the country.

Breaking the mould

This was when I first ran into the band and over the years, I’ve stumbled across them on the Internet and been impressed by their music and what they have to say about it: why they perform and what punk means to them. Founding members Basim Usmani (bass) and Shahjehan Khan (guitar) started the band in 2005 when they met up at university in Boston. Karna Ray soon joined as drummer, and over the years, the rest of the band’s membership has shifted and evolved to where the original trio is now, augmented by Hassin Ali Malik.

While they have only released a couple of full-length CDs (Kominas and Wild Nights In Guantanamo Bay), a couple of singles (“BariyaN Ashiq Mizaj AkhaN TeriaN” and “Sharia Law in the U.S.A.”) and a six-song CD (Escape To Blackout Beach), they have garnered a great deal of attention. Some of it has obviously been from American media trying to get their heads around the fact young Muslims are in a popular music band, but mostly it is because of their appeal to people both in America and in South-East Asia. With songs written in English, Urdu and Punjabi, they can cross cultural boundaries few American-based groups even know exist.

However, that doesn’t mean they are universally popular. In fact, they come under fire from all ends of the political, musical and religious spectrum. In an interview given to Vanyaland, a Boston-based music magazine, Usmani touches on this when he mentions how they get flak from anti-religion Pakistani punks for being identified as Muslim and from Indonesian punks who say they aren’t real Muslim punks.

Of course, their politics – and maybe their existence – also upset conservatives of all types (political, religious and musical) at home. As evident from the quote above, they have strong opinions, which they don’t hesitate to express. However, that’s what a punk band is supposed to do – upset the status quo. Sure, there are punks out there who claim The Kominas aren’t punk enough because they play more than three chords and experiment with different styles and genres of music, but their approach to music and their lyrical content is pure punk. As definitive a figure as John Lydon (Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols) has said the whole idea of a punk orthodoxy – that you can only listen to or play certain types of music to be punk – is ridiculous.

 

Can a Muslim be a punk?

Unfortunately there’s also the issue of colour: brown-skinned people from South-East Asia aren’t supposed to thrash about on stage with guitars and drums and their hair spiked up in Mohawks. They’re supposed to play sitars and other ethnic instruments. In an interview on the MTV website given earlier this year, Malik responded to a question about how being Muslim has impacted on the way the music community has treated them by saying he felt they were ostracised by the white indie/punk scene – as much as that scene even exists anymore.

The hardest thing for The Kominas is being treated like any other band. In reply to the same question above, Usmani said the press only seems to be interested in them when Islamophobia is in the news or as a token for an article about assimilation. Yes, they began life as a supposed Muslim punk band, (drummer Ray is a secular Hindu born in the States to academic parents) but they’re more than that. Not only are they breaking down stereotypes by playing music people of colour aren’t “supposed” to play, they are playing really good music.

The irony of an article like this one, of course, is that it only perpetuates the problem of them being treated like any other band. However, hopefully the release of their new album, Stereotype, later this year will garner them the attention they deserve as a band, not just as the Islamic punks from Boston. True to their punk natures, it will be released on their own label – most likely as a digital download from their website. Wherever you are, and whoever you are, make sure to grab a copy.

After release of American Sniper, anti-Arab, anti-Muslim sentiments increase

According to the Arab-American Anti-Defamation League, reports of anti-Muslim sentiments have tripled following the release of the film American Sniper. The organization has responded to a number of reports of threats against its membership. Additionally, the group is currently monitoring Twitter for reactions to the film. As of January 24th, the group had collected over 100 anti-Arab, anti-Muslim Tweets like this one: “Nice to see a movie where the Arabs are portrayed for who they really are – vermin scum intent on destroying us.”

The organization is calling on the film’s director, Clint Eastwood, and its star, Bradley Cooper, to condemn these sentiments and to work to bolster a more productive, thoughtful dialogue around the issues in the film. The organization’s president, Samer Khalaf, “With all these threats coming in, we wanted to be proactive. When we are not proactive, people end up getting hurt. … We don’t know if somebody’s serious or if somebody’s joking around, so we take all these threats seriously, especially when they’re talking about shooting bullets into someone’s head.” The organization has not received any response from either Eastwood or Cooper.tumblr_ncubjr2RXo1rs3i49o1_1280

From Islam to Christ: the Conversion of Muslims from the Director of the Apostle

In an interview with director Cheyenne Carrone, whose latest movie The Apostle pays homage to a priest that she knew in her childhood whose daughter was killed by a young Muslim. The priest wanted to remain living near the boy’s parents “to help them live.” She was also inspired by a former Muslim who converted to Christianity and attended the same church as her.

She said that it is less likely for someone to convert from Islam to Christianity because it is forbidden. One hadith states, “One who leaves the religion, kill them.” She recognizes that in France this doesn’t happen and that “many Muslims are tolerant of conversion to Christianity when it comes to their brothers.”

When asked if she felt that “the difficulty for some Muslims to accept the conversion of their brethren tends to intensify,” she said “I don’t know. But I have a feeling that on the contrary things are changing, and that tolerance is slowly growing.”

Carrone has had difficulty finding movie theaters that will show her film due to its subject.

Bin Laden’s son-in-law convicted of conspiring to kill Americans

March 26, 2014

 

NEW YORK — In a quick decision, a jury convicted Osama bin Laden‘s son-in-law of conspiring to kill Americans in his role as the angry voice of Al Qaeda after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Sulaiman abu Ghaith, 48, faces life in prison when he is sentenced Sept. 8.

The case has given the public its first and possibly only chance to watch a terrorism trial related to the 2001 attacks unfold in civilian court. Unlike other high-profile terrorism suspects accused of crimes arising from the attacks, Abu Ghaith bypassed the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after his arrest last year.

Instead, he was brought directly to New York, where his trial began March 5 just blocks from where the World Trade Center towers once stood.

The case hinged in part on the importance of Abu Ghaith’s role as a spokesman for the terror group. Prosecutors maintained it was an important one.

“This man was not Osama bin Laden’s puppet,” said Jonathan Cronan, an assistant U.S. attorney, as he pointed his finger at Abu Ghaith during the trial “He was not a robot.

But Abu Ghaith’s defense attorney, Stanley Cohen, dismissed the government’s case as based not on evidence but on recordings and videos, including one showing hijacked jets slamming into the World Trade Center towers and the buildings enveloped in black smoke.

“It was intended to sweep you away … in anguish and pain,” said Cohen, comparing the prosecution’s case to a movie.

“The movie’s over, the lights are back on, and we’ve walked out of the theater. Let’s look at the evidence,” he said, before dismissing the government’s allegations as “speculation” and its witnesses as liars or frauds.

Also shown repeatedly to the jury during the trial were frames of a video made Sept. 12, 2001, that showed Abu Ghaith seated next to Bin Laden and two other top Al Qaeda leaders as they tried to justify the attacks.

Jurors deliberated roughly five hours before convicting Abu Ghaith of conspiring to kill Americans, providing material support to terrorists; and conspiring to provide material support to terrorists.

Source: http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-ghaith-convicted-20140326,0,5107319.story#ixzz2yEGRhJtQ

Sundance premiere ‘Camp X-Ray’ explores Gitmo life

January 18, 2014

 

Kristen Stewart takes a lot of abuse in her latest film, a gritty drama about detainees at Guantanamo Bay. “Camp X-Ray,” which premiered Friday at the Sundance Film Festival to boisterous applause, features Stewart as Amy Cole, a guard stationed at the controversial U.S. prison in Cuba, where suspected terrorists are being detained. Stewart’s character takes an elbow to the face, is spit on and splattered with excrement, but learns her treatment is nothing compared to the detainees.

The movie is sympathetic to the prisoners’ plight; Stewart’s character eventually forms a bond with innocent inmate Ali Amir, played by Peyman Moaadi. In an interview with The Associated Press, Stewart said she relished playing such a strong character.The film originally intended Stewart’s role for a male, but he shifted to a female lead because he felt it created more conflict between the two. “And Muslims’ extremist relationship toward women also complicated (the story),” he said. “So I clicked into that.”

Lane Garrison, who also plays a guard in the movie, told the audience that working on “Camp X-Ray” shifted his thinking of Guantanamo Bay, which has been the center of a battle over whether it should close. President Barack Obama has said he would like to see it shut down. “I had a belief that everyone down there was responsible for 9/11,” said Garrison. “After doing this film I started asking questions about Guantanamo Bay and come to find out that there are still men down there that no country wants and I started thinking ‘What if there is a guy down there that is innocent that’s not a terrorist — does he deserve that day in court? It changed me to start asking questions and not just go along with the flow.”

 

Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/sundance-premiere-camp-x-ray-explores-gitmo-life/2014/01/18/bb060d92-8048-11e3-97d3-b9925ce2c57b_story.html

Dutch Lawyer Asks for Reconsideration of Geert Wilders’ Trial for Inciting Hatred

October 22, 2013

With reference to a 2011 case in which a Dutch court found politician Geert Wilders not guilty of inciting hatred against Muslims, lawyer Gerard Sprong has asked the court for a reconsideration. The ruling of the earlier case, which developed as a response to Wilders’ anti-Islam statements and the release of his online movie Fitna, will not be affected and there is no question of Wilders receiving punishment. Rather, Sprong is requesting a clear ruling on whether Wilders was guilty of discrimination and inciting hatred with an eye to similar future cases, he told TV programme Pauw & Witteman.

Dutch News: http://www.dutchnews.nl/news/archives/2013/10/lawyer_wants_wilders_inciting.php

Will Islamic Stand-Up Play in Peoria? ‘The Muslims are Coming!,’ a Docu-comedy

“Every single solitary Butterball turkey in the United States of America has been sacrificed to Allah,” a conservative commentator says of halal meat in the montage that opens “The Muslims Are Coming!” Directed by the comedians Negin Farsad and Dean Obeidallah, the documentary begins strongly with this collection of absurd hatemongering, cobbled from television clips. Unfortunately, the film peaks in those first few minutes.

The movie follows a group of Muslim-American comedians (who include Ms. Farsad and Mr. Obeidallah, documenting themselves) on a peace tour across the country to promote awareness. They travel in two cars to small towns and large cities to perform stand-up and also to stage goofy stunts — for instance, setting up an “Ask a Muslim” booth or holding a “Hug a Muslim” sign. Interspersed are interviews with the comedians and with better-known figures like Jon Stewart, David Cross and Rachel Maddow.

Jon Stewart Appears On Egyptian TV, Talks Movie, Political Satire, And Fox News With Bassem Youssef

Daily Show host Jon Stewart is on a hiatus from anchoring the late night comedy program to direct a feature film, but two months after “Egypt’s Jon Stewart” Bassem Youssef appeared on Comedy Central, Stewart returned the favor with an appearance on Youssef’s program Albernamegtoday. The two comedians bantered about everything from Egyptian traffic to “which pit of hell” Fox News is reporting from. They also talked a lot about political satire, with Stewart remarking, “If your regime is not strong enough to handle a joke, then you don’t have a regime.”

 

After impressing the audience with a few words of Arabic, Stewart told Youssef he is “honored” to be on his show, and mockingly announced to the audience he has been appointed to a mayorship by President Mohammed Morsi. Stewart joked that after handing off his show to John Oliver, he’s just wandering around the Middle East, because “my people like to wander the desert.”

Stewart explained the background of Rosewater, the movie he is directing based on a book written by Maziar Bahari, a Newsweek journalist who was imprisoned by the Iranian government during the post-2009 election protests a few days after he sat down for an interview with Daily Show correspondent Jason Jones

Youssef brought up Stewart’s favorite sparring partner, Fox News, and remarked, “I was wondering in which pit of hell do they do their editorials.” Stewart said he doesn’t see what they do as “hate,” but “fear,” whether it be honest or just manipulation. Youssef brought up Bill O’Reilly‘s latest Daily Showsit-down, particularly O’Reilly mockingly demanding that Stewart be replaced on the show by a Muslim host. Youssef deadpanned, “Why didn’t you think of me?”

Stewart said he never wants to single out anyone for their religious beliefs, saying there’s one thing that’s true of all people all around the world.