UOIF, Ignored by presidential candidates, hardens its position

In an unprecedented event, this year’s meeting of the Union of Islamic Organizations of France was ignored by the five primary French Presidential candidates. The meeting is strategically scheduled the week before elections. Attendance is seen as a liability for the candidates; the UOIF is seen by many non-Muslim French as responsible for discomforting protest and antagonism. The absence in particular of UMP candidate Nicolas Sarkozy, is seen as the final assault in an unravelling relationship between him and French Muslims. Initially admired for his leadership in 2003 as Minister of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, French Muslims’ esteem for Sarkozy has declined since he abandoned the post and spoke in support of cartoon publication. A rare statement by UDF candidate Francois Bayrou, that it is “legitimate to give a place to a new family – Islam – when she arrives in the village,” deviated from the laicist left’s general antipathy or disinterest in religion. Muslims in France, the UOIF claims, are under incessant attack and in a state of anxiety. The UOIF’s consistent protests against the association of Islam with terrorism have been largely unproductive. The failure of politicians to respond to this situation will only lead to more protest and unrest. Layoffs and laws against the hijab in schools only worsen the situation for French Muslims, who have seen little progress in the movement to integrate Muslim immigrants into French society.

The Pope and Islam. Is there anything that Benedict XVI would like to discuss?

The New Yorker is publishing a long article on the difficult relationship between the Vatican and Islam. “These are fierce theological times. It should come as no surprise that the Vatican and Islam are not getting along, or that their problems began long before Pope Benedict XVI made his unfortunate reference to the Prophet Muhammad, in a speech in Regensburg last September, and even before the children of Europe’s Muslim immigrants discovered beards, burkas, and jihad. There are more than a billion Catholics in the world, and more than a billion Muslims. And what divides the most vocal and rigidly orthodox interpreters of their two faiths, from the imams of Riyadh and the ayatollahs of Qom to the Pope himself, is precisely the things that Catholicism and Islam have always had in common: a purchase on truth; a contempt for the moral accommodations of liberal, secular states; a strong imperative to censure, convert, and multiply; and a belief that Heaven, and possibly earth, belongs exclusively to them. (…)”

Muslims in Germany Choose to be Buried Abroad

By Michael Scott Moore As the first generation of Muslim immigrants to Germany get older, over 70 percent still plan to be buried in the country of their birth. Is integration a problem even in death? Yemos Vurgun was the frail matriarch of a Turkish immigrant family when she died in 1994, aged 90, and although she’d spent her last 14 years in Berlin, her son Ali Riza put her travel papers in order: She had one last trip to make. “We had to have her passport stamped,” said Ali, who traveled with the casket to Turkey. The stamp from German officials proved she was dead. Ali needed it so Turkish officials would admit her body back into her homeland. A full five days after her death — three days of paperwork in Berlin, then two plane trips and a ride in a van — Vurgun’s casket arrived in the mountain village of Akyurt, in eastern Turkey, where the old woman was laid to rest beside her husband. “We never considered burying her in Berlin,” said Ali. “Our neighbors in Akyurt wouldn’t have forgiven us.” Vurgun’s children had left home in the ’60s as part of the first wave of guest workers from Turkey, and she’d joined them only as a widow, in 1980. She was less integrated than most immigrants to Germany, but her story is still the rule for most Muslims here. Islamic undertakers estimate that 70 to 80 percent of Muslim immigrants arrange to have their bodies sent home — mainly to Turkey, but also to other countries like Lebanon or Egypt — rather than face a nontraditional burial in cold German ground. The reasons aren’t always religious — sometimes they’re financial, sometimes just nostalgic — and the German system gets in the way as much as Islamic law. But integration, it seems, can be a problem even in death (…)

France: The Political Existence Of The Moroccan Diaspora

In the midst of a profound transformation of the French party system, the main political parties are looking for strategies to appeal to Muslim immigrants, from grassroot mobilisation to the pro-Muslim branding of their candidates. The Moroccan Muslim community is using this opportunity to ask for new representative institutions that would enable them to match the level at which Algerian immigrants are represented. This process, however, elevates the danger of co-optation of immigrants’ representatives into the old political establishment. […]

Turk Jailed in Germany for Sister’s “Honor Killing”

BERLIN — A young Turk was jailed on Thursday for gunning down his sister at a Berlin bus stop in a so-called honor killing that sparked angry calls for better integration of Muslim immigrants. Ayhan Surucu, who was 18 at the time of the murder last year, was sentenced to nine years and three months by a Berlin court.

Arabs, Muslims Integrate With Ease

CHICAGO: While Arab Americans and Muslims suffered a spike in hate crimes after the September 11 attacks, they do not face the same level of disenfranchisement as their French counterparts, experts say. They’re discriminated against but they have jobs – this is the major difference from Europe, Yvonne Haddad, a professor of Islamic history at Georgetown University in Washington, said. Arab and Muslim immigrants in the US generally identify themselves as Americans and integrate with relative ease into a society that prides itself on social mobility and has more tolerance for cultural and religious differences, Haddad said. To identify as French you have to renounce your faith and have to renounce you previous identity as though your previous self didn’t exist. In the US you don’t have to, she said. Arabs are a tiny minority in the United States, making up less than 1% of the population, according to the census bureau. They also constitute only about a quarter to a third of the country’s Muslims, estimated at 6mn to 7mn people or about 2% of the population. Arab Americans and Muslims are better educated and have a higher income than the national average, said Edina Lekovic, communications director for the Muslim Public Affairs Council. There’s no clear connection between the European and the American Muslim experience, she said, explaining that Muslims in the United States are less isolated and homogeneous than their European counterpart. She cautioned against painting the riots as a religious issue rather than the result of economic and political disenfranchisement. This is the culmination of a series of events and it has very little or nothing to do with quote-unquote (Muslim) extremism, she said, noting that France has more Muslim-friendly foreign policy than the United States. French Muslims are not responding to the issues of Palestine or Iraq. They are responding to their domestic situation. The real parallel to the French riots is the African American race riots of the 1960s and following the Rodney King beating, said James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute. It’s the act of an underclass with expectations that have gone unfulfilled for a long period of time striking out, out of a combination of despair and anger, he said in a telephone interview. France and other European countries have maintained a national identity that is tied to ethnicity while the American identity has shifted over time as waves of immigrants reshape the country. As long as these kids grow up not only in an economic underclass but excluded from being French or Dutch it’s problematic, Zogby said. When people in my community get angry about American foreign policy they get angry as citizens and they fight back as citizens. The process is more open to including them. ?

OSCE Concerned At Dutch Climate Of Fear For Muslims

By Emma Thomasson AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Europe’s main democracy and rights watchdog expressed concern on Friday about increasing Dutch intolerance towards Muslims that was fanned by the murder last year of a filmmaker critical of Islam. Omur Orhun, ambassador on combating discrimination against Muslims for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), was in the Netherlands to discuss the position of Muslim immigrants. “Holland was reputed to be a country of tolerance where integration, as compared to other European countries, had been achieved acceptably. But recent events have shown there is a problem,” he told a news conference ending a three-day visit. “Especially from representatives of some civil society organisations there were repeatedly feelings of fear expressed. Not claims of physical attacks or abuse, but a climate of fear.” Home to almost 1 million Muslims or 6 percent of the population, the country’s reputation for tolerance and social harmony was shattered by the murder last November of outspoken filmmaker Theo van Gogh and its violent aftermath. A Dutch-Moroccan man was charged with the killing, allegedly motivated by Van Gogh’s criticism of Islam. Dozens of mosques, and Muslim schools were attacked in apparent retaliation. Orhun, who met Dutch politicians as well as Turkish, Moroccan and Surinamese migrant groups and human rights organisations, said the fact the government had invited him to visit the country showed it wanted to tackle the situation. “There is a problem in Holland as far as tolerance and non-discrimination is concerned,” he said. “But the situation is not tragic and the problem can solved with common sense and trying to build bridges.” The Turkish diplomat said tension was on the rise in many Western countries over Muslim immigrants and said he hoped to visit the United States, Germany, France and Britain soon. “There is mistrust and stigmatisation of Muslims and a growing fault line between the Muslim communities and the host societies,” Orhun said. Orhun recommended that Islam should not be politicised by countries that are home to Muslim migrants or by the immigrants themselves, who must also do more to distance themselves from radicalism and condemn violence committed in Islam’s name. Western governments could also do more to counter stigmatising of Muslim youths, for example by helping them get apprenticeships for jobs, he said. “The sense of being accepted would tend to decrease this radicalisation. Equal opportunities would also create lesser possibilities, lesser chances of radicalisation,” he said.

Muslim Converts Face Discrimination

By ANDREA ELLIOTT In the wake of 9/11, Muslim immigrants from Pakistan, Egypt and other countries have found themselves living in a newly suspicious America. Many of their businesses and mosques have been closely monitored by federal agents, thousands of men have been deported and some have simply been swept away – “rendered” in the language of the C.I.A. – to be interrogated or jailed overseas. But Muslim immigrants are not alone in experiencing the change. It is now touching the lives of some American converts: men and women raised in this country, whose only tie to the Middle East or Southeast Asia is one of faith. Khalid Hakim, born Charles Karolik in Milwaukee, could not renew the document required to work as a merchant mariner because he refused to remove his kufi, a round knitted cap, for an identity photograph last year. Yet for nearly three decades Mr. Hakim’s cap had posed no problem with the same New York City office of the Coast Guard. In Brooklyn, Dierdre Small and Stephanie Lewis drove New York City Transit buses for years wearing their hijabs, or head scarves, with no protest from supervisors. After 9/11 the women were ordered to remove the religious garments. They refused, and were transferred, along with two other Muslim converts, out of the public eye – to jobs vacuuming, cleaning and parking buses, said the women, who are suing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and New York City Transit. “I’m a U.S. citizen and I’m supposed to be protected,” Ms. Lewis, 55, said with tears in her eyes. “On 9/11 I was scheduled to take policemen to that site. I felt compassion like everyone else. And now you’re singling me out because I’m a Muslim?” New York City Transit officials said they would not comment because the case is in litigation. Regardless of how their cases play out legally, Mr. Hakim, Ms. Lewis and other converts have come to view America after 9/11 through a singular lens. An estimated 25 percent of American Muslims are converts. Some came of age as Americans first and discovered Islam as adults.

German Immigration Law Targets Muslims

German states race to enforce the new immigration law on Muslim immigrants in Germany as if it was especially tailored for them. Days after the law went into effect at the beginning of this year, German states rushed to prepare lists of thousands of Muslim immigrants — whom the German authorities dubbed as suspects — for immediate deportation. In no time, German states have started deporting dozens of the so-called “suspects.” Bavarian Prime Minister Gunter Beckstein, told Der Spiegel magazine earlier in the week that his state has already begun shipping out immigrants under the new law. Beckstein was in the vanguard of officials attacking Muslims, accusing the sizable Turkish community of living in “parallel societies” with their own cultural and social activities. The state of Hessen followed suit deporting ten imams since the beginning of this month. Authorities charged the imams of preaching religious hatred. Other immigrants were also expelled from the state for being involved in “extremist activities.” Last week, a spokesman for the German Interior Ministry in Metropolitan Berlin boasted that the new law makes it easy for federal authorities to deport any “suspect.” Under the new immigration law, German authorities are entitled to kick out foreigners, especially Muslim imams, back to their countries of origin if security agencies view them as posing a threat to national security. The measure restricts the deportees’ right to appeal or challenge any expulsion decision. Under the law, immigrants are additionally bound to attend language and culture classes. Pundits believe that the law is quite vague as it falls short of giving a clear definition of “suspects” and the whole thing is based on authorities’ speculations and premonitions. It further gives sweeping powers to anti-Muslim and xenophobic officials as state premiers and interior ministers can use it without having to consult first with the federal government. It seems as if the law regards all imams in the country as suspects until proven otherwise, which undermines earnest Muslim efforts to integrate into German society, IslamOnline.net correspondent says. He adds that the absence of an official body speaking in unison in the name of the Muslim community helped pass the new “draconian” law. Raids The deportations’ drive, which was passionately welcomed by right-wing politicians and media, came in parallel with massive police raids on resident Islamists. Earlier in the month, police stormed 35 homes owned by 24 Arabs, arresting 20 of them. They have been accused of receiving funds from bodies suspected of having links with “terrorist groups”. A German intelligence report has revealed that only one percent of Germany’s Muslim population are members of organizations that pose serious threats to the country’s national security. In 2004, German Muslims had been, in effect, caught in an anti- and pro-Islam battle with anti-Muslim voices speaking louder than ever. Dealing with the Muslim community became the overriding concern of German officials, who jumped on the anti-Islam bandwagon across Europe and came up with plans and ideas on the best way to contain the Muslim community security-wise. All of a sudden, Muslim issues like hijab and integration were deliberately brought to the fore as if Muslims were a thorn in the government’s side, according to IOL correspondent. Though German Minister of Economics and Labor Wolfgang Clement said in June that Turkish investments help create 300,000 new jobs for Germans a year, 80 percent of the Turkish community feel discriminated against, according to a recent study. Islam comes third after Protestant and Catholic Christianity. There are some 3.4 million Muslims in Germany, including 220,000 in Berlin alone. An estimated two thirds of the Muslim community are of Turkish origin.

Seville’s Islamic Echo

By Marlise Simons SEVILLE, Spain La Giralda, this city’s grand tower standing 90 meters tall, with its warm terra cotta colors and delicate brick patterns, was once called Spain’s most perfect minaret. Its twin stands in Marrakesh, Morocco, a reminder of the centuries-old ties between the countries. .Seville’s minaret has been the bell tower of the city’s Roman Catholic cathedral for the last 500 years. Today, however, many of those who walk by it daily are again Moroccans, part of the growing number of Muslim immigrants to Spain. While they have not talked about reclaiming the minaret, they are seeking permission to build a large mosque in Seville, as Islamic immigrants have in six other Spanish cities. .At the moment, Seville’s Muslims, many of them clandestine workers, meet in small buildings or discrete prayer rooms. But every demand for a proper house of worship awakens nervousness here.