New Book: The Oxford Handbook of European Islam (Jocelyne Cesari, Editor)

European Islam CoverThe Oxford Handbook of European Islam is the first collection to present a comprehensive approach to the multiple and changing ways Islam has been studied across European countries. Parts one to three address the state of knowledge of Islam and Muslims within a selection of European countries, while presenting a critical view of the most up-to-date data specific to each country. These chapters analyse the immigration cycles and policies related to the presence of Muslims, tackling issues such as discrimination, post-colonial identity, adaptation, and assimilation. The thematic chapters, in parts four and five, examine secularism, radicalization, Shari’a, Hijab, and Islamophobia with the goal of synthesizing different national discussion into a more comparative theoretical framework. The Handbook attempts to balance cutting edge assessment with the knowledge that the content itself will eventually be superseded by events. Featuring eighteen newly-commissioned essays by noted scholars in the field, this volume will provide an excellent resource for students and scholars interested in European Studies, immigration, Islamic studies, and the sociology of religion.

Selfridges faces backlash after giving EDL leader Tommy Robinson free steak lunch

Department store Selfridges has courted controversy again after giving leader of the English defence League Tommy Robinson a free steak to apologise after a member of staff refused to serve them. The menswear employee was temporarily suspended for violating company policy after refusing to serve Robinson’s friend. Robinson, a convicted criminal who leads anti-Islam protests across the country, was in the Oxford Street store with his friend who was looking to purchase a pair of jeans.

 

Robinson, real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, filmed himself challenging the shop assistant who reportedly refused to help Robinson’s friend, saying “f**k off, I am not serving you” after asking if he was with the EDL leader. Robinson said he assumed the shop assistant was a Muslim as he “had Mo on his name tag”.

 

A spokesman said anyone was welcome to shop in the store “regardless of political opinion”. To apologise, Selfridges gave Robinson and his friend a three course meal at the store’s in-house Hix Restaurant, Champagne and Caviar Bar, which included a prawn cocktail starter, steak and chips, finished off by chocolate cake and ice cream.

 

Robinson has insisted his friend is not associated with the far-right group.

 

The decision to give Robinson and his friend a free meal was met with wide spread criticism on Twitter, with many threatening to boycott the store.

 

Gear wheels network for young well-educated Muslims

August 8

 

In March 2010, young engaged Muslims met to initiate a networks called Zahnräder “gear wheels”.

The network´s aim is to provide a professional networking platform for young well-educated Muslims, who either engage in politics, economy, media or the social sector.

 

Since 2012, the network´s capabilities were boosted when being supported by organizations such as the British Council, the aid organization Islamic Relief, and the education network of North Rhine-Westphalia. Ali Aslan Gümüsay is one of the founders of “gear wheels” and the current board of directors. Gümüsay, is a doctoral candidate at the Said Business School of Oxford University. He underlined the necessity for Muslims to network and participate in German society.  Zahnräder does not require participants to subscribe a membership. So far, there are around 90 active people and a German wide circle of contributors participating at Zahnräder’s online forums and annual national conferences in Germany.

We British go out of our way to avoid using the word ‘Muslim’

Have the Brits got a problem with “Muslims”? The author notices that on British television news coverage the lengths to which some reporters went to in order to avoid using the word “Muslim”.

 

Now if we categorise court defendants by their religion, we are saying – in effect – that their religion must have some relevance to their crime, or to their propensity to commit crime. We don’t routinely identify men or women charged with criminal offences as “Christian”, “Buddhist”, “Jewish” or, for that matter, atheist, because this, too, would suggest that our belief – or non-belief – in Jesus, Buddha or Yahweh has a connection to our criminal intent. We may be described as “British” in a court appearance – to distinguish us from French or Spanish citizens with whom we are accused of consorting in crime – but never as British Catholics.

 

Criminals of Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin, Muslims though they probably are, are technically of “Asian background”. The catch is that the word “Asian” – according to the author – means Chinese. Or Japanese. That’s not a dated or a racist idea. Visiting an Asian restaurant in London, people don’t expect to eat Arab food. If acquaintances say they are bringing an Asian friend to dinner, expect to see a Chinese or a Japanese or a Burmese or a Thai or a Malaysian. Or Indian (albeit they may be Muslims). Chinese, after all, constitute more than a quarter of Asia’s 4.3 billion population. But if they are bringing a Muslim friend, they would say just that, or Iranian or Pakistani or perhaps – if they were from the “Western” end of the Muslim world – Arabs. The real subject to be confronted here, is whether the misogynistic, patriarchal world in which so many Muslims do indeed live has somehow leached over into crime; whether there actually is a connection between the Muslim identity of the men in Oxford and their crime; no, not their religion, but their background, call it “social”, cultural”, political or whatever. The 500 Imams obviously thought there was a connection. That’s why they all preached the same sermon at the same time.

 

The author’s argument is far larger than this. The 9/11 attacks brought down a lot of the sensibilities about “Muslims”. The killers were Arab Muslims. And reporters said so. But what could not be discussed was that almost all were from Saudi Arabia and that the identity of these men might suggest there were problems in the Middle East, which must not be the subject of conversation since it might involve America’s relations with Israel. But nobody referred to the hijackers of 9/11 referred to as an “Asian gang”. Which they were, were they not?

Sermons preached in mosques will do nothing to prevent child sex abuse in south Asian communities

Last Friday, Muslim leaders across the country united in openly condemning instances of child grooming and trafficking gangs within their communities. Organised by the non-profit group Together Against Grooming (TAG) and supported by the Muslim Council of Britain, a sermon delivered in around 500 mosques highlighted both the “moral depravity” and Quranic condemnation of such acts, which have no place in the Islamic faith.

There is no doubt that the intentions of the lectures were amicable, particularly in light of recent cases involving grooming gangs in Oxford and Rochdale. Yet in attempting to disassociate the wider Muslim community from such deplorable acts, they may have instead found themselves contributing to the toxic narrative often espoused by anti-Islamic groups such as the English Defence League, who argue that paedophilia and abuse are inherent within the religion. Further, while the gesture may have been widely praised by the media, it will have achieved little in getting to the roots of the problem, or preventing further such cases.

 

That’s largely because the relationship between Islam and grooming gangs is spurious at best. Some may argue that while these men were far from pious, Muslim leaders have a civic duty to address these issues. Where mosques are integral parts of local communities, they should play an active part in addressing issues that affect wider society. But we shouldn’t simply place pressure onto mosques and imams, for in reality they can do little but continue stating the obvious: that such acts are abhorrent and impermissible. In fact, a more effective way of tackling the epidemic of grooming gangs lies in encouraging the quieter voices within Asian communities – residents, community groups and local business owners – to speak out. Victims of abuse often find themselves at the mercy of the perpetrators, who are empowered simply because those around them are more than willing to keep quiet and look the other way. In fact, their silence highlights a far more complex cultural issue – notably the cult of shame and honour that forms the basis of social organisation within many South Asian communities. Indeed, it is not just the young victims of abuse that these grooming gangs were exploiting, but also the sensitivities of their cultural heritage.

 

The truth is that beyond the names of the perpetrators, Islam has little to do with these crimes. The real problem instead lies with cultural taboos and a hesitance by traditional communities to engage with such sensitive topics, which is readily exploited by criminal groups. The result of this continued silence is more victims of abuse and further hostility toward the majority of law abiding Muslims.

 

Muslims unite to condemn ‘extreme depravity’ of child grooming in first UK-wide single sermon

Imams across Britain will today deliver a sermon denouncing the practice of grooming following a series of sexual abuse cases involving Muslims. The religious speech, which will be read out in 500 mosques, opens with a reading from the Koran that prohibits “sexual indecency, wickedness and oppression of others” and continues to urge congregations to report suspected cases of child abuse. It is reportedly the first time a single sermon will be delivered in unison across the UK and is organised by campaign group Together Against Grooming with the support of the Muslim Council and Islamic Society of Britain.

 

The effort comes after the convictions of Muslim men in a string of cases including those in Rochdale, Derby and Oxford, where five men were yesterday sentenced to life in prison for their involvement in a sex abuse gang. Others involved in the sermon’s broadcast at midday prayers today have been keen to ensure sexual abuse is not disproportionately linked to Asian Muslim men.

Anti-fascists fuel the fire of hate

Last weekend, Tony Brett, a Liberal Democrat councillor in Oxford and the city’s deputy lord mayor, found what he called a “disgraceful rabble” of people climbing on the city’s main war memorial — squashing, he said, the flowers that mourners had placed there, then trying to remove half of them altogether and “jeering” other visitors as they paid their respects. That day, the memorial was supposed to be the scene of a wreath-laying by the far-Right, racist English Defence League. But neither Mr Brett, nor a local newspaper reporter on the scene, saw any sign of any EDL presence. All the hate Mr Brett said came from the self-appointed opponents of bigotry, a group called Unite Against Fascism (UAF). “It seemed to me they were doing exactly the kind of thing they were supposed to be protesting against,” said Mr Brett. “I will absolutely not support any hint of racism, Islamophobia or any other form of hate, be it from the EDL or any other group. That day I saw it from another group.” The Oxford branch of UAF said its members climbed on the memorial at the request of a photographer. “The EDL’s use of war memorials is an offence to all those who died fighting fascism,” it said in a statement. Since the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby last month, there have reportedly been at least 107 arrests during BNP, EDL and UAF demonstrations. At least 69 of those arrested, just under two thirds, were anti-fascist demonstrators, at least 58 of them UAF.

 

Prominent campaigners such as the gay rights activist Peter Tatchell accuse UAF of a selective approach to bigotry. “UAF commendably opposes the BNP and EDL but it is silent about Islamist fascists who promote anti-Semitism, homophobia, sexism and sectarian attacks on non-extremist Muslims,” said Mr Tatchell. “It is time the UAF campaigned against the Islamist far Right as well as against the EDL and BNP far Right.”

 

One reason why UAF will not campaign against Islamist extremists is that one of its own vice-chairmen, Azad Ali, is one. Mr Ali is also community affairs coordinator of the Islamic Forum of Europe, a Muslim supremacist group dedicated to changing “the very infrastructure of society, its institutions, its culture, its political order and its creed from ignorance to Islam”. Mr Ali has written on his blog of his “love” for Anwar al-Awlaki, the al-Qaeda cleric closely linked to many terrorist plots, including the September 11 attacks, and used to attend talks by Abu Qatada, the extremist cleric whom Britain is seeking to deport. He has described al-Qaeda as a “myth” and denied that the Mumbai attacks were terrorism. On his blog, he also advocated the killing of British troops in Iraq. He sued a newspaper for reporting that he had said this, and lost.

 

The racist Right thrives on two things: publicity and the politics of victimhood. The mob outrage practised by UAF gets the fascists more of both. Mr Brett added: “It just antagonises the situation. The way to deal with this stuff is not to fight it aggressively. That’s exactly what they want you to do.” Nobody has denied that there has been an increase in tensions since the murder of Drummer Rigby. The danger is that by exaggerating it, and by the politics of confrontation, supposedly anti-racist groups fuel the very division, polarisation and tension they are supposed to counter.

Mohamed Hamid: From petty criminal to tutor of terrorists

Preacher, described as ‘dangerously charming’, progressed from shoplifting to turning young men into jihadists. When Mohamed Hamid had his first brush with criminality, it saw him thieving a tin of sweetcorn and a packet of fishfingers. By the time he had finished, he had become one of Britain’s most prominent recruiting sergeants for Islamist extremism.

 

But while the man who told once told a police officer arresting him during a row in London’s Oxford’s street that his name was “Osama Bin London” insisted he dealt only in theology, his real stock in trade was providing the ideological groundwork for terrorism.

 

In his early 30s, he became a crack addict. After a redemptive trip to a mosque, Hamid rediscovered a version of his faith and opened an Islamic bookshop in the Clapton area of east London as well as attending rallies at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

 

It was at this point that he became increasingly radical and voluble, becoming involved with the coterie surrounding notorious cleric Abu Hamza. The judge in his trial, Mr Justice Pitchers, told him: “Mohammed Hamid, you are, in my judgement, dangerous. You can be quite genuinely amusing and charming. You also have real knowledge of the Koran and Islamic teaching. However, that is only one side of you.”

 

“You used your charm and knowledge of the Koran to influence others to terrorism… You continue to be a danger, not directly from your own actions, but from your ability to persuade others by criminal actions to commit terrorism offences themselves.”

 

Imams promote grooming rings, Muslim leader claims

Dr Taj Hargey, imam of the Oxford Islamic Congregation, said race and religion were inextricably linked to the recent spate of grooming rings in which Muslim men have targeted under-age white girls. Earlier this week seven members of a child sex ring from Oxford were found guilty of forcing underage girls to commit acts of “extreme depravity”. Their victims, aged between 11 and 15, were groomed and plied with alcohol and drugs before being sexually assaulted and forced into prostitution. They targeted “out of control” teenagers. Dr Hargey said that the case brought shame on the city and the community and is a setback for cross community harmony. The activities of the Oxford sex ring are “bound up with religion and race” because all the men – though of different nationalities – were Muslim and they “deliberately targeted vulnerable white girls, whom they appeared to regard as ‘easy meat’, to use one of their revealing, racist phrases”, Dr Hargey said. That attitude has been promoted by religious leaders, he believes. “On one level, most imams in the UK are simply using their puritanical sermons to promote the wearing of the hijab and even the burka among their female adherents. But the dire result can be the brutish misogyny we see in the Oxford sex ring.” To pretend it is not a problem is the Islamic community is “ideological denial”, Dr Hargey said. The men were allowed, he said, to come and go from care homes by the authorities, and if the situation had been reversed with gangs of white men preying on Muslim teenagers”the state’s agencies would have acted with greater alacrity.” True Islam preaches respect for women but in mosques across the country a different doctrine is preached – “one that denigrates all women, but treats whites with particular contempt,” men are taught that women are “second-class citizens, little more than chattels or possessions over whom they have absolute authority,”.

Oxford sex abuse: ‘Victorian’ misogyny is evident in all cultures which emphasise female purity

The distressing details of the Oxford child abuse case raise echoes of a similar case last year, involving the grooming of children for sex in Rochdale. In both, under-age white girls were the victims. All or most of the perpetrators were Asian men. The girls were from vulnerable backgrounds, including local authority care homes. Drugs, alcohol and violence were used to coerce the girls – and in both cases other men paid to use the girls for sex. The greatest difference lay in the motivation of the two groups of abusers, according to Mohammed Shafiq, of the Ramadan Foundation, a Muslim youth organisation, who was one of the first Asian community leaders to acknowledge that a disproportionate number of the men involved in on-street grooming were British Pakistanis. “The Rochdale abusers were taxi drivers and takeaway workers using the girls for quick sex. When they took money from other men to have sex with the girls the amounts were around £20-£30 a time,” “Oxford is much more to do with money. The men exploiting the girls were charging others £200-£600 a time and bringing eight to 10 men a day into hotels and restrooms. It was much more organised.” Police, social workers, academics and children’s charity workers all agree that most abusers are white and most child sex exploitation happens in the home. Journalist Allison Pearson wrote a blistering blog post in the Telegraph condemning the police, social services, and legal system’s fear of being seen as racist, which meant hundreds of girls were betrayed by the very mechanisms that were meant to protect them. What is really to blame, it is more generally suggested, is an oversensitivity by police and social workers terrified of being accused of racism. “Sensitivities over race should not be allowed to take precedence over children’s safety,” editorials have pontificated, as if anyone could seriously hold the opposite view. All this is accompanied by sanctimonious assurances that no one is suggesting that all Asians, Pakistanis or Muslims should be tarred with the same smeary brush. But much of the coverage subliminally invites exactly that. Statistics have been trotted out supposedly to substantiate this. Yet academics seriously studying the phenomenon say that figures have been used selectively to create certainties where none exist. She called Pakistani Muslim culture a “Victorian” society where men are taught that women have no value and can be used as sex objects, especially white girls, who, because of their greater freedom as compared to Pakistani Muslim girls, are freely available to be used and abused by these Asian men. It’s fairly obvious from the discussions on this issue that while Islam is not a race, “Islam” is being used as a euphemism or shorthand for Asian men from Muslim countries. Why not admit that there is an element of misogyny in all religions and cultures that emphasise sexual purity in women and divide girls into “good” and “bad” categories? For example, American Mormon kidnap survivor Elizabeth Smart recently told the press that abstinence classes – a hallmark of American Christian culture which is popular in some British circles – taught her that being raped made her no more worthwhile than a “chewed up piece of gum”. Perhaps the only thing that distinguishes these particular criminals from non-Muslim, non-Asian paedophiles is their modus operandi of working in gangs to systematically groom girls on the street. Other paedophiles have different setups: chatting from the safety and anonymity of their homes, for example, exchanging child pornography through hidden servers on the Internet, or worming their way into the hearts of their mothers and grandmothers before attacking them in their homes. So the rabble-rousing demand that all Muslims in the UK should “integrate” while at the same time demonising them as “other”, using the Oxford sex ring criminals – who would be regarded as scum in Pakistan – as representative of all Pakistani Muslim men is an object lesson in false equivalence. All of this confounds the lazy stereotypes about sex and race peddled by those in search of a sensationalist headline. The truth is not just more complicated but less conducive to reinforcing readers’ prejudices. Opportunity is as likely a factor as race here. Young vulnerable girls gravitate to a night-time economy where the taxi drivers and takeaway workers they encounter are more likely to be Asian. So why not headlines about “Taxi Sex Gangs”? Throughout our contemporary epidemic of child sex abuse, occupation seems just as significant a factor – as the wave of accusations against 1970s televisions celebrities, soap stars, music teachers, care workers and Catholic priests shows. The truth is that sexual predation is about power and its abuse by people in positions of authority. Culpability for the failure to combat it is often to be laid at the door of institutions more anxious to protect their reputations than concerned to protect the innocence of a child. There is another danger in peddling stereotypes. It diverts attention from the wider areas in which we should all be vigilant. The Oxford case raises a wide range of issues about the assumptions and systems of social workers, nine out of 10 of whom knew the girls were being groomed for sex by men who gave them drugs. It requires scrutiny of police procedures and the management of care homes. It should ask questions of the owners of the guesthouses in which the abuse took place, and of parents and of the public, for we all have a duty to ask questions about dubious-looking relationships.