Understanding the Other

The Standard (De Standaard) announces the beginning of a fifteen segment, three-week long series in its print and online editions exploring various aspects of Islam, including the Qur’an and shari’a law. Extensive excerpts of the Qur’an will be included in publications. The series will address taboos such as whether Islam is a religion of violence spread by the sword. The paper invites feedback from Muslim to respond to the misinterpretation of their faith by Dutch society. A relationship of misunderstanding between Muslims and the Dutch society, according to the Standard, must pass-this is the only path towards respect.

Radical Muslims must integrate, says Blair

Tony Blair yesterday told radical Muslims that they had a “duty to integrate” into British society and warned them they could not be allowed to override what he described as the country’s core values of democracy, tolerance and respect for the law. “Our tolerance is part of what makes Britain, Britain. Conform to it; or don’t come here. We don’t want the hate-mongers, whatever their race, religion or creed,” Mr Blair said. In a speech to an invited audience in Downing Street, Mr Blair offered his most explicit support yet of attempts to limit the wearing of the Muslim veil in public and said ethnic and religious groups who want grants from the state would have to show they were promoting cohesion and integration. While endorsing the concept of multiculturalism – which has been criticised by, among others, Trevor Phillips, chair of the Commission for Racial Equality – Mr Blair argued: “For the first time in a generation there is an unease, an anxiety, even at points a resentment that our very openness, our willingness to welcome difference, our pride in being home to many cultures, is being used against us; abused, indeed, in order to harm us.” Faith schools are to be required to abide by guidelines on teaching tolerance and respect for other faiths, and will be encouraged to twin with schools from different religions. The Equal Opportunities Commission is also looking at how to address the ban on women in some mosques, and the government has announced a crackdown on foreign imams by requiring them to have a proper command of English before they are allowed to enter the UK. Mr Blair admitted that “the 7/7 bombers were integrated at one level in terms of lifestyle and work” and that “others in many communities live lives very much separate and set in their own community and own culture, but are no threat to anyone”. Religions had a “perfect right to their own identity and religion, to practise their faith and to conform to their culture”. But he said: “When it comes to our essential values – belief in democracy, the rule of law, tolerance, equal treatment for all, respect for this country and its shared heritage – then that is where we come together, it is what we hold in common. It is what gives us the right to call ourselves British. At that point no distinctive culture or religion supersedes our duty to be part of an integrated United Kingdom.” Mr Blair sympathised with Jack Straw, the leader of the Commons, who provoked controversy by announcing that he asked Muslim women to remove their veils when coming to his constituency surgeries in Blackburn. He offered firmer support for Kirklees council in west Yorkshire, which sacked a classroom assistant after she refused to do the same when teaching. “It really is a matter of plain common sense that when it is an essential part of someone’s work to communicate directly with people, being able to see their face is important,” Mr Blair said. The prime minister said that in the past money had been “too freely awarded” to groups representing different religions and racial groups, as “very good intentions got the better of us”. In future, grants would “promote integration as well as help distinctive cultural identity”. But Mr Blair also offered an upbeat assessment of the progress made in race relations in the UK in the last 40 years. He praised David Cameron for delivering a turning point in political debate. “I think it is great that in British politics today no mainstream party plays the race card. It is not conceivable, in my view, that this leader of the Conservative party would … misuse the debate on immigration and that is both a tribute to him and to the common culture of tolerance we have established in this country today,” Mr Blair said. Muhammad Abdul Bari, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, told Mr Blair that he could not “agree more” with his positive remarks on multiculturalism and integration. But in a statement he added: “It was disappointing to see that the PM continues to see the phenomenon of terrorism as a clash of values rather than being prepared to examine whether some of our misguided policies in the Middle East have contributed to gravely exacerbating the threat from extremist groups. It was also worrying to see the PM using emotive language such as Britain ‘being taken for a ride’ or its good and tolerant nature being ‘abused’. That can only help reinforce a ‘them and us’ attitude, when the reality is that there are a tiny group of people – from various different backgrounds – that commit criminal acts and should be dealt with firmly using due legal process.”

Pope stresses respect for Muslims

Pope Benedict XVI has expressed “total and profound respect” for Muslims, as he attempts to defuse a row between Islam and the Catholic Church. He made the remarks in a meeting with envoys from the Muslim world, weeks after a speech in Germany prompted an angry reaction by some Muslims. Iraq’s ambassador said it was time to move on from the row and build bridges. But the Indonesian envoy said he was surprised that there was no direct dialogue at the meeting. In the space of just half an hour, the pontiff made a brief speech to envoys before greeting them individually, but there was no general discussion. Muslim leaders had been demanding an unequivocal apology from the Pope for his words. Dialogue welcomed The meeting was held at the Pope’s residence near Rome. Ambassadors from 21 countries and a representative from the Arab League attended, as well as Islamic representatives in Italy. Of mainly Muslim countries with diplomatic relations with the Vatican, only Sudan failed to attend. “I would like today to stress my total and profound respect for all Muslims,” the Pope said in the speech. He called for “sincere and respectful dialogue”, adding that Christians and Muslims alike must reject all forms of violence and respect religious liberty. Correspondents say the latter was a reference to restrictions on the church’s activity in some Muslim countries. “Since the beginning of my pontificate I have had occasion to express my wish to continue to establish bridges of friendship with believers of all religions, showing particularly my appreciation in the belief in dialogue between Muslims and Christians,” he said. “…The inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue between Christians and Muslims is, in effect, a vital necessity, on which a large part of our future depends.” He also quoted his predecessor, John Paul II, stating the need for “reciprocity in all fields”. Iraqi ambassador Albert Yelda said he was satisfied by the Pope’s remarks. “I think it is time to put what happened behind us and build bridges among all the civilisations,” he said. But in a BBC interview, the ambassador of Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation, pointed out that the Pope had not referred directly to the speech which sparked the controversy. “We had hoped that there would have been a dialogue, but that was not the case,” Bambang Prayitno said. “There was no dialogue between the Pope and the guests… In general, we were actually a bit surprised that the meeting was a short one and just like that.” ‘Misunderstood’ The pontiff has expressed regret following the reactions in some countries to words of a speech he made in southern Germany earlier in the month. On Wednesday, he told pilgrims at the Vatican that his remarks in Bavaria last week had been “misunderstood”. He said his use of a quote from a 14th-Century Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Paleologos, did not reflect his personal opinion. The quote says: “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” The Pope said his real intention had been to “explain that religion and violence do not go together, but religion and reason do”.

Bishops’ Conference On Islam In Europe

EUROPE/IRELAND – Presence of Islam in Europe, freedom of press and respect for religions, ecumenical matters, focus of annual meeting for media officers and spokespersons of the Bishops’ Conferences of Europe Maynooth (Agenzia Fides) – The Media Officers and Spokespersons of Europe’s Bishops’ Conferences are set to meet in Maynooth (Ireland) from 20-23 July 2006. The 35 participants will come from 23 countries: Austria, Belgium, Belarus, Czech Republic, England and Wales, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Norway, Poland, Romania, Russia, Sweden, Scotland, Slovenia, Spain, and Switzerland. The meeting is organised by CCEE and is taking place at the invitation of the Irish Bishops’ Conference and the Director of their Communications Office, Martin Long. The Bishops’ Conferences’ media officers will discuss the following themes :the presence of Islam in Europe: the current trends in Islam and the pastoral challenges facing the Churches in the sphere of communications, too; the Catholic perspective on the freedom of the press and respect for religions; ecumenical matters, and in particular the development of the process of the Third European Ecumenical Assembly (Sibiu, Romania, 4-9 September 2007) and reconciliation among the Churches of Northern Ireland; the agenda of the European Union, and in particular the work of the EU Information Society and Media Commission. In addition, part of the meeting will also be dedicated to the exchange of information about current issues within the work of the Bishops’ Conferences. The schedule in Maynooth will include opportunities for prayer and the celebration of Mass. On Saturday 22 July, the participants will visit the ancient monastic site of Glendalough and in the evening will be received by the Archbishop of Dublin and ComECE Vice-president, Diarmuid Martin. (S.L.) (Agenzia Fides 18/7/2006, righe 17, parole 212)

Multiculturalism In Britain Is Dead, Says New Research

By Prasun Sonwalkar Multiculturalism as a way of social integration in Britain is dead, concludes a unique University of Leicester study after the July 7, 2005, blasts in London. It should instead be replaced by the idea of inter-culturalism, says the report published after the conclusion of the one-year research. The findings have significant bearing on Britain’s policies towards Asian and Afro-Caribbean minorities. Inter-culturalism is defined as a sharing of cultural experiences with people from a different culture. It contrasts with multiculturalism that celebrates diversity. The report, titled “Engagement With Cultures: From Diversity to Inter-culturalism”, is authored by researchers Bill Law, Tim Haq and Asaf Hussain, who carried out their research in Leicester, a town in the east Midlands with a large minority of Asian and Afro-Caribbean origin. The authors state: “We believe multiculturalism has failed. It was a concept and a social re-engineering policy with the best of intentions, but with little debate at the grassroots. It failed to recognise or ignored the dangers of religious fundamentalism with deadly consequences. “It was yesterday’s message conveyed by yesterday’s men and women. “Multicultural policies saved no lives in London. The ones who died and were injured through the terrorist actions of British born terrorists in July 2005 came from all countries, cultures and religions.” “Our message is simple. Britain’s population has to become integrated.” Key conclusions of the report are: * Cities with immigrants directly from South Asia face greater challenges than those whose South Asian immigrants came from Africa. * Inter-cultural bridging has no value if it is a middleclass exercise. It has to occur at grassroots to have any impact. * Funding of cultural organisations must change. Funding should be conditional on engaging with other cultures. * Ensure citizenship is part of the education agenda. * Remove the link between religion and nationality, for example British Muslim, as this is mutually contradictory (one refers to a nationality and the other to a faith). Instead, this should be replaced with, for example, British Indian or British Pakistani. The report adds: “The term ‘British’ should be given specific meaning in terms of values of the adopted land in which such persons are settled.” According to the authors, “The term British should mean values of British society. It suggests respect for the monarchy; loyalty to the state (elected government); internalise values of democracy ie to express difference through democratic process, not violence; respect and abide by the law; accept plural society.”

New Opinion Poll About Spanish Muslims

According to a new opinion poll, 83% of the Spaniards think of Muslims as “fanatics” and 58% of them believe that there is a “natural conflict” between being a practising Muslim and living in, and adapting to, a modern society. Spain is the only Western country where the perception of Muslims has gone into “free fall” over the last year: only 29% of Spaniards now have a positive image of Islam and Muslims, as opposed to 46% in 2005. Even more surprising is that 41% think that the overwhelming majority of Muslims who live in Spain (more than one million, including nearly 800.000 Morrocans) support extremists groups, whereas only 12% of Spanish Muslims think that Al Qaida radicals enjoy support within the Muslim community. The distorted image of the Muslims in Spain contrasts with the positive image of the Spaniards among the Muslims: 83% of the Spaniards believe that Muslims in Spain do not respect their wives, while 82% of these Muslims think that the Spanish treat their wives well.

Denmark: Denmark Seeks To Rebuild Relations With Islam

WASHINGTON — Denmark is determined to rebuild ties to its own Muslim population and to the greater Islamic world — and may look to the United States as a model, Danish Ambassador Friis Arne Petersen said yesterday. Denmark found itself at the center of a global firestorm after a local newspaper last fall printed a series of caricatures of the prophet Muhammad. After other European newspapers reprinted the cartoons, angry demonstrations — some violent — erupted across the Islamic world — and several Danish diplomatic posts and businesses were targeted in the outburst. “I think we can learn from the United States, on matters such as integration and assimilation of our minority communities,” Mr. Petersen told a forum sponsored by the Pakistan chapter of the Universal Peace Foundation and the Ambassadors for Peace Foundation held at The Washington Times. “I think we in Denmark and in Europe generally have to become more aware of religious sensibilities. We are interested in building bridges, not burning them,” he said. The government of center-right Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has turned aside demands from some Muslim leaders for an official apology for the cartoons, saying freedom of expression and a free press are bulwarks of Danish democracy. But Mr. Petersen said Danish officials also have looked for ways to use the crisis to improve relations with the country’s Muslim minority and with Islamic states. A major conference Friday in Copenhagen brought together Muslim and Christian scholars, many of whom urged the West and Islam to come together to foster understanding and rebuild ties damaged in the cartoon controversy. At yesterday’s forum, Mr. Petersen said moderates on both sides of the global debate had to “transcend” the temptation to paint the cartoon uproar as a stark choice between pure freedom of expression and respect for religion. “Democracy is the basis of the discussion, but for us Danes, the dialogue must be based on mutual respect,” he said. “There can never be any doubt about that.” The diplomat said Danes traditionally have enjoyed frank debate, questioning authority and a reputation for tolerance, but conceded that his small country was still reeling from the fact that it was at the center of a worldwide controversy. “We Danes tend to see our country as a role model,” he said. “We never could have imagined that we would see Danish embassies burning. “We never wanted this; we never asked for it,” he added. “Some Danes do not understand the reaction, and so we get worried, we get disturbed, we get overwhelmed.” Mr. Petersen said most Muslims in Denmark are being accepted into society, although some still resist learning the language and accepting all of the country’s traditional political values. He said countries across Europe are increasingly working with religious leaders, scholars, private groups and other governments on how best to accommodate sizable Muslim populations now in Europe. He said many on the continent are looking to the American model for ideas. “Look at any European country today, and I would say they have not been as successful as the United States in this matter,” he said.

Turkey: Europe Expects Turkey’s Help To Overcome Cartoon Crisis

The cartoon crisis has once again reminded Europe of Turkey’s importance. The European Union (EU) Term President Austria emphasized Turkey’s vital importance in maintaining dialogue with Muslim countries, and the union expects Ankara to play a pivotal role in the solution to the crisis. The insulting caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed created a troublesome situation for European countries. The Council of Europe, the European Commission and European Parliament (EP) representatives emphasized freedom of expression must be used in a responsible way. Austria, leading the opposition to Turkey’s full membership on October 3, announced that a joint dialogue initiative will be instigated with Muslim countries and declared Turkey will play a key role in solving the crisis. Former Danish Prime Minister Poul Nyrupp Rasmussen said the publishing of the controversial drawings was a big mistake. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso mellowed in support to Denmark and said freedom of expression must be used responsibly. A bill on the cartoon crisis will be put to the vote at an EP General Council assembly today. Austrian Minister for European Affairs Hans Winkler, in the speech made during yesterday’s meeting, underlined that freedom of expression cannot be used irresponsibly. He said that limits must not be exceeded when dealing with the religious freedoms. The cartoon crisis shook the mutual confidence that existed between the EU and the Muslim world at its foundations. We must ask ourselves where we went wrong. The Austrian minister reminded that an initiative of dialogue must begin to overcome the crisis, and that Turkey will play a crucial role in the process. Winkler said he is in close contact with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul. Barroso, who earlier gave full support to the Danish government, has recently softened his discourse and said: Freedom of expression is not a disputable right but is based on the individual using it in a responsible way as it is with other rights. We must respect the Muslims’ religious sensitivities and tolerate them to protest the caricatures in a peaceful way. Barroso reminded that freedom of expression is not limitless and there are restricting articles in all European Union countries. I agree with Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen who said he respects Islam and supports no action intended to degrade Muslims. I want to tell the Danish people, the most open and tolerant society of the world, that the EU is with them. Former Danish PM: Cartoons were mistake Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen received a severe rebuke from his predecessor Poul Nyrupp Rasmussen. The former prime minister said the publication of the scandalous cartoons was outright irresponsibility, and that Rasmussen’s refusal to meet ambassadors from Islamic countries was an incomprehensible attitude. In his speech at the European Parliament, the former prime minister said on behalf of the Social Democrats that it is wrong to force the entire Danish population to pay for the mistake made by one Danish newspaper. Other Danish parliamentary members focused on the issue of the commercial boycotts. Karin Riis Jorgensen argued that European Union officials had failed to support Denmark in handling the cartoon crisis: How sensible would it be to talk of European camaraderie when a European company boycotts goods from another European country? asked Jorgensen in condemnation of Carrefour, a French company participating in the boycott of Danish products. Jens Peter Bonde, a Danish Democratic parliamentarian, said: Islam is not above Danish laws. Denmark cannot make concessions to freedom of expression. The Christian Democrats and the Socialists, the two largest groups in the European Parliament, shared the opinion that careless use of the right of freedom of expression cannot be tolerated, because respect must be shown towards religious values. We need to show far more respect for Muslims in Europe if we want them to show equal respect to us too, said Cohn Bendit, spokesman for the Greens, criticizing discrimination against Muslim migrants. Several French rightwing extremists believe that Turkey’s membership to the European Union should be shelved because of what happened during the cartoon crisis. According to Javier Solana, High Representative of the European Union for Common Foreign and Defense Policies, the United Nations will have the assurance that respect for different religions will not be violated. The idea is to bridge the gap between Europe and the Islamic world once again, said Solana at a meeting with Jordanian King, Abdullah II. Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodrigues Zapatero meeting with representatives of the Islamic Society in Spain reiterated the joint call for calm, an appeal that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier shared with his Spanish counterpart.

Us Latinas Seek Answers In Islam

By Christine Armario UNION CITY, N.J. – Jasmine Pinet sits on the steps outside a mosque here, tucking in strands of her burgundy hair beneath a white head scarf, and explaining why she, a young Latina, feels that she has found greater respect as a woman by converting to Islam. “They’re not gonna say, ‘Hey mami, how are you?’ ” Ms. Pinet says of Muslim men. “Usually they say, ‘Hello, sister.’ And they don’t look at you like a sex object.” While some Latinas her age try to emulate the tight clothes and wiggling hips of stars like Jennifer Lopez and Christina Aguilera, Ms. Pinet and others are adopting a more conservative lifestyle and converting to Islam. At this Union City, N.J., mosque, women account for more than half of the Latino Muslims who attend services here. Nationwide, there are about 40,000 Latino Muslims in the United States, according to the Islamic Society of North America. Many of the Latina converts say that their belief that women are treated better in Islam was a significant factor in converting. Critics may protest that wearing the veil marks a woman as property, but some Latina converts say they welcome the fact that they are no longer whistled at walking down a street. “People have an innate response that I’m a religious person, and they give [me] more respect,” says Jenny Yanez, another Latina Muslim. “You’re not judged if you’re in fashion or out of fashion.” Other Latina Muslims say they also like the religion’s emphasis on fidelity to one’s spouse and family. But for many family members and friends, these conversions come as a surprise – often an unwelcome one. They may know little of Islam other than what they have heard of the Taliban and other extremist groups. That creates an inaccurate image, insists Leila Ahmed, a professor of women’s studies and religion at Harvard University. “It astounds me, the extent to which people think Afghanistan and the Taliban represent women and Islam.” What’s really going on, she says, is a reshaping of the relationship between women and Islam. “We’re in the early stages of a major rethinking of Islam that will open Islam for women. [Muslim scholars] are rereading the core texts of Islam – from the Koran to legal texts – in every possible way.” New views of women and Islam may be more prevalent in countries like the US, where women read the Koran themselves and rely less on patriarchal interpretations. “I think the women here are asserting more their rights and their privileges,” says Zahid Bukhari, director of the American-Muslim Studies Program at George- town University. ” Some Latina Muslims say they harbored stereotypes about Muslim women before deciding to convert, but changed their minds once becoming close friends with a Muslim. “I always thought, geez, I feel sorry for women who have to wear those veils,” says Pinet. Then she met her Muslim boyfriend and began studying the Koran with a group of Muslim women. She says she was impressed with the respect they received. “A women is respected because she is the mother, she takes care of the children, and she’s the one that enforces the rules,” Pinet says. “They’re the ones who are sacred.” Critics of the decisions of Latinas to convert to Islam say they are adopting a religion just as patriarchical as the Roman Catholic faith that many are leaving behind. “While it’s true the Latino culture tends to be more male-dominated, and there’s a tendency toward more machismo, I would venture to say it exists [in Islam] as well,” says Edwin Hernandez, director of the Center for the Study of Latino Religion at the University of Notre Dame. Latinos account for six percent of the 20,000 Muslim conversions in the United States each year, according to a report published by the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Anecdotal evidence suggests this number may be rising. But that doesn’t mean it’s getting any easier for the women who make this choice. “At first it was anger and then more like sadness,” Nylka Vargas says of her parents’ reaction when she told them she was converting to Islam and began dressing more conservatively. “They would sometimes feel strange being around me.” Pinet’s family has been more accepting, but she too has encountered some resistance in her community. It’s as if you’ve betrayed your own kind,” she says. For some, the cultural differences are the most trying. “I can’t eat pork, I can’t wear [form- fitting] clothing, I can’t dance in the clubs, I’m not gonna attend church,” says Ms. Yanez, who is of Cuban and Spanish descent. “But I keep my language, and there’s still things that we do as Latinos that they don’t have to change.” Within the Islamic community, Latina Muslims report being warmly received, although language barriers sometimes exist for Latinas who only speak Spanish. There are few Spanish services at mosques and a limited number of Islamic texts in Spanish. Grassroots organizations specifically for Latino Muslims have been created in recent years. They function in part as an informational resource for new converts and but also as a support group for those who encounter difficulties at home. Ultimately, Latina Muslims say that time heals the divisions and angst their conversion sometimes causes among friends and family. “What I had to learn was patience,” says Vargas, whose family came to accept her religious beliefs after several years. “Sometimes things are not as we want them.”

Italian Woman’s Veil Stirs More Than Fashion Feud

By Ian Fisher REZZO, Italy – The immediate issue is how one woman in one tiny town in northern Italy dresses, so it made a certain kind of sense for Giorgio Armani to weigh in. His opinion? A woman should wear what she likes, even if what she likes is a veil that hides her face completely. “It’s a question of respect for the convictions and culture of others,” Mr. Armani, the fashion designer, said in a statement released late last month. “We need to live with these ideas.” He was speaking out in defense of Sabrina Varroni, a Muslim woman from this town near the Swiss border who has been fined 80 euros, about $100, for appearing twice in public wearing a veil that completely covered her face. Her punishment has won cheers from some Italians and has horrified others.