Islam, Ethnicity and the Banlieues

The most astonishing thing about the recent riots was the surprise of the media, in France as elsewhere, at this outbreak of violence. For indeed, violence in the suburbs is nothing new. In the 1980s, the suburbs of Paris and Lyon were similarly set aflame. And in November of 2004, the violence of the suburbs broke out in the very heart of Paris when two rival gangs clashed on the Champs Elysées. Nor is the isolation of French youth a new phenomenon. Since the 1981 “rodeo riots” in the Lyon suburb Les Minguettes, social and economic conditions in the suburbs have only deteriorated, despite the often generous funding of urban development projects. It is not sufficient, however, to attribute these outbreaks of violence solely to factors of social and economic marginality. This marginality is exacerbated by a general context of urban degradation: a degradation, furthermore, which affects a very specific sector of the population. That is, the crisis of the banlieues primarily concerns first- and second-generation immigrants from the former colonies of the Maghreb. This population has frequently been treated as a separate case, not only in terms of the history and conditions of immigration, but also in terms of the politics of integration. This constant exclusion results in the fact that the issues of poverty, ethnicity, and Islam tend to be conflated, both in current political discourse and in political practice. The recent violence is but the direct consequence of the constant amalgamation of these three separate issues.

Denmark: Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen pleased to hear Muslim leaders condemn terrorism

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen was pleased Tuesday to hear Muslim leaders condemning terrorism clearly, at the end of a meeting with 22 Imams and representatives of Muslim associations. This meeting at the residence of Mr. Rasmussen in Marienborg was convened to discuss the means of preventing extremism following the terrorist attacks from last July 7th in London. It falls under a series of dialogues initiated by the chief of the social democrat government preceding Rasmussen after the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001 in the United States. {(continued in French)} Le Premier ministre danois Anders Fogh Rasmussen s’est f_licit_ mardi de voir des responsables de la communaut_ musulmane condamner clairement et sans _quivoque le terrorisme, _ l’issue d’une r_union avec 22 imams et repr_sentants d’associations musulmanes. Cette r_union, _ la r_sidence de M. Rasmussen (lib_ral) _ Marienborg, a _t_ convoqu_e pour discuter des moyens de pr_venir l’extr_misme dans la population musulmane _ la suite des attentats terroristes du 7 juillet dernier _ Londres qui ont fait 56 morts. Elle s’inscrit dans une s_rie de dialogues initi_e par le chef du gouvernement social-d_mocrate pr_c_dent Poul Nyrup Rasmussen apr_s les attentats terroristes du 11 septembre 2001 aux Etats-Unis. “C’_tait une r_union positive o_ les participants autour de la table ont pris vigoureusement, clairement et sans _quivoque leurs distances vis_-vis de toutes les formes de terrorisme” a d_clar_ le Premier ministre sur la cha_ne nationale TV2. Il a jug_ _galement “constructif” que les imams ayant particip_ _ cette r_union aient affirm_ qu’ils avaient une responsabilit_ pour assurer que les jeunes d’origine immigr_e ne soient pas attir_s par des groupes fanatiques et extr_mistes”. M. Rasmussen a estim_ par ailleurs “essentiel de ne pas g_n_raliser, dans le d_bat public, et de consid_rer l’islam en tant que religion comme un probl_me et les musulmans comme des terroristes potentiels”. Rappelant que c’est “uniquement une minorit_ de groupes fanatiques qui commet les actes terroristes”, il a soulign_ que “la plupart des musulmans veulent vivre pacifiquement et contribuer positivement _ la soci_t_ dans laquelle ils vivent”. Trois parlementaires danois d’origine musulmane, les seuls d_put_s invit_s, ont boycott_ cependant cette r_union. Kamal Qureshi du parti socialiste du Peuple (opposition) a d_clar_ _ l’AFP que le Premier ministre danois, “contrairement _ d’autres responsables europ_ens comme (son homologue britannique) Tony Blair, m_le religion et politique et invite uniquement les musulmans pour parler de terrorisme, mettant ainsi _ l’index un groupe d_termin_ de la population”. Il s’est d_clar_ “_tonn_ qu’on l’invite non en tant que d_put_, mais en tant que musulman, et qu’on n’ait pas convoqu_ _galement des repr_sentants de mouvements d’extr_me droite, comme le responsable de Radio Holger qui avait appel_ _ chasser les musulmans d’Europe, et au besoin d’exterminer les radicaux”.

In England’s Ghettoes, Bin Laden Beckons

By Stanley Reed Ever since bombs on three London Underground trains and a bus killed 56 people including the four suspected bombers on July 7, Britain has been on an emotional roller coaster. No sooner had the police identified the suspects in those attacks than four more would-be bombers struck on July 21.Fortunately, that wave fizzled when the bombs proved duds. The police moved remarkably quickly to corral the suspects in the new case, arresting four alleged bomb carriers on July 29, including one nabbed by the Italian authorities in Rome. Despite this “best day ever” for Britain’s security services, unease still lingers in the nation’s capital. The arrests, which continue on an almost daily basis, still leave many questions that need to be answered before anyone can pronounce this particular run of horror over. EAGER PAWNS. For instance, were the two attacks linked and thus part of a wider conspiracy that may include other cells? According to press reports, Hamdi Isaac (also known as Hussain Osman), the suspect held in Rome, has told the Italian authorities that his group, composed of refugees from the troubled Horn of Africa, had no ties to the July 7 group, which consisted of three British-born men of Pakistani descent and one man of Jamaican origin. But Osman, who said the July 21 attempts were intended merely to protest British policy in Iraq rather than to kill, may not have been made privy to the ties between the groups, or to the wider world of Islamic radicalism. If those dead and in jail represent mere pawns in the game of veteran masterminds, then Britain and perhaps all of Europe could be in for a long siege. What the attacks have revealed or perhaps underlined again is that there exists in Britain and elsewhere in Europe a pool of young Muslims sufficiently alienated to make them easy prey for the recruiters of radical groups who lurk in Muslim communities. The reasons for the alienation vary. According to national statistics, British Muslims, who mostly come from the Asian subcontinent, fall at the bottom of society in measures such as unemployment and educational qualifications. “THE ISLAMIC THING.” Joblessness among British Muslims, for instance, hovers at 15% to 22% for youths, vs. around 5% for the overall population. Many of those who do work are stuck in low-level jobs. “The number in catering is just staggering,” says Steven Vertovec, a professor of social anthropology at Oxford University. “We are not seeing much intergenerational social mobility.” Many of those born in Britain often grow up in inner-city ghettos, where they attend schools populated by people mostly like themselves. Members of the Muslim community say that some youths have difficulty coping with the clash between the traditional mores of Pakistan or Bangladesh and Britain’s liberal sexual attitudes. “I feel sorry for the youngsters,” says Amjad Pervez, 47, who owns a food-services business in Bradford, a small city near Leeds, the home of three of the July 7 suspects. Pervez, who emigrated from Pakistan in 1969, says, “I think it’s a grind children are going through — they’ve got cultural baggage, they’ve got the Islamic thing. In every aspect of their lives they see conflict, conflict, conflict. Some of the youngsters can’t take it.” “CHALLENGER TO AMERICA.” Yet economic and social alienation are far from enough to lead young men to bomb commuter trains. The latest wave of bombings should be seen as the response of a small but lethal minority of Muslims in Britain and elsewhere to what they consider the humiliation of the world Muslim community by the West and its surrogates in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Palestinian areas, and elsewhere. Osama bin Laden, the Al Qaeda leader, serves as a role model that these young men admire. As Saad al-Fagih, a London-based Saudi dissident and expert on radical Islamic groups, explains: “An angry Muslim does not know how to translate his anger into sophisticated action with a strategy. All he knows is a man called bin Laden is acknowledged as the real challenger to America. “Only a person with this (bin Laden’s) group can satisfy his ambitions and let him feel he had done something for the umma (community) of Islam. He looks for some means to contact this group. At the same time, the group has its own recruitment people who can reach him. Once they meet, it’s all over. They will tell him what to do — a plan with a specific action, with a specific place, and a specific time.” HOW MANY MORE? Al Fagih thinks a senior figure in Al Qaeda gave the order for the London attacks, though the details were left up to the cells. Al Qaeda-linked groups have taken responsibility, but the authenticity of the Web messages cannot be verified. What’s certain is that no matter how direct their connection to the attacks, bin Laden and al Qaeda provided the inspiration for these two groups of young Muslims. It is hard to think that there aren’t others like them thinking along similar lines.

Dutch Parties Reject Hijab Ban Proposal

By Khaled Shawkat THE HAGUE – The Dutch far-right was dealt a fresh heavy blow in Parliament after most parties turned down a proposal to ban hijab in public administrations. Pim Fortuyn, an anti-immigration party named after its founder killed in 2002, found no support in its bid forcing Muslim civil servants to take off the dress code, the Dutch ANP news agency reported on Thursday, March 18. Joost Eerdmans, a parliament member of the party said after the emergency session on Wednesday, March 17, that the government should stand neutral in dealing with citizens – something he said should be reflected in their clothes. All other parties refused the plea, stressing citizens’ right to freedom of clothing choice and equal treatment by judicial employees as well, parliamentary sources told Eerdmans accused the Dutch Liberal Party (VVD) of putting up hypocrisy in the debate in the legislature. The party leaders switched their stanch attacks on hijab in media outlets to another position, especially Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali refugee who had arrived in the country ten years ago and known for her anti-Islam remarks, the far-extremist party member charged. A number of Muslim women, promoted to posts in the Dutch judicial system or being lawyers remarkably in recent years, have insisted to wearing hijab in their work. Conditions Nevertheless, the government is preoccupied with setting a number of conditions on clothes judicial employees should wear during work hours, the parliamentary sources said. The Christian Democratic Party (CDP), now leading the ruling coalition, also called for workers of other governmental sectors – including the police, army and National Guard sectors – to stick to a “special code of dress” set by officials there. Political parties have expressed hopes to discuss the issue of hijab in a much broader way, as official sources said in press statements that the government still works out a final say on it. Muslim civil servants wearing hijab are growing in number as the one-million Muslim community – making up 6% of the overall population – keep upsurge if compared with other ethnicities. Most Muslims here are from Morocco and Turkey who arrived as guest workers in the sixties and seventies. In December 2003, the two parties of the ruling Dutch coalition of CDP and VVD locked horns over banning Islamic education in the European country. Exaggerated Muslims reacted to the fuss over hijab with a mixed skepticism and anger. Naema Azough, an Arab-Dutch member of the Dutch Green Left Party, on the opposition track, said the debate is exaggerated and unjustifiable. Interior Minister Yohan Remkes said on Wednesday that the hijab of Muslim women workers should be designed in a way consistent with the nature of the job and work conditions. Azough said there is a few number of hijab-clad women working in public administrations, citing that only three women wearing the gear in the Prison Guard sector as an example. Muslim officials highlight that their hijab poses no restriction to their work, denying the dress code has proven threat to secularism or Muslim women’s integration in the European country. Success & Fears Many of hijab-clad women were catapulted into success in many political, scientific and social fields, the most prominent of whom is Fatma Al-Ateq, former interior minister’s advisor and a current member of the Dutch parliament. In 2002, the Muslim minority celebrated their first hijab-wearing lawyer Jamila Arselan. In September 2002, two hijab-clad students were honored by a Dutch faculty for their excellence and dedication. Hijab is no obstacle to the integration of women in Holland, as hijab-clad Muslims have achieved a remarkable success in various fields of study and work, Rabiaa Bouhalhoul, the head of social integration department in the local government of Rotterdam told IOL on January 27. Bouhalhoul said that claims that the Islamic wear runs counter to the principles of secularism are the work of European far-right extremist parties seeking to satisfy voters. Bouhalhoul warned that France’s imminent ban on hijab in state schools would have grave repercussions on Muslims in the West. But she ruled out that The Netherlands would follow in the footsteps of France, as the education system is different in both countries. The one million Muslims of Holland 16 million citizen have established over the past 30 years hundreds of religious, social and cultural organizations, many of which receive grants from the Dutch authorities. The Muslim official, however, conceded that many other officials are greatly affected – even consciously – by media outlets. Deputy Prime Minister, and VVD Leader, Gerrit Zalm argued in a general party congress in the southeastern town of Eindhoven last year that the government should also ban Islamic schools. Muslim women took to the streets of Helmond city, southeast of the Netherlands, in September 2003 to protest a decision by the city’s municipality to withhold an annual grant for a government-aided social organization, allocated for women-only swimming classes.