Chinese Muslim inmates at Guantanamo appeal to Germany

Several Uighurs held at Guantanamo Bay prison have appealed to the German government for asylum. A remote Pacific island has agreed to accept them but only on a temporary basis. Seema Saifee, a lawyer for the Uighur detainees, told Spiegel Online that their case had been put to the German government. “Our clients implore the federal government to open the door of Germany for them and to persuade other European nations to give protection to many other stateless Guantanamo prisoners,” Saifee said. Germany’s Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble made it clear last week that a decision could not be made because Germany regarded the information provided by the US State Department on the Uighurs as insufficient. The interior ministry has refused other applications from former Guantanamo inmates on national security grounds. Saifee said the men had been “upset and disappointed” by the critical attitude of Germany’s interior minister. “The Uighurs see Germany with the largest Uighur community in Europe as the best way to end their imprisonment for nearly a decade at Guantanmo Bay,” she said.

According to the United States, Spain remains “important logistical base” for terrorists

According to its annual report on terrorism, the U.S. State Department stated that “Spain remained an important transit and logistical base for terrorist organizations operating in Western Europe.” The State Department also said that Spain’s government and citizenry “were concerned that their country remained a principal target of domestic terrorism and Islamic extremism.” During 2008, Spain made 65 arrests of persons suspected of Islamic terrorism, including alleged sympathizers of groups like al-Qaeda. Despite the ongoing threat within Spain, the State Department said that Spain has made great efforts to prevent terrorists from getting access to its national financial institutions.

This news article highlights the importance of transnational cooperation in the fight against terrorism, and the reality that in order to strengthen its intelligence in areas of national security, international agencies require the working together across national lines and boundaries.

Muslims ‘Victims’ of Media

An International conference on multicultural relations recently discussed Muslim discrimination and representation of Islam in the media. US State Department advisor Farah Pandith said that Muslims suffered from a victimization mentality and that the media needed to play a more positive role. Amanullah Shahed, director of US news site AltMuslim.com told the audience at the conference that Muslims could learn from Europe, citing the disorganization of Muslims. Shahed also commented that Italy could be a leading model, sitting at the center and meeting point of the world’s two largest religions. His conversation, however, sparked negative responses from Muslim academics and clerics in both Italy and the Middle East.

A Dis-integrating Society: David Goodhart vs Tariq Ramadan

{On June 4, 2007, Tariq Ramadan wrote an editorial for the Guardian entitled, “Blair can no longer deny a link exists between terrorism and foreign policy.” He argued the debate around the [unwillingness of Muslims to integrate obscures attention from the need for British society to come to terms with its “self-professed values.” The next week, Prospect {editor David Goodhart published his reply, “An Open Letter to Tariq Ramadan” in} Prospect.} Tariq Ramadan’s Letter to the Guardian David Goodhart’s Open Letter to Tariq Ramadan {Below is an article about this debate published on Tabsir.net.} My colleague and friend Dr. Philip G. Ziegler directed my attention to a recent debate which has started between Tariq Ramadan and the Editor of Prospect, David Goodhart. The diatribe started when The Guardian published a letter by Prof. Ramadan. It is important to say that Prof. Ramadan has been at the centre of a controversial debate himself. Some consider him a progressive and moderate Muslim scholar, while others suggest that he is a cunning, insidious, and double-tongued extremist. Much of this allegation and subsequent debate took off when Prof. Ramadan accepted in February 2004 the tenured position of Luce Professor of Religion at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, USA. After first granting permission, the US State Department later revoked his visa in late July 2004, forcing him to resign his position…

Ellison talks up U.S. in Muslim circles

The State Department is turning to Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, to help burnish the country’s image in the Muslim world – despite Ellison’s outspoken criticism of the Bush administration’s foreign policy. “I plan to talk to people in the State Department and anywhere I can to help try to improve America’s image in the Muslim world, make friends for our country,” Ellison, a freshman Minnesota Democrat, said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “I want to help win friends for our country and to isolate true enemies.” In articles which included translations into Arabic and other languages, Ellison has been profiled by the State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs, which is distributed in foreign countries. He has meetings scheduled at the end of the month with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and with Karen Hughes, the State Department’s undersecretary for public diplomacy; Ellison spoke with Hughes by phone a few weeks ago. A spokeswoman for Hughes, Rena Pederson, said that Hughes has talked to Ellison about being a “sounding board.” “She does believe Muslim Americans can be a bridge to reach out to the rest of the world,” said Pederson. “She has talked to Congressman Ellison, because public diplomacy is not Democratic or Republican – but American. We have a mandate to provide a balance of views.” Ellison, who has called for an immediate withdrawal of military forces from Iraq, said he didn’t find it difficult to reconcile his criticism of the administration’s foreign policy with his promotion of American values. “Look, you know, administrations come and go,” he said. “But the basic core message of this country – which is tolerance, human rights, opportunity – does not change, regardless of who happens to be the president.” “And just because sometimes administration policies don’t clearly reflect that – as in the Iraq war – doesn’t mean it’s not still a core value of the American people,” Ellison added. Ellison’s outreach with the State Department was first reported by McClatchy News Service. Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an Islamic civil rights group, said that anything that can help the U.S. image in Muslim countries should be tried. “I think Keith Ellison is in a unique position to demonstrate the true nature of religious diversity in the United States to the Muslim world,” Hooper said. “I don’t think the State Department will ask him to endorse foreign policy – it will be a more generic, pro-American endeavor.”

Schools Proposal Disturbs Muslims; Baltimore County Schools Would Not Close For Holy Days

By Liz F. Kay A Baltimore County school board committee has made recommendations about religious holidays for the school system’s calendar, and a leader of the Muslim community said he is disappointed that it didn’t suggest closing for two Islamic holy days. One of the recommendations is to allow students to have two “excused absences” from school for religious holidays. But Bash Pharoan, president of the Baltimore County Muslim Council, has been lobbying to close schools on two Islamic holy days since 2004 because the system closes for the Jewish High Holy Days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. “The main issue is that the ad hoc committee failed again to recognize that the issue is about equality,” he said. “We want equal treatment.” State regulations already deem religious observance a “lawful absence,” along with illness or death of a family member. But the committee suggests that the county school system go a step further by petitioning the State Board of Education to amend its regulations so “religious observance would not mar a student’s official attendance record nor prevent any student from obtaining perfect attendance.” “Currently they are penalized de facto by the fact that their record indicates an excused absence,” committee Chairman Luis E. Borunda said. A state steering committee on minority achievement made a similar recommendation to the state board in 2004. Individual school districts set policies for recognizing perfect attendance, said William Reinhard, spokesman for the State Department of Education. For example, in Howard County, students are eligible for perfect attendance regardless of religious absences, according to published reports. Baltimore County schools spokeswoman Kara Calder said Friday that she was “not aware at this time of any schools in this system that calculate attendance using the lawful absence of religion as an exception.” Board members will discuss the recommendations tomorrow. If there is consensus, the recommendations will be sent to Superintendent Joe A. Hairston, said school board President Tom Grzymski. The committee’s other recommendations include: – Noting the Muslim holidays Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha on the calendar block of the days they are observed. – Having the school system refrain from scheduling exams on the two Muslim holidays. – Having the superintendent “make an effort to educate the county’s students on the significance of these holidays during the week preceding these holidays, or at an appropriate time during the school year.” – Having the superintendent monitor attendance at schools in areas where Muslims live. Grzymski said this is the first time during his four years on the school board that members have given the superintendent any direction before the calendar is set. Hairston has not yet appointed a calendar committee to develop recommendations for the 2007-2008 school year, Calder said. According to a school system rule, the committee should include representatives from the PTA Council of Baltimore County, the area education councils, the county student council and the teachers union. The superintendent is required to send his proposal to the county school board for approval a year before it takes effect, Calder said.

Tension Grows Over Mosque In Boston

BOSTON – It was to be the biggest mosque in the northeastern United States, a center of worship for Boston’s 70,000 Muslims and a milestone for America’s Muslim community.?Instead, construction of the $24.5 million center has been stalled by lawsuits and a deepening row between Jewish and Muslim leaders that reflects broader suspicions facing American Muslims after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Jewish leaders charge that former and current officials in the Islamic Society of Boston, which is building the 70,000-square-foot mosque, are linked to terrorist groups and have failed to distance themselves from radical Islam and anti-Jewish statements. The Islamic Society denies any connection to terrorism and considers itself victimized by a campaign to taint the mosque with accusations of ties to radical teachings. The society says it has repeatedly distanced itself from anti-Jewish statements by some of its leaders. Among Jewish concerns is whether a former Islamic Society trustee – outspoken Egyptian Sunni cleric Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi – praised Hamas and Hezbollah, which the U.S. State Department regards as terrorist organizations. “There is a great deal of anxiety,” said Larry Lowenthal, executive director of the American Jewish Committee’s chapter in Boston, whose Jewish population of 240,000 is the fifth- largest of U.S. cities. American Muslims are watching the case closely. “Unfortunately, I see the Boston case as indicative of a growing trend in anti-Muslim rhetoric that has grown after 9/11,” said Arsalan Iftikhar, legal director of the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest American Muslim civil rights group.

Bush Aide Meets With Muslims

By TARA BURGHART Associated Press writer ROSEMONT, Ill. – Karen Hughes, one of President Bush’s closest advisers, told a gathering of American Muslims on Friday that part of her new State Department job is to help amplify the voices of groups like theirs that are condemning terrorism and religious extremism. The Islamic Society of North America had invited Bush to attend its annual convention. He sent Hughes, who was recently confirmed as undersecretary of state for public diplomacy. Her tasks include improving the U.S. image in Muslims countries. “We need to foster a sense of common interest and common values among Americans and people of different faiths and different cultures,” Hughes said at a news conference opening the three-day event. “Frankly, who better to do that than many of our American Muslims themselves, who have friends and families and roots in countries across our world,” she said. The Indiana-based ISNA serves as an umbrella association for Muslim groups and mosques in the United States and Canada. Its convention comes just over a month after U.S. Muslim scholars issued a fatwa, or religious edict, condemning terrorism following deadly terrorist attacks this summer in London and Egypt. “The fatwa says that there is no justification in Islam for terrorism. Those are words the entire world needs to hear,” Hughes said. “And in delivering that message, I know that the most credible voices are of Muslims themselves. My job is to help amplify and magnify these voices.” At the news conference, ISNA unveiled a brochure outlining the Islamic position against terrorism and religious extremism. The pamphlet states that terrorism “is the epitome of injustice because it targets innocent people.” Kareem Irfan chaired the committee that produced the brochure and will be launching other initiatives to promote what ISNA calls “balanced Islam.” Despite “crystal clear statements stating the position of Islam and Muslims” against terrorism, there remains “inklings of doubt from segments of society,” he said. He said convention attendees, expected to total more than 30,000, will be asked to sign a pledge stating that they agree with the pamphlet’s position, and it will be distributed to mosques and churches. The convention was also attended by a 19-member delegation from Britain, where four suicide bombers killed 52 commuters on London’s transit system in July. The British group held a private meeting with Hughes, and she also met separately with ISNA leaders, women and young people. ISNA’s vice president, Ingrid Mattson, said those attending the meetings with Hughes were frank about their disagreements with the Bush administration on everything from foreign policy to concerns over the erosion of civil liberties. Several told her about the problems they regularly have with air travel because their Muslim names or dress prompt suspicion. One man who was supposed to be in a Thursday night meeting with Hughes walked in at the end because he was held by airport security for three hours until his name was cleared, Mattson said.