DW-TV Expands Arabic Programming

Deutsche Welle has announced that it intends to extend its Arabic television programming from three hours a day to eight hours effective April 2, 2007. To provide this extended service, DW has increased its Arabian editorial staff in Berlin from 10 journalists to 30. “In some countries,” DW Director Erik Bettermann said, “our programming allows people to get to know German and European perspectives on issues, while in other states it performs the role of supporting freedom of the press and freedom of speech and promoting human rights.” The Arabic program, broadcast over the Nilesat and Hotbird 6 satellites, will be available in more than 20 countries from Morocco to Saudi Arabia, reaching an audience of around 10 million viewers. The expanded programming will also include Arabic subtitled feature shows and documentaries.

The Telegenic Face of Conservative Islam

Early one gray Friday morning in late December, Mona K. left her parents’ house in a residential neighborhood in Alexandria, Egypt, and headed downtown to Al Amirat, a wedding hall facing the Mediterranean Sea. She was going to see Amr Khaled, a Muslim TV preacher. Khaled’s devotional programs are broadcast on Iqraa, a Saudi-owned religious satellite channel, and together with millions of other mostly young Muslims in the Middle East and Europe, Mona is a loyal viewer.

Muslim Network Expands To More Than 1 Million Homes

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — A first-of-its-kind Muslim-American television network launched a year ago has gone from being a premium pay channel to a basic-cable offering on several cable and satellite systems, broadening its reach from 10,000 to more than 1 million U.S. homes. Bridges TV, featuring Muslim-American lifestyle and cultural programming, also has been approved by the Canadian Radio & Television Commission to start broadcasting in Canada. Founder and Chief Executive Muzzammil Hassan said the transition in markets including Detroit, Chicago, Boston and Washington means viewers while channel-surfing between Fox News Channel and CNN are coming across the English-language network and its coverage of issues like the Dubai ports controversy. “That completely changes and gives America a completely different and unique perspective that America has never had available before,” Hassan said. “That has been the biggest driving factor.” Bridges TV, with a staff of 25 to 30, produces a daily hourlong newscast at its studio in suburban Orchard Park. Broadcasts also include children’s educational programming, current affairs, cooking and travel shows, soccer and cricket matches, documentaries and sitcoms. As a premium channel for $14.99 per month, virtually all Bridges TV subscribers were Arabs and Muslims, Hassan said, giving the sense the network was preaching to the choir rather than advancing its goal of bridging understanding of American and Muslim cultures. The network “really fills a void,” said Adnan Mirza, a director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “There’s a clear disconnect between popular American media and the Muslim audience. … Americans are increasingly interested in better understanding Middle Eastern cultures, and Muslim Americans want to be better understood. Bridges TV creates a public platform for this dialogue.” The Buffalo office of the FBI has taken notice and will use the network for an “FBI Townhall Meeting” May 15, during which an FBI agent will field on-air questions and comments from Muslim and Arab-American viewers. Over the last several weeks, the network has been added to the basic cable packages of WOW! Cable, which has a presence in Chicago, Detroit and Columbus; Buckeye Cable in Ohio; and Shrewsbury Cable in Massachusetts. Verizon FiOS, a broadband service, and Globecast Satellite reach markets in Boston, Dallas, Tampa, Fla., and Washington, D.C. Bridges TV will soon launch on Rogers Cable in Canada. A charter sponsorship by Ford Motor Co. has offset the loss of premium subscription revenue, Hassan said. In its hometown market of Buffalo, Adelphia Communications will keep Bridges TV as a premium channel. A spokesman, Thomas Haywood, cited a low subscriber rate.

Europe Struggles To Balance Free Speech, Limits On Expression

By C_sar G. Soriano LONDON – Outspoken London Mayor Ken Livingstone may not be reporting for work Wednesday at the city’s egg-shaped town hall on the banks of the River Thames. Unless he appeals successfully, he will sit at home, serving a four-week suspension for comparing a Jewish journalist to a Nazi concentration camp guard. The mayor – a veteran of many foot-in-mouth controversies – had argued he was exercising his freedom of speech. The Adjudication Panel for England ruled against him Friday and found the mayor guilty of bringing his office into “disrepute.” Livingstone has refused to apologize. The suspension “strikes at the heart of democracy,” he said. Newspapers from several countries have asserted a right to free expression – and inflamed Muslims worldwide – by publishing Danish cartoons that depict the prophet Mohammed. At the same time, European courts, lawmakers and religious groups are pressing for limits on expression. In recent speech cases: _An Austrian court last week sentenced British historian David Irving to three years in prison for denying the Holocaust in a 1989 speech. Prosecutors are asking the court to lengthen Irving’s sentence. Ten European countries, along with Israel, have laws against denying the massacre of Jews by Nazi Germany in World War II. _A German court on Thursday convicted a 61-year-old businessman of insulting Islam by selling toilet paper printed with the word “Quran,” the name of Islam’s holy book. The man, identified in court papers only as Manfred van H., also referred to the Quran as a “cookbook for terrorists.” _Britain’s House of Commons on Feb. 15 approved a ban on speech and writing that glorifies terrorism. _Nick Griffin, leader of the right-wing British National Party, was acquitted Feb. 2 on charges of using hate speech for describing Islam as a “vicious, wicked faith” and comparing immigrants to cockroaches. _British lawmakers on Feb. 1 rejected Prime Minister Tony Blair’s proposed law against insulting religions. Among the critics of the bill was comic actor Rowan Atkinson, who plays Mr. Bean on TV and in movies. He argued that the bill would have curtailed the work of entertainers. _A British tour of the hit musical Jerry Springer – The Opera was delayed for a year and has suffered poor ticket sales, producers say. A religious group, Christian Voice, has organized protests against the tour. Christian Voice says the play is blasphemous and an insult to Christians because it contains foul language and depicts Christ as a guest on a daytime TV show. Europe’s view of freedom of expression is “less absolute” than the view in the USA, where First Amendment speech guarantees are broad, says Daniel Simons, legal officer for Article 19, a London-based human rights group that defends freedom of expression around the world. “Americans are more distrustful of the government and concerned about government limitations on freedom of speech,” Simons said. “Europeans feel freedom of expression is one value, but respect the legitimate need to protect the feelings of other people. I suppose the experience of World War II has led people to be more concerned about racism.” In an interview with the BBC earlier this month, Agnes Callamard, executive director of Article 19, said free speech guarantees put the United States at one extreme and governments that practice censorship at the other. Europe is in the middle, she said. In most European countries, the state “attempts to strike a balance between the right to freedom of speech and the right to equality, and therefore freedom from discrimination,” Callamard said. Many of the objections to “anything goes” free speech have been raised by religious groups. “With freedom of speech comes responsibility. And one has to be sensitive to the people within a society, so there are limits to what can be said,” said Jon Benjamin of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the group that brought the complaint against Livingstone. Even Amnesty International, a longtime advocate of freedom of expression, has called for laws that prohibit “hate speech” following the Danish cartoon flap. Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the London-based National Secular Society, says he is worried about the chilling effect of limiting speech, especially when it is the result of pressure from religious groups. Wood’s group has lobbied against government restrictions on speech. “Most of the objections are coming from Islam,” he said. “It’s a very worrying development because the freedom of speech is an enlightenment value that Europe must cling to. In the end, it’s the best defense against religious extremism and (best way) to resolve questions in a peaceful way.”

Making Room For Muslim Educators

By Jeffrey Fleishman The son of an immigrant coal miner, Musa Bagrac was raised in a city of steam and smoke, a place where men walked with crumpled lunch bags in calloused hands and Muslims felt adrift in makeshift mosques shadowed by church steeples. Bagrac moved like an unsure spirit between two worlds. In Hamm, his hometown about 20 miles south of here, he attended St. Joseph’s Elementary, where he sang “O Tannenbaum” in the choir. Twice a week he went to an Islamic school, learning the Koran and about the prophet Muhammad, wondering how to escape the working-class life of most German Turks. “We need poets, doctors and a middle class that German Muslims can aspire to,” said Bagrac, a 28-year-old university student with a wide face and sideburns. “Germans have come to see Islam as a religion of the working class. But Islam is a religion of all classes. That’s why it’s so important to get more Muslim teachers into schools.” Bagrac is a missionary of sorts in this nation of 3 million Muslims – nearly 4% of the population. He and about a dozen other students at the University of Muenster are enrolled in the first course of its kind in Germany: a curriculum preparing Muslim instructors to teach Islam in public schools while being sensitive to Western culture. Such ambitions have arisen against the backdrop of a troubling arc of violence, from the Sept. 11 attacks to last year’s train bombings in Madrid to this summer’s assaults on London’s transit system. The Islamic extremists’ war against Europe is widening, and conservative and liberal politicians across the continent are perplexed about how to better integrate a Muslim community that has doubled since the 1980s but remains in a largely parallel universe. Young Muslims such as Bagrac personify the intersection of the Islamic creed and European life. They carry iPods and hang out at dance clubs. Many are more attuned to reality TV than the bloody politics of Iraq. But they also pray five times a day, wanting to be devout without being stereotyped as fanatical. Most believe they can keep their faith despite the increasingly secular atmosphere around them. They move not apprehensively, but in a manner that suggests there is an invisible yet impenetrable divide between them and native Europeans. Some are demure. Others are quiet but forthright. A few are angry. They sip nonalcoholic beer and sweet tea; some of the more intense among them quote from both the Bible and the Koran. They have learned how to politely refuse “currywurst,” or pork sausage, sandwiches. And most have grown used to, though some still blush at, the public nudity in parks and on billboards advertising sex shows. This is a continent where Christmas, Hanukkah and Ramadan coexist, and national constitutions eloquently uphold human rights. But the rising militancy among young Muslims has challenged those constitutions and cast a shadow on the meaning of being European. “Learning Islam in school will finally give Muslim children the feeling of being home,” Bagrac said of his course, which awaits final state approval and may start graduating prospective teachers within three years. […]

Madrid Bomb Suspect Had Forged Belgian Passport

One of the men suspected of organising the 11 March bomb attacks in Madrid was carrying a false Belgian passport.Citing Spanish sources close to the investigation, Belgian press agency Belga said Jamal Ahmidan, a Morrocan also also known as ‘The Chinaman’, used his fake Belgian identity document to hire a house near to Madrid where he and his accomplices made the bombs used in the fatal train attacks. The Spanish Judge in charge of the investigation, Juan Del Omo, said that Ahmidan was “directly linked to the other suspects who actually placed the bombs that destroyed the trains.” Fake or stolen Belgian passports have figured in a worrying number of terror-related incidents in recent years.The two suicide bombers who posed as TV journalists in order to kill Afghan leader Ahmad Masoud in September 2001 were both carrying Belgian passports. And several other terror suspects have also been arrested in possesion of Belgian ID.