By Sakhr Al-Makhadhi in London Protesters say their rights as Muslims are being threatened Imperial College in London is battling controversy over the ban of the face veil on campus. The College in West London has banned the niqab as a security measure. But the hijab, which covers only the hair and has been banned in French schools, is allowed. Tony Mitcheson, the college secretary, said that the ban was needed “in light of security concerns raised by the terrorist incidents which occurred over the summer”, referring to the bombings in the capital on 7 July and the attempted bombings on 21 July. Abigail Smith, a spokesman for the college, said that it needed to be able to identify everyone on campus. “It’s not a blanket ban on religious dress – we’re just asking people not to cover their faces for security reasons,” she said. Hugo Charlton, a human rights barrister, said that the college was within its legal jurisdiction to implement such a measure. “I expect that the college does have a right, because this is private property,” he said. “But I expect that the courts would say that they need a good justification for it.” Protest denounced On Friday, about 35 students demonstrated against the measure. Ruji Rahman said the ban on face veils is the latest in a string of measures designed to drive Muslims out of Imperial. “I studied hard, I got into a top university and now I’m being asked to sacrifice that because of my religion,” she said. The president of the Student Union dismissed the demonstration as scaremongering. Sameena Misbahuddin said: “[The protest] is based on something that’s not true – it’s based on the banning of hijabs, which quite clearly is not the case.” Nevertheless, the Student Union is concerned that the Muslim community could feel targeted. “There’s religious discrimination that it could provoke, with the full-veil and half-veil [ban], it’s open to any sort of interpretation, it could be used any time the college wants to have a problem with someone,” Misbahuddin said. Misbahuddin will be taking those concerns to college officials next week. Scaring potential students The ban on the niqab and the subsequent demonstration has created controversy which seems to be scaring potential students away from Imperial. Smith told Aljazeera.net that a potential student had called her to ask if she would be able to wear her hijab at the college. “She was thinking about cancelling her application,” Smith said, adding: “And that’s very worrying.” That is a fear that Rahman shares. “We’ll end up getting no Muslim students coming to university – just like France,” she said.
By Lisa Fernandez Huda Shreim used to be a bad girl: Cutting class, fighting, lying, scrawling graffiti. Today, the 19-year-old Jordanian immigrant prays five times a day and covers herself from head to toe, following the Islamic mandate to dress modestly. She’s easy to spot in a full-length tie-dyed pink abaya robe and matching head covering as she stops in at Starbucks or Barnes & Noble in Fremont, where she lives. Shreim is a member of a new wave of Muslim youth in Silicon Valley, and elsewhere, who are breaking with their secular upbringing and becoming more devout. In many ways, the phenomenon is nothing new or unique to being a Muslim. But this group is special in that their desire to become more observant intensified after Sept. 11. Their motivation? To show the world that they can be religious Muslims, dress traditionally and not be terrorists. Surprisingly, these young people say that putting on austere-looking garb from Saudi Arabia is a very American thing to do. “These kids are saying, `I was born in America, and the Constitution says that I can practice my religion, and my religion says I must dress this way,’ ” said Yvone Haddad, a Georgetown University professor who studies Muslims in the West. “Though one option is to just go into hiding and `be like us,’ these kids are saying, `No.’ ” Shreim and other newfound Islamic enthusiasts know their highly distinctive clothing is an invitation for others to ask about their backgrounds — and they welcome the challenge. They also realize their appearance can be a magnet for verbal abuse and violence. Haddad likens the post-Sept. 11 trend to the Black Power movement, when young African-Americans embraced their cultural identity most visibly, by sporting large Afros. “Islam is beautiful,” Haddad said, playing off “Black is beautiful,” the civil rights era slogan. “Women who have never put on the veil are now putting it on. They are taking on the burden of showing the world that Islam is not terrorism.” There’s no way to document how many young Muslims are becoming more observant, but scholars and Islamic leaders say a significant number are closely studying the Koran for answers. Nadia Roumani, a researcher for the University of Southern California’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture, has found that Sept. 11 caused a number of Muslims, who previously didn’t know much about their own background or faith, to “redefine their religion and rearticulate it.” In some cases, she said, that meant “exercising their faith in a more outward manner.” Many previously non-practicing Muslims re-energize their interest by taking classes. In 2003, the AlMaghrib Institute (of Islamic Studies) started teaching 81 students in three cities. Today, the program has 2,800 students in 14 cities, including those in classes at San Jose State University and Fremont’s Ohlone College. About one-third of these students, discovering new depth in their faith later in life, are loosely considered reborn fundamentalists, said the institute’s manager, Irtiza Hasan. “There was an increased desire for Muslims to learn more about their own religion after 9/11,” Hasan said. “They didn’t know a lot of the deeper stuff, and they want to be able to answer others.” Shreim’s new religious insights and her garb — which includes a colorful assortment of full-length robes to cover her jeans and flip-flops — caused some initial grief for her family. Now, her parents are proud and have become more observant themselves. “You might find this surprising,” said her father, Jalal Shreim. “But you can be more Muslim in the United States than in so-called Islamic countries. There is more freedom here.” Parental concern about possible abuse for their Muslim children turning super religious is common. Omair Ali, 28, of San Jose said his parents have stopped “freaking out” about his spiritual journey, but they are far from being completely supportive. Before Sept. 11, the man known as Disco Omair, and DJ Iceberg described himself as a “party animal” with orange-frosted spiked hair. But after the terrorist attacks, he wanted do to something to defend his faith against false stereotypes. “First and foremost,” he said. “I knew that I would have to reform and purify myself before telling the world about Islam.” On his radio show at San Jose State University, Ali discussed the richness of Islamic art, rules of marriage, roles of women — anything he could to expand the outside world’s limited knowledge of a faith associated with suicide bombers. Now, he hosts a weekly Islamic-topic show called “MeccaOne” on KSJS-FM (90.5) and runs a Web site for Zaytuna Institute, an internationally renowned Muslim academy in Hayward. But he said his parents — immigrants from India and Pakistan — saw him growing a long beard and donning a kufi cap, and feared he’d become a “lazy bum, praying all day,” or worse, head off to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban and get captured by the FBI. “They wanted me to work in the corporate world,” he said. “That was their American dream.” But for Ali and Shreim, their American vision involves expressing themselves in a free society as God-conscious Muslims. Their choice is not without struggle. Four years ago, exactly on Sept. 11, just hours after the attacks, Shreim ventured out of the house wearing a dramatic black abaya and veil from Saudi Arabia for the first time. That day, she got her share of hateful looks and taunting. And even now, she gets an odd stare, or someone will plead with her to convert to Christianity. “But this doesn’t make me feel weaker, only stronger,” Shreim said. “One woman came up to me and said, `This is America. You don’t have to do this.’ I said, `I do this because I want to.’ ”
By Roland Flamini WASHINGTON — Arab women in Italy are no longer allowed to wear the full-face veil — the burqa — because of a ban on face coverings as a security measure. This is one of a series of new regulations introduced in the aftermath of the July 7 London bombings as Italians become increasingly convinced their country is next on the terrorist hit list. Alarm bells rang when one of the men wanted in the July 21 failed bombings in the British capital — Hussain Osman aka Hamdi Issac — was captured in Italy where, it turned out, several members of his family also lived. In addition, the Italian internal security agency warned Monday Islamist fighters who had gone to Iraq to join the insurgency were beginning to trickle back to Europe bent on doing mischief, especially in Italy. The no-veil ban has offended the sensibilities of Italy’s 1 million Muslims; but it’s been a crime since Italy’s struggle against the Red Brigades terrorists almost 30 years ago to conceal the face to avoid being identified, but the fine has now been doubled. This week the Rome government introduced new security measures. Users of Internet centers and cafes throughout the country have to show proof of identity. Under the new rules, center operators must store electronically all messages until Dec. 30, 2007, and make the data on the sender and recipient available to the police on request. The actual texts of the messages will remain protected. This measure was first proposed to the European Union by British Prime Minister Tony Blair following 7/7, but some EU countries rejected them as an invasion of privacy. Public telephone centers are now required to demand proof of identity from callers, and to keep details of all calls. With Sept 11, 2001, in mind, when two hijacked planes crashed into the twin towers at New York’s World Trade Center, the Italians also introduced mandatory screening for flying school applicants. Mohamed Atta, believed to have been the leader of the 9/11 group, learned to fly, unchallenged, at a pilots’ school in Venice, Fla. The Italians are hoping to filter out would-be terrorists by requiring students to provide proof from the police where they live that they have no criminal record; and this is only to be issued after a nationwide security check. New regulations virtually limit possession and use of most types of detonators and high explosives exclusively to the Italian armed forces and the police, and imposes strict restrictions on their importation, export and transportation. The mining and engineering industries can acquire low-grade explosives with special permits. The main Italian cities are meanwhile putting in place security measures of their own. Rome has doubled security in its many museums and historic sites. Work has started on protective barriers surrounding the Colosseum as well as on installing security cameras. The use of monitoring devices is a significant step in a country that previously showed little enthusiasm for them. But the network of security cameras all over London played a significant part in identifying the suicide bombers in the July 7 terrorist attacks that claimed 56 lives, and the lesson is slowing sinking in elsewhere in Europe. On Friday, Turin announced it had scheduled a series of simulated terrorist attacks on a train station, a shopping mall and Turin International Airport.
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.
By John R. Bowen Headscarves are back in the headlines in France this year. Now the scarves are collectively called le voile (the veil), suggesting a full facial covering, rather than, more accurately, foulards islamiques (Islamic scarves), the term used in past years. The stakes have been raised since 1989, when the scarves first sparked debate. In that year the Ayatollah Khomeni issued his fatwa against Salman Rushdie, Algeria’s Islamist political movement coalesced, and the intifada was heating up. In France attention was focused on three middle school girls who were keeping their heads covered in class. Accused of attacking France’s principle of public secularism (la_cit_) by wearing signs of their religion, the girls were expelled. Their expulsion did not, however, keep France’s finest intellectuals from taking pens in hand to denounce the scarves and to urge schoolteachers not to give ground, lest they bring about a “Munich of the Republican School.”
For Moroccans to demonstrate against French President Jacques Chirac’s decision of banning the veil as a religious symbol at schools, it reflects a religious position more than a political one. Although it is difficult to reduce the Islamic issue to the wearing of the veil, or not, it is obvious that extremist circles in France, and outside, will find in the argument a pretext to accuse Islam of extremism and exaggeration.
Perhaps no other issue has stirred as much controversy both inside and outside France as the recent decision to ban the veil in French public schools. In the heat of the passions this issue has ignited over the conflict between Islam and the West and western racism against Arabs and Muslims, it was easy to lose sight of the political and cultural context in which this ban was promulgated, a context that suggests that the problems at hand pertain more to the nature of, and perhaps a crisis in, French secularism than they do to the fight against Islam.