Saturday, January 11, 2003

News Feed 20110920

»Brooklyn College Faculty Condemn NYC Police Spying
»David Cameron Offered Chance to Ring New York’s Bell
»Georgia Board of Pardons Rejects Clemency for Troy Davis
»Muslim Club Aims to Break Misjudgments
Europe and the EU
»France: Muslims in Marseille Feel Abandoned by Their City
»Irish Government Spends 7000 Euro on New Rug for Ambassador’s Vienna Home
»Islam the Prinicipal for Arab Revolutions, Says UK Broadcaster
»Israeli Marseille Consulate Evacuated After Bomb Threat
»Italy: Mafia Boss’s Girlfriend Among Berlusconi’s Escorts
»Romania-Netherlands: Bucharest Triggers War of the Tulips
»UK: ‘Treat the Ghurkas Like Asylum Seekers’: Outrage as Minister Says They Should be Dispersed Around the Country
»UK: Al Qaeda ‘Still Planning Operations in Britain’, Theresa May Warns
»UK: Buddhist Monk Charged With Raping Girl in 1970s
»UK: Freak Show Coming to Town: Trafalgar Square, October 8th
»UK: Huhne to Launch Attack on ‘Tea Party Tories’
»UK: Mosque Plan Refused Amid Wave of Protest
»UK: Theresa May Defends Decision to Exclude Palestinian Activist From UK
»UK: Where Do We Find Ourselves Post the Revised Prevent 2011 Counter-Terrorism Strategy
»Why Catholics Could Learn a Lot From Islam
»Why the Israel Philharmonic Isn’t World-Class But the Rotterdam Philharmonic is
North Africa
»Egypt: Military and Muslim Brotherhood, Dangerous Players in the 21 November Election
»Egypt: Islam-Based Party is Banned
Israel and the Palestinians
»Caroline Glick: Funding the Enemy
»Clegg: Palestine UN Bid ‘Difficult’
Middle East
»Blast Kills 3, Wounds 15 in Turkish Capital
»Cameron and Clegg Clash Over the Most Over-Hyped Issue in the Middle East
»Iran: Islamic Awakening Forum Final Statement Issued
»Saudi Arabia: Muslim Leaders to Address New Challenges at Makkah Confab
»The Middle East: Restating the Obvious [Bernard Lewis Book Review]
»Azerbaijan: ‘Islam and Christianity Discourse’ Seminar to be Held
South Asia
»India: Narendra Modi’s No to Skullcap is Insult to Islam: Imam
»India: Skullcap Refusal on Dais of Amity
Australia — Pacific
»First Foray Into Study of Faith
»Grand Mufti Ibrahim Abu Mohamed Feels Duty to ‘Cure’ Radicals
Sub-Saharan Africa
»Ghana: A Muslim Can be President — Kufuor
»Dutch Asylum Policy to Become ‘More Restrictive’, PM


Brooklyn College Faculty Condemn NYC Police Spying

NEW YORK — Brooklyn College faculty passed a resolution condemning the New York Police Department’s infiltration of Muslim student groups, complaining that it threatens intellectual freedom and the civil rights of both pupils and teachers, the college said Monday. The college’s Faculty Council voted unanimously to condemn the practice, part of a broad intelligence-gathering operation that the NYPD has built in the last decade with the help of the Central Intelligence Agency. The collaboration was a focus of an Associated Press investigation, prompting the CIA to probe whether its actions violated laws that bar the agency from spying on Americans.

“The use of undercover police agents and the cultivation of police informers on campus has a chilling effect on the intellectual freedom necessary for a vibrant academic community,” the resolution said. The Faculty Council passed the resolution on Sept. 13. It was first reported on Monday by NYPD Confidential, a blog run by reporter Leonard Levitt. A spokesman for the college, Jeremy Thompson, confirmed the resolution’s passage and said Monday that college President Karen Gould shared the professors’ concerns.

The AP’s investigation revealed that the CIA helped the NYPD set up a unit to monitor mosques, cafes and restaurants frequented by Muslims. It also placed undercover officers in student groups to listen to discussions. “That’s what’s so troubling here: that it seemed like … this was a giant fishing expedition,” said Alex Vitale, a sociology professor who drafted the faculty resolution. “That seemed to be really beyond the pale of acceptable behavior, especially on a college campus.”

A 2006 document obtained by the AP listed a Muslim student association at Brooklyn College as one of seven college groups “of concern” in the city. It cited “militant paintball trips” and fundamentalist speakers. The other groups were at Hunter College, La Guardia Community College, Baruch College, St. John’s University, City College of New York and Queens College. The documents say police had undercover agents in the Muslim student associations at Brooklyn College and Baruch College. The NYPD has said publicly that it only follows leads and does not troll for information. Gould met with faculty on Sept. 13 and told them that police had informed administrators about any spying, Vitale said. Brooklyn College has about 16,900 students and is part of the City University of New York.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

David Cameron Offered Chance to Ring New York’s Bell

David Cameron will be in New York on Wednesday for the UN General Assembly. His main preoccupation will likely be the Palestinian statehood vote and how to play the British position. He will also hold talks with Barack Obama and others. But he will also find time to launch a new initiative to promote Britain as a place to do business. The ‘Great’ campaign is built on a series of elegant posters promoting different aspects of the Great in Britain — knowledge, heritage, sport, shopping, countryside, entrepreneurs, creativity and so on, alongside images of the Olympic velodrome, Richard Branson, Henry VIII and the like. The ad agency Mother came up with the idea. The Prime Minister wants to capitalise on next year when the eyes of the world — as the announcers say — will be on Britain, by bringing together the promotional work government departments were planning. The campaign will only appear abroad, and No10 is hosting a reception for CEOs and chairmen of big companies tonight to drum up some cash to pay for it. The launchis being held at the New York stock exchange, and Mr Cameron has been offered a chance to ring the closing bell on the day’s session. His meeting with the President may get in the way, but No10 are sorely tempted.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Georgia Board of Pardons Rejects Clemency for Troy Davis

Troy Davis, whose death-row case ignited an international campaign to save his life, has lost what appeared to be his last attempt to avoid death by lethal injection on Wednesday.

Rejecting pleas by Mr. Davis’s lawyers that shaky witness testimony and a lack of physical evidence presented enough doubt about his guilt to spare him death, the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles ruled on Tuesday morning that Mr. Davis, 42, should die for killing Mark MacPhail, an off-duty police officer, in a Savannah parking lot in 1989.

[Return to headlines]

Muslim Club Aims to Break Misjudgments

The religion of Islam and its Muslim followers have been negatively portrayed in the media in the past, but students at Chico State strive to break down misconceptions. The Muslim Students Association is a club that focuses on two main goals: provide Muslim students with the opportunity to gather and gain awareness of their religion and to inform other students about the religion, club president Telha Rehman said.

The club meets at 5 p.m. every Friday in Bell Memorial Union Room 208 and is open to all students, whether they practice the Islamic religion or not, he said. The club wants to reach out to other people that are unaware, Rehman said. The Islamic religion is a monotheist religion and followers believe in the same God as Jews and Christians but refer to him as Allah, said Katherine McCarthy, a religious studies professor at Chico State.

Muslims study from the Quran and are strongly against false representations of God, such as depicting God in art or, she said. Muslims practice five pillars, which are charity, fasting during the month of Ramadan, the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca, reciting the creed and praying five times a day, McCarthy said. Misconceptions about the religion of Islam in the United States include the ideas that all Muslims are violent, support terrorism, are Arab and that they judge other religions to be damned, she said.

“I think the biggest misconception, none of which are true, is that they are so different from other Western monotheisms,” McCarthy said. “When, in fact, they’re quite similar.” It is not the job of the Muslim Students Association to change these misconceptions of the Islamic religion, but everyone’s duty to educate themselves while living in a diverse community, she said. “Just ask questions,” McCarthy said.

Each semester, the Muslim Students Association hosts events that include having guest speakers, showing movies and holding socials where students can participate in a question and answer format group conversation, Rehman said. This semester’s first event is a lecture presented by Sheraz Khan, a physics professor at Chico State, on the topic of the Quran and modern science.

Through its activities the club aims to change the opinions of students regarding the stereotypes associated with Muslims, Rehman said.

Hopefully students walk away still discussing the topics brought up at events, Rehman said. If students leave feeling a sense of enlightenment and curiosity, then the Muslim Students Association is doing its job. Some might feel hesitant to join, but the events were what moved Wiley Gill to the religion of Islam.

Gill’s journey began when his psychology professor assigned a group project that would focus on a certain ethnicity. Gill’s group chose to focus on Arabs and the country of Saudi Arabia, and after splitting the project up in topics, Gill chose to research the Islamic religion.

This sparked his interest, and Gill began to study this religion for a year and a half as a hobby. Gill, who worked as a janitor at Meriam Library at the time, was closing off some restrooms one night when a student asked if he could get in. Gill denied the student and walked him down stairs where other facilities were open.

As he stood by the door, he heard water running and decided to walk in. When he walked in, he saw the student washing his feet, Gill said. Gill was confident the student was washing up for prayer, which is a Muslim practice, and he asked him where he practiced. The student introduced himself and took him to meet members of the Muslim Students Association, he said. From that day on, Gill became an active participant in the Muslim Students Association and on Sept. 8, 2009, converted to the Islamic religion. “The Muslim religion is not only a religion,” Gill said, “but a way of life.”

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

France: Muslims in Marseille Feel Abandoned by Their City

MARSEILLE, France, September 20, 2011 /PRNewswire/ — — Local-Based Initiatives Can Help Foster Better Relations between Muslim Residents and their City

Muslims are not included in public policies and debates around education, employment, and housing in Marseille making it difficult to address vast inequities, said the Open Society Foundations in a new report released today. “Marseille is a city divided,” said Nazia Hussain, director of the Open Society Foundations At Home in Europe Project. “The city has adopted a number of innovative strategies that aim to promote diversity, but racial and ethnic divisions remain an entrenched problem affecting almost every aspect of life for Muslims in Marseille.”

Muslims in Marseille offers a snapshot of life in France’s second largest city, specifically in the neighborhood of the 3rd arrondissement. While precise data is not available, research suggests that somewhere between 30 and 40 per cent of Marseille’s population is Muslim, with particular concentrations in the 3rd arrondissement. The issue of national identity and belonging is of increasing importance not only in Marseille, but also the country as whole over the last two decades.

“Marseille is often considered as one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Europe. However it still struggles to recognize the diverse range of identities of its Muslim citizens,” said Hussain. “Muslims do not want to be defined by their faith alone but to be treated and seen as equal French citizens. Nevertheless they are too often seen only through the lens of their religious identity and as a result excluded from policies and debates.”

Key Findings:

  • Among Muslims, 55 per cent said they felt they belonged to Marseille, while nearly 70 per cent of non-Muslims indicated a sense of belonging to their city.
  • Muslims and non-Muslims generally agreed that Arabs (65 per cent), blacks (55 per cent), and Muslims (38 per cent) were the victims of racial prejudice.
  • This report suggests that the educational environment in Marseille’s north district schools stands in stark contrast with that of the city’s south districts, and contributes to the underachievement generally recorded in the city’s heavily Muslim north district schools.
  • Efforts to address racial and religious discrimination in the labour market are limited. Most employment initiatives focus on developing skills rather than preventing employers from discriminating on the grounds of ethnicity or race.
  • Residential segregation is a key feature of Marseille. The city is split between urban renewal areas in the North, where there is a high Muslim and socio-economically deprived population, and well-to-do southern districts with a much lower Muslim and migrant population.
  • French law prohibits non-European foreign residents from voting in national elections which affects both older immigrants and newcomers who do not hold French nationality-excluding a third of potential Muslim voters in Marseille.

Muslims in Marseille is the culmination of more than three years of research. This is primarily a qualitative study offering a glimpse into the lives of people in Marseille. This study is part of a series of monitoring reports entitled Muslims in EU Cities. It focuses on 11 cities in the European Union with significant Muslim populations: Amsterdam, Antwerp, Berlin, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Leicester, Marseille, Paris, Rotterdam, Stockholm, and the London Borough of Waltham Forest.

The Open Society Foundations work to build vibrant and tolerant democracies whose governments are accountable to their citizens. Working with local communities in more than 70 countries, the Open Society Foundations support justice and human rights, freedom of expression, and access to public health and education.

Distributed by PR Newswire on behalf of Open Society Foundations

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Irish Government Spends 7000 Euro on New Rug for Ambassador’s Vienna Home

The Irish Government is spending €7,000 (£6,100) on a bespoke handmade rug for their ambassador’s home in Vienna.

The Department of Foreign Affairs in Ireland recently signed a contract for a carpet with an Irish firm for ambassador Jim Brennan’s floor covering in his Austrian residence.

The lavish hand-woven rug will be made to a pre-determined design, according to documents obtained from the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Three companies were asked to submit bids in the tendering process: Ceadogán Rugs, the Dixon Carpet Company, and Connemara Carpets.

The successful bidder was Galway-based Connemara Carpets. The company said it would not comment on the price charged for the item.

A director of the firm, Kieran O’Donohue, said: ‘If your agenda is the cost to the State, then I cannot participate in any discussion of it.

‘Do you know the size of the rug? This is not most people’s idea of a rug, it is a large area and most people would call this a carpet.

‘The difference in this case is that a carpet is meant to go wall to wall whereas this does not, and is therefore classed as a rug.’

The department declined to comment on whether it was an appropriate use of money considering the parlous state of the country’s finances.

‘We are not in a position to comment on this,’ a spokesman said, adding: ‘The matter is the subject of a separate request under Freedom of Information.’

Mr O’Donohue said his firm was a private company that had simply been successful in a tendering competition with the State.

He said: ‘I had a contract with the department; I won it with the department in a fair competition.’

Concerns about the expenditure were first raised by a Department of Foreign Affairs source who said the cost could not be justified.

The official said: ‘It doesn’t really matter how big it is, a rug is a rug and it seems impossible that this money would be spent at the current time.

‘No matter what its size, €7,000 would carpet a good many houses, upstairs and downstairs.

‘It just seems a throwback to the days when money was a lot more plentiful than it is now.’

The tendering process for the rug has also caused controversy. Dixon Carpet Company is seeking documents relating to how it was conducted.

In response, the Department of Foreign Affairs said that the only evaluation criterion for the rug had been cost.

Details posted on its website show that 24 documents relating to the tender were released, but the department declined to make them available to the Irish Mail on Sunday this week.

A letter sent to the Dixon Carpet Company stated: ‘The contract was awarded following a procurement process whereby three companies were invited to tender for the manufacture of a rug for the ambassador’s residence in Vienna, based on a design provided.’

           — Hat tip: McR[Return to headlines]

Islam the Prinicipal for Arab Revolutions, Says UK Broadcaster

London, Sept 19, IRNA — The revolutions in the Arab world have the opportunity to portray the true nature of Islam of its values and principles, says British journalist and broadcaster Yvonne Ridley.

There are elements of the revolution that are decidely Islamic and I think this influence can only enhance the formation of new governments.” Ridley told IRNA in an exclusive interview. “For once the Islamists will be able to show the world there is nothing to fear from Islam and even some of the most secular elements of the revolution are beginning to grasp a clearer understanding of what it is to be a Muslim,” she added.

Ridley, a British Muslim convert, extensively travels around the Middle East and North Africa, offering insights and often alternative perspective to much of the mainstream Western media. She said while she doubted that the current Arab Spring would see the emergence of overtly Islamic governments, she expected much change through the inspiration and influence of religion. “Millions of Tunisians, Egyptians and Libyans are now able to rediscover the beauty of their faith without fear, intimidation or retribution from brutal regimes which tore away at the very fabric of Islam,” the broadcaster said. “What we will see are Muslims being able to practice their faith freely and adapt their way of life around this Islamic Awakening.” “In the future I expect to see the values and principles of Islam emerging and influencing legislation and law-making in the revolutionary countries,” she said.

When recently asked by what she described as an “Islamophobic radio station” about the Islamic nature of the Arab Spring, Ridley said that she pointed out that they were Muslim countries and that the majority of the revolutionaries were Muslims. “The West cannot force its secularism or Western style democracy on these people. They will choose a style of government which suits them, their lifestyles, ambitions and hopes.” she replied. After eight months of uprising, the British journalist said that she was “so proud of what the people have achieved already” but was also dismayed at all the “negativity which is emanating from the Muslim world and from the West.”

“Part of this is due to lack of confidence in the Ummah that people power could achieve such great things and part of this stems from Western imperialists, hoping the whole project will fail so they can once again control the region by installing their own dictatorial puppets.,” she told IRNA. Egypt and Tunisia, she said, have got rid of their dictators relatively easily compared to what is happening in Libya but that does “not mean the Arab Spring is over, mission accomplished.” “There is still much to do before the elections and there are still those from the ‘old regimes’ who seem to want to interfere and meddle.”

Ridley suggested that the situation in Libya was even more precarious, saying the revolutionaries will have to form “a whole system from zero because under the Gaddafis there was no democratic system in place, no civil society or structures.” Due to the complexities of revolutions, the broadcaster said patience was required and that in some ways it could be said the overthrow of regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya was the easy part, “although thousands have already paid the blood price for freedom.” “Creating a new society and new political landscape was never going to be easy and what the revolutionaries have done so far is amazing, but the pressure is on them now to form a good and proper government acceptable to the people,” she said.

Ridley warned that historically, some revolutions have ended in “disaster because of a lack of forward planning” and said that it is obvious the Tunisian and Egyptian people want to make sure they get it right first time.” “Leading a crowd of people against government guns takes great courage and staring down the barrel of a gun takes guts, but now a different style of leadership is needed for the next step. The people of Tunisia and Egypt, and eventually in Libya, are essentially sailing in unchartered waters. There’s no set precedent and each revolution has evolved and developed differently,” she said. The journalist believed that the strength has been “unity” but that their weaknesses could be “inexperience and lack of leadership skills.” “It has been very easy for the West to manipulate and corrupt Middle Eastern leaders and by using fear and greed the West has forced through decision-making which has been to the detriment of people in the Middle East,” she warned.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Israeli Marseille Consulate Evacuated After Bomb Threat

Anonymous call to police says bomb located in van parked outside consulate in French city; sappers find fake device and call off alert.

The Israeli Consulate in Marseille, France was temporarily evacuated on Tuesday after local police received an anonymous threat that their was a bomb near the building and sappers discovered a suspicious device in a van parked outside, AFP reported.

A bomb disposal squad who arrived on the scene found a fake bomb in the vehicle parked outside the consulate. The mock bomb consisted of a pressure cooker with wires protruding, marked with radiation warning stickers.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

Italy: Mafia Boss’s Girlfriend Among Berlusconi’s Escorts

Berlusconi’s women. PM recommended Tommasi for place on Isola dei famosi [The Italian version of Celebrity Island — Trans.]. Evening with sisters from Montenegro

BARI — The women call him “Papi” but Gianpaolo Tarantini refers to Silvio Berlusconi as “Babuccio” when he is talking to them. Mr Tarantini also constantly seeks reassurance. He wants to know what Mr Berlusconi said about him in private to the women and whether the premier was satisfied with the encounters. The Bari businessman’s eagerness to please is obvious as he asks the premier whether he has any doubts about the women to bring. In one of those tapped phone calls, Silvio Berlusconi is revealed as making recommendations to the organisers of Isola dei famosi [The Italian version of Celebrity Island — Trans.], the RaiDue reality show presented at the time by Simona Ventura. Financial police investigators note in the transcript of a phone call on 10 March 2009: “Berlusconi calls Tarantini. They discuss the women who will be present at the evening. Tarantini says he will bring Sara Tommasi. The prime minister says ‘The one we sent on a trip to Brazil, no America, with a special programme’“. Ms Tommasi appears to have slept at Mr Berlusconi’s home on several occasions and the PM contacted her directly after obtaining her phone number from “Gianpi”.

Barbara Montereale, the friend that Patrizia D’Addario brought with her to Palazzo Grazioli, attended the parties in spite of objections from her boyfriend, Radames Parisi, nephew of Savinuccio Parisi, one of the most powerful gangland bosses in Bari. At first, her boyfriend told her not to go but he changed his mind and got her to describe in detail both the parties and the New Year 2009 holiday she spent at Villa Certosa.

The trial papers also feature phone calls by Raffaella Zardo, TG4 news director Emilio Fede’s partner, who says that she wants to go to the prime minister’s parties but Mr Fede won’t let her. A few days after discovering that photos were circulating of her and Manuel Casella, the former boyfriend of Amanda Lear, Ms Zardo said to Mr Tarantini: “I’m glad they’re out in the open. Now I know I’m not with Emilio Fede… and later he took me off Sipario [a Rete 4 celebrity gossip programme directed by Mr Fede — Trans.], so people understood. You see what Fede’s like. If you’re going with him, he lets you work, otherwise no. He doesn’t want them published. He even says he’s willing to pay for them”. Mr Berlusconi appears not to have appreciated Ms Zardo and tells Mr Tarantini: “This one’s a wh…. He’s never f… her or even kissed her. She was using him to get work on television. Everyone knew”. It is Ms Zardo who asks Mr Tarantini if the prime minister “can do anything to get a passport for Ayda Yespica’s brother-in-law”. Soon afterwards, she cancels the request: “Don’t bother. It’s sorted. Because she told the prime minister herself but it must have slipped his mind”…

English translation by Giles Watson

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

Romania-Netherlands: Bucharest Triggers War of the Tulips

Presseurop based on James Martin

Upset by the Dutch refusal to accept Romania into the Schengen area, the Romanian authorities have decided on strict border controls for tulips. A reaction that’s a trifle excessive, but justified, writes an angry editorialist.

Grigore Cartianu

We should not be afraid of such confrontations, but rather get used to them — on one condition, though: that we don’t lose them. For if we are going to lash out blindly, if we’re going to fight with everyone who is hostile to us, we’ll turn into the village brawlers and everyone will treat us like lepers.

It all started with the declaration on 16 September of the Netherlands’ firm opposition to Romania’s entrance into the Schengen area. It was an ostentatious show of opposition: the Dutch wanted not just to close the door, but to slam it on our noses.

The experts affirm that Romania has met many of the technical conditions imposed by the EU in order to join Schengen. The country has invested many billions of euros, but, being placed in the same basket as the Bulgarians, we will just have to wait until the Bulgarians too come up to an acceptable standard.

It’s frustrating to be kept so close to the door, after spending weeks tidying up, after having bought a new suit and polished our shoes. Before heading out on the visit we cleared out our bank account, ate a slice of good Dutch gouda, sprayed on the best French perfume, and bought the biggest bunch of flowers (Dutch, for sure.). We arrive, we ring, we say a cheery “Hello Madame!” — and surprise, surprise: at the threshold stands a matron in a bad mood who hurls our flowers into our new suit because we reek of cheese.

We’ve wiped the Netherlands off the map

The question is: faced with such a situation, how should we proceed? Send the madam reeling? Or back off, without failing to remember for next time that it might be better not to touch the cheese before we head out for the visit? Or should we bring along a slingshot and shoot out the windows of the witch, yelling all the while in the street that she has the winning looks of Baba Yaga [the toothless witch of folklore of Eastern Europe)?

The steady rain of frustrations, it seems, has led us to adopt the tactic of slinging the stones. Did we carry out the arrests for nothing? [In early February, Romania’s National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) arrested 140 customs officers accused of corruption and brought them to Bucharest by helicopter]. Did we promenade the culprits on the ‘perp walk’ to show foreigners how ruthless we are towards the scourge of corruption in our customs department, unnecessarily and in front of everyone?

The Dutch have declared that they will not let us enter the Schengen area, and we remember, as if by magic, that they too have their sore spots. Not happy with our border controls, are they? We’ll show them what vigilance means!

Obviously, this could be passed off as a mere coincidence. Their tulip bulbs never interested us before. Are the bulbs, by chance, shaped a little suspiciously? Or worse, perhaps they hide a killer bacterium capable of wiping out our beloved country? For now, we’re looking for the bacteria. We haven’t found it yet, but we’re hot on its trail. In the meantime, we’ve wiped the Netherlands off the map of the Schengen area for Tulips. Next time, we may be more understanding if they do their homework better…

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

UK: ‘Treat the Ghurkas Like Asylum Seekers’: Outrage as Minister Says They Should be Dispersed Around the Country

Gurkha veterans should be dispersed around the country like asylum seekers, a defence minister claimed last night. Gerald Howarth said his constituency was being overwhelmed by the Nepalese ex-soldiers and their families following a landmark decision to grant them the right to settle in Britain. The Tory MP’s remarks have sparked outrage from campaigners. Since the ruling in 2009, more than 7,500 former Gurkhas and family members have been given UK visas. Around 10 per cent of the Hampshire borough of Rushmoor’s 90,000 population is now Nepalese, said Mr Howarth. He said schools, health centres and housing services in his Aldershot constituency were struggling to cope with the influx. Mr Howarth, who has raised the issue with David Cameron, said that despite being a defence minister, he ‘got no joy’ when asking the Ministry of Defence for help. He told BBC Radio 5 Live: ‘There needs to be a policy of dispersal.’

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: Al Qaeda ‘Still Planning Operations in Britain’, Theresa May Warns

The leadership of al-Qaeda is still planning operations in Britain as it radicalises and recruits cells for operations overseas, the Home Secretary has warned.

The terrorist group is getting more “agile” and there is now a “new landscape of terrorism,” Theresa May told an audience in Washington, as she warned that the progress made since 9/11 could be wiped out. She said the terrorist threat had changed significantly over the past ten years as al-Qaeda lost people, facilities, and freedom of action, along with much of its support. But the Home Secretary warned of the need to be “realistic” about the threats that remain, adding that the leadership of al-Qaeda continues to “plan operations in the UK.” “They attract people for training, they have sections dedicated to overseas operations, they radicalise and recruit,” she said during a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations. And even as the capability of the al-Qaeda leadership has reduced, other threats have emerged which, in the UK, affect us directly.”

There is now a wider range of terrorist groups active in Pakistan, some new, others well-established, the Home Secretary warned. “The new terrorist threats are no less complex and difficult than the old. In some ways they are harder to deal with. They challenge our systems and structures,” she said. “The new landscape of terrorism is more diverse, decentralised and perhaps also more agile than the landscape of 09/11.”

Mrs May, who is on a trip to meet US leaders to discuss security, warned of the easy availability of sophisticated off-the-shelf communications devices for terrorists. “The pace and availability of technology has the potential to more than compensate for the progress we have made since 9/11,” she added. “It can make the ideological struggle look irrelevant — technology can give much more lethal power to many fewer people.” She called for a “new and rather different relationships with our private sectors, who of course own much of this technology and who — for our wider benefit — will develop it as fast and as aggressively as they can.”

The Home Secretary also told her US audience of her determination that the internet “must not be a no-go area for government, where terrorists and extremists can proceed unhindered.” Britain has faced difficulties persuading the US authorities to shut down extremist websites because of their First Amendment right to free speech but Mrs May said she “commended” the British model of combining law enforcement with voluntary reporting to internet companies of extremist activity. “The internet facilitates not only terrorist attack planning and recruitment, but also radicalisation and the circulation of extremist ideologies. We know that terrorist and extremist use of the internet is becoming more sophisticated and we know that much of the extremist material that concerns us is hosted overseas, including here,” she said.

Britain and the US use comparable language to describe the threats but have taken very different approaches to it, she said. “From very soon after 9/11 — and certainly by 2005 — we in the UK realised that terrorist groups had become embedded into the fabric of our society and in particular our cities,” she said. “In America, for many years you saw the terrorist threat as something external, practised by people ‘over there’ who wanted to strike at American citizens ‘over here’. Our different sense of threat led us to respond in different ways. Your response has often been framed by military action overseas. Ours has been grounded in policing and law enforcement in our own country. Neither approach was wrong. “

But America has increasingly seen home-grown terrorism and Britain has increased its efforts to catch terrorists overseas. However, the Home Secretary warned that in countries where terrorists are most active, they are often least likely to be prosecuted. “In these countries, agencies may not have the skills to investigate terrorist cases, the judicial system may be weak or corrupt, or both, and there may be an absence of political will. The consequences are far reaching. When we identify terrorist threats we cannot always resolve them. The absence of a functioning judiciary may lead to the violation of human rights. It may then be impossible to co-operate with states in the way that we would wish. And we cannot then deport to these countries foreign nationals engaged in terrorist activity on our own soil.”

Mrs May said it was hard to see how to deal with terrorism in the long term without better promoting the rule of law overseas. “Promoting the rule of law must be a hallmark of our global counter-terrorism work in the years to come,” she added. The Home Secretary warned that the period ahead was likely to be unstable and added: “We will have to use our imaginations to anticipate future trends. Terrorism in 2015 is likely to be very different from terrorism today.”

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: Buddhist Monk Charged With Raping Girl in 1970s

A Buddhist monk has been charged with raping an underage girl in the 1970s, the Metropolitan police has said.

Pahalagama Somaratana Thera, chief incumbent of Thames Buddhist Vihara, Croydon, has been charged with four counts of sexual abuse, police said.

The alleged rape and three counts of indecent assault occurred in Chiswick, west London, in 1977 and 1978.

The 65-year-old from Dulverton Rd, Croydon, will appear on bail at Feltham Magistrates’ Court on 23 September.

There was no immediate response from Thames Buddhist Vihara, which is one of the major Sri Lankan Buddhist temples in London.

           — Hat tip: Kitman[Return to headlines]

UK: Freak Show Coming to Town: Trafalgar Square, October 8th

A forthcoming anti-war ‘mass assembly’ has been announced and supporters have to sign up to the following statement:

We pledge that if British Troops are still in Afghanistan on the tenth anniversary of the invasion we will join the mass assembly in Trafalgar Square on Saturday 8 October to make it clear to the government that they must not continue this brutal and pointless war in defiance of the will of the people.

Let’s look at some of those who have already signed up. ‘Representing’ the ‘will of the people’, we find the following characters:

Moazzam Begg: Taliban apologist, fan of Osama bin Laden’s mentor Abdullah Azzam, etc.

Lauren Booth: Hamas supporter, Press TV employee, promoter of anti-Semites Mahathir Mohamad and Gilad Atzmon.

Jeremy Corbyn MP: Hamas and Hezbollah supporter, thinks the terrorist-supporting Khomeinist ‘Islamic Human Rights Commission’ represents all that’s best in Islam concerning the rights of individuals to free expression, to peaceful assembly, and the rights of individuals within a society.

George Galloway: Nuff said.

Lindsey German: Former member of the central committee of the SWP, liar, Raed Salah supporter, etc.

Lowkey: The SWP and Guardian’s favourite rapper, whose lyrics say things like:

Every coin is a bullet, if you’re Marks and Spencer, And when your sipping Coca-Cola, That’s another pistol in the holster of them soulless soldiers, You say you know about the Zionist lobby, But you put money in their pocket when you’re buying their coffee, Talking about revolution, sitting in Starbucks.

And: How many more children have to be annihilated Israel is a terror state, they’re terrorists that terrorise, I testify, my television televised them telling lies, This is not a war, it is systematic genocide.

Seumas Milne: A good summary: [T]here are those who, knowing full well the nature of that political movement [Islamism], nevertheless deliberately side step the issue, deny the nature of the politics at stake, and — worse — seek to fool others into ignoring them. These people are, to put it bluntly, Quislings and traitors. They are deliberate fellow travellers of theocratic fascist politics and they know it. We should state it clearly, and we should fight them as we fight fascism itself. Milne is a key example of such a fellow traveller.

Yvonne Ridley: Stockholm Syndrome case study, Press TV employee, supporter of numerous Islamists, etc.

Clare Solomon: Formerly of the SWP, until they expelled her. Has written:

The view that Jews have been persecuted all throughout history is one that has been fabricated in the last 100 or so years to justify the persecution of Palestinians. The list goes on. Standing alongside the Islamist supporters and lunatics we find a handful of ‘celebs’, Peter Tatchell, and some woman who apparently writes for the New Statesman.

[JP note: Where are the calls from the great and the good for this ‘Hate the West’ fest to be banned?]

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: Huhne to Launch Attack on ‘Tea Party Tories’

Conservative right-wingers will today be branded the “Tea Party tendency” by Chris Huhne, the Energy Secretary, in his keynote speech to the Liberal Democrat conference. In another sign that the Lib Dems are distancing themselves from their coalition partners, Mr Huhne will criticise the Tory MPs who are calling for Britain to exploit the eurozone crisis by grabbing back some powers from Brussels. His decision to bracket them with such right-wing American Republicans as Sarah Palin is likely to upset some Conservatives. Mr Huhne’s attack on the Tory right will raise eyebrows. Some Lib Dem MPs are worried that senior party figures are positioning themselves for a possible future leadership contest.


[JP note: Now there would be an idea for a new party: The English Tea Party]

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: Mosque Plan Refused Amid Wave of Protest

Multi-million pound plans for a mosque and community centre along a busy gateway in the Black Country have been thrown out amid protests from thousands of campaigners.

But the door has been left open for Dudley Muslim Association to draw up a revised plan and it has been given extra three years to submit another application for the development. It would have been built on the former Nuttall factory site, in Hall Street, under the controversial £6 million plans, which were scaled down by the association in a bid to appease protestors.

The complex would include leisure facilities, open to non-Muslims, as well as two cafes, a multi-use sports hall, a gym, a nursery and a permanent exhibition of Muslim beliefs. But Dudley Council planners threw out the proposals last night, claiming the development would be out of character with the medieval features of the town including Dudley Castle. Concerns over traffic problems and the possibility of increased parking issues were also raised.

Speaking after the meeting committee chairman, Councillor Colin Wilson, said the people of Dudley would have been “dismayed and disillusioned” had the proposals gone through. However, the association was successful in applying to extend the time limit to submit another planning application on the land within the next three years. And spokesman Mushtaq Hussain today said the organisation would not rule out appealing the rejection.

Police patrolled outside Dudley Council House last night as the plans were discussed in front of around 20 people in the public gallery.

A petition of more than 7,000 signatures was handed in during the meeting. The legal bill to halt plans for the mosque has cost the council £58,378.50. Three petitions opposing it attracted up to 80,000 signatures.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: Theresa May Defends Decision to Exclude Palestinian Activist From UK

As high court decides upon legality of Sheikh Raed Salah’s detention, home secretary admits tougher line on extremism

The home secretary, Theresa May, has defended her decision to exclude the Palestinian political activist Sheikh Raed Salah from Britain, insisting that she will take pre-emptive action against those who encourage extremism. A high court judge is to decide whether Salah’s arrest and detention was illegal and if he should be entitled to damages for false imprisonment.

Salah, 52, is leader of the northern branch of the Islamic movement in Israel, and was detained in London in June after it emerged he had been allowed to enter Britain despite an exclusion order being issued against him. Salah, a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship, is on bail pending the outcome of his legal challenge.

The home secretary, speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, defended her action and acknowledged the hardening in the coalition government’s approach to those who it believes “encourage extremism”. “I think it is right that we have taken a slightly different stance over the last 18 months, as a new government, in looking at this because we believe that the issue of words that are said — what people actually say and how they are able to encourage others through the words that they say — is an important issue for us to address,” she said. “That’s why we have perhaps taken some decisions in relation to individuals that might not have been taken in the past.”

She said it was important for the government’s Prevent strategy to look not only at violent extremism, but other kinds of extremism as well. “If we are able to do that, I think [that] enables us to operate at an earlier level rather than simply waiting until people have gone down the route of violent extremism,” she said.

The high court ruling in the Salah case will test the legality of this pre-emptive approach to excluding overseas political activists branded as extremists by the home secretary. Mr Justice Nicol reserved judgment after a two-day hearing on whether Salah’s arrest and detention was legal and he should be entitled to damages. Salah is claiming he was falsely imprisoned because he was “confined without lawful authority”.

Salah flew to Britain on 25 June intending to stay for 10 days to attend meetings and public engagements. It is believed he was “waved through at [the] border” and was detained three days later when it emerged the home secretary had issued a deportation order, saying Salah’s presence in Britain was “not conducive to the public good”. Salah’s defence told the high court that the police who arrested him at a London hotel failed to explain in Arabic why they were detaining him.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: Where Do We Find Ourselves Post the Revised Prevent 2011 Counter-Terrorism Strategy

MCB [Muslim Council of Britain] Community Briefing

Friday 23 September 2011, 6.30-9.00 pm London Muslim Centre, Whitechapel

Following to the publication of a dossier of informed critical comments and assessments of the government’s revised counter-terrorism Prevent agenda, The Muslim Council of Britain invites members of all affiliate organisations to a live briefing session and Q&A with an expert panel of speakers.

The aim of the briefing session is threefold:

  • to provide a short overview of the new Prevent, both informative and critical, evaluating both the revised strategy and the lessons learnt in respect of how to feed into a review process that takes community based responses into account;
  • to focus on some key areas most likely to impact on Muslims, individually, as particular groups which have been singled out for special attention and as a community, including raising areas of concern and possible responses; and
  • to provide a space for anxieties to be aired and constructively addressed, misinformation corrected, and resources outlined.

An expert panel will address issues of policing, counter-terrorism, youthwork, the law, academic freedom, campus politics and student societies among others, followed by Q&A and fully participative discussion with the audience.

Speakers include:

  • Farooq Murad, Secretary General, The Muslim Council of Britain
  • Rizwaan Sabir, Researcher, University of Strathclyde
  • Zubeda Limbada, Police Community Engagement for Conflict Transformation, University of Birmingham, and Mentoring Programme Manager, Birmingham City Council
  • Timothy Parsons, Senior Lecturer in Policing and Criminology at the London Metropolitan University
  • Azad Ali, Chair, Muslim Safety Forum
  • Alaa’ Al-Samarrai,Vice-President Student Affairs, FOSIS
  • Dr Muhammad G. Khan, former Chair of the Muslim Youthwork Foundation and Tutor in Youth and Community Work, Ruskin College Oxford
  • AbdoolKarim Vakil, Chair, MCB Research and Documentation Committee

MCB ReDoc Soundings: Responding to Prevent 2011: Soundings

Places are strictly limited and will be allocated on a first come basis. Please complete fully the registration form. You will be informed via email only if your registration has been successful.

To register your attendance, please click here: Registration Form

Refreshments provided

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Why Catholics Could Learn a Lot From Islam

Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, sings the praises of Ramadan — and reflection — to Jerome Taylor

There was a time when the country’s bishops didn’t lose much sleep over headlines. As the moral arbiters of the nation they would wade in on controversial issues, regardless of what next day’s editorials might say. But like much of the establishment, Britain’s senior clergymen have surrounded themselves with legions of press advisers whose jobs it is to make sure their paymasters don’t put their foot in it — predominantly by keeping their heads below the parapet. “I’m not sure he’ll say much on that,” says the press man for Archbishop Vincent Nichols when asked whether the leader of Catholics in England and Wales will broach the topic of abortion. “We’re not really keen on an ‘archbishop versus the politicians’ headline’.”

But it turns out that Archbishop Nichols does hold some rather strong opinions on Britain’s elite. “People are trying to take short cuts,” he sighs when asked about the various scandals that have rocked Westminster, the banks, the Metropolitan Police and Fleet Street. “They’re not interested in the long-term consequences as long as it’s success.”Whether that’s reading a newspaper, trying to make the most of your time in Parliament through expenses, the police looking for quick results or the banks. There are all those commonalities.”

Nichols, a football-mad cleric from Liverpool who has risen to become the second most senior Catholic in Britain (after Scotland’s Cardinal Keith O’Brien), is an intensely media-savvy operator. Unlike Dr Rowan Williams, his Anglican opposite in Lambeth Palace, the Archbishop of Westminster has avoided head-on collisions with politicians since he was appointed by the Pope two years ago to lead Catholics in England and Wales. He chooses his words carefully, making sure he is not seen to be directly attacking ministers.

One deviation is on the papal trip one year ago, which — the Archbishop reveals — was nearly sunk, not by thenegative advance publicity about sex abuse within the Catholic Church, but by a lack of political willpower once last year’s general election got under way. “It was almost impossible to make any progress in the cooperative effort that a state visit needed,” he discloses, in his white-carpeted study behind Westminster Cathedral. “No one was making any political decisions. That was the point I was most worried.” The failure to form a government for a further 10 days compounded the pressure.

It took the Archbishop to make a veiled threat of international humiliation to the new Prime Minister to get things moving again, he says. Only after a phone conversation with David Cameron did events speed along. “I told him it will be a question of the reputation of Great Britain having issued an invitation to the Pope and then not make it happen,” says Nichols. “They came back with the appointment of Lord Patten and once that was done, we got going.” The announcement that the Pope would make a state visit to Britain was the first big test for Nichols, after being promoted by Pope Benedict XVI from the archbishopric of Birmingham to Westminster in April 2009.

In the eyes of the Vatican, that visit exactly one year ago, was a storming success, despite the negativity ahead of it. The papacy had been battered by months of headlines as new sex abuse allegations broke out across the Catholic Church, with questions over Benedict’s pre-papal role as head of the Vatican body in charge of upholding the church’s moral and doctrinal purity. In Britain there was also widespread concern about the spiralling costs of the visit. But when Benedict finally stepped foot on British soil he was largely embraced. “The attitude in the country today towards religious faith is not the same as it was a year ago,” claims Archbishop Nichols, who is in line for a promotion to Cardinal once his predecessor, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, turns 80 next year and loses his Vatican voting rights. “I think to some extent the Pope demythologised some of people’s fears — the innate British suspicion of anything Roman Catholic and of the Pope as a position. I think that was profoundly changed when they saw the man himself.”

It was partly the Archbishop’s ability to avoid controversy — and weather the storms when they arrive — that encouraged Pope Benedict to promote him. Some might see his careful answers as a missed opportunity to hold politics up to a higher level of moral scrutiny. Others say it is a sensible approach to a world where a controversial soundbite can easily overshadow the wider message.

On abortion, Archbishop Nichols’ message is one of carefully worded support for the MP Nadine Dorries, and her amendment on independent abortion counsellors. “In the eyes of the Catholic Church abortion is a tragedy,” he says in a voice that still bears a hint of his Liverpool upbringing. “Our principle objective must be to try and win greater sympathy for that perspective and for the value of human life from its beginnings. “In that sense independent counselling would appear to be reasonable. But our main principle would be the nature of abortion itself and that it is an act that destroys human life and is difficult to bear, not only for the person who has the abortion.”

And on the recent rioting, Archbishop Nichols, whose flock play a prominent role within Britain’s prisons as spiritual and practical rehabilitators, says that those rioters who feel aggrieved by harsh sentencing from judges and magistrates will have to wait their turn in the appeal courts. “I think its right to make a distinction between isolated acts of criminality and what happened during a serious civil disorder,” he says. “If the judiciary has got it wrong, that is what the appeal system is for.”

To mark the one year anniversary of the papal visit, the Archbishop has asked Catholics to re-embrace the sacrament of penance and, specifically, giving something up on a Friday. Traditionally European Catholics might forgo eating meat at the end of the week and that is something Archbishop Nichols would like to see more of. “At a personal human level we are having to work out what we can do without because we can’t in these times afford everything we want,” he explains. “That can be combined with a sense of solidarity and help for those who are really genuinely poor. “So in the Catholic tradition the idea of giving something up on a Friday — the act of self denial — has always been tied with being generous to those in need.”

Ramadan, a whole month of fasting and giving to the poor, recently ended for Muslims. Is that something Christians could do more to emulate? “You’re right to point to the Muslim community,” Nichols replies. “What many of our bishops say is that young people today — who are much more exposed and sensitive to the Muslim practice of fasting — are ready for a challenge and want a challenge by which they can be identified.” It is those youngsters who have faith that will be the lifeblood of the Church if it is to survive the ever growing secularisation of our society. “In many ways the young are more religiously minded than the older generations,” he says. “I think it’s the flip side of an age of individualism. Youngsters are not afraid to tell you what they think, to express their faith and be quite exuberant about it. We were much more reticent and probably a bit more troubled by issues of conformity than they are.”

[JP note: I am not convinced that this article’s title is an accurate reflection of what the good Archbishop might have said or thought, rather an indication of this newspaper’s pro-Islam aggenda.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Why the Israel Philharmonic Isn’t World-Class But the Rotterdam Philharmonic is

This last weekend I’ve managed to hear something British audiences the week before did not, except with difficulty: the Israel Philharmonic, uninterrupted. It was in Rotterdam, where attitudes to Israel seem to be more sympathetic than here. And I wish I could say it was a joy to hear this band under conductor Zubin Mehta playing solo, without the accompaniment of chanting and abuse. But it wasn’t.

The sad truth is that the Israel Phil is not the world-class operation it believes itself to be. OK, the string sound has a certain sumptuousness, and the Mahler 5 that made up half this programme was entirely competent. But it was also lazy, dull, self-satisfied, without a spark of energy or life. Mehta conducted like an ageing dandy with his hand on his hip and apparent disinterest. And as for the rest of the show, it started with some Webern that was blowsily delivered, and continued with a Debussy Iberia so stylistically awry it was unrecognisable.

Perhaps the tensions of their current tour have worn the orchestra down. They certainly wore me down in this concert, where I found myself sitting beside a man who spent the whole night staring anxiously around the auditorium and muttering in Hebrew into a radio-mike stuffed down his sleeve. Either he was an Israeli security agent or someone with an Inspector Clouseau fixation. Possibly both. But he sure was a nuisance, and didn’t make me feel more warmly toward the orchestra he was apparently protecting.

The next night in Rotterdam, though, was infinitely better. I was there for what used to be called the ‘Gergiev Festival’ but is now the ‘Rotterdam Philharmonic Gergiev Festival’ — a shift in nomenclature that reflects recent history in the city’s artistic life. Valery Gergiev ran the city orchestra — the No 2 in Holland after the Concertgebouw — from 1995 to 2008 and, during that time, decided that Rotterdam needed a festival: something that brought in stars and opera — as supplied, of course, by the Mariinsky Theatre. Calling it the Gergiev Festival stated the obvious but at least emphasised that during the festival period this elusive man was going to be around (more usually he wasn’t). And over time it put Rotterdam on the cultural map in a way that the city orchestra’s previous conductors, good as they were, had never quite managed.

Since 2008, though, the orchestra has been in the hands of Yannick Nezet-Seguin — an astute appointment that caught this dynamic young French-Canadian (soon to become music director of the broke but still prestigious Philadelphia Orchestra) just as he was poised to make it big. As he now unquestionably is, in terms of everything but physical stature. Yannick, as he’s popularly known (the name is complicated) is a small man as conductors often are, but with enormous compensating personality. He’s focused, strong, ambitious and committed to the nth degree. But when it comes to this festival he’s in a slightly odd position because Gergiev still runs it, even though Yannick runs the orchestra the festival relies on. Hence the diplomatic change of name. This is now a festival not longer simply about Gergiev but about an orchestra: a very fine orchestra, with a razor-sharp music director who is not Valery Gergiev. And if there was any doubt about any of that, you only had to hear Yannick and his band last weekend playing a Bruckner 8 that brought the entire audience to its feet at the end.

I’m told it doesn’t take much to get Rotterdam audiences standing at the ends of concerts, but in this case it was more than justified. The Bruckner was terrrific: purposeful, alive, engaging (all the things the Israel Phil the night before had failed to be), with muscle but without the over-bearing bombast Bruckner symphonies can sometimes be weighed down by. It was seriously impressive. As, I might add, was a certain feature of the Rotterdam Phil’s playing venue. Rotterdam isn’t the world’s loveliest city (it was bombed flat in World War 2 and badly rebuilt), and I’ve known better halls than the De Doelen there. BUT…it provides plenty of space to sit down before a concert (unlike the Albert Hall), and in foyers blissfully uncluttered by people running small businesses, dealing in drugs, begging for money, or practising rap routines to the accompaniment of ghetto-blasters as happens in the shabby bazaar that is now the South Bank Centre. What’s more, De Doelen Hall provides its audience with free tea and coffee, not only during the interval but after the show — encouraging concert-goers to stay, and meet, and talk about the music they’ve just heard. How civilised the Dutch can be, compared to us.

[JP note: Because they are Jews?]

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Egypt: Military and Muslim Brotherhood, Dangerous Players in the 21 November Election

The military’s silence is a worrying sign. The young people of Tahrir Square are too divided and disorganised to play any major role in the country’s political debates.

Cairo (AsiaNews) — Egypt’s first post-Mubarak democratic elections will be held in November, the country’s ruling military council announced today in an informal statement reported in the media. Voting for the lower house, the People’s Assembly, will take place in three stages, the first on 21 November and the last on 3 January. Voting for the upper house will be held from 22 January to 4 March.

Except for the days of the election, Egypt’s military has not said much about the new democratic Egypt. “No one has a clue about what will happen after the vote,” sources told AsiaNews in Cairo. “For decades, the military had the last word about everything and will do everything to back those political forces that are allied to them.”

For sources, the military will not give up power easily. “Most of those on the council are former members of the old regime; for 30 years they were accomplices in crimes against the people even if now they want to make us believe that since Mubarak’s fall everything has changed.”

Muslim parties are the military’s best supporters. Since July, they have stopped their members from participating in demonstrations and sit-ins against the military.

The military’s decision to hold elections in November, so close to Mubarak’s downfall, was made to favour these parties against secular-oriented groups, which are still disorganised and lacking in visibility.

“The young people from Tahrir Square do not have any strong group, and have split up joining a myriad of small parties,” sources said. They are thus absent from political debates.

The Muslim Brotherhood is best placed in this election. In eight months, they have been able to reorganise and launch an effective election campaign.

“Islamic parties in a few months have gone from illegality to being all over the place, talking about the government, economy, social mores and religious freedom,” the sources explained.

The crisis with Israel has also helped extremists increase their influence. The review of the Camp David peace accord is widely supported across the country. In the coming months, this could become the battle cry for the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis, who have always been against any relations with Israel.

Still, Egyptians are still very much divided and any prediction is hard to make. Sources said that since the revolution in Tahrir Square, the population has split in two big blocks: the middle class and intellectuals who are in favour of the more moderate Islamic parties and farmers, who represent the largest pool of support for radical Islamic parties.

In addition, the families and movements connected with the victims of repression in Tahrir Square, who led anti-military demonstrations, are another major force. (S.C.)

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

Egypt: Islam-Based Party is Banned

Egypt has prohibited the formation of a political party by Al Gamaa al-Islamiyya, an Islamist group that was once involved in a bloody insurgency against the government. Egypt’s state news agency said the Political Parties’ Affairs Committee rejected the request because the proposed party would be based on “religious grounds in violation of the law” and advocated a strict interpretation of Islamic law under which thieves can be punished by cutting off their hands and murderers can be beheaded. Al Gamaa al-Islamiyya waged an insurrection in the 1990s but has since renounced violence.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Caroline Glick: Funding the Enemy

Speaking Sunday at the UN’s conference of donors to the Palestinian Authority, Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon warned that while Israel supports economic assistance to the PA now, that is liable to change within the week.

As he put it, “Future assistance and cooperation could be severely and irreparably compromised if the Palestinian leadership continues on its path of essentially acting in contravention of all signed agreements which also regulate existing economic relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”

           — Hat tip: Caroline Glick[Return to headlines]

Clegg: Palestine UN Bid ‘Difficult’

Britain faces a “difficult judgment” over whether to back Palestinian statehood at the United Nations, Nick Clegg said, amid reports of a coalition split on the issue. The Deputy Prime Minister said there had been “debates” at the top of Government over the position to adopt but said it would be unhelpful to air them in public. Diplomatic efforts are under way to persuade Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas not to table a Security Council statehood bid — which is opposed by the US and Israel. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has offered fresh talks in a bid to find another means to revive the peace process which has been stalled for more than a year. The White House has signalled it would veto the move, raising fears of a tense showdown as senior politicians gather in New York for the UN General Assembly meeting. Mr Clegg, said by The Times to be pushing for firmer support for the move against a more reluctant Prime Minister David Cameron, said the consequences of inaction had to be properly considered. “We have debates, of course we do, in Government,” he told BBC News from Birmingham where the Liberal Democrats are holding their autumn conference. “The senior members of the Government on an issue like this — the Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister and myself — we talk about this a lot. But we do it as a Government. I do not think it helps at all on issues like that for there to be a running commentary on who says what.”

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Blast Kills 3, Wounds 15 in Turkish Capital

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s interior minister says three people have been killed in an explosion in the capital that was probably terrorism.

Idris Naim Sahin says the explosion that also left 15 people wounded is “highly likely to be a terrorist attack.” He said the bodies of three people were found in a building near a car that exploded in downtown Ankara.

Sahin says the car was purchased a week ago but it was not yet registered.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A car exploded outside a high school in the Turkish capital on Tuesday, igniting other vehicles and wounding 15 people, witnesses and officials said.

A deputy prime minister said the blast was caused by a car bomb. Other officials said a burning gas canister had been tossed onto a vehicle in downtown Ankara.

Reyhan Altintas, a neighborhood administrator, said she rushed outside after hearing a loud blast. It was followed by three other blasts, apparently caused by cars catching fire.

The blast wounded 15 people, said Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay. At least three were in serious condition.

“I had never heard anything like it in my life,” witness Adnan Yavuz said of the initial blast. “Then came another explosion and parts of a car dropped from the tree.”

Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said officials had received information that a bomb was planted on the vehicle that exploded in the Kizilay district.

Gov. Alaaddin Yuksel and a local mayor, Bulent Tanik, said a witness told them that someone threw a burning gas canister onto the vehicles from a nearby building.

“That canister might have triggered the explosion of a liquefied petroleum gas tank on a vehicle,” Tanik said.

The wounded were initially treated in the school yard before medics rushed to the scene and whisked them away to hospitals, NTV television said.

Kurdish rebels fighting for autonomy in southeastern Turkey have lately escalated their attacks on Turkish targets. The rebels carried out deadly bomb attacks in Turkish cities in the past. Islamic and leftist militants were also behind some bombings in this NATO-member and U.S. ally country.

Kurdish rebels were last blamed for a small bomb attack in the Mediterranean resort town of Kemer on Aug. 28 that injured 10 people, including four Swedish nationals.

Kurdish rebels have been fighting for autonomy in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast since 1984.

Turkish warplanes have bombed suspected rebel hideouts in northern Iraq last month in response to an escalation of attacks by the guerrillas. Turkey has not ruled out a cross-border offensive against Kurdish rebel bases in northern Iraq.

[Return to headlines]

Cameron and Clegg Clash Over the Most Over-Hyped Issue in the Middle East

by Paul Goodman

As I’ve written before, the significance of the Israel-Palestine conflict is grotesquely over-hyped. Orthodoxy holds that solving it is the key to peace in the middle east — an error that the tumult in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Bahrain and elsewhere during the past year has helped to expose. The most insidious threat in the region — Iran’s push for nuclear weapons, which threatens a Saudi response and a regional arms race — has nothing much to do with Israel: it is driven by national pride and religious ambitions in the emerging Shi’ite-Sunni conflict which is one of the great underwritten stories of British journalism.

Indeed, coverage of the region is poor and patchy, obsessed by Israel-Palestine to the exclusion of nearly everything else. The panjandrums of the BBC are flown out to pronounce on events when they become too momentous for even domestic journalism to ignore — such as last year’s inital revolts in Tahrir Square — and then flown back again while the action continues. So it came about that there was very little reporting of the monster rally in Cairo, which took place shortly after the fall of Mubarak, in which the masses were addressed by the extremist Islamist preacher Yusuf Al Qaradawi. None the less, a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conundrum would be both just and good — the only fair answer to a gnawing problem.

Israel’s greatest failure has been weak government failing to rein in the settlers; the Palestinians’ has been the history of rejectionism embodied in Hamas. Would the recognition of a state of Palestine make a two-state solution more likely? The Conservative Party is divided over Israel/Palestine but, as Tim indicated last weekend, the judgement of Tory foreign office ministers is that the answer is no, because the Palestinians would conclude from recognition that they don’t need negotiations to advance their aims, and Israel would most likely be the subject of a wave of legal actions from the new state — thus retarding talks even further.

The Liberal Democrats have a recent history of being less fastidious. The party’s opposition to the Iraq War improved the acquaintance of its MPs with some of the worst elements in British Islamism — Simon Hughes’s support for some having a role in Parliament being one of the most egregious examples. No wonder the Times reports today that David Cameron and Nick Clegg have clashed over the issue, as Barak Obama responds to a bid whose implications he was slow to see. The paper claims that Clegg has told Cameron that he is “being too cautious by resisting greater recognition for Palestine”.

Cameron has also consulted Tony Blair, a move unlikely to provide universal reassurance. It’s not hard to see where all this is heading. Obama is committed to vetoing the Palestinian gambit in the UN Security Council. Cameron won’t want to offend Obama. Clegg won’t want to cross his party. If it comes to a Security Council vote, we are moving towards that bold response, an abstention. And if the UN General Assembly votes to recognise a state of Palestine, much of British journalism will exhaust dictionaries of hyperbole — after which business in the Middle East will continue as usual.

[JP note: See also the article by Charles Moore which Goodman links to in the piece above , in particular the quote: “It is often said that anti-Israeli feeling is growing in the West because Israel does not, despite its claims, live by Western values. I sometimes wonder if the opposite is the case: Israel, because of the constant threat to its existence, reminds us of the high cost of defending our freedoms. And that, to Western wishful thinkers, is intensely irritating.” ]

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Iran: Islamic Awakening Forum Final Statement Issued

‘This awakening move will certainly advance to the very heart of Europe’

Islamonline.net_ News Agencies Final statement of the First Islamic Awakening meeting was issued late Sunday 18 Sep by reiterating that the Islamic Awakening is rooted in Genuine Islam and relies on the presence of people in all political and social arenas. Part of the statement reads, the independence of Muslim nations and their relief from economic, political and intellectual boundaries created by colonial powers depends on unity and consensus of all Muslim nations. The statement underlined the important role of people from all walks of life, particularly the youth and women in the victory of the Islamic awakening. The First International Islamic Awakening Meeting was opened on Saturday 18 Sep at the presence and with the opening speech by the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei on the venue of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s international seminars. Over 600 foreign thinkers and intellectuals from 80 world countries and over 400 elites from Iran attended the two-day conference. The conference is also attended by Iran’s top officials, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani and Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani.

Forum issues Five special committees were set up during the two-day event to discuss different aspects of the Islamic Awakening. The conference will also discuss and analyze the history and basic tenets of the Islamic Awakening as well as figures that have played a role in such movements. The in-depth study of a unified Islamic front and the issues and problems it faces as well as the goals and prospects of Islamic Awakening were among other topics of discussion during the conference.

Closing ceremony The closing ceremony of the international seminar was held on Sunday evening with the speech of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the presence of more than 1,000 thinkers and intellectuals from Iran and foreign countries. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has said that the great Islamic movements that have recently arisen in the Muslim world are a prelude to the establishment of a new Middle East. Salehi made the remarks on Sunday in an address to the 1st International Islamic Awakening Conference, which was held in Tehran from September 17 to 18. Salehi said the fact that popular movements in the region are spreading and more people are joining them illustrates that a new Middle East will be established based on Islam, in which the people will have the right to determine their own destiny and will no longer be subservient to the United States and the Zionist regime. “The popular uprisings that have recently arisen in the Arab world have their roots in the unsound and unfair equations that have been prevailing in the relations between nations… over successive decades and were Muslim nations’ natural reactions to unjust policies that the global hegemonistic system has adopted,” he added. He also stated that the hegemonistic powers are seeking to hijack the revolutions occurring in the Middle East and North Africa through infiltrating subservient elements into them and seeking to create “artificial crises” in certain countries to avail themselves of an opportunity to manipulate the uprisings. Velayati, who is also Supreme Leader’s Top Advisor for International Affairs, made the remarks while addressing the First International Conference on Islamic Awakening. Velayati told a press conference earlier this month that the conference is not a state-sponsored move, but a large number of government offices and ministries as well as cultural bodies have rendered assistance to the organizers of the gathering.

Popular uprisings Since the beginning of 2011, the Muslim world has witnessed popular uprisings and revolutions similar to what happened in Iran in 1979. Tunisia saw the overthrow of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in a popular revolution in January, which was soon followed by a revolution which toppled Hosni Mubarak in Egypt in February. Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Yemen have since been the scene of protests against their totalitarian rulers, who have resorted to brutal crackdown on demonstrations to silence their critics. Bahrain and Yemen, however, have experienced the deadliest clashes, while in Bahrain the military intervention of the Saudi-led forces from the neighboring Arab states has further fueled the crisis in the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom. Earlier this month, the Supreme Leader stressed that the European continent will soon experience popular uprisings and revolutions sweeping the Middle-East and North Africa at present.

Uprising heading to Europe Addressing a large number of Iranian teachers and university professors in Tehran, Ayatollah Khamenei reiterated that the growing wave of Islamic awakening in the Middle-East, North Africa and other parts of the Muslim world has been inspired by Iran’s Islamic Revolution, and said this awakening will definitely spread to the European countries. ‘This awakening move will certainly advance to the very heart of the Europe and the European nations will rise against their politicians and rulers who have fully surrendered to the US and the Zionists’ cultural and economic policies,’ he said. In relevant remarks earlier this year, a prominent American analyst had said that the wave of Erhal (Get Out) revolutions in the Middle-East and North Africa is now growing to the European continent. ‘Due to the financial corruption dominating most of the European governments and the pervasive bottlenecks and crises that have arisen in the western countries these days, it is predicted that the growing trend of such discontents will soon turn into a series of revolutions known as the Erhal Revolutions’ in the Middle-East and North Africa, Dr. James Anderson said late March. He said the European countries have not witnessed a major development and political leap after the Renaissance, the World War II, the Cold War and formation of the European Union (EU), but now the time is ripe for the European people to get ready for political revolutions and change in their ruling structures. Dr. Anderson also described the current protests and rallies in London as a prelude to Erhal revolutions in Europe, and said many European countries will soon be Erhalized and the world will soon witness that Erhalization has no boundaries. Similar to the spread of Islam to Europe via Spain several centuries ago, the growing waves of awakening seem to be spreading from the Middle-East and North Africa to Europe via the same country, where thousands of Spanish protesters have started rallies since a few days ago.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Saudi Arabia: Muslim Leaders to Address New Challenges at Makkah Confab

JEDDAH: More than 300 Muslim leaders, scholars and academics are expected to participate in the annual Islamic conference organized by the Muslim World League (MWL) in Makkah during the Haj season this year to discuss major Muslim issues.

“We are holding this conference during the Haj season, following a tradition introduced by King Abdul Aziz who had instructed Muslim scholars to meet in Makkah to discuss contemporary Muslim issues and problems,” said MWL Secretary-General Abdullah Al-Turki.

This is the 12th annual conference organized by MWL during the Haj, he said, adding that it would discuss the status of Islamic dawa activities in various parts of the world to come up with proposals to make them more successful.

The conference would set out effective dawa programs for different countries. “We have sent invitations to a number of scholars, university professors and heads of Islamic centers to take part in the conference and present papers,” Al-Turki said. Hassan Al-Ahdal, director general for media and public relations at the MWL, said the conference would be attended by a number of new Muslims. Previous conferences discussed topics such as Muslims in Europe, the role of the media, and youth issues.

“The opening session will be held at the MWL headquarters in Makkah while the remaining sessions will be held in Mina,” Al-Ahdal told Arab News. The papers presented at the conferences are published in a book form. “We send letters to Muslim governments and Islamic centers to implement the conference recommendations.”

Al-Ahdal said the conference offers a good opportunity for Muslim leaders to meet and discuss various issues facing their communities and find solutions to them. “This is one of the major objectives of Haj.” The four-day conference will have four sessions to discuss various aspects of the main theses, such as the principles and importance of dawa, the methodology followed by the Prophets in disseminating the message of Islam, the challenges facing dawa activities, especially in Muslim minority communities, vision and expectations of dawa, and application of modern technology.

[JP note: I expect erhalization will be on the menu.]

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

The Middle East: Restating the Obvious [Bernard Lewis Book Review]

THE MIDDLE EAST: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years, by Bernard Lewis. 433 pages, illustrated. Scribner paperback, $16

The crazy thing about the demonization of Bernard Lewis by the apologists for Islam is that Lewis is himself an apologist for a failed system. His style is different, his knowledge broader and deeper, his approach rational, but his results are nearly as wrongheaded. “The Middle East” was written in 1994 and has had a wide readership. My copy is the 16th paperback printing. That suggests that as many as one westerner in 400 or 500 has been exposed to his ideas. If we include his many less popular volumes, perhaps the number comes up to 1 in 200 or 300. Include the journalism and it might be a little more. So that when people speak of Lewis as the most influential scholar of Islam in the west, we are talking about a small group, indeed, many of whom despise him. He was the bete noir of Edward Said’s incoherent and poorly sourced “Orientalism.” Given what’s in “The Middle East,” it seems that if “orientalism” really exists, even a dnuce like Said could have found a more cogent example. Although Lewis writes that he wants to avoid a sultans and kings approach, the chapters devoted to culture, common society and business are skimpy. He attempts to set the stage by beginning, not at the beginning, but a little earlier, at the birth of Jesus. This makes some sense, but he gets off on the wrong foot, writing as if the Middle East was a mostly Christian area for six centuries before Islam. It wasn’t. R.L. Fox, in “Pagans and Christians,” estimates that at most 4 percent of the population of the Roman east was Christian before the forced conversion. The church had less than three centuries to instill its religion on the masses, and because it preferred to co-opt rather than exterminate local cults, it never really replaced the chthonic religions. Islam did, a most important point, but one that Lewis, since he does not realize it, does not address. It has turned out to be exceedingly difficult — short of simply exterminating Muslim populations, as was done, for example, in Italy — to oust Islam once established. The reasons for this are not simple, but one obvious reason is the continuing use of force. Lewis entirely misunderstands force. First, he describes the suppression of the “people of the book” religions (Christians, Jews, maybe Zoroastrians) as a contract entered into with the conquerors. Since there was no choice, it cannot be called a contract. This is hardly a surprise. Lewis correctly identifies Muhammad as a political-military leader with a religious doctrine, but fails to note that he was mainly a gangster. The much praised Islamic toleration — to the extent it existed at all — was nothing but a gigantic protection racket. Lewis’ most egregious misunderstanding is closely associated. He approvingly cites the sura saying “there is no compulsion in Islam.” He is not alone, but it beggars belief that anybody could have such a skewed understanding. Islam is a missionary religion, and wherever it holds civil power (virtually all of the Middle East for the past 1,400 years) it disallows other missionaies. This one-way gate will, eventually, result in a completely Muslim community. What there really isn’t in Islam is freedom of conscience. Without freedom of conscience, there can never be democracy, which means that a good part of the later chapters of “The Middle East” is beside the point. In 1994, Lewis believed that democracy, even liberal democracy, was making headway in the Koran Belt. In fact, it was already obvious by then that the forces of reaction had gained control. There were, are still are not, any Muslim democracies, or even any effective modern states even of undemocratic character. About one in 10 of the world’s 50 or so Islamic societies is a failed state, and a number of others are heading that way. Oddly enough, when giving himself just a little bit of historical perspective, Lewis is able to write a brilliant paragraph explaining why liberalism’s baby steps faltered. It is worth quoting in full: “In the course of the 1930s, liberal and constitutional institutions began to lose the attraction which they had once held in the region. “ It was a very slight attraction. Turkey is always cited as a Muslim but secular democracy. It was never anything of the sort. The travel writer Paul Theroux outfoxed the scholars by noting, two decades ago, that secularization stopped the day Ataturk died in 1937, a point that goes back to the success of Islam in exterminating the chthonic beliefs of the oldest civilizations of humankind. Islam creates the hungriest, sickest, poorest, least educated people in the world, but it has unparalelled staying power. Lewis continues: “Not surprisingly, they were not working very well.” That would be because no considerable part of the society wanted them to work. As the Syrian political scientist Bassam Tibi puts it,. Arabs are not interested in democracy. Lewis again: “Limited to a small, Westernized elite, they had no real basis of support in the society as a whole. Alien in both conception and appearance, they were in every way inefffective — unable alike to evoke people’s memories of the past, to respond to their needs of the present, or to illuminate their hopes for the future. Worst of all, they were associated in the minds of most Arabs with the most hated imperial powers of Western Europe.” Nothing has changed since. The fact that the “most hated imperial powers” were of Western Europe is key. The Arabs had been colonized by the Turks for 500 years and by Europe for 20 to, at most, 130 years. Few Arabs will even agree that the Ottomans did colonized them, and the reason is obvious: In this part of the world, religion trumps politics.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]


Azerbaijan: ‘Islam and Christianity Discourse’ Seminar to be Held

Organized by the Islamic Development Office in East Azerbaijan Province, a seminar titled “Islam and Christianity Discourse” is to be held in Tabriz on September 21-23.

(Ahlul Bayt News Agency) — Organized by the Islamic Development Office in East Azerbaijan Province, a seminar titled “Islam and Christianity Discourse” is to be held in Tabriz on September 21-23. Hojat-ol-Islam Hamid Azimi, the office’s managing director, said that the seminar would feature an interfaith discussion between Islam and Christianity with the presence of Mohammad Legenhausen, an American philosopher who teaches at the Imam Khomeini Education and Research Institute in Qom. “It will be held in three sessions on September 21-23 in Shams Tabrizi Center,” he went on to say, adding that the seminar mainly seeks to “further familiarize students with various aspects and characteristics of Islam and Christianity through a comparative study.”

Born into an American Catholic family in 1953, Professor Gary Carl (Muhammad) Legenhausen holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from Rice University. He got acquainted with Islam through his Iranian student Akbar Nojehdehi in the University of Texas. In 1979, he kept discussing with him about ideological and religious issues and though he was only concerned with doing research on Islam at first, he took a deep interest in it over the course of his research and ended up a Muslim three years later. He wrote a book entitled Islam and Religious Pluralism in which he advocates “non-reductive religious pluralism”. He has been an advocate of interfaith dialogue, and serves on the advisory board of the Society for Religious Studies in Qom. Professor Legenhausen was officially honored last year by the Islamic Republic of Iran as an outstanding figure serving Islam and the Quran.

[JP note: Has the good professor not understood that Islam is a reductive form of religious monolism?]

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

South Asia

India: Narendra Modi’s No to Skullcap is Insult to Islam: Imam

Chief minister Narendra Modi’s refusal to wear a skullcap has found him amidst political controversy. Saiyad Imam Shahi Saiyad has allegedly said that Modi’s refusal to wear Muslim’s skullcap is an insult to the Islam religion. The issue could prove to be a shot in arm for the Congress to criticise Modi and his ‘Sadbhavna Mission’. Sufi saint Imam Shahi Saiyad had offered Modi a Muslim skullcap during his visit on Sunday. However, the CM refused wearing the cap tactfully and instead accepted the shawl. “I did not go there as a member of the BJP or the Congress but as a religious leader. His refusal to wear skullcap is not an insult to me but to the religion Islam,” he said.

The opposition party is considering Modi’s refusal as a trait of pseudo secularism, whereas the BJP has termed it as Congress’s conspiracy. Arjun Modhwadia, president of Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee, said it shows the true face of chief minister and his party (BJP). State BJP spokesperson Vijay Rupani asked if wearing a Muslim skullcap was the only way to show sadbhavna.”BJP doesn’t believe in accepting religion in its real existence. To believe in sadbhavna, a Hindu doesn’t need to wear a Christian’s khes (scarf) nor does he need to wear a Muslim skullcap. Same holds true for a Muslim or a Christian as a Muslim or a Christian doesn’t need to wear a janoi (sacred thread),” said Rupani, adding that there is no need for any controversy at this time.

It is believed that the BJP shot SMSes justifying his refusal. “A Hindu need not wear topi (cap) to show his secularity, neither does a Muslim need to visit temple for the same,” read the text of the message. The SMS also read that the BJP does not believe in Muslim appeasement.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

India: Skullcap Refusal on Dais of Amity

Ahmedabad, Sept. 19: A Muslim cleric yesterday walked up to Narendra Modi and offered him a skullcap but the Gujarat chief minister politely declined to wear it. The BJP leader, who ended his three-day fast for communal harmony today, however, accepted a shawl from Maulvi Sayed Imam Shahi Saiyed. “I thought he would graciously accept it (the cap). After all, he has been wearing various colourful turbans and caps offered to him,” the 61-year-old cleric, who had come with his son Shamsuddin, said later.

While some observers said the cleric had virtually put Modi’s commitment on communal harmony to test with his offer, others said the chief minister’s response betrayed his dilemma. While the chief minister is trying to burnish his political brand appeal, he wouldn’t want to risk hardliners within the wider Sangh parivar, they said, or do anything that could dent his image as a Hindutva poster boy. The BJP played down the incident, saying the party did not believe in appeasement. “Thousands of members of the minority community have come here, but nobody insisted that Narendra Modi put on a skullcap. This is a non-issue which is being turned into a big one by our opponents,” spokesperson Vijay Rupani said. The maulvi, a chief of the Sufi community in Gujarat, however, expressed his disappointment. “I did not want to argue, it was pointless. But I am pained. He has been wearing caps and turbans of each community but declined a Muslim one which is not a sign of sadbhavna,” he said.

“Modi’s refusal to accept the cap is not an insult to me but an insult to Islam,” Saiyed told reporters today. “I had come to Ahmedabad after hearing about the Sadbhavna fast and went to the stage to felicitate Modi. When I offered him the cap, he told me he would not wear it. He might have thought that wearing a skullcap would dent his image.” Modi, however, let the maulvi drape the green shawl around his shoulders. Shamsuddin said his father had bought the cap and shawl for Rs 90. “We were asked by a government official to attend the fast. We came all the way from Rustampura, 100km away from Ahmedabad, and had to go through a lot of security hassles before we were allowed to go to the dais to greet Modi.” Minority leader Yusuf Shaikh said the cap episode was a non-issue, but was significant as it had exposed Modi’s “drama”.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Australia — Pacific

First Foray Into Study of Faith

The only one of its kind in Australia, this master of Islamic studies course puts the religion in an Australian and contemporary context, writes Margie Sheedy.

STUDYING Islam at a university level means many things. “Firstly, it is about gaining a deeper understanding of the Koran and the Islamic texts, many of which are from the classical period,” says Mehmet Ozalp, an adjunct lecturer of Australia’s first master of Islamic studies qualification through Charles Sturt University. “This course aims to help students understand this in the context of the contemporary world without changing Islam itself. ‘Secondly, it is about students thinking more deeply and developing a unique contemporary Australian perspective — understanding the context of Islam so religion makes a positive difference.”

The master of Islamic studies degree already seems to have struck a chord with Muslims and non-Muslims alike. There are 42 students enrolled in the part-time postgraduate course, which is only in its second semester. “We are pleasantly surprised by the amount of interest we have had,” says Ozalp, who is also president of the Islamic Sciences and Research Academy of Australia, which has been working with CSU to develop the curriculum. “Our vision is to provide high-grade education within the faith of Islam at the university level and to [enable students to] achieve a university qualification so they don’t have to go overseas to study.”

Ozalp says the course is broken into several core dimensions: classical Islamic sciences (the Koran and prophetic narrations, Islamic history and law, legal history and the study of Arabic); contemporary religion (including modern issues, such as globalisation and jihad); and human beings and society (the fundamentals of philosophy, sociology and human improvement). “We believe this gives it a nice balance,” he says. “On the one hand, we are staying true to the Islamic tradition but in the Australian context and within the CSU framework and standards. It is hoped that students will gain a deeper knowledge to help them understand contemporary issues and then deal with them in an effective and constructive manner.”

A lecturer at Monash University’s School of Philosophical, Historical and International Studies, Salih Yucel, was on the advisory committee for the CSU course. He says the qualification has strong support from the local Muslim community and thinks it is important for Australia.

“Being in Australia since 1987, it is my personal observation and experience that there is a need for an Islamic studies program in an academic environment,” he says. “It will give an opportunity to the second- and third-generation Muslims to learn Islam from relevant and academic sources.”

As a graduate of one of the leading schools of divinity in Turkey, he says the programs and curriculums overseas do not fully address the needs of the second and third generation of Australian Muslims. “Although theologically they are very similar in terms of articles of faith and pillars of Islam, Islam culturally is categorised by the anthropologists as Middle Eastern Islam, central-Asian Islam, Indo-Pakistani Islam, African Islam, south-Asian Islam, Anatolia-Balkan Islam and European Islam,” he says. “The Charles Stuart University master of Islamic studies program focuses on common grounds with European Islam.”

He says that after September 11, 2001, “there has been a great demand by non-Muslims around the world and Muslims who live as a minority to learn about Islam, especially in the Western countries”. “News [public information] related to Islam and Muslims gives a poor representation of Muslims, leading to misunderstanding,” he says.”This program will contribute to understanding. Moreover, it is an academic gap. Why shouldn’t there be academic study about the religion with the second-largest group of adherents?”

The course has drawn students from diverse backgrounds. “There are 19 different ethnic backgrounds [in the course], including Lebanese, Turkish, Afghan, Egyptian and Syrian, most of whom were born in Australia,” Ozalp says. “Our students are 55 per cent female and 45 per cent male. Most of them are doing this on the side, supplementary to their careers or another course of study.

‘There are a number of psychology students, lawyers, doctors and nurses, teachers and police officers; they all deal with Islamic-related matters in their fields. There are also a few Islamic religious educators and non-Muslim students, as well as people who are doing it for the love of learning.”

In terms of career enhancement, Ozalp says the master of Islamic studies degree will help students in their existing professions do their jobs better. “They can also go on to study to become academics, teachers in schools and maybe one day we will have home-grown imams,” he says. “We want this course to be representative of the community and to be inclusive of the community as much as possible.”

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Grand Mufti Ibrahim Abu Mohamed Feels Duty to ‘Cure’ Radicals

HOMEGROWN Muslim radicals are like “ill” patients in need of guidance and whose extremism is often fuelled by examples of injustice abroad such as the simmering conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Australia’s new Grand Mufti, Ibrahim Abu Mohamed, said young Muslims who were in the orbit of extremist preachers must be “corrected”. Speaking just days after his appointment, Dr Mohamed said homegrown radicalisation, considered by security agencies to be the most serious terror threat confronting the community, was the result of a distorted view of Islam. “Our duty is to clarify those matters,” Dr Mohamed said through an interpreter. “An extremist is like an ill person, an unhealthy person. You need to cure him and find the right cure for him more than just to destroy him and finish him off.”

Dr Mohamed, who was born in Egypt, was elected Grand Mufti by the Australian National Imams Council. He takes over from Melbourne-based Sheik Fehmi Nagi El-Imam, who retired because of ill health. The role of Grand Mufti has often been a controversial one. Sheik Fehmi’s predecessor, Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali, often courted scandal, famously referring to immodestly dressed women as “uncovered meat”.

Dr Mohamed has earned a reputation as a bridge-builder between Australia’s disparate Muslim communities. One law enforcement source contacted by The Australian described the Islamic scholar as “highly respected and very influential”. His appointment came 10 years almost to the day after the September 11 terror attacks, a moment he agreed had created “a gap” between Muslims and the wider community.

“It made a lot of Muslims apologise over a matter they had nothing to do with, or as a matter of fact they were totally against,” he said.

Nevertheless, Dr Mohamed suggested there was a relationship between Western foreign policy and the homegrown threat. Referring to the Israel-Palestine dispute and the recent push by the Palestinian Authority for UN recognition of Palestinian sovereignty, he said justice must have “one face”. “Unfortunately we play with a two-faced justice, that we strengthen the strong and weaken the weak,” he said.

“One of the reasons (for) radicalisation is not being just with one nation and being just with another nation.”

On the controversial subject of what role, if any, sharia should play in Australian society, Dr Mohamed urged perspective. He said the Islamic legal code was largely misunderstood. The more extreme examples, such as punishments, formed only a small part of Islamic law. Dr Mohamed said many of the values enshrined in sharia corresponded with Australian values. “Sharia also calls for freedom, justice, right of speech and this is something we are very fortunate to have,” he said. “These are all matters that we already implement here as Australians, and we’re proud to have it as Australian values.”

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Ghana: A Muslim Can be President — Kufuor

Former President John Agyekum Kufuor has expressed intense befuddlement over alleged claims by Deputy Finance Minister Fifi Kwetey that no Muslim can ever be President of Ghana. Mr. Kufuor told The Globe in an exclusive interview at his Airport residence in Accra on Friday evening that “I don’t know how it could get into anybody’s mind to say that a Muslim could not be the President of Ghana. It’s a democracy; it’s a secular nation which practices freedom of religion, perhaps we may even have a president who is not religious at all. “

Mr. Kufuor who served two consecutive four-year terms as President was sharing, exclusively with The Globe, his opinions about the recent furore on the possibility of a Muslim ever becoming the president of Ghana amongst other things. The issue became topical recently following a Wikileaks exposé that quoted Mr. Kwetey as asserting firmly that religion plays an important part in Ghanaian politics and that there was no way a Muslim could ever be voted into office as President in a country that is largely Christian.

He was quoted by the leaked US Diplomatic cables as having said that “Concerning Vice President [Aliu] Mahama’s Muslim faith, religion is an important factor in Ghanaian politics and many Christian Ghanaians would never vote for a Muslim presidential candidate. “ The cables also claim Mr. Kwetey said that “While most Ghanaians would not admit this openly, a Muslim could not be elected President of Ghana”, he was quoted as declaring boldly to some foreign diplomats.

No Muslim has in the annals of Ghana ever been President. Though former President Dr Hilla Limann was from the Muslim-populated Northern zone of the country, specifically Gwollu near Tumu in the Upper West region, he was never a Muslim. Besides former President Rawlings who chose purely Southern Christian running mates for the 1992 and 1996 elections, all other presidential candidates since the 2000 elections have chosen running mates who were either purely Northern Muslims or Northern Christians to balance the religious divide and to also, principally attract votes from that part of the country which is Muslim-dominated.

The trend continued in 2004. Former President Kufuor maintained his partner Aliu Mahama while then candidate Mills chose, then MP for Kumbungu Alhaji Mohammed Mumuni; a Muslim as his running mate. NPP’s Nana Akufo-Addo also opted for a Muslim, Dr. Mahamud Bawumia as his running mate for the 2008 elections, ostensibly, to amongst other things, strategically sway more northern and Muslim voters into the NPP.

This trend, though seen by some as a healthy development has also generated some resentment amongst some political pundits who believe that if a Muslim is good enough to become the vice president, why not the president? Fifi Kwetey’s alleged comments therefore stirred an instantaneous condemnation from a cross section of Ghanaians who accused him of discriminating against Muslims.

Former President Kufuor expressed shock at Mr Kwetey’s alleged assertion to the diplomats and The Globe that he was utterly astounded that somebody could condescend to thinking that a Muslim could never become the president of Ghana. According to him, religion has no role to play in the choice of who becomes the president of Ghana because the nation is governed by a secular constitution.

“…Presidency by constitution is the preserve of citizens. Fortunately our Constitution is a secular constitution. It also prescribes freedom of religion. I’m a Christian, I am a citizen; I became president not because I am a Christian but because I am a citizen of Ghana and my fellow citizens elected me. If tomorrow, (incidentally my vice president was a Muslim) a party should throw up a Muslim as its candidate and he is a Muslim that the people of Ghana would accept, what stops him from becoming the president of Ghana? …perhaps we may even have a president who is not religious at all.”

Mr Kwetey himself has denied the allegation, explaining that he was misquoted. In a statement released on September 13, the deputy Finance Minister indicated that his comments were meant to bring to the fore what he called the deceit and sidelining of Muslims and people of Northern decent from the political limelight, by the NPP through regional and religious tokenism.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]


Dutch Asylum Policy to Become ‘More Restrictive’, PM

The Netherlands’ asylum policy will become “more selective and more restrictive”, the leader of the centre-right government that rules with the backing of a far-right party said Friday.

The country which long cultivated an image of multi-cultural tolerance, now wants to “address the criminality of foreigners, harmonise and simplify the asylum criteria and fight against illegality,” an interior ministry statement said.

“The asylum policy will become more selective and more restrictive,” Prime Minister Mark Rutte added at a press conference after a cabinet meeting in The Hague.

Among other changes, family reunification will in future be limited to immediate family — a spouse or common-law partner and minor children.

Illegal immigration will become a criminal offence, punishable by up to four years in prison or a fine of 3,800 euros ($5,200).

Foreigners who have lived in the Netherlands for less than three years and commit a crime, will be expelled “speedily”.

The government also announced plans to ban the burqa, and said it would oppose bids by Romania and Bulgaria to enter Europe’s visa-free Schengen zone.

Rutte’s government enjoys parliamentary backing from anti-immigration MP Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom, in exchange for which the party was promised a larger say in policy making.

           — Hat tip: Kitman[Return to headlines]


joy52 said...

When is Peder Jensen going to write again? His voice is needed. His silence means they win. While it is necessary to say "Brevek was nuts", for me, his act got my attention and led me to discover there are writers who are speaking out about my very concerns. The speaking out is not a bad thing.

joy52 said...

When is Peder Jensen going to write again? His voice is needed.