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Islamophobia Watch: a statement

7 January, 2015 - 12:03

Islamophobia Watch was launched in early 2005. On the tenth anniversary of its foundation I have decided that the time has come to wind it up. (The site will remain online but will no longer be updated.)

This is not because the threat of anti-Muslim bigotry and hatred that we set out to challenge ten years ago has receded. On the contrary, as the rise of PEGIDA in Germany and the recent arson attacks on Swedish mosques demonstrate, if anything the situation has grown worse.

The problem is that IW set itself overambitious aims. Reporting examples of Islamophobia from across the western world as well as producing comment and analysis in response to these developments is well beyond the capacity of a one-person blog. I’ve become increasingly frustrated by IW’s inability to perform this role effectively.

There is clearly a need for a properly resourced and preferably Muslim-led organisation to extend and deepen the work Islamophobia Watch has done over the past decade. But the continued existence of IW itself is an obstacle to such an initiative.

In any case, IW’s main function as I saw it was to provide a searchable online database of Islamophobic incidents – over the years I recorded thousands of such cases – for the use of the Muslim community and others involved in the struggle against racism and fascism.

That function of IW was destroyed two years ago when I was excluded from the original website and had to set up the present site, minus the archives. (In the absence of anyone prepared to put the necessary effort into maintaining and updating it, the original site soon became moribund and was then abandoned.)

I have transferred some of the material from the original site to this one, with the objective of restoring the database, and I intend to persevere with this task, but it will be a long process. In the meantime, you can access the old archives here.

Finally, many thanks to all those who have supported Islamophobia Watch over the past ten years.

Reports and comment from Islamophobia Watch 29 December‑4 January

4 January, 2015 - 23:08

Reports and comment from Islamophobia Watch 29 December 2014-4 January 2015

Anti-terror plan to spy on toddlers ‘is heavy-handed’

4 January, 2015 - 17:28

Nursery school staff and registered childminders must report toddlers at risk of becoming terrorists, under counter-terrorism measures proposed by the Government.

The directive is contained in a 39-page consultation document issued by the Home Office in a bid to bolster its Prevent anti-terrorism plan. Critics said the idea was “unworkable” and “heavy-handed”, and accused the Government of treating teachers and carers as “spies”.

The document accompanies the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, currently before parliament. It identifies nurseries and early years childcare providers, along with schools and universities, as having a duty “to prevent people being drawn into terrorism”.

The consultation paper adds: “Senior management and governors should make sure that staff have training that gives them the knowledge and confidence to identify children at risk of being drawn into terrorism and challenge extremist ideas which can be used to legitimise terrorism and are shared by terrorist groups. They should know where and how to refer children and young people for further help.”

But concern was raised over the practicalities of making it a legal requirement for staff to inform on toddlers.

David Davis, the Conservative MP and former shadow home secretary, said: “It is hard to see how this can be implemented. It is unworkable. I have to say I cannot understand what they [nursery staff] are expected to do. Are they supposed to report some toddler who comes in praising a preacher deemed to be extreme? I don’t think so. It is heavy-handed.”

Mr Davis also accused the Home Office of pushing the legislation too quickly.

Isabella Sankey, the policy director at human rights body Liberty, said: “Turning our teachers and childminders into an army of involuntary spies will not stop the terrorist threat. Far from bringing those at the margins back into mainstream society, it will sow seeds of mistrust, division and alienation from an early age.

“The Government should focus on projects to support vulnerable young people – instead they’re playing straight into terrorists’ hands by rushing through a Bill that undermines our democratic principles and turns us into a nation of suspects.”

Headteachers’ union NAHT, said it was “uneasy” with the new guidance. General secretary Russell Hobby, said: “It’s really important that nurseries are able to establish a strong relationship of trust with families, as they are often the first experience the families will have of the education system. Any suspicions that they are evaluating families for ideology could be quite counterproductive.

“Nursery settings should focus on the foundations of literacy and socialising with other children – those are the real ‘protections’.” Schools and nurseries, he said, should not be required to act as a police service.

Sunday Telegraph, 4 January 2015

See also “Nursery staff to be forced to report toddlers at risk of becoming terrorists”, Independent, 4 January 2015

Sweden mulls national strategy to counter ‘Islamophobia’ after arson attacks on mosques

3 January, 2015 - 14:21

Uppsala mosque graffiti (2)Sweden’s government is planning to develop a new national strategy to counter the growing prejudice against Islam in the country, according to Alice Bah Kuhnke, Swedish minister of culture and democracy.

Kuhnke said at a Stockholm protest rally against the spate of attacks on mosques that the government will coordinate with local Muslim communities to find ways to fight Islamophobia by spreading awareness about Islam among people, BBC News reported. The term “Islamophobia” is used to refer to the hatred toward, and fear of, the religion of Islam.

“The big problem is that some people have these sets of values which make them prepared to carry out these horrendous deeds. We won’t change that with more window bars, cameras or guards,” Ria Novosti quoted Kuhnke as saying, adding that the minister would start consultations with local Muslim organizations in February.

On Friday, thousands of people took to the streets in three of Sweden’s largest cities, including Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmo, to demand an end to the attacks on mosques. At a protest rally, outside the parliament in Stockholm, demonstrators held leaflets saying, “Don’t touch my mosque,” to show their solidarity with the Muslim community in the country.

“I came here because I am against the mosque attacks. They are not only attacks on mosques but also against Swedish democracy,” one of the protesters told The Local, a Swedish media outlet. “I am a Swedish citizen first and I am also a Swedish Muslim seeking to protect my rights and to show solidarity with others to deal with this Islamophobia.”

A mosque in Sweden’s fourth largest city, Uppsala, was attacked on Thursday in what was reportedly the third arson attack on a Muslim center in the country within a week. The attack followed another incident on Monday, when a fire broke out at a mosque in the southern town of Eslov. An earlier Christmas Day attack on another mosque in Eskilstuna city, 86 miles west of the Swedish capital Stockholm, had wounded five people.

International Business Times, 3 January 2014

See also “In Sweden, the land of the open door, anti-Muslim sentiment finds a foothold”, New York Times, 2 January 2015

MP urges Czechs: Walk your pigs near mosques

3 January, 2015 - 12:56

Tomio OkamuraTomio Okamura, who heads the Czech opposition Dawn of Direct Democracy movement, has called on people on Facebook to bother Muslims in the Czech Republic by “walking pigs” in the vicinity of mosques, for example, which, he emphasised, is no incitement to intolerance.

The Dawn discussed the text of the appeal with lawyers before releasing it, he told the server.

In the past, Okamura repeatedly asserted that he is not a xenophobe, in spite of his controversial statements about Romanies and foreigners in the Czech Republic. For example, Okamura once visited a man convicted of a racially motivated murder in prison.

The text that Okamura released on Facebook is the Dawn’s “instruction for the protection against Islam.” It is signed by Dawn member Jiří Kobza.

The Dawn advises people to keep dogs and pigs and to go to walk them in the vicinity of mosques and other sites visited by Muslims. People should also lead [seedy-looking] homeless people to such places, Dawn recommends. It says people should not buy kebabs, a meal often offered by Muslim vendors.

The article is also aimed against immigrants in general. It calls on people not to vote in support of politicians who promise advantages to immigrants.

Okamura told that the article is no incitement to provocations and intolerance. “We’ve discussed the text with our defense lawyers. I don’t want to step on thin ice,” he said. However, experts addressed by the Czech News Agency said the Dawn’s appeal for intolerance towards minorities has crossed a bearable limit.

Human Rights Minister Jiří Dienstbier (Social Democrats, ČSSD) said he would not comment “on Mr Okamura’s hateful utterances.”

Previously, Okamura said the foreigners who lose their job in the Czech Republic should return to their Okamura is also infamous for his anti-Romany statements. He said the wartime concentration camp in Lety, south Bohemia, where hundreds of Romanies died, had been a labor camp for workshy people.

The Dawn of Direct Democracy entered the Czech Chamber of Deputies for the first time in the October 2013 elections, gaining 6.88 percent of the vote. With 14 seats in the 200-seat Chamber, it is one of the two smallest parties in it.

In the past year, the Dawn’s popularity has stood below the 5-percent parliament threshold, according to public opinion polls.

Prague Post, 3 January 2014

Germany: Muslims to march in protest of widespread racial hatred

3 January, 2015 - 12:25

In the face of massive anti-Islam protests organized by Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West (PEGIDA), Germany will witness a major counter-demonstration on Jan. 5 to protest widespread hatred toward Muslims in German society, which has a long history of fear of foreigners, dating back to the Nazi regime’s extermination of the Jewish community. Since then, neo-Nazi movements have led ongoing discriminatory practices and violent attacks against immigrants.

At least 13 nongovernmental organizations of Muslim and ethnic Turkish immigrants in Germany released a joint declarations stating that they would give significant support to the upcoming demonstration against PEGIDA, while calling for other organizations to join the counter-protest in Cologne. “We are calling on all citizens to join the demonstration in Cologne on Jan. 5 and take a stance against racism, xenophobia, hatred against foreigners and hostility against Islam,” the organizations said in a joint statement, as reported by Anadolu Agency. “We will support all democratic initiatives and allies that oppose PEGIDA and other groups inspired by it,” the statement added.

The counter-protest has gained significant support from political parties, trade unions and church organizations while condemning such violent actions toward Muslim communities. “PEGIDA is made up of an astonishingly broad mix of people, ranging from those in the middle of society to racists and the extreme right-wing,” Cologne Cathedral Dean Norbert Feldhoff told Reuters. “By switching off the floodlighting we want to make those on the march stop and think. It is a challenge: Consider who you are marching alongside,” he said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also criticized the anti-Islam PEGIDA movement in a New Year’s speech, saying, “Do not follow people who organize [anti-Islam protests], for their hearts are cold and often full of prejudice and even hate,” stressing that such protests promote racial hatred and discrimination against people in Germany and trigger social unrest.

A right-wing populist movement, PEGIDA has drawn attention lately as it has drawn large support from far-right groups and ordinary citizens. Far-right anti-Muslim groups have become more prominent in Germany. A weekly march in the eastern city of Dresden has attracted many Germans, and more than 15,000 people take to the streets in Dresden every Monday to protest the rising number of immigrants. The protesters gather for weekly rallies in front of the Dresden City Opera House, chanting: “No more lies. We are the people.”

Since October 2014, Germany has witnessed several anti-Islam demonstrations and racially motivated attacks organized by far-right extremist groups. A German mosque in the northwestern German town of Dormagen was painted with swastikas and racist graffiti associated to Nazis. The mosque attacks evidently indicate that Muslim’s lives have been threatened considering this latest act of vandalism.

Considering the rightward shift in Germany, anti-Islam rallies have also spread across Germany. With many Germans supporting anti-Muslim rhetoric and anti-immigration policies, according to a poll, more people have started to consider Islam a threat to their society. The latest opinion poll conducted by Forsa for Germany’s Stern magazine suggests that one in eight German would join anti-Muslim demonstrations while highlighting growing support for far-right parties and movements. Nearly 30 percent of Germans polled believe that anti-Islam demonstrations organized by the recently formed far-right movement PEGIDA are “justifiable.”

Mainstream parties have been accused of being too soft on immigration policies, as Germany and other European countries expect more refugees seeking shelter. This has led to growing concern among German society about the burgeoning number of immigrants, many from Syria, pouring into the country. In the face of the growing number of refugees and asylum seekers looking for shelter in Germany and the threat posed by the radical militant group the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), many Germans have been fueling anti-immigration sentiments.

Daily Sabah, 3 January 2014

Twitter and Facebook ‘allowing Islamophobia to flourish’ as anti-Muslim comments proliferate

2 January, 2015 - 23:26

Twitter and Facebook are refusing to take down hundreds of inflammatory Islamophobic postings from across their sites despite being alerted to the content by anti-racism groups, an investigation by The Independent has established.

The number of postings, some of which accuse Muslims of being rapists, paedophiles and comparable to cancer, has increased significantly in recent months in the aftermath of the Rotherham sex-abuse scandal and the murder of British hostages held by Isis.

The most extreme call for the execution of British Muslims – but in most cases those behind the abuse have not had their accounts suspended or the posts removed.

Facebook said it had to “strike the right balance” between freedom of expression and maintaining “a safe and trusted environment” but would remove any content reported to it that “directly attacks others based on their race”. Twitter said it reviews all content that is reported for breaking its rules which prohibit specific threats of violence.

Over the past four months Muslim groups have been attempting to compile details of online abuse and report it to Twitter and Facebook. They have brought dozens of accounts and hundreds of messages to the attention of the social-media companies.

But despite this most of the accounts reported are still easily accessible. On New Year’s Eve the author of one of the accounts reported wrote: “If whites had groomed only paki girls 1 It would be a race hate crime. 2 There would be riots from all Muslim dogs.”

Other examples of extremist postings on Twitter include:

*A user posted an image of a girl with a noose around her neck with the caption: “6 per cent of white British girls will become sex slaves to the Islamic slave trade in Britain”.

*A tweet which reads: “Should have lost World War Two. Your daughters would be getting impregnated by handsome blond Germans instead of Pakistani goat herders. Good job Britain.”

*On Facebook a posting in response to the beheading of Westerners in Syria is also still easily accessible despite being reported to the company weeks ago. It reads: “For every person beheaded by these sick savages we should drag 10 off the streets and behead them, film it and put it online. For every child they cut in half … we cut one of their children in half. An eye for an eye.”

When the comments were reported, Facebook said that they did not breach the organisation’s guidelines.

Fiyaz Mughal, director of Faith Matters, an interfaith organisation which runs a helpline called Tell MAMA, for victims of anti-Muslim violence, said he was disappointed by the attitude of both firms. “It is morally unacceptable that social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, which are vast profit-making companies, socially engineer what is right and wrong to say in our society when they leave up inflammatory, highly socially divisive and openly bigoted views,” he said.

“These platforms have inserted themselves into our social fabric to make profit and cannot sit idly by and shape our futures based on ‘terms and conditions’ that are not fit for purpose.”

Mr Mughal said that Tell MAMA regularly received reports of anti-Muslim rhetoric and hate from concerned Facebook and Twitter users.

He added that the far-right group Britain First relied on Facebook to organise, campaign and misinform followers about Islam and Muslims.

The rise in online abuse would appear to mirror a rise in hate attacks during the past year. In October the Metropolitan Police released figures to show hate crime against Muslims in London had risen by 65 per cent over the previous 12 months. Latest figures also suggest that, nationally, anti-Muslim hate crime has risen sharply following the murder of Lee Rigby in 2013.

One man, Eric King, was recently given a suspended sentence for sending a local mosque a picture smeared with dog excrement depicting Mohamed having sex with a pig. However his Facebook account, which he used to send abusive messages to the same mosque, is still active and promoting anti-Muslim hatred.

Independent, 2 January 2015

‘Love bombing’ at Uppsala mosque

2 January, 2015 - 23:18

Uppsala mosque solidarity messages

Paper hearts have been pasted on to the doors of a mosque in Uppsala following the suspected arson attack there Thursday and hundreds joined a demonstration there Friday morning in solidarity with Swedish Muslims.

Among those demonstrating in Uppsala was Sweden’s minister for public administration, Ardalan Shekarabi.

Speaking to Swedish Radio in Uppsala, Shekarabi said: “We’re seeing a wave of Islamophobic propaganda. It’s obvious that we have to take a stand against Islamophobia and for the equal value of every person. All people, no matter what their faith, should feel safe in Sweden.”

The Uppsala incident followed fires during the Christmas holidays at mosques in the towns of Eskilstuna and Eslöv. Demonstrations to protest what many see as hate crimes and growing Islamophobia were also held Friday in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö.

Radio Sweden, 2 January 2015

Uppsala mosque solidarity

Stockholm rallies against mosque attacks

2 January, 2015 - 16:34

Stockholm demonstration don't touch my mosque banner
‘Don’t touch my mosque’ – banner on Stockholm demonstration

Thousands of people turned up to a rally in Stockholm in support of Sweden’s Muslim community on Friday afternoon following three arson attacks on mosques, with other demonstrations scheduled to take place in Gothenburg and Malmö.

The crowds in Stockholm waved placards and listened to speeches from leading figures within the city’s Muslim community as they gathered on the cobbled streets outside the Royal Palace in the Swedish capital’s Old Town, known as Gamla Stan.

The largest banner at the demonstation read: “Don’t touch my mosque”.

Anti-racism campaigner Yasin Ahmed, 43, told The Local he was “surprised and thrilled” that so many people had turned out for the event on a cold January 2nd.

“I came here because I am against the mosque attacks. They are not only attacks on mosques but also against Swedish democracy. I am a Swedish citizen first and I am also a Swedish muslim seeking to protect my rights and to show solidarity with others to deal with this Islamophobia”.

After Culture and Democracy Minister Alice Bah Kuhne took to the stand, she told The Local that Sweden should still be seen as “a paradise” for immigrants from different nations despite the current tensions.

“The most important thing that we can do now, as a government, a people, and a country, is to really put the effort into making an action plan to change this,” she said.

Swedish police are still searching for suspects linked to the third arson attack against a mosque in a week, which took place in Uppsala on Thursday amid growing tensions over the rise of a far right anti-immigration movement.

The mosque has since been covered in paper hearts from people pledging their support to muslims.

The Local, 2 January 2015

Uppsala mosque solidarity messages

Stockholm demonstration January 2015

 'Don't touch my mosque' at a demonstration in Stockholm, Sweden

Cologne Cathedral to turn out the lights in protest at anti-Muslim march

2 January, 2015 - 15:43

One of Germany’s most famous landmarks, Cologne Cathedral, will be plunged into darkness on Monday evening in protest at a march by a growing grass-roots anti-Muslim movement through the western German city, cathedral authorities said.

The rise of the group, Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (PEGIDA), has shaken Germany’s political establishment, prompting Chancellor Angela Merkel to say in her New Year address that its leaders were racists full of hatred and citizens should beware being used.

PEGIDA’s last weekly rally in the eastern city of Dresden attracted some 17,000 people, and the movement plans further marches in other cities, including through the center of Cologne on Monday night with a rally by the cathedral.

“PEGIDA is made up of an astonishingly broad mix of people, ranging from those in the middle of society to racists and the extreme right-wing,” Cathedral Dean Norbert Feldhoff told Reuters.

“By switching off the floodlighting we want to make those on the march stop and think. It is a challenge: consider who you are marching alongside.”

Dresden’s famous Semperoper opera house also extinguished its lights in protest during the last PEGIDA march in the city.

An opinion poll on Thursday found one German in eight would join an anti-Muslim march if PEGIDA organized one in their home town. Many people are concerned about the numbers of asylum seekers entering Germany, which surged to about 200,000 in 2014, four times the number in 2012. Net immigration has also hit a two-decade high.

Anti-immigration parties, capitalizing on voters’ disenchantment with economic austerity, have surged in popularity in a number of European countries, including France, Britain, Sweden and the Netherlands.

Reuters, 2 January 2015

‘Sweden’s Islamophobia is getting stronger’

2 January, 2015 - 11:31

Omar MustafaOmar Mustafa, President of Sweden’s Islamic Association, speaks to The Local about the recent spate of mosque attacks and the rise of Islamophobia across Sweden.

Sweden has made global headlines this week after unknown suspects torched three mosques in different parts of the country. Coupled with a growing anti-immigrant sentiment flowing from the increasingly popular nationalist Sweden Democrat party, the head of Sweden’s Islamic Association says things are getting worse.

“The climate in Sweden is very serious right now and Islamophobia is getting stronger. And it’s not just on the internet, this is happening in real life,” he tells The Local.

Over a seven-day period, fires broke out in Eslöv, Eskilstuna, and Uppsala, with someone scrawling the words “Go home Muslim shit” on the main door of Uppsala’s mosque on Thursday.

“We don’t know who has carried out this attack and the police can’t find a single suspect. We know the attacks were praised on Islamophobic sites, with many people leaving racist comments directly after the attacks.”

He said that there had been fourteen confirmed attacks on mosques over the past twelve months.

“There have been a lot of scary things happening lately, but it’s important to remember that there’s a lot more happening than the series of attacks this week. Muslim women on the streets of Sweden are getting harrassed almost daily,” he added.

Mustafa pointed to the Instagram account “Muslimskkvinna” (Muslim women), which boasts over 10,000 followers and shares details and images from the experiences of Muslim women in Sweden and how they are treated.

Recent posts show a smashed-in car window, pictures of women who have been attacked, and even a note pinned on a wall with a swastika and the words “Die Muslim” written in black marker pen.

Peaceful demonstrations are planned for Friday in Gothenburg, Malmö, and Stockholm. They have been organized by 30 different groups including political parties and the Swedish church. Over 6,000 people have joined related Facebook groups and promised their attendance.

“The whole point of the demonstrations is to show solidarity, our right to religious freedom, the fact that the mosques have a right to be here in Sweden, and to gather up different parts of society to be involved,” Mustafa explained.

Mustafa said he wasn’t sure if there was a “direct connection” between the attacks and the Sweden Democrat party, which pulled in a record 13 percent of the public’s support in the September elections.

“But even if the Sweden Democrats aren’t connected, it’s a symptom. The Sweden Democrats are driven by an anti-Muslim agenda and a big part of society has bought into it. Everyone knows that a big part of their agenda is hate towards Muslims, and the Roma community too,” he said.

“I’m happy about the attention this has got from both the government and the police. I can only hope the public takes it seriously too and can propose some way of beating this hate and terror that Muslims experience in their daily lives.”

The Local, 2 January 2015

Henry Jackson Society funded by the Islamophobia industry must be stripped of its charitable status

1 January, 2015 - 23:58

HJS logo

In the aftermath of the anti-Islam Henry Jackson Society’s removal from its role as secretariat to two all-party parliamentary groups, because of its refusal to reveal the sources of its funding, Coolness of Hind urges the Muslim community and other interested parties to “complain to the Charity Commission with an aim to instantiate a statutory investigation into the HJS to verify it’s compliant with its charitable objects”.

Why halal meat leads to FGM

1 January, 2015 - 23:56

“Just look at how this legislative fear of offending religious sensibilities has shaded into a deeper cultural impotence when it comes to standing up to crimes such as female genital mutilation, ‘honour’ abuses and the more ludicrous aspects of Sharia. Look at how it has caused us to pull our punches on issues such as the burka.”

Writing in The Times, Matthew Syed explains why allowing allowing a legal exemption for ritual slaughter rots the foundations of western civilisation.

The slippery slope from halal meat to FGM

By Matthew Syed

The Times, 1 January 2015

I’ll be honest: I love meat. I like steak medium rare, lamb pink, and I am not averse to the occasional veal Milanese, particularly when it is served at Brocca, a rather nice Italian restaurant I know. But, like most carnivores in this country, I also believe that animals should be slaughtered humanely. In fact, I think it is imperative.

The law, unsurprisingly, takes the same view. Animal welfare legislation requires animals to be stunned before slaughter in order to minimise suffering. The stunning renders the animals largely impervious to pain before they are killed. There are also other rules and regulations that seek a balance between the rights of the animal and the practicalities of eating meat on a mass scale.

Some campaigners reckon that the law should go further to protect animals; others think that it is already too onerous.

But this is the stuff of democracy, isn’t it? People with different opinions trying to reach a conclusion based on something approaching rational deliberation. And for those who disagree with the conclusion, there is always the opportunity to campaign, to proselytise, and, indeed, to stand for parliament if they so wish. That is how you change the law.

But it isn’t the only way. When it comes to meat, it turns out that there are exemptions. Jewish and Muslim sensibilities about ritual slaughter are given protected status, despite these practices being inhumane. Kosher meat is taken from animals that are never stunned pre-slaughter. Halal animals are stunned sometimes, but not always. Both types of meat are routinely served in restaurants, without labelling. The exception was granted on grounds of religious freedom.

Now I want to point out here that I don’t have any problem with religion. If you think that there is a divine rule that bans you from eating animals slaughtered in the name of anyone but “Allah”; or animals that weren’t killed by men trained for the purpose; or carcasses that haven’t been patted on the head by a rabbi, that is your business. Hell, you can eat your food while balancing a copy of the Holy Book on your head if you really want to.

But I do have a problem with the law having get-out clauses. I do have a problem with rules being swerved around. The law is not a pick’n’mix counter. The right to religious freedom is not an absolute right to do what you like, whether killing animals inhumanely, barring gay couples from your B&B, or forcing your daughter into a marriage she doesn’t want. Religious customs, like secular ones, must operate within limits.

And when those who make the laws start to grant exemptions, however well intended, it is not just animals that suffer; it is all of us. Just look at how this legislative fear of offending religious sensibilities has shaded into a deeper cultural impotence when it comes to standing up to crimes such as female genital mutilation, “honour” abuses and the more ludicrous aspects of Sharia. Look at how it has caused us to pull our punches on issues such as the burka.

Secular liberalism, we should remember, is not a wishy-washy doctrine. It is a positive, muscular and rather wonderful creed. It is about the principle of “live and let live”, but within limits. When people behave in illiberal ways; when they trample on the rights of others (human or animal); when they try to exempt themselves from the law, we should confront them. Indeed, religious freedom itself can only survive in a society when it is protected from the illiberal tendencies of others.

Of course, if religious groups wish to change the law, on animal slaughter or anything else, that is their right. But let them argue for it openly, like anyone else. To be fair, some Jewish and Islamic scholars have argued that ritual slaughter is not inhumane, but they have been powerfully contradicted by the Farm Animal Welfare Council, the EU’s scientific panel on animal health and welfare, and the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe.

But this is how it should be. Let us have the give and take of rational debate. Let us decide on the basis of evidence and reason. And let us examine the arguments of religious groups on their merit, and without fear of being labelled antisemitic, anti-Islamic or anti-religious.

One in 8 Germans would join anti-Muslim marches: poll

1 January, 2015 - 23:28

PEGIDA Heimatschutz statt IslamisierungOne German in eight would join an anti-Muslim march if a rapidly-growing protest movement organized one in their home towns, according to an opinion poll published on Thursday.

The survey highlighted growing support in Germany, as in other European Union countries including Britain and Sweden, for parties and movements tapping into voter fears that mainstream politicians are too soft on immigration.

Some members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc worry that they risk losing support to the euro-sceptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which has shifted its focus to immigration and includes many who also back the PEGIDA protest movement – Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West.

PEGIDA is holding weekly rallies in the eastern city of Dresden, and attracted more than 17,000 people to a Dec. 22 rally. A few small marches have taken place in other towns, and it plans to stage further rallies in other German cities.

In her New Year address, Merkel urged Germans to turn their backs on PEGIDA’s leaders, calling them racists full of hatred, and said Europe’s biggest economy must welcome people fleeing conflict and war.

A poll of 1,006 people by Forsa for Germany’s Stern magazine found 13 percent would attend an anti-Muslim march nearby. It also found 29 percent of people believed that Islam was having such an influence on life in Germany that the marches were justified.

While two thirds of those polled believed the idea of an ‘Islamisation’ of Germany was exaggerated, many Germans are concerned about the numbers of asylum seekers fleeing countries such as Syria.

Partly in response to its Nazi past, German asylum rules are among the most liberal in the world. The number of asylum-seekers arriving in Germany surged to about 200,000 in 2014, four times the numbers in 2012. Net immigration has hit a two-decade high.

AfD leader Bernd Lucke criticized Merkel’s New Year address in comments due to appear in Friday’s edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) paper, accusing her of disrespecting citizens. A New Year address should unite rather than divide people, he said, accusing Merkel of branding all those who joined PEGIDA marches as anti-immigrant without listening to their views.

He said he saw no place for anti-immigrant sentiment in Germany, but that problems should be discussed properly to stop such views taking hold.

Reuters, 1 January 2015

Sweden hit by third mosque arson attack in a week

1 January, 2015 - 14:21

Uppsala mosque racist graffiti
Uppsala mosque and racist graffiti on door – ‘Go home Muslim shit’

Swedish police were hunting Jan. 1 for at least one suspect following what is believed to be the third arson attack on a mosque in a week.

“Someone threw a firebomb, a Molotov cocktail at the building,” Torsten Hemlin a spokesman for Uppsala police told Swedish news agency TT, adding that the bomb did not set the mosque in eastern Sweden alight.

“They also wrote some vulgar racist words,” he said, adding that no one was in the building at the time of the attack.

Police in Sweden’s fourth largest city Uppsala were alerted by passers-by who reportedly saw a man throw a burning object at the mosque at around 0430 GMT.

“The crime has been classed as attempted arson, vandalism and incitement to hatred,” the police said in a statement appealing for eyewitnesses to come forward.

Thursday’s attack came just three days after a late night blaze at a mosque in Esloev in southern Sweden which police suspect was also arson.

On Christmas Day five people were injured when a petrol bomb was thrown through the window of a mosque in Eskilstuna, east of the capital Stockholm.

The country’s leftist Prime Minister Stefan Loefven called the Christmas attack a spurt of “hateful violence” and said Sweden would “never tolerate this kind of crime”.

According to the anti-racism magazine Expo, there have been more than a dozen attacks on mosques in Sweden in the last year.

The attacks come as debate intensifies in the country over immigration and the integration of asylum seekers in the traditionally tolerant Nordic country.

Last month the far right Sweden Democrats – which doubled its support to 13 percent in September elections – came close to bringing down the left-green government over its liberal refugee policies, further boosting its support in opinion polls.

AFP, 1 January 2015

See also “Suspected arson at mosque in Uppsala”, Radio Sweden, 1 January 2015

Anti-Islam protest groups have hatred in their heart, warns Merkel

1 January, 2015 - 11:28

Angela Merkel urged Germans yesterday to reject a growing anti-Islam protest movement, warning that its leaders had “hatred in their hearts”.

The chancellor showed the deep concern among Berlin’s political establishment at the weekly marches through Dresden organised by Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West). The movement is spreading to other German cities.

Her strongly worded address, broadcast on national television last night, criticised Russia for its actions in Ukraine and called for Germans to welcome refugees from the war in Syria.

The Pegida movement in the eastern city of Dresden began in October with a few hundred demonstrators, but 17,000 people turned out on ten days ago for the latest Monday night march. It has adopted a slogan used before the fall of the Iron Curtain against the repressive communist regime of East Germany.

“Today many people are again shouting on Mondays, ‘We are the people’. But in fact they mean, You do not belong – because of the colour of your skin or your religion,” Mrs Merkel said in her message. “So I say to everyone who goes to such demonstrations: do not follow those who are appealing to you. Because too often there is prejudice, coldness, even hatred in their hearts.”

The protest was started by Lutz Bachmann, 41, from Dresden, who has no political background. He claimed to be trying to alert the political class to the potential of mass immigration to foster xenophobia.

Mr Bachmann said: “Because of a misjudged asylum policy, the French and the Dutch are voting for radical rightwing parties, and these parties are becoming stronger all the time. It is said that we are Nazis. That is exactly what we are against.”

Mrs Merkel’s answer in her new year’s address was to emphasise that refugees from trouble spots around the globe were welcome in Germany.

“It goes without saying that we will help them and accommodate people who are looking for refuge,” she added. The rapid ageing of the German population was a national challenge, she said, calling immigration “a gain for all of us”.

The Times, 1 January 2015

See also “‘They have hatred in their hearts': Angela Merkel delivers stinging attack on Germany’s growing anti-Islamic protesters”, Independent, 31 December 2014

Happy new year from the EDL

31 December, 2014 - 23:50

Happy new year from EDL

So the EDL ushers in the new year with a call for a boycott of Muslim-owned taxi companies and Muslim-owned restaurants.

Yes, that’s the same EDL whose mission statement declares that the organisation was formed to oppose “the shocking actions of a small group of Muslim extremists”, announces that their aim is to resist the “religiously-inspired intolerance and barbarity that are thriving amongst certain sections of the Muslim population” (emphasis added), and piously warns against making “the unjust assumption that all Muslims are complicit in or somehow responsible for these crimes”.

Huge police presence in Luton greets handful of EDL protesters

31 December, 2014 - 21:02

Police massively outnumbered English Defence League protesters their Luton demonstration this morning.

Small numbers of English Defence League supporters appeared at a demonstration against Luton Islamic Centre this morning, which was held at Crawley Road car park.

Despite the group’s announcement yesterday evening that the demonstration was “on hold”, a few supporters from Northern divisions came out.

They were massively outnumbered by the police.

Luton on Sunday, 31 December 2014

See also “English Defence League demonstration under control”, Luton Today, 31 December 2014

And “EDL in Luton, 31 December 2014″, Luton Borough Council news report, 31 December 2014

Islamophobia on the rise in Czech Republic

31 December, 2014 - 18:05

IVCR Czech Controlled ZoneThe Czech Republic experienced a spike in Islamophobia in 2014 despite there being a very small number of Muslims in the country, Petr Zídek writes in the daily Lidové noviny (LN) today.

Although President Milos Zeman’s popularity plummeted in the past year, he is still highly respected by Islamophobes, Zídek writes.

In mid-December, the Islamophobes wrote a letter to Zeman in which they praised his open “objections to the Islamic theocratic and totalitarian ideology.” They highly appreciated Zeman for opposing “the efforts by influential groups in Czech and European society to pursue a policy of appeasement towards this old-new totalitarian threat.”

Leaders of the anti-Islam initiative, which has more than 93,000 supporters on Facebook, have asked Zeman to veto a planned bill that is to extend the powers of the ombudsman. They criticize the current ombudsman, Anna Šabatová, for having defended two female Muslim students whom a Czech secondary school did not permit to wear head scarves earlier this year, Zídek writes.

The Czech Islamophobes fail to understand that the core of the dispute was not Islam and its habits but the question of whether school rules may be at variance with the constitution, Zídek writes.

The Islamphobes say if the ombudsman’s powers were extended, Šabatová would use her new powers to “persecute the critics of Islam and thereby strengthen the presence of Islam in the Czech Republic,” Zídek quoting them as saying.

Earlier in 2014, Islamophobia was for the first time widely used as an instrument in the campaign before municipal elections. Even in one district in Prague, otherwise a cosmopolitan city, the highest number of preferential votes went to the then-deputy mayor who presented the stopping of a Muslim cemetery project as her biggest success in the past election period, Zídek writes.

A noteworthy aspect of Czech Islamophobia is that it can easily do without Muslims, he continues. The number of supporters of the “We Don’t Want Islam in the Czech Republic” group is at least five times higher than the estimated number (20,000) of Muslims living in the Czech Republic, whose population is some 10.5 million, Zídek writes.

According to the last census, only 1,442 people claim adherence to the Czech Muslim Community (UMO), a mere fraction compared with, for example, the Jehovah’s Witnesses group with 13,000 adherents, Zídek writes.

For Czech Islamophobes, news about the Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh) and from the West European countries with strong Muslim minorities is enough to foment hatred in the Czech Republic, he says.

In this atmosphere, a positive step is Bronislav Ostranský’s book Atlas muslimských strašáků (Muslim Scarecrows Atlas), which the Academia publisher’s house issued recently.

The book is a useful introduction to Islamic Studies, because it corrects certain widespread clichés. It points out, for example, that only 25 percent of Muslims are Arabs, that jihad is not a mere appeal for violence and that female circumcision has almost nothing to do with Islam, Zídek writes.

However, staunch Islamophobes will hardly “yield” to rational arguments. The Muslim terrorists have just killed another person, and Islam wants to destroy our civilization, they would say, referring to TV newscasts, Zídek writes.

Maybe the time has come to launch a new initiative, “We Don’t Want Islamophobia in the Czech Republic,” he concludes.

Prague Post, 31 December 2014

Eslöv holds demonstration in solidarity with firebombed mosque

31 December, 2014 - 16:49

Eslöv solidarity demo (2)

Sydsvenskan and Skånska Dagbladet report that two hundred people attended last night’s rally organised by “Tillsammans för Eslöv” (Together for Eslöv) in solidarity with the local mosque, which suffered an arson attack on Monday.

The demonstration called for security, freedom of religion and a Eslöv without violence. Speakers included Rebecka Barjosef of Tillsammans för Eslöv, Adnan El-Tahan of the Eslöv Islamic Cultural Association and the vicar of Eslöv, Cerny Erikson.

“We want people who are vulnerable to know there are those who stand up for them”, Rebecka Barjosef told Sydsvenskan. “There is nothing worse than silence when this kind of hate crime happens.”

Eslöv solidarity demo