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Switzerland: plans for ‘burqa ban’ win support

21 December, 2014 - 22:16

Walter WobmannA large majority of citizens is apparently in favour of introducing a nationwide ban on burqas for Moslem women in Switzerland according to an opinion poll.

More than 60% of respondents said they would outlaw the Muslim religious garment in public spaces, says a survey by the Léger Switzerland polling institute.

The SonntagsBlick newspaper says people of all age groups and both in the German- as well as in the French-speaking parts of the country would vote for a ban. About one in three respondents are apparently against it.

A member of the rightwing Swiss People’s Party [Walter Wobmann, pictured] is planning to launch a campaign next year for a nationwide vote on the issue.

Last year, a two-third majority of voters in Italian-speaking Ticino – one of 26 Swiss cantons – agreed a public ban in the southern Swiss region. But the decision is pending approval by the federal authorities.

Five years ago, a People’s Party committee won a nationwide vote banning the construction of new minarets in Switzerland, prompting a political upset.

Swissinfo, 21 December 2014

German Council of Jews chairman condemns ‘immensely dangerous’ PEGIDA movement

21 December, 2014 - 11:28

Josef SchusterIn light of recent marches by the controversial PEGIDA movement, Germany’s Central Council of Jews (ZdJ) has come to the defense of Muslims in Germany. Chairman Josef Schuster has warned to not underestimate the group.

The newly-elected chairman of the council, Josef Schuster, said in Saturday’s edition of the German newspaper Die Welt that fear of Islamistic terrorism is being “exploited” to vilify an entire religion. “This is completely unacceptable,” said Schuster.

“Of course Islamist extremism needs to be taken as seriously as other extremist trends,” he said, “But the security authorities have long been aware.”

To draw the conclusion from so few Islamists that Islam is going to become Germany’s state religion, is “as absurd as when we conclude that, due to the existence of right-wing extremism, the Nazi dictatorship will be rebuilt tomorrow,” Schuster added.

At the same time, however, Schuster expressed his deep concerns over the demonstrations led by PEGIDA, which loosely translates as the “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West,” and warned against underestimating the movement. They are “immensely dangerous,” he said.

“Here, neo-Nazis, parties from the far-right and citizens who think that they can finally let out their racism and xenophobia are all mixed together,” Schuster said.

PEGIDA’s largest demonstration to date took place on Monday evening in the eastern German city of Dresden. Some 15,000 people took to the streets to demonstrate against islamization and Germany’s immigration system. Nearby, however, about 6,000 counter-protesters – made up of civic, political and church groups – marched under the banners “Dresden Nazi-free” and “Dresden for All.”

Ahead of Monday’s march, German Chancellor Angela Merkel also condemned the recent wave of PEGIDA marches and cautioned Germans against falling prey to xenophobic “rabble rousing.”

Deutsche Welle, 20 December 2014

Muslim woman assaulted by racists in Braunschweig

21 December, 2014 - 09:55

The Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung reports that a Muslim woman of Syrian heritage was verbally and physically assaulted by four racists in the city of Braunschweig in Lower Saxony last week.

The 29-year-old woman, who was identifiable as a Muslim because of her headscarf and dress, was struck on the knee by a car while crossing the road. Four men, who were said to be in their early 20s, got out and proceeded to subject her to anti-Islamic abuse, while one of them grabbed her by the collar of her jacket.

At that point passers-by intervened and shouted at the men, who got back in the car and drove off. Police have appealed for witnesses to contact them.

The Braunschweig branch of the Bündnis gegen Rechts (Alliance Against the Right) issued a statement condemning the assault. It noted that that the incident took place against a background of rising far-right racist movements, with a demonstration modeled on PEGIDA’s Dresden protests due to take place in Braunschweig in January.

“The attack on the Muslim woman shows that the hatred and prejudice that is fueled by PEGIDA, HOGESA & Co., now turns into violence…. We call on all the people of Braunschweig to take a clear stand against such attacks on Muslims and other fellow human beings. Racism, nationalism, Islamophobia and incitement against refugees should have no place in this city!”

The Alliance has published a statement opposing the forthcoming BRAGIDA (“Braunschweig against the Islamisation of the West”) protest and is organising an anti-racist counter-demonstration.

Muslim reporter threatened in Paris metro

20 December, 2014 - 19:25

Hajer M’tiri's assailant hides face

I was sitting in the last car of the Paris metro, in one of the folding seats close to the door. A number of other people were in the car, as well, though it wasn’t packed.

Two stations before my stop, a large man strode into the car. He was about 6-foot-three (1.90 meters), and he had a big belly and long brown hair. He was unshaven.

He stared at me.

As a Muslim woman wearing the scarf, walking in the streets and taking public transportation in Paris means I often face people’s stares. Sometimes I hear comments and whispers. I am a young reporter, just recently assigned to Paris, but I have quickly gotten used to it.

Still, I was unprepared for what happened next.

“P… de musulmane,” the man snarled. F… Muslim.

Then there was silence. No one spoke a word. I was terrified.

Hajer M’tiri reports.

Anadolu Agency, 20 December 2014

Queensland bar & grill puts up ‘no Muslims’ sign

20 December, 2014 - 16:09

Eagles Nest Bar and Grill 'No Muslims'This is a sign outside the Eagles Nest Bar and Grill in Longreach, Queensland. It reads in full:

“2000 years ago Jesus Christ made headlines turning water into wine. The tradition continues…. We turn money into beer. (Sorry no Muslims).”

The Boycott Halal in Australia? No Way Facebook page has posted a report from a local resident:

“A friend rang them and asked if they had a sign out front saying ‘Sorry no Muslims’. He said ‘Yes, that’s right’. He was asked ‘What’s your reason for putting the sign there?’, and he said ‘Just, no Muslims’. When asked again ‘But what’s your reason for putting the sign there?’ he hung up.

“We were present when the call was made and confirm what was said. This is clearly discrimination and will be reported to the Australian Discrimination Commission. And it’s certainly unAustralian. Shame on you, Eagles Nest Bar and Grill, Longreach.”

Eagles Nest Bar and Grill

Isle of Wight EDL leader pleads guilty to racially or religiously aggravated harassment

20 December, 2014 - 15:40

Carl Worrall and Dave Bolton at IOW prison protestThe English Defence League’s Isle of Wight organiser Carl Worrall was up in front of magistrates yesterday for sentencing, having pleaded guilty to one count of harassment and one count of racially or religiously aggravated harassment.

According to police, the charges arose from incidents at a coffee shop in Newport on 27 October and 1 November. From Worrall’s account, this would appear to be the branch of Costa Coffee in St James Square.

As MEND points out, the 1 November incident evidently followed an EDL protest outside HM Prison Isle of Wight. This was provoked by the leaking of an internal bulletin from the National Offender Management Service, which reported that a prisoner who had recently converted to Islam had been found with a homemade ISIS flag and “detailed escape plans involving taking a member of staff hostage”.

Based on a shock-horror account in the Sunday People, the EDL claimed that the prisoner had “planned to behead a guard” – a piece of scaremongering that even the Daily Mail refused to swallow, reporting instead that it was thought the plan was “an attempt to escape, rather than to harm”.

The photo above is of Carl Worrall at the EDL protest outside the prison. Looking on is Dave Bolton of the national EDL, which shows that this was an officially endorsed event, not just some local initiative.

At the end of the demonstration, according to a report in the local press, the EDL marched into the centre of Newport and gathered for a further protest at the war memorial in St James Square, before presumably repairing to the nearly Costa Coffee shop, where the harassment by Worrall took place.

Worrall was reported as saying that the EDL were against sharia law and mass immigration. He claimed: “We are not yobs looking for trouble or racist clowns, we are just trying to make a point.”

Of course, it turned out that Worrall was indeed a yob and racist clown looking for trouble. As yet we have no details of his racist behaviour (other than his own version of events) or of the sentence he received. But racially or religiously aggravated harassment, even of a non-violent character, is a serious criminal offence that carries a potential six-month prison sentence at magistrates’ court (or a two-year sentence if referred to crown court).

It would also be interesting to know what role Dave Bolton played in this affair. Was he present at Costa Coffee when the harassment took place? Did he take any action to prevent it? Or is the EDL happy to tolerate racially aggravated criminal behaviour by its members?

Ad targeting Islam to go before judge

20 December, 2014 - 15:39

AFDI Islamic Jew Hatred ad

You can’t shout “fire” in a crowded theater. Can an ad proclaim “Jew-Hatred: It’s in the Quran” on a crowded bus?

That’s the free-speech issue before U.S. District Judge Mitchell Goldberg in Philadelphia, who soon will have to decide whether a private group’s ad targeting the Quran and seeking to “end all aid to Islamic countries” can appear on SEPTA’s buses, trains, shelters, and kiosks.

Defenders of the ad say it falls into one of the First Amendment’s most preciously protected categories: public-issue speech.

SEPTA general counsel Gino Benedetti acknowledged the importance of free speech but took a different approach during testimony before the judge Wednesday. Benedetti said he rejected the ad in the fall because of its potential to cause harm and incivility in a transit system that serves and employs Muslims among its one million daily customers and 9,000 employees.

The ad, he said, “puts all Muslims in a single bucket as hating Jews. . . . My common understanding is that not every Muslim hates a Jew. I thought it was portraying Muslims in a harmful, injurious way.”

Produced by the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), the ad features a photograph of a 1941 meeting between Adolf Hitler and Haj Amin al-Husseini, a Palestinian Arab nationalist who made radio broadcasts supporting the Nazis.

Cofounded in 2010 by conservative commentators Pamela Geller and Richard Spencer, AFDI is a nonprofit incorporated in New Hampshire. Its mission statement says it opposes the “treason [of] government officials, mainstream media, and others in their capitulation to the global jihad and Islamic supremacism.”

In written legal arguments, AFDI said its ad is germane and timely “in light of the fact that many Jews (and Christians) are being persecuted in Islamic countries in the Middle East, and many of these countries receive aid from the United States.”

In May, the ad was submitted in Philadelphia. A month later, SEPTA rejected it, saying it failed to conform to the transit authority’s prohibition on advertising that “disparages” any person or group “on the basis of race, religious belief, age, sex, alienage, national origin, sickness, or disability.”

That prohibition is part of 13 written standards that SEPTA applies to evaluate advertising. In practice, SEPTA officials in Philadelphia closely scrutinize the ads only when Titan, the New York-based outdoor advertising company it uses to solicit and display them, has a question about whether an ad complies with the standards.

In September, AFDI sued, seeking an injunction and saying SEPTA’s rejection amounts to illegal censorship. The transit agencies in New York and Washington have posted the ads “without incident,” AFDI said in its complaint, which “demonstrates that any concerns of disruption by SEPTA are unfounded.”

In its response, SEPTA countered that the ad is not constitutionally protected speech “because it utilizes deliberate or reckless falsehoods in order to demean a group based on its religion, uses intentionally provocative language and images in the hope of eliciting a violent response, and embraces the very hatred of religious groups it purports to condemn.”

AFDI has sought to place the Islamic-Jew-hatred ad – and others like it – on transit system equipment in Houston, Phoenix, Chicago, San Francisco, and other cities.

When New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority balked and the matter went to court, AFDI prevailed. Similar litigation has occurred in Boston and Seattle.

Some civic leaders and clergy in the Philadelphia region have begun meeting to craft a response. Many said they see “a teachable moment” in the controversy, regardless of what the court decides. Briefs are due at the end of this month, and a ruling could come soon thereafter.

Advocates opposed to the ads began meeting in October.

“I was really heartened,” said Abby Stamelman Hocky, executive director of the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia, a decade-old nonprofit that has been tracking the matter. “People were unified behind the sense that this is not what we are about in Philadelphia.”

Hocky said the Religious Leaders Council, which is staffed by the Interfaith Center and represents more than 30 area churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples, is preparing to launch a social media campaign. It will consist of a rallying statement and a petition on the council’s website for supporters to sign.

“We affirm the constitutional protection of free speech,” the draft statement reads. “That does not diminish our condemnation of irresponsible speech. . . . It is our hope . . . that hate-filled messages will not be carried throughout the neighborhoods [on] trolleys, buses and subways.”

Another possibility, said Interfaith Center board member Sally Baraka, is a comedy-night fund-raiser that would invite stand-up comedians of all faiths to take aim at all types of religious intolerance.

“The ads have a specific tone. I would like for us to not respond in the same tone,” Baraka said. “Humor stops the animosity.”

Philadelphia Inquirer, 20 December 2014

Muslim woman sues county jail after being forced to attend Christian church service

20 December, 2014 - 08:10

Sakeena MajeedA Muslim woman who says she was forced to attend Christian church services during a 60-day jail stint in Cleveland on an assault charge has sued the county.

Sakeena Majeed said in a federal lawsuit filed Thursday that a correction officer made her and other Cuyahoga County jail inmates attend Friday afternoon services led by a Baptist minister. She alleged that she was threatened with solitary confinement if she did not attend and that another correction officer mocked her when she refused to actively participate.

“That should be offensive to anybody, no matter what your religion is,” said her attorney Matthew Besser, who filed the lawsuit. “The government can’t tell you what god to pray to or to pray at all.”

Majeed’s lawsuit seeks unspecified damages. A county prosecutor’s spokesman, Joe Frolik, declined to comment about it on Friday.

Majeed, of suburban Rocky River, was sentenced to the county jail on 3 April after pleading guilty to assault. She was arrested on her lunch hour on 18 July, 2013, after getting into a confrontation with a police officer who had stopped her for jaywalking, Besser said. Records show she was indicted on charges of felonious assault, assault on a police officer and resisting arrest. Her sentence began 11 April.

Forcing someone to attend a church service against his or her will is a clear violation of the constitutional right to freedom of religion, a right that is not lost when someone is incarcerated, Besser said. Majeed primarily wants to bring the jail’s practice to light and to prevent what she experienced from happening to others, he said.

Majeed served her sentence in a trustee unit. Inmates had free run of their jail pod except for Friday afternoons, when they had to attend church services, Besser said. Even the minister would make fun of her for not participating, Besser said.

“She grew up in Kansas, and she’s American as apple pie,” Besser said. “She just has a different religion than most people.”

Associated Press, 19 December 2014

Survey: About one third of Germans supportive of anti-Islam rallies

19 December, 2014 - 16:07

Pegida DresdenAbout one third of Germans are supportive of the demands of burgeoning anti-Islam rallies, according to survey findings released Friday, as Berlin puzzles over how to stem the rising tide of anger over refugee arrivals.

The latest weekly rally in the eastern city of Dresden on Monday brought out 15,000 supporters of Patriotic Europeans against Islamization of the Occident (Pegida), an anti-foreigner group.

Although Pegida is perceived as channelling attitudes of people in Germany‘s formerly communist east, a breakdown of the data by pollster YouGov showed there was not much east-west difference in responses to it.

Asked if it was “good that someone draws attention to mistakes in political asylum policies and opposes Islamists,” which is how Pegida presents its stance, 36 per cent of easterners and 33 per cent of westerners agreed.

The pollsters interviewed 1,025 Germans and adjusted the findings to be representative of the whole German population over 18.

Government officials have repeatedly denounced Pegida as a rightist movement, saying Germany is not being “Islamized.” Muslims make up far less – 4 per cent – of German society than popularly believed, and the bulk of current refugee arrivals from Syria are Christians.

There has been disagreement at the top of Chancellor Angela Merkel‘s government over whether to strictly dissociate from the protest movement or engage with it.

Justice Minister Heiko Maas called the rallies appalling and said he had zero sympathy with anyone who found Pegida‘s views appealing.

But Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere countered that the government must engage with genuine concerns among the populace. He said Germany should debate how it will cope if annual refugee arrivals remain at a historically high 200,000.

In Dresden, the government of Saxony state said it would seek to counter Pegida with Twitter messages, publicizing factual information about refugee numbers and refugee absorption into society with the hashtags #pegida and #nopegida.

Rising antipathy to immigrants has been a drumbeat in elections around Europe in the past year.

Initially, Germany seemed immune to the groundswell, but the rise of Pegida, and a bid by a small eurosceptic party, Alternative for Germany, to embrace the protests has suggested Germany is now catching up with the trend.

Europe Online Magazine‎, 19 December 2014

Anti-Islamic protesters disrupt Martin Place memorial

19 December, 2014 - 09:25

Sydney Party for Freedom anti-Muslim protest

Sydneysiders paying their respects to siege victims at Martin Place have shouted down a group of anti-Islamic protesters who appeared at the memorial on Friday afternoon.

Four men waving Australian and Southern Cross flags shouted slogans including “Islam is evil” and “not all cultures are evil – Islam is inferior”. The men also accused Muslims of being “murderers” and supporting female genital mutilation, according to a witness.

The group bore signs proclaiming: “Muslim terrorists not wanted here – neither are their leftist supporters”, “Tony Abbott – Will you protect us from multiculturalism?” and “We didn’t start the fire!”

One of the men was Nick Folkes, who has previously been associated with the fringe Australian Protectionist Party and is now the chairman of the “Party for Freedom”, which calls for an end to Muslim immigration and “state-sanctioned multiculturalism”.

A post about the siege on the group’s website calls for a “tribute to remember the fallen” at 5pm on Friday, referring to Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson, who were killed in the siege.

Mr Folkes told the Fairfax Media the demonstration was peaceful and that he received support from some members of the public. “We saw it as a tribute, mate, but it turned into a heated exchange with different groups,” he said. “The police moved us on. They wanted to move us on because…some of the Muslims and lefties didn’t want us there.”

A witness said the crowd booed the men’s speeches and was universal in its condemnation of the tirade. A member of the public confronted the men at about 6.20pm and the altercation was broken up by police, a witness said.

There has been a high police presence at Martin Place since Monday.

Mr Folkes denied he was a racist or white supremacist. “Islam is not a race. We’re criticising a political ideology that is totalitarian in nature,” he said.

Sydney Morning Herald, 19 December 2014

See also “Five moments when Aussies shouted down racism”, News.com.au, 17 December 2014

Boca Raton, Florida: Man punches car after calling driver a Muslim, police said

18 December, 2014 - 23:54

A man in Boca Raton punched the hood of a car because he thought the driver was Muslim, police said.

Boca Raton police got a call about a drunken man who had punched a car at about 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at 101 Plaza Real.

The driver of the vehicle told officers a man, later identified as James Caputo, wandered into the street and was standing there. He stopped his car and waited for Caputo to get out of the street, but when he didn’t, he honked his horn to get him to move.

Caputo turned to look at the driver, who according to police has an olive complextion and dark hair, and started screaming at him.

According to the arrest report, Caputo cursed at the man, called him a Muslim and told him to go back to his country. The driver told police he is Lebanese but is not Muslim.

The driver yelled back at Caputo and then Caputo punched the hood of the man’s car, leaving a significant dent, police said.

Caputo ran off, police said, but they found him a few blocks away at a bar.

He is charged with criminal mischief. He is being held at the Palm Beach County Jail in lieu of $1,000 bail.

Sun Sentinel, 18 December 2014

Muslim charities lose government help over ‘extremism’

18 December, 2014 - 23:09

Eric PicklesTwo Muslim charities have lost their grants after the government claimed they had links with Islamist extremism.

A spokesman for Birmingham-based Islamic Help, said it was “surprised, dismayed and angered” by the action. The Muslim Charities Forum (MCF), said the decision was based on “unfounded allegations”.

The Department for Communities and Local Government said it would not fund any group “linked to individuals who fuel hatred, division and violence”.

In a written statement the Secretary of State for the department, Eric Pickles, claimed Islamic Help had invited “an individual with extremist views” to speak at an event, and that the MCF – an umbrella organisation for Muslim charities – had “failed to reassure us that they have robust measures in place to investigate and challenge their members.”

A spokesman for Islamic Help said the speaker alleged to have extremist views had not been identified to them. The DCLG has so far refused to name him or her publicly.

The spokesman for Islamic Help, which provides emergency relief following major disasters and has worked in Gaza, the Central African Republic and Syria, has said its events are to raise money for humanitarian work and not political platforms.

He said although the amount of money they would lose [about £7,000] was a “drop in the ocean”, the move “besmirches the reputation and integrity” of people who had taken part in their campaigns. The charity had not received any notification from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), the spokesman said.

Mr Pickles said only programmes which “uphold fundamental British values” would receive aid.

Both Islamic Help and the MCF had received the money through the Faith Minorities in Action project, which was set up by the DCLG in March last year.

The scheme, established in conjunction with the Extremism Task Force, was designed to encourage integration by promoting interfaith work, the role of women in faith, tackling youth crime and to provide child protection training.

The Muslim Charities Forum was awarded the contract to implement the scheme, which included running workshops to “share experiences and best practice on addressing a wide variety of social and community issues”.

Mr Pickles said the MCF had not been meeting objectives and was unable to reassure him that the body was sufficiently rigorous over its members’ activities. The MCF said it was unaware of any perceived failings, and that it had not been contacted by the DCLG about the decision to stop the cash.

A spokesman for the forum said: “We will continue to foster cooperation and positive relationships between Muslim charities and other faith and community groups. We have responded to the DCLG to reassure them of our processes, the vital importance of the work we do, and of the Faith Minorities in Action project.”

The DCLG is due to launch a new call for applications from organisations able to work in collaboration with faith groups and to deliver effective support, Mr Pickles said.

The money comes from the government’s integration strategy, which between 2010 and March 2015 is expected have invested about £50m in community and interfaith projects.

BBC News, 18 December 2014

See also “Muslim Forum that promoted integration has funding stripped”, Asian Image, 18 December 2014

And “MCF response to DCLG decision over Faith Minorities in Action”, MCF press release, 18 December 2014

Patriots Defence League president allegedly spat on Canberra driver

18 December, 2014 - 20:12

Aaron HudsonThe local head of an Australian “patriots” league allegedly spat on a Canberra driver after monitoring the activities of a local Islamic centre this week, police say.

Aaron Raymond Dudeck, 21, is accused of spitting on the man’s cheek and calling him a “Muslim c—” after their cars collided in Canberra’s south about 8.45pm on Monday, the night of the Sydney Lindt cafe siege.

Police believe Dudeck, also known as Aaron Hudson, is the president of the ACT branch of the Patriots Defence League, an organisation claiming to defend the Australian “way of life”.

He was allegedly driving in the car park of the Canberra Islamic Centre in Monash. The court heard suggestions he was acting on directions from the league’s Sydney branch.

Police say he was watching the centre, a focal point for the local Islamic community, to establish whether it was operating as a mosque or a library. Dudeck allegedly overtook the victim’s car as it approached the exit of the centre’s carpark. Court documents suggest Dudeck later slammed on his brakes, and the car behind him crashed into the rear of his vehicle.

Dudeck is accused of getting out of his car, walking up to the other man’s window, and saying: “Look what you have done you f—ing idiot, you stupid idiot, you Muslim c—.” He then allegedly spat through the man’s open window. Dudeck called police after the crash, allegedly telling them: “If he says one more word, I will knock him out, useless f—ing Arab c—.”

Dudeck was arrested the next day and appeared in the ACT Magistrates Court on Thursday. He pleaded guilty to an offensive behaviour charge, but not guilty to common assault and driving while disqualified.

No mention of the Lindt siege was made in court or by police, and Fairfax Media does not allege any link between the Sydney ordeal and Dudeck’s actions.

Magistrate Peter Dingwall said an inference could potentially be drawn that Dudeck deliberately caused the crash.

Police allege he has guns at his property south of Canberra, and told the court of his extensive criminal history in the ACT and interstate. The court heard Dudeck’s Facebook profile picture showed him holding a gun. Police say Dudeck also tried to get the details of the crash, which would have given him the victim’s name and address. Police refused to hand the details over.

The prosecution opposed bail, arguing Dudeck was at risk of failing to appear or reoffending.

But Mr Dingwall granted him bail on strict conditions, imposing a curfew and restrictions on approaching any mosque or the victims. He acknowledged police had concerns for the safety of “unknown persons” if Dudeck was released. He also expressed concern about Dudeck’s association with the Patriots Defence League, but said: “I have to be careful not to overreact to his association with that body.”

Police told the court the alleged victim held “grave concerns” for his safety. The man’s son sat in the car during the alleged incident.

Dudeck has been barred from being in the ACT unless working, in court, or meeting with his lawyers. He will reappear at a later date.

Canberra Times, 18 December 2014

Update: See “‘Patriots’ president locked up in NSW”, Canberra Times, 19 December 2014

PDLA anti-Islam meme