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Islamic extremism a 'deadly' problem for charities, William Shawcross says

20 April, 2014 - 06:36

Chairman of Charity Commission says it will come down hard on charities found funnelling cash to extremist groups

Islamist extremism is the "most deadly" problem charities face, the chairman of the sector's watchdog has said.

William Shawcross, who took on the role at the Charity Commission in October 2012, said it was "ludicrous" that people with convictions for terrorism or money laundering were not automatically disqualified from setting up charities or becoming trustees.

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Shadow education secretary warns against religious extremism in schools

19 April, 2014 - 00:14
Tristram Hunt's remarks to NASUWT conference follow claims of plot to take over schools and run them on strict Islamic principles

Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary, will warn on Saturday that "the pursuit of a divisive religious extremism" as shown in an alleged conspiracy to take over schools in Birmingham threatens to undermine Britain's modern multicultural society.

Hunt's remarks to the annual conference of the NASUWT teaching union in Birmingham follow the uncovering of a dossier named Operation Trojan Horse, claiming to reveal a plot to overthrow teachers and governors insecular state schools in the city and run them on strict Islamic principles.

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Pakistani cleric names Islamabad school library after Osama bin Laden

18 April, 2014 - 15:52
Maulana Abdul Aziz, controversial and hardline cleric, wanted to pay tribute to al-Qaida leader, 'the martyr'

A Pakistani cleric who runs an Islamic seminary for girls in the capital of Islamabad has named the school's newly built library in honour of Osama bin Laden, his spokesman and a school administrator have said .

The tribute is an unusual move, though there have been cases in recent years of Pakistanis naming their sons or even their stores and places of business after the terror network's late leader.

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Happy British Muslims: the video that made me dance for joy

18 April, 2014 - 14:56
A video of British Muslims bopping to Pharrell Williams' song Happy has already delighted hundreds of thousands of YouTube viewers. Here's why I joined in

From Jerusalem to Jamaica, feelgood video homages to Happy by Pharrell Williams have spread like a fit of giggles on social media and now British Muslims have their own version.

The Happy British Muslims video was put together by a group of young British Muslims called the Honesty Policy, with a very simple aim: to spread positivity and a bit of empowerment along the way.

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Modi cannot escape responsibility for communal violence | @guardianletters

17 April, 2014 - 21:00

Meghnad Desai (Letters, 15 April) plays down the crimes committed by Narendra Modi and suggests that others, too, are sinners in the realm of communal violence. The Indian electorate, he says, knows all of this and should be allowed to choose without external critical comment. Desai sits as a Labour peer and in the past has not been so restrained, recording his willingness to go to war against human rights violations. Now he seems not to wish to speak out against them.
Gurminder K Bhambra
University of Warwick
John Holmwood
University of Nottingham

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Anti-Muslim suspicion in Britain has a whiff of McCarthyism about it | Salma Yaqoob

17 April, 2014 - 14:06
Allegations of an Islamic takeover plot of Birmingham schools are just the latest in a string of slurs against Muslims

Allegations that 25 schools in Birmingham are at risk of an "Islamic takeover plot" reached new levels of hysteria recently. An announcement was made that a counter-terrorism expert has been drafted in to conduct yet another investigation. The minister responsible, Michael Gove, has managed at a stroke to increase fear and suspicion between Muslim and non-Muslim in the city. The fact that the chief constable of West Midlands police, Chris Sims, has denounced the decision as "desperately unfortunate", itself an extraordinary move, gives an indication of the scale of the concern.

So what was the evidence that provoked such a serious intervention and the accompanying media frenzy? A four-page document in which "plotters" outlined their dastardly plans to oust a headteacher for not being "open to our suggestions of adhering to strict Muslim guidelines".

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Muslim students divided on sharia-compliant loans

17 April, 2014 - 09:42
The government is consulting on student loans that will not involve paying interest but some young Muslims don't see the point

Muslim students are divided about government moves to introduce student loans that comply with sharia law. While some have welcomed university minister David Willetts' recent announcement of an open consultation on the issue, others feel indifferent or oppose it altogether.

Muslim groups have been pressing hard for reform because the rise in tuition fees in 2012 brought with it the expectation that students would take out loans and pay them back, with interest, once they had well-paid jobs.

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Facebook removes page of preacher using social media to back jihadists

17 April, 2014 - 08:07
Muslim cleric Musa Cerantonio, the third most liked person by western jihadists in Syria, called for assassination of US politicians

A radical Australian preacher revealed to be using social media to encourage acts of terrorism has had his Facebook page taken down following a Guardian investigation.

The California company confirmed it took action to remove the page following revelations that Musa Cerantonio, an Islamic preacher from west Melbourne, was urging some 12,000 subscribers to "assassinate" US politicians.

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Fog over Birmingham 'schools plot' | @guardianletters

16 April, 2014 - 20:59

One thing emerges clearly from the fog surrounding the alleged plot to take over Birmingham schools: the lack of accountability of academies (City steps up 'Islamist plot' inquiry in schools, 14 April). In fact, the problem goes deeper than that. The truth is that when things go wrong it is next to impossible to hold anybody to account in any kind of school, whether academies, free schools or community schools. That is why there is a good case for establishing democratic accountability for local education as a whole.

Schools (and colleges, for that matter) it is worth recalling are not private property; they are funded by the taxpayer. It is only right that they and other local education institutions should be subject to oversight by democratically elected councillors and the representatives of those who have a legitimate stake in education: parents, students, trade unions, employers, as well as those who work in our schools and colleges. That is why Compass is proposing the creation of local education boards within local councils. These would be analogous to planning committees, able to take an objective view of services and proposals, including those of the local authority itself. The boards would oversee and review the implementation of local education plans and priorities and be able to intervene when there was local concern about the quality of education on offer. Compass fully supports local management of schools and colleges but that needs to be tempered with effective community oversight and an entitlement to redress for parents and students.
Martin Yarnit

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NYPD pressured to eliminate all traces of Muslim surveillance practice

16 April, 2014 - 18:45

Police department closing the hub of controversial programme but Muslim leaders want to know if similar units still exist

Civil rights groups are calling on the New York police department to eliminate all traces of indiscriminate mass surveillance of Muslims from its operations, following the closure of the unit that spearheaded the controversial techniques.

The NYPD announced on Tuesday night that it was closing the hub of its Muslim surveillance programme, the Demographics Unit (also known as the Zone Assessment Unit) following widespread criticism. Mayor Bill de Blasio said the reform was a critical step forward in easing tensions between the police and the communities they serve, so that our cops and our citizens can help one another go after the real bad guys.

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Further consolation for Narendra Modi's critics | @guardianletters

15 April, 2014 - 21:00

Priyamvada Gopal (Modi can't be shrugged off, 14 April) is indeed right to direct our attention to Narendra Modi and the riots in Gujarat during 2002. The Gujarat riots of 12 years ago were horrible. Yet it is legitimate to ask whether this was the only or even the most horrific episode in recent Indian history, albeit the first one to be recorded on live television. The Delhi massacre of 3,000 Sikhs took place over three days in October 1984 while Rajiv Gandhi was prime minister.

Narasimha Rao, subsequently prime minister, was then the home minister and in charge of the police, who were told not to intervene. No one has been punished for that episode as yet after 30 years. Even prior to that, Sanjay Gandhi, though unelected, unleashed a pogrom of sterilisation on Muslim adults in 1976 as a population control measure to speed up development. This was while Indira Gandhi, his mother, had imposed the Emergency, the sole episode of fascism in India. Muslims resisting sterilisation were fired upon and killed in Delhi. In Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, the killings were so many that the event was called mini-Jallianwala Bagh, recalling the worst atrocity under British rule 95 years ago in Amritsar.

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Police chief condemns appointment of terror officer over 'Islamic schools plot'

15 April, 2014 - 12:53
West Midlands police chief Chris Sims says appointment of Peter Clarke could stir up community tensions in Birmingham

The chief constable of West Midlands police has condemned as "desperately unfortunate" the appointment of an anti-terror officer to investigate allegations of Islamic fundamentalists infiltrating schools in Birmingham.

Peter Clarke, who served as the head of the Metropolitan police's counter-terrorism unit, has been made an education commissioner by Michael Gove, the education secretary, the Department for Education (DfE) said on Monday.

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Pork is the latest front in Europe's culture wars | Gavan Titley

15 April, 2014 - 08:30
The far right is fixated on pork and is using it as an excuse to target yet another aspect of Muslim life

Following its significant gains in last month's local elections, the French Front National leader, Marine Le Pen, swiftly announced that school cafeterias would no longer serve non-pork substitution meals to children living in towns won by FN candidates. Targeting Muslims for another ritual round of public humiliation, while also excluding Jewish children, Le Pen declared: "There is no reason for religion to enter the public sphere."

While Le Pen framed this fixation on the dietary requirements of her fellow citizens as a defence of state secularism, the FN mayor of the south-western town of Arveyres, Benoit Gheysens, suggested the move was simply to cut costs and to prevent "staff being distressed" by excessive food waste. This mix of environmental concern and secular commitment illustrates just how eclectic the far right can be in its defence of order, and Le Pen's conversion to republican values is shaped by this strategic elasticity.

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Academy school in Birmingham is victim of 'witch-hunt', says governor

9 April, 2014 - 22:32
Park View school denies allegations of extremism after inspections triggered by 'serious' complaints

A Muslim-majority academy at the centre of a row over alleged Islamic fundamentalism in Birmingham is the victim of a "witch-hunt", a governor at the school has claimed.

David Hughes, a trustee and governor at Park View school in Birmingham for more than 15 years, said the secondary was under attack "under the pretext of concerns about extremism and threats to the education of pupils".

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Brandeis withdraws honorary degree for Islam critic Ayaan Hirsi Ali

9 April, 2014 - 13:50

Liberal arts college in Massachusetts says 'we cannot overlook certain statements that are inconsistent with our core values'

A university has reversed a decision to grant an honorary degree to an advocate for Muslim women who has made comments critical of Islam.

Brandeis University said in a statement that Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali would no longer receive the honorary degree, which it had planned to award her at the May 18 commencement.

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Darren Aronofsky's Noah falls foul of censors in Malaysia

7 April, 2014 - 12:59
The biblical blockbuster has now been banned in a number of Muslim countries, over claims that its depiction of Noah who is recognised by Muslims as a prophet contravenes Islamic law

Biblical epic Noah has been banned in Malaysia after Darren Aronofsky's film was deemed to be in violation of Islamic law.

The Malaysian Sun says that censors outlawed screenings to avoid causing offence to the country's majority Muslim population. Noah has already been banned in a number of Islamic countries, including Indonesia, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, over concerns that its depiction of a prophet runs contrary to religious law.

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Christians have a right to oppose gay marriage, but not to act against it | David Edgar

3 April, 2014 - 17:25
Church leaders have forgotten that the freedom not to be discriminated against is one on which believers themselves rely

Is the whole question of gay marriage happily and finally now a done deal? Amid the joyous celebrations, a predictable grumble of discontent. Guidelines from the Equality and Human Rights Commission say businesses that refuse to provide services to gay weddings (including florists and photographers) will be in breach of the Equality Act 2010. For some Conservative MPs, this represents a chill wind of religious intolerance.

Meanwhile, and despite his best efforts, Nick Clegg failed to provoke Nigel Farage into a response on the subject during their BBC2 debate on Europe this week. In one sense, this was a surprise. In December 2012, Farage told the Guardian that the gay marriage bill "will present an affront to millions of people in this country for whom this will be the final straw", promising to place the issue at the heart of the party's 2014 European election campaign.