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French student charged with murder and links to a terrorist organisation

24 April, 2015 - 20:27

Sid Ahmed Ghlam has been in custody since his arrest on Sunday, when a dead woman was found in a burning car

A man arrested on suspicion of planning terrorist attacks in the Paris area has been charged with murder and attempted murder as well as having links with a terrorist organisation.

Sid Ahmed Ghlam was taken into custody by police on Sunday after he called an ambulance having apparently shot himself in the leg. Investigators believe he was planning an “imminent” attack in Paris or the city’s suburbs.

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Adam Gadahn: California death metal fan who rose quickly in al-Qaida's ranks

23 April, 2015 - 20:01

Thirty-six-year-old Gadahn, the influential al-Qaida operative known as ‘Azzam the American’, was killed in a drone strike in January, White House confirms

Just over four years ago, Adam Gadahn, known as Azzam al-Amriki, wrote to Osama bin Laden. In the letter, Gadahn – who the White House has announced was killed in a US drone stike in January – told the al-Qaida leader that Benjamin Franklin had never been a president of the United States and warned that if he or Ayman al-Zawahiri, Bin Laden’s deputy, made the mistake in propaganda speeches, their credibility would suffer.

In his letter, recovered from the house in northern Pakistan where Bin Laden was staying when he was killed in 2011 by US Navy Seals, Gadahn also offered 20 pages of advice on a range of other topics, from media strategy and the agendas of various global TV networks, to how to rein in off-message local groups around the world which persisted in killing large numbers of fellow Muslims.

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Closure of al-Furqan puts spotlight on role of Islamic bookshops in extremism

23 April, 2015 - 06:42

Australia’s Muslim communities host hundreds of Islamic information centres and bookstores – most are benign, but there are radical fringe groups. So what should be done? And should mainstream leaders be engaging with them?

Dogged by controversy for 13 years, the al-Furqan Islamic Centre in Melbourne’s south-east elected to shut its doors on Thursday, “effectively immediately”.

But its closure is unlikely to mean the end of the influence of its leader, Harun Mehicevic, on young Muslims attracted to his hardline interpretation of Islam.

Related: Melbourne's al-Furqan Islamic centre closes blaming 'harassment'

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Islamic school denies cross-country ban because girls 'could lose virginity'

23 April, 2015 - 06:27

Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority is investigating claims the Al-Taqwa college principal banned female students from running in the event

An Islamic college in Victoria has rejected claims that its principal banned female students from cross-country running because he believed it may cause them to “lose their virginity”.

On Thursday, the deputy premier and education minister, James Merlino, said the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority was investigating claims that the Al-Taqwa college principal, Omar Hallak, banned female students from running in the event.

Related: Islamic school principal banned running so girls would not 'lose virginity': reports

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Islamic school principal banned running so girls would not 'lose virginity': reports

23 April, 2015 - 03:01

Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority is investigating claims about Melbourne’s Al-Taqwa college

The regulatory body responsible for education standards in Victorian schools is investigating the Al-Taqwa Islamic college, following reports that the principal banned female students from cross-country running because he believed it may cause them to “lose their virginity”.

The deputy premier and education minister, James Merlino, confirmed on Thursday morning that the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority was investigating the claims.

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Melbourne's al-Furqan Islamic centre closes blaming 'harassment'

23 April, 2015 - 01:20

The centre, associated with a number of controversial preachers, announces closure after arrests of two attendees over alleged Anzac Day terrorism plot

The Melbourne Islamic centre attended by two men charged with terrorism offences this week, as well as a host of other controversial preachers, is shutting its doors “effectively immediately”.

The al-Furqan Islamic Information centre, housed in a nondescript shopfront in Springvale South, announced its closure in a short statement late on Wednesday.

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Equal rights versus freedom of conscience | Letters

20 April, 2015 - 19:55

Your editorial (Equality for gay people does not threaten Christian freedoms, 18 April) implies it is wrong for people to stand up for their beliefs. Throughout history those who were prepared to do so have suffered presecution. Thomas More was executed by Henry VIII for refusing to accept the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Was he wrong? Were individuals who spoke out – many, but not all Christian – against the Nazi regime’s treatment of Jews also wrong? Because a law is passed and many people accept it, does not always mean it’s right and nobody should be able to question it. When the original abortion act was passed, a conscience clause was included so that those who had moral objections could opt out of taking part in the procedures. Since the gay marriage act came into force there have been reports of individuals from many walks of life being disciplined or dismissed for saying that they believe marriage should be between a man and a woman. These claims of persecution are not groundless. I accept that the trials of Christians in this country bear no comparison with those in Muslim or communist ones, but should it be a crime to speak out for what one believes in, even if many disagree with your opinion?
Jim Heber
Portishead, Bristol

Should it be a crime to speak out for what one believes in, even if many disagree with your opinion?

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How tobacco firms tried to undermine Muslim countries' smoking ban

20 April, 2015 - 07:00

Attempts to tackle sales threat by framing criticism of smoking as fundamentalist fanaticism are outlined in cache of documents from 1970s until late 1990s

The tobacco industry attempted to reinterpret Islamic teaching and recruit Islamic scholars in a bid to undermine the prohibition on smoking in many Muslim countries, an investigation has shown.

Evidence from archived industry documents from the 1970s to the late 1990s shows that tobacco companies were seriously concerned about Islamic teaching. In 1996, an internal document from British American Tobacco warned that, because of the spread of “extremist views” from fundamentalists in countries such as Afghanistan, the industry would have to “prepare to fight a hurricane”.

We had tobacco industry lawyers actually developing theological arguments

This is an issue to be handled extremely gingerly and sensitively

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Police fear missing family of 'former al-Muhajiroun member' heading to Syria

19 April, 2015 - 18:27

Appeal for information about Slough family after Asif Malik and wife Sara Kiran go missing and are last seen boarding ferry to France with four young children

Police are increasingly concerned for a family of six, including four young children, who have gone missing and may be heading to Syria.

Asif Malik, 31, and his partner Sara Kiran, 29, left their family home in Slough, Berkshire, with their children on 7 April without informing their family and friends or mentioning any holiday or travel plans. Police said Malik had previously expressed a wish to live in a Muslim country.

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Julie Bishop should have shunned headscarf on Iran trip, says Andrew Bolt

19 April, 2015 - 04:11

Conservative commentator says foreign minister’s ensemble looked ‘ridiculous’ and she should have ‘stood up for western values’ by eschewing the Islamic covering

The foreign minister, Julie Bishop, should have “stood up for western values” and shunned the Islamic headscarf during a recent visit to Iran, conservative commentator Andrew Bolt said.

Bishop followed local requirements legislating that women must cover their heads, wearing both a headscarf and a hat upon her arrival in the country.

Related: Julie Bishop unable to convince Iran to take back asylum seekers

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'The Covered Girl Challenge' backlash: school apologises for headscarf event

18 April, 2015 - 17:36

Canceled student-led event in Ohio was intended to combat stereotypes people may face when wearing head coverings

The principal of a suburban Cincinnati high school has apologized to anyone who was offended after canceling a student-led event that invited girls to spend the day wearing a headscarf or hijab.

“The Covered Girl Challenge” at Mason High School was intended to combat stereotypes Muslims may face when wearing head coverings.

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Toowoomba mosque damaged by second suspected arson attack

17 April, 2015 - 06:38

Community leaders have strongly condemned the perpetrators of the attack, which a mosque spokesman says is uncharacteristic of the city

A Queensland mosque has suffered its second suspected arson attack this year, prompting a spokesman to appeal to Australians to condemn anti-Islamic sentiments that are “polluting” public discussion.

The fire, which tore through the Toowoomba mosque on Friday morning, has prompted an urgent trip to the Darling Downs city by the police minister, Jo-Ann Miller, to meet with the congregation after the “outrageous and shocking attack”.

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Indonesia bans sale of beer in small shops

16 April, 2015 - 10:55

Retail sales of most alcoholic drinks limited to large supermarkets only, but exception granted for Bali beach vendors

Indonesia has introduced a ban on small retailers selling most alcoholic drinks, the latest move to curb drinking in the Muslim-majority country despite opposition from tourism hotspots.

The ban restricts the sale of beer and pre-mixed drinks – such as spirits with soft drinks – to large supermarkets only. Hotels, restaurants and bars are unaffected.

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Not all foreign fighters will pose a security threat to Australia, says expert

15 April, 2015 - 21:00

Monash University counterterrorism expert says attack risk could be mitigated by the government’s response and some returning jihadis might be better diverted to deradicalisation programs than jailed

Not all foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria will necessarily seek to carry out attacks upon their return to Australia, and some might be better diverted to deradicalisation programs than jailed, a terrorism expert has argued.

Alongside punitive approaches, countering-violent extremism programs should be a “core element” of the government’s response to the unprecedented number of Australians fighting in the region, Monash University researcher Andrew Zammit said in a paper published by the Lowy Institute on Thursday.

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Liverpool FC to take action against man who branded praying Muslims ‘disgrace’

15 April, 2015 - 19:20

Man tweeted picture of Muslims worshipping at half-time prompting club to say it does not tolerate discrimination

Liverpool Football club has said it will take action against a man who called two Muslim fans a “disgrace” for praying at Anfield during half time.

The club has said it received complaints after a man tweeted a picture of solicitors Asif Bodi and Abubakar Bhula worshipping during the half-time break at Liverpool’s FA Cup match against Blackburn Rovers on 8 March.

Stephen Dodd should never be allowed to step foot in Anfield again #DISGRACE

#stephendodd a disgrace to the liverpool family

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Sectarian strife is only part of the Iraq picture | Letters

15 April, 2015 - 19:04

Naturally it was distressing to read the report by your correspondent Martin Chulov (Iraqi Sunnis forced to abandon homes and identity in battle for survival, 5 April). The human suffering endured by all the people of Iraq is the unfortunate legacy of western invasion of that country. But it wasn’t always like this nor is it like this everywhere now. Your report leaves the reader with a clear impression that the whole country is caught up in this situation. This is not true in my experience.

I had the privilege of going to Iraq last October as part of a delegation consisting of four Sunnis. We mixed and mingled with our Shia brothers and sisters freely everywhere we went in Najaf, Kufa and Karbala. Indeed, while at the shrines we performed our traditional Sunni-style prayers in the company of hundreds of visiting Shias. At no stage did we feel any sense of danger or threat. In fact, our whole experience was one of generous welcomes, warm hospitality and respectful fellowship. This is all in line with the traditional culture and customs of Iraqi people, for which they are renowned. We returned with wonderful memories of meeting people from all walks of life and all levels of society.
Cllr Chaudhry Shafique
Chair, Council For Christian-Muslim Relations, High Wycombe

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These may be the last Christians of the Middle East – unless we help | Jane Corbin

15 April, 2015 - 06:00
Islamic extremism has taken persecution to a new level, but the seeds were sown a decade ago in the US- and British-led Iraq invasion

Christianity is under siege in the very place where it was born. Hundreds of thousands of Christians have fled Iraq and Syria in the face of Islamic extremism and conflict. After a six-week trip across the Middle East in which I met church leaders and embattled congregations, it is clear to me that Christianity is hanging by a thread, and may not survive in some places. Some Christians said that after the brutality they had suffered and witnessed, they feared that relations with their Muslim neighbours could never be restored.

In Iraq the situation is critical. I visited the monastery of St Matthew, which has occupied a mountain top above the plain of Nineveh, in the north of the country, since the fourth century. Below you can hear artillery blasts and see western airstrikes on Islamic State positions. When Christianity stretched across the Roman empire, 7,000 monks worshipped here: today only six are left, and hardly anyone dares visit the ancient site which could soon become just a relic of Christianity in the region.

Related: The end of Christianity in the Middle East could mean the demise of Arab secularism | William Dalrymple

A million people, two-thirds of Iraq’s Christians, fled in the decade following the fall of Saddam

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Faith no more: how the British are losing their religion | Andrew Brown

14 April, 2015 - 11:41
Counter-cultural religion, be it Christian or Muslim, is thriving in the UK. But the God that many people still more or less believe in won’t be found in Church of England services

The British have lost faith in religion much faster and more completely than they have lost faith in God. The most recent survey to show this comes from Win/Gallup, which found that Britain appeared one of the most irreligious countries on earth, with only 30% calling themselves “religious”. On the other hand, only 13% said they were atheist – compare this with the Chinese figure of around 60%. It may be that the English, especially, regard atheism as a kind of religion, or at least a manifestation of an unhealthy interest in religious questions. But I think that the explanation is more complex. British Christianity is in trouble because Britain itself is disappearing.

Related: UK one of world's least religious countries, survey finds

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Detention centre guards suspended over photo with Pauline Hanson at rally

14 April, 2015 - 11:01

Eight members of the ‘emergency response team’ at the Nauru detention centre have been suspended following photo taken at Reclaim Australia rally

Eight guards from Nauru detention centre have been suspended after they posed for a photograph with Pauline Hanson at a Reclaim Australia rally which was later posted on Facebook.

The members of the “emergency response team” at Nauru, who were hired on the basis of their cultural “sensitivity”, have been stood down pending an investigation into their social media use.

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The rhetoric used by critics of the 'halal racket' will be familiar to Jews | Jeff Sparrow

14 April, 2015 - 07:52

Perhaps without realising it, questions about halal certification replicate the form of a traditional antisemitic preoccupation with Kosher food

Barnaby Joyce, ever the defender of Australian beef exports, has been trying to hose down his colleagues’ “concerns” about halal certification. “Unless [meat is] halal certified, we can’t sell it,” he said on Monday. “That means the whole processing line becomes unviable.”

He has a big task ahead of him: Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie and Liberal MP George Christensen have questioned whether there is a link between terrorism and halal certification, and South Australian senator Cory Bernardi has called for a parliamentary inquiry into the “halal certification racket”.

American families are paying tribute to Jews every time they sit down at the table to eat and in many instances, polish their shoes, silver or wrap the leftover Thanksgiving turkey. Why? Because Jews have discovered a way to coerce business to pay taxes directly to Jewish organizations and pass the cost on to the consumer.

Islam has found a way to force every Australian family to donate to the Islamic cause and you’ve been living under a rock if you think terrorism isn’t one of its causes. Impossible you say? I thought so too, until I searched for a list of foods that are Halal compliant.

The tradition of Islamophobia is, like antisemitism, rooted in the medieval Christian hostility to the ‘enemies of God’ ... Many stories told about Jews in medieval and early modern Europe were also spun around what were then termed Moors, Saracens or Red Jews: Muslims were devil-worshipping, sexually deviant, man-eating monsters; Muslims ritually defamed the cross and consumed the blood of ceremonially slaughtered Christian children in blasphemous communions.

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