Inside Park View academy: Religion row school 'is victim of its success'

The Guardian World news: Islam - 14 May, 2014 - 21:50
Pupils and teachers at the Birmingham education success story investigated over alleged Islamist plot say claims are 'ludicrous'

Hasan Sajad is a year-11 student at Park View academy in Birmingham. He should be thinking about sitting his GCSEs shortly, but his school's emergence at the centre of a political furore about alleged Islamist takeovers has given him something else to worry about: his future.

"There's a chance we may be sidelined due to what's come up in the news. People may say, oh they are from Park View, they've been part of the whole Trojan horse scandal, so let's not give them a place in a sixth form or university later on. That could be a possibility," Sajad said.

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Military operation launched to locate kidnapped Nigerian girls

The Guardian World news: Islam - 14 May, 2014 - 19:54
Canada sends special forces to assist Nigerian troops, joining teams from the US, UK, France and Israel

The Nigerian government has confirmed that a military operation has been launched with international backing to locate and rescue more than 200 girls, who have been held captive for a month.

The government has also signalled it is ready to negotiate with the Islamist militants who snatched the girls from a school in Chibok, in the north-east of the country.

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9/11 museum readies for grand opening amid concerns from interfaith group

The Guardian World news: Islam - 14 May, 2014 - 19:42

The $700m museum is set for its ceremonial opening on Thursday, despite anxieties over the storage of unidentified remains, entry fees and a video about al-Qaida

More than 12 years after the horrifying events that it describes, after countless obstacles, disputes and funding problems, the 9/11 memorial museum is finally preparing to open its doors as a historical record of a New York, American and global story that is still unfolding.

Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York and the chairman of the 9/11 memorial and museum, addressed reporters in the museums auditorium at the heart of Ground Zero on Wednesday. He said the museums ceremonial opening, which will take place on Thursday in front of President Obama, would be an important day in our city and our country, and, I would argue, the civilized world, where we value each others beliefs and rights to express ourselves.

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Sniffing Out the Islamophobes in Pew Polling Data

Loon Watch - 14 May, 2014 - 19:31


Original guest article

By JustStoppingBy

By comparing results from two survey questions, we can get a much more refined view of the prevalence of Islamophobia in different demographic groups.

According to a well-known quote, “Knowledge is power.”  We may think that we know who the Islamophobes are among society.  But, how accurate are our assessments?  One problem with many polls that attempt to measure the presence of Islamophobia is that they often do not distinguish between bias against or dislike of Muslims with general forms of bias or dislike of others.  For example, suppose that someone says that they oppose building mosques.  If the same person would also say that they oppose building churches, synagogues and any other house of worship, it generally makes more sense to categorize them as anti-religion rather than specifically anti-Islam.  Fortunately, the Pew Research Center put out a poll in 2009 that has two questions that, when examined together, can provide us with an interesting take on this issue by specifically isolating bias against Muslims from biases against religious groups in general.

The questions begin with the introduction, “I’m going to read the names of some specific religious groups. For each one that I name, please tell me whether you would favor or oppose this group applying for government funds to provide social services to people who need them.”  Two of the “groups” covered are interesting:  first, “Individual churches, synagogues and other houses of worship” and second, “Muslim mosques.”

What makes these interesting is that we can look at the people who favor government funding for “individual churches, synagogues and other houses of worship” and see how that figure declines when that larger group is replaced by “Muslim mosques.”  The first question should screen out people who object to government funding of any religious group providing social services, whether because they oppose government spending on social services or oppose the government outsourcing such activities (positions that are tied to views of government rather than religion) and those who oppose government providing such funding to religious groups (which could represent a view of government generally or a view on religion generally, but should not be specific to views of Islam).  Then, when we switch to the second question, about Muslim mosques, any change is due to respondents’ views on Islam in particular.  Thus, the drop in support is a relatively clean measure of Islamophobic responses separated out from other issues such as views of government or religion generally.  This drop can be examined for different subgroups, allowing us to examine the relative degrees of Islamophobia across them.  This drop may be more useful than a single question about how respondents view Muslims, as it may be the case that some groups of respondents are generally more friendly or hostile to religious groups in general as opposed to Muslims in particular.

Before presenting the results, it is worth noting a few caveats.  First, the difference in the results represents Islamophobia among those willing to provide government funding to religious organizations for the purposes of providing social services generally.  The questions do not provide any information on the degree of Islamophobia among those who oppose the government providing such funding to religious groups at all.  Second, correlation is not causation.  However, readers are invited to provide their thoughts on the reasons for the differential results across subgroups, and some thoughts will be provided below.

Now, on to the poll results.

The first subgroup examined by Pew is Age.  Here are the results of Support along with two measures of the drop in support going from houses of worship generally to mosques:


There are a few interesting things to note here. First, in both the general house of worship and the mosque categories, support declines (with one exception) as age increases. Second, if we measure the decline in percentage points (the change in the share of the total group before screening with the first question), the declines are smallest for the two youngest age categories and then seem to roughly level off. Third, if we look at the percentage change (the change share of those in support on the first question), we see the same general pattern, but even more pronounced. (The 2009 results on age are consistent with a 2013 Pew survey finding that “[m]ost young people continue to reject the idea that Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence among its believers” and that younger people are more likely to say that Muslims suffer from discrimination.)

In terms of recommendations, there are two conflicting possibilities.  One is that because here is a quite limited amount of Islamophobia among the youngest group, perhaps efforts that are devoted there should be focused elsewhere.  A completely conflicting interpretation is that the near absence of Islamophobia in the youngest group is the result of those efforts, which should then be continued with future groups of young people if not expanded to cover other groups where possible.There are a few interesting things to note here.  First, in both the general house of worship and the mosque categories, support declines (with one exception) as age increases.  Second, if we measure the decline in percentage points (the change in the share of the total group before screening with the first question), the declines are smallest for the two youngest age categories and then seem to roughly level off.  Third, if we look at the percentage change (the change share of those in support on the first question), we see the same general pattern, but even more pronounced.  (The 2009 results on age are consistent with a 2013 Pew survey finding that “[m]ost young people continue to reject the idea that Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence among its believers” and that younger people are more likely to say that Muslims suffer from discrimination.)

The next category covered in Pew is household income.  There does not seem to be much in the results, but they are presented here in case someone sees something worth discussing.  (You may also note that the Total category results change a little from those in the Age table.  This appears to be due to slight changes in the sample, perhaps based on people not being asked or not answering questions for the different types of categories.)


Next is marital status.  In this case, it seems that the results are at least somewhat related to age, with the widowed category showing one of the highest levels of Islamophobia and the never been married the least.


Next, Pew presents the results by religion.


(Other Christian = Mormon, Orthodox, Unitarian, self-identified as Christian.)

It is worth noting that the atheist/agnostic/nothing in particular category shows the smallest amount of Islamophobia.  This should be kept in mind when considering whether some of the prominent New Atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris are representative of the broader atheist community.  Second, while Jews are pretty much tied with other religious groups when considering houses of worship generally, they show the smallest dropoff, or the least amount of Islamophobia, and end up being the only religious group (even including atheist/agnostic/nothing in particular) with a majority support for government funding of social programs at mosques.  If this were purely a question of how a minority (meaning non-Christian in the United States) religion is attentive to concerns that a minority religion would not receive its fair share of funding, we would expect to see similar results for the “other religion” category.  Instead, that group falls a little closer to the higher level of Islamophobia in three Christian categories than to lower level among Jews.  Similar to atheists, the lower than average rate of Islamophobia among Jews should be kept in mind when comparing the general Jewish population to prominent individuals; generally different from atheists, who tend to have fewer identity-specific institutions, one can think about whether mainstream Jewish education and communal/religious organizations have a substantial role in bringing about this result.(Other Christian = Mormon, Orthodox, Unitarian, self-identified as Christian.)

Next, we have education.


While support for government funding of social programs at houses of worship is relatively flat across education levels (or perhaps a bit U-shaped: higher at the ends than in the middle), it is distinctly lower for those without a high school diploma when it comes to funding for social programs at mosques.  There clearly seems to be a story and a lesson here about how education helps reduce Islamophobia (while still keeping the correlation/causation caveat in mind).

The next category covered by Pew is sex.  The differences seem to be relatively small, with a slightly greater degree of Islamophobia seen among males.  In a bit of contrast, the 2013 Pew survey showed fairly clearly that men were more likely than women to say that Islam was more likely than other religions to encourage violence among its believers.While support for government funding of social programs at houses of worship is relatively flat across education levels (or perhaps a bit U-shaped: higher at the ends than in the middle), it is distinctly lower for those without a high school diploma when it comes to funding for social programs at mosques.  There clearly seems to be a story and a lesson here about how education helps reduce Islamophobia (while still keeping the correlation/causation caveat in mind).


The final category studied by Pew is “political ideology.”


Depending on one’s expectations, the results here may be a bit surprising.  The highest degree of Islamophobia is among conservatives, not those who identify as very conservative.  Thoughts on this are welcome.  Another interesting point is that the moderate and liberal results appear quite similar, with a small decline in Islamophobia among the very liberal.  In this case, the 2013 Pew survey did show a clear ordering of results, with conservative Republicans most likely to say that Islam encourages violence among adherents, followed by moderate/liberal Republicans, Independents, moderate/conservative Democrats, and finally liberal Democrats.

Hopefully, the data above provide some amount of knowledge.  It should go without saying that the data represents information aggregated across groups and do not prove that any single individual is or is not Islamophobic.  After all, while those earning over $100,000 typically have below-average displays of Islamophobia in this poll, Robert Spencer falls into that category.  And while a Jewish woman with some college but no degree would display three features associated with a below-average degree of Islamophobia, we have a prominent counter-example with those three characteristics.  On the other hand, the data should not be ignored as it may provide useful information if we can figure out how to use it properly.

Make No Mistake: “Halal Hysteria” is Malicious

Muslim Matters - 14 May, 2014 - 17:45

By Matthew Smith

Matthew Smith, also known as Yusuf,  is a veteran U.K based blogger. He blogs at Indigo Jo Blogs- Blogistan where this article was first posted.

Last week a number of newspapers ran with prominent stories that supermarkets and restaurant chains were using halal meat, or had been doing so without their customers' knowledge for some time. This is actually not news as a number of supermarkets have been doing this for years, chiefly because New Zealand abbatoirs employ Muslim slaughtermen so that the lamb they produce can be supplied to the Middle East.

The media have been mixing the issue of the meat being halal with it being from animals that were not stunned before slaughter (which in fact is the case with only a minority of halal meat in the UK). It is the first time the story has made the front page of a national tabloid, however.


Halal Meat in the UK

There are two types of halal meat in the UK: there is “HMC halal”, which is unstunned, and there is everything else, which is stunned. The Halal Monitoring Committee is run, I believe, by scholars of the Deobandi school, which has a strict policy that the animal should not be stunned as this would render it an injured animal (and unfit to be slaughtered) and some forms of stunning may actually kill the animal, which would mean it died unslaughtered (and is therefore unlawful to eat).

The HMC insist on animals being slaughtered in the way they always were before stunning was invented relatively recently, and as it still is in most of the Muslim world. Other slaughter monitoring agencies do not follow this position, although the majority of restaurants which claim to use halal meat do not even state who monitors the abbatoir or qualified the slaughter-man; however, many Muslims prefer HMC meat because suppliers as well as abbatoirs are monitored, so there is much less chance of the meat being mixed up with anything else.

Note to Sun: Kosher unstunned too

Muslims are not the only religious group that insists on slaughtering without stunning, of course: Jews do as well, and all the kosher monitoring groups (to my knowledge, there is one connected with the Chief Rabbi's office and another which serves the Haredi communities who mainly live in the Stamford Hill area of north London). While the controversy about non-stun slaughter affects them as well, and those who wish to ban non-stun halal slaughter also want to ban kosher slaughter, it is hard to imagine that the Sun would make it front-page news if a restaurant chain had been using kosher meat without telling its customers.

Of course, there is no economic imperative to do so, since the dietary rules in Judaism are much stricter than those in Islam (for example, there is no requirement to separate milk and meat products in Islam, and more types of meat are permissible in Islam, such as rabbit), so the use of halal meat would gain them many more customers than the use of kosher.

To make a front-page story of it, implying that customers were being “tricked” into eating something they otherwise would not have done for the sake of Jews, would obviously open the Sun up to charges of anti-Semitism, and in any case, the paper's well-known Zionist sympathies would preclude this.

They did this because they could get away with it.

What is Halal?

The use of halal chicken on its own does not make all the food a company sells halal. There has to be no haram (forbidden) ingredients; in particular, if food is cooked with an alcoholic drink, it becomes haram (most, but not all, Muslim authorities permit trace amounts of chemical alcohol, as found in food flavorings).

There must also be no danger of cross-contamination, and the danger in a kitchen where non-halal meat, particularly pork, is cooked is enormous. In the particular case of pizzas, many Muslims would regard cheese made with calf rennet, when the calf is not slaughtered in the halal way, as being haram (though not all, as the rennet was milk the calf had eaten and was extracted from its stomach; it was never part of the calf's body).

Many observant Muslims would never eat a meal in a restaurant which routinely cooked meat that was not halal, even if some of it was. Therefore, the number of Muslim customers the restaurant would attract would not be that great, although an advantage could be gained if the meat was cheaper (which halal chicken often is).

The Daily Mail got Taj Hargey, a fringe figure who is always on hand to tell non-Muslims what they want to hear about Muslims (namely that we're extremists and we're doing Islam wrong) to write a piece full of plainly false claims about the subject (see here for more on Taj Hargey's witterings). (I am not sure if it was in the print edition, but appears as part of their “RightMinds” blog section.)

He claims, for example, that “it is completely wrong that the food sensitivities of Britain's Muslims — who amount to just 4.8 per cent of the population — should take precedence over the other 95 per cent”. Of course, in any given area, the proportion of Muslims may be much higher than 4.8%, but the reason much supermarket meat is halal is because it comes from New Zealand which also exports to the Middle East, as already stated.

He goes on to claim that the Islamic rules on halal meat have “no theological basis in the Qurʾān, the supreme text of Islam”, but rather comes from the hadith, “a secondary and often suspect source”, and alleges that “three of the main fundamentalist Muslim sects”, the Wahhabis, Muslim Brotherhood and Deobandis, “are foisting their fabricated notions about it down our collective throats”, which is utter nonsense, because mainstream Islamic scholars who do not belong to any of these sects insist that meat be slaughtered with the prayer (which cannot be said at the time of consumption over meat that was not slaughtered with it; that is a baseless position which has been refuted).

As for the position of the hadith, Muslims are well aware that there are hadith which are weak or even fabricated, but these are well-known. The word of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) has always been regarded by the Muslims as a main source of Islamic belief and law. The words do not have the same status as the Qur'an, but they are still Revelation. The article comes at a time when Muslims, especially women, face persistent harassment in public places in many parts of the UK.

Real ramifications of bigotry

Ava Vidal wrote two articles this week for the Telegraph, one of them about the harassment she found that Muslim women were describing being subjected to, and the other about the abuse she received when she wrote the piece.

Vidal found that abuse of Muslim women has become normal, and that many women experience several incidents of verbal abuse or threatening behavior a week, but there have been some violent incidents including a pregnant Muslim woman being pushed to the ground and stamped on. Vidal found that most of the abusers were young men (the experience of my Muslim female friends is the same) and that some of them displayed misogynistic attitudes of their own, regardless of their purported concern for “oppressed Muslim women”.

One of her sources also observed that there was a link between media coverage of Muslims and upsurges of hostility, and the content of the abuse she received. So, prominent and hostile coverage of halal meat could easily lead to further attacks of the sort Ava Vidal identified.

As Richard Peppiat wrote in his resignation letter from the Daily Star, which alongside the fellow Desmond title the Daily Express has printed a number of prominent stories that were hostile to Muslims (and not just terrorists but ordinary Muslims):

You may have heard the phrase, “The flap of a butterfly's wings in Brazil sets off a tornado in Texas.”Well, try this: “The lies of a newspaper in London can get a bloke's head caved in down an alley in Bradford.”

The role of the media in fostering hostile attitudes to populations that subsequently became victims of genocide is a well-documented fact, and we should not consider ourselves so civilized in this country that we are safe from falling into the abyss of communal violence in the right circumstances.

In Sri Lanka right now, where the Buddhist majority has succeeded in defeating an insurgency by the Tamil minority they oppressed (although the insurgency was brutal and committed atrocities of its own), they have now turned on the Muslims who supported them, and attacks on the halal meat industry have been an important part of that.

In France, fascists who control town councils have abolished pork-free school meals and told Muslim children that they can either eat pork or go hungry.

Concerned for animals? Go after factory farming

They do not do this out of concern for animals, as the suffering factory farming inflicts on animals far exceeds the brief pain of slaughter; rather, it is deliberate oppression. The Sun does not attack supermarket halal meat because its audience is really that bothered (many of them will have gone on holiday to Muslim countries where all the meat is halal, and eaten in Indian restaurants and off-brand fast food joints where all the meat is halal).

The purpose is to stoke hostility so as to sell papers, because it sells, but a by-product of selling papers is violence on the streets.

We cannot have violence in the streets and we cannot have government by tabloid; their activities must be regulated by law, or they must be closed down.


Forget coalition with the Lib Dems – Labour is tempted by minority government

Mahdi Hassan - 14 May, 2014 - 16:00

A solo Labour government might in fact benefit the Lib Dems, who would be seeking to rebuild credibility after their much-anticipated election wipeout.

 GettyOver and out: the 2015 election could spend the end of coalition for Nick Clegg, even if parliament is hung. Photo: Getty

Minority governments in Britain don’t have the best of reputations. Think Jim Callaghan, economic decline and the Winter of Discontent. Think John Major, Euro-revolts and dodgy deals with Ulster Unionists.

Nevertheless, with the polls showing a narrowing of the Labour lead – and two even suggesting a slight lead for the Tories – a hung parliament beckons and the public may have to start preparing not for a coalition, but for a Labour minority government.

“Under no circumstances would we want the Liberal Democrats in a formal coalition with us,” an influential member of the shadow cabinet tells me. “It would be incredibly damaging to us.” “It would be difficult to form a coalition with the Lib Dems,” says another shadow minister, pointing to his party’s relentless attacks on Nick “the Un-Credible Shrinking Man” Clegg.

Labour, their thinking goes, could form a government after agreeing to a “confidence-and-supply” deal, in which the Lib Dems support Lab only on votes of confidence and any Budget (or “supply”) measures, leaving them free to consider other legislative issues case by case. “We would give them House of Lords reform or some other constitutional reform in exchange,” says the first shadow minister, dismissively.

To listen to senior Lib Dems, however, a minority government would herald the start of the Apocalypse. Such a government would be “undemocratic”, claimed Clegg in March. It wouldn’t be in “the British national interest”, argued Danny Alexander in April. The Lib Dems are bent on portraying minority governments as inherently weak, indecisive and unstable.

This is “desperation” on their part, counters a senior Labour frontbencher. Power-hungry Lib Dems, he tells me, don’t want to hand over the keys to their ministerial cars and offices. The reality is “we could form a minority government and we could know we’d be in power for five years”.

Complacent? Perhaps. But he has a point, says Professor Robert Hazell, the director of UCL’s Constitution Unit and co-author of a 2009 study of minority governments. “Such governments can govern very successfully so long as they don’t try and govern in a majoritarian way. For every legislative measure, they have to build a separate coalition of support.”

Hazell points to the example of Scotland, where the Scottish National Party governed between 2007 and 2011 though it was 18 seats short of a majority. “Its effectiveness and success was demonstrated in the 2011 elections when the SNP won a majority.”

Then there is the evidence from abroad. In Canada, Stephen Harper came to office as the leader of a Conservative minority government in 2006, was re-elected as leader of a Conservative minority government in 2008 and finally won a majority, at the third attempt, in 2011. New Zealand, where the electoral system has delivered minority governments several times since 1996, ranks higher than the UK in global league tables for good governance. So, too, for that matter, does minority-run Denmark.



So what stops opposition parties from coming together to bring down a minority government? Fear of the consequences, argues Hazell. “During the four years of SNP government in Scotland, none of the opposition parties wished to topple that government because they knew they would do badly if fresh elections were held.”

Could the Lib Dems, pulverised at the polls and reduced to 20 or 30 seats in the Commons, really threaten to bring down a minority government led by the largest single party in parliament and trigger a second election? “Topple us if you dare” could be Labour’s position in 2015, a senior party strategist suggests. “The Lib Dems would be left stamping their tiny feet,” says another.

A Labour minority government, in fact, might benefit the Lib Dems, who would be seeking to rebuild credibility after their (much-anticipated) general election wipeout. “I don’t think you should take it as read there would be a stampede to join a coalition again,” the former Lib Dem defence minister Nick Harvey told the Huffington Post UK in November.

For Labour, too, there are clear advantages: the party would avoid having to work with the tainted and toxic Lib Dems; the spats and deadlocks that plague the current coalition would be neatly sidestepped; the new government wouldn’t include ministers whose reputations depended on them defending the previous government’s record – especially on the economy. “The Lib Dems would negotiate [for ministerial jobs and party policies] much harder with us in 2015 than they did in 2010,” a close adviser to Ed Miliband points out.

Miliband hasn’t yet formed a view on whether or not to go solo come May 2015. Yet a growing number of senior Labour figures are now of the opinion that if (when?) the election produces another hung parliament, their party shouldn’t have to, and – more importantly – doesn’t have to, start wooing the Lib Dems. “Sitting in government for five years with a bunch of bloody timid compromisers is not what we should be about,” says a Labour frontbencher who backed a Lib-Lab coalition in 2010.

For far too long, the talk in Westminster has been only of the possibility of a majority government, against that of a coalition. Minority government is the elephant in the negotiating room. “All options are on the table,” says one of the Labour leader’s closest shadow cabinet allies. “We won’t be bounced into a coalition.” 

Mehdi Hasan is political director of the Huffington Post UK and a contributing writer for the New Statesman

Hassan’s Tale | Part 5 – Rough Way, Smooth Way

Muslim Matters - 14 May, 2014 - 05:32

 Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

See the Story Index for a chronological guide to all the stories.

“By the time Charlie was three,” Hassan said, “Mom was running me through intensive motion drills with clay and paper targets. At that time Mom was telling Baba that she was taking me to Saturday martial arts class. I was old enough by then to understand that we were lying to my father, and to feel guilty about it. Baba would say, “How was class? What did you work on today?” And I'd say, “It was good. I learned a new punch defense…” – or whatever. And I'd feel ashamed. But I didn't know what to do.

“I began to see my father as weak. He was being lied to and didn't know it. He had bullet scars up and down his legs and couldn't walk without a cane. He was a pacifist. I began to see him as someone who let others trample him without consequence.”

Hassan buried his fingers in his hair and shook his head.

“There was so much I didn't know,” Hassan continued. “For one, my father was not a fool. I heard him arguing with my mother about the Saturday trips after I'd gone to bed one night. He told her that he was tired of having the same argument again and again, and that she had to get rid of the guns and stop training me.

“But Mom would not stop, and two weeks later Baba moved out. I was nine years old. Baba rented an apartment nearby, and Charlie and I would spend Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays with him. The other weekdays we attended martial arts class after school and stayed with Mom.

“My friend Hassan was killed around that time. He was crossing Firestone Boulevard to go to 7-11 and was run over by a drunk driver. That only added to my general feeling of dislocation and confusion.

“I want to tell you about Charlie. I know I've been reluctant to talk about him in the past, but if I'm telling this story then Charlie deserves to be included.

“Charlie.. well, he used to make me laugh. He'd get in trouble at school for the most ridiculous things:  arranging his raisins in the shape of a woman's breasts, or doing a handstand on his desk. He was just a munchkin – very small, blonde and dimpled like an elf. No one ever believed we were brothers, since I was tall for my age and broad shouldered, plus I inherited my father's darker color. But like me, Charlie started martial arts young and was quite talented. He had asthma and he carried an inhaler, but the asthma bother him unless the smog or the pollen count were especially bad. Sometimes in martial arts class, if we were working on very vigorous techniques, he'd start to gasp for air. I'd fetch his inhaler from his bag, and I'd rub his chest with my hand, making circles, and I'd say, 'You're alright. You're okay. Take a breath…' It always worked. Charlie used to say that he wanted to become a scientist when he grew up so he could find a cure for asthma.

“The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were just becoming popular then and Charlie was nuts for them, especially the one with the orange mask and the nunchuks.”

“Michaelangelo,” Muḥammad interjected. “Cowabunga!”

“Yeah, yeah!” Hassan's enthusiasm was so uncharacteristic that it made Jamilah smile.  “Cowabunga. Charlie used to say that,” Hassan continued. “I'd want to sleep in on Sundays and he'd wake me by jumping on me and screaming, 'cowabunga!' We had a pair of nunchuks at the dojo and Charlie hit himself in the forehead trying to swing them like Michelangelo. Left a little scar like a crescent moon. In fact he made us call him Michelangelo for a while, and he'd call me Leonardo – the older brother Ninja Turtle.

“He used to do an imitation of Baba where he'd put on Baba's glasses and shoes, lean on his cane, and say in an Arabic accent, “All zee beoble must love each ozer. Zees is very imbortant.” It would crack my father up, to where he was holding on to his sides in pain.

“Charlie idolized me. He tried to do everything I did, and he always wanted to follow me and play with me. It drove me crazy, but it was flattering at the same time. I used to tease him – I'd call him Munchkin – but if anyone ever picked on him I'd take them apart. I got sent home from school for beating up an older boy that was picking on Charlie. I put the bully face down on the ground with everyone watching and made him say, “I eat dirt for breakfast.” No one bothered Charlie after that. I remember being very surprised that Baba didn't punish me for that. He didn't say anything at all.

“Charlie loved Baba so much. Of course he loved Mom too, but you see, he wasn't conflicted like I was. I was torn between the polar opposites of my mother and father's ideologies. But Charlie didn't go through that. His love for Baba was pure and strong as a geyser. He wasn't ashamed to sit on his lap, or stroke his cheek – he'd stroke it back and forth, saying, 'Rough way, smooth way, rough way, smooth way.' He'd run and fetch Baba's cane, or anything else that Baba needed. He was such a good hearted kid.”


Continued on Next Page…

NYPD’s new spying outrage: Innocent Muslims treated worse than guilty bankers

Loon Watch - 13 May, 2014 - 22:32

nypd-620x412 NYPD’s new spying outrage: Innocent Muslims treated worse than guilty bankers

When “Arabic-sounding” names are automatically suspicious — but financial crimes are ignored — here’s the result

Stop your car to help a woman who appears to be lost — and get pressured, while in police custody, to become an informant. That’s what happened to one of the men profiled in a recent New York Times report on yet more aggressive spying on Muslims by the NYPD.

Egyptian-born Moro Said pulled over one night because, he says, a woman looked like she needed directions. She turned out to be an undercover officer, and hauled him in on a prostitution-related charge. Then cops pressured him to start informing them on what he sees and hears in his mosque or in cafes.

As the Times describes it, the NYPD adapted a process used with suspects who might know about related crime, like drug dealers or low level mafia members, to the Muslim community in general. When Muslims – or people with “Arabic-sounding names” – were arrested, they would be interviewed and recruited to inform generally on mosques or cafes or other areas frequented by Muslims.

The program remains active under new NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton’s lead; the Department has conducted 220 such interviews so far this year.

While this program is just part of the NYPD’s dragnet targeted at Muslims (and, with the recently de-emphasized stop-and-frisk, communities of color generally), the program is yet another of the many methods local and federal law enforcement use to coerce Muslims to spy on their own community. Last month, two civil rights groups sued on behalf of four Muslim men who claim the FBI put them on the No Fly list and then used that status to coerce them to become informants. Earlier this month, Mother Jones reported on a American of Sudanese descent who claims the U.S. had him held in proxy detention as part of an effort to recruit him as an informant.

Around the globe, it seems, the government continues to use the tools of law enforcement to find more spies to report on innocent Muslims.

It’s not just coercion law enforcement uses to find people to inform on their community: the government has twice told the FISA Court that it may use the phone dragnet program – in which it conducts contact chaining on a database of the phone record of Americans’ phone records – to identify potential informants.

As often happens, the “benefits” the program’s boosters point to, to justify such coercive law enforcement techniques are minimal. The Times cites Jose Pimental – who ultimately pled guilty to a terrorism charge, but who many doubt would have been unable to conduct an attack without the coaching of the informant in question – as one of those successes. That informant also reportedly smoked pot with Pimental during the investigation. In short, up until this point, the Pimental case has been a case study in how not to run an informant-driven investigation. Yet the NYPD uses that prosecution to rationalize coercing people to report on general information about the Muslim community.

Imagine how such generalized spying would be regarded against potentially riskier set of targets, like the finance criminals who wrecked the economy in 2008 and have continued to engaged in damaging fraud. Imagine if every banker who visited a sex worker got hauled in and was offered leniency if he informed on his co-workers, bosses, and clients? (Key to the coercion, of course, is that many Muslims don’t have the resources of bankers to fight low level criminal accusations.)

Of course, bankers need not worry. A recent DOJ Inspector General report revealed that when DOJ attempted to roll out undercover teams (not civilian informants, but FBI undercover officers) to target mortgage fraud, FBI Agents either weren’t informed such a plan existed or, if they were, needed “specific direction or training on how to commence a mortgage fraud” undercover operation.

The FBI, apparently, couldn’t figure out how to treat suspected bank criminals like it and many other law enforcement agencies treat innocent Muslims.

Therein lies the problem. It has gotten too easy, since 9/11, to treat the Muslim community as a whole as suspect. It has become too easy to use the tools rolled out after 9/11 to combat real threats (and borrowed, before that, from the drug war) to instead criminalize a faith community. It would be unthinkable – and unworkable – for more privileged communities. And yet it continues.

Marcy Wheeler writes at and is the author of “Anatomy of Deceit.”


5 things Bill Maher Got Wrong In Latest Islam Rant

Loon Watch - 13 May, 2014 - 22:32

images (2) 5 things Bill Maher Got Wrong In Latest Islam Rant

Omar Baddar, Political Scientist, Human Rights Activist

As a liberal agnostic, I might better enjoy my time critiquing religion with fellow skeptics. But when skeptics single out a particular faith or group for unfair demonization, I do feel compelled to respond. It is, of course, old news that Bill Maher is one of the skeptics who, while feeling antipathy towards religion in general, holds exceptional hostility towards Islam. However, the segment on Islam (below) in last weekend’s episode of ‘Real Time’ went beyond typical antipathy and included 5 points that were simply dead wrong:

1. “Not a Few Bad Apples”

Bill Maher insists that extremism and intolerance are problems that afflict Muslims at large, and not just “a few bad apples.” Of course, if anyone compiled a list of violent acts by Muslim extremists, the list would undoubtedly be troublingly long. But the Muslim world is far too vast and diverse to collapse into Maher’s narrow perception of it. It is a world of 1.6 billion Muslims, so even thousands of extremists would be a fraction, and would in no way justify an indictment against Muslims in general. To think along analogous lines, there are more than 10,000 murders and 80,000 rapes every year in the U.S. The Ugandan fanatical Christian LRA group is responsible for the kidnapping of some 66,000 children (a lot more than Boko Haram). In the West Bank, hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers live on stolen Palestinian land, and many carry out acts of vandalism and violenceagainst Palestinians. But just as none of these facts justify broad indictments of “The Americans,” “The Christians” or “The Jews” as being terrible people (that would be transparently bigoted), the same applies to Islam and Muslims. The acts of a relatively small group of extremists, even when they’re more frequent than we’d like them to be, should never taint entire societies.

2. Brandeis and Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Maher, Matt Welch, and Dinesh D’Souza were all troubled by the fact that Brandeis University rescinded its invitation and offer of an honorary degree to anti-Muslim activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali. D’Souza complained that surely even the controversial Michael Moore would’ve been allowed to speak, while Welch noted that Tony Kushner received the same award a few years back despite having allegedly made derogatory comments about Israel’s supporters. This may sound like a reasonable point, but only until you think about it for more than 2 seconds and realize that these are ridiculous comparisons. Michael Moore and Tony Kushner never suggested that, for example, Judaism should be crushed, or claimed that all devout Jews support murder (I wonder what Welch and D’Souza would think of honoring such people). By contrast, Hirsi Ali didn’t just take controversial political positions; she actually did hate-monger against an entire faith group. Shesaid that “we are at war with Islam,” that we have to “crush [it] in all forms,” and that “There is no moderate Islam.” She also insisted that 9/11 was “the core of Islam,” and even claimed that “Every devout Muslim who aspired to practice genuine Islam” approved of the 9/11 attacks. Can anyone dispute that this foments hostility towards Muslims in general, and goes beyond merely holding a controversial opinion?

3. Female Genital mutilation (FGM)

In the course of explaining what’s supposedly wrong with Islam, Bill Maher noted that Ayaan Hirsi Ali “underwent genital mutilation, which almost all women do in [Somalia] and many other Muslim countries.” This seems to indicate that Maher is under the impression that FGM is a Muslim problem, which it absolutely is not. In the overwhelming majority of Muslim countries, the practice is virtually unheard of. If you look at the World Health Organization’s map of where FGM is prevalent, you’ll notice that all of the top countries (except Yemen) are in Africa, including Christian-majority countries. For example, Eritrea is a Christian-majority country, yet the FGM rate there is 89%. So if you insist on generalizing, you may be able to get away with saying FGM is an African problem, but it most certainly isn’t a “Muslim” one.

4. Where are the Buddhist suicide bombers?

While making the case for the uniqueness of the threat we face from Muslims, Dinesh D’Souza said, to audience laughter, “you don’t see a whole lot of Buddhist suicide bombers.” Perhaps D’Souza is not aware that, to quote Human Rights Watch, “Burmese Buddhist mobs attacked Muslim communities” killing dozens and destroying property last year. Or maybe he’s not familiar with the anti-Muslim rhetoric of the radical Buddhist monk (also known as “the Burmese Bin Laden“) who stirred the violence. But if it was “suicide bombings” specifically he was concerned with, it certainly is worth noting that it was the Tamil Tigers, who happen to be Hindu, not Muslim, who were the “innovators” of suicide bombings, and were responsible for hundreds of them over the past few decades. But if it’s the threat to Americans in particular, it is also worth noting that since 9/11, right-wing extremists claimed more lives than “jihadists” have in America.

5. Islamophobia

Bill Maher quoted Sam Harris mis-attributing to the late Christopher Hitchens the silly description of ‘Islamophobia’ as “a word created by fascists and used by cowards to manipulate morons.” This turned out not to be a Hitchens quote, but a slogan created by a provocateur, and used by bigots to get cheap applause from idiots. You cannot be a sensible person and look at (a) the hike in anti-Muslim hate crimes after 9/11, (b) the hysteria that breaks out around the building of mosquesin America, and (c) the use of anti-Muslim rhetoric in political campaigns and conclude that Islamophobia is manufactured. Islamophobia is real; it is destructive, and it should be confronted by all people of conscience.

Why All of This Matters

Ultimately, this isn’t about scoring points against Maher or his panel; this is about making this world a better place. The Muslim world is incredibly diverse, and can by no means be reduced to a single cohesive unit. From Eastern Europe to the horn of Africa, and from Lebanon to Indonesia, we are talking about fundamentally different societies and cultures. Some of these societies are more socially progressive than others; but in all of these societies, there are Muslims who are fighting for women’s rights and against extremism and violence, and they deserve our support against their reactionary opponents. To lump them all together under an ugly stereotype that’s defined by the Muslim world’s worst elements only alienates our progressive allies in Muslim societies and makes their causes all the more difficult to advance.

Bill Maher attempted to cite an Egypt poll, saying it showed that 80-90% of people in the country approved of death as a punishment for leaving Islam. The actual number is 64%, which is still horrifyingly high, and I am alarmed by it. An Israeli or a Palestinian may also be alarmed by the poll that found the majority of Israelisfavor discrimination against their non-Jewish neighbors. But how we express these concerns also matters. If some random city in America had a high crime rate in the African American community, and one public official said “I’m concerned about this problem” and another public official said “the blacks are a problem,” which of these two would we all (probably including Bill Maher) condemn as a racist? When concern for certain problems within societies turns into hostility towards inexcusably large groups of people who have little in common beyond some random demographic factor (in this case, religion), then that is a paradigmatic example of bigotry. And this type of bigotry puts entire communities under attack from the outside, thus distracting from their fight to advance and tackle problems within. If Bill Maher wants to take his progressivism seriously, he should really let go of reckless rhetoric and join the real fight to advance progressive causes within and without Muslim societies.

Follow Omar Baddar on Twitter:

Valid debates on the niqab, FGM and halal | @guardianletters

The Guardian World news: Islam - 13 May, 2014 - 21:00

Nesrine Malik, in a spirited defence of demonised Muslims (The Muslims are here!, G2, 13 May), says there has not been a single incident where the niqab debate was instigated by Muslim women themselves. I am a Muslim woman and have instigated several such public debates. Or am I not considered Muslim because I refuse to wear coverings which define females as dangerous and even evil? Millions of us around the world are speaking out in this new dark age of extreme conformity, unquestioning practice and Saudi takeover of Islam. Sharia laws and hideous exploitation of young girls are also real problems, not just panics whipped up by some newspapers and radio stations. White liberals and Muslim apologists are aiding and abetting these forces of obscurantism. Shame.
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

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