France: Anti-Muslim Vandal Given Suspended Sentence, Fine

Loon Watch - 22 March, 2014 - 19:40


Sometimes they do get caught!

(via. Al-Kanz, Google Translate)

The desecration took place in May 2013 in Alsace, Illzach, a town of 15,000 in the suburbs of Mulhouse. Racist tags and a swastika were found on one of the facades of the mosque construction.

Collective against Islamophobia in France reported on its website that the perpetrator, a 29 year old man was sentenced there ten days to six months suspended sentence and a fine of € 500.

As the site regularly reminds , it is high time that mosques equip CCTV system without waiting for the authorities deign to finally take measures “enjoyed by their fellow Jews and Christians in the protection of their institutions and their people, “ as outlined in the CCIF .

Don't put a fatwa on it: Baddiel hopes Infidel - the Musical can ease friction

The Guardian World news: Islam - 21 March, 2014 - 17:33

David Baddiel and Erran Baron Cohen think there's a positive message in their musical about a Muslim who finds he's a Jew

With songs such as Sexy Burka, Put a Fatwa On It and I'm a Jew, David Baddiel accepts that some people might not see the funny side of his latest project.

But, he says, they would be missing the point. Behind the comic cultural confusion of Infidel: the Musical, a stage adaptation of his film about a man brought up as a Muslim who finds out he was born a Jew, is a message about how groups at loggerheads can have more in common than they have differences.

"I'm not saying it's easy to get on [with each other], Shia and Sunni Muslims don't get on ... Jews and Jews don't get on," says Baddiel. "I am not making any great claims for world peace coming out of this musical, but I genuinely think when you see people laughing, it's a levelling response. If you see people from different ethnic groups laughing at the same thing, it does indicate some bit of togetherness."

Infidel, due to open at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, east London, in October, might seem at first glance like the latest in a series of musicals, such as Jerry Springer: the Musical and the Book of Mormon, targeting religion. Songs include lines like "I'm a Muslim – I'm not a loon, I didn't even mind those Danish cartoons" and, when the main character, Mahmoud, discovers he's a Jew, "I know it's shit but get used to it."

But, sitting with Erran Baron Cohen, who composed the music for the show – and whose brother Sacha has offended a few people over the years – Baddiel says the show is perhaps more Fiddler on the Roof than Book of Mormon.

"It's not a blasphemous piece, it's about people, a body-swap story about a Muslim sort of becoming a Jew," he says. "I thought it was interesting to write a comedy about people caught up in this cultural crisis ... It's funny and human and it brings the religions into focus."

Baddiel was warned at the time of the film's 2010 release that it might attract trouble but a Muslim-only screening was successful and, although denied a certificate by censors in Dubai, it has been heavily pirated in the Middle East.

Nevertheless, Baron Cohen and Baddiel are aware that some people may find a reason to be offended by the musical. "The headline [song] titles could be completely misconstrued if someone wants to," said Baron Cohen. "But if people listen to what's being said and the words, they'll realise it's a very positive message."

To prove their point, they treated the Guardian to a preview of some of the tracks that will feature in the show. Sexy Burka is sung to Mahmoud's wife by a burka-wearing friend who tells her that wearing sexy clothes is not the way to win back her husband's wavering attention. Rather than judging the burka, it emphasises the sexuality of the eyes, as she sings: "All the white women they get it wrong, thinking being sexy is wearing a thong."

Baddiel describes himself as "pro-religious atheist" and says that he finds people who deliberately set out to blaspheme stupid, as well as those who threaten to kill blasphemers. He believes that the song in the show most likely to raise hackles is a satirical one in which Jews sing that "anti-Zionism is antisemitism" but is comfortable as a Jew about raising such an issue.

"One of the great things about writing songs about these contentious subjects is that you can go into these issues and be funny about them," says Baron Cohen.

The contentious subjects and the fact that the Theatre Royal Stratford East is a charity have led them to crowdfund for the show. They are seeking £55,000 through Kickstarter, with rewards on offer for those who donate, including lunch with Baddiel. He says that the theatre, located in a heavily Muslim area, was very keen on the show and he is happy that it is being put on in a multicultural area.

It might provide the basis for much of the humour but both Baron Cohen and Baddiel are saddened by the fact that there is friction between some Jews and Muslims in a way there was not when they were growing up in London.

"There's a lot of cultural similarities, it's probably just a bit of ignorance," says Baron Cohen, as he and Baddiel cite similarities in Hebrew and Arabic words, beliefs and methods of ritual slaughter. In Infidel, Mahmoud finds another source of common ground with his Jewish neighbour in the song Less is More, an ode to the "turtleneck" – or circumcised penis. "Like the good body-swap movies, you discover at the end there are many more similarities than differences," says Baddiel.

• See for details on how to help fund the show

Haroon Siddique © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Seerah Series | Part 3: Why Study Seerah, and the Pre-Islamic Arabia | Dr. Yasir Qadhi

Muslim Matters - 21 March, 2014 - 16:00

Lecture by Dr. Yasir Qadhi | Transcribed by Zohra

This is Part 3 of the sīrah series, click to read Part 1 and Part 2

[The following is the video and transcript of Shaykh Yasir Qadhi's Lectures on sīrah. The transcript includes slight modifications for the sake of readability and clarity].

Wa Ashadu An La Ila ha IllAllāh Wah dahu La Sharrika Lahu Wa Ashadu Anna Muhammadan Abduhu Warasuluhu – Amma Ba'ad

What is Sīrah?

We are in the process of doing introductory lectures before actually jumping into the life and times of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). These introductory lectures comprise of background information and motivation for why we should be studying the sīrah. So today inshā'Allāh ta'āla we shall begin by discussing what exactly is the sīrah and why we should study it. We'll try to mention something about pre-Islamic Arabia. So we're going to set the stage and continue next week and the week after that, for the coming of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).

Before we begin with the birth of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), we need to describe the world in his time. So we're going to begin by doing that today and continue for the next week or two. We begin by describing the word sīrah. What does the word sīrah mean? The word sīrah comes from the Arabic word/verb: Saara Yaseeru/Sairan, which means to traverse or to journey. The verb sīrah actually comes from the verb 'to travel' and the reason why it is called the sīrah of a person is because it means the biography of a person you are travelling his journey, you are walking in his path following his footsteps. So when we study the life and times of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), it is as if we are following in his footsteps, as if we are travelling in his journey. That is why the biography of a person is called the sīrah.

Even though the Arabs would call the sīrah the biography of any person, as soon as the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) came, the Muslim scholars exclusively used it for the biography of the best human being. And so no scholar says sīrah except that he means – the biography of, the life and times of our Prophet Muḥammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). Now in order to understand the sīrah of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), you don't begin with his birth, you must begin with the world at that time; that is why every single book of sīrah from the classical books, up until the modern ones, have the introductory sections. And we're going to begin with that today after we summarize some of the benefits of studying the sīrah.

Why study sīrah?

Why study the sīrah? Why spend our time coming here to understand the sīrah of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)?

The benefits are numerous. First and foremost, Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has commanded us to know this man. This is an obligation that Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has put upon us. We have to know this person. There are over 50 verses in the Qurʾān that command us to take the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) as an example.

Benefits of studying the Sīrah

Perfect role model

Of them: Laqad kaana lakum fee Rasulillahi uswatun hasanatun liman kaana yarju Allāha wal yauma wal Akhera wathakara wAllāhah katheeran.

Laqad kaana lakum – Indeed there is for you – fee Rasulillah – in the messenger of Allāh – uswatun hasanatun – an exemplary manner, a perfect conduct – uswa – means something you follow – hasana – means a perfect – So you have in the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), the perfect example to follow. Therefore, the study of the life and times of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), is the study of somebody we need to follow.

The amazing thing is that no matter what angle you look at the life of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), you will benefit from that. So one angle we look at is in terms of religion, in terms of how we worship Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).  We look at it in terms of manners and morals, of mercy and tenderness. Also we look at the sīrah in terms of leadership. What did the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) do as a leader? We look at the sīrah in terms of how he was as a father and a husband, and we will find benefit in this. No matter which angle you look at the life and times, the purpose of risalah, the purpose of Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) sending Prophets is that we have a living example to follow. Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) tells us in the Qurʾān that if we wanted we could have sent angels.

There is a verse in the Qurʾān that says: “… but what would you have done had we sent angels? You would have rejected.

Why? Because these are not like us, how can we follow them? So of the perfection of Allāh's wisdom is that He sends human beings in flesh and blood, people like ourselves, born of women, married, and having children; but then the difference is they are chosen by Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), and they are made role models and examples.

Love for the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)

Another blessing of studying the sīrah is that it is the number one way to increase our love of our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). There is no other way as effective and powerful to increase our love for the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), than by studying his life and times. A sad fact about our ummah is that unfortunately we have neglected this study, and we have sidelined it and most of our children are completely ignorant of the sīrah of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). They don't even know the names of his children, or the important dates such as when did he emigrate, how old was he when way came down. And yet they know so much of this dunya and it is embarrassing for us as parents that our children know so much of movie stars and actors and sports personalities; but they have no clue as to the reality of the person whom they should know about. So by studying the sīrah of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), our love for him increases, and conversely it demonstrates that our love is a two-way street. When you study, your love goes up; In order for your love to go up, you need to study, and if you truly love this man, you will study him; and a sign of loving someone is to want to know more about that person. This is human nature.

For example, when I'm travelling I'm calling up my children and asking them, “So what did you do today?” I mean what they've done doesn't affect me. “What did you have for breakfast?” Who cares? It's not going to affect me. But this is a sign of love, because when you love somebody you want to know everything about them. So, anybody who claims to love the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), but he doesn't study his life and times, wallāhi, this is a sign that he does not love him. If you claim you love this man, and yet you don't care to study him, you don't care to read his biography, or  you don't care to find out facts about him, what type of love is that? This is not the love that we understand as human beings; so to study the sīrah is a sign of love and through studying the sīrah, it increases our love, so it is a circle. The more we love, the more we study. The more we study, the more we love.

Understanding the Qurʾān

By understanding the sīrah, a third benefit is that it helps us to understand the Qurʾān. The Qurʾān is a very complex book, a very profound book, and it cannot be understood without context. For example – when you hear:

Wad duha Wal Laili Iza Saj'a. Ma Waddaka Rabbuka wama qala

 Your Lord has not abandoned you, nor has He shown you any harshness.

You will not understand this verse, until you understand the sīrah. When was it revealed? Why was it revealed? The context of the revelation was, when the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was facing persecution  he was wondering – why isn't Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) helping me? Why isn't the Nasr of Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)coming? Why isn't the wahy coming? Why isn't the Qurʾān coming? For weeks no Qurʾān came down and the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) began thinking : “Maybe my Lord has abandoned me.”

This is early on.  This was in the first year of revelation, and Shayān is giving him bad thoughts, and so immediately Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) reveals:

Wad duha Wal Layli Idhza Saj'aa . Maa Wadda'aka Rabbuka wa ma qalaa.

It is a sign of optimism. What is duha? It is the breaking of the light. To this day amongst humanity, what does duha signify? A new day, light is coming. When there is light it is an optimistic sign.

And Allāh is telling him: Maa wadd'aka Rabbuka wa maa qalaa. Walal Aakhirartu Khairullaka minal ulaa.

Be patient. What's going to happen is better than what is happening now.

It's the beginning of the day. Dawn is coming, the sun is coming up. So until you understand this sīrah, the surah doesn't make any sense to you. So, by studying the sīrah, the Qurʾān gains meaning, profundity. Without the sīrah, the Qurʾān has no context. Without context, you will never be able to truly appreciate the Qurʾān.

Raising our Īmān in hard times

Another benefit of studying the sīrah is, it raises our hopes and spirits and blesses us with optimism; especially in our times when we're facing Islamophobia, and a little bit of persecution. WAllāhi to call it persecution is even embarrassing when we look at what the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and the aābah raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) went through. We, in America, are not being persecuted in that sense. Nonetheless, times have changed in the last ten years. Now we are facing a little bit of the heat. We need a source of direction, a source of optimism.

By studying the sīrah, we can understand that the people before us suffered even more, and we compare our trials and tribulations to theirs. And in fact, a beautiful point here – the Qurʾān tells us that Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is telling the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) stories of the earlier prophets, i.e. sīrahs of the earlier prophets. Why?

Wa Qullanna kussu alayka min 'abaada rusuli, ma nuthabbituhee fu aadak.

We're going to recite to you stories of the previous prophets in order that your hearts attain affirmation Nuthabit Bihi Fuadak – we are going to make you feel more firm and optimistic.

So think about this – when our prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) heard the stories of the earlier prophets, what did it do to him? It gave him more optimism, gave him more īmān. How about us then? Don't we deserve even more so for our īmān to go up and we study the life and times of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)? So the studying of the life and times of the prophets and of the previous generation's prophets of Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), it brings about an immediate benefit – Nuthabbitu Bihi Fua'da – to resolve, to affirm your īmān by studying it.

Prophet's life as a miracle

Yet another benefit of studying the sīrah, which many of us don't think about, is that the sīrah itself is a miracle of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). When somebody asks you, what are some of the miracles of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)? We start thinking – the splitting of the moon, the talking of the tree, etc., and we don't think that in fact his whole life is a miracle from beginning to end. His whole life is an indication that he is a prophet of Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Coming from where he came, with the education, or the lack of it, and yet coming forth with the message, the profundity, the scripture, and the eloquence of the Qurʾān. Where did this come from? And in addition to that, his patience, his perseverance, and his success that came in the middle of ancient pagan civilization that had nothing. There was no civilization, no script; they didn't even have two- story buildings, no libraries. They couldn't even read and write, and yet the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), came from the midst of a backward and uneducated, barbaric nation. They were really a barbaric nation and within 20 years, look what happened? Within 50 years Islam began to spread, and within 100 years, it ruled the world.  This is a miracle from Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), and the sīrah is the beginning of that miracle – how he lived, the power that he wielded, and yet the simplicity with which he lived his life, the sacrifice that the aābah would have made had he asked them to do, but he didn't. And it is impossible for any human being not to be affected by that power, luxury, and wealth, unless there is a divine sincerity in him – a pure sincerity that is there for the sake of Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).

The famous scholar Ibn Hazm from Andalus, says “WAllāhi, if the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) had not been given any miracle other than his life and his times, it would have been sufficient to prove that he is a Prophet of Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), if he had not been given any other miracle other than his sīrah. The sīrah is the best indication that he is the Prophet of Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).”

Of course there are many facets here, his own life and times, how he revolutionized Arabia, and how he changed the entire world from where he came – from a humble origin, a shepherd in Mecca, and what happened with the message he came with. Immediately he became a leader within 20 years. Nobody could have ever predicted that a group would come from Arabia and destroy the Persian empire and start knocking on the doors of the Roman Empire until it starts diminishing, wiping it out. Nobody would have predicted that a new group from Arabia would come with a new religion, a new theology, a force that cannot be equalled with the mighty empires of Rome and Persia. And yet Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) opened up the doors, and Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) allowed this group of people who were less educated and even less civilized. The aābah did not even have the civilization that the Romans and Persians did. They did not have the weaponry and yet they had victory, and Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) blessed them and made them Muslims, because they had this religion.

So by studying the life and times of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), we see a miracle that Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) sent him.

For our most powerful and hypocritical leaders, crimes are those that others commit

Mahdi Hassan - 21 March, 2014 - 09:01
There is egregious hypocrisy and unctuous sanctimony at the heart of western foreign policy. GettyJohn Kerry speaks about the situation in Crimea during a town hall meeting with university students at the State Department in Washington on 18 March. Photo: Getty

Is there a better case study in brazen hypocrisy than the ongoing crisis in Crimea? Not just on the part of the loathsome Vladimir Putin, who defends Syria’s sovereignty while happily violating Ukraine’s, but on the part of western governments, too.

Where to begin? Speaking at the US embassy in Kyiv on 4 March, Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters “how incredibly moving” it had been to “pay my respects . . . at the site of last month’s deadly shootings”. He extended his condolences to people who “battled against snipers on rooftops”. What they stood for, Kerry continued, “will never be stolen by bullets . . . It’s universal, it’s unmistakable, and it’s called freedom.”

Unmistakable? Universal? Nice try, John. On 14 August 2013, at the Rabaa al-Adawiya square in Cairo, Egyptian security forces attacked a sit-in by Muslim Brotherhood members which had begun in July after the overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Brotherhood. As in Kyiv, snipers on rooftops fired on the crowds below. More than 900 protesters were killed that day, in what Human Rights Watch called the “most serious incident of mass unlawful killings in modern Egyptian history”.

And Kerry’s response? He went through the motions of a condemnation, describing the violence as “deplorable”. Yet just three months later, on a visit to Cairo, he restated his view that the generals in Egypt were intent on “restoring democracy” and were “working very, very hard” to do so. There was no rousing rhetorical tribute to the brave Egyptians who had battled against snipers; no trip to Rabaa al-Adawiya to pay respects to the dead. The message was clear: our concern for the dead is shamelessly selective. So, too, is our outrage.

When Viktor Yanukovych, the president of Ukraine and an ally of Putin, oversees the killing of at least 70 protesters in Kyiv, he is deemed a criminal and a tyrant. When General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, head of Egypt’s military junta and ally of the west, oversees the killing of 900 protesters, he is “restoring democracy”.

Then there is the rather hysterical, if self-parodying, response to Russia’s invasion of Crimea from Kerry and his British counterpart, William Hague. “You just don’t invade another country on phoney pretexts in order to assert your interests,” pronounced the US secretary of state. “The world cannot say it’s OK to violate the sovereignty of another nation in this way,” declaimed the Foreign Secretary.

Really? Do these guys not have aides to check their statements in advance? Phoney pretexts and violations of sovereignty? In October 2002, Kerry voted in favour of the illegal invasion of Iraq, claiming that “the threat of Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction is real”.

Like Kerry, Hague voted in favour of the Anglo-American assault on Iraq and, as recently as three years ago, was still defending it. “We are leaving [Iraq] a better place and it was worth doing what we have done,” he told the BBC in May 2011.

“For the powerful,” as Noam Chomsky once remarked, “crimes are those that others commit.” For instance: it is “illegal and illegitimate” for Russia to try to detach Crimea from Ukraine by means of a dodgy referendum, Hague says. Indeed, it is. But was it any less illegal or illegitimate for the west to detach Kosovo from Serbia in 1999 with a 78-day Nato bombing campaign? Territorial integrity matters – until it doesn’t.

How about the west’s double standards in the Middle East? Fresh from berating Putin over his Ukrainian land-grab, David Cameron arrived in Israel, where he refused to allow the words “occupied” or “occupation” to cross his lips in a speech to the Knesset and described a halt to the construction of Israel’s illegal settlements as a “concession”. Can you imagine our PM calling a Russian withdrawal from Crimea a “concession”? Or threatening Israeli leaders with sanctions and visa bans? For the record, Israel has been occupying both the West Bank and Syria’s Golan Heights, in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions, for 47 years.

Most of these examples will be dismissed by the more fanatical apologists of western foreign policy as “whataboutery”. This is the term said to have been coined by the Northern Irish politician John Hume to denounce the practice of deflecting attention from a particular crime or abuse by bringing up a similar crime perpetrated by others.

Yet the point here isn’t to deflect or divert attention. Few on the anti-war left pretend Putin is anything other than a thug who yearns for the dark days of the Soviet Union, or that Yanukovych wasn’t a corrupt autocrat. Rather, the point of so-called whataboutery is to expose the hollowness of our leaders’ claims to hold any kind of moral high ground in the international arena – or to be ethically motivated by the loss of lives in faraway lands.

Yes, their hearts bleed for the victims of Putin, but not for the victims of el-Sisi. They are outraged at attempts by Yanukovych to call on Russian troops to help suppress unrest in Ukraine – but not by the pro-western king of Bahrain’s reliance on Saudi troops to stifle protests in his island nation.

The truth is that “whataboutery” is a term deployed to cover up the egregious hypocrisy and unctuous sanctimony at the heart of western foreign policy; to shut down any discussion of our glaring and shameful inconsistencies when it comes to matters of war and peace. Ironically, it is the accusation of whataboutery, not the whataboutery itself, that is the ultimate moral evasion. Because double standards matter. 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the political director of the Huffington Post UK, where this column is crossposted

Friday Links | March 21, 2014

Muslimah Media Watch - 21 March, 2014 - 06:00
The recent case of a teenage German girl travelling to Syria to allegedly actively join the “jihad” has German experts worried about the threat that men, and increasingly (often very young) women, involved in such activities can present to German society. France has indicted two people for aiding another teenage girl who has allegedly travelled [Read More...]

Blackmarket Hujjaj: Live Google Hangout

Muslim Matters - 21 March, 2014 - 04:00

Increasingly as of late, we've heard horror stories from Muslims around the US and Canada, who have poured their hard-earned savings into Hajj packages only to be duped at the end.

The pattern is similar: there is a 'delay' of some sort by the Saudi government, then phone calls are ignored, a mysterious fee for expediting the visa appears out of nowhere along with an apology, and the travel agents disappear.

Unfortunately, that was the scam several years ago, and now these same con artists have gotten wiser. Forged visas and papers, lower up-front costs, and other tricks lure unsuspecting Muslims and even travel agents who resell Hajj visas into unforgiving traps.

With that in mind, Maqsood Farid of Royal Travels, with over 20 years of experience in the industry, will present his views of the Hajj process and will give you an insider's view into how this fraud occurs, how high it goes in the food chain, and what you can do to safeguard your Hajj.

To register, please sign up for our newsletter below and you will receive a link and more details about the event.

Date: On Saturday, April 5th
Time: between 2:00 and 3:00pm (EST)
Location: Online. Once you register below you will receive the link and more details on April 3rd 2014 inshā'Allāh.



ABC’s ‘Alice in Arabia’ Is Racist

Loon Watch - 21 March, 2014 - 00:13



ABC’s ‘Alice in Arabia’ Is Racist

By Rabia Chaudry TIME

American Muslims have lost control of their narratives both online and in the media. While violent Islamic extremists have grown increasingly adept at using social media to craft their messages – as have anti-Muslim activists – more normative voices from Muslims have been drowned out.

This lack of control over self-articulated narratives was exemplified yesterday with the announcement ofABC Family’s new pilot programs, which include a show that got the attention of Arab and Muslim Americans across social media. One such pilot, “Alice in Arabia” — a title cringe-worthy in itself — has been described as follows:

Alice in Arabia” is a high-stakes drama series about a rebellious American teenage girl who, after tragedy befalls her parents, is unknowingly kidnapped by her extended family, who are Saudi Arabian. Alice finds herself a stranger in a new world but is intrigued by its offerings and people, whom she finds surprisingly diverse in their views on the world and her situation. Now a virtual prisoner in her grandfather’s royal compound, Alice must count on her independent spirit and wit to find a way to return home while surviving life behind the veil.”

The Twittersphere exploded with the hashtag #AliceinArabia, as people tweeted their offense to ABC Family. The criticisms are plentiful and varied.


The show reinforces old racist tropes in which an American girl (presumably a white girl) is threatened by scary “other” people of color – considering the sordid history of Americans vilifying Native American men and then black men as dangerous to white women, a completely understandable objection. The entire framework of the show is through the kidnap plotline, confirming the kinds of fears about Arabs and Muslims the movie “Not Without My Daughter” established decades ago.

Khaled Bey

The show certainly pits Americans against “Arabians” (tweeters pointed out “Arabia” is not actually a place), and we can assume the “independent spirit and wit” of Alice the American will prevail as triumphant over the lesser evolved Arabians. Thus the plot both bolsters the highly troublesome binary of us vs. them (Muslims being them), a factor linked to the growth ofanti-Muslim bigotry and hate crimes in the US since 9/11, and confirms American superiority.

But wait, there’s more. Not only will “Alice in Arabia” exacerbate the marginalization of Muslim and Arab men, it perfectly reflects Western attitudes towards Muslim women. Hear that sound? It’s millions of Muslim women snorting as Alice attempts to survive “life behind the veil.” The very idea that the veil is something to be survived strips Muslim women of their intellect and agency and makes them the subjects of this practice rather than sentient protagonists of it.

Ainee Fatima

The pilot also uses the real-life difficulties faced by women in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as a platform for ratings, and diminishes the work of activists in and outside the country to effect meaningful reform. An imported heroine, who is both the victim and the great white hope, not only smacks of Orientalism but frames serious issues through her narrative alone. In doing so, it reaffirms the fact that overwhelmingly the stories in the West of Muslims and Arabs are not actually being told by Muslims and Arabs.

Read the rest of the article…

On the “Arab Spring”: Thinking Beyond the Moment (p.II)

Loon Watch - 20 March, 2014 - 23:14


Original Guest Post

By Mehdi

What about Islam?

Disconnected commentators tend to associate all the problems in the Arab world with Islam, whether in order to explain the lack of democracy, overall poor economic performance, or even the complex status of women’s rights, always promptly manipulated by Islamophobes. The summary of issues explained in the first article in this series shows that Islam is not the problem. The problems faced by the Arab world are issues that exist in many other parts of the world and can be addressed in similar terms.

Islam is at the center of the identity of all Arab countries, even for countries that include a significant proportion of non-Muslims like Egypt, Syria and Lebanon. The countries that built some forms of secularism (for instance in the justice system, or the Cold War era Arab nationalist ideologies such as Nasserism or Baathism) have always acknowledged the importance of religion in general and especially Islam. Leaders of these countries have appealed to Islam during times of crisis, as Saddam Hussein did during the 1991 Gulf War, when, after decades of secularist discourse, he had Allah Akbar written on the Iraqi flag; using religion’s appeal to build a sense of national cohesion (uniting Sunnis and Shias) against the US enemy, after years of presenting himself as a champion of secularism against the so-called “Islamist threat” represented by Iran in the 1980s.

Beyond that example, Arab leaders consistently acknowledged the importance of Islam, maintained close ties with religious authorities or at the least acknowledged their role, there are several important examples:

  • In KSA, the royal family’s alliance with the Wahhabi school is the foundation on which the kingdom was built, and their funding of this Wahhabism has profoundly effected the Arab world
  • Kings Hussein and Abdallah in Jordan highlight their status as descendants of the Prophet at the core of their legitimacy
  • In Morocco, kings Hassan II and Mohamed VI put forward their role as Amir al mumineen, (Leader of the Believers). During the cold war, when king Hassan II’s authority was questioned by the left wing opposition and army-led coups, tradition and religion were at the core of his response, along with educational and justice reforms. A discrete and behind-the-curtain support was given to traditional movements and Sunni zawiyas, as a consequence, an organization such as “Al adl wal ihssane”, inspired by Sufism, is now one of the strongest ones in the country, and is ironically the main opposition force to the monarchy
  • In Egypt, after Nasser’s repression of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 50s and 60s, things changed radically after the 1967 defeat to Israel and his subsequent death. President Anwar Sadat freed most imprisoned militants and relied on them to strengthen his power at the expense of the Nasserites. Since then Egyptian presidents have worked hand in hand with Al-Azhar (and the Coptic popes) to provide religious legitimacy to their position, while repressing any form of opposition
  • Recently, Qatar was one of the primary funders of the Muslim Brotherhood throughout the Arab world, and used the Al-Jazeera network to help promote their ideas

Groupement Islamiste ArméThe problems raised previously have caused the Arab people to search for alternatives, such as nationalism or socialism, but the strongest one in recent years has been “political Islam,” which in some cases, opened the way for violent fundamentalist movements such as: “Al Jamaa el-Islamiya” in Egypt, the “Groupement Islamiste Armé” (GIA) or “Groupement Salafiste pour la Predication et le Combat” (GPSC) in Algeria,” or Al Qaeda’s different branches. Most western commentators tend to focus on these movements and depict political Islam as a uniquely fundamentalist and violent movement, whereas the reality is that it is a complex and heterogeneous grouping of movements, most of whom are non-violent, eager to be involved in the political game, and present in the society through charitable programs.

The tendency in the last 10 years has been a decline of local violent movements partly due to repression (while Al Qaeda’s activity did increase in countries at war or with limited government presence such as Mali, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, or even Lebanon), and also due to the massive rejection of violence by Arab societies that were the main victims of fundamentalist terrorism. That decline was balanced by a rise of political parties such as Ennahda in Tunisia, PJD in Morocco, Al-Wasat or the Party of Freedom and Justice in Egypt (both linked to the Muslim Brotherhood), or other examples like the political branch of Hezbollah in Lebanon. All these parties are significantly different in their doctrine, strategy or forms of alliances, but they share a general trend, they are:

  • Conservative on the social side, with differences in views depending on the country over issues like the role of women (in countries where they had to interact with Salafist organizations, or in countries on the other hand that had strong civil society and feminist movements), education content, freedom of conscience (which was debated in Tunisia and Morocco, but less in Egypt for instance), and justice
  • Right-wing and pro-market in terms of economics (excepting Hezbollah), promoting entrepreneurship and endorsing mainly neo-liberal economics, balanced with some charity funding
  • “Moderate” in terms of foreign policy, especially since the 2001 events, most of these parties seek appeasement with foreign and mostly Western countries, for instance Mohamed Morsi worked hard to keep the security arrangements of the peace treaty with Israel working. Recently, most of these parties pro-actively met western ambassadors and business organizations before their election, and kept referring to the example of the AKP in Turkey, as an example they planned to follow

Most of these organizations did not see the Arab uprisings coming and were as surprised as other parties. They were mostly preaching a less polarizing Islam, some were not yet part of the political game in 2011 (as in Tunisia), some were debating their level of involvement (as in Egypt), but in the end all of them benefited from the Arab spring and managed to increase their electoral presence, to the point of becoming the governing party in countries where elections were held. They did so by leveraging their internal organization and capacity to mobilize, which is much stronger than other parties, and politically benefited from the fact that they were often the main victims of dictatorships during the 1980s and 1990s.

ennahda-party-tunisiaWhile winning elections in Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt, these organizations’ exercise of power was a struggle, even before winning, they were not massively popular and quickly lost much of their popularity. They were able to reach 20 to 30% votes (except in Egypt where the combined Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist votes went above 60% in the 2011 parliament elections, before going down to 25% in the first round of the 2012 presidential election and then winning slightly above 50% in the second round of voting, where the decisive factor was the Egyptian people’s will not to go back to the Mubarak era), this forced them to ally and cooperate with other parties and organizations, thus experiencing and learning the art of compromise.

On the economic side, they did not have an easy legacy to cope with, especially as the economy still remained in the same few hands, essentially coming to power in countries destabilized by the recent changes and the combined effects of the 2008 global economic crisis. While they could not be blamed for what they inherited, their pro-market bias did not help their overall popularity, nor did it help their relationship with labor unions, still capable of mobilizing their militant base, and organizing strikes. The Political Islamic parties also underestimated the differences between their context and the Turkish model that they often referred to, while they never really had the same economy or entrepreneurial network behind them to back their policies.

On the social and political sides, while they started governing countries which were conservative, they still had to cope with the compromises they made with other organizations, for instance Ennahda accepted the principle of man-woman equality and freedom of conscience in the Tunisian constitutions, and the PJD in Morocco reluctantly passed a law prohibiting a rapist from marrying his victim. These compromises caused tensions with their base or with Salafist rival organizations, sometimes leading to tension and violence (as in Tunisia after the assassination of union leaders). Confronted with the difficulties of power and conflicting demands, Muslim conservative parties are learning to work in pluralist environments (as do all political parties) and have to address the complexity of Arab societies, conservative and at the same time growingly secularized and in deep transition.

In Egypt, while facing all these aspects, the MB government and president Morsi faced a coup organized by the military, and supported by business organizations and external powers, including the KSA and Western countries. This ended an experience that was unsuccessful, where the ruling party was increasingly unpopular. But despite their many mistakes and general lack of vision, the MB and President Morsi cannot be blamed for all events, it is quite clear that much of the economic problems were inherited, that sabotage was deliberately conducted during their time in power (many shortages ended quickly after the coup as if nothing had happened), and the economy has not improved since.

One thing is for sure, Islam will always be part of the equation and thus the solution, the question that remains is the shape of Muslim conservative organizations in the future, and how they will manage their relationship with other actors in Arab countries, including civil society, non-Muslim communities, labor unions and business organizations. Addressing these challenges is critical as the Arab spring brought the region and these relationships into turmoil.

An unprecedented chain of events

Arab_Spring_TunisiaReading through the events and day-to-day change of dynamics is no easy task, even for the most experienced historians and “Middle East experts.” The first phase caught everyone by surprise and stunned the rulers, seeing countries entering into massive protests one by one was an unprecedented sight. The role of the emerging Arab media and social media was highlighted and had a deep impact. On the field, Al-Jazeera or Al Arabiya’s broadcasts had a catalyst effect, protesters also relied on these tools and the capacity of mobilization from structured organizations like labor unions (especially in Tunisia but also in Egypt), networks like the Al-Adl-Wal-Ihssane in Morocco, or tribes in Libya who felt they were neglected by Gadhafi.

But beyond all these factors, an important observation is that a new generation of previously de-politicized young Arabs are now active and determined to let their voice be heard, using unprecedented means and at an unprecedented scale, outside the control of the mainstream political parties who seem disconnected and unable to understand this new generation.

Another striking observation was that these movements were non-violent in the beginning, even the countries that later went to a civil war (Syria and Libya) early on resounded with non-violent protests, even in Yemen, which has the third highest weapon per capita rates in the world.

The Arab rulers were all surprised and at first tried to apply the usual “carrot and stick” measures to address the protests, with different approaches and results:

  • Presidents Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt were completely caught by surprise and their initial repressive response by police and anti-demonstrator groups completely failed, only making the protests bigger, they then tried to make improvised concessions (from massive hiring to promises of anticipated elections). In both cases, they were pushed out by the army (with the US administration’s blessing) after asking its leaders to restore order at any cost, opening the way for long transition periods
  • Tunisia then entered a long transition period where tensions often led to violence, but where the main political parties and its strong civil society gradually decided to cooperate, before reaching a historic agreement on the country’s constitution. The main challenge for the country now is to fix the economic situation that caused the revolution to begin with
  • Egypt’s transition was initially promising, consecutive parliamentary and presidential elections gave power to the MB candidate Mohamed Morsi, who worked hand in hand with the military. But the growing conflict between both parties, the MB’s poor handling of the economic situation, the meddling of external powers (including mostly the KSA and the US administration) and alienation of revolutionaries, saw the situation gradually deteriorate. While president Morsi was now deeply unpopular, the army was able to manipulate the Tamarrud protest movement and organized a coup, brutally repressing the MB protests, and put an end to all the democratic advances made since 2011
  • Protests in majority Shia Bahrain, were first met with offers of negotiation by the ruling family, before the GCC, under the leadership of the KSA, sent an armed expedition that completely repressed the protest movement, despite its non-violent nature. The ruling family has now fully embraced the narrative of a Sunni-Shia conflict and closed the door to any political compromise or advance
  • Libya was quickly in the eye of the hurricane, as demonstrations in the usually rebellious East were met with the brutal and repressive nature of Gadhafi’s regime. The situation spiraled out of control as a coalition of tribes entered the rebellion, and received the support of a Western-Qatari intervention, mostly led by France. President Nicolas Sarkozy was very active pushing for this military intervention, and the combination of air strikes and support for the rebel coalition ended up with Gadhafi’s regime collapsing and the leader himself brutally murdered in terribly violent conditions, in line with his ruling method
  • Massive protests started Syria and were met with brutal repression, turning the initially non-violent movement to an armed rebellion, soon supported by the KSA, Qatar, Turkey and Western powers (although the extent of support is still unclear), while Iran and Russia tried to prevent the regime from collapsing. Syria is now a horrendous civil/sectarian war that is out of control with no end in sight
  • Yemen faced a wave of mostly non-violent protests that were met by a mix of repression and offline discussions between President Ali Abdallah Saleh, opposition groups, and key members of the security system in place. The discussions and unclear events (such as a coup attempt) led the way to president Saleh leaving power, the details behind that agreement are still unclear. Yemen is still in transition, and remains unstable, with many Al Qaeda related groups present on the ground, and a rebellion still simmering the north
  • The 20th of February protest movement organized non-violent street demonstrations in Morocco, faced some repressive measures, but the main outcome was the king’s decision to draft a new concession, which brought some progress and new rights, while maintaining power within his hands; in some ways changing everything in order for nothing to change. The new constitution was voted in a referendum at 98% approval (suspicious to say the least), while the 20th February movement decided to boycott the vote. New elections were held and led the Muslim conservative PJD party to power. The 20th February movement is divided and weakened, and has not been able to receive support from the country’s growing middle class, but it still manages to mobilize occasional street demonstrations
  • Some street protests took place Algeria, but the movement never really took off, first due to the government’s anticipation and capacity to raise funds and subsidies from its oil revenues, and also due to the fact that most Algerians are still haunted by the “black decade”, where more than 100,000 people died during the civil war, the status quo was still seen by the majority as a better option
  • Most gulf states (apart from Bahrain) did not face important movements or were not reported as such, in general, the authorities were able to apply preventive measures such as subsidies, or discrete security measures, to anticipate any potential protests
  • Other countries such as Jordan faced protests, but they were mostly limited, and governments managed to contain them through the usual carrot and stick measures

Beside these countries, it is unclear whether Palestine and Iraq are part of the Arab spring, as these countries were either at war or under occupation. Lebanon is also in a state between war and peace. The context of Arab spring is therefore even more complex for these countries; demonstrations and protests did take place, and these countries were impacted by the regional turmoil, especially the war in Syria and the redistribution of alliances.

External interventions and the dynamics of sectarian war

The regional powers were all surprised and reactionary, despite some silly conspiracy theorists who assumed this was all planned, including the recycled racist theory that assumes Arabs are incapable of revolting or taking matters into their own hands. When looking at things specifically:

  • The US administration was silent and embarrassed to see Tunisia and especially Egypt, two of its allies, in a revolutionary phase, and worked behind-the-curtains with the military to transition and remove the countries’ presidents from power, while maintaining the key security arrangements in place, especially the peace treaty being Egypt and Israel
  • France was embarrassed about the events in Tunisia, one of its closest allies in the region, especially as the minister of interior at the time was on holiday there at the invitation of the regime, and had suggested helping the Tunisian police when repression was at its peak. The French president at the time, Nicolas Sarkozy then went silent regarding Egypt, and took a hawkish stand regarding Libya in order to erase that pathetic memory from people’s minds.
  • Other European countries were generally silent
  • KSA immediately saw the chain of events as a threat, especially when demonstrations started in Bahrain, and initiated a very aggressive counter-revolutionary strategy that had an anti-Shia focus, involving political coordination via the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), financial support to allies (mostly in Egypt after the coup against Morsi), and weapon supply to radical Sunni groups and Militias in Syria and Lebanon
  • Qatar took their support for the MB to another level and got involved strongly, mostly in Syria and Tunisia, in coordination but also competition with KSA, and used the Al-Jazeera’s coverage of the events to promote its soft power
  • Iran took a defensive but yet aggressive approach, mostly focused on not letting the regime collapse in Syria (with Russia’s support), and on defending the positions of Hezbollah in Lebanon
  • Turkey’s prime minister Erdogan tried to present his party’s experience in power as a model for the Muslim conservative countries, but 2013 has been a difficult year for him, he made some tactical mistakes in Syria, overestimated his power in his country when facing internal protests, and lost some of important allies, making his future uncertain

The consequence of these events and strategies were a confusing mix of reactive measures from all parties involved, and the emergence of a sectarian Sunni-Shia proxy war, orchestrated by the KSA and Qatar on one side, and Iran on the other side, this clash of strategies was well summarized by Robert Malley and Hussein Agha in 2012 already:

Alliances are topsy-turvy, defy logic, are unfamiliar and shifting. Theocratic regimes back secularists; tyrannies promote democracy; the US forms partnerships with Islamists; Islamists support Western military intervention. Arab nationalists side with regimes they have long combated; liberals side with Islamists with whom they then come to blows. Saudi Arabia backs secularists against the Muslim Brothers and Salafis against secularists. The US is allied with Iraq, which is allied with Iran, which supports the Syrian regime, which the US hopes to help topple. The US is also allied with Qatar, which subsidizes Hamas, and with Saudi Arabia, which funds the Salafis who inspire jihadists who kill Americans wherever they can.

While no party involved has shown a concrete consistent strategy towards these events, consequences are tangible and visible. Retrospectively, two turning points had a major effect, first the unfolding of events in Syria and Bahrain in April 2011, which initiated the first glimpses of sectarian armed war. The second turning point was the 2013 coup in Egypt, which put an end to the MB experience which will likely have significant consequences regarding the future of democracy in the region and the strategy of the political Muslim parties.

Stay tuned for the final part in the series, looking toward the future…

Dutch politician Geert Wilders takes aim at Moroccans and sparks outrage

The Guardian World news: Islam - 20 March, 2014 - 20:44

Right-wing leader of anti-Islam PVV party tells supporters he would ensure there were "fewer Moroccans" in the Netherlands

Outspoken Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders faced an unprecedented storm of protest on Thursday after he told supporters he would ensure there were "fewer Moroccans" in the country.

Hundreds filed complaints with the police, and an MP from his anti-Islam PVV party left his grouping in parliament the day after a jovial Wilders promised his chanting supporters he would arrange for there to be fewer Moroccans in the Netherlands. "The PVV is on a slippery slope," former party member Roland van Vliet wrote in a letter to Wilders, a copy of which he sent to the national news agency ANP.

"The time has come that I have to address my conscience about what's happening with the PVV. Your statement yesterday about the Moroccan community has led me to cancel my membership of the PVV and sit as an independent in parliament," ANP reported.

The public prosecutor's office in The Hague said it had received more than 100 complaints, adding that over 500 people had also alleged discrimination through the police website.

Dozens more telephoned the police to say they wanted to file a complaint, the public prosecutor said on its website.

A Facebook page, "I'm filing a complaint against Wilders", had over 48,000 likes by early Thursday evening.

"Why? Because we're Dutch like you. We believe in our country and not in sowing hatred," the Facebook page said.

The largest Moroccan grouping in the Netherlands said it would file a complaint against Wilders after he repeated the controversial statement when local government election results were released on Wednesday night.

Television pictures showed Wilders in The Hague asking party faithful whether they wanted "fewer or more Moroccans in your city and in the Netherlands?".

"Fewer! Fewer!" the crowd shouted, with a smiling Wilders answering: "We're going to organise that."

"We believe by targeting a specific group, Wilders this time has gone too far," Habib El Kaddouri, a co-ordinator at the Grouping of Dutch-Moroccans Foundation (SMN), told AFP, referring to a 2011 court case that saw the platinum-haired politician acquitted on hate-speech charges.

The court ruled that Wilders had targeted a religion, which is permitted under Dutch freedom-of-speech laws, rather than a specific ethnic group.

Wilders, who is often reviled in Dutch immigrant communities for his fiery anti-Islam rhetoric, has in the past compared the Qur'an to Hitler's Mein Kampf and has called Islam a fascist religion.

He has also thrown verbal barbs at the "hordes" of eastern European immigrants in the Netherlands and his party in 2012 set up an internet site where complaints about immigrants "causing disturbances" could be laid.

Broadcaster RTL News took an editorial position for the first time in 25 years, with deputy editor Pieter Klein writing an open letter to Wilders saying he had "really crossed the line" and should be ashamed.

BNR radio's editor in chief Sjors Froelich wrote in a personal capacity that he could now understand the comparisons made between Wilders and Hitler, adding that Wilders knew exactly what he was doing and wanted to face trial.

In the runup to Wednesday's local elections Wilders canvassed on an anti-Moroccan ticket, last week saying a city like The Hague could do "with fewer Moroccans".

Wilders told supporters on Wednesday he was allowed to ask the question because it fell under freedom of speech "and we have said nothing we're not allowed to".

"Statements like these however make us feel very insecure," Kaddouri said.

The prime minister, Mark Rutte, also criticised Wilders, saying his comments "left a bad taste in the mouth".

"He again has gone too far," he told ANP. © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

“Alice in Arabia” Sounds Like a New Drama That’s Going to Tell the Same Mind-Numbing Story

Muslimah Media Watch - 20 March, 2014 - 06:00
Cross-posted from Tumblr. We don’t know much about ABC Family’s new drama, “Alice in Arabia”, but I already have a feeling that it’s going to be pretty terrible. The network, which targets a younger crowd, has ordered three drama pilots, and one of them follows the story of a “rebellious American teenage girl who, after tragedy [Read More...]

Rome Mosque Vandalized, Qur’an Burnt

Loon Watch - 19 March, 2014 - 20:46


(h/t: Gregory)

Rome Mosque Vandalized, Qur’an Burnt


CAIRO – Italian officials have expressed solidarity with the Muslim community after a mosque in the Italian city of Rieti in the Lazio region was damaged by vandals who stormed the mosque, destroyed its properties and burnt the Noble Qur’an.

“Unknown people burned the sacred Koran, stole money, destroyed the paintings and writings relating to Islam and turned upside down the place of worship inside the mosque,” Morocco World News cited a report by Italian newspaper Ilmessaggero on Monday, March 18.

The assault dates back to Sunday evening when vandals attacked the Mosque of Peace, located 80 kilometers from Rome, destroying its property and burning copies of the Noble Qur’an.

The mayor of the city expressed his solidarity with the local Muslim community, calling on the city’s officials to “respond collectively to the provocations of those who seek to undermine peace and tolerance in the city.”

The leaders of the local Muslim community in charge of the “Mosque of Peace” through the association “Salsabil” have also denounced the “act of vandalism” that would “undermine the coexistence between different communities on the territory of the province of Rieti,” the same source added.

Italy has a Muslim population of some 1.7 million, including 20,000 reverts, according to the figures released by Istat, the national statistics agency.

The lack of official status means Muslims organizations are not eligible for funding through the Italian law that allows taxpayers to allocate part of their taxes to a religious group of their choice.

Efforts to recognize Islam in Italy, even unofficially, are often slammed by the separatist Northern League.

Plans by Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta to establish a museum of Islamic art on the banks of the Grand Canal in Venice has also sparked angry reactions from separatist Northern League.

Plans by regional councils to build more mosques have also been slammed.

Hip-hop propaganda: How the U.S. enlists rap music to fight “jihadi cool”

Loon Watch - 19 March, 2014 - 20:41


A very intriguing article that takes an excerpt from Hisham Aidi’s, “Rebel Music: Race, Empire and the New Muslim Culture,” that looks into the attempt by the US and European governments to instrumentalize hip-hop for the purposes of pushing “counter-extremism” messaging.

Hip-hop propaganda: How the U.S. enlists rap music to fight “jihadi cool” Excerpted from “Rebel Music: Race, Empire, and the New Muslim Culture”

One of the odder phenomena of the last decade is hearing national security elites, terrorism experts, and career diplomats discuss the finer points of “flow,” “bling,” and the “politics of cool.” American and European terrorism experts have increasingly expressed concerns over “anti-American hip-hop,” accenting the radicalizing influence of the genre. Noting that Al-Shabaab, the Somali-based Islamist group, uses “jihad rap” in its recruitment videos, Harvard scholar Jessica Stern wrote in Foreign Affairs: “The first- and second-generation Muslim children I interviewed for a study of the sources of radicalization in the Netherlands seemed to think that talking about jihad was cool, in the same way that listening to gangster rap is in some youth circles.” Others have advocated mobilizing certain substyles of hip-hop against “jihadi cool.” In Europe, hip-hop is being enlisted in a broad ideological offensive to counter domestic extremism.

As in America, some of the biggest stars on the European hiphop scene are Muslim, the children of immigrants and/or converts, a number of whom have been embroiled in controversies about freedom of expression, national identity, and extremism. Britain became the first country to deal with the issue of “Muslim hate rap” when, in 2004, the song “Dirty Kuffar” was released online by rap group Sheikh Terra and the Soul Salah Crew. The video, splicing together images from Iraq, Palestine, and Chechnya, praises Osama bin Laden and denounces Bush, Tony Blair, Ariel Sharon, Hosni Mubarak, and Saudi Arabia’s King ‘Abdallah as “dirty infidels.” The track drew the attention of the Home Office and Labour MPs, who saw the lyrics and imagery as advocating violence. In 2006, Aki Nawaz of the popular hip-hop techno group Fun-Da-Mental released an album, All Is War, with a cover depicting the Statue of Liberty hooded and wired like an Abu Ghraib prisoner, and a song (“Che Bin Pt 2”) comparing bin Laden to Che Guevara. Two MPs called for his arrest.

Realizing the influence of hip-hop, when in April 2007 the Home Office introduced Prevent, an initiative to stop British Muslim youth from being lured into violent extremism, it made sure that hip-hop figured prominently. Muslim organizations in Britain would receive Prevent funding to organize “Spittin’ Light” hip-hop shows, where American and British Muslim rappers with “mainstream interpretations” of Islam would parade their talents. The initiative was directed at younger Muslims, who may not have been associated with mosques or other religious institutions. Prevent’s advocates claim that art can provide Muslims with “an acceptable outlet for strong emotions.” Given Prevent’s involvement in the arts, leaders of cultural organizations—wooed by the American embassy and the British government—are unsure of whether to accept state funds.

“Art is inspiring, art can create conversations that we can’t have in real life, and Muslim artists should be allowed to speak about anything,” says Hassan Mahmadallie, a theater director and officer of the Arts Council of England. “But Prevent is in effect putting limits on the speech of Muslim artists, funding only those the government considers ‘good’ Muslims.”

Other European governments are worrying about hip-hop and extremism. In Germany, state officials are trying to indict rapper-turned- Salafi Deso Dogg for the lyrics of a nasheed that allegedly inspired a twenty-one-year-old Kosovar to fire at a busload of American servicemen in Frankfurt in March 2011. In the Netherlands, the government is at a loss over what kind of rap to support. In 2007, there was a controversy surrounding the Dutch-Moroccan star Salah Eddin and his video “Het Land Van” (This Country Of ), in which he describes being Muslim in an increasingly conservative Netherlands and lists what he likes and does not like about the country. Among other things, he does not like racial profiling and the red-light district—“this land that sells women behind window panes.” The rapper first appears clean-shaven in a plaid shirt; as the video progresses, his facial hair grows longer until, by the end, he is wearing a scraggly beard and an orange Guantanamo jumpsuit. The uproar was not only about this content, but about the fact that Salah Eddin had received a grant from the Dutch Ministry of Culture for the video’s production. Voters complained that their tax money was underwriting radicalism. Government officials felt duped: they had given Salah Eddin the grant thinking he was “moderate,” but he turned out to be “radical.”

European officials (along with U.S. embassy officials) are scrutinizing hip-hop practices in their cities’ immigrant neighborhoods, trying to decide which Muslim hip-hop artists to legitimize and which to push aside. The debate over hip-hop, Europe’s dominant youth culture, stands in for a much larger debate about race, immigration, and national identity. With many of the biggest stars being Muslim, the disputes over which Muslim hip-hop artists are “moderate” or “radical” are also disagreements over what kind of Islam to allow into the public space. This debate is playing out most poignantly in France, the country with the largest Muslim community in Europe, the second-largest hip-hop market in the world, and a place whose traditions of laïcitéaggressively restrict expressions of religion in the public sphere.

Pacifist Salafis

By the late 2000s, American and European policymakers began expressing doubts about the neoconservative policy of supporting Sufism in Europe. Policy advisors began redefining the Muslim Brotherhood as “moderate.” In 2006, the CIA issued a report titled “Muslim Brotherhood: Pivotal Actor in European Political Islam,” praising the movement’s “impressive internal dynamism, organization and media savvy” and stating that “MB groups are likely to be pivotal to the future of political Islam in Europe.” And while acknowledging that “more pluralistic Muslims—accuse [the MB] of hindering Muslim social integration,” the report argued that “MB-related groups offer an alternative to more violent Islamic movements.” This would become the view of the Obama administration, which lifted the travel ban imposed on Tariq Ramadan because of the scholar’s familial links to the Brotherhood. In January 2009, U.S. officials invited German Muslim activists to visit the Virginia-based International Institute for Islamic Thought, a group founded in 1983 by Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers (and raided by the FBI in 2002).

The Obama administration’s move to reengage with more conservative European Muslim groups would create rifts within the American government. As journalist Ian Johnson writes, efforts to talk to the organizations affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood “created the strange spectacle of the legal arm of the government trying desperately to prosecute these groups while, at the same time, the diplomatic arm held them up as models of integration.” American willingness to engage with Muslim Brotherhood– affiliated groups would rankle European politicians as well. In 2007, for instance, the U.S. Consulate in Munich supported the creation of an Islamic academy in the Bavarian town of Penzberg. The Conservative Party, then in power, opposed the project because the school was tied to Milli Görü¸s, a Turkish version of the Muslim Brotherhood. One reason German politicians resented the Americans’ support of this organization is that by the mid-2000s, German (and Dutch and Belgian) leaders were beginning to see the Sufi movement Gülen as an alternative to both Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood– affiliated groups.

The Gülen movement has a strong presence in Germany’s Turkish community and administers two dozen schools in Berlin alone. What strikes most observers is that this Sufi organization has a social services and urban-renewal mission, usually characteristic of Islamist groups; yet unlike the latter, Gülen does not aim to “Islamicize” or purify society, but to integrate Muslims into the larger society. “We don’t go out to convert. All we do is serve—we step in where services are needed,” says Nihat Sarier, who heads the Platforme de Paris, a Gülen center in a northern Parisian suburb. “In this neighborhood, we provide Turkish and Arabic translators in public schools to help mediate between parents and teachers. French schools don’t provide translators, so we assist the state. The Gülen movement is never in contradiction with the host state.” Cash-strapped European states have welcomed Gülen assistance—and some officials are hoping that with the rise of Turkey, this rare Sufi movement, committed to urban development, can counter Salafi separatism. Critics, however, doubt whether this Turkish movement, which claims to be apolitical and pursues a “strategy of silence” when it comes to U.S. foreign policy, can help with counter-radicalization. Gülenists have access to capital and believe firmly in education and civic engagement, but they don’t have the anti-establishment, anti-imperial message, and comprehensive self-rectification programs of the Salafis.

By 2008, unlikely coalitions began to emerge between security officials and left-leaning intellectuals calling for an engagement with Salafi groups. Scholars like Dutch anthropologist Martijn de Konning argued that Salafis, in their separatism and rejection of liberalism, are not any different from ultraconservative Christians or Jews; yet while the latter are granted a space in Western societies, the former are continuously persecuted and maligned, which often leads to further radicalization. Moreover, the ascendancy of Salafism is the result of Britain and America’s continued partnerships with Saudi Arabia, and continued Saudi dissemination of their ideology. European security officials, in turn, see the (non-jihadi) Salafis’ influence and street credibility as an asset in the battle against violent extremism; and it’s necessary to grant Salafi activists the political space to speak out forcefully against American and British foreign policy, because that can enhance their credibility in denouncing violence. The lead proponent of this view in Europe has been Robert Lambert, director of Scotland Yard’s Muslim Contact Unit, who draws attention to the Salafi community of South London and its alliance with the Metropolitan Police. The positive role played by mosques and Muslim community leaders in protecting property and restraining youth during the London riots of August 2011—which happened to take place during Ramadan—seemed to support the view that Islamist intermediaries can maintain social peace.

Similar thinking has now taken hold across the Atlantic, partly due to the ideas of Quintan Wiktorowicz, an American social scientist who wrote extensively about Salafi movements in the Middle East before becoming a resident scholar at the U.S. embassy in London, studying radicalization among British Muslims. In Britain, Wiktorowicz interviewed hundreds of Islamists, and under his counsel the U.S. embassy launched the “Reverse Radicalism” project, funding myriad NGOs and community centers in an effort to build a “counter-narrative” to jihadi Salafism. Wiktorowicz, as National Public Radio would report, brought into his anti-jihadi coalition individuals that the British found too extreme. In 2010, he returned to America and took a position at the White House as a member of the National Security Council and advisor to John Brennan, the counterterrorism czar. Wiktorowicz would echo Lambert’s thinking that there should be a political space for “nonviolent extremism”—that is, Muslim leaders who reject American policies and even liberal values while denouncing jihad against the U.S. In 2011, he introduced a program to counter violent extremism called Community Partnership, which drew on the Prevent program in Britain. But unlike its British inspiration, the American program did not openly back some Muslim institutions against others; rather, the aim was to identify “credible” voices within the American Muslim community and build an “Alliance of Youth Movements” as a bulwark against extremism.

The debate continues over how to deal with Salafism. In the U.S., Salafism nowadays has a tiny presence, but security officials are still trying to groom Salafi dialogue partners, as they may be best placed to teach young Muslims that violence against the U.S. government is not permitted by Islamic law. Law enforcement is cultivating leaders like Yasir Qadhi—who as a young firebrand in the 1990s denounced Sufis and Shia as heretics, but today runs the AlMaghrib Institute in Texas and describes himself as a “pacifist Salafi” who is trying to build a community of “indigenous Salafis” in Texas akin to the orthodox Jewish community of Brooklyn. Qadhi is trying to develop a theology that balances loyalty to Islam with allegiance to America for young diaspora Muslims, who invariably ask, What does Islam command you to do when your people are dying at Western hands? He teaches his students that it is imperative to uphold the law of the land, urging his young followers to vote, pay taxes, but not to serve in the military, given the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan. He denounces “neo-imperial” American policies, but tells students that “offensive jihad”—spreading an Islamic state by force—is permissible only when ordered by a legitimate caliph, or global Muslim ruler, who does not exist today, and that joining militant groups at war with America constitutes treachery and a breach of contract with the American government, which allows Muslims to worship freely. Qadhi is emerging as an example of what American officials describe as a “moderate Salafi.” This young Muslim-American cleric encourages political participation but still retains Salafism’s distinct language of self-rectification and quietism: he is fond of saying that change cannot come from militancy but “begins in the heart and in the home, and it shall eventually reach the streets and shake the foundations of government.”

Partly to influence the debates taking place among Muslim-American youth, in July 2013, Congress amended the 1948 Smith- Mundt Act, long known as the “anti-propaganda law.” The Smith-Mundt Act was passed at a time when Congress suspected that the State Department was staffed with Communists, and prohibited websites and media outlets financed by the U.S. government—like the Arabic-language TV channel Al-Hurra—from broadcasting at home to prevent the government from aiming propaganda at its own citizens. The Smith-Mundt Modernization Act repealed this prohibition, allowing government information produced for foreign audiences to be disseminated within the United States; thus programming produced by Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, and other entities controlled by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) can now be carried by local radio stations.

Scholars and journalists quickly warned of the perils of domestic propaganda. And the Washington Post broke a story of a “counterpropaganda” program run by the Pentagon that targeted a Somali-American journalist in Minneapolis by flooding his website, United Somalia, with comments by readers opposed to Al-Shabaab. “The Pentagon is legally prohibited from conducting psychological operations at home or targeting U.S. audiences with propaganda, except during ‘domestic emergencies,’ ” explained the Post, adding that Defense Department rules also forbid the military from using psychological operations to “target U.S. citizens at any time, in any location globally, or under any circumstances.” The defenders of the Smith-Mundt amendment, in turn, would argue that their law only covers information programs produced by the State Department and the BBG, not the Pentagon or the CIA, who are subject to different laws. To Muslim-American leaders, this was not reassuring.

When Obama assumed office in 2008, cultural diplomacy initiatives toward Muslim communities continued, but the Bush administration’s aggressive attempts to mobilize Sufism and provoke an “Islamic Reformation” were shelved. Yet by mid-2013, perhaps in response to the sectarianism unleashed by the Arab revolts, the U.S. government again began taking a more active role in shaping Islamic discourse. Not only was the “anti-propaganda law” amended, but in July 2013 the State Department created an Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives to engage with “religious actors,” and then in September—days after Al-Shabaab launched a horrific attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi—the U.S. and Turkey announced the creation of a $200 million program to battle extremism, called the Global Fund for Community Engagement and Resilience. Critics from London to Islamabad promptly expressed concern that through “engagement” the U.S. government would be taking sides in religious debates, defining who is “moderate,” and funding groups that it would not support at home.

In Europe, the upheavals in North Africa, the Syrian civil war, and the pushback from Saudi Arabia have emboldened Salafis in Belgium, France, and Germany. “The Salafis have completely overtaken the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe,” says Michael Privot of the Brusselsbased European Network Against Racism. “The center is weak—and that is a problem. In the 1960s, the Muslim Brotherhood was the only alternative, and the Brothers worked with Salafis for years, but then lost control of them. The Saudis had their own Marshall Plan for Europe, and they won all the cultural battles, and today, in 2013, they’re still winning.”

In the UK, the alliance that had formed in the mid-2000s between liberal Muslims, secular feminists, and conservatives opposed to multiculturalism, who think Salafism—quietist or activist—undermines social cohesion and impedes the integration of Muslims, mobilized again, irked that the U.S., which had cracked down on Salafism at home, was now urging engagement with Islamists in Europe. In June 2011, after a prolonged political battle within the British cabinet between Nick Clegg, the Liberal deputy prime minister who saw nonviolent extremism as a bulwark against extremism, and Prime Minister David Cameron, who argued that ideologies of nonviolent extremism—like Salafism—pave the way for violent extremism, the new Prevent program was unveiled, reflecting the prime minister’s view. The new Prevent defined “extremism” broadly to include groups considered nonviolent but whose views fail to “reflect British mainstream values.” The government then proceeded to cut funding to youth programs such as the Brixton-based Street UK because of their affiliation with Salafi mosques. Critics warned that this new Muslim policy would only drive extremist groups underground. Indeed, a few days after the release of the new Prevent program, yellow posters began appearing in parts of East London, plastered on lampposts and bus stops: “You are entering a sharia-controlled zone—Islamic rules enforced.” “No Gambling.” “No Music or Concerts.” “No Porn or Prostitution.” “No Drugs or Smoking.” “No Alcohol.”

“We Shall Overcome”

American embassies were implementing “diversity management” programs just as David Cameron, Nicolas Sarkozy, and Angela Merkel had declared multiculturalism was dead. Referring to a cultural event she organized in Denmark, Deborah Maclean, a public-diplomacy officer at the U.S. embassy in Copenhagen, explains: “We wanted to encourage these youths to realize that it is okay to be different.” European officials take offense at the implicit criticism that Europeans cannot deal with difference, and that they are overwhelmed by an urban crisis that has never reached American proportions. American politicians can now take tours of “sensitive” European neighborhoods. After one such junket, in May 2008, to the northern Parisian suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis, congressional aide Kevin Casey laughed and told the French press, “You think this is the ghetto, come see the Bronx—I’m going to take photos of this to show my friends.”

French journalists have expressed anger at this exercise of American “soft power,” saying that the “head hunting” for future Muslim leaders constituted “direct interference” that was infringing on French sovereignty and undermining the authority of French institutions. In April 2010, when the American ambassador Charles Rivkin, a former Hollywood executive, brought actor Samuel L. Jackson to visit a community center in the banlieue of Bondy in northern Paris, and Jackson, addressing a group of youths, compared their struggle to the hardships of his childhood in segregated Tennessee, French media resented the comparison. Another awkward moment came at the unveiling of a painted mural for Martin Luther King at the Collège Martin Luther King in Villiers-le-Bel, another restive Parisian suburb, when a group of African and Arab children stood around Ambassador Rivkin and sang “We Shall Overcome.”

The State Department’s outreach to Muslims, conceived in response to Europe’s “nativist surge,” seems to be further inflaming the right, who see Washington’s rap-infused initiatives as infringing on their sovereignty and are even more chary of their Muslim compatriots’ allegiance. In April 2008, the daily Le Parisien ran a frontpage story on alleged CIA initiatives in the banlieues. Today headlines are more likely to refer to the NSA’s activities. If European Muslims are often accused of being loyal to their land of origin or to some transnational Islamic movement, now they are suspected of being a fifth column of the United States (just as religious minorities in the Muslim world are). French right-wingers speak of a Muslim “Trojan horse,” comparing the State Department– sponsored trips taken by young French Muslims to the U.S. to the Soviet-sponsored trips of the 1920s and 1930s that took French intellectuals to Russia to experience the benefits of socialism firsthand. Overheated as such rhetoric may be, it seems true that the U.S. counterinsurgency initiatives in Iraq, Somalia, and Afghanistan now have a kinder, gentler corollary directed at Western Europe’s urban periphery.

The irony is that despite the uproar from journalists and politicians, the Muslim youth who are the targets of these initiatives are quite appreciative. If the aim of the “minority programs” was to create positive impressions of the U.S., the effort is working. European-Muslim activists appreciated the brutal candor of the Wikileaks cables. In France, in particular, perhaps because of the country’s contentious alliance with the U.S., positive opinion of the U.S. has risen sharply since 2008. And young Muslims are aware of the delicate politics involved in accepting American offers. Widad Ketfi, a twenty-seven-year-old blogger who participated in an embassy-sponsored program, told the Times that she knows she was targeted by the U.S. embassy because of her Algerian-Muslim background, but added, “What bothers me is being the target of the French state.” And while they resent the NSA surveillance and importation of American policing methods to European cities, Muslim activists and entrepreneurs think their relationship with the American embassy can help leverage better concessions from their governments. “We can ask the Belgian government for assistance, no response,” says Ibrahim Akrouh, a lawyer with the Brussels-based Movement Against Racism, Anti-Semitism and Xenophobia (MRAX). “But if you get help from the U.S. embassy, then Belgian officials will respond and offer support.”

Given all the governments and social movements now offering assistance in the European urban periphery, deciding whether and from whom to accept funds involves some risk. Since the financial collapse of 2008, the American embassies and the Gulf states have emerged as the funders of last resort. In 2012, Qatar decided to invest fifty million euros in the French banlieues to promote entrepreneurship; but after an outcry from the National Front, whose leaders said the money was intended to “Islamize” French youth, the Qataris decided to scatter the funds to include Paris proper and not just the periphery. Accepting money from the American embassy can lead to a loss of credibility as well. “If you take money from the U.S. embassy, then you can’t show up at a political rally protesting American foreign policy—people will call you an American puppet,” says Sami Waqas, who runs a youth center in Berlin. “But then again, if the U.S. embassy thinks you’re moderate, then the local authorities will think you’re moderate and leave you alone.”

Others cringe at the label “moderate.” For many Muslims, the term is a top-down marker that basically means compliant, and movements that have an appeal among Muslim youth know they can lose their credibility as soon as they are embraced by local authorities or by a particular embassy. In January 2011, before the second Prevent program was released, British commentators were debating “moderate Salafism,” and the Guardian produced a short documentary about how British Salafis monitor extremism in their midst. Abdulrahman, a soft-spoken Salafi leader from Luton, turns indignant when the interviewer praises his moderation. “Why are you calling me a moderate Muslim now?” he says. “Is that name not just temporary until we do your daily work for you, and remove the evil of al-Muhajirun [a militant group banned by the British government]? And then you’re going to go back to calling us what? Extremists? Fundamentalist Muslims?” In a very respectful tone, he asks, “Why are you now labeling us moderate Muslims? ’Cause I still believe in the death sentence, I still believe homosexuality is incorrect morally, I still believe that the hand should be removed for the one who steals. So am I really a moderate Muslim, really?”

From “Rebel Music: Race, Empire, and the New Muslim Culture” by Hisham Aidi. Copyright © 2014 by Hisham Aidi. Reprinted by permission of Pantheon Books, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.

Start of 107 days for LB

Indigo Jo Blogs - 19 March, 2014 - 17:52

Black and white picture of Connor Sparrowhawk, a young white man with dark, tousled hair with a T-shirt with four cartoon figures on it. He has a wide smile on his face.This is the anniversary of Connor Sparrowhawk going into the Slade House learning disability unit in Oxford, where he died 107 days later, in the bath, as a result of staff negligence. His supporters have organised a 107-day campaign of action for him, and Mark Neary has started a blog of 107 days of stories about his own son, Steven, when he was being held in a residential unit in 2010. I don’t have the time to blog every day for 107 days on this or any other subject, but I am going to offer a few thoughts here, in light of this and of recent media appearances by Sara Ryan (his mother) and the NHS trust involved, Southern Health. (I’ve written two entries about this subject recently. here and here.)

As long-time readers will know, I was in a special school as a teenager, because of behavioural problems (probably stemming from acute thyroid deficiency in infancy) since diagnosed as Asperger’s syndrome. Because the school dealt with boys with a variety of behavioural problems (basically, anyone deemed academically able but who normal schools declined to accept), and because the school hired completely unsuitable staff (because of a culture that really the boys did not need specialist care but simply a “bit of discipline”), the school was at times a hotbed of abuse (some of it from the staff) and was a particularly hostile and frightening environment for smaller boys. Kesgrave Hall, along with many other places like it, is now closed, in large part because such schools went out of fashion (the early 90s recession helped, though) along with the large-scale use of boarding for children with just about any disability. However, the lack of support means that many older children and young adults with more severe forms of autism and other learning disabilities end up in unsuitable residential care for years.

Schools like Kesgrave were expensive, despite the miserable care (and often mediocre education) they provided; the crisis care that seems to be the only show in town for some people with severe learning disabilities today is too. In the case of Steven Neary, according to his father, “the judge remarked about the lack of assessment when Steven was first taken there and there didn’t appear to be any treatment taking place. The unit appeared to me to be a holding container. And a very expensive holding container at that”. In the case of Claire Dyer, who I reported on in January, it is only recently that the staff have worked out that they need to engage her in suitable activities to make sure she remains calm, although she remains under section and her family still provide most of her activities. The family are hoping to find a suitable long-term residential care placement for her.

I have long believed that the reason our mental health and disability health care is so poor in this country is not only because of prejudice but because of our attitude to money. The drive from mass institutional care to home-based or community-based care was driven as much by a desire to save money as by a wave of progressive thinking. The fact that property values were creeping up also gave an impetus to close large institutions, because these grand buildings with spacious grounds were perfect for converting into luxury flats, especially in the south of England (the same impetus that drives the sale of buildings used for disability services, and even fire stations, today). Now, the government is cutting into the money that was set aside so that people who would formerly have been institutionalised can live in their homes, or with their families, with a degree of independence, but learning disability and mental health care have faced particular cuts because they are not seen as “critical” and has no glamour. The popular press gets agitated over mental health when it’s about the likes of Christopher Clunis stabbing someone; providing clean and safe care for people with chronic mental health problems when they have a flare-up is not such a priority. Day activities for people with learning disabilities are seen as a luxury that can be sacrificed in “hard times”, and again, those buildings will sell for six- or seven-figure sums.

We must get over this obsession with penny-pinching, this fixation with the price of things rather than their value. If we want a civilised country rather than one where it’s every man for himself (and every woman and child too, although they’ll tend to come off worse), we have to pay, much as is the case if we want our bins emptied, our streets cleaned and our roads repaired. It’s no use being outraged every time someone dies of neglect in an NHS unit or is killed by their stressed-out sole carer: the support has to be there, and we need to do research so as to make it more effective, and that will cost money too. This attitude did not start with the coalition’s austerity measures; it was already in place under New Labour, which repeatedly pandered to the corporate press and tried to impress people that it was not a “tax and spend” party. Austerity fed off attitudes that were already there. And it is depressing that Labour have pledged commitment to maintain austerity and not to reverse the Tories’ welfare cuts despite there never having been a popular mandate for them. If we want an end to neglected pockets of bad care in the NHS, we have to pay.

Picture of Claire Dyer, a young white woman wearing a black and red striped jumper with headphones on (to cancel out noise). She has purple Pizza Hut balloons above her head and the strings are in front of her.Also this past week, there has been a review of the Deprivation of Liberty safeguards used to protect people with learning disabilities from being deprived of their right to liberty, as well as an important Supreme Court ruling that three people (two in Surrey, one in Cheshire) held with different degrees of security were subject to deprivation of liberty and their conditions were subject to the 2005 Mental Capacity Act and “living arrangements subjected to regular independent checks”, according to the Daily Telegraph’s report. One of the major problems with the implementation of the current safeguards is that people are often held against their or their former carers’ will (or both) and prevented from leaving, but with no legal deprivation of liberty authorisation, and have no access to an advocate because they have to be appointed by the same council that is holding them (see Mark Neary’s blog for more on this issue). The use of the Mental Health Act to control the challenging behaviour of those with learning disabilities should also be reviewed, as it gives clinicians too much power, including the power to transfer someone against their will, as was feared would happen to Claire Dyer. It also allows them to forcibly medicate, when the behaviour in question could also be managed or ameliorated by changing the disabled person’s situation, or removing threats to their living conditions (like possible involuntary transfers). These drugs have severe side effects, including weight gain, which besides its medical complications, may lead to someone’s challenging behaviour being seen as more challenging, and meriting a more brutal response, particularly in a male and/or black service user. An entirely new framework for managing such situations should be introduced.

Reading today’s media coverage (see the Guardian piece here and an associated blog here), it is heartening to see that the trust, Southern Health, have finally suspended three members of staff over Connor’s death. Katrina Percy, the CEO of Southern Health, has otherwise responded with her characteristic spin and PR clichés. In her interview with Saba Salman, she said that “what we need is a culture where people are able to be open when things don’t go as well as they possibly could”; the lack of openness became apparent after someone died, while as pointed out in the discussions of this on Twitter, this phrase is typically used to mean someone being late or not quite properly dressed for the job. Percy also invited the family to meet her “so they actually see what [she’s] like as an individual and as a chief executive”. Really … what she’s like as a person is irrelevant. You get child abusers and war criminals who appear quite personable when not abusing children or wielding a machete or machine gun. It is quite clear that she is more interested in justifying her position and protecting the organisation than in facing up to the catastrophic failings that have happened under her.

Sri Lanka: Boda Bela Sena Defends Principal Nayana T. Perera Who Forced Students to Worship Her

Loon Watch - 19 March, 2014 - 17:50

Gnanasara BBS To Rescue Anti-Muslim Unqualified Janadipathi Balika Vidyalaya Principal

(Colombo Telegraph)

Bodu Bala Sena General Secretary  Galagoda Atte Gnananasara yesterday defended the actions of Nayana Thakshila Perera who earlier forced two Muslim students to remove their attire which was in accordance with Education Ministry Circulars and Supreme Court orders, and ordered them to worship her.

Earlier the Graded Principal’s Union General Secretary S. U Kariyawasam also charged that the Principal at the centre of the accusations was a Political appointee and was not fit to serve in a Grade I school.

Perera, is a Grade III qualified Principal and has only functioned as a deputy Principal for two years.

The BBS secretary ignoring the fact that Perera had forced the students to worship her, and was also an unqualified politically appointed Principal addressed a Press Conference yesterday and said the the Muslim ministers were harassing the Principal.

“When principals punish such students, Muslim Ministers and Governors intervene and harass principals whose duty is to maintain discipline in schools. That’s exactly what happened to the Principal of the Janadhipathi College who asked two female Muslim students to remove their attire,” he charged.

The Colombo Telegraph learns that the Principal had during a meeting with the General Secretary on Tuesday briefed him on the issue after which yesterdays media briefing was held.

Many observers point out that the intervention by the BBS in the matter is an indication that the Principal was discriminatory in her actions.

The Colombo Telegraph learns that the student who was forced to worship the principal is still suffering from the trauma and has not attended school since the date of the incident.

Related posts;

School Principal Ignores Governor’s Orders; Bans Punjabi And Makes Students Worship

Lawyer: Oregon man fears return after FBI actions

Loon Watch - 19 March, 2014 - 17:33


Lawyer: Oregon man fears return after FBI actions Posted on March 15, 2014 by Bob Pitt

An attorney for an American man who claims he was tortured in the United Arab Emirates at the behest of the U.S. government said Friday that his client is too afraid to try to travel back home.

The contention came at a hearing involving a lawsuit filed by Yonas Fikre alleging the FBI and State Department demanded that he spy on a Portland mosque in 2011 then had him abused in a UAE prison when he refused. The federal agencies have declined to comment on the allegations, citing the ongoing litigation.

Fikre remains in Sweden, where he sought asylum after saying he was told by FBI agents that he was on the no-fly list. He also said a person who attempted to use his ticket to obtain a boarding pass in UAE was told Fikre could not fly.

At the hearing Friday in U.S. District Court, government attorneys said Fikre couldn’t claim that he suffered harm from placement on the government’s no-fly list because he hasn’t tried to fly home. “What is missing in this claim for injunctive relief is any legitimate effort to travel to the U.S.,” said U.S. Department of Justice attorney Brigham Bowen. “This is best described as a rush to court.”

Fikre’s attorney Tom Nelson says his client remains scarred by his previous experience, and fears that if he did return to the U.S., he would not be permitted to leave again. “Mr. Fikre fears for his personal safety,” Nelson said. “It’s critical (that) this court ensures Mr. Fikre won’t be subjected to these actions again.”

Fikre said he was held for 106 days in the United Arab Emirates after refusing to cooperate with Portland, Oregon,-based FBI agents in an interview in Sudan. The State Department confirmed previously that Fikre was held in Abu Dhabi “on unspecified charges,” but said he was visited by State Department officials and showed no signs of mistreatment.

Fikre said the FBI agents named in the suit wanted him to become an informant at Portland’s largest mosque, Masjid As-Saber, and were angered when he refused. He said interrogators in Abu Dhabi later used information Fikre had given to the FBI agents in his interrogation.

U.S. District Court Judge Anna Brown said Nelson needed to better specify the harm Fikre suffered and the specific constitutional rights that might have been violated.

Two other Oregon Muslims who worship at the mosque have also alleged they were held overseas and asked to become informants by Portland-based FBI agents. Both men have returned to Oregon.

Associated Press, 14 March 2014

Noah team finally meet pope in Vatican City

The Guardian World news: Islam - 19 March, 2014 - 14:04

Delegation from big-budget epic forced to attend public audience after private meeting refused

• How Russell Crowe's Noah united two religions – against it

The team behind the biblical epic Noah may have been denied their private meeting with the pope, but a delegation from the film – including director Darren Aronofsky and actor Russell Crowe – managed to engineer an encounter with Pope Francis by attending the open-to-all General Audience, reports Variety.

The General Audience takes place in St Peter's Square, Vatican City at 10.30am, and they are public events normally attended by thousands, and which the pope is driven around in an open-topped vehicle. No details were forthcoming as to if Pope Francis spoke personally to the Noah delegation.

Meeting the pope has been seen by producing studio Paramount as an ideal way to try to counter the poor advance publicity among religious communities. These arose from test screenings that apparently irritated US evangelical Christians over its portrayal of Noah's drunkenness, and suggestions that conservative Muslim countries could ban the film over contravening rules on the depiction of prophets.

Meetings with high-profile public figures have in the past been seen as a way to boost a film's profile, and in its attempt to protect the studio's $160m investment, the film-makers may have been inspired by the Philomena team's meeting with Pope Francis in February.. However, unwillingness to be involved in Hollywood marketing campaigns has seen a wariness in non-industry figures in hosting screenings and meetings. The White House recently announced it would no longer accommodate official screenings – including proposed events for 12 Years a Slave and The Butler – after reportedly being "bombarded" with requests from film producers.

• Darren Aronofsky wins 'battle' with Paramount over final edit of Noah

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