Marwan Bishara: Is America at war with Islam?

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How popular are Britain First and its Islamophobic ‘Christian patrols’?

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The Washington Post reports: It’s a video that depicts just the sort of civilizational clash that extremists everywhere crave: Christians walking down a central shopping street in Britain. Muslim storekeepers and passerby hurling verbal abuse. A push. More abuse from both sides. And finally, police intervening to keep the warring clans apart.

The video, a slick propaganda job by the virulently anti-Muslim group Britain First, became a viral hit when the organization posted it to its Facebook page, racking up millions of views.

But there was more to the story than what the video showed.

The video was filmed on Jan. 23 in the multicultural British town of Luton, 30 miles north of London. The town, a former industrial powerhouse that is today known for its budget-flight-focused airport, has become a magnet for both Islamist and Islamophobic extremists. It’s often the canvas upon which hate groups unfurl their provocative displays.

And so it was when Britain First came to town for the fourth time in two years for what it termed a “Christian Patrol.”

The group — a far-right rival of the homegrown English Defense League — specializes in anti-Muslim street theater, while dressing itself in the garb of a devoutly Christian organization. Members wear dark green paramilitary-style uniforms, and march with oversized crosses through Muslim-majority areas, or even through mosques. [Continue reading…]

The garb of a devoutly Christian organization whose members wear dark green paramilitary-style uniforms?

Would the Washington Post refer to the Ku Klux Klan as bearing the symbols of a devoutly Christian organization because — like Britain First — its members like to march carrying large crosses?

There’s no question that these knuckleheads and self-described defenders of British culture have as little right to speak in the name of Christianity as Anjem Choudary has to present himself as the voice of Islam. But easy as Paul Golding and his rowdy followers might be to dismiss, do they actually stand at the vanguard of a much wider but less visible movement stretching across Britain?

The Washington Post picked up this story because Britain First’s recent Luton video went viral, but how much political significance derives from social media popularity?

Britain’s Labour Party, now under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn who enjoys more grass root support than he does in parliament, has a Facebook page with 422,000 likes.

Britain First’s Facebook page has 1,289,000 likes!

But what do all these “likes” actually mean?

Paul Golding probably thinks they mean a lot and this might explain why he felt confident enough to run in the upcoming election to become Mayor of London. Moreover, he probably thinks it’s imperative that he, or someone like him, be able to govern the British capital city given that his leading opponent, Sadiq Khan, is a Muslim.

The election will take place on May 5, and the most recent YouGov poll gives Khan a clear lead (45%) over his closest rival, Zac Goldsmith (35%).

Further down the field comes George Galloway (Respect Party), who is just one point ahead of British National Party candidate, David Furness, who is himself, one point ahead of Golding.

That is to say, 1% of London voters say they support the BNP while 0% support Britain First.

Maybe the antics of Golding and his motley crew deserve less attention than does the promise of what would surely be a victory for multiculturalism: the increasingly likely election of London’s first Muslim mayor.

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Attackers torch refugee center in Prague

The Associated Press reports: Czech police say unknown attackers have set a refugee center on fire in the Czech capital of Prague, injuring one person.

Spokeswoman Iveta Martinkova says about 20 people attacked the Klinika center in Prague’s No. 3 district with Molotov cocktails Saturday about 7:30 p.m. She says it’s not clear who was behind the attack and police are investigating.

The attack took place just hours after thousands of people rallied in Prague against Muslims and immigration. [Continue reading…]

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President Obama’s remarks at the Islamic Society of Baltimore on February 3

President Obama said: This is a moment when, as Americans, we have to truly listen to each other and learn from each other. And I believe it has to begin with a common understanding of some basic facts. And I express these facts, although they’d be obvious to many of the people in this place, because, unfortunately, it’s not facts that are communicated on a regular basis through our media.

So let’s start with this fact: For more than a thousand years, people have been drawn to Islam’s message of peace. And the very word itself, Islam, comes from salam — peace. The standard greeting is as-salamu alaykum — peace be upon you. And like so many faiths, Islam is rooted in a commitment to compassion and mercy and justice and charity. Whoever wants to enter paradise, the Prophet Muhammad taught, “let him treat people the way he would love to be treated.” (Applause.) For Christians like myself, I’m assuming that sounds familiar. (Laughter.)

The world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are as diverse as humanity itself. They are Arabs and Africans. They’re from Latin America to Southeast Asia; Brazilians, Nigerians, Bangladeshis, Indonesians. They are white and brown and black. There’s a large African American Muslim community. That diversity is represented here today. A 14-year-old boy in Texas who’s Muslim spoke for many when he wrote to me and said, “We just want to live in peace.”

Here’s another fact: Islam has always been part of America. Starting in colonial times, many of the slaves brought here from Africa were Muslim. And even in their bondage, some kept their faith alive. A few even won their freedom and became known to many Americans. And when enshrining the freedom of religion in our Constitution and our Bill of Rights, our Founders meant what they said when they said it applied to all religions.

Back then, Muslims were often called Mahometans. And Thomas Jefferson explained that the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom he wrote was designed to protect all faiths — and I’m quoting Thomas Jefferson now — “the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan.” (Applause.)

Jefferson and John Adams had their own copies of the Koran. Benjamin Franklin wrote that “even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach to us, he would find a pulpit at his service.” (Applause.) So this is not a new thing. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: For Mr. Obama, the remarks were also an admission of how little progress has been made since the speech in Cairo [in 2009], where he called for “a sustained effort to listen to each other, to learn from each other, to respect one another, and to seek common ground.” In his speech on Wednesday, he suggested that his hopes for a reconciliation had been dashed, but he called on all Americans to stick by the country’s founding ideals.

Muslims in the audience hailed the address.

“I think it was one of the best speeches he’s ever given,” said Representative André Carson, an Indiana Democrat. Representative Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat, said the speech “hit me in the heart” and was a vital antidote to growing intolerance.

“I have a 19-year-old daughter who is a Muslim and wants to contribute to her nation, and it bugs me that someone who says he wants to be president would want to exclude her,” Mr. Ellison said.

But Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, one of the country’s oldest and largest pro-Israel organizations, denounced Mr. Obama for visiting a mosque whose leaders, Mr. Klein said, have among other issues criticized Israeli military actions. “Going to such a mosque only encourages radical Muslims to harm Americans,” Mr. Klein said. [Continue reading…]

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Fear and paranoia lead Finns to form vigilante groups that ‘protect women’ from asylum seekers

The Washington Post reports: On a frigid night in this industrial city, three local men pulled up to a curb in a beat-up van sporting the stars and bars of the American Confederacy (because, they said, they just liked the look of it). Soon, they joined a dozen other beefy vigilantes gathering on a sidewalk for their first patrol to keep “our women” safe.

These are the Soldiers of Odin, a new far-right citizens group sprouting chapters across Finland. Its members are multiplying as this northern nation becomes a case study in the fear and suspicion gripping Europe after multiple sexual assaults allegedly committed by asylum seekers and others on New Year’s Eve.

Those incidents, in cities across central and northern Europe, included hundreds of complaints of sexual harassment in Cologne, Germany, as well as 15 alleged sex-related crimes in the Finnish capital, Helsinki. They have quickly altered the debate over a record wave of asylum seekers arriving in Europe from the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Fresh barriers to new migrants are going up from Sweden to Greece. [Continue reading…]

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Donald Trump and the ‘rivers of blood’

Sarfraz Manzoor writes: Until recently, Donald J. Trump was best known in Britain for “The Apprentice” television series, the Miss Universe contest and a controversial golf course development in Scotland. And most Britons would probably have viewed his decision to enter the presidential race with no more than mild envy: Why can’t British elections be as much fun as American ones?

Thanks, however, to his incendiary comments about immigrants and Muslims, Mr. Trump has moved from being a buffoonish figure on the margins of British consciousness to the center of political debate. After Mr. Trump said that he, if president, would stop Muslims entering the United States, more than half a million people signed a parliamentary petition, thus requiring a debate in Parliament on whether to bar him entry to Britain. (The debate, which was held this past week in a committee, generated plenty of indignation but had no issue because the power to refuse Mr. Trump admittance is held not by Parliament but by the home secretary.)

Mr. Trump also drew condemnation from leading British politicians, newspapers, the Metropolitan Police and the mayor of London. Even the leader of the UK Independence Party, which campaigns on a strong anti-immigration platform, said Mr. Trump had “gone too far.”

When Mr. Trump speaks of barring Muslims from entering the United States, I hear an echo of a British politician from another age, one who is largely forgotten here but whose views on race and immigration were as polarizing in their time as Mr. Trump’s are now. Enoch Powell was a politician whose career spanned most of the postwar period, first as a Conservative and later as an Ulster Unionist. He had grave reservations about mass immigration and frequently spoke in apocalyptic language about its consequences. [Continue reading…]

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Anti-Muslim profiling at airports goes beyond the TSA

Think Progress reports: A growing number of Muslims, Sikhs, and people of Middle Eastern descent are reporting incidents of racial and religious profiling while trying to board planes, sparking concerns that rising anti-Islam sentiment is sparking a new wave of discrimination at airports.

American Muslims have long encountered difficulties at airports, where security officials have been accused of unfairly profiling, questioning, searching, and detaining passengers simply for “looking” Muslim — including people who are not devotees of Islam, such as Sikhs and Arab Christians. Policies that support such profiling — many enacted in the years immediately following the September 11 attacks (although most have proven largely ineffective at catching terrorists) — remain in place today and have been defended by White House officials, even though Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents have voiced misgivings about programs that single out people based on race or religion.

But as the United States endures an unprecedented wave of anti-Islam hatred following the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino late last year, Muslim Americans and others affected by Islamophobia are reporting a rash of new airport profiling cases — this time not just at the hands of the TSA, but also airline companies and fellow passengers. [Continue reading…]

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Fearmongering around Muslim immigrants echoes anti-Asian hysteria of past

Murtaza Hussain writes: On May 6, 1882, U.S. President Chester Arthur signed into law the Chinese Exclusion Act, the first in a series of discriminatory legal measures aimed at curbing immigration from Asia. Speaking at the time of its passage, California Sen. John F. Miller, a leading proponent of the law, declared that the Chinese were “an inferior sort of men” and that “Chinese civilization in its pure essence appears as a rival to American civilization. It is a product of a people alien in every characteristic to our people, and it has never yet produced and can never evolve any form of government other than an imperial despotism. Free government is incompatible with it, and both cannot exist together.”

There are echoes of Miller’s demagoguery, and of contemporaneous warnings about the supposed “Yellow Peril” posed by East Asians, in the warnings politicians and prominent media figures issue today about allegedly unassimilable immigrants and refugees from Muslim countries.

“The type of rhetoric we’re seeing today about Muslims is both very similar and also slightly different from that which was used to describe Asian immigrants in the past,” said University of Minnesota professor Erika Lee. A specialist in immigration studies, Lee is also author of the 2015 book The Making of Asian America, which chronicles in part the anti-Asian sentiment that new arrivals often had to contend with. “Like Muslims, Asian immigrants were characterized as a slowly creeping civilizational threat to the security and integrity of the United States, but today, with Muslims, there is also the additional allegation that they have a violent intent to overthrow the existing order.” [Continue reading…]

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Why we can’t stay silent on Germany’s mass sex assaults

Maajid Nawaz writes: Recent mass migration patterns across Europe have meant that misogyny has finally come head to head with anti-racism, multiculturalism is facing off against feminism, and progressive values are wrestling with cultural tolerance.

Yes, it is racist to suspect that all brown men who look like me are rapists. It is bigoted to presume that all Muslim men who share my faith advocate religiously justified rape. It is xenophobic to assume that all male refugees are sexual predators awaiting their chance to rape. But let me be absolutely clear: What will feed this racism, bigotry, and xenophobia even more is deliberately failing to report the facts as they stand. Doing so only encourages the populist right’s rallying cry against “the establishment.”

If liberals do not address such issues swiftly, with complete candor and courage, the far-right and anti-Muslim populist groups will get there first. They have been doing so for a while now.

The far-right street protest group Hogesa, or Hooligans Against Salafism, continues to cause consternation on the streets of Cologne, while the populist-right Pegida has already responded to the New Year’s Eve attacks by announcing a protest in Cologne on Jan. 9.

No, my fellow liberals, these issues cannot be brushed under the carpet or simply willed away. They are not going anywhere, anytime soon. So how can we address this sensibly, without bursting a blood vessel in our Right eye, or missing the blind spot in our Left? [Continue reading…]

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Europe should steer clear of anti-refugee sentiment and take sexual assault seriously

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Natasha Lennard and Lukas Hermsmeier write: Treating rape as a problem imported from the Middle East and North Africa that can be deported along with refugees grossly ignores and normalizes an already ubiquitous rape culture. Swiss newspaper Neue Zuercher Zeitung warned this week of an “imported macho culture” arriving on German soil with the refugees. The insinuation that Europe does not already have a well-worn macho culture or macho cultures of its own is nothing short of an offense to feminism. Most assaults, after all, take place in German homes: Marital rape was still legal in Germany until 1997.

This is not to say the attacks on New Year’s Eve are not deadly serious. A large number of contemporaneous assaults demand an investigation into whether and how each attack is connected; if there is a connection rooted in certain cultural or societal mores, it should not be dismissed. Currently, details about the attacks remain scarce. We know that at least 18 asylum seekers are suspects and that victims described the perpetrators as looking North African or Arabic — which are broad strokes. And needless to say, most people in Germany of that description are not seeking asylum.

In opposing the right’s racism, we must be able to countenance that a group of refugees could be responsible for the assaults and that these individuals should not be defended. We engage in our own subtle racism if, in defending the rights of refugees in general, we collapse them all into a homogeneous category, because all racism is predicated on treated an entire group of people as an undifferentiated mass. The key is to take these assaults seriously on their own terms and as part of a generalized scourge of sexual harassment and assault, which is not fought by picking out specific ethnic groups. What’s more, we should be suspicious of any people so keen to point out the links between Islamic culture and misogyny if they are not equally concerned with the prevailing violent misogynies in the cultural West. [Continue reading…]

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A generation of failed politicians has trapped the West in a tawdry nightmare

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Pankaj Mishra writes: Racism, a beast cornered if not tamed after much struggle, has lumbered back to civil society in the solemn guise of “reforming” Islam. Tony Blair summons us to worldwide battle on behalf of western values while embodying, with his central Asian clients, their comprehensive negation. The handful of media institutions and individuals that are not obliged to flesh out Rupert Murdoch’s tweets on Muslims seem to be struggling to remain viable in an increasingly retrogressive political culture. Even the BBC seems determined not to stray far from the Daily Mail’s editorial line.

Unsurprisingly, we witness, as Judt pointed out, “no external inputs, no new kinds of people, only the political class breeding itself”. “The old ways of mass movements, communities organised around an ideology, even religious or political ideas, trade unions and political parties to leverage public opinion into political influence” have disappeared. Indeed, the slightest reminder of this democratic past incites the technocrats of politics, business and the media into paroxysms of scorn.

Having acted recklessly to create their own reality, they have managed to trap all of us in a tawdry nightmare – a male buddy film of singular fatuousness. At the same time, reality-making has ceased to be the prerogative of the American imperium or of the French and British chumocrats, who lost their empires long ago and are still trying to find a role for themselves.

Some random fanatic, it turns out, can make their reality far more quickly, coercing the world’s oldest democracies into endless war, racial-religious hatred and paranoia. Such is the great power surrendered by the crappy generation and its epigones. The generations to come will scarcely believe it. [Continue reading…]

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Pegida leader criticised for linking Munich terror plot with city’s refugee intake

The Guardian reports: The leader of Germany’s anti-Islamic Pegida movement has caused indignation by linking a planned terrorist attack on Munich’s railway station with the tens of thousands of refugees who were applauded when they arrived there earlier this year.

In a tweet sent soon after police shut the station, Lutz Bachmann said that Germans who welcomed the refugees as they disembarked from trains should go back there and risk being blown up.

“All welcome-clappers should arrive immediately at Munich’s main train station,” Bachmann posted. He added the hashtag #RefugISISnotWelcome, a swipe at leftwing groups who have held counter-demonstrations at Pegida rallies using the slogan: “Refugees are welcome here.” [Continue reading…]

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The new face of racism in Germany

Anna Sauerbrey writes: Germany is not lacking in right-wing sentiment these days, but most people are careful about how they deploy their anti-immigrant rhetoric. And then there’s Björn Höcke.

Last month Mr. Höcke, a leading figure of the right-wing populist party Alternative für Deutschland, gave an openly racist speech on the “differing reproductive strategies” of Africans and Europeans. It was not the first time he had drawn on National Socialist themes, but this time he caused uproar, even in his own party, which has asked him to resign his membership.

Whatever happens to Mr. Höcke, though, his willingness to use overtly racist language has revived an age-old fear in Germany. He is, by all accounts, a typical German, an upright middle-class citizen — what we call a “Biedermann.” They are the core of our national self-perception. If they turn to the dark side, what does that say about Germany?

For years, racism and hate in Germany mostly came with clear social markers. In the minds of most, racists wore their heads shaved, feet heavily booted and arms rune-tattooed. They lived on the fringes of society, often in public housing, and made their living illicitly.

Not so Mr. Höcke. As a young man, he was a member of “Junge Union,” the youth organization of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats. He’s a high school history teacher on leave and a married father of four. He lives in the countryside and is invariably well dressed, though never in a showy way.

Is this the new face of hate in Germany? [Continue reading…]

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Anti-Muslim hate crimes on the rise in the U.S.

Southern Poverty Law Center reports: The year 2015 is drawing to a close with a continuing wave of firebombings and apparent hate crimes at mosques in various U.S. cities, including Christmas-weekend arson attacks in California and Texas.

There were no injuries in either of the two latest fire-bombings.

But at Houston’s Saavoy Masjid, a mosque operated by the Islamic Society of Greater Houston, damage was described as “significant.” A fire started at “multiple locations” around 2:45 p.m. on Christmas Day, just an hour after hundreds of people had been in the building for Friday prayers, authorities said.

The following day, someone threw a Molotov cocktail at a doorway of the Tracy Islamic Center in Tracy, Calif., east of Oakland, causing minor damage. [Continue reading…]

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Fanatical Trump supporter arrested on suspicion of threatening to kill Muslims

San Jose Mercury News reports: On Dec. 4, William Celli stood outside the Islamic Society of West Contra Costa County and yelled “I’m going to kill you all” at worshipers as they left a prayer service, the mosque’s leader said Monday.

Members of the mosque alerted police, and they launched an investigation into the local plumber and self-proclaimed Donald Trump supporter who posted on Facebook that he would follow the Republican presidential candidate “to the end of the world.” On Sunday, police said, they arrested Celli, 55, after learning he posted a photo of a pipe bomb on social media. Inside his Richmond home, investigators said they found a pipe bomb-type device that was not armed with explosives.

The mosque, which is attended by several hundred people, has hired private security guards to ensure the safety of its worshipers, said Imam Hamza Mehter, adding it’s the first time in the nearly two decades the mosque has been in that neighborhood that threats have been made.

It also marks the latest in a string of alleged incidents targeting Bay Area Muslims in the wake of the Paris and San Bernardino attacks — and amid a heated presidential campaign dominated by Trump’s controversial remarks surrounding Muslims. [Continue reading…]

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