Alex Kane writes: The Islamic Society of Bay Ridge sits on a bustling avenue steps away from the subway in the southwest corner of Brooklyn. Walk by the white building on a Friday afternoon, and nothing seems out of the ordinary. There are men waiting outside to enter the building to pray, while life goes on as usual around the building. Like any other mosque in New York City, the call to prayer blares out of loudspeakers five times a day; it’s the Islamic Society’s normality that makes its designation as a front for extremism and violence all the more jarring.
On August 28, the Associated Press disclosed that the New York City Police Department (NYPD) had been labeled the Bay Ridge institution — and 11 other mosques — “terrorism enterprises.” The designation, which allows the NYPD to infiltrate the mosque and record religious sermons normally protected under the First Amendment, evinced no expressions of shock from Zein Rimawi, the 59-year-old Palestinian-American co-founder of the mosque. The place where he goes to pray has been under the watchful eye of the police since at least 2003. He’s used to it by now, though he’s still angry that the surveillance exists.
A week after the AP story, we sat in an office at the mosque, surrounded by Qur’ans and a shirt reading “Free Egypt” in protest of the July 3 coup in that country. Rimawi calmly explained to me the presence of NYPD informants inside his mosque that day — “at least three of them,” he noted. I asked him how he could tell who was an informant, and he told me that in a tight-knit Muslim community like Bay Ridge, everyone knows each other. It’s easy to spot who’s out of place — especially if they’re asking a ton of questions.
His experience is by no means unique. Across New York City’s 800,000-person strong Muslim community, police infiltration by way of undercover officers or informants — usually people with criminal backgrounds who strike a deal with the NYPD — has become routine. The September 11 attacks sparked the NYPD’s transformation from municipal law enforcement agency to domestic intelligence service. Talk to Muslim leaders and activists, and stories of encounters with informants pour out. What emerges from these tales is a portrait of a police force that has tentacles reaching into every nook and cranny of New York City’s Muslim world, chilling activism, speech and association. [Continue reading...]
Nabila Ramdani writes: Join me in a criminal court in suburban Paris on almost any weekday and I’ll show you exactly where national debates about female face coverings end up.
Ever since France introduced its “burqa ban” in 2011, there has been a constant stream of wretched cases involving the handful of Muslims who choose to wear such garments. Not only are perfectly upstanding women being fined for their choice of dress, principally the full-body niqab, which leaves a slit for the eyes, but an increasing number of defendants are being tried for attacking them.
One case involves two self-styled “patriotic vigilantes” who targeted a pregnant 21-year-old in the commuter town of Argenteuil, north-west of Paris, in June. The new law persuaded the men to shout racist insults before putting the woman in hospital, where she lost her baby. Another three reported cases on the same council estate over the course of just one month this summer saw full-veil wearers assaulted as their attackers shouted: “Dirty Arab, dirty Muslim.”
Those calling for a veil ban in Britain have clearly ignored such depressingly routine cases. They do not realise how the legislation introduced by President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government has not only stigmatised Muslim women, but somehow legitimised physical attacks on them. The ban in France is a hateful assault on basic freedoms, one that has been seized on by an unlikely alliance of rightwing politicians and feminists. [Continue reading...]
The Associated Press reports: The New York Police Department has secretly labeled entire mosques as terrorist organizations, a designation that allows police to use informants to record sermons and spy on imams, often without specific evidence of criminal wrongdoing.
Designating an entire mosque as a terrorism enterprise means that anyone who attends prayer services there is a potential subject of an investigation and fair game for surveillance.
Since the 9/11 attacks, the NYPD has opened at least a dozen “terrorism enterprise investigations” into mosques, according to interviews and confidential police documents. The TEI, as it is known, is a police tool intended to help investigate terrorist cells and the like.
Many TEIs stretch for years, allowing surveillance to continue even though the NYPD has never criminally charged a mosque or Islamic organization with operating as a terrorism enterprise.
The documents show in detail how, in its hunt for terrorists, the NYPD investigated countless innocent New York Muslims and put information about them in secret police files. As a tactic, opening an enterprise investigation on a mosque is so potentially invasive that while the NYPD conducted at least a dozen, the FBI never did one, according to interviews with federal law enforcement officials.
The strategy has allowed the NYPD to send undercover officers into mosques and attempt to plant informants on the boards of mosques and at least one prominent Arab-American group in Brooklyn, whose executive director has worked with city officials, including Bill de Blasio, a front-runner for mayor. [Continue reading...]
Alex Gabriel writes: A state which halts immigration from so-called Muslim countries, which deports and criminalises citizens specifically for being Muslims, which imposes exceptional limitations on the exercise of Islam, alone among other religions, and assigns all Muslims collective guilt for Islamists’ religious atrocities is not one any secularist should wish to establish. (We want neutrality, not persecution rivaling that of Europe’s anti-Semitic, theocratic past.) And yes, Richard, it’s racist.
If you think criticising Islam is racist, you must think Islam is a race. And if you think Islam is a race you are a racist.
— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) April 4, 2013
Asserting that because Islam is a religion and not a race, one can never discuss it (or treat its followers) in racist ways makes about as much sense as saying that because ballet is an art form not a sexual identity, it’s impossible to say anything homophobic about male ballet dancers. Hip-hop musicians and immigrants aren’t races either, but commentary on both is very often racist – or at least, informed and inflected to a serious degree by racial biases.
I’m an atheist and a secularist. Within the context of a broader critique of religion, I have no problem saying the architecture of public space, as a prerequisite for democracy and human rights, must be secular; that it’s absurd to think violent, inhumane ancient texts provide superior moral guidance to everyone else’s; that if you claim religious morality based on those texts should be enforced in the public sphere, you deserve to have their contents thrown at you; that the God idea is a bad idea; that Islamism is a regressive, oppressive political movement; that non-Islamist, non-fundamentalist, mainstream Islamic beliefs deserve as much scrutiny and criticism as any others; that they can and should be indicted for promoting sexual ethics based on the whims of an imagined being; that Mehdi Hasan deserved evisceration, not praise, for his article on homosexuality; that cutting apart infants’ genitals is violence and abuse; that subjecting animals to drawn-out, agonising slaughter is unspeakably cruel and religion no excuse; that going eighteen hours in July without eating or drinking is more likely to endanger your health than bring spiritual enrichment; that blasphemy is a victimless crime, and public prohibitions of it antediluvian. I am not ‘soft on religion’; I am not softer on Islam than any other.
But there are still ways to say these things that have racist subtexts and ways that don’t. There is nothing inevitable in facing a barrage of indignation from sensible people when you talk about Islam-related things.
There’s nothing racist about critiquing misogyny in popular music, including in hip-hop, a prominent genre. But if you’re singling hip-hop out as the sexist genre, or talking disproportionately about rap lyrics rather than songs outside traditionally black genres by the Beatles, Lady Gaga, the Rolling Stones, Taylor Swift or One Direction – particularly if you’re also essentialising hip-hop as misogynous by definition, ignoring all female and feminist hip-hop – you need to examine your motivations and consider where that bias is coming from.
What sort of a country is it that jails you for having sex when unmarried? http://t.co/WXtUbc1Enu An Islamic country of course.
— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) July 22, 2013
If you’re singling out Islamic theocracies as countries with repressive laws about sex, you likewise need to think about why. In the civically secular, socially Christian U.S., it was only ten years ago that sodomy laws (used against unmarried heterosexual couples as well as gay sex) were struck down in Texas, and it was only in 2005 that the state of Virginia legalised premarital sex. In civically Christian, socially secular Britain, HIV-positive and transgender people are criminalised for having sex; in mainly Christian Uganda, gay sex is illegal. All over the Western world and the planet generally, sex workers face state violence, harassment and imprisonment. What sorts of countries have terrible, oppressive, violent laws about sex? All sorts. Of course we can attack Islamic theocracies, but if you’re not attacking them within a broader context – if you’re not discussing other nations with oppressive laws, and not talking about non-Islamic religious law’s use in policing consensual sexuality – you need to ask yourself why you’re driven to attack the religion especially and disproportionately whose image is most strongly racialised. [Continue reading...]
Nathan Lean reviews some of the latest Islamophobic rants from Richard Dawkins and fellow militant atheists: Dawkins’ quest to “liberate” Muslim women and smack them with a big ol’ heaping dose of George W. Bush freedom caused him to go berzerk over news that a University College of London debate, hosted by an Islamic group, offered a separate seating option for conservative, practicing Muslims. Without researching the facts, Dawkins assumed that gendered seating was compulsory, not voluntary, and quickly fired off this about the “gender apartheid” of the supposedly suppressed Muslims: “At UC London debate between a Muslim and Lawrence Krauss, males and females had to sit separately. Krauss threatened to leave.” And then this: “Sexual apartheid. Maybe these odious religious thugs will get their come-uppance?”
Of course, the fact that the Barclays Center in New York recently offered gender-separate seating options for Orthodox Jews during a recent concert by Israeli violinist Itzhak Perlman didn’t compute in Dawkins’ reasoning. Neither did the case of El Al Airlines, the flag carrier of Israel, when, in August of 2012, a stewardess forced a Florida woman to swap seats to accommodate the religious practice of a haredi Orthodox man. Even if Dawkins were aware of these episodes, he likely wouldn’t have made a fuss about them. They undermine the conclusion he has already reached, that is, that only Muslims are freedom-haters, gender-separating “thugs.”
Where exactly Dawkins gets his information about Islam is unclear (perhaps Fox News?). What is clear, though, is that his unique brand of secular fundamentalism cozies up next to that screeched out by bloggers on the pages of some of the Web’s most vicious anti-Muslim hate sites. In a recent comment he posted on his own Web site, Dawkins references a site called Islam Watch, placing him in eerily close proximity to the likes of one of the page’s founders, Ali Sina, an activist who describes himself as “probably the biggest anti-Islam person alive.” Sina is a board member for the hate group, Stop the Islamization of Nations, which was founded by anti-Muslim activists Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer and which has designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Dawkins is also on record praising the far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders, a man who says that he “hates Islam” and that Muslims who desire to remain in the Netherlands should “rip out half of the Koran” (Later, he blabbed that the Muslim holy book should be banned entirely). The peroxide-blonde leader of the Party of Freedom, who faced trial in 2009 for hate speech, produced an amateurish flick called “Fitna” the year before. The 17-minute film was chockablock with racist images such as Muhammad’s head attached to a ticking time bomb and juxtapositions of Muslims and Nazis. For Dawkins, it was pure bliss. “On the strength of ‘Fitna’ alone, I salute you as a man of courage who has the balls to stand up to a monstrous enemy,” he wrote. [Continue reading...]
The pro-settler Israel National News reports: In yet another success for Samaria’s advocacy initiatives, a group of European parliamentarians agreed to take a 36-hour trip to the area this week. The European Union generally views Samaria (Shomron) [the Israeli occupied West Bank] as Arab land and condemns Israeli construction in the area.
The parliamentarians came as guests of Samaria Regional Council head Gershon Mesika.
They began their tour with a trip to the Barkan industrial zone. Many were surprised to see that Israeli Jews and Palestinian Authority Arabs were employed side-by-side in the factories.
Regional Council staff noted that boycotts of Israeli businesses in Judea and Samaria, including a threatened EU boycott, would primarily hurt industrial zones such as Barkan which provide a major source of employment for PA residents.
The tour then continued to a nearby lookout point from which the visitors could see the Tel Aviv region and Israel’s coastline. “We are in the heart of the land of the Bible and the center of Jewish heritage,” said Yossi Dagan. “From here we can see the ‘narrow waist’ of the State of Israel. Tel Aviv, the coastline and the Ben Gurion Airport are below us.”
“The State of Israel is the dam protecting Europe from fundamentalist Islam,” he added. “As you see with your own eyes, without Samaria the State of Israel is unlikely to survive.”
American Muslim civil liberties groups released a new report today, Mapping Muslims: NYPD Spying and Its Impact on American Muslims, documenting the devastating impacts of the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) extensive surveillance program that targeted American Muslims throughout the Northeast and spread outrage throughout the nation.
Since 2002, the NYPD embarked on a covert domestic surveillance program that monitored American Muslims throughout the Northeast, from spying on neighborhood cafes and places of worship to infiltrating student whitewater-rafting trips — a program that continued despite the NYPD’s own acknowledgment that, over the course of six years, these efforts had not generated a single lead. The report is an unprecedented collection of voices from affected community members reflecting how the NYPD spying and infiltration creates a pervasive climate of fear and suspicion that encroaches upon every aspect of their religious, political, and community lives.
Tim Murphy and Adam Serwer report: Over the last four years, a die-hard cadre of activists and their allies in Congress have dragged the Republican Party into a fever swamp of Islamophobia and barely-concealed anti-Muslim bigotry. In their paranoid scenario, Islamic Shariah law is creeping into American courts; the Department of Justice has come under the sway of the Muslim Brotherhood; and the president’s engagement ring includes secret writing that indicates Muslim loyalties.
But after a November election that saw three of the party’s loudest voices on “creeping Shariah” defeated — and the GOP presidential nominee ignore the issue entirely — the anti-Islam movement within the Republican party may have peaked. Wary of further alienating a once-promising conservative constituency, mainstream Republican leaders have sought, publicly and behind closed doors, to distance themselves from the loudest of the Muslim-bashers in their midst.
“They have gotten a bit of bad odor,” says GOP powerbroker Grover Norquist, who has pushed to change his party’s tone on Islam.
Randa Fahmy Hudome, a former Bush administration official, Washington lobbyist, and prominent Muslim Republican, notes: “There is a self-policing factor in the Republican Party, when some members get a little off base on some of these issues. That’s the state of play right now.”
A turning point came in July, when Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), along with four Republican colleagues, signed a letter demanding an investigation into the Muslim Brotherhood’s supposed infiltration of the State Department. The letter singled out a top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Huma Abedin. Bachmann and her colleagues, deploying tenuous evidence and guilt-by-association, charged that Abedin should not have been given a security clearance because of alleged ties to Muslim radicals.
Days later, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) had condemned Bachmann’s letter from the floor of the Senate, calling it “unwarranted and unfounded” and “scurrilous.” Speaker of the House John Boehner piled on, calling the letter “dangerous.” The chair of the House intelligence committee, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), emphasized to USA Today that though she served on his committee, Bachmann’s allegations did not have the committee’s imprimatur. Sen. Marco Rubio, the Florida senator and tea party favorite widely touted as a potential 2016 contender, publicly denounced the allegations promoted by Bachmann and her allies, like former Reagan official and longtime anti-Shariah activist Frank Gaffney. [Continue reading...]
Al-Masry Al-Youm reports: Cairo Criminal Court on Wednesday sentenced seven expatriate Coptic Egyptians to death in absentia over involvement in the production of an anti-Islam film made in the US.
The amateur film, “Innocence of Muslims,” sparked protests in Cairo and among Muslim communities around the world who saw the film’s portrayal of Prophet Mohamed and Islam as offensive.
The text of the ruling has been forwarded to Egypt’s grand mufti for approval and has been asked to make a decision by 29 January.
The seven defendants are the film’s alleged producer Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, Maurice Sadeq Girgis Abdel Shahid, a lawyer and a founder of the Washington-based National American Coptic Assembly, the assembly’s spokesperson Nabil Adib Bassada, physician Fekry Abdel Masih Zoqloma, religious program presenter Morcos Aziz Khalil, Phoebe Abdel Masih Paules Salib and Nader Farid Nicola.
Five of the defendants live in the United States, one in Australia and another in Canada.
Last week, the New York Times published an interview with Nakoula Basseley Nakoula in which he described his reasons for making the film.
The Associated Press reports: The man behind an anti-Muslim film that led to violence in many parts of the Middle East agreed to spend a year in federal prison for unrelated probation violations, but afterward issued a statement that appeared to reinforce his stern stance against Islam.
The man who calls himself Mark Bassely Youssef and has used numerous aliases speaks English but asked for an Arabic language interpreter on Wednesday, at a hearing that resulted in a plea bargain between his lawyers and federal prosecutors.
Youssef, an Egyptian-born Christian who is a U.S. citizen, sent his attorney out to the courthouse steps with a message for the media: “The one thing he wanted me to tell all of you is President Obama may have gotten Osama bin Laden, but he didn’t kill the ideology,” attorney Steven Seiden said.
Asked what that meant, Seiden said, “I didn’t ask him, and I don’t know.” [Continue reading...]
Elly Bulkin and Donna Nevel write: You don’t have to get more than a minute into Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West (2007) to begin to see how inextricably it ties Islamophobia to hardline Israeli policies. Despite its initial disclaimer, the film demonizes all Muslims, and through explicit statements and rapid-fire images, makes clear that there is a direct connection between Nazis and both Palestinians and Muslims.
Obsession played a brief but high-profile role during the 2008 presidential election campaign when the Clarion Fund distributed 28 million DVDs as a newspaper insert in swing states. A few years later, Clarion’s The Third Jihad: Radical Islam’s Vision for America (2008) — about an Islamic enemy that, purportedly, “the government is too afraid to name” — made its own headlines with reports that the New York City Police Department had showed the film to nearly 1,500 police officers. And in 2011, Clarion got still more attention when it issued its third big film, Iranium. The film pushes the Israeli and neoconservative narrative about Iran’s nuclear program and the need for military action against Iran, using a “clash of civilizations” framework that attributes “unavoidable” conflict to fundamental cultural differences between Islamic and Western civilizations.
Obsession and The Third Jihad ignited a firestorm of criticism from Muslim, civil rights and other groups. The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) condemned Obsession for spreading “scurrilous accusations against Islam and Muslims,” while the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) denounced The Third Jihad as “blatantly anti-Muslim”. Activists, researchers, and journalists have commented on Obsession’s mistranslations and The Third Jihad’s use of a “discredited conspiracy theory”. They have also noted the films’ countless distortions and manipulations: benign images of Muslims at prayer made sinister by “scary music” and “repeated images of an Islamic flag flying over the White House” — “cherry picking . . . inflammatory images and splicing them together to create fear”.
But others, particularly supporters of Israel’s right-wing policies, found these films’ virulently anti-Muslim message to their liking. All three films have been effectively mainstreamed in the Jewish community, with local showings sponsored by such groups as Hillel and the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, and the Dallas Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and B’nai B’rith chapters. Obsession has become a staple of David Horowitz’s “Islamo-Fascism Awareness” weeks on college campuses. Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire supporter of Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney — and a critic of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) from the right — has distributed copies of Obsession to young people on Birthright-sponsored tours to Israel, a project he funds. [Continue reading...]
The New York Times reports: Striking back against an anti-jihad advertisement in the subways widely perceived as anti-Muslim, two religious groups – one Jewish, one Christian – are taking out subway ads of their own to urge tolerance.
Rabbis for Human Rights – North America and the group Sojourners, led by the Christian author and social-justice advocate Jim Wallis, are unveiling their campaigns on Monday. Their ads will be placed near the anti-jihad ads in the same Manhattan subway stations, leaders of both groups said and transit officials confirmed. The groups said their campaigns were coincidental.
The ad by Rabbis for Human Rights turns the language of the earlier ad, placed by a pro-Israel group, on its head. The original ad says, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat jihad.” The ad by Rabbis for Human Rights says, “In the choice between love and hate, choose love. Help stop bigotry against our Muslim neighbors.”
“We wanted to make it clear that it is in response to the anti-Islam ad,” said Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of Rabbis for Human Rights, whose members include rabbis from all streams of Judaism.
The Sojourners ad simply says, “Love your Muslim neighbors.”
Another Christian group, United Methodist Women, an affiliate of the United Methodist Church, has placed similar ads in the same 10 Manhattan stations where the anti-jihad appears. The ads, which went up on Wednesday, say, “Hate speech is not civilized. Support peace in word and deed.”
Juan Cole writes: Comedian Bill Maher puts himself in the company of “9/11 liberals” who believe that Islam as a religion is different and decidedly worse than all other religions. He said Friday that “at least half of all Muslims believe it is all right to kill someone who insults the Prophet.” His bad faith is immediately apparent in the reference to 9/11, not the work of mainstream Muslims but of a political cult whose members often spent their time in strip clubs.
Now, it may be objected that Maher has made a career of attacking all religions, and promoting irreverence toward them. So Islam is just one more target for him. But that tack wouldn’t entirely be true. He explicitly singles Islam out as more, much more homocidal than the other religions. He is personally unpleasant to his Muslim guests, such as Keith Ellison. His reaction to the youth of the Arab Spring gathering to try to overthrow their American-backed dictators was “the Arabs are revolting.” Try substituting “Jews” to see how objectionable that is.
Maher ironically has de facto joined an Islamophobic network that is funded by the Mellon Scaife Foundation and other philanthropies tied to the American Enterprise Institute, etc. which is mainly made up of evangelical Christians, bigoted American Jews who would vote for the Likud Party if they could, and cynical Republican businessmen and politicians casting about for something with which to frighten working class Americans into voting for them. [Continue reading...]