German police quash Breitbart story of mob setting fire to Dortmund church

AFP reports: German media and politicians have warned against an election-year spike in fake news after the rightwing website Breitbart claimed a mob chanting “Allahu Akbar” had set fire to a church in the city of Dortmund on New Year’s Eve.

After the report by the US site was widely shared on social media, the city’s police clarified that no “extraordinary or spectacular” incidents had marred the festivities.

The local newspaper, Ruhr Nachrichten, said elements of its online reporting on New Year’s Eve had been distorted by Breitbart to produce “fake news, hate and propaganda”.

The justice minister of Hesse state, Eva Kühne-Hörmann, said that “the danger is that these stories spread with incredible speed and take on lives of their own”.

The controversy highlights a deepening divide between backers of German chancellor Angela Merkel’s liberal stance toward refugees and a rightwing movement that opposes immigration, fears Islam and distrusts the government and media. [Continue reading…]

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How the USSR’s effort to destroy Islam created a generation of radicals

Amanda Erickson writes: In 1929, Soviet leader Mikhail Kalinin laid out his vision for Central Asia: “teaching the people of the Kirgiz Steppe, the small Uzbek cotton grower, and the Turkmenian gardener the ideals of the Leningrad worker.”

It was a tall order, especially when it came to religion. About 90 percent of the population there was Muslim, but atheism was the state religion of the USSR. So in the early 1920s, the Soviet government effectively banned Islam in Central Asia. Books written in Arabic were burned, and Muslims weren’t allowed to hold office. Koranic tribunals and schools were shuttered, and conducting Muslim rituals became almost impossible. In 1912, there were about 26,000 mosques in Central Asia. By 1941, there were just 1,000.

Rather than stamp out Islam, though, efforts to stifle Islam only radicalized believers. It’s a trend that’s played out again and again over the past century, and one that could have dire consequences in the war on terror. Today, Central Asian Muslims are radicalizing at alarming rates. Thousands have flocked to the Islamic State, and Turkish media reports suggest that the suspect who killed 39 people in an Istanbul nightclub last week was an ethnic Uighur from Kyrgyzstan. [Continue reading…]

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In year of anti-Muslim vitriol, brands promote inclusion

The New York Times reports: The gentle piano music starts as the doorbell chimes. A white-haired Christian pastor greets his friend, a Muslim imam, and the two converse and laugh over a cup of tea, wincing about their creaky knees as they prepare to part ways. Later, it spurs the same idea in each for a gift: kneepads sent via Amazon Prime. (It is a commercial, after all.)

The piano notes accelerate as the men open their deliveries with smiles, and then each uses the item to kneel in prayer: one at a church, the other at a mosque. The final chords fade.

The ad from Amazon and its message of interfaith harmony became a viral sensation this holiday season, at the end of a year in which talk involving Muslims became particularly ominous. Amazon — which aired the commercial in England, Germany and the United States — cast a practicing vicar and Muslim community leader in the lead roles and consulted with several religious organizations to ensure the ad was accurate and respectful.

“This type of a project is definitely a first for us,” said Rameez Abid, communications director for the social justice branch of the Islamic Circle of North America, one group Amazon worked with. “They were very aware that this was going to cause controversy and might get hate mail and things like that, but they said it’s something that they wanted to do because the message is important.”

 

A slew of major American brands — including Honey Maid, Microsoft, Chevrolet, YouTube and CoverGirl — prominently featured everyday Muslim men, women and children in their marketing last year. While such ads were apolitical in nature, focused on themes of community and acceptance, they were viewed as bold, even risky, in a year when there were campaign statements by Donald J. Trump about a Muslim registry and a ban on Muslim immigrants. [Continue reading…]

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Muslims in a Bible Belt town hold their breath

The Washington Post reports: It was here, in this midsize college town in the dead center of Tennessee, that a right-wing effort to ban Islamic law found one of its first sponsors. Here, too, a congressman co-sponsored a plan to “defund Muslim ‘refugees’ ” and local residents sued to block construction of the only mosque, a fight that ended at the Supreme Court.

The town’s Muslims carried on through all of that, raising their children, saying their prayers, teaching at college, filling people’s prescriptions and filling their tanks, contributing to the civic life in a city of 126,000. They felt the familiar grief and fear of reprisal last year when a Muslim man killed four Marines in Chattanooga, 90 minutes away.

Now Donald Trump — a man who has repeatedly cast doubt on the patriotism of Muslims — is the president-elect, and he has selected a national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who has called Islam a “cancer.” And a deep unease has again seeped into the daily life of many here in this Muslim community of about 1,500.

There has been a smattering of post-election harassment and insults — at schools, in parking lots, on the road — but nothing to take to the police or put Murfreesboro back in the national headlines.

“Right now, we’re hoping that it’s going to be calm,” said Saleh Sbenaty, an engineering professor at Middle Tennessee State University and one of the founders of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. “But we don’t know if it’s the calm before the storm or the calm after the storm.” [Continue reading…]

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Aung San Suu Kyi fails to calm Myanmar’s ethnic violence

The Economist reports: Syed, a 33-year-old Muslim religious teacher, feared the worst. On October 9th Rohingya militants attacked border posts near Maungdaw, a township in the north of Rakhine state in western Myanmar, killing nine Burmese border guards. Syed, himself a Rohingya from Rakhine, was sure that a vicious crackdown by Myanmar’s army would follow. So he put on non-religious clothes and shaved his beard. Along with 16 others he left his home village. For days the group hid in a forest. Eventually they crossed the Naf River, which separates Myanmar from Bangladesh, and found their way to the sprawling, ramshackle Kutupalong camp near the coastal town of Cox’s Bazar.

Syed’s fears were justified. Myanmar’s army has blocked access to much of Maungdaw, keeping away journalists, aid workers and international monitors (troops claim to be searching for stolen guns and ammunition). But reports have emerged of mass arrests, torture, the burning of villages, killings of civilians and the systematic rape of Rohingya women by Burmese soldiers. At least 86 people have been killed. Satellite imagery analysed by Human Rights Watch suggests that soldiers have burned at least 1,500 buildings — including homes, food shops, markets and mosques (one devastated area is pictured). The organisation says this could be a conservative estimate; it includes only buildings not obscured by trees. Amnesty International says the army’s “callous and systematic campaign of violence” may be a crime against humanity. Myanmar’s government denies all such allegations, dismissing many of them as fabrications.

Around 27,000 Rohingyas — members of a Muslim ethnic group native to Rakhine — have recently, like Syed, fled to Bangladesh. But about 1m of them remain. Before the recent turmoil, tens of thousands of Rohingyas in northern Rakhine relied on aid for food, water and health care. The blockade has severed that lifeline.

Such brutality does not reflect well on Aung San Suu Kyi, a winner of the Nobel peace prize who has led Myanmar since her party’s resounding electoral victory in 2015. Neither does ethnic conflict, which has been intensifying on the other side of the country, speak well of her skills as a peacemaker. She entered office saying her priority was to resolve Myanmar’s decades-long civil wars. [Continue reading…]

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Prince Charles: Rising intolerance risks repeat of horrors of past

The Guardian reports: The Prince of Wales has warned that the rise of populist extremism and intolerance towards other faiths risks repeating the “horrors” of the Holocaust.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s religious Thought for the Day slot, the prince delivered an outspoken attack against religious hatred and pleaded for a welcoming attitude to those fleeing persecution.

He said: “We are now seeing the rise of many populist groups across the world that are increasingly aggressive to those who adhere to a minority faith. All of this has deeply disturbing echoes of the dark days of the 1930s.

“My parents’ generation fought and died in a battle against intolerance, monstrous extremism and inhuman attempts to exterminate the Jewish population of Europe.”

The prince did not mention any politicians by name, but his address will be seen by some as a veiled reference to the election of Donald Trump in the US, the rise of the far right in Europe, and increasingly hostile attitudes to refugees in the UK.

“That nearly 70 years later we should still be seeing such evil persecution is to me beyond all belief,” he said. “We owe it to those who suffered and died so horribly not to repeat the horrors of the past.” [Continue reading…]

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Trump on the future of proposed Muslim ban, registry: ‘You know my plans’

The Washington Post reports: President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday appeared to stand by his plans to establish a registry for Muslims and temporarily ban Muslim immigrants from the United States.

Speaking outside his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, Trump did not walk back the proposals after he was asked by a reporter whether he was rethinking or reevaluating them in the wake of a fresh terrorist attack in Berlin.

“You know my plans,” Trump said.

He went on to add that the attack on a Berlin Christmas market, which was claimed by the Islamic State, had vindicated him. German authorities are seeking a 24-year-old Tunisian migrant, who they say has ties to Islamist extremists, in connection with the attack, which killed 12 people and injured dozens.

“All along, I’ve been proven to be right. One-hundred-percent correct,” Trump said. “What’s happening is disgraceful.” [Continue reading…]

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Americans believe there are 54 million Muslims in America. In fact, there are only 3 million

Huffington Post reports: Americans and Europeans drastically overestimate their Muslim populations, a new international survey shows, a misperception many say is driven by Islamophobia and growing anti-Muslim sentiment.

Americans think 17 out of every 100 people in the U.S. are Muslim, according to the survey from Ipsos Mori, a U.K. research company. But, according to the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, Muslims account for only 1 out of every 100 people in the U.S.

That works out to Americans thinking there are about 54 million Muslims in the U.S., when in fact the Muslim population is about 3 million.

This wide disparity between public perception and reality is even more pronounced in Europe. The French, for example, think Muslims make up 31 percent of the French population, when only 7.5 percent of that country is Muslim. [Continue reading…]

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Anti-Muslim hate group brags about influence in Trump’s White House

Huffington Post reports: An anti-Muslim hate group boasted Tuesday that it has a “direct line” to Donald Trump and “has played a fundamental role” in shaping the president-elect’s “views and suggested policies with respect to radical Islam.”

In a fundraising email, ACT for America founder Brigitte Gabriel said her organization is “immeasurably optimistic about the future” of a Trump presidency, and crowed about the ACT for America supporters and advisers getting top positions in Trump’s White House.

“Two of our board of advisors Dr. Walid Phares and General Michael Flynn were, and will continue to be President-elect Donald Trump’s National Security Advisors,” Gabriel wrote in the email, a copy of which was provided to The Huffington Post by Right Wing Watch’s Miranda Blue.

Trump last month named Flynn ― who has likened Islam to a “cancer,” once tweeted that “fear of Muslims is RATIONAL,” and holds the unsubstantiated belief that Shariah law is taking over the country ― as national security adviser, one of the most powerful positions in the White House.

Phares, who in the 1980s had ties to a largely Christian Lebanese militia group implicated in the massacre of Muslims, has said “jihadists within the West pose as civil rights advocates” and will recruit until “almost all mosques, educational centers, and socioeconomic institutions fall into their hands.” He has worked as the Trump campaign’s adviser on the Middle East, and is expected to land a foreign policy or national security post in the incoming administration.

“In addition to this, the next [Central Intelligence Agency] Director Rep. Mike Pompeo has been a steadfast ally of ours since the day he was elected to Congress,” Gabriel’s email said Tuesday. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s ideological affinity with Putin

Peter Beinart writes: Through his public statements and presidential appointments, Donald Trump is remaking Republican foreign policy in two fundamental ways. The first concerns Russia. Previous GOP leaders like Mitt Romney and John McCain described Moscow as an adversary. Trump describes it as a partner. The second concerns Islam. Previous GOP leaders — most notably George W. Bush — insisted that the U.S. had no beef with Islam, or with the vast majority of Muslims worldwide. Trump and his top advisors disagree. They often describe Islam itself as a hostile force, and view ordinary Muslims as guilty of jihadist sympathies until proven innocent.

On the surface, these two shifts seem unrelated. But they’re deeply intertwined. Before Trump, Republican leaders generally described the United States as fighting an ideological struggle against the enemies of freedom. Now, Trump and his advisors describe America as fighting a civilizational struggle against the enemies of the West. Seen through that very different lens, Muslims look more nefarious and Vladimir Putin looks more benign. [Continue reading…]

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Anti-Islam Dutch politician Geert Wilders found guilty of discrimination

The Washington Post reports: A Dutch court found anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders guilty Friday of insulting an ethnic group and inciting discrimination after he led chants against Moroccans, a conviction he promptly denounced as “madness.”

Wilders, the controversial leader of the Netherlands’ far-right Freedom Party (PVV), said he plans to appeal the verdict delivered by a panel of three “hating” judges. His party is leading in polls ahead of the country’s upcoming general election in March.

“Three PVV hating judges declare that Moroccans are a race and convict me and half of the Netherlands. Madness,” he wrote in a Twitter message after the verdict.

In March 2014, Wilders sparked outrage at a rally in The Hague after asking supporters whether they wanted more or fewer Moroccan immigrants in the Netherlands.

After the crowd chanted, “Fewer! Fewer!” Wilders responded: “We’re going to organize that.” More than 6,400 people filed official complaints to the police, a sampling of which were read out in court.

The court imposed no punishment on Wilders, saying the conviction was punishment enough. The prosecution wanted to impose a fine of 5,000 euros ($5,288). [Continue reading…]

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What it was like as a Muslim to cover the election

Asma Khalid writes: Sometime in early 2016 between a Trump rally in New Hampshire, where a burly man shouted something at me about being Muslim, and a series of particularly vitriolic tweets that included some combination of “raghead,” “terrorist,” “bitch” and “jihadi,” I went into my editor’s office and wept.

I cried for the first (but not the last) time this campaign season.

Through tears, I told her that if I had known my sheer existence — just the idea of being Muslim — would be a debatable issue in the 2016 election, I would never have signed up to do this job.

To friends and family, I looked like a masochist. But I was too invested to quit.

I was hired by NPR to cover the intersection of demographics and politics. My job required crisscrossing the country to talk to all kinds of voters. I attended rallies and town halls for nearly every candidate on both sides of the aisle, and I met people in their homes, churches and diners.

I am also visibly, identifiably Muslim. I wear a headscarf. So I stand out. And during this campaign, that Muslim identity became the first (and sometimes only) thing people saw, for good or for bad.

Sometimes I met voters who questioned the 3-D nature of my life, people who viscerally hated the idea of me.

One night an old journalist friend called me and said, “Look, don’t be a martyr.”

It was a strange comment to me, since the harassment seemed more like a nuisance than a legitimate threat. And I knew if I was ever legitimately concerned, I had two options: I could ask for a producer to travel with me, or I wouldn’t wear a headscarf. (And a couple of times I didn’t.) Without a hijab, I’m incognito, light-skinned enough that I can pass as some sort of generic ethnic curiosity.

For many journalists, the 2016 campaign was the story of a lifetime. And it was indeed the story of a lifetime for me, too, but a story with real-life repercussions.

And I hung on, because the story of Donald Trump’s America is not some foreign story of a faraway place; it’s my homeland.

I’m from Indiana. We grew up in a mostly Democratic county. But my town was predominantly white and fairly conservative, a place where the Ten Commandments are engraved in marble outside the old County Courthouse.

I loved our childhood — summers playing basketball, winters sledding. We weren’t outsiders — I sold Girl Scout cookies, was captain of the tennis team.

We were part of the club — or so we thought. [Continue reading…]

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