In Chapel Hill, suspect’s rage went beyond a parking dispute

Following the February 10 murder of Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, her sister Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and Yusor’s husband, Deah Shaddy Barakat, the New York Times reports: A motive for the shooting may never be known. But interviews with more than a dozen of the victims’ friends and family members, lawyers, police officers and others make two central points: Before the shootings, the students took concerted steps to appease a menacing neighbor, and none were parked that day in a way that would have set off an incident involving their cars.

If those accounts do not prove what kind of malice was in Mr. Hicks’s heart, the details that emerge indicate that whatever happened almost certainly was not a simple dispute over parking. [Continue reading…]

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Norway’s Muslims form protective human ring around synagogue

Reuters reports: More than 1000 Muslims formed a human shield around Oslo’s synagogue on Saturday, offering symbolic protection for the city’s Jewish community and condemning an attack on a synagogue in neighboring Denmark last weekend.

Chanting “No to anti-Semitism, no to Islamophobia,” Norway’s Muslims formed what they called a ring of peace a week after Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein, a Danish-born son of Palestinian immigrants, killed two people at a synagogue and an event promoting free speech in Copenhagen last weekend.

“Humanity is one and we are here to demonstrate that,” Zeeshan Abdullah, one of the protest’s organizers told a crowd of Muslim immigrants and ethnic Norwegians who filled the small street around Oslo’s only functioning synagogue.

“There are many more peace mongers than warmongers,” Abdullah said as organizers and Jewish community leaders stood side by side. “There’s still hope for humanity, for peace and love, across religious differences and backgrounds.”

Norway’s Jewish community is one of Europe’s smallest, numbering around 1000, and the Muslim population, which has been growing steadily through immigration, is 150,000 to 200,000. Norway has a population of about 5.2 million. [Continue reading…]

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Hate in the aftermath of Chapel Hill murders

Imraan Siddiqi writes: In 2012, the American Muslim community experienced one of the biggest upticks of violence and harassment that the community has ever seen. Eleven years removed from 9/11, there was a seemingly unexplainable rash of attacks against mosques, including arson, vandalism and even shots being fired at different Islamic centers throughout the U.S. Much of this upswing in activity can be attributed to a continued flow of money and rhetoric into what’s termed “The Islamophobia Industry” – as outlined in Center For American Progress’ Fear, Inc., as well as CAIR’s 2013 report: Legislating Fear.

Fast forward to February 2015. The news of a horrific execution-style murder of three young students in Chapel Hill, NC hit the Muslim community like a punch in the chest. The deaths of dental-student Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu Salha and Razan Abu Salha saw three bright lights from our community have their lives cut short, in a crime that seemingly had a bias component to it. This came on the heals of the equally horrific murder of Mustafa Mattan, a well-respected Muslim community member who was shot dead while answering his door in Fort McMurray, Canada. But while the community grieved over these losses, an unprecedented string of hate crimes has swarmed not only Muslims, but other minorities who suffer from the epidemic of anti-Muslim sentiment. Here is a listing of confirmed anti-Muslim incidents that have taken place in recent days: [Continue reading…]

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The GOP’s Islamophobia problem

Peter Beinart writes: Did Craig Hicks murder Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha yesterday in Chapel Hill because they were Muslim? We don’t yet know for sure.

But we know this: In America today, the level of public anti-Muslim bigotry is shockingly high. Politicians and pundits, usually on the right, say things about Muslims that they would be immediately fired for saying about Christians or Jews. And they’ll keep doing so until prominent conservatives express the same outrage when Muslims are defamed that they summon when the victims are Christians or Jews. In the 1950s, National Review founder William F. Buckley ran anti-Semites out of the conservative movement. It’s time for his successors to do the same with Islamophobes.

In 2016, for the second straight presidential election, the Republican primary field will include at least one candidate with nakedly anti-Muslim views. I’m not talking about candidates who denounce “radical Islam.” I’m not talking about Newt Gingrich, who in 2011 absurdly claimed that “Sharia is a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States.” I’m not even talking about Bobby Jindal, who kept repeating the lie that Europe contains “no-go” zones where non-Muslims are not allowed, even after it was repudiated by Fox News. [Continue reading…]

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Sam Harris and the ‘New Atheists’ aren’t new — they aren’t even atheists

Last year, Reza Aslan, wrote: Not long ago, I gave an interview in which I said that my biggest problem with so-called New Atheists like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins is that they give atheism a bad name. Almost immediately, I was bombarded on social media by atheist fans of the two men who were incensed that I would pontificate about a community to which I did not belong.

That, in and of itself, wasn’t surprising. As a scholar of religions, I’m used to receiving comments like this from the communities I study. What surprised me is how many of these comments appeared to take for granted that in criticizing New Atheism I was criticizing atheism itself, as though the two are one and the same. That seems an increasingly common mistake these days, with the media and the bestseller lists dominated by New Atheist voices denouncing religion as “innately backward, obscurantist, irrational and dangerous,” and condemning those who disagree as “religious apologists.”

To be sure, there is plenty to criticize in any religion and no ideology – religious or otherwise – should be immune from criticism. But when Richard Dawkins describes religion as “one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus,” or when Sam Harris proudly declares, “If I could wave a magic wand and get rid of either rape or religion, I would not hesitate to get rid of religion,” it should be perfectly obvious to all that these men do not speak for the majority of atheists. On the contrary, polls show that only a small fraction of atheists in the U.S. share such extreme opposition to religious faith.

In fact, not only is the New Atheism not representative of atheism. It isn’t even mere atheism (and it certainly is not “new”). What Harris, Dawkins and their ilk are preaching is a polemic that has been around since the 18th century – one properly termed, anti-theism. [Continue reading…]

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Anti-terrorism summit reinforces ‘fear and hate’ towards Muslims, critics warn

The Guardian reports: As Barack Obama prepares to host a summit on preventing homegrown terrorism, he faces a backlash from those he says he wants to empower: American Muslim community leaders, who warn that the summit risks stigmatizing and even endangering them.

Hanging over the “countering violent extremism” (CVE) summit, to be held Tuesday through Thursday at the White House and State Department, is Wednesday’s brutal murder of three Muslim students in North Carolina.

In the wake of the killings, Muslim leaders, some of whom met with Obama recently, say that whatever the summit’s intentions, it will reinforce a message that American Muslims are to be hated and feared, a spark in what they consider to be a powder-keg of Islamophobia in the media and online.

The killing of Deah Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, “really underscores how dangerous it is for the US government, including the White House, to focus its countering violent extremism initiatives primarily on American Muslims”, said Farhana Khera, the executive director of civil rights law firm Muslim Advocates.

“We’ve long said to the administration, to those in government, that directing the bulk of CVE resources to US Muslims undermines the safety of all of us and endangers US Muslims, because it sends the message our community is to be viewed with fear, suspicion and even hate.” [Continue reading…]

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FBI opens inquiry into Chapel Hill shootings; Obama calls killings ‘brutal and outrageous’

In a conversation recorded by the storytelling project StoryCorps just last summer, Yusor Abu-Salha, a victim from the recent Chapel Hill shooting, described her experience of being an American.

The Washington Post reports: The FBI is opening an inquiry into the shootings of three young Muslims in Chapel Hill, N.C., a move that followed multiple calls this week for authorities to investigate the violence as a hate crime.

On Friday, President Obama issued a statement on “the brutal and outrageous murders,” saying that the FBI would look to see if federal laws were broken during the shooting.

“No one in the United States of America should ever be targeted because of who they are, what they look like, or how they worship,” Obama said.

Police are investigating the shootings of three people — newlyweds Deah Barakat, 23, and Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19 — on Tuesday afternoon at a housing complex near the University of North Carolina.

As the shooting has attracted global attention, Obama has been criticized for not speaking out about it sooner.

“If you stay silent when faced with an incident like this, and don’t make a statement, the world will stay silent towards you,” Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said during a visit to Mexico on Thursday, according to Reuters.

The Embassy of Jordan in Washington said Friday that Alia Bouran, the country’s ambassador to the United States, went to North Carolina on Friday. Jordan’s foreign ministry issued a statement a day earlier saying that the sisters killed in Chapel Hill also had Jordanian citizenship.

While in North Carolina, Bouran met with the families of the victims and expressed the sympathies of Jordanian King Abdullah II. The embassy said Friday that it was “closely following the ongoing investigation” in North Carolina.

The FBI probe announced on Thursday stops short of being a full investigation, as had been reported in multiple media outlets since the inquiry was announced. Rather, it is a review that could ultimately become an investigation down the line. It was opened by the FBI, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle district of North Carolina. [Continue reading…]

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America and Muslims — the exceptional and the ordinary

Friends and family of Deah Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammed Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Raza Abu-Salha, have eloquently described what exceptional individuals they were and how dearly they will be missed.

It is natural and appropriate that at such a time of tragic loss, those feeling the most grief want to honor the memory of three lives so senselessly cut short.

In their own ways, each of these young people was unique and irreplaceable.

But as Muslims, were they exceptional? Probably not.

We live in a world where blowhards, attention-seekers, and those obsessed with leaving their mark, too often take center stage. Ordinary virtue gains too little acclaim. Acts of kindness that hold societies together, may be so small and commonplace as to often go unnoticed.

People like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Bill Maher, who each appear to have their own need for notoriety and who have contributed significantly to the Islamophobic currents active in North America and Europe, might care to pose themselves this simple question:

Who are more numerous? Muslims like the three who were gunned down in Chapel Hill on Tuesday, or those who flock to join the ranks of ISIS?

There are 1.6 billion Muslims. For any non-Muslim with an ounce of common sense, the answer should be obvious, yet within the febrile imagination of every Islamophobe, every single Muslim is viewed with suspicion.

Over a decade after the 9/11 attacks, Harris, bemoaning the inefficiency of security screening in American airports, wrote:

We should profile Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim, and we should be honest about it…

Needless to say, a devout Muslim should be free to show up at the airport dressed like Osama bin Laden, and his wives should be free to wear burqas. But if their goal is simply to travel safely and efficiently, wouldn’t they, too, want a system that notices people like themselves?

Because I have family in the North of England, over the years I have passed through Manchester airport many times and have often amused myself by imagining how terrified Harris would be if he ever arrived there.

If through some act of lunacy, the airport authorities and airlines there decided to follow Harris’ recommendation, traffic would grind to a halt.

Manchester is every Islamophobe’s worst nightmare and yet has never distinguished itself as a hub of international terrorism.

Harris, with his polished demeanor of gravity, refers in all seriousness to people who look like jihadis, as though terrorists obligingly follow a particular dress-code and shaving style.

What he and anyone who truly values reason should understand is that anyone who practices the art of spotting Muslims, is much more likely to encounter the many Deah Barakats than a much rarer Jihadi John or an Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

As for the chances of having a neighbor like Craig Hicks? They’re far greater than the chances of a close encounter with the terrorists that animate the fears of too many Americans.

But then comes the question that appears in one form or another so often on Twitter — this time from Palwasha in Pakistan:

If terrorist just means, worthy of contempt, then sure, both are terrorists.

But even though the term terrorist gets tossed around too freely, I don’t think it has lost all meaning. As Padraig Reidy points out:

Terrorism, as carried out by groups across the world, religious, secular or somewhere in between, tends to come with a cause, a manifesto, a list of demands. Anders Breivik, with whom Hicks will be compared, may have acted alone, but he had a manifesto; he laid out his reasons for killing, and hoped that others would follow his example. There is no evidence thus far that the North Carolina killer was hoping to inspire others, or to issue edicts, or even claim legitimacy for his actions.

As much as can be gleaned from Hicks’ Facebook page, if he had a plan, it didn’t include murdering his neighbors. Having just become certified as an auto parts dealer, it appears he intended to return to a career he had pursued for over two decades. He also seems to have been thinking about vegetable gardening in recent days.

There are numerous accounts describing Hicks’ anger. He described himself a “gun-toting” atheist. The Associated Press reports:

A woman who lives near the scene of the shootings described Hicks as short-tempered. “Anytime that I saw him or saw interaction with him or friends or anyone in the parking lot or myself, he was angry,” Samantha Maness said of Hicks. “He was very angry, anytime I saw him.”

Hicks’ ex-wife, Cynthia Hurley, said that before they divorced about 17 years ago, his favorite movie was “Falling Down,” the 1993 Michael Douglas film about a divorced unemployed engineer who goes on a shooting rampage. “That always freaked me out,” Hurley said. “He watched it incessantly. He thought it was hilarious. He had no compassion at all,” she said.

Hicks’ militant atheism which he expressed obsessively through Facebook, seems like it may have been a channel for his own rage.

Did he choose his targets because of their specific religion, simply because they were visibly religious, or because of some irresistible logic within his own anger?

Whatever his reasons, there’s almost certainly another Hicks in every American city — some angry middle-aged white man whose rage only catches wide attention when he ends up articulating it through the barrel of a gun.

And much as Harris may object to being associated with Hicks, they don’t just share the same ideology; they also seem to have a liking for the exactly the same kind of gun.

In his argument in defense of gun-ownership, Harris features a photo of a Ruger LCR revolver. Likewise, Hicks, posted a photo of his own loaded Ruger LCRx revolver on Facebook less than a month ago.

As a cultural symbol, the gun represents for many Americans something about their core identity — it is cherished as a guardian of freedom.

Yet it also represents a fusion of fear and power, weakness and strength, as it emboldens cowards.

Without his revolver, Craig Hicks would most likely have never been more than an irritating neighbor — a man whose poisonous thoughts never turned deadly.

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Chapel Hill killings reverberate around the world

Slate: Deah Barakat, a 23-year-old student at the University of North Carolina’s School of Dentistry, dreamed of being part of a “unified and structured community” in the United States and having “a voice in our society.”

Barakat’s life was cut short on Tuesday after he, his wife Yusor Mohammed Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Raza Abu-Salha, 19, were shot in the head in a private condominium complex in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

While police have said that they believe the shooting was over a parking dispute with alleged shooter Craig Stephen Hicks, they are also investigating the possibility that the three were targeted for their Muslim faith. To some in the Muslim American community, this seems like a frighteningly likely scenario.

“I am constantly worried about my family who are thousands of miles away from me on the other end of the country. [I’ve] been having trouble focusing on work all day,” wrote Adam Akkad, a prominent activist in Muslim Twitter circles, on the “Radical Muslims” Facebook group. The group is a community of Muslims dedicated to discussions of intersectional feminism, LGBTQ issues, race, and other issues through the lens of Islamic philosophy and scripture, and talking with some of its members offers some insight into how the Muslim American community is viewing the attack.

The idea that the motive could have been a mere parking dispute when the father of two of the victims said that the alleged shooter had previously accosted one of his daughters over what she described as “what we are and how we look” struck Akkad as dubious to the point that it frustrated him.

“If one more person says ‘parking dispute’ I will snap,” he wrote.

Akkad is not alone. [Continue reading…]

The News & Observer reports: The news spread fast on social media, where many didn’t believe the killer’s motive could be explained by an argument about parking. Relatives were quick to call the slayings of three American Muslims a hate crime. “I mean, who would kill somebody over a parking spot?” said Abdel Kader Barakat, a cousin of Deah Barakat.

The women’s father, Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha, who has a psychiatry practice in Clayton, said regardless of what prompted the shooting Tuesday night, Hicks’ underlying animosity toward Barakat and Abu-Salha was based on their religion and culture.

“It was execution style, a bullet in every head,” Abu-Salha said. “This was not a dispute over a parking space; this was a hate crime. This man had picked on my daughter and her husband a couple of times before, and he talked with them with his gun in his belt. And they were uncomfortable with him, but they did not know he would go this far.”

Abu-Salha said his daughter, who lived next door to Hicks, wore a Muslim head scarf and told her family a week ago that she had “a hateful neighbor.”

“Honest to God, she said, ‘He hates us for what we are and how we look,’ ” he said.

Barakat’s family held a press conference in Raleigh on Wednesday, urging people to celebrate the memories of the students. They also said authorities should treat the deaths as a hate crime.

“It all goes back to justice,” said Deah’s father, Namee Barakat. “We need justice.” [Continue reading…]

In a video which Deah Barakat posted on YouTube last September, he made an appeal for support for “Project: Refugee Smiles”

Click here to find out more about how to support the project.

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The anti-Islamic far-right is spreading in Europe — and going mainstream

Kabir Chibber: In recent months, a street movement called Pegida — Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident — has emerged from nowhere in Germany, seeking to “protect Judeo-Christian culture” and halt to what it calls the spread of Islam. Though it denies being xenophobic or racist, its leader quit after being pictured dressed as Hitler. Pegida’s rallies have attracted tens of thousands of people in Germany.

And now the group is spreading abroad. Pegida held its first march in Vienna and is to hold its first British rally in the city of Newcastle on Feb. 28, with more planned in the UK. Britain already has anti-Islamic groups such as the English Defence League, a small but vocal force. Only this weekend, the EDL attracted as many as 1,000 people to a march against the building of a mosque.

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The rise and fall of PEGIDA: how the anti-Islam movement has changed German politics

Derek Scally writes: The grassroots Islam-critical movement appears to be imploding after a mass walkout of leading figures on Wednesday. But whether it goes under or not is far less interesting than the effect it has had on German politics.

In just three months it grew exponentially via Facebook, stripping away the politically-correct veneer of German public debate to reveal – and reactivate – the slumbering intolerance beneath.

For many it’s a worrying sign that populism is in, Islam is fair game and Germany’s race to the political bottom is on. A pertinent question posed by Pegida’s rise and possible fall is: who stands to benefit?

The nascent Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) in Saxony could offer a political home to the 25,000 people who marched through Dresden to express concern at the supposed “islamisation of the west”.

The AfD pulled in nearly 10 per cent at its first state election in Saxony last September by going beyond euro criticism to appeal to conservative voters’ worst instincts: warning of “criminal” foreigners and protesting against mosques. [Continue reading…]

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American Sniper illustrates the West’s morality blind spots

Gary Younge writes: Say what you like about the film American Sniper, and people have, you have to admire its clarity. It’s about killing. There is no moral arc; no anguish about whether the killing is necessary or whether those who are killed are guilty of anything. “I’m prepared to meet my maker and answer for every shot I took,” says Bradley Cooper, who plays the late Chris Kyle, a navy Seal who was reputedly the deadliest sniper in American history. There is certainly no discursive quandary about whether the Iraq war, in which the killing takes place, is either legal or justified. “I couldn’t give a flying fuck about the Iraqis,” wrote Kyle in his memoir, where he refers to the local people as “savages”.

The film celebrates a man who has a talent for shooting people dead when they are not looking and who, apparently, likes his job. “After the first kill, the others come easy,” writes Kyle. “I don’t have to psych myself up, or do anything special mentally. I look through the scope, get my target in the crosshairs, and kill my enemy before he kills one of my people.”

Americans are celebrating the film. It has been nominated for six Oscars and enjoyed the highest January debut ever. When Kyle kills his rival, a Syrian sniper named Mustafa, with a mile-long shot, audiences cheer. It has done particularly well with men and in southern and midwestern markets where the film industry does not expect to win big. And while its appeal is strong in the heartland it has travelled well too, providing career-best opening weekends for Clint Eastwood in the UK, Taiwan, New Zealand, Peru and Italy.

And so it is that within a few weeks of the developed world uniting to defend western culture and Enlightenment values, it produces a popular celluloid hero who is tasked not with satirising Islam, but killing Muslims. [Continue reading…]

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If EU opposes Islamophobia, it must accept Turkey as member, says Erdogan

Hurriyet Daily News: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said that the European Union “must admit Turkey” as a member if it opposes Islamophobia.

Erdoğan became the first Turkish President who visited Djibouti on Jan. 24, one day after he interrupted his Horn of Africa tour to attend King Abdullah’s funeral in Saudi Arabia. Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh welcomed his Turkish counterpart at the Djibouti City airport.

Turkish President, who had visited Ethiopia as the first stop of his tour, touched upon a number of foreign policy issues during his joint press conference with Guelleh, which was attended by the members of the large Turkish delegation that included cabinet members such as Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.

Stressing that the past decade saw the deaths of thousands of Muslims in the region, Erdoğan slammed the “coup-makers” in Egypt. “3,000 Muslims were killed in one day. It is unprecedented in recent history,” Erdoğan said, criticizing the Egyptian government for the crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood.

“We host 1,700,000 Syrians. We spent $5.5 billion so far,” Erdoğan continued, before stressing that the international community contributed with just $250 million. “The total number of Syrian refugees in Europe is 130,000″ he added. “The world watches [Syria] as a spectator. The dominant powers, the EU, they all just watch it. And whom they strike at? Muslims…”

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If France is to build a new identity, it must address its apartheid

Francis Ghiles writes: Some French intellectuals and leading figures in the media argue that terrorism is the inevitable and extreme expression of a “true” Islam which entails the denial of the other, the imposition of strict rules in the guise of sharia law and ultimately jihad. Olivier Roy, a lucid analyst of his country’s politics, says that Muslims in France today are viewed as having Qur’anic software hardwired in their sub-conscious, which renders them incapable of assimilation into French society. Their only salvation lies in repeating their allegiance to France’s Republican values, preferably when pushed to do so on a live television show.

It is little understood, however, that the Republic’s cherished values of secularism and freedom of speech historically have a darker side. The civil liberties now idealised emerged during a period of colonial rule. As the historian Arthur Asseraf reminds us, France’s iconic freedom of the press law, passed in 1881 and still enforced today, was designed in part to exclude France’s Muslim subjects. The law protected the rights of all French citizens, explicitly all those in Algeria and the colonies, but excluded the subjects who were the majority of the population. In colonial Algeria, “citizens” were all those who were not Muslims, and the terms musulman or indigène usually overlapped. Muslim was a racialised legal category stripped of any religious significance.

Maybe the banlieues of today could be best understood as the Algeria of the 19th century: the legacy of French apartheid must be borne in mind when considering the problems of minorities. In the starkest indictment ever of French society by a senior government official, Valls said on Wednesday that “a geographic, social, ethnic apartheid has developed in our country”. The furious reaction to his remark hardly augurs well for a reasoned debate. Yet, in the banlieues of Paris, more than 50% of young people, often Muslim, are unemployed. They are hitting the glass wall between them and the workplace; prisoners with a north African father outnumber prisoners with a French father by nine to one for the 18-29 age group, and six to one in the 20-39 age group. This points to a massive failure of French society to integrate minority groups. [Continue reading…]

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PEGIDA leader poses as Hitler in social media post

Channel 4 News reports: A photo posted by Pegida leader Lutz Bachmann posing as Adolf Hitler on his personal Facebook profile has gone viral after being posted online by the Dresden Morgenpost.
News

The German far-right anti-immigrant Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamification of the West) started to grow into prominence in October 2014 after staging weekly anti-Islam demonstrations drawing thousands to the east German city of Dresden.

Recent protests in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack have drawn crowds of over 25,000 people, sparking counter demonstrations across the country.

The photograph, which was taken before Pegida grew into prominence, shows Bachmann with slicked down hair and a Toothbrush moustache appeared above the caption “He’s back!”

Morgenpost also published screen grabs of racist posts by Bachmann’s on his Facebook profile from 2012 of a Ku Klux Klan member accompanied by the slogan: “Three Ks a day keeps the minorities away.”

41 year-old convited criminal Bachmann, who insists Pegida are “normal people” who seek tighter immigration controls and “protection of Judeo-Christian culture”, deleted his Facebook profile after being contacted by Morgenpost. [Continue reading…]

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Criticizing Islam without being Islamophobic

Rally in Lahore, Pakistan, protesting against Charlie Hebdo cartoonists.

Rally in Lahore, Pakistan, protesting against Charlie Hebdo cartoonists.

If the text on the banner above had been faked by someone using Photoshop, one might imagine that this was some kind of Islamophobic satire. But it is not. These are Muslims who unwittingly satirize themselves. Nothing that can be said about them is more damning than what they say themselves.

I am not a Muslim, nor a scholar of Islam and thus have no competence to engage in a critique of Islamic doctrine. So when I talk about criticizing Islam, I’m not implying that I think it is doctrinally defective.

Islam, in my view, is just like any other religion, in the sense that it is an amorphous, complex entity, expressed collectively through the lives of everyone who calls themselves a Muslim. Islam equals 1.8 billion Muslims, almost a quarter of the world’s population, including as much diversity as the non-Muslim world.

Arguments about “good” Muslims and “bad” Muslims, authentic Islam and distorted Islam, radical Islam and moderate Islam, generally involve questions about how Muslims want to represent themselves or how they are represented by others. Like all representations, these have the tendency of projecting uniformity by masking complexity.

In the polarized atmosphere following 9/11 and once again following the Charle Hebdo attacks, at one extreme are those who say that the attacks reveal the true nature of Islam and at the other those who say the attacks and attackers have nothing to do with Islam. Each camp sees the other as promoting a lie.

Among those in the West who see anti-Muslim rhetoric escalating to a dangerous degree, the standard response has been to attribute this to an underlying racism and Islamophobia — both of which are of course clearly in evidence in Europe and North America — but the problem in making this analysis is that it tends to gloss over some glaringly obvious and disturbing facts.

The French gunmen chose as their target, individuals whose only “crime” was that they had insulted the Prophet Muhammad, and having accomplished their goal, loudly declared “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad.” Even if they were alone in thinking this, it seems undeniable that in their own minds they believed that they were acting in defense of Islam.

But they were not alone. At a small demonstration in Peshawar, Pakistan, this week, protesters chanted “Long live Cherif Kouachi, long live Said Kouachi.” They branded the cartoonists, not the gunmen, as the terrorists. They marched behind a placard which said: “A strong message was needed and they [the Kouachis] delivered it. We salute the messengers. May they live long.”

Expressions of support for the attacks can be found in abundance online.

Today there are again protests across Pakistan against the cartoons in the latest issue of Charlie Hebdo.

But the Lebanese journalist, Nadim Koteich, points out bluntly what should be obvious to Muslims and non-Muslims alike:

Nothing insults Islam more than the Charlie Hebdo massacre.”

In a similar vein, Nervana Mahmoud laments: “We are more offended by cartoons than butcheries, crucifixion, slavery, flogging. That how twisted is our mindset!”

Meanwhile, Raif Badawi, a blogger in Saudi Arabia has received 50 lashes — the first installment in a sentence of 1,000 lashes — for “insulting Islam.”

Badawi’s “crime” is that he has expressed ideas like this: “States which are based on religion confine their people in the circle of faith and fear.”

While the Paris attacks were widely condemned in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi rulers have been criticized for not condemning the cartoons and so the Badawi case serves as a way they can boost their religious credibility.

“They’re under pressure inside to punish people like him, especially among Salafis. It is a question of the legitimacy of the state. You have to remember those people are very influential at a street level,” Mustafa Alani, an Iraqi security expert with close ties to the Saudi Interior Ministry, told Reuters.

In the West, the popular and visceral response to the Paris attacks was they represented a dire threat to free speech and thus free speech must be vigorously defended.

This then provoked a smaller but fairly vocal “yes, but…” reaction which focused on the need to oppose Islamophobia and to acknowledge that the cartoonists had been unnecessarily provocative.

One of the many problems with this backlash is that it prompts an eminently reasonable question: If now is not the time to be speaking in defense of free speech, when would such a need arise?

Slavoj Žižek refers to “the pathological fear of many Western liberal Leftists to be guilty of Islamophobia,” and I agree that such a fear exists.

Indeed, I would say that the only way a non-Muslim can genuinely show solidarity with Muslims right now is, paradoxically, by taking the risk of appearing Islamophobic.

Rather than treat Islam and Muslims like a delicate fruit which will bruise unless handled with the greatest care, it might actually be a sign of greater respect to assume that this religious tradition and its living representatives have enough resilience to withstand criticism from both the inside and the outside.

(And I’d apply the same argument to Jews and any other group that have a tendency of hiding behind their own sense of victimization.)

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The passionate intensity of terrorists who lack true conviction

Slavoj Žižek writes: Long ago Friedrich Nietzsche perceived how Western civilisation was moving in the direction of the Last Man, an apathetic creature with no great passion or commitment. Unable to dream, tired of life, he takes no risks, seeking only comfort and security, an expression of tolerance with one another: “A little poison now and then: that makes for pleasant dreams. And much poison at the end, for a pleasant death. They have their little pleasures for the day, and their little pleasures for the night, but they have a regard for health. ‘We have discovered happiness,’ – say the Last Men, and they blink.”

It effectively may appear that the split between the permissive First World and the fundamentalist reaction to it runs more and more along the lines of the opposition between leading a long satisfying life full of material and cultural wealth, and dedicating one’s life to some transcendent Cause. Is this antagonism not the one between what Nietzsche called “passive” and “active” nihilism? We in the West are the Nietzschean Last Men, immersed in stupid daily pleasures, while the Muslim radicals are ready to risk everything, engaged in the struggle up to their self-destruction. William Butler Yeats’ “Second Coming” seems perfectly to render our present predicament: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” This is an excellent description of the current split between anemic liberals and impassioned fundamentalists. “The best” are no longer able fully to engage, while “the worst” engage in racist, religious, sexist fanaticism.

However, do the terrorist fundamentalists really fit this description? What they obviously lack is a feature that is easy to discern in all authentic fundamentalists, from Tibetan Buddhists to the Amish in the US: the absence of resentment and envy, the deep indifference towards the non-believers’ way of life. If today’s so-called fundamentalists really believe they have found their way to Truth, why should they feel threatened by non-believers, why should they envy them? When a Buddhist encounters a Western hedonist, he hardly condemns. He just benevolently notes that the hedonist’s search for happiness is self-defeating. In contrast to true fundamentalists, the terrorist pseudo-fundamentalists are deeply bothered, intrigued, fascinated, by the sinful life of the non-believers. One can feel that, in fighting the sinful other, they are fighting their own temptation.

It is here that Yeats’ diagnosis falls short of the present predicament: the passionate intensity of the terrorists bears witness to a lack of true conviction. How fragile the belief of a Muslim must be if he feels threatened by a stupid caricature in a weekly satirical newspaper? [Continue reading…]

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PEGIDA marchers in Dresden defy Germany politicians

BBC News reports: Thousands of protesters have gathered in Dresden for an anti-Islamisation rally called in the wake of the Paris terror attacks.

It came despite calls from senior German politicians for marchers to stay at home.

Justice Minister Heiko Maas had appealed for people not to attend the Pegida organisation’s rally.

And Chancellor Angela Merkel has said she will attend a protest in Berlin by Muslim organisations on Tuesday.

Mr Maas was one of several leading politicians to urge the Pegida march organisers not to “misuse” the deadly attacks on Charlie Hebdo magazine and a Jewish supermarket.

However the rally went ahead despite the calls for it to be cancelled.

Der Spiegel reports on the origin of the the anti-Islam movement: The proprietors of the Zentralgasthof, a concert and variety show venue in the town of Weinböhla in the Elbe River valley near Dresden, know what people of the region like. “Folk hits,” are part of their program as is a Dresden-based cabaret artist known for his imitations of Erich Honecker, the former leader of communist East Germany.

On a Friday evening last November, the stage was turned over to Thilo Sarrazin, the bestselling anti-Muslim author. Outside the entrance, some 50, mostly young demonstrators were gathered. They called Sarrazin a “misanthrope and a blusterer”; one poster read: “Those who believe what Sarrazin says also believe the world is flat.” But inside, there were 10 times as many people, cheering the author on as an iconoclastic thinker who has the courage to say what everyone feels. The audience was full of office workers, small businessmen and tradespeople. Normal folks.

Also in the audience were Siegfried Däbritz and Thomas Tallacker. They had both read Sarrazin’s wildly popular book “Deutschland Schafft Sich Ab” — or “Germany Is Doing Away With Itself” — about the supposed dangers of immigration. But they were no longer satisfied with simply reading about the issues addressed in the book. Late last autumn, Däbritz, a security guard, and Tallacker, an interior designer, began marching at the front of regular demonstrations held by the still largely unknown group calling itself Pegida, an acronym for “Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West.”

The two men are among Pegida’s foremost organizers: With eight others, they form the anti-Islam movement’s core and they regularly meet to talk about the group’s agenda and prepare the weekly marches, held every Monday evening. They also maintain contact with other protest groups across the country. Shortly before Christmas, they registered Pegida as an association. [Continue reading…]

BBC News reported on last month’s record turnout PEGIDA rally in Dresden:

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