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Austrian Muslims condemn school hijab ban proposal

Chancellor of Austria Sebastian Kurz has announced legal preparations was underway to ban the hijab in primary schools (Photo: Creative Commons)

Nadine Osman

Austria’s Muslim communities and civil right groups have slammed a proposal to impose a hijab ban after it was announced by the Austrian Chancellor. Sebastian Kurz announced legal preparations were underway to ban the hijab in primary schools on April 4.

He said the proposal was called “the child protection law”. Kurz of the centre-right People’s Party said to broadcaster ORF Radio: “Our goal is to confront any development of parallel societies in Austria.”

His Conservative Party won last year’s election by taking a hard line on immigration, a hot topic after Austria took in the equivalent of almost 2 percent of its 8.7 million population in asylum seekers during Europe’s migrant crisis. The Islamic Religious Authority of Austria (IGGO) described the proposal as “unacceptable”. It branded the proposed ban as merely aimed at creating an agenda in which children would be used as political tools and the headscarf would be portrayed as an Islamic political symbol.

Head of IGGO, Ibrahim Olgun, said, “If politics is not done through the kippah of Jews or Christian crosses, no politics can be done over the headscarf.” He also said the proposal was a violation of human rights, stressing that it was in contradiction with the parental freedom to decide on how to discipline one’s children. “We strongly condemn this announcement.” Dr Farid Hafez, a political scientist, said such problematic announcements originated from “an authoritarian mindset on the part of the state”.

The Initiative for Discrimination-Free Education said the hijab was not a hindrance to integration in education.

Stressing that the ban contradicted the constitution as well as the second article of the European Convention on Human Rights, which declares that states should act in accordance with their citizens’ views of the world and their religious beliefs.

Secretary-General of the Vienna Islamic Federation, Harun Erciyas, argued most children did not wear the hijab to school, and that the proposal served as an agenda to impose a wider national ban.“Banning in the name of equality and freedom is not acceptable,” he added.

In Austria, where Islam has been one of the officially recognised religions since 1912, there is a population of over 600,000 Muslims, corresponding to seven percent of the population, according to figures obtained from the Vienna Islamic Federation.

NYPD settles lawsuit following illegal surveillance on Muslims

Nadine Osman

The New York Police Department (NYPD) has agreed never to conduct faith-based surveillance and to initiate new training materials as part of a deal to settle claims it illegally spied on Muslim New Yorkers for years.

The surveillance program launched after the September 11, 2001 attacks never produced a terrorism lead as it spied on at least 20 mosques, 14 restaurants, 11 retail shops, two schools and two Muslim student associations in New Jersey

The settlement announced on April 5 by the city and the Muslim community also calls for the city to pay $75,000 in damages and nearly $1 million in legal fees. It also ensures surveillance in New Jersey will follow rules defined in another landmark civil rights case.

Farhana Khera, Executive Director of Muslim Advocates, a legal advocacy and educational organisation, said, “Today’s settlement sends a message to all law enforcement: Simply being Muslim is not a basis for surveillance.”

US Army reservist and the lead plaintiff in the 2012 lawsuit, Farhaj Hassan, said, “We won this case, make no mistake about it. But as a member of the armed forces, I believe the United States won as well. No one likes to take on the cops. Cops are good” he said.

“But in this case, when cops were acting bad, it had to be done.”

The lawsuit came following an Associated Press exposé that revealed how the NYPD infiltrated Muslim student groups and put informants in mosques as part of a broad effort to prevent terrorist attacks. In New Jersey, the department collected intelligence on ordinary people at mosques, restaurants and schools starting in 2002.

The deal came after a Philadelphia appeals court in 2015 likened the surveillance program to when Japanese Americans were interned during World War II and discrimination before the racial unrest in the 1950s and 1960s forced to change.

Baher Azmy, Legal Director of the Centre for Constitutional Rights, said the settlement sends an important message at a time when the Trump administration’s ‘Muslim ban’ will come before the US Supreme Court and “full-throated racism and xenophobia is part of White House personnel and policy.”

“We hope that the decision sends a strong signal that profiling of the sort that consumes this White House is unconstitutional and there are communities who will mobilize and exert their growing power to challenge those activities and prevail,” Azmy said.

It bans the police department from conducting surveillance without suspicion on the basis of religion or ethnicity and calls for the Muslim litigants to provide input into a new policy guide to control the police department’s Intelligence Bureau. It also requires NYPD counter-terrorism probes in New Jersey to follow the Handschu Guidelines, which resulted from a 1971 lawsuit by the Black Panther Party alleging police engaged in widespread surveillance of legitimate political activity.
It also requires the city to pay $47,500 to businesses and mosques harmed by surveillance and $25,000 to individual plaintiffs in $5,000 increments. The city also will pay $950,000 in legal fees for plaintiffs.

“This settlement demonstrates a continued commitment by the NYPD to safeguard individual constitutional rights while keeping New York the safest city in America,” said Zachary Carter, the city’s top lawyer.

Hijab ban ‘naked racism dressed up as liberalism,’ teachers’ conference warns

Hamed Chapman

Britain’s biggest teaching union has accused the head of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman, of Islamophobia and going beyond her remit over remarks she made about young girls wearing a hijab in the classroom.

The Chief Inspector of schools has called for a campaign of ‘muscle liberalism’ when actively taking sides to support the controversially banning of Muslim girls from wearing the hijab at a predominantly Muslim state school in east London.

But at its Annual Conference this month, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) unanimously passed a motion condemning Spielman and warned that efforts to bar girls from wearing the hijab at primary schools were “naked racism dressed up as liberalism.”

Pete Smith, a delegate from Swindon, accused Ofsted of aiding a hostile climate for Muslims, calling its policy on hijabs as racism “dressed up as liberalism”.

“Let’s tell Ofsted, let’s tell the DfE [Department for Education], that we are not prepared to stand up for their racism. We will face them down, we will push that racism back by any means necessary,” he told the conference.

Mehreen Begg, a teacher from Croydon, also described Spielman’s position as “unwarranted and draconian” in supporting a hijab ban and claiming its wearing could be “interpreted as sexualisation” of girls as young as four.

“It is wholly inappropriate for Ofsted inspectors to question primary-age Muslim girls on their choice of dress. This is an act of intimidation by a powerful adult on a young child and has no place in our education system.”

Speaking after the motion was passed, Kevin Courtney, General Secretary of the NUT section of the National Education Union (NEU), said schools play an “important role in educating individuals to challenge prejudice and contribute to a future of greater social justice. They are at the forefront of leading by example in the promotion of respect, acceptance, equality and inclusion.”

The Chief Inspector’s comments “could undermine the role of schools as places where students feel welcome and safe in their identity. They could also lead to further marginalisation of, and increased physical and verbal attacks on, Muslim women and girls,” he warned.

“We do not believe the statements made by HMCI are evidence-based. There is no evidence to suggest that this particular item of clothing has an impact on a child’s learning or attainment.”

Discussions about dress code or school uniform should be conducted in a way which “promotes inclusion for individual children and counters stereotypes about gender, faith and culture.”

The NEU section President, Kiri Tunks, also said they were sending “a really important message to the Muslim community that we will stand with you against these attacks.”

A spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain said it welcomed the motion that showed Ofsted seemed to “becoming increasingly isolated in its ‘muscular liberalism’ approach to imposing clothing restrictions for young Muslim girls.”

Sir Mo films ‘racial harassment’ by police at Munich airport

Elham Asaad Buaras

Four-time Olympic gold medallist Sir Mo Farah has claimed he was racially harassed by a security guard at Munich Airport on March 6.

Britain’s most decorated track star recorded his exchange with an airport official on an Instagram video in which he described his treatment as “pure harassment”.

The clip was streamed live on Farah’s Instagram account with the caption: “Sad to see racial harassment in this day and age. 2018…!!! #airport #germany”

The 47-second clip shows Farah being led away by the arm by a security official. Farah informs the guard that he is being filmed live but he replies “I don’t care”.

Farah was passing through the German airport as he returned to his training camp in Ethiopia.

The clip begins with Farah describing an unpleasant experience as he passed through security.

Farah says, “You won’t believe what has just happened” and that he complained to the manager to no avail. He adds: “The guys were touching me up like crazy. Pure harassment. Pure, pure harassment.”

A security guard then escorts him away in the direction of the departure gates.

Farah, who won the London Big Half on two days before, was passing through Germany en route to his training camp in Ethiopia when the incident happened.

The guard grabs Farah by his right arm and pushes him in the direction of the departure gates.

Farah says: “You don’t need to push me, I’ll go to the gates. You can’t touch me. Stop pushing me” to which the official replies: “I can touch you. Go to the gate, go to the gate.”

As he turns Farah around with a firm hand on his right arm, the athlete says: “leave me alone” and “you’re on Instagram live.” The guard replies “I don’t care” before walking away.

Farah ends the clip by saying: “The way I was getting treated was ridiculous. You see all that guys? Unbelievable.”

Farah’s social media followers left supportive comments, one wrote: “Sorry Mo. No one deserves that experience! You personally handled that so well. This is one more reason why you’re a role model to so many.”

Another said: “I love the way you handled it like a true champion.”

Some replies questioned whether the incident was a case of “racial harassment.”

One user wrote: “I see harassment Mo, but I don’t see any racial element”. But other users contested that: “Comments here are rather sad. Black people constantly told ‘I didn’t see any racism’. It exists folk (even if you’ve not witnessed). Sad but true. Mo isn’t the kind of chap to fabricate or imagine.”

Another added: “He explained the racial incident happened before he started recording hence why he started recording.”

A spokesperson for Farah said: “Mo felt that the incident was racially motivated and that he was unfairly treated by the airport security staff.”

A Federal Police spokesman said: “The officer was properly carrying out his duty. I cannot see any indication of racial harassment by the Federal Police officer at all.”

Adding: “Security checks at Munich Airport are carried out by a private security company on behalf of the State of Bavaria. It seemed that Sir Mo Farah did not agree with this passenger security check performed on him and blamed this check a racist measure. Obviously, he went very upset.”

“Sir Mo Farah got more and more upset. He continued arguing and blaming security staff and the Federal Police Officer being racists. At that point Sir Mo Farah started filming the security check area [which] is not allowed. The officer asked him to stop immediately recording.”

This is not the first time Farah has been the victim of alleged racism. At Christmas, he was attacked by racist trolls online after he posted a message of Christmas goodwill for his followers on Instagram.

In September 2016, it was claimed Farah’s wife Tina launched a tirade at an airline worker.

Tania said that Farah was humiliated after the flight attendant singled him out and forced him to go to the back of the queue because she didn’t recognise he had a business class ticket.

“This woman basically humiliated him until people came forward and said: ‘That’s Mo Farah, the Olympic champion’. She was mortified afterwards, but had basically yelled at him like he was a piece of s*** to get back into line,” explained Tania.

Adding, “He was the only black person [in the queue] and hadn’t done anything to warrant it. I just knew she had a problem with him.”

Leicester man convicted of attempted murder of Muslim mother-of-nine

Nadine Osman

A 21-year-old man from Leicester, who laughed while ploughing his Volkswagen into a Muslim woman and a 12-year-old girl, has been convicted of attempted murder.

Zaynab Hussein, 47, was left with life-changing injuries in the attack in Leicester on September 20, 2017. The mother-of-nine, who is of Somali descent, remains confined to a bed having spent almost three months in hospital.

Paul Moore was found guilty at Nottingham Crown Court on March 2. Moore was also convicted of the attempted grievous bodily harm of a 12-year-old Somali girl, for trying to drive into her minutes after the first attack.

Moore, who has previous convictions and was on bail for a charge of causing grievous bodily harm when he was arrested for the attack. In the hours leading up to the attack Moore had been drinking heavily with friends.

Hussein was returning home after dropping off her two youngest children at school when she was knocked down. She was thrown by the force of the impact into the wall of a house in the Beaumont Leys area of Leicester.

In two witness statements provided from her hospital bed, she said she could feel blood on her forehead and had lost sensation in her limbs, believing them to be broken.

She tried to reach her mobile phone to call family and was crying for help. Two drivers stopped to ask if she needed help but then drove on.

Hussein was left with a fractured pelvis, spine and multiple other injuries including severe breaks to her limbs.

Two young men who had been in the car told police that Moore, who is unemployed, had told them he wanted to run someone over. After he first hit Hussein, sending her flying, the pair jumped out of the still-moving car.

Moore performed a U-turn to return to the scene. He drove past Hussein and seeing her on the ground, he turned the car around, mounted the pavement and drove over her with all four wheels.

He then drove off again and spotted a 12-year-old Somali girl, identified by him as a Muslim because of her headscarf, walking to school with her cousin. Moore drove at her, apparently mounting the pavement again, but this time he clipped her side, sending her bag flying. The girl was unharmed but shaken.

Moore had told his half-brother he was “proud of himself”, and he was “doing the country a favour” after the attacks.

Hussein remains in pain and is still receiving medical treatment for her injuries – including more surgery.

In a statement released after the verdict was announced, the victim’s husband Barre Dualesaid Moore had launched an attack on Britain.

He said: “Paul Moore said he attacked for Britain and that he was proud of it. He was actually attacking Britain, he was attacking a British woman, a British wife, a productive British worker and charity volunteer. He wasn’t attacking terrorists, he was joining their ranks by doing what they do and attacking an innocent woman. I hope that he thinks long and hard about his actions and is able to understand the error of his ways.”

He added: “Our family has been heartbroken by the attack, whatever sentence Paul Moore receives will be less than the life sentence that my wife will have to live with.”

Azhar Qayum of Muslim Engagement and Development , a campaign organisation, said women were particularly vulnerable to attacks, alongside elderly men, because they tended to be more visible.

“What’s happened to Mrs Hussen is very serious – but it is not an isolated case, there has been a long line of very serious crimes like this. We have had the Islamophobic murder of Mohammed Saleem in Birmingham, we have the Islamophobic murder of Mushin Ahmed in Rotherham, an 81-year-old grandfather. And we have had the attack last year on worshippers at Finsbury Park. Although this is very serious, this level of seriousness is not isolated,” said Qayum.

Almost 1500 anti-Muslim incidents reported in Germany and Spain

Elham Asaad Buaras

There were 950 attacks reported on Muslims and mosques in Germany in 2017, according to new Government figures.

The incidents included the vandalising of mosques, online abuse and physical attacks on Muslim women wearing the hijab.

While in Spain 546 anti-Muslim incidents were recorded last year, including against women and children and several mosques, according to a civil society group.

Muslim leaders in Germany have argued the Government figures likely do not accurately reflect the real number of attacks on Muslims in Germany.

Aiman A Mazyek, Chair of the Central Council of Muslims said, “There is a big blind spot because the authorities police and prosecutors are not yet sensitised, and therefore many cases do not appear in the statistics.”

He also cited a “psychological barrier” that prevents victims from reporting cases of abuse, saying: “I’ve noticed a strong sense of insecurity among Muslims. Many try not to stand out in the streets or in public life…This trend has become considerably worse in recent years.”

Details of the incidents in Spain were documented in the report released on March 2 by the Citizens’ Platform Against Islamophobia (PCI).

According to ‘Islamophobia in Spain 2017’, a rising trend of prejudice against Islam was noted among various political views in Spain. Street, media and internet campaigns by far-right groups.

Out of the 546 anti-Muslim incidents, 386 were media and internet-based while 48 percent comprised verbal attacks against Islam and Muslims.

Twenty-one percent of the incidents were against women, 8 percent targeted men, 4 percent were directed against children and 7 percent targeted mosques. There were also attacks against Muslim communities’ businesses and associations.

Of all the anti-Muslim incidents documented by PCI in 2017, 51 percent occurred in the north-eastern Catalonia region, followed by Andalusia with 22 percent and Valencia with 20 percent.


Mosque attacks continue in Netherlands

Islamic Center Drachten was set alight on February 11 (Photo: Facebook)

Nadine Osman

A mosque in northern Drachten town, Netherlands, has come under an arson attack on February 11, according to the manager of Islamic Center Drachten Foundation.

The mosque, used mostly by Moroccan-origin worshippers, is operated by the foundation.
The foundation manager Khalid Bennaceur said: “Community members who came to pray in the morning said they smelled turpentine inside the mosque. Later, when we came for noon prayer, we realised that there were burn marks on the wall and windows had been broken at the back side of the mosque.”

The attack took place at around 4 am local time. He added that a person was seen breaking the back window of the mosque and running away after the fire. Police have begun an investigation into the incident, he added.

The attack is the second of its kind in just one week. A mosque in the Dutch port city of The Hague was vandalized on February 2. A Turkish flag was crossed with red paint with slogans against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and “Islam out” also written on it was placed on Ahi Evran Mosque.

In January, the far-right ‘Rechts in Verzet’ movement hanged anti-Islam banners and a headless model in front of the Emir Sultan Mosque in Amsterdam. The banners hanged outside the mosque read: “Islam must be stopped. We do not want a mosque tied to [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan in northern Amsterdam.”

In September 2017 an under-construction mosque in the south-eastern Netherlands was targeted by the same far-right group.

The group hanged anti-Islam banners at the roof of Tevhid mosque in Venlo city. The group, draped banners reading “Stay away. The Netherlands belongs to us. We don’t want mosque and Muslims in our neighbourhood” both in Turkish and Dutch. They also shared the photos of banners on social media and claimed they “occupied” the mosque.

Insurers accused of charging more to motorists called Mohammed

Elham Asaad Buaras

Some of the UK’s largest car insurers have denied accusations motorists named Mohammed are being charged almost £1,000 more.

According to an investigation by The Sun, Admiral demonstrated some of “the most shocking example” of insurance quote discrimination.

When investigators used John Smith seeking insurance for a 2007 Ford Focus in Leicester the quote was £1,333, when the identical details were submitted using the name Mohammed Ali, the quote rose by a whopping £919 to £2,252.

One victim of the scandal Mohammed Butt raged: “It’s racism, pure and simple. They cannot say Mohammeds are worse drivers than Johns.”

Equalities advocate Shazia Awan-Scully tweeted about her own investigation. “My husband @roger_scully and I searched for car insurance on @MoneySupermkt – got quotes from £252.68. Re-did search with identical information – but changed Roger’s name to ‘Mohammed Abdul’. Price leapt to £410.70. This is the reality of discrimination for Muslims in the #UK”.

Admiral is accused of being the biggest offenders regularly charging customers more for having an Asian/Muslim name. The Sun received 60 quotes using GoCompare and others comparison sites showing results directly from insurers.

According to The Sun, “Admiral and its sister companies Diamond, Bell and Elephant always quoted more if the driver was called Mohammed. The difference was often hundreds of pounds. The story was similar when we went to the firm direct. Quotes we sought ranged across ten cities.”

Admiral said the insurance quotes used in The Sun’s investigation “were not like for like. We take these allegations very seriously and we are consulting our lawyers”.

A spokesman for Admiral told The Muslim News, “The Sun’s article is wrong. We do not and never have used a customer’s name or any other piece of information to rate on race.”

Marks & Spencer wanted £3,182 to insure a Mohammed Smith in Cardiff; they quoted John Smith £2,949.

M&S Bank denied discrimination “under any circumstances and a customer’s name or ethnicity has absolutely no impact on their insurance premium.”

A spokesman for M&S told The Muslim News, “We provided identical quotes in all cases where the scenarios for the two customers were exactly the same. Where there were differences in the scenario, there was a variance in price, this wasn’t a result of the customer’s name.”

Trainee lawyer ejected from court for refusing to remove hijab

Asmae Belfakir was given an ultimatum by Judge Giancarlo Mozzarelli to either remove her hijab or leave the courtroom (Photo: Facebook)

Nadine Osman

A trainee lawyer spoke of her humiliation after a judge kicked her out of a court in Italy for refusing to remove her hijab. At a hearing in Regional Administrative Court in Bologna, earlier this month, Moroccan-born Asmae Belfakir was given an ultimatum by Judge Giancarlo Mozzarelli to either remove her hijab or leave the courtroom.

Speaking on January 22 Belfakir said the judge told her: “‘If you want to stay in this courtroom, you must remove it.’ I replied, ‘I’m not going to remove it. I’m going out.’”

She said that as she left he told the court: “Yes, that’s because of the respect of our culture and traditions.”

“Hearing a judge speaking of culture and tradition in that context made me feel really bad. I was just there to learn a job, to understand how the law should be applied. I wasn’t there to be humiliated because of my religion,” she said.

“I heard a lot of things about that judge; his modus operandi and his personal thoughts,” Belfakir said.

“I’m pretty sure that he would never have asked a nun to remove her veil, and I’m quite sure because a nun is not insulting his culture as I did by wearing the scarf. The law should protect people and their freedom of religion – as it is not affecting in a negative way the others – no matter how difficult it gets.”

Coordinator of the Association of Muslims of Bologna, Yassine Lafram, said that there is no law prohibiting the hijab in a court. The Association of Young Italian Lawyers also denounced the judge’s decision as “inconceivable” and a violation of the constitution.

The most incredible thing, in this case, is that Asmae Belfakir’s thesis concerned “women’s bodies and Islamic law”.

Luigi Foffani , Dean of Law at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, where Belfakir graduated with a master’s degree in Law, branded the judge’s decision “severely discriminatory and contrasts with constitutional principles, to which we must constantly inspire ourselves in the exercise of our functions.”

Foffani said the ban was made “in the application of an alleged prohibition to attend a hearing with the head covered probably non-existent within the administrative jurisdiction”.

Belfakir was allowed to work in another “court in Bologna wearing the hijab.

US State Dept nominates anti-Muslim for UN refugee post

Nadine Osman

The US State Department faced backlash after its nominee for head of the UN’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM) was exposed as having a history of making disparaging remarks against Islam and Muslims.

Ken Isaacs, an Evangelical Christian, is in the running for a post that requires the international distribution of billions of dollars in aid to migrants.

Isaacs is currently Vice President of Christian relief agency the Samaritan’s Purse, has argued that Islam is an inherently violent religion and called for Christians refugees to receive preferential treatment.

Commenting on a CNN story on the London terror attacks, Isaacs tweeted on June 4, “if you read the Qur’an you will know ‘this’ is exactly what the Muslim faith instructs the faithful to do.”

Isaacs was named as Trump Administration’s pick to become Director General of the IOM on February 1. The 169-member has deferred to the US to lead the organisation.

The election to lead the IOM is scheduled for June. A nominee must receive the support of two-thirds of its voting members, however, insiders told The Washington Post Isaacs could be the first US nominee since the late 1960s to lose an election by the group’s voting members.

President of Refugees International, Eric Schwartz, said Isaacs’ social media posts “reflect a troubling prejudice that is really incompatible with a position of leadership for the world’s most important international migration agency.”

He continued, “The person who leads this needs to be a symbol of the international community’s support for humanity. And that means that dark-skin people and Muslim people have the same inherent worth as any other people.”

Isaacs apologised for his posts writing, “It was careless and it has caused concern among those who have expressed faith in my ability to effectively lead IOM. I pledge to hold myself to the highest standards of humanity, human dignity and equality if chosen to lead IOM.”

For its part, the State Department said it would continue to support the nomination.

“M. Isaacs has apologised for the comments he posted on his private social media account. We believe that was proper for him to do so. Mr Isaacs is committed to helping refugees and has a long history of assisting those who are suffering. We believe that if chosen to lead IOM, he would treat people fairly and with the dignity and respect they deserve,” said a spokesman.

Isaacs also penned what he called an “evening rant.” Isaacs ridiculed Obama for wanting to accept large numbers of Syrian refugees as a “foolish and delusional” attempt to “show cultural enlightenment.”

Isaacs wrote that he had spent two hours in the refugee camp and that his visit had been long enough to conclude that there were dangers lurking in the groups of refugees.

“I know what a fighter looks like, how they carry themselves, how they group, and how there is tension in the air around them. Clearly, the non-Syrian camp was 75% single males and while many rural refugees were there; there were also many men who have known violence,” Isaacs wrote. “I feel most of the refugees are fine people but there are real security risks and this can’t be swept under the rug.”

Tweeting about Syrian refugee in 2015, Isaacs wrote: “Refugees are 2 grps [sic]. Some may go back and some can’t return. Christians can never return. They must be 1st priority.”

Followed by: “If Islam is a religion of peace, let’s see 2 million Muslims in National Mall marching against jihad & stand for America! I haven’t seen it!”

National Communications Director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Ibrahim Hooper, said that “this type of nomination coming from the Trump administration is a symptom of its deep hostility toward immigrants, migrants and Muslims.”

Hooper said Isaacs’s professed views should be disqualifying: “It is imperative these positions maintain neutrality with regard to religion, national origin and . . . frankly, have some sympathy for those who are migrating for no choice of their own but the economic and social pressures they are under.”

Britain First supporter who tried to run over Muslim released after serving just 33 weeks

Marek Zakrocki (Photo: Metropolitan Police)

Elham Buaras

A Muslim restauranteur who narrowly escaped being run over by a van of a Britain First supporter has told The Muslim News of his dismay at the news his attacker walked free after serving just 33 weeks in prison for unrelated offences.

Marek Zakrocki, who drove at Kamal Ahmed after saying “I’m going to kill a Muslim” walked free on January 12 after serving his prison sentence while on remand for drink-driving and another unrelated charge.

“I don’t think enough justice has been done. He should have been jailed for two to three years,” said Ahmed.

The Old Bailey heard that Zakrocki also gave a Nazi salute and shouted “white power” before driving his van at Ahmed outside Spicy Night restaurant in Harrow, north-west London, on June 23.

The Polish-born window-fitter told a police officer while in his van: “I’m going to kill a Muslim. I’m doing it for Britain. This is how I’m going to help the country. You people cannot do anything.”Ahmed said it was a “racist and Islamophobic attack” as he said he was going to kill a Muslim.

Ahmed was going to give evidence in court about the attack on him. However, “the day before I had to give evidence, the police called me to say that Zakrocki has admitted guilt. No one got in touch with me to tell me that Zakrocki was going to be sentenced on January 12,” Ahmed said.

Ahmed said the attacker had approached him outside his restaurant and started arguing with him. He then left and returned driving a van. “He tried to run me down. I moved away and he smashed my shop’s window. It was a narrow escape.”

Zakrocki was sentenced to 33 weeks in jail after pleading guilty in December to dangerous driving, one week for battery against his wife and six weeks for drink-driving, with the latter term to run concurrently.

The 48-year-old was initially also accused of attempted murder and three racially aggravated offences but those charges were not pursued by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

Further charges of attempting to cause grievous bodily harm and having a knife in a public place were ordered to lie on file.

When armed officers arrested Zakrocki, they found a Nazi coin in his pocket and a number of flyers for the far-right group Britain First and newspapers at his home in Harrow.

The court heard he had been drinking heavily that day and had grabbed his wife’s arm and threatened to kill people and then himself. Before driving at Ahmed he had pushed an unknown Asian man and shouted “white power, white power”.

A spokesperson for anti-hate campaigners HOPE not Hate told The Muslim News, “On the face of it, it does seem surprising that Marek Zakrocki’s sentence appeared so ‘light’, so it’s understandable why the Muslim community might be concerned by this sentence. It seems that police expected a longer sentence.

“However, he’d already served time on remand and the judge seems to have believed that alcohol consumption and addiction played a significant role in his actions.”

“Regardless, it sets a deeply worrying precedent that there are people out there willing to assault or attack Muslims, regardless of whether they have consumed intoxicating substances or not, in incidents which could have much greater tragic consequences.”

The Muslim Council of Britain raised concerns that anti-Muslim violence may not be treated seriously and potentially demonstrates a worrying double standard.

Secretary-General of the Muslim Council of Britain Harun Khan, told The Muslim News, “It is inconceivable that a Muslim who committed such an act would have got away with such a sentence and without terrorism even being discussed.”

He added, “Furthermore, there was no uplift to the sentence to reflect the unambiguous aggravated religious nature of this crime (Section 145 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003). We cannot continue to take anti-Muslim violence lightly. We call on the CPS to seek to appeal this sentence and ask the Ministry of Justice to review this matter and take appropriate steps”.

Muslim Council of Britain ’s stance is supported by prosecutor Denis Barry, who told the court that: “It’s plain that his conduct is very likely to have been motivated by his views about our diverse society.”

Barry said Zakrocki had been fixated by Muslims and had made donations to Britain First. The far-right group gained international notoriety when it was re-tweeted by Donald Trump. Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen, its leaders, have been charged by police in Northern Ireland in connection with alleged hate speeches they made in Belfast. Both deny the charges.

A CPS spokesperson told The Muslim News: “Prosecutors must keep cases under continual review in order to take account of any change in circumstances as they develop, including what becomes known of the defence case. If appropriate, the CPS may amend the charges as a result.

“Following one of these reviews and with the consent of the judge, some of the initial charges against Marek Zakrocki were not taken forward as there was no longer a realistic prospect of conviction.
“At his sentencing, the CPS reminded the court that his actions were religiously motivated and the judge addressed that motivation in his sentencing remarks.”

Judge Anthony Leonard QC told Zakrocki that he had concluded that he was trying to cause physical harm when he mounted the pavement in his van but that his behaviour was driven largely by his excessive alcohol consumption.

The judge said: “These events are the result of you having drunk up to two bottles of wine, which you knew would affect you seriously because of your chronic alcoholism.”

Zakrocki had a previous conviction for assaulting a police officer, also while drunk, in 2011.
Leonard said the offences were committed at a time of “heightened tensions” due to the van attack on Muslims outside Finsbury Park mosque in London.

The judge said he had taken into account Britain First literature found at Zakrocki’s home but that he was not a member of any far-right organisation.

The incident was investigated by officers from Harrow Community Safety Unit, with the support of officers from the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command. He was charged on 25 June.
DC Georgina Acuna, the investigating officer from Harrow Community Safety Unit, said: “I was expecting a slightly longer custodial sentence.”

In an earlier statement, she said, “Zakrocki deliberately armed himself with a knife on Friday, 23 June and told both his family and officer that he intended to harm someone for their religious beliefs.

“This was a terrifying ordeal for the witnesses and victims. Zakrocki was almost three times over the drink-driving limit and it was through pure good-fortune that no one was injured during his rampage. Hate crime, in all its forms, will not be tolerated and offenders such as Zakrocki will be brought to justice.”

Scandinavian Airlines hijab ban is not discriminatory, rules Ombudsman

Aye AlHassani was forced to choose between a job with Scandinavian Airlines and her faith (Photo: Creative Commons)

Harun Nasrullah

Sweden’s Discrimination Ombudsman (DO) ruled on January 5 that Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) uniform policy prohibiting staff from wearing religious symbols in customer-facing positions is not discriminatory.

The airline’s policy first came under scrutiny in April last year when a 23-year-old Swedish woman was told during a job interview the post required her to remove her hijab.

Aye Alhassani said she wished SAS told her about the policy at the start of the interview process.

“I could’ve then looked for other jobs and not prioritised the SAS job over others,” she noted. Adding that she hoped other Swedish companies would not adopt similar policies.

But the policy is not in breach of Sweden’s anti-discrimination laws, the Ombudsman has now concluded. DO explain, “SAS uniform policy does not breach anti-discrimination laws, based on it only applying for employees who are in direct customer contact.”

The Ombudsman referred to a European Court of Justice ruling from March 2017 in its judgment. That ruling said that companies can ask employees who have contact with customers not to express their religious beliefs and that doing so would not breach anti-discrimination law if it is done with the goal of showing neutrality to customers.

However the policy must be carried out must be neutral and consistent way and measures taken against employees are proportional.

SAS argued “the chances of being employed in a general sense are not affected by the candidate wearing a headscarf. In the DO’s investigation nothing has emerged to suggest that information should be questioned,” the DO judgment states.

SAS only first informs potential employees about the policy when they are offered a job in order to ensure that the application process is based solely on qualifications and competence as criteria, the judgment continued.

The judgment also addresses questions raised about why employees who worked with the company before the uniform policy was put in place were allowed to continue wearing their hijabs and referred to part of the EU ruling which stated that employers should take the least invasive measures possible when implementing a policy in the area.

“The SAS decision not to take measures against people with headscarves who were already employed. The exception should be seen as reasonable, based on the strong interest in keeping these people employed.”

Nigerian lawmakers to probe law school’s hijab ban

Amasa Abdulsalam Firdaus (Photo: Twitter)

Elham Asaad Buaras

Nigeria’s House of Representatives has called for a probe into a law school’s hijab ban. The motion announcement was made hours after Muslim groups threatened a mass protest and legal action over the incident.

A law graduate was refused entry into the hall of the bar ceremony in the Nigerian capital after she insisted on her head covering under the official wig.

Amasa Abdulsalam Firdaus, who graduated from the University of Ilorin, was denied entry to the hall, on December 12. She refused to remove her hijab, insisting instead on wearing the wig on top of her headscarf.

Officials at the Abuja-based law school say the hijab is against the university’s dress code.

Amasa described the ban as “a violation of her right to freedom of religion”, which is protected by Section 38 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigerian.

The Nigeria Association of Muslim Law Students (NAMLAS) was the first to condemn the ban describing it as unconstitutional and a violation of her fundamental human rights.

Among the many Muslim groups who came out in support of Firdaus are Muslim Media Practitioners of Nigeria, MMPN; Muslim Lawyers Association of Nigeria, Federation of Muslim Women Association in Nigeria, Abuja Muslim Forum and Obafemi Awolowo University Muslim Graduates Association.

Jameel Muhammad, President of Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria, said the restriction on the use of hijab as “Islamophobia” and vowed to advocate for Firdaus.

“We are Nigerian citizens and we are entitled to our fundamental human rights which include freedom of religion and worship”, said Muhammad. Adding, “If my religion demands something from me and I am not contravening any law of a country, I see no reason why they should trample upon fundamental, God-given and constitutional right given to me by my country,”

President of MMPN, Abdur-Rahman Balogun, said, “Her refusal to be called to the Bar is an infringement on her fundamental human right.”

“One is not sure of what is the Nigerian Law School and the Council of Legal Education are afraid of. The world is moving away from that rigid thinking and leaving Nigeria behind as wig on hijab is allowed in countries like the US, UK and Kenya to mention just a few.

“It is our belief that female lawyers in Nigeria, like their counterparts in other advanced countries, should be allowed to dress properly in accordance with their belief,” Balogun said.

Decapitated doll left in front of Amsterdam mosque to frighten Muslims

(Photo: Rechts in Verzet/Facebook)

Abdullah Asiran and Ahmed J Versi

A mosque in the Dutch capital Amsterdam was targeted by a group of far-right extremists, the head of the mosque said on January 18.

The far-right “Rechts in Verzet” movement claimed responsibility for the attack and hanged anti-Islam banners and a dummy’s severed head was tied to a fence outside the Emir Sultan Mosque in Amsterdam. A bloody headless dummy body was left below the head.

Photos of the bloody headless dummy and its severed head were placed online on the far-right Facebook page.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Kamber Sener, the head of the mosque, condemned the incident and said there were many far-right extremists who were trying to frighten Muslims.

Sener said they had encountered such an incident for the first time and added an investigation into the incident had been launched.

The banners hanged outside the mosque read: “Islam must be stopped. We do not want a mosque tied to [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan in northern Amsterdam.”

A deputy from Denk Party, established by two Dutch politicians of Turkish origin, told Anadolu Agency that the party’s proposal to discuss the attack on the mosque in the parliament was rejected.

“Every time, the same parties do not accept the proposal for a debate,” Farid Azarkan said.

Azarkan said it was “saddening” not to discuss such issues in the parliament despite many Islamophobic attacks in the country.

Germany’s AfD steps up anti-Muslim rhetoric

Hamed Chapman

Two prominent members of the Alternative for Germany party (AfD), the third largest party in the country, are being investigated by police over anti-Muslim New Year messages posted on the social media.

Beatrix von Storch, Deputy Leader of the far-right group, had her Twitter account temporarily suspended after posting an inflammatory message in which she accused Cologne police of appeasing “barbaric, gang-raping Muslim hordes of men”.

But Twitter only suspended von Storch’s account for 12 hours in response to her post, saying it had breached the site’s rules. AfD leaders called the actions censorship and accused the German authorities were acting like the Stasi in communist East Germany.

The Deputy Leader went on to re-post the same message on Facebook, where it was also blocked for reasons of incitement. She was supported by AfD party Leader Alice Weidel, who also wrote on Facebook that authorities were submitting to “imported, marauding, groping, abusive, knife-stabbing migrant mobs”.

The controversy intensified after Twitter suspended the account of German satirical magazine Titanic for publishing a series of posts by an imagined von Storch, including some that attempted to poke fun at her posts concerning Muslim men. Twitter restored the account 48 hours later following strong criticism from users.

The magazine’s Editor, Tim Wolff, said Titanic would defend itself from further suspensions and that Germany’s NetzDG risked undermining satire.

The architect of the NetzDG law, Justice Minister Heiko Maas, a member of the Social Democrats (SPD) said in an interview with German daily Bild that the law was necessary because “social networks must adhere to our laws like everyone else,” adding: “Freedom of expression is not a free pass for committing criminal offenses.”

The head of the SPD parliamentary party, Andrea Nahles, also defended the law in an interview with weekly Bild am Sonntag, saying it needed to be implemented.

“We need to ensure more responsibility on the internet – it is not outside of the law,” she said. “This [law] has nothing to do with censorship.”

January 1 marked the start of a new “network enforcement law” (NetzDG) that forces internet platforms with more than 2 million users to delete illegal content in Germany within 24 hours of receiving a complaint. Failure to respond promptly risks fines up to €50 million ($60 million).

The AfD, which was only founded in 2013, made a major breakthrough in last year’s federal election in Germany, claiming 94 seats in the Bundestag, the third largest in the country.

French mayor’s ban on pork substitutes ‘anti-Muslim’

Mayor of Beaucaire and National Front member, Julien Sanchez has banned pork substitutes in school meals (Photo: Creative Commons)

Hajer M’tiri

A far-right mayor’s decision to ban pork substitutes in school meals has been slammed by the head of a watchdog group.

Julien Sanchez, mayor of Beaucaire town in the south of France and a member of the far-right National Front, outlawed as of January 15 alternatives to pork in school canteens, arguing substitute meals are “anti-republican” and violate France’s secular principles.

Abdallah Zekri, head of France’s Collectif Contre l’Islamophobie en France (National Observatory Against Islamophobia), condemned what he called “an arbitrary and discriminatory decision”.

“It’s an unacceptable measure. We cannot accept that while some children are eating, others will just watch”, Zekri told Anadolu Agency by phone.

He pointed out that Sanchez’s decision is contrary to the principle of secularism, noting that secularism guarantees freedom of conscience and religion as a fundamental right for every citizen.

“He is using the respect of secularism as a pretext, but his action contradicts it. It is simply racism against Muslims. It is an anti-Muslim process,” he added, calling for the decision to be cancelled.

Sanchez’s move has been depriving around 150 mainly Muslim pupils, out of 600 students, of their “substitute meals” since January 15.

Anne Moiroud, head of the Beaucaire school district’s parents’ association, organised a picnic in the square in front of Beaucaire’s town hall to protest the decision on January 15.

“My issue is in fact that [Sanchez] seeks publicity for the National Front all throughout France but does not think of the children here in Beaucaire,” the angry parent told local news website ObjectifGard.

“It [substitute menus] has existed for 40 years. Children have the same rights as us concerning their freedom of religion, thought and expression. They have the right to eat pork or not to.”

Laure Cordelet, head of a local opposition group, said the mayor’s move “breached children’s rights” and “stigmatized the local Maghreb [North African] community.”

The decision, she added, “can in no way be justified in the name of secularism”.

Marlene Schiappa, France’s gender equality minister, also expressed her outrage, calling Sanchez “a typical example of someone brandishing secularism as an anti-Muslim political weapon, or anti-Jewish for that matter”.

A renewed controversy

This is not the first time that substitute meals have made headlines.

Gilles Platret, the mayor of Chalon-sur-Saône town in Burgundy from the centre-right Les Republican party, took a similar decision back in 2015 before a local court annulled it in 2017 on the grounds that limiting options was not in the best interests of children. He vowed to appeal.

In 2015, children at Piedalloues primary school in Auxerre, Burgundy who did not eat pork were ordered to wear at lunchtime red discs and those who did not eat meat to wear yellow disks.

Eighteen of the school’s 1,500 pupils were affected by the decision.

They were withdrawn after protests by angry parents and community leaders who said they were reminiscent of the yellow stars Jews were forced to wear under the Nazi occupation.

Former president Nicolas Sarközy made a controversial statement when seeking re-election in 2016.

He said “if a little guy’s family does not eat pork and the menu at the cafeteria is a slice of ham and fries, well, he skips the ham and eats a double helping of fries. In a republic, it’s the same rule and the same menu for everyone”.

In 2017, Michel Rotger, mayor of Chevigny-Saint-Sauveur and also a member of the conservative Republican party, announced the cancellation of alternative school menus that do not include pork to promote secular values in schools.

In April 2014 school cafeterias will stop serving non-pork options to children in towns won by the far-right National Front party in local elections previous week, its leader Marine Le Pen said.

“We will accept no religious requirements in the school lunch menus,” Le Pen told RTL radio. “There is no reason for religion to enter into the public sphere.”

Le Pen’s anti-immigrant party made historic gains in municipal elections when it landed 11 mayorships, a significant electoral breakthrough for the party.

In March 2013 the school in the village of Arveyres in the Gironde region of south-west France stopped offering an alternative meal for children who did not eat pork, which is forbidden under Jewish and Muslim dietary laws.

Around 30 of the 180 children had up until then been offered a substitute meat when pork was on the menu.

Parents of some of those pupils affected took umbrage to the decision.

“We are not asking for halal or kosher meat,” one mother told France blue radio. “We just want a meal with substitute protein.”

Additional reporting by Ahmed J Versi

Hate Crime affects whole communities, major study finds

Hamed Chapman

Hate Crimes not only threaten the personal safety and security for those directly victimised but have serious consequences for communities as a whole, according to a new major report.

The impact of such crimes, whether experienced directly, indirectly, through the media, in person or online, affected other individuals in the victim’s identity group by increasing feelings of fear, anger, and isolation, a five-year study by the University of Sussex found.

“Hate crimes spread fear and anger throughout communities. Individuals do not have to be targeted themselves to be affected. Simply knowing someone who has been victimised is sufficient to cause harm,” said Professor Rupert Brown from the Sussex Hate Crime Project.

“Such reactions are also likely to cause them to change their behaviour – for example, to avoid certain situations or places where they may be more at risk of abuse,” the Professor of Social Psychology warned.

“That is important because some public commentators dismiss hate crime as having no greater impact on communities than other types of crime. We’ve now shown that is not the case.”

The major study was into hate incidents against Muslims as well as members of the LGBT people, commonly seen as the two most targeted groups. Altogether over 3,000 were questioned.

Their report found that over 70 percent of both categories of respondents had been victims of hate crimes in the past three years and more than 80 percent knew someone who had been also.

Experiences of hate crime via the media and online were also extremely common with 86% of Muslim respondents and 83% of LGBT respondents who had been directly targeted online.

Hate crimes, whether experienced directly, indirectly, through the media, in person or online, were consistently linked to increased feelings of vulnerability, anxiety, anger, and sometimes shame and being more security conscious, avoidant, and more active within the community.

The research is the first of its kind to show that hate crimes and hate incidents do not just affect the immediate victims but have serious consequences for their communities as a whole.  Hate crime victims were found to receive more empathy than non-hate crime victims and sometimes were blamed more than non-hate crime victims

Also shown was that both Muslims and LGBT people are unlikely to report hate crimes to the police. Even worse was that when Muslims do report offences to the police, they are more likely to perceive that the police are “ineffective at dealing with these crimes than if they did not report them at all.”

Sweden mosque vandalised with Swastika

Nadine Osman

A mosque in South East Sweden was vandalised on November 20. A swastika was sprayed on one of its doors.

The Al Huda Islamic Cultural Centre and mosque in Flen, Södermanland came under attack for the fifth time in five years. Sweden Islamic Federation President, Tahir Akan, said the Muslim community was sad after the attack on their mosque.

Police informed us about the attack, Akan said. “Police have launched a large-scale search.
Developments are being reported to us. They are checking the cameras. I hope those who did this would be caught soon.”

The mosque, which was converted from a church in 2012, had been the largest of five anti-Muslim attacks since it opened.

Dutch police officers permitted hijab

Elham Asaad Buaras

A new court ruling in the Netherlands will allow Muslim policewomen serving in certain posts to wear the hijab (headscarves). Dutch police had claimed that religious symbols are incompatible with police uniforms.

On November 27 the Human Rights Council HRC ruled in favour of Sarah Izat, 26, who was dismissed for violating the dress code.

Police are expected to abide by the non-binding HRC decision. Religious symbols were banned under 2011 Code of Conduct. The code stipulated officers should present a “neutral and uniform appearance”.

HRC ruled the need for a neutral appearance is limited in this case, as Izat’s job as call handler had no physical public interaction.

Therefore, the hijab ban cannot be justified.

Rotterdam-based Izat said she considered the ruling an important first step. “It will not be solved in a day, but hopefully the police can now look to the next step when it comes to headscarves.”

In May, Amsterdam police considered making the hijab an option with police uniform to attract more ethnic minorities but the move was opposed by police chief Erik Akerboom. In addition, an Amsterdam policewoman who went on patrol wearing a hijab under her cap later that month was heavily criticised for her action

Man who sought Muslims to stab jailed

Mickey Sage (Photo: Met Police)

Elham Asaad Buaras

A man who sought Muslims to stab in South London has been jailed for over two years on November 22.

On June 7, Mickey Sage armed himself with a 10-inch knife and roamed Camberwell Green where he threatened people. 24-year-old Sage was jailed for two years and three months at Inner London Crown Court.

Police was called to Camberwell Green Court after a man threatened people at 1.43am. Less than 10 minutes later they were called again to Camberwell Green junction with Camberwell Church Street. Witnesses reported a man pulling a knife and asking pedestrians if they were Muslim.

The Metropolitan Police said several “alarmed and distressed members of the public” were at the scene and directed them to Sage, telling them where he had hidden the knife nearby.

While in custody Sage told an officer “it was my knife and I was out to kill a Muslim.”

He then made a number of anti-Muslim comments and once at the police station, he admitted that he was out to find a Muslim to stab them. He said that he “would be a martyr for England and stab an imam in the neck.”

Sage pleaded guilty to two counts of threatening a person with a knife in a public place, accepting the incident was religiously aggravated.

DC Samuel Cafferty from Southwark CID said: “Sage set out with a large knife with the clear intention to find Muslims to stab. Hate crime like this has no place in any society. Sage poses a very clear and present danger to members of the public, particularly the Muslim community.”

He added, had members of the public not escaped Sage it “could have been a very different ending.”

Over 120 people attended a landmark conference on the media reporting of Islam and Muslims. It was held jointly by The Muslim News and Society of Editors in London on September 15.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence 2015 was held on March in London to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to the society.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence 2015 was held on March in London to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to the society.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence event is to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to society. Over 850 people from diverse background, Muslim and non-Muslim, attended the gala dinner.

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