Milan: Arab names most common baby names

I got lost on the Muhammad part (Muhammad, Mahmoud, Ahmad and Hamid are four different names and not 'variant spellings'), but apparently it does show something about the popularity of Arab names in the city.


Variants of Islamic prophet's name discovered to be most popular among baby names in Milan

What is the most popular name for children born in the Italian city of Milan? The city's municipality reported what some may find a strange turn of events on the subject: The names Mahmoud, Ahmad, and Hamid are currently the most popular names given to infants born in the economic capital of Italy.

The Saudi newspaper al-Watan reported that the reason for the names' newfound Italian popularity is due to the rising birthrate among the city's Muslim community.

According to al-Watan, the Milan Municipality did not overlook the figures, and directed the local media to report their concern for the issue, which is "worrying to Milan's society," in order to warn against the "growth of the religion of Islam and the Muslim community, which may change the cultural characteristics of the city."

Immediately following the name of the Islamic prophet in order of popularity is the name Omar, and next in line are some Italian names – Andrea, Alessandro, Davida, Marco, Alicia, and Sophia.

Source: Ynet (English), h/t Dhimmi Watch

See also: Malmö: 2007 Baby names, Oslo: Muhammad most popular boy's name, UK: Muhammad second most popular name

Belgium: Deporting Muslims

Astonished shop-keepers and passers-by looked on last Saturday as soldiers rounded up Muslims in the Walloon-Brabant city of Nivelles. A protest against the treatment of Muslims in Europe, maybe?

In fact, the street show was an anti-Israel protest, in honor of Nakba Day (Israel's Independence Day as perceived by its enemies). Besides the shallowness and bias of portraying the Israelis as Nazis and the Muslims as the Jews, it seems to me that Belgium should not want to encourage importing foreign conflicts (see here, here and here).

More importantly, the show was put on just a day after Moroccans and football hooligans rioted in the Brussels suburb of Anderlecht, riots which are expected to continue (here and here). Police are facing accusations of racism in their treatment of the rioters. Given the tense situation in Europe at the moment and in Belgium in particular, is putting on street theater displaying the deportation of Muslims really a good idea? After all, shouldn't Belgium be more concerned about its own predicament?

Or is accusing Israel of colonial expansion a way of dealing with the guilt of the Belgian crimes of 60 years ago?

For more info see the European Jewish press (1, 2), and the Western Civilization and Culture blog.

See also: Belgium in the Middle East, Verviers: Hamas headquarters, Copenhagen: The new Palestinian authority , Copenhagen: Hamas conference

This article was cross-posted to Islam in Europe and to THE ASTUTE BLOGGERS

CR: Anti-terrorism center to be established

A special police centre will be established in the Czech Republic to protect the country against terrorism, the daily Pravo wrote Thursday.

The decision on the establishment of the anti-terrorist centre was recently made by Interior Minister Ivan Langer (senior ruling Civic Democrats, ODS) in reaction to the negotiations with the USA on the lifting of the U.S. visa requirements towards Czech citizens, Pravo writes.

According to Czech police president Oldrich Martinu, the goal of the centre will be to analyse and submit to the relevant bodies the collected information, Pravo writes.

The heads of individual police departments or regional governors will be responsible for individual steps also in the future, the paper quotes Martinu as saying.

The centre will be the contact body for all foreign partners in the fight against terrorism, Pravo says.

The Interior Ministry is carrying out talks with the police leadership about the precise form of the new department.

The most probable possibility is that the centre will be established within the police organised crime unit (UOOZ) where there is a department specialising in the fight against terrorism and extremism, Pravo says.

Another possibility discussed is to create the centre at the police presidium, it writes.

Langer told Pravo that apart from policemen, officers from all Czech civilian and military intelligence services and the Czech Fire Rescue Corps would work in the centre.

The foundations of the centre will appear this summer and it could be completely staffed by the end of the year, Langer said.

It should not be a large department, Pravo quotes Martinu as saying.

Source: Prague Monitor (English)

London: Muslim TV producer accuses police of harassment

A Muslim TV producer has accused the police of constantly targeting her crew and stopping them from filming in the streets of London. The crew from an international Muslim network, which included three hijab wearing members, were filming in Notting Hill, west London, in March when they said they were stopped and quizzed. Producer Anousheh Demartino, who was stopped on three previous occasions, told The Muslim News, "They asked us for our ID and why we were filming. After we told them we were allowed to continue. 20 minutes later we were stopped again. This time we were asked for our residential address; they only asked me, the two other hijab wearing women and not [our] young cameraman.

"I protested at first and asked why they needed my home address when it was a professional not a personal matter, but he insisted and, not wanting to prolong the incident, I gave him the details." Anousheh says she was given no legal reasons as to why they were stopped filming; however, she did say the officer made a reference to terrorist activity: "The officer, he said we need permission to film and made an example of the camera being used for terrorist activity. So he was saying he stopped us because of the size of the camera, because we were using a tripod…ultimately they are judging who is and is not a terrorist by the size of the camera."

Speaking of her "frustrating" experience as a Muslim journalist she said, "I was stopped before with another crew and given report slips once on High Street Kensington in February and once on Victoria Road. We have to carry those slips with us all the time. I don't know why we constantly get stopped, is it because we are not a large mainstream media [outlet], or is it because I wear the hijab?"

In a statement to The Muslim News a spokesperson for the Metropolitan police said, "There are some sensitive locations in London where it would not be unusual for those filming or taking photographs to be stopped and spoken to by police. If you have a UK Press Card, which has a number of security measures and is recognised by the Association of Chief Police Officers, you should not experience problems. It is also not unusual for reporters to be asked for their home address."

The incident came a month before a Muslim BBC journalist was held to the ground by police officers after his radio equipment was mistaken for an explosive device.

The two episodes also came shortly before Chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, Peter Smyth, said officers are not sufficiently trained in how to correctly apply anti-terror legislation when dealing with photographers.

In an interview with 's PM programme on April 26, he addressed the increasing concerns that photographers are being unfairly stopped and questioned by police when taking photos in public places. Asked what innocent photographers should say to the officer if they are stopped, Smyth said, "If the officer has serious concerns that the photographs…are of some sort of terrorist nature then I think [the officer] should be asked to explain what sort of terrorist nature he thinks they are about and, if in any doubt, to call a supervisor."

Source: The Muslim News (English), h/t Islamophobia Watch

Antwerp: Immigrants 2% of police

Barely 2 percent of Antwerp police officers are of immigrant descent. This means that out of a total of 2,360 officers, only 50 are of immigrant descent.

Despite a large-scale EUR 600,000 campaign aimed at more colour in the police corps, the recruitment of new police officers of immigrant extraction has been relatively unsuccessful.

The latest recruitment of 45 officers and inspectors had only one police officer who was of immigrant descent. However, figures show that 20 percent of the candidates who applied were of immigrant descent.

The most crucial obstacle remains language. The Antwerp police corps puts a high premium on the consensus model, which shows a need for officers who have good people skills and are good negotiators. In this respect, immigrant officers can play a pivotal role.

Unfortunately commissioner François Vermeulen of 'diversity' services maintains it is yet too early to expect a police corps to be a reflection of society, as some politicians expect.

Source: Expatica (English)

See also: Norway: Security service to recruit Muslims, Norway: Police want to recruit in mosques, Sweden: Police attempt to recruit immigrants by using racist intonations, Denmark: Immigrant youth not qualified for police

Sweden: ‘Force municipalities to accept refugees’

Municipalities in Sweden should be required to accept refugees, a government inquiry has concluded.

Next week the results of a state commission will be presented which suggest that all municipalities should be forced to take in refugees, reports the Dagens Samhälle newspaper.

Last year county administrative boards took over responsibility for managing the receiving of refugees. Since then, the boards have begun a dialogue with municipalities on how many refugees every municipality should accept.

But if a municipality refuses, the process now grinds to a halt.

"If the Migration Board decides that 10,000 people will be placed out in the country and the county administrative board can only find places for 9,500, then the boards much be able to force municipalities to accept refugees," said Monica Werenfels-Röttorp, who led the government inquiry, to the TT news agency.

Around 25 municipalities in Sweden refuse to take in refugees, often pointing to housing shortages when saying no. But such an excuse ought not to serve as an argument which absolves a municipality from responsibility, argues Werenfels-Röttorp.

The report will be handed over to integration minister Nyamko Sabuni on Monday.

Source: The Local (English)

Netherlands: Hirsi Ali publishes children's book

A former Dutch lawmaker and outspoken critic of Islam published a children's book on Thursday, about a friendship between a Muslim boy and a Jewish girl, that seeks to fight prejudice in both communities.

Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali has been living under heavy guard since the murder in 2004 of fellow Islam critic Theo van Gogh, who directed a film she wrote which accused Islam of condoning violence against women.

Her new book -- "Adan and Eva" -- tells the story of a Moroccan boy and a rich Jewish girl living in Amsterdam. Adan takes Eva to Koran school, while Adan gets drunk on wine served at a Jewish meal.

Their families eventually decide to break up the friendship and Eva is sent to boarding school in Switzerland, while Adan is banished to Morocco.

"Everything starts at school. That is where children learn about each other and learn to respect each other. We live in a world of adult prejudice," Hirsi Ali told De Telegraaf daily. "Reconciliation starts with children."

Hirsi Ali's spokeswoman said she hoped the book would also be published in English and said the Spanish, Italian and Danish rights had already been sold. Hirsi Ali's autobiography "Infidel" is one of the New York Times top 20 bestsellers.

She moved to the United States in 2006 after leaving the Dutch parliament following a row about her citizenship was triggered when she admitted she had lied to win asylum.

Hirsi Ali said she was still spent a lot of time trying to raise funds to pay for her security after the Dutch government decided to stop paying for protection abroad.

She accused the government of stifling debate about Islam and leading a "systematic campaign against free speech" after a cartoonist was detained earlier this month on suspicion of offending Muslims due to his provocative drawings.

In March, Dutch anti-immigration politician Geert Wilders stoked Muslim anger around the world with a film accusing the Koran of inciting violence and saying the 1 million Muslims living in the Netherlands posed a security threat.

Source: Reuters (English)

See also: Adan & Eva on the Hirsi Ali blog

France: Marriage annulled since bride wasn't virgin

A court in French-Flanders annulled a marriage since the bride turned out not to be a virgin, report French newspaper Libération. The judges came to the conclusion that the bridegroom was deceived concerning an 'essential characteristic' of the bride, who had assured him before the wedding that she was still virgin.

The judges therefore decided to apply a law which is seldom used.

Both bride and groom are young French Muslims. "Completely not extremists," according to the groom's lawyer. The family of the bride had presented her as "single and chaste". The fraud was revealed when on the wedding night the groom could not show blood spots on the sheets to the feasting family. The groom's father brought the bride back to her parents.

The bride confessed that she had had sex before, and that she had concealed that fact since she was sure her boyfriend wouldn't marry her if she wasn't a virgin.

Marriages are seldom annulled retroactively in France. Law article 180 was formerly used if the bride kept silent about having worked as a prostitute or if somebody wasn't able to have sexual intercourse

Sources: Telegraaf (Dutch), Libération (French), h/t NRP (Dutch)

See also: Netherlands: High demand for "virgin pill", Netherlands: Restoring virginity (2), France: Regaining virginity, European Muslim women go to extremes to be virgins (again)

Milan: Mosque fights drugs

A mosque on the northern outskirts of the Italian city of Milan is taking the lead in a new initiative to fight drugs.

The mosque, in Sesto San Giovanni, is holding on Friday a seminar entitled 'Together with young people against drugs', in collaboration with the region's United Nations office and the local council.

The conference is aimed at volunteers from local Islamic communities and others who follow issues affecting young people in other Italian cities, particularly those with high immigration.

The speakers are international experts on the prevention and fight against drugs.

"This initiative is related to the social activities that the Islamic centre organises and is not only directed at Muslims but everyone," event organiser, Ibrahim Chabani, told Adnkronos International (AKI).

"We have seized this opportunity to hold this course with experts that are cultural mediators that have settled in well in our community."

The mayor of Sesto San Giovanni, Giorgio Oldrini, Milan's deputy police commissioner Paola Morsiani and Dubai police chief Mansoor Y. Al Gargawi will take part in the event.

Source: AKI (English)

Netherlands: My cousin raped me, what should I do?

The following question, asked by a girl whose cousin raped her, was answered by imam Bahaeddin Budak (Dutch) on the website of the Dutch Muslim Broadcaster (NIO), as part of their 'question of the week' feature. The answer is already causing quite a fuss.

Imam Budak teaches a course at the InHolland college in Amsterdam for teachers of Islam. The College feels that in his answer he laid most of the blame on the woman, and is therefore considering taking steps against him. The college distances itself from Budak's "unacceptable" statements and will conduct a "probing talk" with him.

Budak had asked the NIO to remove his article, though he still stands behind what he said. The broadcaster did not think that was an option, journalistically speaking, and therefore the imam had stopped his collaboration with them, the result being that all articles written by him had been removed from the site.

It is not simple to advise a girl who's stuck between rape and possible honor murder. In order to enable my readers to decide on their own, I bring here a translation of the question and answer, as posted on the forum (Dutch)


I'm a Turkish girl aged 17. I have a big problem and don't now what I should do with it. I've recently been raped by my cousin. I can't speak about it with anybody here and completely not with my family. They will repudiate me. What is the Muslim opinion about it?


Dear sister,

What has happened to you is a very sad case. I understand that you can't tell this problem to your family. I don't know what's your relationship with your cousin and how it's gotten so that he dared rape you. I will try to answer your question from different angles.

Allah says in the Koran: And come not near to the unlawful sexual intercourse. Verily, it is a Fâhishah [i.e. anything that transgresses its limits (a great sin)], and an evil way (that leads one to Hell unless Allâh forgives him). (Surat al-Isra 32)

The prophet Muhammed says: Anybody who believes in Allah and the last day may not be alone with a woman without a mahram, because otherwise Satan will be the third person.

With the above citations I want to say that we as men are asked to protect ourselves against sexual abuse, rape and vice. Caution is not only for unknown people but also for acquaintances, because a man, whether he's an acquaintance or not has his bad and good qualities. If the bad qualities of a person had developed much stronger than it doesn't make a difference whom he meets. You will do yourself good not to stay in a closed space with a man where a third can't easily come in.

In Islam it's clear that sex before nikah [ie, marriage] is not permissible. This is a big sin. If the person commits this yet in the form of rape it's only a greater sin by Allah. As long as you don't forgive him Allah will punish him for this in the hereafter.

You could do the following:

a) Given that we live in a country where rape is an offense, you could accuse him in court.

b) If you're afraid that your family will repudiate you for something for which you're not to blame maybe it's better not to tell this to your family. You should pay attention that your cousin doesn't again take advantage of this. The moment that he wants to do so I advise you to tell your problem to somebody so that your cousin fears for it. Certainly don't let yourself be abused and do not be afraid to speak with somebody that you trust about this problem.

c) You could forgive him and agree that this will not happen any more. That is naturally the hardest thing that you could do.

May Allah give you strength and wisdom.

Sources: Telegraaf, forum (Dutch)

Oslo: Archeologists find 9th century Persian coin

An Islamic coin from 805 AD, found on the Hurum peninsula just west of Oslo, is causing a stir among Norwegian archaeologists.

The silver dirhem, minted in Iran, is one of the earliest examples of coins to turn up in the Nordic countries.

Several other hordes in the area have contained similar coins, but none date back as far as this. The previous finds have been 100-150 years younger.

According to Houshang Khazaei, a researcher at the University of Oslo, the coin was minted in Mohammadiyyah in Iran. The ruler at the time was Harun al-Rashid, the fifth and most famous of the Abbasid caliphs.

For several hundred years dirhems were minted in countries in North Africa and the Middle East. They were used in Europe too, much like the US dollar or the euro today, and likely came to Norway with Viking traders.

The dirhem contains about three grams of silver. Payment was made by weight rather than according to the denomination on the coin. Therefore many were cut in half or into quarters to make small change.

Source: Aftenposten (English)

See also: Sweden: Archaeologists find Viking-era Arab coins

Admin: Blog comments

Dear readers,

In the past couple of weeks this blog has gotten many comments using foul and racist language. Usually I tend to leave such comments, as they reflect on the writer more than anybody else, however the amount of such recent comments made me rethink that position.

Until further notice all comments will be moderated. Any comment using foul and/or racist language as well as comments in languages other than English or using poor English will be deleted.

I am interested in how you, my readers, see this problem and what other solutions do you see besides outright censorship.


Iceland: “We Have Enough with Caring for Ourselves”

Magnús Thor Hafsteinsson MP for the Liberal Party and former chairman of the office of social affairs in Akranes, was against the arrival of 30 refugees from Iraq to Akranes this summer. He has been highly criticized for his opinion on the matter. In the latest issue of Heimaskagi, the Liberal Party's newspaper, he explains his point of view.

"Based on the short notice we were given, little time for preparation, not enough information about the people and their background and the current situation in Akranes, I don't believe it's the right time to agree to accommodate refugees. As chairman of the office of social affairs, I cannot recommend this" Hafsteinsson wrote in Heimaskagi.

"This is impossible.We are talking about 60 people in two years in a village where the budget is tight. To even think of bringing people in from refugee camps, who have experienced so much and have to be under constant care of the administration of social affairs, is nonsense. This would mean that the total amount of foreigners in Akranes would rise to ten percent of the entire population, ten percent of which would be refugees." Hafsteinsson wrote.

Hafsteinsson ends his article by concluding "It is our main duty as a community to care for our own people[…] I'm not going to look into the eyes of our people and make budget cuts while accommodating around hundred immigrants at the same time. If the community of Akranes wants to help people; we should rather aid the Red Cross or those organizations that work in refugee camp, instead of bringing the problem to our town"

Hafsteinsson has resigned as chairman of the office of social affair in Akranes. The town council held an open meeting earlier this week to discuss the arrival of the refugees. The meeting ended with ovation. Morgundbladid reports.

Source: Iceland Review (English)

See also: Iceland: Town receives Palestinian refugees

Sweden: Concern about number of refugees

Sweden's liberal and open policy towards refugees has resulted in more and more displaced people arriving in the country - 12% of the population is now made up of immigrant communities. Does this influx constitute a burden or a success story?

Nader will not give his real name but he does not hide why he chose Sweden as a refuge after Islamic gunmen threatened to murder him unless he fled Mosul in northern Iraq. "Sweden is the only country that accepts immigrants and gives them permission to bring their families," says the 39-year-old Christian doctor, whose wife paid a ransom of $50,000 to release him from the kidnappers. "This is the reason most Iraqis come here."

Sweden has a long history of welcoming refugees and over the past few decades large immigrant communities have emerged from many of the world's trouble spots. They now make up 12 per cent of the population.

However, there is mounting concern that Sweden is accepting more than its fair share of refugees and that this is proving an impossible burden on towns like Södertälje, the destination of most of the Iraqi Christian asylum-seekers.

Pace of influx has quickened

The country is home to 80,000 Iraqis, making them the third-largest foreign-born community. Since 2005 the pace of the influx has quickened as the security situation inside Iraq worsened and families rejoined those who had already won asylum. Most Muslim Iraqis have congregated in Malmo, Gothenberg, and Stockholm, while Christian Iraqis - the smaller minority - have gone to Södertälje, near Stockholm.

"The problem is that only Sweden is open to refugees from Iraq, it is the only country that has a generous system for family reunions," says Anders Lago, Södertälje's Social Democrat mayor. "It's necessary to have a stop," he adds.

As an industrial town of 83,600 people, it has found a home for 6,000 Christian Iraqi immigrants over the past five years. Last year a record 1,200 arrived and another 1,000 are expected this year. Proportionally it accepts more Iraqi immigrants than any other town in Sweden.

Södertälje has welcomed Christians fleeing repressive regimes or war in the Middle East since the 1960s. The community numbers some 18,000 - one fifth of the town's total population.


In many respects the integration of Iraqis in Södertälje is more successful than elsewhere. Many have set up successful businesses: Mr Lago says 100 restaurants in Stockholm are owned by Södertälje immigrants. Elsewhere in Sweden, Muslim Iraqis have found it more difficult to integrate. Overall almost a third of Iraqi-born immigrants are unemployed.

However, the town council is struggling to cope with the recent influx and has appealed to the government for help. It has been forced to increase staff on its immigrant integration programme from eight to 69 in the past two years and cut its duration from 24 to 18 months. Tobias Billstrom, migration minister, argues the European Union needs a common interpretation of asylum rules to avoid burdening countries like Sweden with more than their fair share of immigrants.

Moreover, some native Swedes are unhappy about the impact the immigrants are having on their towns. Already 40 per cent of Södertälje's population are first- or second-generation immigrants; in a few years they will become a majority. There is little interaction between the communities. The 1970s-built housing estates in the Ronna and Housjö suburbs of Södertälje have become virtually immigrant-only areas.

Extreme rightwing parties

Extreme rightwing parties are capitalising on this, having made inroads in town councils in Södertälje and particularly southern Sweden. Several opinion polls have indicated that the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats could pass the 4 per cent threshold to enter parliament at the 2010 election.

Courts have started to take a stricter approach to asylum claims, demanding proof that each Iraqi is personally at risk of persecution. This has slowed down the processing of claims and Nader has been waiting eight months to hear if the authorities believe his story that he faced a risk of persecution if he remained there.

Tougher measures are currently off the agenda but both the government and the Social Democrats agree that the immigration issue will soon have to be debated. "The risk of a backlash is greater if we don't have a discussion of the problems," says Mayor Lago. "As Södertalje is today, Sweden will be in 10-15 years."

Source: FTD (English)

See also: Sweden: Little Baghdad, Sweden: Grappling with Iraqi refugees, Sweden: Different asylum approval rates, Sweden: The path to Swedish asylum, Sweden: Financing for Iraqi entrepreneurs

France: Eight arrested for mosque attack

The suspects are apparently a group of neo-Nazis.


French police have arrested eight people, including several soldiers, over an arson attack on a mosque in southwestern France.

The suspects, aged 18 to 30, were taken into custody Wednesday for questioning over the April 20 attack in Colomier near the city of Toulouse, in which arsonists started a fire in the mosque entrance and trashed a next-door prayer room.

The arrests took place near the cities of Toulouse, Castres and Carcassonne, where two soldiers were reportedly detained at their barracks, AFP quoted local newspaper La Depeche du Midi as saying.

State prosecutor Michel Valet said it was "too soon to say" if the suspects had links to extreme-right groups.

President Nicolas Sarkozy has vowed to step up the fight against Islamophobia in France following the mass desecration last month of the Muslim section of the country's biggest war cemetery.

France is home to Europe's largest Muslim community, estimated at five million.

Sources: Press TV (English), La Depeche du Midi (France)

See also: France: Mosque damaged in arson attack

Sweden: Authorities see khat as a Somali problem

Use of the illegal drug khat is widespread in Sweden's immigrant suburbs but the police have chosen to turn a blind eye, Faisal Enayat Khan reports.

In the early hours of Monday morning May 19th, three men are pulled over by the police on a motorway outside the university town of Uppsala. Police find seven kilos of the drug khat on the back seat of their car.

The men are taken in for questioning. But even though the quantity of drugs seized is equivalent to 280 so-called "abuse doses", the men are released without charge after just a few hours.

The situation outlined above is in no way unusual. Although the amphetamine-like stimulant was classified as a narcotic by the Swedish parliament in 1989, the prohibition is not strictly enforced.

Swedish courts have ruled that narcotics crimes involving khat will only be categorized as serious if at least 400 kilos of the drug is involved. Anyone caught smuggling less than this amount will at most be fined and ordered to perform community service.

A critical report issued by the National Police Board's intelligence division has calculated that 400 kilos is equivalent to 16,000 "abuse doses", a measure often used by the justice system to calculate the seriousness of a narcotics offence.

The report then highlights two Supreme Court cases involving GHB and Rohypnol, where 150 and 200 "abuse doses" are sufficient to render as serious drug offences involving these substances.

In Somalia almost everybody chews khat. Many soldiers participating in the country's civil war chew it to fight, while others chew it to escape the effects of war. The rest chew it because everybody else does.

The effects of the stimulant are well-documented. Users can become talkative, euphoric and emotionally unbalanced. The effects of long-term use can be devastating, often leading to personality disorders and other serious mental health problems.

But khat use is not restricted to Africa. A world away from the chaos of the Somali civil war, every third Somali man in the welfare state of Sweden chews khat.

Some experts think that Swedish Somalis chew khat partly to escape the effects of the social segregation they are experiencing in Sweden. Somali community leaders in Sweden are enraged that the police are not prioritizing the khat ban.

Hadji Farah, a community worker in Rinkeby, a suburb in the northwest of Stockholm and the heartland of the country's Somali community, is fiercely critical of the police's treatment of the khat problem as just a Somali issue:

"We are also Swedish," he says. "No matter where we come from originally, we contribute to the society as much as anybody else does and we want to be treated alike," he tells The Local.

In a report from 2007 on illegal drugs in Sweden, the National Police Board accepts that khat has not been a priority for the Swedish police force. As it is only abused by certain migrant groups, the risk of the drug spreading to other groups in society is considered minimal.

The report also points out that khat smuggling and abuse are not considered serious offences under the Swedish justice system. As such, the smuggling of khat is no longer treated as organized crime.

The report also says there is no structured plan to tackle the khat problem at the national level. The board has however hired an officer with extensive knowledge of the matter to examine new ways of combating the illicit crop.

"If caught by the police, a person smuggling 50 kilos of khat, which is the average amount smuggled, will probably only receive fines or community service. It gives the police less grounds on which to conduct surveillance around the smuggling network," a police investigator in Rinkeby tells The Local.

Stefan Kalman from the police board's intelligence division points out that Swedish police also have to grapple with different international approaches to the khat problem.

"It is imported legally to the doorsteps of Europe from Kenya, and from there it is transported by car to Sweden," he said, making reference to the Netherlands and the UK where khat is both sold and used legally.

Kalman does not share the attitude of the police that khat smuggling should not be classed as organized crime: "We are talking one of the most organized forms of criminality in Europe," he says.

Björn Fries, the former head of the government's drug coordination unit, is in no doubt that khat abuse is tolerated only because of who the users are:

"If it had been one third of Östermalm residents abusing khat, we wouldn't be having this discussion today," he tells The Local, referring to the well-heeled neighbourhood that houses much of Stockholm's elite.

According to Fries, everybody in the government publicly hails any steps taken to combat the drug but in reality no one cares.

"I called the justice department and the social welfare department before attending the Ban Khat conference in 2007 to see if they had anything I could tell the participants of the conference. No one seemed interested," he tells The Local.

"I bet a large number of people working for the Swedish state do not even know what khat is," he adds.

While Sweden lacks exact data on how much khat is being smuggled into Sweden, the Swedish Customs Authority (Tullverket) puts it at between 150 to 300 tons annually.

There is also uncertainty regarding the street price of the drug. Police estimate the cost of 200 grams – the equivalent of a day's khat use for one person -- at 150 to 200 kronor ($25-33). But The Local's research has shown that the price for 200 grams can rise to as much as 400 kronor depending on the season.

Khat -- also known by a range of other names, including as miraa, Catha edulis, African salad and Bushman's tea -- is grown in Kenya all year round and is considered a cash crop. It has rapidly replaced coffee and other traditional crop cultivation, largely due to a drop in global coffee prices.

The socio-economic effects of the drug are tangible in Sweden. According to some experts, the high level of joblessness amongst Somali men can be explained by abuse of Khat.

Stefan Kalman, Björn Fries, Emma De Cal and many Somali activists are doing all they can to convince the Swedish justice system that khat poses a very real danger to society. Prolonged consumption of the drug leaves people with no will to work or participate in social life, they say.

A world away from suburban Sweden, Kimathi Munjuri from the Nyambene Miraa Trade Association accentuates the positives of khat-induced apathy. Munjuri's organization strives to convince countries around the world to lift the khat ban.

"Khat chewers are so preoccupied with chewing khat that they don't have time to join terrorist groups," he explains, speaking to The Local on his Blackberry from the jungles of Kenya's Meru district.

The application of modern communication has considerably shortened the delivery time from Kenya's main Khat-growing district. Emma De Cal, a public health expert who has carried out extensive studies on the drug and its effects on the Somali community in Sweden, says khat smuggling is characterized by efficiency and good organization.

"Khat completes its journey from the mountains of Kenya to the suburbs of Sweden in less than two days," she tells The Local. "I would say they are better than DHL."

Source: The Local (English)

See also: Norway: Study on khat abuse, Netherlands: Khat to stay legal

Antwerp: AEL claims police racism

The Arab European League (AEL) intend to sue the Antwerp police department, whom they blame of acting in a racist fashion after the murder of Mohammed Achrak at the end of 2002. The AEL bases itself on the blog of Bart Debie, former Antwerp police commissioner and current municipality counsel member of Vlaams Belang.

Debie wrote in his blog that agents were ordered to treat the Moroccan groups in Borgerhout roughly, regardless of whether they did anything wrong or not. According to Debie it was sufficient to be Moroccan in order to be treated roughly and arrested.

Debie wrote this in his blog regarding the testimony of former police head Luc Lamine during the AEL appeal trial. According to the AEL, Debie's words show how "systematically and structurally" the Antwerp police is racist.

The AEL recorded the Debie's text by the court bailiff and will make sure that people who were present at the time and were victims of "police racism" will sue the police. They will also check out the possibility of prosecuting higher functionaries or other politicians.

Meanwhile, sociologist Ludo De Witte, a witness in the appeal trial in Antwerp, says that the judge who sentenced Dyab Abou Jahjah (36) and Ahmed Azzuz (32) of the AEL, relied on the false testimony of police inspector A.A.

A.A. had said hat he had heard Abou Jahjah inciting a large group of youth in Arabic: don't be taken by the police, there is but one God called Allah. Stay together, together we're strong against the police. Whoever doesn't follow us is a hypocrite, they [the police] are the reason for the death of our brother, fight back!"

Abou Jahjah always denied he said those things, but the court did not doubt that truthfulness of A.A.'s statement. Ludo De Witte says that was a mistake. On april 23, 2008, four months after the Abou Jahjah and Azzuz trial, he published an article in Knack magazine where he quote an anonymous police agent.

"He told me that A.A. was never in the area of Abou Jahjah. My anonymous source was there, from the moment that Aou Jahjah arrived at the Turnhoutsebaan and till he left again. According to him he had spoken to a group of youth barely one time, but he only said they should keep calm. He never used inciting language."

A.A. and another colleague were pressured from above to make a statement against Abou Jahjah. De Witte's source had kept silent for years out of fear of reprisals.

De Witte says it's not only about dubious statements of two agents, but also about various other agents who were involved in setting up these statements. There was a general atmosphere in the police which wasn't favorable for the AEL, and that's why it's understandable his source kept quiet rather than risking his job. He was so shocked by the court verdict that he decided to speak up.

Chief Police Officer Luc Lamine said earlier during the day that did not know of any pressure. "I only know that an agent told me that he had heard Abou Jahjah speak inciting language and I had then advised him to draw up a statement. Which agent that was, I don't know anymore."

Journalist Jef Lambrecht also testified. He was there at the time of the events, but had never heard Abou Jahjah raise his voice, and had not seen him stir up a crowd.

On May 31st, Abou Jahjah will fly back to Lebanon where he now lives and works, and therefore the trial will continue on September 8th.

Sources: HLN 1, 2 (Dutch)

Norway: Appeal for book burnings

Shabana Rehman, a controversial Norwegian-Pakistani comedian and writer, started off the opening show of the Literature Festival in Lillehammer, by calling for more book burnings and holding a burning candle to a koran.

"This book has more power than any other in our time. If you burn it.. maybe it will get even more power. There should be more book burnings in this country," she said. "Don't be afraid your books will be burned, be afraid they won't be burned." she said as she thanked the crowd and blew out the candle.

The koran stayed intact. Among the many surprised spectators was also publisher William Nygaard. The publisher, who was shot at and injured after publishing Salman Rushdie's "Satanic Verses" in 1993, clearly did not appreciate the incident and shook his head while the rest of the hall clapped for Rehman.

Source: Dagbladet (Norwegian, with video), h/t Hodja (Danish)

Denmark: Immigrant youth leave crime after 24

A report from the Rockwool Foundation Research Unit reports that young immigrants leave crime and around the age of 24 are not more criminal than the Danes, reports Berlingske Tidende.

Young immigrants under 19 commit much more property crimes than Danes of the same age. But after the age of 24, the differences are not so visible. Only Lebanese, Pakistani and Arabs are sentenced for more crimes than Danish youth in that age group, when correcting for social and economic situation.

Torben Tranæs, head researcher, told Radioavisen, that Somalis, for example, commit less crimes than Danes, when they reach their twenties.

Torben Tranæs says it's difficult to conclude what is the main reason for the drop in crime. Once they reach their twenties, youth commit less property crimes, and the drop is steeper for immigrants. He says maybe it has to do with an increased wish for integration once people are older.

The study points to Arabs as the most criminal ethnic group. As teenagers and up to the age of 29, it's the only ethnic group that continues to commit more crimes than Danish youth.

The study also shows that young second generation immigrants are generally more criminal than immigrants from the same country who grew up in their homeland.

Source: DR (Danish). See also study page (Danish)

See also: Odense: The hoodlums, Copenhagen: Majority of crime suspects are foreigners, Denmark: Demand for study on ethnic criminiality

Brussels: SMS spreads fear among immigrant girls

Immigrant girls in Brussels are being warned by SMS of "the violence of the skinheads". It's unclear who's behind the SMS campaign. The football hooligans deny they're responsible.

"Notice to veiled and not-veiled women. After the severe riots between skinheads and Moroccans we ask you to take all necessary security precautions, so as not to become victims of the aggression of skinheads (...) women wit ha veil are the most important target. Don't take this message lightly, it's very serious. Please forward this message to all girls."

Many immigrant women in Brussels got this message yesterday. Malika Lamarti, who lives in Sint-Agatha-Berchem and is a member of the women's association Het Meervoud (the majority), got the message from a friend, who also got it from a friend.

She says they want to know who's behind it as it strikes people with terror. Is it true or not? Kids go to school afraid, and somebody must tell them whether they should really be afraid or not, since it creates a fear psychosis.

Ismael (20) was in Anderlecht during the riots last Friday. He also forwarded the notice to every girl he knows. "I don't know who's it from, but it says a lot about how the skinheads feel about Moroccan girls. More than that, the police is on their side, and they're against us."

A second SMS claims that an 11 year old Moroccan boy was killed by skinheads "who don't want to let any Moroccan live."

Fanny Wellens of the Brussel-Zuid police department says they haven't received any complaint about the message. She does stress that last Friday it was football hooligans and not skinheads who faced the immigrant youth. "It was clearly supporters of the Anderlecht football club. Where today's messages come from, I don't know," she says, "but all means are good in order to create unrest. We are ready for new incidents in the neighborhood."

An anonymous sources from the Brussels Casuals Service (BCS), the hooligan association who faced the immigrant youth last Friday, says that the hooligans are not responsible for the messages. He says that people of all races are members of their club. There might be several people who suppose an extreme-right ideology on the periphery of BCS, but the club is not racist, and they're not asking for new confrontations.

Touria Aziz, youth counselor in the Brussels youth center Chicago, says that the youth don't see a difference between hooligans and skinheads. "The feeling is that almost everybody is a skinhead is widely spread. Immigrant youth feel injured. They think that they don't get opportunities in our society. Girls struggle with the headscarf ban in school."

Source: De Standaard (Dutch)

See also: Brussels: Police expect continuation of race riots, Brussels: Blog incites riots, Brussels: Riots

Netherlands: Doctor calls to allow light form of female circumcision

Jannes Mulder, former internist and oncologist, writing in the Dutch medical journal Medisch Contact, says that girls are still being circumcises, even though the procedure is banned.

The Dutch Council for Public Health estimates that at least 50 girls are circumcised every year, mostly in the Somali community.

In his article, 'A drop of blood', Mulder suggests that since banning the procedure doesn't work, a symbolic form of the practice - pricking the clitorial hood - should be allowed. This would prevent more serious forms of female genital mutilation, and allow medical oversight of the procedure.

His idea was immediately dismissed by Monica Van Berkum, head of Pharos, an information center about preventing and dealing with female circumcision. Van Berkum says that no compromise should be made regarding the integrity of a girl's body. Even a little prick give a completely wrong message, as if that's needed to make a girl fit.

Sources: HLN, Medisch Contact (Dutch)

See also: Netherlands: Imams against female circumcision, Belgium: Female genital mutilation

Manchester: Pharmacist refuses to sell 'morning-after' pill

A MUSLIM pharmacist told a couple he couldn't give them emergency contraception because it was against his religious beliefs

Chris Mellett and Kaye Walsh went to a Sainburys chemist to buy the morning-after pill but were told they couldn't have it - because the pharmacist didn't agree with it.

Mum-of-two Kaye said: "I was absolutely flabbergasted. I'm a 36-year-old woman, not a child. I respect other people's religions, but when it affects my life it's not on.

"Surely the pharmacist has a duty of care? If religion comes into it he should change his job."

Their usual form of contraception failed on Friday night, so by Sunday the 72-hour deadline for taking the pill was fast approaching.

The couple, from Shelley Grove, Droylsden were told to go to Sainsburys in Denton but with 15 minutes from closing time they knew they wouldn't be able to make it.

Mr Mellett, 29, said: "I should have been more organised but why should we be discriminated against because of someone else's religion? It's my right to buy that pill."

A spokeswoman for Sainsburys said all its pharmacists were governed by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.

The society's ethics code says if the morning-after pill is against a pharmacist's personal, religious or moral beliefs they are within their rights not to supply it.

The spokesman said: "We would ask our pharmacists to do their best to help, to find another colleague to dispense the pill or to direct them to another pharmacy nearby."

Source: Manchester Evening News (English)

See also: Netherlands: Islamization crept in a long time ago

Belgium: A female holy warrior for Al Qaeda

On the street, Malika El Aroud is anonymous in an Islamic black veil covering all but her eyes.

Malika El Aroud, seen in her living room in Brussels, has become one of the most prominent Internet jihadists in Europe.

In her living room, Ms. El Aroud, a 48-year-old Belgian, wears the ordinary look of middle age: a plain black T-shirt and pants and curly brown hair. The only adornment is a pair of powder-blue slippers monogrammed in gold with the letters SEXY.

But it is on the Internet where Ms. El Aroud has distinguished herself. Writing in French under the name "Oum Obeyda," she has transformed herself into one of the most prominent Internet jihadists in Europe.

She calls herself a female holy warrior for Al Qaeda. She insists that she does not disseminate instructions on bomb-making and has no intention of taking up arms herself. Rather, she bullies Muslim men to go and fight and rallies women to join the cause.

"It's not my role to set off bombs — that's ridiculous," she said in a rare interview. "I have a weapon. It's to write. It's to speak out. That's my jihad. You can do many things with words. Writing is also a bomb."

Ms. El Aroud has not only made a name for herself among devotees of radical forums where she broadcasts her message of hatred toward the West. She also is well known to intelligence officials throughout Europe as simply "Malika" — an Islamist who is at the forefront of the movement by women to take a larger role in the male-dominated global jihad.

The authorities have noted an increase in suicide bombings carried out by women — the American military reports that 18 women have conducted suicide missions in Iraq so far this year, compared with 8 all of last year — but they say there is also a less violent yet potentially more insidious army of women organizers, proselytizers, teachers, translators and fund-raisers, who either join their husbands in the fight or step into the breach as men are jailed or killed.

"Women are coming of age in jihad and are entering a world once reserved for men," said Claude Moniquet, president of the Brussels-based European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center. "Malika is a role model, an icon who is bold enough to identify herself. She plays a very important strategic role as a source of inspiration. She's very clever — and extremely dangerous."

Ms. El Aroud began her rise to prominence because of a man in her life. Two days before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, her husband carried out a bombing in Afghanistan that killed the anti-Taliban resistance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud at the behest of Osama bin Laden. Her husband was killed, and she took to the Internet as the widow of a martyr.

She remarried, and in 2007 she and her new husband were convicted in Switzerland for operating pro-Qaeda Web sites. Now, according to the Belgium authorities, she is a suspect in what the authorities say they believe is a plot to carry out attacks in Belgium.

"Vietnam is nothing compared to what awaits you on our lands," she wrote to a supposed Western audience in March about wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Ask your mothers, your wives to order your coffins." To her followers she added: "Victory is appearing on the horizon my brothers and sisters. Let's intensify our prayers."

Her prolific writing and presence in chat rooms, coupled with her background, makes her a magnet for praise and sympathy. "Sister Oum Obeyda is virtuous among the virtuous; her life is dedicated to the good on this earth," a man named Juba wrote late last year.

Changing Role of Women

The rise of women comes against a backdrop of discrimination that has permeated radical Islam. Mohamed Atta, the Sept. 11 hijacker, wrote in his will that "women must not be present at my funeral or go to my grave at any later date."

Last month, Ayman al-Zawahri, Al Qaeda's second in command, said in an online question-and-answer session that women could not join Al Qaeda. In response, a woman wrote on a password-protected radical Web site that "the answer that we heard was not what we had hoped," according to the SITE monitoring group, adding, "I swear to God I will never leave the path and will not give up this course."

The changing role of women in the movement is particularly apparent in Western countries, where Muslim women have been educated to demand their rights and Muslim men are more accustomed to treating them as equals.

Ms. El Aroud reflects that trend. "Normally in Islam the men are stronger than the women, but I prove that it is important to fear God — and no one else," she said. "It is important that I am a woman. There are men who don't want to speak out because they are afraid of getting into trouble. Even when I get into trouble, I speak out."

After all, she said, she knows the rules. "I write in a legal way," she said. "I know what I'm doing. I'm Belgian. I know the system."


Source: NY Times (English)

See also: Europe: Fighting Islamic radicalization on the web, Brussels: Terror attack planned, Switzerland: Terror incitement trial, Switzerland: Islamist website owners found guilty

Germany: Killed for being too German

Spiegel Online brings the sad story of Morsal Obeidi, a German-Afghan girl who was recently murdered by her brother. What I find most sad is that the story is told as if the murder was planned by her brother alone, a sort of sibling rivalry. Morsal had been beaten by her father for being too German and forcibly sent for re-education in Afghanistan, her 13 year old brother beat her when she tried escaping her home, and she was lured to her her murderer by her cousin.

Morsal was stuck between her wish to live a normal German life and her wish to be with her family, a wish that ultimately killed her. Why was only her brother arrested for her murder?



Morsal was most afraid of her brother Ahmad. While she began to feel at home in Germany, he lost the ability to strike a balance between his family's old and new worlds. He dropped out of school. His German was poor. He began drinking, and by 13 his name had appeared in police records for the first time. Since then, Ahmad has faced criminal charges roughly 30 times -- for offences like assault, harassment and burglary.

On Jan. 20, 2007, for example, he got into his car, drunk. He stopped at a light and attacked four men, beating one of them with a club and stabbing another in the thigh with his knife. When the police arrived at the scene, he faced them with a broken bottle in his hand.

A number of attacks on Morsal are also noted in his police file. But most of the attacks were never reported -- or documented. According to police records, Ahmad beat up his sister on Nov. 1, 2006. The older sister, the report reads, scratched Morsal in the face as she was lying on the ground. There were more blows on Nov. 8, 2006. This time Ahmad threatened her with a knife, but without using it. He shouted at Morsal, accusing her of violating the family honor. Morsal filed a complaint against her brother, and she was returned to the KNJD. On Jan. 19, 2007, Ahmad allegedly beat her up again, this time in the office of the family's used car and bus dealership. His sister dressed like a slut, Ahmad told the police.

Perhaps Ahmad already sensed that he was a failure, and that he had messed up his life. But according to a relative, he loved Morsal. The youth welfare agency's files refer to their relationship as "highly ambivalent." Morsal was afraid of Ahmad, but he was also a refuge, and sometimes she spent the night in his apartment. The two shared a common fear of their father. Morsal confided in a member of the KJND staff, telling her "she felt closest to her brother, even though she also had many disagreements with him."

In early March 2007, the family sent Morsal to stay with relatives in Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan. They wanted her to study the Koran and familiarize herself with prayer, and to shed everything that was German about her, the many bad influences and her supposedly dishonorable life. The parents, who had told their daughter that the trip was to be a vacation, soon returned to Germany. But Morsal was kept behind for nine months -- to be reeducated.

In Afghanistan she lived with her cousin, Yussuf Obeidi, a stately man in his mid-fifties. The family wanted her to experience the chemak, or female awakening.

Defending Family Property

The Obeidis are not a noticeably conservative family. Nevertheless, it valued traditions, and one of them was to defend the family's property: zar (gold), zamin (property) and zan (women). In their traditional world, it was set in stone that these things are the property of the man.

Morsal was allowed to return home to Hamburg in January of this year. She later told the police that she had been taken to Afghanistan to be married there, and that she was only able to return to Germany by promising to obey the family.

These are the statements of a 16-year-old girl. The father, standing at the door of the family apartment in the Rothenburgsort neighborhood -- a pale, gaunt man -- has no comment.

A friend would later say that Morsal had a baby in Afghanistan. But the police say that they have no knowledge of a birth. The situation became more acute seven weeks before Morsal's death. The staff of the youth welfare agency tried to remove Morsal from her parents' apartment. On April 11, both Morsal and her parents agreed that she would move to a facility in another city, Flensburg. According to the youth welfare agency's files, "Hamburg was a dangerous place in every respect" for Morsal.

On April 25, Morsal decided to leave the Flensburg home. According to her record, she "wanted to live with her family again, but only if the parents did as she wished." The youth welfare office discussed the matter with the family. The father agreed to take in Morsal again, but only if she "obeyed the family rules."

The father was hoping for a new Morsal, and Morsal was hoping for a new father. Both were disappointed.


Source: Spiegel (English)

See also: Germany: 'Honor' murderer confesses, had attacked sister before, Germany: Afghan-German girl murdered, brother suspected

Brussels: Police expect continuation of race riots

The South Zone Brussels Region police says that new violent confrontations are still possible in the Brussels suburb of Anderlecht, particularly on Wednesday or Friday. They advise anyone who doesn't have to come into the area to stay away.

Anderlecht mayor Gaëtan Van Goidsenhoven says that it's rash and even dangerous to accuse the police authorities of racism during their intervention last week, since these accusations ensure a climate of distrust while there's a need for calm.

Municipality council member André Drouart was publicly questioned during the weekend about the reason why the police arrested immigrant youth almost exclusively during the incidents. Of the 194 people who were arrested, 193 were immigrant youth.

Radouane Bouhlal, chairman of MRAX (Movement against racism, antisemitism and xenophobia), accused the Anderlecht municipality of minimizing the racist character of the incidents.

The mayors that there's no issue of preferring one camp upon the other. Those who committed violence will be prosecuted based on concrete evidence. He says people might ask questions and be surprised but he chooses to wait with accusing the police, who were themselves victims of violence. He wants to take the time to analyze the context in which the interventions were done.

Source: HLN (Dutch)

See also: Brussels: Blog incites riots, Brussels: Riots

France:Young Muslims courted by US

For Karim Zéribi, the highlight was shaking the hand of the candidate Barack Obama. For Ali Zahi, it was meeting the basketball star, Earvin "Magic" Johnson, his childhood hero. And Mohamed Hamidi still cannot quite believe that the minaret of a mosque he saw in Washington was taller than that in the village of his parents in Algeria.

Hamidi, a well-known blogger, Zahi, a local politician and Zéribi, the founder of a recruitment agency, are all French, Muslim and under 42. Each grew up, and works, in suburbs that became emblematic of the rioting that rocked France for three weeks in 2005.

And, during recent months, all three joined the small but growing ranks of young minority leaders in Europe invited to the United States on 21-day, tailor-made trips organized by the U.S. State Department - tours that softened their view of a superpower generally distrusted and disliked in their communities.

"Many young people think that America is waging a war on Muslims," said Zahi, 32, cabinet director for the mayor of Clichy-sous-Bois, the Paris suburb where the 2005 rioting started after the death of two teenagers.

"I tell them: America is many things," he said. "It is a country that has a black presidential candidate and a self-confident Muslim community. I tell them, the American people are hospitable and generous."

Since the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, this kind of American diplomacy has tried to embrace the estimated 15 million Muslims in Europe, and the often frustrated young men and women increasingly likely to help shape the future of the Continent.

American embassies have been instructed to court second- and third-generation immigrants from North Africa, Turkey or Pakistan. The International Visitor Leadership program, whose past beneficiaries included President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain, have sharpened a focus on young Muslims.

After 9/11, said James Bullock, head of public affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, the United States needed to reach minorities for whom "America has become a voodoo doll."

While "de-legitimizing the appeal of terrorist recruiters" is one aim, Bullock said, another is definitely "getting to know the future movers and shakers of Europe, because these young people are part of the future of Europe."

France is home to an estimated five million Muslims, the largest community in Western Europe. A plot to blow up the U.S. Embassy in 2001, and the busting of a handful of jihadist cells testified to radical sentiment, while minority communities seethed with resentment at unemployment and perceived discrimination.

Between 25 and 30 French citizens are chosen each year to go on the U.S. program; since the 2005 rioting, about a dozen have been of Muslim origin.

Reaction even to this modest outreach illustrates how sensitive it is.

After a Paris newspaper ran a front-page story last month listing a few cultural projects financed by the U.S. Embassy, indignation erupted. "The CIA in the suburbs" read the banner during a documentary by the public broadcaster France 2. The left-leaning magazine Marianne warned of an "American takeover of Arabs and blacks."

Bullock noted that the cultural program typically helped up to 100 projects a year with grants worth between $1,000 and $5,000. "It's not exactly the D-Day landing in the suburbs," he said.

Most Western countries tout their way of life - through embassies, cultural offices, consulates, scholarships, performances, student exchanges and other visits. The French, for example, run outreach programs in the Bronx, a borough of New York and in public schools in Washington. It also selects American "personalities of the future" to visit France.

"Often it is just a matter of showing people that the country is more complex than a media cliché," said Justin Vaisse, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former adviser to the French Foreign Ministry on its visitor program.

Zéribi, 41, a local politician in Marseille, and the founder of APC Recrutement, the first French recruitment agency specialized in identifying talent among minorities, and Hamidi, 35, a high school teacher and editor of the popular Bondy Blog, returned from the United States early this month.

"It was not all pretty," Hamidi said, recalling a rough part of Washington, and visible poverty, even on the streets of New York City. In Jackson, Mississippi, the two men spent half a day patrolling with a black boxer-turned-police officer.

But Hamidi and Zéribi were impressed to see "every color" in government ministries in Washington. Unlike their parents, they are not observant Muslims. But they expressed surprise at the size of a mosque in Washington. In Los Angeles, they met a Saudi-American teacher preparing to run in local elections.

After going to an Obama rally in Philadelphia and shaking his hand, Hamidi shared the experience on his blog. Zéribi, son of an Algerian father and an Algerian-French mother, said his view of the United States had changed for good.

"I saw the American Dream with my own eyes. Barack Obama incarnates that dream," he said. Zéribi noted that like Obama, he has one Muslim grandmother and one Christian grandmother.

"I'm not naïve," said Hamidi. "I know why they invited us, but this was not clumsy lobbying. It was fun and we learned a lot."

One of nine children of an Algerian immigrant worker, he said that his students became intrigued by jihadist ideology in the 1990s, then turned against America with the Iraq war in 2003. The perception of unfair U.S. support for Israel against the Palestinians remains a driver of anti-Americanism, he said.

But the resentment is not clear-cut. "They all listen to rap and soul music and watch American films," Hamidi said.

Zahi traveled last autumn to Texas, Arkansas, Oregon, Washington and New York. He was thrilled to meet the basketball star, Johnson. At home, however, "several people have accused me of being a spy for the Americans," he said.

When the newspaper, Le Parisien, widely read in the suburbs, wrote about his trip, his photo appeared opposite an article alleging that the CIA was recruiting in the suburbs and a cartoon of a Muslim using a U.S. flag as his prayer mat.

All three men said they learned as much about France as the United States as a result of the program.

"It would be funny if it wasn't so serious - people saying we are agents," Zéribi said. "When did anyone ever accuse any of the white French politicians on that program of working for the CIA?"

Zahi said that French elites, unlike Americans, had trouble imagining minorities as future leaders.

"Maybe that is why some of the reactions in the French establishment were so paranoid when they learned that America is doing something for the French suburbs," he said. "Maybe they are afraid of a French Obama."

Source: IHT (English)

Sweden: Court interpreters and spies

The Local has an article about the lack of qualified court interpreters. I thought it also raised an interesting point, as it means that even when a woman seeks help from the authorities, she might still be restricted by people from her own community, acting as court representatives.



But not all interpreters are as cautious with the lives of others.

Take the case of Aaliyah (not her real name), who claims to have been the victim of repeated mental and physical abuse at the hands of her partner.

The Local was in attendance at Solna District Court when Aaliyah explained her situation to the court in Arabic.

"He made me abort several pregnancies. He beat me, and he also threatened to expose a nude picture he had secretly taken of me during our four-year relationship," she said.

The judge however heard only a fragment of Aaliyah's story as the interpreter condensed her account into a mere three words: "He abused me."

When the defence attorney asked the victim why she had not come forward during all the years the defendant was abusing her, she said that it would have raised too many questions within her community.

"Everybody would have asked me about the nature of my relationship with him and I did not have any answer," she said.

"In my culture it is not socially accepted to have a lover. Even my own family, my own sisters would have cast me out of their social lives," she said as she broke down in tears.

Again, however, the court heard only part of Aaliyah's story as the interpreter neglected to mention the cultural stigma attached to her romantic involvement.

Christina Voigt, the prosecutor in the case, is less than surprised when told that the interpreter shortened the victim's statement. "It happens," she tells The Local.


Source: The Local (English)

Sweden: Five years for pre-school fraud

This case, involving a chain of Muslim-Somali pre-schools, was originally classified also as a terrorism finance case.


The woman in charge of several suburban Stockholm pre-schools was sentenced on Monday by the Solna District Court to five years in prison for defrauding the city of Stockholm out of millions of kronor.

Three men were also sentenced in the same case for helping the woman carry out the tax fraud.

The woman was convicted of serious bookkeeping crime and serious tax crime. The sentence also includes a 10-year ban on the woman heading a commercial enterprise.

Others involved in the crime received prison sentences of varying lengths, with the longest being three and a half years.

The woman owns a company which operates several pre-schools in Rinkeby and Tensta suburbs, northwest of Stockholm. For several years the company received large contributions of public funds from the city of Stockholm in order to offer childcare.

She took out a total of 18.5 million kronor ($3.1 million) from the company as unreported income for herself and to use as funds eventually sent to Dubai and Somalia.

The scheme allowed the woman to withhold 13 million kronor in tax payments from the state.

Fake invoices were used to keep authorities from discovering the withdrawals.

The money was transferred overseas from the woman's company by various informal banking networks, known as hawalas, based in Rinkeby.

According to the court, the woman's crimes were cunning, systematic, and are worthy of a very strong sentence.

The court also said the woman manipulated the company's invoices by 15.5 million kronor and gave the impression that the company had costs equal to that amount.

Source: The Local (English)

See also: Stockholm: Protest against pre-school closure, Sweden: Arrests in terror financing probe

UK: Islamic Channel launches interfaith game show

Islamic Channel, the London-based, Islamic-focused satellite TV channel, is preparing to launch an interfaith game show with contestants from different religions as part of efforts to promote knowledge and respect of all faiths.

"It's about transferring the basic blocks of knowledge," Abrar Hussain, producer of the "Faith Off" show, told The Guardian on Tuesday, May 27.

The interfaith game show will feature Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian and Buddhist contestants.

The eight-part series will be hosted by Muslim stand up comedian Jeff Mirza and is expected to feature all of the flashing lights, a garish set, loud buzzers and puns common to ordinary game shows.

But instead of questions about celebrities and soaps, contestants will be expected to demonstrate their religious knowledge.

In each episode, two teams of four will go head to head answering questions on their own faith and the opposing team's for points.

In another round, players will have to identify religious figures, such as the Dalai Lama and the Pope, from blurred footage.

There will also be quick-fire and general knowledge questions and a multiple choice current affairs section.

Contestants are not theologians or scholars but rather people with varying degrees of knowledge.

Some of them applied directly to online adverts on Muslim websites, while others were picked through Islam Channel's networks.

The winning team will be awarded modest cash prizes.

"We'd like to offer more but it's not about winning, it's about taking part," maintains Hussain.


The producer, who previously created Islamic Channel's hit show "Model Mosque", a competition to find Britain's best mosque, notes Britons need to know more about different religions.

"You learn about religions at school and then you forget," notes Hussain.

"I know a bit about Christianity but nothing about Judaism."

He believes the show would promote good relations and mutual respect between the different faith communities in multiethnic Britain.

"It's also about learning the similarities between religions, instead of focusing on the differences."

Danny Judelson, a 42-year-old Jewish contestant, agrees.

He believes promoting religious education through a game show is "an original idea."

"I thought it was interesting that the channel were taking seriously the opportunity to educate their audience," he told The Guardian.

"There's a very serious purpose behind it."

Source: Islam Online (English)

See also: UK: Model Mosques show

Switzerland: Terrorism finance suspect dies

A Swiss journalist suspected by the United States of Al-Qaida links has died.

Albert Huber was one of five members of a now-defunct Muslim firm who were listed by the United States in 2001 as people accused of helping fund terrorism.

Huber's son said Monday that he died 15 May at the age of 80. He did not give a cause of death.

The Swiss investigated Huber and the company he worked for, Al Taqwa Management Organisation, for 3 1/2 years, but dropped the case in 2005 because of a lack of evidence.

Washington accused the company of aiding Osama bin Laden's terror network by sending money through Malta and Switzerland to bank branches in the Bahamas.

Source: Expatica (English)

Italy: Veils not mandatory for Muslim women

Muslim women in Italy should not be forced to wear the veil, said the president of the Association of Muslim Intellectuals.

"Women should be free to choose if they want to wear the veil or not, considering that it is not a religious duty to do so," said Ahmad Vincenzo in an interview with Adnkronos International (AKI).

He was responding a statement made by Ezzedin el-Zir, the spokesperson of Italy's largest Muslim group, the Union of Islamic Communities of Italy (UCOII).

In an interview with the website KlausCondicio, el-Zir called on the Italian government not to prevent Muslim girls from wearing a veil to school, in the way that France has already done. There is a ban on wearing veils in French schools.

"In Italy, there is no prohibition to wearing the veil provided it does not cover the face and prevent the identification of the person," Vincenzo told AKI.

"As for schools, since it is not absolutely obligatory to wear the veil in Islam, the choice must be left to the women to decide if they want to wear one or not.

"We are worried that the exploitation of the veil could lead to the creation of an Islamist uniform for female Muslims," he said.

The same concerns were expressed by the deputy president of the Association of Intellectual Muslims, Karim Mezran.

"In many Muslim countries, the veil is not obligatory," he said adding that "it is important that it does not become a uniform, that is a form of reverse discrimination, where only those who wear the veil are considered Muslim."

Source: AKI (English)

Berlin: Camel racing

A 6-year-old camel, which had been expected to lose miserably against a spry horse, emerged as the surprise winner at a camel race meeting on Sunday in the German capital Berlin.

Manou, a dromedary mare jockeyed by German rider Nadine Podlich, won by three lengths in the contest on the city's Karlshorst trotting track with a crowd of 6,000 watching. Left behind was an 11-year-old trotter, Money King.

"Oh no! We all bet on the horse," said a race commentator.

Fake sheiks watching the race

A 6-year-old camel, which had been expected to lose miserably against a spry horse, emerged as the surprise winner at a camel race meeting on Sunday in the German capital Berlin.

Camel breeder Stefan Rosenberger, 42, had earlier described the race as just a gag, predicting the trotter, even with a sulky, would easily hit 60 kilometers per hour and outpace a standard camel.

Sustained camel cruising speed at the gallop is normally reckoned to be about 40 kilometers an hour.

Camel racing first entered German public consciousness with a 1997 meeting at the Hoppegarten track, in a Berlin suburb just outside the city limits. The Sunday event was the first inside the city.

The 30 camels entered for the various races were ordinary one-humped dromedaries and two-humped Bactrian camels. A camel race meeting takes place somewhere in Germany most years.

Camel racing is a major sport in the Arabian peninsula.

Sources: Expatica (English), rbb-online (German)

See also: Norway: importing camels

Oslo: Fallaci on display

The exhibition "How free is free", which apparently the article below refers to, closed a week ago, after being open for more than half a year. So now somebody decides to get upset about it?


An exhibition dedicated to the late Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci, known in her later years for a fiercely anti-Islamic stance, has gone on display at Nobel Peace Center exhibition hall in Norway's capital city of Oslo.

The exhibition includes an article by Fallaci titled "Islam as an Enemy," while movies screened within the exhibition hall portray Islam as a dangerous religion. The exhibition, in which the Quran is defined by Fallaci as "the most dangerous book ever written," drew immediate reaction from Muslim visitors.

Nobel Peace Center Director Bente Erichsen spoke to the Cihan news agency and explained that the exhibition had been held within the scope of freedom of expression. Erichsen said they welcome everybody's ideas and added: "We have hosted the ideas of many people, whether we liked their ideas or not, in our exhibition hall. This is the realization of our perception of freedom of expression."

Fallaci generated great controversy in the Islamic world when she wrote an article about Islam in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. Erichsen noted freedom of expression was letting people say whatever they want to say and added, "We need to give this opportunity to Italian journalist Fallaci, too, even if we do not like her ideas."

Sources: Today's Zaman, Noble Peace Center (English)

Denmark: 65% of immigrants with a diploma consider emigrating

A survey by Politiken among 315 young Muslims currently studying or finished studying for a degree, 65% answered that they're considering moving abroad once they have their diploma.

When asked for the reason: 9% said it was family related, 36% said it was for better educational or job opportunities ni their profession, 81% said it was because they didn't feel accepted in Denmark due to the tone of the value debate and 24% said 'other'.

One wrote that he's not asking for self-censorship in the debate, but that common tact and impartiality should replace the emotional statements.

Jakob Lange, a department head at Copenhagen University, says he can confirm the feeling from his talks with students of immigrant background.

Lange says that when they discuss their choice of education, they consider what can be used abroad, where the tone is different than in Denmark. Therefore they often choose to become doctors, engineers or something in business-economy.

Tallat Shakoor, researcher at the Center for Youth Research says the trend is "serious".

Shakoor says that whether the youth will move or not, it's a serious sign that some young New Danes don't feel accepted in Denmark with a Muslim identity.

He has researched attitudes towards moving abroad in the past. Compared to his study, the Politiken survey shows that more immigrant youth are considering the move this year. Shakoor thinks its due to the headscarf debate.

Mette Rose Skaksen of Dansk Industris says that it's unfortunate that they can't hold on to the workforce in Denmark. Therefore it's very annoying that youth of immigrant background consider traveling abroad with their education. But we have freedom of expression in Denmark so there's a limit to what we can to change that.

Source: Politiken (Danish), h/t I Mitt Sverige (Swedish)

See also: Denmark: 25% of immigrant youth want to emigrate

Norway: Discriminating crossword puzzles

Norwegian newspapers VG and Aftenposten were recently criticized for their crossword puzzles definitions.

Aftenposten gave the following clues in one of its crossword puzzles:
1. Clue: Such in Oslo are committed by 'multicultural'. Answer: Rapes
2. Clue: Negro village. Answer: Kraal

VG published this crossword puzzle:

1. Clue: Another usage for a handicapped in Iraq. Answer: Suicide bomber
2. Clue: More and more common Muslim 'carrier choice'. Answer: Terrorist.

Aftenposten's editor Hilde Haugsgjerd accepted the criticism and said that their editorial process failed in this case. Since crosswords are prepared every day with a tight-deadline, things sometimes slip by. In order to prevent this from happening again, they will establish rules for how words can be defined for the crosswords.

VG's editor, Bernt Olufsen, said they will respond based on the decision of the discrimination ombudsman. VG has no intention to publish material which can be construed as generally insulting to Muslims.

Source: Dagbladet (Norwegian)

UK: Queen won over by headscarf

Queen Elizabeth visited a mosque during her visit to Turkey, and donned a Muslim style headscarf:

Apparently she liked it so much, since she's wearing it back in Britain as well. What joy.

Yes, this is not to be taken seriously. But with all the focus on the Queen wearing a headscarf when she entered a mosque in Turkey.. I just couldn't resist ;-)

Sources: Times Online, Daily Mail (English)