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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 11    Issue 20   01-15 March 2017

  • Angela Merkel: Islam is Not the Source of Terrorism
  • Athens Set to Have Its First Mosque
  • Turkey Lifts Ban on Headscarves in Armed Forces
  • Dutch Election and the Demonisation of Muslims
  • Inequality in Indonesia
  • Growing Islamphobia in Quebec

  • Angela Merkel: Islam is Not the Source of Terrorism

    There is a growing perception, especially in many European countries, the United States and Australia, that Islam is the breeding ground for intolerance, aggression and terrorism and that terrorist groups and organisations draw inspiration from the Islamic faith. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel sought to dispel this misconception by declaring, in a clear, unequivocal manner, that Islam is not the cause or source of terrorism. Speaking at the annual Munich Security Conference on February 18, 2017, with US Vice President Mike Pence in the audience, Merkel emphasised the need for including Muslim countries in the fight against terrorism. She said, “I think Muslim countries first and foremost have to make a contribution because only in this way we would be able to convince people that it is not Islam that is the source of terrorism, but a falsely understood and misconstrued Islam.” She urged Islamic religious authorities to speak forcefully against terrorism. “They must speak clear words on the demarcation of peaceful Islam and terrorism in the name of Islam,” she said.

    Merkel also called on Europe and its allies to cooperate with Russia in the fight against ISIS, in spite of tensions over Ukraine, Syria, alleged cyber attacks and ‘fake news.’ Merkel said that Islamist terrorism is the most severe challenge facing Germany, adding “It is particularly bitter and sickening when terror attacks are committed by people who claim to seek protection in our country.” She stated: “As we go about our lives and our work, we are saying to the trrorists: you are hate-filled murderers, but you do not determine how we live and want to live. We are free, considerate and open. All this is reflected in our democracy, rule of law and values. Together we are stronger.”

    Chancellor Merkel’s courageous and outspoken stand against the false conflation between Islam and terrorism is indeed commendable. One only wishes she had avoided using a fallacious, obfuscating and pejorative term like “Islamist terrorism.” Terrorism has nothing to do with Islamic values and principles, as she has rightly emphasised. Terrorist groups that indulge in wanton killing and destruction and seek to legitimse such actions in the name of Islam are the grestest enemies of the Islamic faith.

    Athens Set to Have Its First Mosque

    The Greek capital Athens, where an estimated 200,000 Muslims live, is the only capital city in Europe that has no proper mosque. Muslims offer prayers in over 100 makeshift prayer halls that are located in basements, warehouses and private homes. During the past 5 or 6 years, dozens of makeshift mosques in Athens have been attacked by far-right groups. In one incident, dozens of worshippers were locked inside a prayer hall and set on fire.

    A basketball court in Athens is a makeshift prayer center for Muslims. Others use basements and living rooms because the Greek capital has no mosque available. A government-built mosque scheduled to open in April is stirring both delight and dismay.

    In 2006 the Greek parliament approved plans to build a mosque in the capital at an estimated cost of €1.05 million. The state-funded mosque would be rather small as it would accommodate only about 350 worshippers. The mosque is proposed to be built on a 600 square metre plot that was earlier used as a navy warehouse in the Votanikos neighbourhood of western Athens. The mosque would not have a dome or minarets and the imam would be appointed by the state authorities. The construction of a state-funded mosque in Athens carries a great deal of symbolic significance.

    The mosque project has been strongly opposed by far-right and neo-Nazi groups like the Golden Dawn party as well as the Greek Orthodox Church, the official church of Greece.

    A policewoman stands guard at the site of the proposed mosque (Orestis Panagiotou / European Pressphoto Agency) In early 2016 the Greek government awarded a contract to a consortium of construction companies. The mosque is expected to be completed by the middle of 2017.

    Turkey Lifts Ban on Headscarves in Armed Forces

    Inspired by the French republican system, Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, believed that religion should be confined to the individual’s private life and that the visibility of religious symbols in the public sphere, especially in government offices, universities, hospitals and courts, should be curtailed. The wearing of the headscarf has been particularly targeted by the Kemalist ruling elite. In 1981, the Turkish cabinet, which was formed after the 1980 military coup, issued a regulation to the effect that female students and faculty members would not be permitted to wear headscarves on university premises. Following the regulation, female students who refused to remove their headscarves were expelled from the university. The ban was enforced more stringently after the military generals forced out the government of Necemettin Erbakan.

    In 1999, Merve Kavakci, a Harvard-educated computer scientist, was elected a member of the Turkish parliament. She was prevented from taking oath because she wore a headscarf. Bulent Ecevit, then prime minster, accused her of violating the tenet of secularism and the former Turkish president Suleyman Demirel called her an agent provocateur. She was stripped of her Turkish citizenship and her seat in Parliament. In 2007 Kavakci won the legal case when the European Court of Human Rights ruled that her expulsion from Parliament constituted a violation of human rights. In 2008 Prime Minister Erdogan’s wife was not allowed to visit a friend in a military hospital because she was wearing the headscarf.

    Abdullah Gul, whose wife wears a headscarf, contested Turkey’s presidential election in 2007. The military commanders then issued a veiled threat that if a presidential candidate, whose wife wears a headscarf, became head of the Turkish Republic, the army would be constrained to intervene. Fortunately, better sense prevailed over the generals and Gul won the presidential election without a confrontation with the army.

    Turkey’s ruling AK Party overturned the ban on the wearing of headscarves on university campuses in 2011 and in the civil service in 2013. In August 2016, women in the police force were allowed to wear headscarves. On February 22, 2017 the Turkish government issued a notification to the effect that women in the armed forces would be allowed to wear headscarves as part of their uniform. As of 2013, there were 1,345 female commissioned officers and 370 female non-commissioned officers in the Turkish army.

    The move is in keeping with the redemocratisation process initiated by the AK Party since it came to power in 2002.

    Dutch Election and the Demonisation of Muslims

    Parliamentary elections in the Netherlands are scheduled for March 15 this year. A record 28 parties are in the electoral fray. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s conservative liberal WD party is currently leading in the opinion polls, followed by the far-right PVV led by Geert Wilders.

    The election campaign has been vitiated by the racist, xenophobic and anti-immigrant rhetoric of Geert Wilders. Wilders has carried on an orchestrated campaign of vilification and demonization against Islam and Muslims, calling for a ban on the Quran in the Netherlands, the closing down of all mosques in the country and putting an end to immigration. He has repeatedly accused young Dutch Moroccans of making the streets unsafe. In the 2014 elections to the European Parliament, almost one in two Dutch voters backed PVV party.

    The population of Muslims in the Netherlands is over a million, accounting for about 5.8 per cent of the population. The majority of Dutch Muslims are of Turkish and Moroccan origin. Relations between the Muslim minority and mainstream Dutch society have been strained since the murder of a Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh by a Moroccan man in 2004. A Dutch film maker, Theo van Gogh, made a film called Submission, which was aired on Dutch television in the summer of 2004. The film opens with a prayer and then presents the stories of four Muslim women telling God about the abuse (including incestuous rape) they have suffered at the hands of Muslim men. The film shows semi-nude images of women with verses from the Quran inscribed on their naked bodies. The film quite explicitly conveys the message that Islam has nothing positive to offer to women, that their abuse and humiliation is legitimised by the Quran. Understandably, the film created a great deal of anger and resentment among Muslims in the Netherlands. Despite their protests, there was no move to ban the film. On November 2, 2004, a Dutch Muslim of Moroccan origin stabbed Theo van Gogh to death. The murder hardened Dutch attitudes towards Islam and Muslims.

    The integration of Dutch Muslims has become a highly contentious issue in the Netherlands. Prime Minister Mark Rutter suggested that people who refuse to adopt Dutch values should leave the country.

    Hafsa Mahrouwi, a Dutch Moroccan woman who wears trendy clothes with a headscarf, is distressed by the strong Islamophobic undercurrents in the election campaign. She says, “They say Islam isn’t normal, it doesn’t belong in Dutch society, and that being hijabi means I am an oppressed person. It is tiring because we are always in the spotlight and you have to defend yourself.

    Inequality in Indonesia

    Nearly 70% of the world’s energy resources and 65% of natural gas reserves are located in Muslim countries. Despite this vast natural wealth, Muslim-majority countries are among the poorest in the world. More than 40% of the population in Muslim countries live in poverty and account for 40-45% of the world’s poor. The Middle East and North Africa, where the bulk of the population is Muslim, are home to about 70% of the world’s poor, living on less than $2 a day. Ironically, three of the 10 nations with the highest GDP worldwide – Qatar, Kuwait and Brunei – are Muslim, but three of the 10 countries with the lowest GDP per capita – Afghanistan, Niger and Somalia – are also Muslim.

    Rates of poverty and inequality are fairly high in Indonesia. According to official estimates, 11.7% of the population live below the poverty line. In reality, more than a third of Indonesians (37%) live on less than $2 a day. On the other hand, the ranks of the superrich are swelling, and the gap between the rich and the poor are widening. While consumption by the richest 20% has grown by 5.9%, the share of the poorest 40% of households has been only 1.3%. The luxury sports car Lamborghini opened its stores in Indonesia in 2009 and now the country is its third-largest market in the Asia-Pacific region. The gap between the rich and the poor is starkly reflected in the luxurious lifestyle of Indonesia’s superrich, who love to flaunt the expensive, trendy Hermes Channel and Louis Vuitton handbags that cost from $1,000 to 50,000.

    According to a recent Oxfam report, the wealth of Indonesia’s four richest persons is more than the combined earnings of 100 million of the country’s poorest people. The report says that Indonesia, with a population of more than 250 million, has the sixth-worst inequality in the world. In 2016, the wealthiest 1% of the population owned nearly half (49%) of the total wealth. A striking feature of Indonesia’s pervasive inequality is the concentration of land ownership in a few richest families. In just one day, the richest Indonesian can earn from interest on his assets over one thousand times more than what the poorest Indonesians spend on their basic needs for an entire year.

    One of the factors that has contributed to massive inequalities in Indonesia is the extremely low tax rate, the second-lowest in Southeast Asia. This has had adverse consequences for expenditure on public services such as education and healthcare. There is widespread tax evasion in Indonesia. According to data from the International Monetary Fund, nearly $101 billion were siphoned from Indonesia to tax havens.

    An ambitious scheme aimed at reducing poverty rates and providing free access to education and health care for the poor was launched by Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, on November 3, 2014. According to the scheme, the government would issue a set of three cards to poor families, two of which would enable them to have access to publicly-funded health care and education programmes, while the third card would entitle them to receive cash handouts of $15.75 per month. About 4.5 million cards were issued in the course of 2015. The scheme is expected to cover 86.4 million people, a third of Indonesia’s population. The scheme is funded by the money the Indonesian government has saved by ending petrol subsidies – 200 trillion rupiah per year. The scheme has indeed played a significant role in reducing poverty levels in the country but has failed to address the issue of deeply entrenched inequalities.

    Growing Islamophobia in Quebec

    Quebec is one of the ten provinces of Canada. Ever since the creation of the Canadian federation in 1867, Quebec has assiduously safeguarded its distinctive identity, which is rooted in the predominance of the French language and culture, Catholicism, shared territory and a separate historical tradition. A large majority of Quebec’s population (over 83%) consists of French-speaking Catholics. For the past several decades, the relations between Quebec and the Anglophone Canadians have been characterized by an uneasy coexistence and accommodation. There are fundamental, irreconcilable differences between the mindset and ideology of Quebeckers and those of Anglophone Canadians. While the large majority of Anglophone Canadians believe in the recognition and accommodation of cultural diversity, which lies at the heart of multiculturalism, Quebeckers espouse monoculturalism, cultural homogeneity and the assimilation of immigrants and foreigners into the mainstream Francophone society. They look up to France as a role model and believe that their core values have much more in common with French society than with Anglophone Canadians.

    There has been a strong undercurrent of resentment and hostility against Muslim immigrants and asylum seekers in Quebec. This is particularly reflected in Quebec’s policy towards the Islamic headscarf. Since Canada follows the federal system of government, provinces have the freedom to enact their own laws. Quebec has banned the wearing of face-covering veils or niqab in schools and hospitals and in sports. Quebec’s soccer association has banned the wearing of headscarves and turbans in football matches. In February 2007, Asmahan Mansour, an 11-year-old Canadian Muslim girl was kicked out of the Quebecois tournament because she refused to take off her headscarf. Interestingly, the Canadian Soccer Association and the Ontario Soccer Association allow the wearing of headscarves and turbans on the pitch. Similarly, the Greater Montreal Athletic Association allows Muslim players to wear sweat pants instead of shorts.

    Quebec’s governing Parti Quebecois introduced a bill, called the Quebec Charter of Values, in the National Assembly in November 2013. The Charter prohibits state employees at offices, schools, hospitals, courts, police stations and daycare institutions to wear any religious symbols, including the Islamic hijab, Sikh turbans, Jewish kippas and visible crucifixes. The bill aroused an intense debate in Quebec as well as in other parts of Canada and was condemned it for its divisive and polarizing implications and consequences. There were widespread protests against the bill from minority groups, especially the Muslim community. Charles Taylor, a renowned Canadian political philosopher, described the charter as an “absolutely terrible act of exclusion.” The introduction of the bill led to a heightening of Islamophobic sentiments across the province. Veiled Muslim women were increasingly subjected to insults and slanderous remarks. A mosque in Chicoutimi was sprayed with pig blood. The bill died after the 2014 election.

    Quebec has a rather small Muslim population, estimated at 243,000, most of whom are of North African origin. Quebec’s Muslims are generally well educated and are fluent in French, Quebec’s official language.

    Quebec City is a conservative bastion and home to right-wing radio talk shows that fan hatred against immigrants and Muslims. In 2005 Quebec explicitly banned the Shariah law. Unlike in the Anglophone part of Canada, Muslims in Quebec are faced with discrimination, intolerance and Islamophobia. They often experience discrimination in respect of employment and housing. Tania Longpre, a French teacher and researcher in Montreal, says, “Unfortunately, you’re more likely to get a good job if your name is Lachane than if it’s Hamad.”

    Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City has the province’s largest mosque. In recent years, there have been hate letters and swastikas painted on the mosque’s door. In 2016 Ramadan, a pig’s head was left on the mosque’s doorstep. The blood-soaked head was wrapped in cellophane and festooned with ribbons, clearly aimed at offending and provoking the local Muslim community. The culprits were not apprehended for this sacrilegious act.

    On 30 January this year, two gunmen entered the mosque and started firing indiscriminately at worshippers, killing six men and wounding eight others. One of the attackers was captured near the mosque and the other was apprehended at a nearby highway. The attack was widely condemned and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called it an act of terrorism. He said, “Muslim Canadians are valued members of our community and wherever they live deserve to feel safe; they are at home here. We are all Canadians. Let peace unite us all. It is heart-wrenching to see such senseless violence. Diversity is our strength, and religious tolerance is a value that we, as Canadians, hold dear. Muslim-Canadians are an important part of our national fabric, and these senseless acts have no place in our communities, cities and country. Canadian law enforcement agencies will protect the rights of all Canadians, and will make every effort to apprehend the perpetrators of this act and all acts of intolerance."

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