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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 4    Issue 16   01-15 January 2009

Islamic Banking and Halal Food Market in Germany

Islamic finance, which is basically premised on Islamic principles governing trade, banking and investment, is steadily gathering momentum across large parts of the world, including Europe, North America and Australasia. Islamic finance embraces a wide range of institutions and products, including Islamic banks, Islamic investment companies, Islamic investment banks and Islamic e-commerce. The products include insurance securities, mutual funds, Islamic bonds and stocks. Islamic finance is no longer a niche business and is increasingly becoming a mainstream component of the global banking system. Currently, more than 300 Islamic financial institutions exist in 75 countries across the world with an asset holding size of $280 billion. Standard and Poor’s, an international rating agency, puts the market for Islamic financial markets at about $700 billion. At present, investments in Islamic financial products represent just about 1 per cent of the global financial market, but the segment has grown at some 15% annually in the past three years and is expected to be worth $1,000 billion by 2010. In the UK it has grown to more than £ 500 million.

In response to the growing worldwide demand among Muslims for Islamic financial products, a number of major international banks, including Citibank, HSBC, ABN AMRO, BNP Paribas, Deutsche Bank, Barclays, Lloyds TSB and Goldman Sachs, have begun to offer Islamic financial products. All major banks in Britain now have Islamic divisions, and there are also five Islamic banks in the country. Investment bankers in the West are competing to create a range of new Islamic capital market products on a large scale. In 2003 HSBC Bank launched an “Islamic mortgage” scheme in Britain to provide loans for house purchase. A Texas-based oil and gas firm issued the first American sukuk (asset-based bonds) in 2006 that were in compliance with the Islamic prohibition of interest.In April 2007 the London Stock Exchange listed its maiden Islamic hedge funds. In 2007 the International Capital Market Association and the International Monetary Fund agreed to develop standard contracts and common best practice for secondary trading of Islamic hedge funds and other Islamic instruments. A number of global banks, including Deutsche Bank, Barclays Capital and BNP Paribas, have issued Islamic hedge funds. The increasing global salience of Islamic finance may be gauged from the decision of the Harvard Law School to sponsor the Islamic Finance Project. The Eighth Harvard University Forum on Islamic Finance was held on April 18-20, 2008 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Cass Business School in Britain offers a degree in Islamic finance. In 2008 Lancaster University Business School joined the Cass Business School and the School of Oriental and African Studies’ Centre for Financial and Management Studies in offering an optional module in Islamic finance as part of its postgraduate training. Since the global financial meltdown in 2008, Islamic financial products have also attracted the interest of conservative Christian investors.

In Germany, banks and other financial institutions now evince a growing interest in Islamic investments and financial products. The Munich-based insurance giant Allianz and Deutsche Bank have set up Shariah-compliant funds and certificates, which are marketed in Muslim countries. Early next year, Germany’s first Islamic bank, Kuveyt Turk Beteiligungsbank, a subsidiary of a Turkish-Kuwaiti bank, will open in Mannheim in the western part of the country. Federal Financial Services Authority, known as BaFin, recently issued a limited license to the bank. There are plans to open branches of the bank in other German cities.

In recent years there has come about a greater awareness and concern for halal food among Muslims living in Western countries. The easy availability of halal food products in most cities, the entry of global food companies in the halal food business, global tourism and international halal food festivals in Malaysia and Dubai have made halal food a conspicuous feature of Muslim culture in large parts of the world. According to the Malaysia-based World Halal Forum, halal food accounts for nearly 17 per cent of the global food market and is one of the fastest-growing segments of the food market. The current global market for halal food is estimated at over $600 billion annually. Sales of halal food are expected to reach $641 billion in 2010, up from $587 billion in 2004. In Europe, sales of halal food products are expected to reach $67 billion in 2010. According to JWT, an American advertising agency, food, finance and packaged goods are the three consumer markets most affected by Islamic law. Since halal food is not available in some parts of the US and Canada, many Muslims turn to kosher. In the US an estimated 16% of sales in the $100 million kosher industry come from Muslim customers. About three million tonnes of halal meat are consumed annually in Europe.

The growing worldwide demand for halal food has prompted global food giants like McDonald’s as well as supermarket chains in Europe and North America to enter the halal food segment. The British supermarket chains Tesco and Sainsbury’s have separate shelves for halal food products. Tesco launched halal products in 2004 and distributes halal chocolates in six of its stores in London. In France, the Casino chain of supermarkets supplies halal food products. British pharmacy retailer Boots sells halal baby food. Nestle earns more from halal products than it does from organic food. Rotterdam Port, one of the world’s largest ports, has built a huge warehouse of halal products and is set to become “the halal gateway to Europe”.

In April 2007, when McDonald’s opened its first European restaurant with halal burgers and chicken nuggets on the menu in Southall in west London, sales rose dramatically. Halal chicken nuggets introduced by McDonald’s in Dearborn, Michigan, home to one of the largest Arab populations in the US, are immensely popular with local Muslims. Two of McDonald’s restaurants in Melbourne and Sydney offer halal meals. All McDonald’s restaurants in Pakistan, Malaysia, South Africa, Singapore and India are halal certified. In the UK, hundreds of outlets serving halal fried chicken, such as Chicken Cottage, have sprung up in recent years. Los Angeles has a Chinese Islamic restaurant and a Thai Islamic restaurant where only halal food is served. A restaurant called McHalal has been serving halal burgers for years outside the French city of Lyon. A newly-opened fast-food restaurant in Paris called Clichy-sous-Bois offers Beurger King Muslim halal hamburgers and fries. A Pakistani Muslim has opened a string of halal chicken sandwich stands in Britain and France. KFC, a popular global food chain, serves halal fried chicken in many of its outlets.

Switzerland is the largest producer of processed halal food in the world with annual sales of $3.5 billion. Swiss companies which produce halal food make sure that their products are tested, regularly checked and certified by Islamic experts. Nestle, the world’s largest food corporation with $94 billion in sales in 2007, adheres to halal food requirements in 75 of its 480 factories worldwide. For the past two years Nestle has eliminated pork, alcohol and blood from its production process in seven of its European factories, including a sausage plant in France, a Nescafe plant in Germany and a powdered milk plant in Spain. The Nestle factory at Wangen bei Olten produces more than 41,000 tonnes of freshly made dough a year, of which a substantial amount is of the halal variety. Most of the halal puff pastry is sold to France, home to Europe’s largest Muslim population.

International halal food and trade festivals have significantly contributed to the growing salience and popularity of halal food products. Since 2004 Malaysia has been organising the International Halal Showcase, the world’s largest international halal trade fair. The fair is regarded as the largest annual gathering of halal industry players in the effort to ease the sourcing and selling of global quality halal products and services. Global food giants such as Nestle, McDonald’s, Rotterdam Post and Tesco were also invited to participate in the fair. In May 2006 the first World Halal Forum was organised in Kuala Lumpur. China held a four-day international halal food festival on September 10-13 this year in the Ningxia Autonomous Region. The 2nd Halal Expo 2008 was held in Dubai from November 24 to 26. It was designed to provide a gateway to the expanding global halal market and a networking platform which will bring together halal associations, halal certification agencies and suppliers and buyers of halal products. Modern information and communication technologies have facilitated interaction and networking among the producers, promoters and consumers of halal food. The popular youth portal TouTube has several videos on halal food products.

Germany is home to some 4 million Muslims. German companies are slowly waking up to the salience and rising popularity of halal food. Cologne hosted an exhibition showcasing the food products of more than 800 halal food producers in June 2009. In Gehlenberg, a sleepy village in northern Germany, the Meemken family business house produces a wide range of halal sausages and supplies some 100 tonnes of salami and other types of sausages each week to food retailers in Germany and other European countries.

International Migration as a Boon

Large-scale international migration is one of the defining features of globalisation. It is estimated that about 3% of the world’s population live outside of their countries of origin. According to the United Nations’ International Migration Report (2000), one person out of ten living in developed nations is a migrant. In France, some 14 million French citizens—nearly a quarter of the country’s population—have at least one immigrant parent or grandparent.

The issue of immigration in the West, especially in Europe, is surrounded by a great deal of controversy and contestation and is often coloured by racist and xenophobic sentiments. In 2004, Frits Bolkestein, an outgoing EU commissioner, warned that immigration was turning the European Union into an “Austro-Hungarian Empire on a grand scale”. The rhetoric about immigration is often politically motivated and has resulted in political polarisation in many European countries. Far-right political parties often stoke popular fear about immigrants, describing even the second and third generations of their descendants (born and raised in European countries) as foreigners to emphasise their Otherness. Elections in many European countries are often dominated by the issue of immigration and governments in many European countries are sometimes compelled to take anti-immigrant measures for fear of losing votes to far-right parties.

The far-right Swiss People’s Party (SVP) emerged as the largest group in the Swiss parliament in the October 2007 elections, scooping nearly 29% of the vote. The party’s campaign had focused almost entirely on the issue of immigration. A video, prepared by the SVP, showed, on the one side, Swiss families enjoying a holiday in the Alps—which was portrayed as “heaven”—and, on the other side, veiled Muslim women, immigrant teenagers attacking Swiss girls and black men standing idly in the street—which was depicted as “hell”. The party had displayed a controversial poster during the campaign, which showed three white sheep kicking a black sheep out of Switzerland, which drew sharp criticism from the United National special rapporteur on racism, Doudou Diene.

Belgium’s anti-immigrant party, Vlaams Belang, remains strong in Flanders. Denmark’s centre-right government’s survival is dependent on the anti-immigrant Peoples’ Party. In Italy the Northern League, a partner in the ruling coalition, is unabashedly xenophobic. The second largest grouping in Norway’s parliament, the Progress Party, is against the entry of non-European migrants in the country. Nicolas Sarkozy, the son of a Hungarian immigrant, won France’s presidential election in 2007 largely on the plank of his anti-immigrant rhetoric. Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party, said that “Vienna must not become Istanbul”, alluding to the growing presence of Turkish immigrants in the city.

Much of the rhetoric about immigration in Europe is based on a misrepresentation of facts. Despite the unprecedented spurt in international migration in recent decades, the number of immigrants in the world today, including both legal and illegal, is nearly 200 million, about 3% of the global population. Contrary to the popular assumption, most of immigration is legal. Economic and demographic factors in the global as well as the European context make immigration inevitable and largely beneficial. A UN study in 2006 pointed out that Europe would need 1.6 million migrants a year for the next 45 years to maintain its workforce at current levels to replenish ageing populations and falling birth rates. The over-65 population in the EU is anticipated to rise from 15.4% in 1995 to 22.4% by 2025. A working document published by the European Commission in November 2007 concluded that “Truly massive and increasing flows of young migrants would be required to offset current demographic changes”. According to UN figures, Britain would need more than 60 million new immigrants by 2050 to keep its current ratio of workers to pensioners, and Germany would need a staggering 188 million immigrants in the same period.

According to an official EU study conducted by Eurostat, deaths will overtake births in Europe by 2015. The continent’s shrinking population, according to the report, is due to “persistently low fertility”. When deaths will overtake births in the next few years, migration will become the only source of population growth. The report says that immigration is necessary to ensure that health and welfare benefits would be available to the national population in the future. In his 2007 Reith Lectures, the eminent economist Jaffrey Sachs emphasised that continued immigration across cultural and economic divides is not only inevitable but also broadly beneficial. The Global Commission on International Migration, an independent panel of the United Nations, in its 2005 report pointed out that rich countries have failed to recognise how much they have benefited from low-cost or highly valued labour. Certain sections of economy in many industrialised nations have become highly dependent on migrant labour and would rapidly collapse if that labour were to be withdrawn or sent back.

The opponents of immigration gloss over the fact that migrants make a substantial contribution to the economies of Western nations and, to a lesser extent, to science, culture and arts. The fast-changing economies of rich countries require highly skilled workers and professionally qualified personnel as well as people who are willing to do jobs that are considered tiring or demeaning or unpleasant by the local people. Migrants from North Africa played an important role in the post-World War II reconstruction of France. Similarly, the reconstruction of Germany’s war-ravaged economy owed much to the skill and sweat and toil of Turkish migrants. In Spain’s recent construction-led economic boom (which has now busted), cheap migrant labour has been a key factor.

In the US, the principal engineer who oversaw the construction of the World Trade Centre in New York as well as the 110-story Sears Tower and the 100-story John Hancock Centre in Chicago was Fazlur Rahman Khan, a Chicago-based engineer of Bangladeshi origin. In California’s Silicon Valley, one in two technology companies has been founded by someone with an immigrant background. A third of America’s Nobel laureates in physics are foreign-born. Google, Yahoo! and eBay were co-founded by immigrants. Zinedine Zidane, the star performer of the French national team that won the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000, is of Algerian descent. Italy’s award-winning creator of pasta alla carbonara is a Tunisian immigrant. The second-best carbonara went to a person of Indian origin. Nearly all pizza bakers in Italy are from Egypt. Italy has recently signed a contract with Sri Lanka’s government to supply guest workers for old peoples’ homes in the country. A process of cultural hybridisation, born out of interaction between immigrant communities and mainstream society, is at work in many European countries. Thus the British tourist board has declared the Indian curry to be the official British dish. Immigrants of North African descent in France have produced popular hip-hop, rai and rap musicians and singers who have influenced French youth across the country. It is now a multi-million dollar alternative music industry in the country.

International migration has played a highly significant role in uplifting the economies of the sending countries. A 2006 United Nations report on international migration and development pointed out that international migration was helping many countries expand their economies, meet shortages of workers and lift themselves out of poverty. A recent World Bank report has noted that the vast flow of remittances by migrants—estimated at over $328 billion in 2008—is more than double the international aid and debt relief ($120 billion) given to developing countries. India, for example, received $52 billion from overseas Indians, more than it took in foreign direct investment. The United Nations Human Development Report (2009), which focuses on international migration, points out that migrants make a highly significant contribution to human welfare, including alleviation of poverty, education and health. Migrants, the report notes, send back to their native countries not just cash but also technology, ideas and networks. Philippe Legrain, in his book Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them (2007), argues that stopping people from migrating is both “morally wrong and economically stupid”.

The global meltdown has adversely affected the plight of migrants in across Europe. In Spain the rate of unemployment among migrants has reached 28 per cent in the second quarter, compared to the national rate of 18 per cent. Domestic labour unions in many European countries are becoming increasingly hostile to workers from other countries. British blue-collar workers recently protested against the use of Spanish and Polish workers in the construction of a power plant in Nottinghamshire. The Spanish government has started advertising a “voluntary return programme” in ads on subway trains and buses. The United Nations’ International Labour Organisation fears that 30 million people around the globe could lose their livelihoods by the end of the year.

India: The Paradox of Development

One of the notable features of many developing countries is the paradoxical coexistence of rapid economic and technological development, on the one hand, and poverty and deprivation of large numbers of people and a pathetic state of human development, on the other. India, China, Kenya, Venezuela and the Arab region provide examples of lopsided development.

During the past five years, India’s economic and financial integration with the global market has accelerated at an unprecedented pace. The country’s foreign reserves have risen to over an enviable $200 billion and raised annual economic growth from around 4% in the four decades before the early 1990s—when the process of wide-ranging economic reforms and liberalization started—to more than 9% in 2007. It is poised to maintain an annual growth rate of around 7-8% in the coming years. As a result of extensive economic reforms, the balance of payments has turned into a surplus of almost $50 billion. India is today one of the world’s fastest growing economies. On a purchasing power party basis, India is today the fourth largest economy in the world after the US, China and Japan. It is on the verge of overtaking Japan to become the third largest economy in the world. It is estimated that India will overtake the US in about 2050, as measured in dollar terms. It is estimated that India’s per capita income will increase to 35 times the present level by 2050. According to Goldman Sach’s BRIC Report—which provides comparative economic projections in respect of Brazil, Russia, India and China—India is the only BRIC economy which will sustain an average of above 5% growth rate through the next 45 years. The country is thus speedily moving in the direction of sustainable growth. Projections by the McKinsey Global Institute suggest that if the country manages to maintain its current growth rate, income levels will almost triple over the next two decades and India will climb from its present position as the 12th largest global consumer market to become the world’s fifth-largest consumer market by 2025, surpassing the size of Germany’s consumer market.

The Indian economy is undoubtedly surging. India is now among the world’s fastest growing consumer markets. It is now an influential force within the G20. The World Bank predicts that India’s economy will be the fastest-growing by next year. However, this reflects only a part of the story. More than 30% of the country’s population still live below the poverty line. Gender bias and insensitivity are widespread in large parts of the country. An important index of gender equality is the female-male ratio. The female-male ratio in India—93 girls for 100 boys--is one of the lowest in the world, compared with the corresponding ratio not only in Europe and North America but also in sub-Saharan Africa. There has been an extremely sharp decline in the female-male ratio of children in the states of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat. This is largely due to the abortion of female foetuses, even though it has been declared illegal. The number of females per 1,000 males in Haryana is 865, a level lower than that of any country in the world. Sex-selective abortions have been on the increase not only in India but also in China, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan. In some parts of northern and western India the sex ratio has become highly imbalanced as a result of the neglect of the girl child and female foeticide. Nearly half of the female population in the country are illiterate. More than a third of the country’s children do not attend school. More than one third of children, especially in the rural areas, suffer from malnutrition. Infant mortality, though substantially reduced in recent years, is still one of the highest in the world.

A devastating report by the NGO Save the Children, released on October 5, 2009, revealed that more than 10 million children still die every year before their fifth birthday, mostly from preventable diseases. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest child mortality rate in the world at 166 per 1000. Nearly two million children under five die every year in India, the highest number anywhere in the world. More than half die in the month after birth and 400,000 in the first 24 hours of birth. Malnutrition, neonatal diseases and pneumonia are the major causes of death. A child dies every six seconds of malnutrition. According to the report, the national mortality rate for under-fives in the poorest fifth of the population is 92 in 1,000 compared with 33 in the richest fifth of the population. The national average is 72. The report blames India for its failure to provide adequate healthcare for the impoverished majority of its population. According to World Health Organisation figures, India ranks 171st out of 175 countries for public health spending. The report by Save the Children says millions of mothers and their babies are simply not getting the skilled medical care they need and the poor, in particular, have been left behind. Cities like Mumbai and Delhi present a stark contrast between well-equipped private clinics and hospitals and the sloppy public healthcare system. On the one hand, these cities have world class equipments and medical expertise and, on the other, poor women are forced to give birth under flyovers. India still lags behind other developing countries, with only 0.7 hospital beds per 1,000 people compared with the global average of 4.

Income disparities and the gap between the rich and the poor in India are steadily widening. The goal of equality of opportunity, enshrined in the constitution, remains a distant dream for millions of people. The fruits of development and progress are beyond the reach of large numbers of people in the country. According to World Bank estimates, income and consumption inequality (as measured by the Gini Index) increased from 27.7% in 1994 to 30.5% in rural areas and from 33.3% to 37.6% in urban areas in 2004.

Islamophobia in Britain: Alive and Kicking

Since the publication of the report Islamophobia: A Challenge to Us All by the Runnymede Commission in 1997, the term Islamophobia has gained wide currency in academic discourse and in the media in Britain and other European countries as well as in the United States. The report defined Islamophobia as “an outlook or worldview involving an unfounded dread and dislike of Muslims, which results in practices of exclusion and discrimination”. A report of the Council of Europe entitled Islamophobia and its Consequences for Young People (2005) described Islamophobia as “the fear of or prejudiced viewpoint towards Islam, Muslims and matters pertaining to them. Whether it takes the shape of daily forms of racism and discrimination or more violent forms, Islamophobia is a violation of human rights and a threat to social cohesion”. The Runnymede Commission’s report highlights many instances of discrimination faced by Muslims in Britain in various aspects of life and emphasizes that Islamophobia represents “a dramatic aspect of social exclusion, the vulnerability of Muslims to physical violence and harassment”. The former United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, observed at a United Nations conference in 2004: “When the world is compelled to coin a new term to take account of increasingly widespread bigotry, that is a sad and troubling development. Such is the case with Islamophobia”.

Islamophobia is manifested in various forms, including assaults on Muslims, attacks on mosques and cemeteries, abuses and obscenities hurled at Muslims and humiliation of Muslims with conspicuous Islamic features such as the headscarf and beard. On August 10, 2007, Brian Donegan launched a vicious physical attack on Sheikh Salamouni, an imam at Regent’s Park mosque in London, leaving him with grievous injuries and blind for life. Donegan was found not guilty by reason of insanity. In June 2008, Martyn Gilleard, a Nazi sympathizer in East Yorkshire, was jailed for 16 years. Police found four nail bombs, bullets, swords, axes and knives in his flat. The police revealed that Gilleard was plotting for a war against Muslims. He had written in a note found in the flat, “I am sick and tired of hearing nationalists talking of killing Muslims, blowing up mosques and fighting back only to see these acts of resistance fail. The time has come to stop the talking and start to act”.

In 2008, a 43-year-old man called Neil Lewington was caught with explosives and was arrested on charges of waging a terror campaign. Police investigations revealed that he had built a bomb factory in his parents’ house which he planned to use to launch attacks against people he considered to be “non-British”. In the house of a BNP election candidate called Robert Cottage in 2008, the police discovered “the largest amount of chemical explosives ever found in this country,” they said. The West Yorkshire Police recently launched a series of raids against far-right groups and recovered 80 bombs from them. Surprisingly, such incidents are hardly noticed by the general public.

The far-right political parties in Britain, especially the British National Party, thrive on fanning people’s primordial sentiments and Islamophobic passions. The BNP often takes advantage of sensitive issues and fans racist and xenophobic sentiments in the majority population in order to draw political advantage. It has publicly praised Hitler and denied the Holocaust. Nick Griffin, a leader of the British National Party, said in a statement in January 2006 that Islam was “a wicked, vicious faith”. He was tried for incitement to racial hatred under the Race Relations Act 1976, but walked free at the swift end of the trial. In his defence, Griffin argued that he had attacked a religion (which is not an offence in Britain), not a race.

A recent report of the Commission for Racial Equality in Britain has pointed out that racial discrimination is still a reality in the country and that Britain continues to be racially divided. The report notes that Britain remains a place of “inequality, exclusion and isolation”. The report points an accusing finger at health, education, home and foreign offices of the government and says that they have failed to meet their own obligations in tackling discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities. The report warns that continuing discrimination and marginalization might lead some people from the minority communities to follow the path of religious and political extremism.

Tamanna Rahman, a young Muslim woman born and raised in Britain, spent two months in the summer of 2009, living undercover on the Southmead estate in Bristol for the BBC’s Panorama programme Undercover: Hate on the Doorstep. The programme was shown on 19 November 2009. The Southmead estate is mainly white and working class, but in recent years some black and other ethnic minority people have moved in, fuelling resentment and racial hatred among the local residents.

From the moment Tamanna and her colleague Amil Khan drove onto the road where they were to live for the coming months, they were greeted with the coldest glares and frowns they had ever experienced. Every time she left the house, she was made to feel unwelcome by the white neighbours, whether they were on the street, in their gardens, looking out of their bedroom windows or in their cars. On the second day, when she was returning from a shopping trip, a rock was thrown towards her. As she walked by, obscenities were hurled at her. The abuses came from adults as well as teenagers and children. In the course of time, glass, a can, a bottle and stones were thrown at her. She was almost mugged three times and threatened with a brick. Her colleague Amil Khan was punched in the head while walking down the road. Tamanna said the more abuses she received, the less she wanted to go out and the more racism she experienced, the less she wanted to talk to anybody. She felt she was not alone in her feelings; such feelings were shared by a large majority of non-whites, especially Muslims.

“I feel strongly that neighbourliness is a two-way street, but why would anybody attempt to go out of their way to get to know the community they have moved into, if that community has made you feel unwelcome for no reason but the colour of your skin? If you are a non-English speaker, what incentive would you have to learn the language if the vast majority of communication you are likely to experience is abusive?,” she said.

British Doctors against Booze Advertising

In the past few years, doctors have extolled the benefits of red wine, claiming that it protects a person from heart disease. But this view is now being contested. Rod Jackson, a British specialist who led a recent study on the consequences of even modest consumption of alcohol, pointed out in an article in the British medical journal Lancet that any benefit from light to moderate drinking is probably small and is unlikely to outweigh the harm caused by alcohol.

Habitual alcohol consumption increases the risk of alcoholic hepatitis as well as the inflammation and destruction of liver cells, which may result in cirrhosis or cancer of the liver. Studies show that one in five heavy drinkers develops cirrhosis of the liver. Alcohol abuse increases the risk for cancers of the mouth, lungs, pancreas, intestine, pharynx and oesophagus. It also affects the central nervous system. Alcohol is believed to damage a person’s DNA, making him susceptible to the risk of cancer. A new study carried out by Cancer Research UK suggests that even drinking one small glass of wine a day increases the risk of cancer by at least 10 per cent. Prof Tim Key, an epidemiologist associated with Cancer Research UK, said: “The research shows quite clearly the more alcohol you drink the greater your risk of bowel cancer”. Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in the UK, with more than 36,500 people diagnosed each year, and 16,000 deaths. More than 3,000 people in the country are diagnosed with liver cancer each year and a similar number die.

Recent medical evidence shows that alcohol intake increases levels of the hormone oestrogen, thereby increasing the risk of breast cancer in women. A recent study carried out by the National Cancer Institute in the US has confirmed that women who drink more than a glass of wine a day could be significantly increasing their risk of developing breast cancer. The study points out that not only does a small quantity of alcohol significantly increase the risk of breast cancer, it increases the risk of the most common type of breast cancer, responsible for around 70 per cent of breast cancer cases. Breast cancer kills 12,000 women in Britain every year. The study found that women who have one alcoholic drink a day have a seven per cent greater chance of developing the most common type of breast cancer than teetotallers. For women who have one to two drinks a day, the risk is 32 per cent greater. The study looked at more than 184,000 post-menopausal women over a period of more than seven years.

A report published in The Lancet on June 26, 2009 has blamed the excessive consumption of alcohol for more than half of all deaths among Russians in their prime years and said that the scale of the tragedy is comparable to a war. The report said that three-quarters of deaths among men and half of deaths among women aged 15-54 were attributable to alcohol abuse. The mortality rate in Russia in this age group is five times higher for men and three times higher for women than in Western Europe. Professor David Zaridze, who led the international research team, calculated that alcohol had killed three million Russians since 1987. Life expectancy in Russia has slumped since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The average Russian man now lives a little more than 60 years, compared with 77 years for men in Western Europe. Russian women die on average at 73, nine years earlier than their European counterparts. The factors responsible for this high mortality rate, in addition to alcohol addiction, include poverty and loss of jobs, stress and a gnawing sense of insecurity. A report in 2007 by Gennadi Onishchenko, the Chief Public Health Officer, said that almost 30,000 people died annually from alcohol poisoning and that at least 2.3 million people in the country were alcoholics.

Excessive alcohol consumption in the UK is on the rise. Over a third of adults in the country are now drinking above the recommended amounts. Alcohol abuse is now one of the leading causes of early death and disability. Excessive alcohol consumption is responsible for the loss of productivity in the country to the tune of more than £7 billion a year. The costs for treating injury and illness linked to alcohol abuse have been estimated to be close to £3 billion a year.

Alcohol advertising is one of the factors that has significantly contributed to the rise in the number of people who are addicted to drinks. Alcohol advertising in Western countries can be seen everywhere: on TV, in magazines, on billboards, on internet pop-ups, on social networking sites and as part of music festival or football sponsorship deals. The alcohol industry in the UK spends £800 million a year on promoting drinks.

The British Medical Association has urged the government to ban all alcohol advertising, including sports and music sponsorship, in view of the rising alcohol abuse in the country.

Global Blasphemy Law

One of the formidable problems faced by a large number of countries around the world is to strike a balance between freedom of expression, a cherished principle of democratic societies, and respect and sensitivity towards the religious beliefs, symbols and cultural traditions of other people.

The Quran advises Muslims not to vilify or slander the deities of other people (6:108). Unfortunately, this humane principle is conspicuously absent in many religious traditions. Norman Daniel, in his book Islam and the West: The Making of an Image (1960), has shown that from the time of St John of Damascus in the 8th century and Peter the Venerable in the 12th, the Western perception of Islam had been shaped, for the most part, by ignorance, prejudice and misrepresentation. St John (d. 750) regarded Islam as a Christian heresy while Pope Innocent III described the Prophet of Islam as the Antichrist. The Royal Chaplain and Father Confessor of Spain, Jaime Bleda, described the Prophet as the deceiver of the world, a false prophet, Satan’s messenger, the Beast of the Apocalypse and the worst precursor of the Antichrist. The Prophet was debunked by Christian polemicists as an ambitious schemer, a bandit, an impostor and an epileptic. He was vilified as the epitome of lechery, debauchery, sodomy and treachery. Dante (d. 1321) placed the Prophet at the very centre of his Inferno. During the Crusades songs were composed in which the Prophet was painted in the darkest of colours. Pope Urban II contemptuously described Muslims as “a race utterly alien to God”. Martin Luther described the God of Muslims as equal to the devil and the Quran as foul and shameful.

The vilification of Islam and the Prophet has continued unabated in present times. Geert Wilders, a leader of the far-right Freedom Party in the Netherlands, makes no secret of his hatred for immigrants, especially Muslims. He calls Islam “the ideology of a retarded culture”. He has carried out a vicious campaign against the Quran, comparing it to Hitler’s Mein Kampf, claiming that the Quran is incompatible with Dutch values, and telling Dutch Muslims that if they wish to stay on in the country, they should tear up half of their holy book. He has demanded a ban on the Quran in the Netherlands. Wilders says that Europe is in danger of being “Islamised” and that there will soon be more mosques than churches in the country. Wilders has produced a 10-minute provocative film—which was banned by the Dutch government—denouncing the Quran and Islam. He said his film shows how the Quran is “an inspiration for intolerance, murder and terror”.

Norway’s far-right Kristisand Progress Party declares that Hitler’s Mein Kampf and the Quran are one and the same and wants Islam banned in the country. Nick Griffin, a leader of the far-right British National Party, described Islam as a “wicked, vicious faith” in 2006 and got away with it because, under British law, it is not an offence to denounce and slander any religion (except Anglican Christianity, which is the country’s established religion). Susanne Winter, a leader of Austria’s far-right FPO Party, while campaigning for the Graz City Council elections in January 2008, said that (Prophet) Muhammad wrote the Quran in “epileptic fits”. The late Italian writer and journalist Oriana Fallaci famously described Muslims in Europe as “terrorists, thieves, rapists, ex-convicts, prostitutes, beggars, drug-dealers, dangerously ill.” Her pamphlets, which contain a stream of invective against Islam and Muslims, became bestsellers in French, German, Italian and other European languages.

Prominent leaders of the Christian Right in the US often denigrate and demonize Islam. In late 2001, Franklin Graham, the Rev Billy Graham’s son and successor, described Islam on BBC News as “very evil and very wicked religion”. In September 2002, televangelist and founder of the Christian Coalition, the Rev Pat Robertson, called Prophet Muhammad “an absolute wild-eyed fanatic….a robber and brigand….a killer”. A Catholic bishop said that a wave of petrodollars is fueling a wave of “Muslim reconquest of Europe”.

Modern information and communication technologies, including the Internet, videos and films, are being increasingly used to disseminate hate against Islam and Muslims. A Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh made a derogatory film called Submission, which was aired on Dutch television in the summer of 2004. The script of the film was written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a self-styled Somalian-born rebel who sought asylum in the Netherlands. The film opens with a prayer and then presents, through Ali’s voice-over, the stories of four Muslim women telling God about the abuse (including incestuous rape) they have suffered at the hands of men. The film shows semi-nude images with verses from the Quran inscribed on their naked bodies. The film quite explicitly conveys the message that Islam denigrates and enslaves women and that the abuse and humiliation of women is sanctioned by the Quran. The film created a great deal of anger and resentment among Muslims in the Netherlands. On November 2, 2004 a Muslim youth of Moroccan origin stabbed Gogh to death.

In September 2005, a minor Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published 12 highly derogatory cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. In one of them he was shown wearing a bomb-shaped turban (thus portraying him as a terrorist). It is interesting to note that Jyllands-Posten had earlier refused to print cartoons of Jesus Christ because it involved the risk of hurting the religious sentiments of Christians. In early February 2006, several newspapers in 22 European countries reproduced the cartoons, which generated an enormous amount of resentment among Muslims around the world. At the height of the controversy, Roberto Calderoli, a member of the Italian parliament, wore on television a T-shirt depicting the cartoons. This sparked riots against Italy’s consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in which 11 people died. There were massive protests in Muslim countries in which scores of people were killed. Danish embassies in Iran, Lebanon, Libya and Syria were attacked and vandalised. Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Libya recalled their envoys to Denmark. Large numbers of Muslim consumers across the world boycotted Danish products on a massive scale. Trade between Denmark and the Persian Gulf, which amounted to billions of dollars each year, came to a halt. By and large, European writers and intellectuals and the media justified the publication of these cartoons in the name of freedom of expression.

Since 1838 there is an anti-blasphemy law in the UK, but the law is applicable only to Anglican Christianity, which is the country’s established religion, and not to other religions. Similarly, Denmark has a blasphemy law as well as a law against hate speech, but the laws are applicable only in the case of Christianity. Curiously, Denmark’s Liberal Party, which is against the blasphemy law, and the ruling Conservative Party have opposed a parliamentary move to overturn the blasphemy law.

The Western world considers itself an ardent and uncompromising advocate of freedom of expression. In practice, however, a great deal of hypocrisy and doublespeak surrounds the issue. No country, including those of Europe, allows complete, unfettered freedom of expression, as the two recent instances cited in the foregoing testify. Freedom of expression in nearly all countries is restricted by prohibitions against defamation, libel, blasphemy (as in the UK and Denmark), obscenity, national security, incitement to hatred, and judicial and parliamentary privilege. The European Convention on Human Rights, while recognizing that everyone has the right to freedom of expression, allows European nations to impose restrictions “in interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others.”

Denial of the Holocaust is a punishable offence in several European countries, including France, Germany, Austria, Belgium and Spain. The world’s best-known Holocaust-denier Ernst Zundel, who was deported from Canada in 2005, faces 14 charges in Germany. British historian David Irving, author of 30 books on World War II, was jailed for three years by an Austrian court in 2006 for denying the Holocaust and the existence of gas chambers in Auschwitz in a speech he had given in Austria in 1989. Irving has been debarred from setting foot in Germany, Austria, Italy and Canada because of his views. A German court fined British bishop Richard Williamson £12,000 in November 2009 for denying the Holocaust in an interview he gave to Swedish television last year that caused outrage around the world.

A Spanish court in November 2007 convicted Manel Fontdevila, cartoon editor of the popular satirical weekly magazine El Jueves, and cartoonist “Guillermo” on charges of “damaging the prestige of the crown.” The journalists, who were fined 3,000 euros, had published a cartoon in July 2007 which made fun of Prince Filipe, heir to the Spanish crown, and of the government’s scheme to encourage women to have more babies. Within a few hours of the cartoons’ appearance, the court ordered the confiscation of all copies of the magazine. A recently released survey of media freedom in 20 European countries entitled Goodbye to Freedom?, published by the independent Association of European Journalists, found that within the past year alone, journalists in 18 out of 20 European countries have faced criminal prosecution, or been jailed for breaking various laws involving libel or secrecy.

European countries are trying to reconcile the conflicting pressures of safeguarding freedom of speech and protecting citizens from racist and hate crimes. On April 19, 2007 the European Union approved the draft of a Europe-wide legislation that would make hate crimes punishable by jail sentences. The legislation called for jail terms for “intentional conduct” that incites violence or hatred against a person’s race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin. The same punishment would apply to those who incite violence by “denying or grossly trivializing crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes”. Curiously, the legislation states that the constitutional protection of freedom of speech in individual European countries would be upheld. In other words, publishing the derogatory cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad would not constitute an offence in any European country because it would be protected by the provision of freedom of speech.

It is an open secret that racism and xenophobia are deeply entrenched in the cultural consciousness of European countries. In 2005, Luxembourg tried to push through Europe-wide anti-racism legislation during its presidency of the European Union, but it was blocked by Italy’s centre-right government on the grounds that it threatened freedom of speech. The critics of the anti-hate legislation accuse the European Union of having double standards in that while it protects established Christian religions against blasphemy and outlaws anti-Semitism, it does nothing to protect Muslims against demonization and Islamophobia.

The right to freedom of expression needs to be tempered with social responsibility and sensitivity towards the beliefs and sentiments of others. An unbridled right to freedom of expression is fraught with socially disruptive consequences. A recent report of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia points out that freedom of expression is not an absolute right. International law and the legal order of EU Member States lay down certain limits that democratic societies consider important and necessary in order to protect other fundamental rights. The report adds that freedom of expression and the protection against racist and xenophobic language can, and have to, go hand-in-hand.

An important judgement of the Indian Supreme Court can provide some enlightenment on this issue. On May 5, 2007 the Supreme Court of India ruled that no person can take undue advantage of the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression to indulge in ‘malicious criticism’ of other faiths. Upholding the government’s power to confiscate books which contain references that can spark violence, the Court observed that no person has the right to hurt the feelings of others on the premise that his/her right to freedom of speech should be unrestricted and unfettered. The Court observed: “It cannot be ignored that India is a country with vast disparities in language, culture and religion, and unwarranted and malicious criticism or interference in the faiths of others cannot be accepted.” The learned judges pointed out that there was no doubt that freedom of speech and expression was an important right and should be available to all. At the same time, while exercising the right, one should be careful not to hurt others’ feelings.

The 56-member Organisation of the Islamic Conference has now taken the lead in proposing an international treaty to protect religious beliefs and symbols from sacrilege and slander. The United Nations General Assembly has passed a non-binding resolution, at the urging of the OIC, condemning “defamation of religions”. The OIC is lobbying to place the resolution before the General Assembly for ratification. The US is against any such ban against blasphemy and is lobbying to quash the proposal.

President Barack Obama, in his widely-publicised speech in Cairo on June 4, 2009, had said: “I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles– principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings”. What ultimately matters is not high-flown rhetoric but well-meaning action. The world waits to see whether Obama really means what he so eloquently says.

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