Paper presented at a dialogue organised by MYATA (Muslim Youth Against Terrorism Activities) sponsored by the American Embassy, Kampala 19th Feb 2010
Omar kalinge, UMBS forumist in Kampala and can be reached on: 0752 656 352
There is no straight answer to this question. What we can say is that there are so many myths surrounding these two cultures. Most of the myths are the consequences of stereotypical messages largely portrayed in the Media and different cultural exchanges. The search for realities, and the conscious separation of myth form reality is what should pre-occupy us.
Globally, it can be said that religious resurgence and democratization were two of the most important developments of the final decades of the twentieth century. In many areas, movements of religious revival coincide with and sometimes reinforce the formation of more democratic political systems. In other areas, the two dynamics are in conflict (Esposito, Voll, 1996).
In his 1984 article titled “will more countries become democratic?”
Huntington contended: “… among the Islamic countries, particularly those in the Middle East, the prospects for democratic development seem low” because “ no distinction exist between religion and politics or between the spiritual and the secular, and political participation was historically an alien concept.” (Huntington, 1984).
In agreement with Huntington, a number of political commentators view Islam and democracy /democratization to be in conflict or contradictory to each other. The rise of Islamic resurgence movements is often seen to be traditionally, backward looking, fearful of change and democracy itself. In their views, Islamic civilisation does not value intermediary institutions between the government and the people, thus precluding the emergence of civil society, and is based on a legal culture of rigidity, thus placing a premium on obedience and social conformity, rather than critical inquiry and individual initiative. (Hefner, 2000: Heryanto, Mandal 2003).
Many other Muslim intellectuals and activists argue otherwise. They insist that although it may be a practice” foreign” to Muslims (under many regimes) the notion or concept of democracy is not foreign to Islamic thought. Various principles of democracy such as human rights, rule of law, justice, separation of religion and the state, religious tolerance, equal rights for women etc, are inherent to the corpus of Islamic ideas. But they have to be substantiated and actively promoted through educational reform and the creation of social institutions that foster democratic consciousness and encouraging greater participation of civil society in the political and religious realm (Heryanto, Mandal 2003).
In reality, Muslims learned long ago to live with ethnic and regional diversity. Muslim politics is not monolithic, but like politics in all civilizations, plural. From a sociological perspective the differentiation of religious and political authorities was inevitable as the Muslim community developed from a small, relatively homogeneous involvement into a vast, multi-ethnic empire. From a religious perspective too, the separation was necessary if the transcendent truth of Islam was not to be subordinated to the whims of all too human rulers (Hefner, 2000). Besides, contrary to the widespread belief that Islam does not allow the separation of state and religion, political power in most of Muslim history was not wielded by a theoretic class and religion scholars developed the healthy habit of holding themselves at a distance from government (Hefner, 2000).
The results of a comprehensive survey released by the Pew Research Centre in June 2003 are another proof that citizens of Muslim countries place a high value on freedom of expression, freedom of the press, multi-party system and equal treatment under law. This includes peoples living in kingdoms such as Jordan and Kuwait. In fact, many of the publics polled expressed a big desire for democratic reforms than the publics of some nations of eastern empire, notably Russia and Bulgaria (PEW, 2003).
Today, the major challenge for democratization in Muslim societies remains whether Muslim scholars and leaders themselves are able to create coherent theories and structures of Islamic democracy that are not simple reformulations of western nations offered in Islamic idioms. What the social and political contents of Islamic democracy consist of, and how it is to be justified and realized was increasingly a centre issue to the project of Islamic modernity throughout the Muslim world ( Heryanto, Mandal 2003: 123).
For centuries the Muslim world has been blessed with the abundance of civic resources (Hefner, 2000: 25), all elaborated in quite distinctive political and historical experiences. That heritage may provide the necessary resources and historical support for modern efforts to generate from within Islam itself the idea of commitment, ethically driven life of active, participatory citizenship and a universal or global Islamic community (Heryanto, Mandal 2003).
Democratization is the demand for empowerment in government and politics made by a growing portion of population around the world. As the technologies of government and rule because more sophisticated, there was a growing sense of marginalization among most people, even in those states university thought of as “democratic” ( Esposito, 1998: 13)
ISLAMIC RESURGENCE AND DEMOCRACY
Among Muslim communities world over, there has been an important and highly visible resurgence of Islam. This affirmation of faith and identity is a powerful force in all aspects of human life and is reflected in clothing, changing social life styles and the arts, as well as the more visible arena of politics and political power. Concurrent with this resurgence is a growing demand for greater popular participation in the political system.
In an essay titled “Islam and the nation in the Post- Suharto Era”, Robert Hefner writes: “Since the late 1980’s the largest audience for democratic and pluralist ideas in Indonesia have been, not secular nationalist, but reform-minded Muslim democrats. Nowhere in the Muslim world have Muslim intellectuals engaged the ideas of democracy, civil society, pluralism and the rule of law with a vigour and confidence equal to that of Indonesian Muslims (Abuza, 2003: 68, quoting Hefner, 1999: 42).
His comments were based on the role that Islamic forces played in the pro-democracy movement in Indonesia. When the authoritarian regime still rested on their laurels, the world’s two largest Muslim organizations, NU and the Muhammadiyah with their young and progressive leaders such as Abdurrahman Wahid who later became president were already at the forefront of Muslim intellectual efforts to forge an understanding of democracy in an Islamic context. They argued that Islam should be the basis for the country’s democratic development and the building of civil society.
Going further than simply talking about the compatibility of Islam and democracy, they pointed out the ways in which Islam supported human rights, pluralism representation, gender, and equity, separation of religion and the state, as well as social justice. In their thesis, which have cast much influence on more than 70 million followers, democratic values are inherently rooted within Islam. Apart from research, they also engaged in very practical “ democracy education” for rural, poorly educated and often marginalized populations who had very little knowledge or experience with what democracy means, and even less understanding of how to participate in democratic governance (Huong) , 2005:9 quoting SAPC, 2004: 17-23).
When the time was right, resurgent Muslims were the single largest force in the pro- democracy movement that brought authoritarianism to an end in 1998 (Hefner, 2000:18). It was Islamic organisations that provided the bulk of the demonstrations against Suharto (Abuza, 2003:68). And it was well known Islamists such as Amien Rais, Abdurrahman Wahid and Nurcholish Madjid who emerged as the most prominent advocates of democracy at the time (Smith, 2005:100).
In global terms, however, the definition of “democracy” is closely identified with major elements of the political traditions of Western Europe and the United States. For many social scientists, the western experience provides the basis for definitions of democracy. Giovanni Sartori raises the question: “When we speak of western experience, is the key term “western“ or “experience”? In other words, can there be a non western path to democracy? (Giovanni, 1968).
Fundamental remarks on Islam
Knowledge of God and belief in Him constitute the very foundation of Islam, which is a religion based upon the surrender to God who is one. The very name of the religion al-Islam in Arabic means among other things, Peace, Purity, Obedience and Submission. Muslims believe that it is only through submission to the will of God and obedience to His laws that they can achieve peace and enjoy lasting purity in their lives in this world and in the hereafter. This submission to the will of God means accepting His Word and acting according to the path that it delineates for humanity. However, this does not mean in any way the loss of individual freedom or surrender to fatalism.
According to Islam, the will and the Law of God are the essence of the messengers of all God’s chosen messengers, starting from Adam (the first human being created), through to Abraham (Ibrahim) the father of monotheism, to Muhammad, the last of the long line of prophets among others, Ismail (Ishmael), Is’haq (Isaac), Dawood (David), Musa (Moses) and Issa (Jesus). Muslims therefore accept all prophets and scriptures prior to Muhammad and the Quran without discrimination.
The word Allah in Islam simply means the One and Only Eternal; Creator of the Universe, Lord above all lords and kings. Indeed, the only unforgivable sin in Islam is to believe in any deity other than Allah.
Islam seeks an ultimate sense of free will, one that frees humanity from the influence and power of other human beings in areas of basic valuation that are not amenable to empirical validation, while giving free freedom for application of human will otherwise. This is the way Muslims would argue their faith (Liviga and Tumbo-Masabo, 2006: 129).
It is perhaps this quest for total freedom from man–made bondage of ideology, money and power that puts Islamic civilization at odds with other man made systems unless a form of dialogue is maintained and a common ground on the conduct of affairs of the world is identified and pursued jointly with mutual respect.
Islam, religious and co-existence and pluralism
There is a pervasive view in the media today that Islam does not support co-existence and pluralism.
Sadly, we often hear how difficult it is for non-Muslim minorities to live in peace and harmony in Muslim countries. Violent extremists who misuse Islamic theology to justify terrorist attacks have exacerbated prejudices against Muslims and today many people think that Muslims do not believe in pluralism and diversity.
By contrast, history reveals that Islam — as preached in the Qur’an and exemplified by the life of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions — actually accepts, celebrates and even encourages religious diversity.
It should be noted that the term “minority” has no place in Islamic law. Nor does it have a place in Sharia (a legal system based on Islamic principles) and jurists have never used the term. Rather, it emerged from Western societies, which use it to distinguish between ethnic groups. According to Islamic principles, everyone who lives in a Muslim state is entitled to enjoy the same rights of citizenship, despite the differences they may have in their religion or population size.
In 622 CE, when the Prophet Muhammad migrated from Mecca to Medina in the Arabian Peninsula and started to build the first Muslim state, he ensured that its Muslim and non-Muslim inhabitants could coexist in harmony. There was a substantial Jewish community in Medina, and the Prophet proposed an agreement of cooperation — between Muslims and the 11 Jewish tribes — called the Constitution of Medina, which Muslim historians and scholars generally accept as the first written state constitution.
This constitution spelled out Jews’ rights as non-Muslim citizens in the Muslim state. As a result, the Prophet managed to establish a multi-faith political community in Medina based on a set of universal principles. The rules set out in the constitution were meant to maintain peace and cooperation, protect life and property, prevent injustice and ensure freedom of religion and movement for all inhabitants— regardless of tribal or religious affiliation. Allegiance to the community superseded religious identity, as spelled out in the rules for joint defence: “each must help the other against anyone who attacks the people of this document”.
The Prophet’s treatment of the “People of the Book”, in this case Jews, showed religious tolerance as well as prudence. The constitution established the pattern for the future relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims, specifying non-Muslim citizens as equal partners with Muslim inhabitants.
Almost 15 years later, when Muslims conquered Jerusalem from the Byzantines, Caliph Umar Ibn al-Khattab granted its people, who were mainly Christians, safety for their persons, property and churches. As well-known British historian Karen Armstrong writes, “…[Umar] was faithful to the Islamic inclusive vision. Unlike Jews and Christians, Muslims did not attempt to exclude others from Jerusalem’s holiness”.
Umar’s assurance of safety to the people of Jerusalem stands as an important example for leaders in multi-faith societies today, and history has proven that when these examples were put into practice, non-Muslims were treated kindly and justly.
These examples of Muslim and non-Muslim coexistence are not confined to a specific time or place, but are meant to be applied in all times and places. Today, for example, Jordan’s constitution guarantees freedom of religious belief. Christians in Jordan, who form the majority of non-Muslims, enjoy by law nearly ten per cent of the seats in parliament and have similar quotas at every level of government and society. Their holy sites, property and religious practices are protected from any kind of interference by the state.
We must also acknowledge, however, cultural and social realities in many Muslim-majority societies have led to violations of the rights of non-Muslims in contemporary times. Looking at Islamic history, however, demonstrates that the path towards mutual understanding and tolerance does not deviate from the essence of Islam. On the contrary, to revive the spirit of inclusivity, Muslim societies should look to the Qur’an, and emulate the model it lays out. (Maher, 2009)
THE PROBLEM OF ISLAMOPHOBIA
What is Islamophobia?
The Runnymede Trust has identified eight components that they say define Islamophobia. This definition, from the 1997 document ‘Islamophobia: A Challenge For Us All’ is widely accepted, including by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia.
The eight components are:
1) Islam is seen as a monolithic bloc, static and unresponsive to change.
2) Islam is seen as separate and ‘other’. It does not have values in common with other cultures, is not affected by them and does not influence them.
3) Islam is seen as inferior to the West. It is seen as barbaric, irrational, primitive and sexist.
4) Islam is seen as violent, aggressive, threatening, supportive of terrorism and engaged in a ‘clash of civilisations’.
5) Islam is seen as a political ideology and is used for political or military advantage.
6) Criticisms made of the West by Islam are rejected out of hand.
7) Hostility towards Islam is used to justify discriminatory practices towards Muslims and exclusion of Muslims from mainstream society.
8) Anti-Muslim hostility is seen as natural or normal.
The following sample of Islamophobic actions in the West illustrate a widespread phenomenon that must be curbed. We reproduce the press statements as they appeared in the various media in order that their contexts can be fully grasped:
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Canadian police in Hamilton, Ontario, appealed Tuesday for information into who threw a Molotov cocktail into a mosque and school a day earlier.
Police were called to the Islamic School of Hamilton Monday morning around 8 a.m. when its principal, Zakir Patel, found a shattered brown bottle and a smoldering fire that had apparently burned itself out, The Hamilton Spectator reported.
Police also found a rock used to smash the window. No one was injured and damage was estimated at $3,000, the report said.
UPI, 5 January 2010
As of New Year’s Eve evening, police had no suspects for an attack against a mosque in Malmö earlier in the day when shots had been fired through the window of the building.
The imam was taken to hospital to treat minor cuts from glass splinters, but he was not struck by a bullet. He was allowed to leave the hospital after his cuts were bandaged.
Around five people, including the imam, were in an office following the evening prayers. “The imam was sitting in front of the computer when (we heard) a bang. At first I thought there had been an explosion,” one of the witnesses told Sydsvenskan newspaper.
Bejzat Becirov, head of the Islamic Center, said that he does not believe the shots were aimed at a particular individual but rather at the mosque. “We receive threats all the time. Unfortunately, we have become immune to it. Despite all the incidents, the police have never arrested anyone,” he told TT news agency.
The Swedish Muslim Association (Sveriges Muslimska Förbund) said in a statement that they take the attack very seriously. The mosque in Malmö has reportedly been the target of several cases of attempted arson over the last ten years. “These criminals are being driven by islamophobia. The police must protect (Sweden’s) mosques and their followers against racist threats,” Mahmoud Aldebe, head of the association, said.
The Local, 2 January 2010
Cradley Heath’s Muslim community is appealing for help after its mosque was burnt to the ground by arsonists. A fire engulfed the Cradley Heath Mosque and Islamic Centre on Boxing Day destroying the building and the religious countless books inside. It is the second time in five years that the building has been targeted by arsonists and police are hunting the culprits.
The mosque was a thriving part of the community with 400 worshippers using it and classes of children being taught there. The worshippers are now trying to find a new place to worship as the new Mosque they have being building alongside the old one will not be ready for use for several years.
Halesowen News, 29 December 2009
United States of America
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Rahmat P. Phyakul, board chairman and one of the founders of Al-Fatiha Masjid, reported to CAIR-LA that vandals shattered windows and glass doors of the mosque’s office and prayer hall on Monday, December 7. A plaque with Quranic verses was tossed on the floor, the sound system was destroyed and donation boxes were broken into.
The mosque has suffered prior incidents of vandalism. In the past, a passerby shouted anti-Muslim slurs at worshipers. The slurs reportedly included: “You, terrorist, Osama Bin Laden, F… your God, F…. you Allah.” Prayer rugs in the mosque were also covered with urine.
“We urge law enforcement authorities to utilize all their resources to immediately and fully investigate the vandalism at Masjid Al-Fatiha as a possible hate crime, especially because of the nature of the vandalism,” said Affad Shaikh, civil rights manager for CAIR-LA.
Phyakul added: “For those who have committed hate crimes against people of any faith, especially Muslims, they should know that they cannot silence us, shut us down or cause us to go away. This is our country, and we are here to stay and we are willing to stand for the truth and peace under any circumstances.”
CAIR press release, 13 December 2009
Friday, November 27, 2009
An 18-year-old Muslim student was attacked and beaten even after he lost consciousness by a gang of white youths on November 6. As they attacked him, they shouted “Where is your Allah now” and “Where is He to help you now.”
The first year business and computer undergraduate student had just left De Montfort University, Leicester, library with his friend at around 8.30 pm when they were attacked by around 10 white youths in Great Central Way, near the junction with Briton Street, Bede Island. The two students, Ahmed and Umar, (not their real name as they wish to remain anonymous) saw the gang taunting and abusing a Muslim woman wearing the hijab. She was with two other women who had gone ahead of her.
Ahmed told The Muslim News that he and Umar heard the gang tell the middle-aged woman, “How do you like it if I walked in a balaclava. This is England. You should not be wearing a scarf.” They were concerned about what would happen to the Muslim woman and so they waited. One of the white youths turned towards them and asked them why were they were watching them. “I told them, ‘Leave her alone’.”
The woman tried to tell the white youths not to attack the students but they did not listen. The white youths assaulted Ahmed and Umar, and began beating them. Ahmed fell down and the gang continued to punch and kick him even after he was unconscious. They “jumped” on his head and kicked his body. He was picked up and thrown on to the ground.
Ahmed said the attack was “Islamophobic as they were talking about her scarf and when they told me ‘Where is your Allah’ is to do with religion. How did they know we were Muslims? We could have been Sikhs for all they know.” Umar said the attack was both Islamophobic and racist as they had also shouted “Pakis”. He was “very angry” and said he never experienced racism in East London where he was from.
Muslim News, 27 November 2009
Monday, November 9, 2009
The Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS) regrets to inform that over the past week Muslim students at City University (London) have been the target of a series of attacks culminating with three Muslims being stabbed on St. John Street in the immediate vicinity of the University after being surrounded by over 30 youths.
Attacks earlier in the week left three students requiring hospitalisation for severe facial and head injuries as they were set upon by the gang shouting Islamophobic and racist abuse including statements like “Get those Muslims” and “Paki” being used repeatedly; they were subjected to a series of projectile missiles, including bricks, metal poles and sign posts.
A man has been sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of murdering a pregnant Egyptian woman in a German courtroom. The Dresden state court also ruled that Alexander Wiens would not be eligible for early release.
Wiens, 28, admitted stabbing Marwa Sherbini to death at a court hearing involving them both in July. The crime sparked outrage across the Muslim world. Egypt said justice had been served with the sentence.
Wiens, a Russian-born German citizen, had argued his action was not premeditated. But prosecutors at the trial, which took place amid tight security, insisted he was motivated by a “hatred of non-Europeans and Muslims”.
BBC News, 11 November 2009
Monday, October 12, 2009
Six Metropolitan Police officers go on trial, accused of racially assaulting and abusing Muslim teenagers and then engaging in a cover-up. Prosecution and Kingston crown court told a jury that one officer said: “They needed to deal with. We are like vigilantes.” The officers, who are part of the Territorial Support Group, deny racially aggravated assault, threats and misfeasance in public office.
Channel 4 News, 12 October 2009
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
A teenage Muslim student was killed after he and his friends were attacked by a gang of drunken racist thugs, a court heard yesterday.
Mohammed al-Majed, 16, suffered serious brain injuries when he was punched in the face by George Austin. The blow sent him flying and he hit his head on the road.
Al-Majed, who was days from returning to Qatar after studying English here, was chatting with fellow foreign students outside a kebab shop when a group of young white men and women allegedly began taunting them.
Paul Rockett, 21, allegedly took a drunken swing at Mohammed’s 17-year-old black friend Peter Henworth after demanding: “Where are you from?” His attempted punch missed and Peter fled – as one thug yelled: “Come back here, you n****r,” the court was told.
Rockett and Quinn later told police that Mohammed’s friends had started the midnight fracas and claimed the students were a gang who were “trying to turn all the kids into Muslims”.
Daily Mirror, 22 September 2009
Monday, July 27, 2009
Hundreds of people have protested against a government’s decision to scrap plans to build an Islamic school in Australia’s biggest city, Sydney. Parents and prospective students have said the decision was unfair and racist.
Plans to build an Islamic school for 1,200 students in the Sydney suburb of Bass Hill survived objections from residents, the local council and legal challenges only to be scrapped at the last minute by the New South Wales government. Construction was due to begin but the state has intervened to buy back the land it sold several years ago.
Busloads of angry parents and their children have demonstrated outside the education department, calling on the authorities to allow the project to go ahead. A spokesman for the protestors, Rafik Hussein, says the government has made a big mistake. “We do not accept that decision. It is un-Australian,” Mr. Hussein said
Some campaigners have said the debate has been laced with racial and religious intolerance. Supporters of the plan to build the Islamic school believe that residents’ concerns about noise and traffic congestion have become a euphemism for prejudice.
BBC News, 27 July 2009
Friday, July 24, 2009
Khadijah Ouararhni-Grech was wearing a pink, floral niqab, which covers her hair and lower face, when she tried to board a bus in Greystanes, an outer suburb of the Australian city.
“As I was stepping onto the bus the driver said ‘You can’t get on the bus wearing your mask’,” she told the Sydney Daily Telegraph newspaper. When she explained it was religious dress, the woman said the driver responded: “Sorry, it’s the law.”
“I told him it wasn’t the law and he said ‘You have to show me your face,'” she said. “I said to him, ‘There’s no difference between me and that lady sitting there who chooses to not wear what I’m wearing’.”
The bus company, Hillsbus, said the driver was being questioned over the claims.
Daily Telegraph, 24 July 2009
Friday, May 22, 2009
“One way or another, the lights seem to be going out for Christianity in England. If the secularists do not destroy the church there, the Islamists are happy to have a go at it. Just last week it was announced that the BBC has appointed a Muslim to be ‘the Head of Religion and Ethics’. This is simply the latest in a long list of Islamist initiatives, which may well turn England into a Muslim nation. As Melanie Philips documented in her important book, Londonistan, the Islamisation of England is steadily rolling on.”
Christian Today, 22 May 2009
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Four Christian churches have joined in an unprecedented attack on the Islamic faith in an attempt to stop a Muslim school being built. Calling the religion an ideology driven by world domination, a submission to the Land and Environment Court yesterday said a proposed school at Camden was a “beachhead” in Islamic takeover of southwestern Sydney, threatening the Australian way of life.
The attack, co-signed by local heads of Baptist, Anglican, Presbyterian and the Evangelical Sisters of Mary churches, formed the spearhead of Camden City Council’s defence to a court challenge over its rejection of a development application for the Muslim school.
“Islam is not simply a private religion. It is driven by a powerful political agenda, it is an ideology with a plan for world domination,” the letter said. “The Quranic Society application to establish an Islamic school in Camden is typical of a regularly repeated pattern to form a beachhead in an area for the development of a sub-culture which, for the most part, regards its own legal system as superior to the current Australian law.”
News.co.au, 22 April 2009
Italy could be the next European country to consider a referendum on the building of Islamic minarets following the Swiss vote to ban the structures. Cabinet minister Roberto Calderoli, of the xenophobic Northern League, said Italy should confirm its Roman Catholic roots and hold a vote as soon as possible.
Like the Swiss, Italian voters can have a direct say on an issue if a minimum number of signatures are gathered calling for a referendum. The League is expected to now start the process for a referendum, despite the Vatican expressing unease over the Swiss vote.
Calderoli said the Swiss decision was a triumphant “yes to bell towers and no to minarets” that served as an important example for other European countries losing touch with their Christian identities. Others within the anti-immigration Northern League have called for a cross to be inserted on the Italian national flag to symbolise the deep Christian roots of the country.
The Northern League have frequently made headlines for their views on Islam and immigration, most notably during the Danish cartoon row in 2006, when Mr. Calderoli wore a T-shirt emblazoned with one of the anti-Islamic images.
They have also allowed pigs to graze over sites where mosques were earmarked in order to make them unholy, while recently, the Northern League was accused of racism after it emerged that a local scheme to rid a town of illegal immigrants had been nicknamed “White Christmas“.
Daily Mail, 1 December 2009
extreme-right Danish People’s Party (DPP), a key government ally, launched on Wednesday, September 9, a massive ad campaign against the building of mosques, reported the EuropeNews website.
“As a bolt from the blue and peaceful Danish summer sky, the politicians of the Copenhagen municipality decided the other day to erect a grand mosque in the middle of the city,” the party said in a full-page ad published in several dailies. The money will, among other sources, come from the terrorist regime of Iran, but none of the other parties in the local government had any concern about that.”
Copenhagen city council agreed on Thursday, August 27, to prepare a draft for a local plan for a mosque in the capital’s northwest neighborhood. The DPP was the only party that voted against the mosque, to be built by Shiites through private donations, will cost between 40 million and 50 million Kroners (5.4 million and 6.7 million euros).
The DPP vowed to seek a referendum on the construction of mosques in the Scandinavian country. Playing politics, the party linked the anti-mosque campaign to the upcoming municipal polls. “The more representatives from the Danish Peoples Party elected at the local elections on November 17th, the greater the resistance against the Islamist strongholds, also in your city.”
Islam Online, 9 September 2009
Dutch-language public schools in Belgium will ban the wearing of Muslim headscarves in classes, school officials in the Flanders region announced Friday. The ban affects 700 schools in the northern region of Flanders, including some in Brussels. It follows protests after two schools in Antwerp this month joined other schools where the Muslim headscarf, which covers the hair but does not conceal the face, is already banned.
AFP, 12 September 2009
UK even in Sports
A talented young boxer was banned from fighting in his debut bout – because of his beard and religion. Mohammed Patel, who has the beard as part of his Muslim faith, has now lost all motivation to box and is on the verge of quitting the sport.
The 25-year-old was due to fight in front of a packed house of 300 spectators at Bolton Lads and Girls Club’s annual boxing night, earlier this year – but a competition official told him he could not take part unless he shaved. Mr. Patel, from Astley Bridge, said: “I was gobsmacked – I didn’t know what to say. When I saw the rule book, I thought, ‘What can I do?’.”
The Amateur Boxing Association of England (ABAE) rules state that fighters must be clean shaven for health and safety reasons. There is an allowance for Sikh boxers, who must wear a net – but the rule book makes no mention of any other religion.
When Mr. Patel arrived early at the club to weigh in for the bout last January, he was asked by the event’s OIC (Official in Charge) if he was Sikh. He said he was Muslim and was then told he would have to shave if he wanted to take part. He refused and was not allowed to fight.
The promising boxer’s plight has since been taken up by Inayat Omarji, from the Bolton Council of Mosques (BCOM), who is now trying to force a change in the rules. He said: “I was shocked. I spoke to the ABAE to ask them for the rule to be changed but we seem to have got nowhere in 11 months. If the governing body doesn’t accept the religion then there’s a big problem.”
Bolton News, 8 December 2009
A medical clinic in Dallas, Texas has sparked controversy after saying a Muslim doctor applying for a job cannot wear her headscarf if hired.
Dr. Hena Zaki of Plano, Texas said Friday that she was shocked to find a no-hat policy at the CareNow clinic extended to her hijab. “He interrupted the interview and said he didn’t want me ‘to take this the wrong way,'” Zaki said. “Like an FYI.”
The 29-year-old doctor has called for an apology and a change in CareNow’s policy.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations has criticized the no-hijab policy, calling it “a blatant violation” of federal law. “It’s obvious it’s a blatant violation,” said the council’s civil rights manager, Khadija Athman. “It’s a very straightforward case of religious accommodation. I cannot see any undue hardship on the part of the employer to accommodate to wear a head scarf.”
CareNow Chairman Tim Miller, however, has refused to apologize, saying in a statement that there is nothing wrong with the policy, which, according to him, “does not discriminate on the basis of race, sex, religion, or national origin”.
Press TV, 1 November 2009
Yasmeen Ali was attempting to enter Hastings District Court on Tuesday to support her brother Carlos Manuel Brooking, 22, who was appearing for sentencing on a charge of assault.
Ms Ali, a 25-year-old mother-of-three, was asked by a court attendant to remove her headscarf on entering the courthouse. She refused and took a seat. When she tried to re-enter court after the morning break, she was blocked. She complained to the court manager, who told her she could not enter wearing a headscarf because the judge, Geoff Rea, had forbidden it.
Her brother had earlier been put into custody after refusing to remove a hat while sitting in court awaiting his sentencing, despite being requested to do so by Judge Rea.
Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres today called for reassurance for the Muslim community. ”I can’t imagine a nun being told to remove such attire, and the same should apply to others who wear head coverings for religious reasons, such as Muslims, Sikhs and Jews,” he said.
Judicial communications adviser Neil Billington said the incident was the result of Judge Rea’s “mistaken assumption of what was occurring in the courtroom”.
“The judge required the removal of the woman because of her association with [her brother] who had just been removed. The judge had mistakenly assumed that her headgear was a demonstration of protest at the court.”
Dominion Post, 3 September 2009
On Christmas day, a family doctor in Utrecht refused to allow a woman into his surgery because she was wearing a niqab, or burqa. The 23-year-old woman had brought her baby to see the doctor. The three-month-old child had diarrhoea and had not drunk for several hours, a situation which is potentially dangerous in young baby. However, the doctor refused to see the woman because she was wearing Islamic dress, with her face covered.
The Equal Treatment Commission confirmed it has received a complaint from the woman, following a report in the newspaper AD. A spokesperson said the commission would definitely be dealing with the complaint, as a GP provides a service and should not refuse to see a woman on the ground of her religious expression. According to the commission, this is the first time such a case has been reported. The woman has also lodged a complaint with the GP’s practice and the medical disciplinary tribunal.
Radio Netherlands, 29 December 2009
Norwegian anti-immigration politicians in Bergen have promised to chase off Muslims with pigs feet and squealing noises if Bergen’s central square is used for prayers.
The leader of the Demokratene, an extreme populist party formed by outcasts of the populist Progress Party, Vidar Kleppe, said Wednesday that he backed the remarks of city council representative Kenneth Rasmussen.
Rasmussen reacted with threats of porcine tactics after Labour Party politician Jerad Abdelmajid said that the city’s Muslims could take their Friday prayers in Torgallmenningen, Bergen’s central square, when they will be without a mosque from March 31. Building of a new mosque is behind schedule.
“I completely agree with Kenneth Rasmussen that Muslims having their Friday prayers with their butts in the air in the city center is no solution. They can find other places,” Kleppe told news agency NTB.
Kenneth Rasmussen told newspaper Dagbladet‘s web site that Bergen residents should hang up pig’s feet and play pig squeals over loudspeakers to scare off Muslims, and claimed these tactics worked when he was a soldier for the United Nations in Somalia and Lebanon in the 1990s.
Aftenposten, 28 February 2007
DIALOGUE BETWEEN MUSLIMS AND WESTERN DEMOCRACIES
This dialogue is likely what the advisory group on public diplomacy for the Arab and Muslim world advocate in their October 2003 document: “Changing Minds Winning Peace: a new strategic direction for us public diplomacy in the Arab and Muslim world”. The group chaired by Edward P. Djerejian calls for a new strategic direction in US policy towards the Muslim world.
The advisory group states at the outset that “the United States today lacks the capabilities in public diplomacy to meet the national security threat emanating from political instability, economic deprivation, and extremism especially in the Arab and Muslim world”.
Public diplomacy is the promotion of national interest by informing, engaging and influencing people around the world. But a process of unilateral disarmament, the report continues, in the weapons of advocacy over the last decade has contributed to wide spread hostility towards Americans and left us vulnerable to lethal threats to our interests and our safety.”
The report recommended that no public diplomacy actively be launched without as much testing and research as possible and that programs be continually measured for effectiveness.
The authors argued that the most effective programs of public diplomacy, the ones that most likely to endure and have long-term impact are those that are mutually beneficial to the United States and to the Arab and Muslim countries, emphasizing programmes that build bridges and address the region’s weaknesses, especially in education while at the same time advancing the American message and building a constituency of friendship and trust.
Quoting the Director of the Pew Research Center, the report records the uncomfortable realisation that “…attitudes toward the United States, have gone from bad to worse” and asserts “ hostility toward America has reached shocking levels”. The advisory group makes an almost undiplomatic indictment of America’s foreign policy. “We have failed to listen and failed to persuade, we have not taken the time to understand our audience and we have not bothered to help them understand us. We cannot afford such shortcomings”.
There is a slight problem though. Much of the discussion about Islam and Muslims is directed almost entirely at the Arab and Muslim world that lies in the Middle East. This is erroneous. Muslim communities are to be found scattered all over the world, some living in minority situations, like in Uganda. To fully grasp the need for promoting understanding, the emphasis should be to engage “Muslim communities worldwide as opposed to “engaging the Arab and Muslim world which is in itself important but fundamentally inadequate. Muslims constitute 1.2 billion global inhabitants. Less than a quarter of them, live in the Arab and Muslim world. It may be important at this time more than ever before, that it becomes an objective of t Europe and the United States to emphasize Muslim experiences outside the Middle East to present a more balanced picture of the Muslim in a global context.
The study of Islam outside the Middle-East should represent an opportunity to deepen our understanding of the Muslim world’s diversity and to challenge unitary characterisations of Islam’s civilisation identity. Equally important, given the tenor of our times, this exercise would allow us to disengage Muslim politics from histories and circumstances that owe more to the peculiarities of the Middle East than to Islam itself.
This approach may present the long awaited opportunity to bridge the gap between the major western countries in their approach to the Islamic question. The victory of Hamas in the Palestinian parliamentary elections in January 2006 points to a structural problem of democracy promotion in the Middle East. With elected Islamists assuming political posts in parliaments, municipal councils and governments, western democracies are confronted with dealing with democratically legitimated political actors who are considered to be anti–democratic by many observers. It is no wonder that uneasiness has been the primary response in both the United States and Europe to Islamists’ role as political players in the region. Are Islamist parties part of the solution to the Middle East’s democracy deficit or part of the problem? Here, the debate in Europe and the US is going on in different directions (Jacobs, 2006).
Europeans tend to explain the public support for Islamist parties with the wish for good governance instead of with the wish for an Islamic political system. Most analysts in the US draw different conclusions. In the US, Andreas argues, there is little understanding of the European assumption that the way to democracy might be paved with Islamism (Ibid: 3). While most European analysts would opt for a strategy that gives Islamist parties a chance to assume a political role, to moderate and to transform, most of their American colleagues would rather make them fail as soon as possible (Ibid: 4).
RU’S FOUR PRINCIPLES OF DIALOGUE
We shall borrow noted Chinese philosopher Ru Xin’s four principles of dialogue.
Ru, vice president of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), outlined these principles at a Conference on Cultures and Civilisations of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in December 2003.
He argued that the conflicts brought by diversified cultures should be solved through dialogue.
His first principle is that all countries should have the awareness of globalization. When facing global issues, all parties should consider the interests of the whole world prior to their own.
The second principle is to be aware of the diversity of culture. Ru thinks that all civilisations and cultures have made a contribution to the world civilization and culture, and each nation and country has the right to preserve and develop its own civilisation and culture.
Ru’s third principle is that mutual understanding and respect are needed in dialogues between different civilizations and cultural communications.
He argues that if the both sides treated each other as rivals and potential enemies rather then equal partners and friends, the dialogue and communication would hardly succeed. All parties should, on the one hand, be proud of their cultures, but on the other hand be clear about their shortcomings, so as to prevent self-worship.
The last principle, he said, is to admit and tolerate the gaps between different civilisations and cultures.
Ru adds that today the world is facing a series of problems with resources, environmental protection, anti-terrorism, population, drug smuggling and infectious disease. Therefore, cultural dialogue and communication may not only increase mutual understanding, but also help promote international cooperation and world peace.
The media would do well to recognise these principles and re-educate itself in this important area on which the very survival of nations depends. Dialogue is the new, logical and correct thinking. Those stuck in the old mode of confrontation, stereotyping, cultural arrogance on one hand and denial, limiting and stifling of press freedoms on the other will crash under the weight the new force of those determined to pursue open, meaningful dialogue, through an unhindered press to achieve peaceful co-existence and mutual understanding in the world.
MEDIA AND STEREOTYPE
The role of the media in creating and sustaining stereotypes (stereotyping) of certain people, organisations and groups (for example of women, tribes, white people, black people, political parties, politicians, professions, religions etc) is critical.
Through stereotyped portrayals, the media reinforce existing patters of attitudes and behaviour toward specific individuals, groups and institutions, especially minority groups. This is a hindrance to dialogue and mutual understanding.
DeFleur and Dennis (1994) express the essential ideas of this theory:
In entertainment content, and in other media messages, for instance in the way social and political journalism portray an event related to a specific group, the media can repeatedly present us with negative portrayal of, of instance, a specific ethnic group.
These portrayals tend to be consistently negative, showing such people as having undesirable attitudes and fewer positive characteristics than members of the dominant group in which the media function.
Such portrayals are similar among various media- thus providing corroboration
These portrayals provide constructions of meaning for media users, particularly for those who have only limited contact with actual people of the stereotyped group.
Viewers, readers and listeners incorporate these meanings into their memories as relatively inflexible schemata – stereotyped interpretations- they use when thinking about or responding to any individual of a portrayal category, regardless of his/her actual personal characteristics.
From the above, it is clear that stereotyping is one of the most dangerous forms of media practice, which does not help in dialogue and mutual understanding. The media has chosen to work with caricatures of people and groups instead of presenting the true portrayals of them. The media has continued to sustain lies about people, misconceptions about cultural groups thus fostering tensions in society.
- O’ Sullivan, T, Hardley, J. Saudners, D, Montgomery, M, and Fiske, J, 1994
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