Anti-Muslim hate has gone mainstream in Europe



London, The Arab Weekly – Describing itself as the “most authoritative and comprehensive explo­ration of extremism” in Britain and Europe, the annual report by the British-based advocacy group Hope not Hate paints a bleak picture for the post- Brexit and Trump world.

“2016 was a year where a new far-right threat became more evi­dent, one played out largely on so­cial media and to an international audience,” Hope not Hate Chief Ex­ecutive Officer Nick Lowles said in the report.

“It is this same new-style far right that has been at the heart of the global fake news phenomenon and that can engage and mobilise greater numbers of people across Europe and North America than ever before,” he added.

The report points to the emer­gence of a new generation of far-right activists across Europe who are active on the internet and social media in an unprecedented way. This is a generation of far-right political activists who, for the first time, is witnessing some of their own views seeping into the main­stream, particularly fears regarding a clash of civilisations between the Judeo-Christian West and Islam.

“Trump’s election was a catalyst for the international anti-Muslim movement. After many years of slowly and painstakingly edging their way out of the political wil­derness, the ‘counter-jihadists’ suddenly have an apparent ad­vocate in the White House who echoes some of their positions on Islam and Muslims,” said Joe Mul­hall, co-author of the report.

While there has been clear politi­cal fallout from US President Don­ald Trump’s election in Britain and elsewhere in Europe, traditional far-right activists have generally remained “marginal and controver­sial,” although their “core ideas” have moved into the mainstream, Mulhall said.

“Often conspiratorial anti-Mus­lim views are adopted by suppos­edly mainstream politicians and media outlets,” he added.

The 75-page report includes de­tailed sections looking at political groups such as Britain First and the British National Party, defence leagues, groups that specialised in counter-jihadism as well as the alt-right and even major parties such as the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and the ruling Conservatives.

“In the last decade, talk of a Mus­lim invasion and a threat to West­ern civilisation has moved from so­cial media and the blogosphere to media-grabbing street demonstra­tions and into the parliamentary chambers of Europe,” Mulhall said.

“This mainstreaming process has rapidly accelerated over the last few years as a result of the refugee crisis and the spate of terrorist at­tacks that has shaken the conti­nent.”

A 2016 report by the Pew Re­search Center in the United States showed that unfavourable views about Muslims had surged in a number of European countries, including Hungary (72%), Italy (69%) and Poland (66%). Even Ger­many and the Netherlands, which had traditionally been more open towards immigrants, had seen a hardening of right-wing views.

“While this is all likely to en­courage anti-Muslim attitudes in society it is also likely to create resentment and a backlash among Muslims who will understandably feel persecuted and targeted,” Mul­hall said.

In the wake of the report, British Muslim activists seemed less likely to come together to figure out ways to address rising anti-Muslim senti­ment than to become bogged down in their own internal issues, as in­dicated by an article in the report focusing on Muslim extremism by British human rights activist Sara Khan.

Khan’s article cited a number of British Muslim groups and figures, including Hizb ut-Tahrir, MEND (Muslim Engagement and Develop­ment), CAGE and others for promot­ing “Salafi-Islamist” propaganda.

“Government-backed Sara Khan and her ‘We Will Inspire’ organisa­tion are at the forefront of promot­ing the government’s controversial Prevent counter-terror strategy, which all the major mainstream Muslim organisations have con­demned as a massive monitoring, spying and profiling exercise on the Muslim community,” said an article on popular British Muslim news website 5pillars. Khan’s report had described 5pillars as a “propagan­da” news site.

The London-based advocacy organisation CAGE, which was criticised in the report for ties to Salafist-Islamists, also criticised Khan’s analysis.

“Khan’s article… is a govern­ment-sponsored smear directed at dissenting Muslim individuals and organisations. The tactics to smear by association cheaply disguises the reality of how CAGE operates. CAGE has always defended prin­ciples, regardless of people, in ac­cordance with the rule of law,” a CAGE statement said.

At a time when right-wing views, particularly anti-Muslim senti­ment, are gaining traction in the mainstream, many observers are calling for British Muslims to put aside their differences to confront this new threat.

This article was originally published here.

‘Magic of monuments’ can return tourists to Egypt: Zahi Hawass


Cairo, The Arab Weekly –  “I think tourism can return this year,” said Egyptian archaeolo­gist and former Antiquities minister Zahi Hawass. “We need a global cam­paign to bring tourists back and, if that can happen, then I think 2017 will be the year that tourists come back to Egypt.”

Hawass, speaking to The Arab Weekly at his cluttered central Cairo office, said he was continu­ing to promote Egyptian antiqui­ties and Egyptian tourism on his foreign trips.

“Yes, this is the message that I am taking wherever I go: Egypt is safe. If you go to any archaeologi­cal site, it is completely pro­tected,” he said. “The problem is we don’t know how to promote Egypt properly. The magic of monuments can bring everybody [back].”

The former long-time head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities and then Antiquities minister, Hawass was in charge of Egypt’s museum and monuments, including the pyramids of Giza. Although he no longer has a position in government, Hawass remains a dedicated archaeologist and is involved with many archae­ological projects, including plans to re-scan the Great Pyramid and the Valley of the Kings.

He said he hoped that new discoveries would catch the public’s imagination and draw tourists back to Egypt.

There is some light on the horizon. British travel group Thomas Cook has announced an increase in demand for holidays in Egypt, even though a British ban on direct flights to the Egyptian resort of Sharm el- Sheikh after a Russian airliner crashed in northern Sinai in October 2015 remains in place.

Russia has also indicated a renewed openness to resuming direct flights to Egypt this year. Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland earlier lifted travel restrictions to Sharm el-Sheikh and Cairo recently announced the establishment of a fund worth an estimated $280 million to upgrade hotels and tourist resorts in expectation of a new influx.

Even if the tourists do not return to Egypt to see its antiqui­ties, Hawass said he has a plan to take Egypt’s antiquities to them.

“Antiquities can be like the chicken that lays the golden egg… every day,” he said. “I think from antiquities, Egypt can solve many of its problems. Even if the tourists are not coming, you can bring money in by sending exhibits abroad.

“The King Tutankhamun exhibit that I sent to London brought $120 million to Egypt. Exhibits such as this are the only way to bring money back into the country.”

The Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds exhibit, showcasing artefacts and statues from the lost cities of Canopus and Thonis- Heracleion, was at London’s British Museum last year. Egypt is also preparing for a new interna­tional Tutankhamun exhibit for 2018 that will have stops in several major European capitals, culminating in a major celebra­tion in Cairo in 2022 for the 100th anniversary of the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb.

Hawass is perhaps better known for his campaign to return stolen artefacts to Egypt. It is a cam­paign that remains close to his heart. “What has been stolen from Egypt is known and clear. Many museums are still utilising imperialism until today. They are buying stolen artefacts,” he said.

“We don’t have any account of how many artefacts have been stolen after the revolution. I believe that there is only one-third of our artefacts left in the country. Many artefacts are being sold without the proper docu­mentation. I insist that all auctions require such documen­tation before they sell any artefact.”

Egypt has recovered some historical items stolen since 2011, including an ancient Egyptian artefact carved in glass that was looted from museum storehouses in the Nile Delta city of el- Qantara. It was recently handed over to the Egyptian embassy in London. Artefacts taken out of the country before the revolution are slowly being returned to Egypt in a campaign started by Hawass.

Seated behind a desk overflow­ing with books and papers and his signature Stetson hat, Hawass said he does not look back at his career in government, but forward to more archaeological discoveries.

“There is a lot more to come,” he said. “Personally, I believe that the imperial chamber of Khufu is still undiscovered in the Great Pyramid. There is also the scanning of the Valley of the Kings, where the tomb of Amen­hotep I has not been found yet. The tombs of Thutmose II, Ramses VIII, all the queens of the 18th dynasty, I feel that this will be the most important archaeo­logical project of 2018 and I am very much looking forward to it.”

 This article was originally published here.

Britons #VisitMyMosque one day after Trump protest


London, The Arab Weekly – “We were protesting against the Mus­lim ban at the an­ti-Trump rally [in London] yester­day. Today we are here,” said Jen­nifer White, a retired teacher from south London, gesturing around the courtyard of London’s Regent’s Park Mosque.

Located next to the park, in the heart of London, the mosque is known for its prominent golden dome. It was one of more than 150 across the United Kingdom that welcomed thousands of non-Mus­lim visitors on February 5th.

This was part of what has become an annual community bridge-build­ing event — known as #VisitMy­Mosque — organised by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), Britain’s largest Muslim umbrella body with more than 500 affiliated national, regional and local organisations, mosques, charities and schools.

“We want to show that whatever might be happening in America or anywhere else in the world, we don’t accept that here,” White add­ed.

One day earlier thousands of protesters marched from the US embassy in London to 10 Down­ing Street calling on British Prime Minister Theresa May to withdraw an invitation to US President Don­ald Trump for a state visit and de­nounce his ban of citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries entering the United States as rac­ist. “No to Trump, no to War,” and “Stop Trump’s Muslim ban” plac­ards read.

The protest, organised by a coa­lition of Muslim and anti-racist groups, including the MCB, ex­pressed dismay at the emerging anti-Muslim sentiment across the Atlantic. “What Trump is doing is damaging the whole social fabric of our society,” Dilowar Khan, ex­ecutive director of the East London mosque, told the crowd.

One day later, #VisitMyMosque was in full swing, with organisers saying they wanted to showcase “how mosques are great British institutions”, highlighting how lo­cal mosques are not just a spiritual focal point but also vital for people of all faiths by running food banks, feed-the-homeless projects, neigh­bourhood street clean-ups and much more.

“As the world recoils at President Trump’s so-called Muslim ban and now the mass killing at a mosque in Canada, #VisitMyMosque is a much-needed antidote to the poi­sonous atmosphere we find our­selves in,” said Harun Khan, secre­tary-general of the MCB.

He said the event was an oppor­tunity for the British public, Muslim and non-Muslim alike to “come to­gether and renew bonds of friend­ship” in a changing world.

“People as far away as Malaysia and the USA are asking for similar local events. And no wonder — gen­uine, decent and ordinary people have come out in the knowledge that we need to get to know each other better,” said British-Muslim author Shelina Janmohamed in an opinion piece in Britain’s Inde­pendent newspaper.

“This is why events like #Visit­MyMosque day are so important. We are all — irrespective of faith and background — fed up of dema­gogues and hate peddlers dividing us… In a fortnight when Trump has shut his doors to Muslims, we are opening ours. People coming together to learn more about each other is a wonderful sight to be­hold,” said Janmohamed, author of the memoir Love in a Headscarf.

More MPs, including Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who visited his local Finsbury Park mosque, than ever before attended this year’s #VisitMyMosque gatherings, the third such event. “A gentle mes­sage to Trump: Drinking tea togeth­er is far better than building walls to keep us apart,” Corbyn posted on Twitter. “The Muslim community makes an enormous contribution to Britain,” he told event-goers.

The Labour MP for Slough, Fio­na Mactaggart, visiting her local mosque Al Jannah, told visitors and Muslim volunteers that “we have more in common than what sepa­rates us”.

“It’s great that this mosque has opened its doors today but the cir­cumstances in the world in which it has [are] unfriendly. We have just observed America targeting citizens of mainly Muslim countries [with] a ban on entry… that has come out of ignorance and fear and hostility,” she said.

This article was originally published here.

Arab League’s Hossam Zaki says much depends on ‘gathering of Arab will’


Cairo, The Arab Weekly – The Arab world is facing unprec­edented chal­lenges — from the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) to conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen — and the Arab League has done what it can, even as it has not been able to take a leading role in addressing these crises, the organisation’s assistant secretary-general Hossam Zaki said.

Speaking to The Arab Weekly at the headquarters of the 22-mem­ber Arab League in Cairo, the vet­eran Egyptian diplomat said Arabs must be realistic and acknowledge that the solution to regional crises may lie beyond the Middle East but the Arab League must, never­theless, play a stronger role.

“It’s complicated because we are trying to do some work in this area whereas we know that we are not the only players in the game,” Zaki said. “On the contrary, you can say the Arab League is kind of a latecomer to many of these crises. We have not had an uninterrupted role in any of those conflicts since the beginning.”

“In the Syrian situation, in the Libyan situation, in the Yemeni situation — just to pick those three examples — we have not been consistent in dealing with them. At the beginning of any specific crisis, we deal with it, then somehow the whole file gets transferred to the international peace and security organs, meaning the UN Security Council,” he said.

“So, I feel that the Arab League has abdicated its role or it has been sidelined, whichever you would like to choose.”

The Syrian conflict has been go­ing on for nearly six years with no end in sight. The situation in Libya became more complicated after the 2011 “Arab spring” revolts, with competing governments and a dangerous ISIS presence.

As for international organs, whether the Arab League or the United Nations, they have shown themselves to be incapable of resolving the various crises that have beset the Middle East since the “Arab spring”.

“Listen, there is a sort of fatigue in the Arab general public opinion and also most certainly among the government vis-à-vis the continu­ation of these crises… [but] what I can tell you is that the Arab League, under the leadership of Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit, will definitely do its best to be there and to bring as much Arab input as possible into the solution of those crises based upon our resolutions,” Zaki said.

“We are going to try and do that but it is an uphill battle. It’s not an easy thing.”

Aboul Gheit, a former Egyptian Foreign minister, was elected Arab League secretary-general last March, although the election of a 74-year-old Mubarak-era official was not welcomed by all members, with some questioning his age and previous comments.

Despite this, Aboul Gheit has taken the initiative to increase coordination and cooperation between the Arab League and the United Nations with the aim of involving the Arab League more in resolving regional challenges.

“As we speak, we have been working to push for complete coordination with complete trans­parency between the Arab League and UN on all these issues,” Zaki said. “We are receiving the UN envoys here in the Arab League to speak with them about their efforts and about how they are working in order to reach a solu­tion to these crises.”

“The next step, as we see it, is to be part of the solution, not only for the Arab League to be briefed but for the Arab League to be part of the solution. For that, we need much more than just the goodwill of the secretary-general. We also need the active engagement and support of our member states, and I think we have that. So it is a matter of time but I think we are heading in the right direction.”

Critics of the Arab League point to a clear shortage of “goodwill” between the Arab League and its members, with the Arab League preoccupied with a number of major internal issues, particularly questions over the lack of payment by several members to the organi­sation’s budget. There have also been attempts to modernise and reform the Arab League, some­thing observers say is desperately needed.

When asked to pick a “dream” professional objective that he wished could be fulfilled, Zaki considered the internal workings of the Arab League.

“There are a number of admin­istrative and financial issues in the Arab League that have been lagging behind for a number of years,” he said.” I think we can resolve them. I have a good vibe about that, par­ticularly as this issue has soured the relationship between the mem­ber states and the Arab League secretariat for a number of years. I think if we can resolve that, we will be able to go back to the initial goodwill relationship between the member states and the secretariat and that is what we need.”

With the next Arab League sum­mit set for in Amman in March, Zaki said he was “optimistic” that the Arab League would play a greater role in resolving Middle East crises but only after resolving its own.

“Yes, I think we have a good chance but that is, of course, conditioned upon many things, whether we will be able to put all [Arab] hands together,” he said. “Whether we will be able to have a gathering of Arab will.”

This article was originally published here.

British Muslim architect Shahed Saleem takes on the British Mosque


London, The Arab Weekly – The story of the mosque in Britain goes back to the 1880s, further than in any other Western coun­try. For British Muslim architect Shahed Saleem, who has designed two mosques, this area of architecture lacks exposure. His book The British Mosque: An Archi­tectural and Social History, to be published this year, seeks to shed light on the subject.

There are approximately 1,500 mosques in Britain, serving the country’s 3 million Muslims. The majority of the mosques are con­verted spaces — former houses, shops or even pubs — with about 200 originally designed as places of Islamic worship.

“There has been a lot of archi­tectural and design criticism of mosques [in Britain] that they are not very sophisticated in terms of design or that they are quite pas­tiche and tacky,” Saleem said.

“Many of them are nothing more than converted buildings with a dome or minaret attached. So there is this slightly schizophrenic visual language that is almost uncomfort­able with itself… These mosques don’t really know what they are trying to be. Are they a traditional building or a local mosque?”

Many newly built mosques in Britain bear little resemblance to traditional mosques in their de­signs, leading Saleem to say: “The alternative is to have an avant-garde response but the people who use that mosque think, ‘Well, I don’t really connect to this build­ing.’ It’s a whole different architec­tural language, from a whole differ­ent culture.”

Saleem said he envisions a hap­py middle between these two ex­tremes: An architectural design that embraces and adapts on the past but exists in the present, rep­resenting a religious identity that is both modern and contemporary and uniquely British.

“Muslims in this country have been determined to create a Muslim infrastructure for themselves and have really struggled and battled to create the mosque, changing the nature of England’s townscapes. So I think it’s important that we don’t now create buildings that are com­pletely Western,” Saleem said.

“What I’m interested in is chart­ing a course between the two. I don’t want to disregard all the ar­chitecture that has already been built and say we need to start from scratch. What I’m interested in is looking at what people have built in this country, in these converted ad hoc-type buildings and almost draw a new visual language from that.”

It is important for Saleem that local mosques tie into their com­munities. “Yes, both the local in­digenous communities but also the local Muslim history of mak­ing buildings in this country,” he said. “The Muslim history of mak­ing mosques in England is that it’s a very self-built, ad hoc process in which the communities are very connected to the buildings because they fund and design them them­selves and I think it is important to draw from that.”

Saleem said he sought to bring those aspects together in the two mosques — the Shahporan Masjid on London’s Hackney Road and Ab­erdeen’s Masjid Alhikmah in Scot­land — he has designed. However, the most striking thing about Sal­eem’s two mosques is that neither utilises the architectural features that have come to define mosques — the dome and the minaret.

“Well, it’s not dogmatic,” he said.” If it’s appropriate and it works and it has a role in that particular situation, then I would look at us­ing minarets, probably even more so than domes. The usefulness of the dome is that it helps you feel the space internally but there are very few opportunities to use that because of the size that’s required while you don’t need it for acous­tics nowadays because of micro­phones and so on.

“As for the minaret, it has now become a visual symbol. The mean­ing of an object can change over time. If it started off as a practical device [to issue the call to prayer] it has turned into a visual symbol. The question is how do you now best use that visual symbol?”

His mosques also marry a blend of traditionalism — referring spe­cifically to British mosque-building — and more modern styles. Shahpo­ran Masjid, for example, includes a mashrabiya screen that is a nod to one from the first purpose-built mosque in Britain, Shah Jahan mosque in Woking. “So that’s kind of an English reference, if you like,” Saleem said.

His Aberdeen mosque includes hand-made ceramics as well as a vast granite block that refers to the local stone industry. “While there is a series of different things happen­ing, they are all working together,” he said.

The most important thing is to look to the future, even while keep­ing hold to the past, Saleem said. “A mosque should challenge your per­ceptions. Designing a mosque is an internal dialogue, a dialogue about British culture, a reference to our own history.”

This article was originally published here.

Amr Moussa: The Arabs will never say ‘Yes, sir’ to Turkey or Iran


Cairo, The Arab Weekly – Former Arab League secretary-general Amr Moussa remains a busy man. A veteran of Middle East politics — he was Egyptian Foreign minister from 1991-2001 — Moussa is keeping a weather eye on the national, regional and interna­tional situation, including attending the World Economic Forum in January in Switzer­land.

Moussa, speaking at his office in Cairo one day after the anniversary of the January 25th, 2011, Egyptian revolution, addressed many of the unprecedented challenges the Mid­dle East is facing.

“Yes, it was a real revolution and as a reaction to bad governance but it was also hijacked very quickly and it didn’t last long,” Moussa told The Arab Weekly. “Still, the effect is deep. The change has started. Egypt will never go back to how it was before and I believe the reac­tion will take a long time but there will be a new Egypt at the end of the road.

“Of course, it could be better but this is the beginning.”

Six years after the revolution, Egypt finds itself confronted with a region in flux and is backing dif­ferent sides in conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Libya. This is a precari­ous state that is raising tensions between Cairo and traditional stal­wart supporter Saudi Arabia. Many Egyptian officials deny any tension between Riyadh and Cairo but the signs of strain are clear.

“Egyptian-Arab relations have their own life,” Moussa said. “There are pushes and pulls — positives and negatives — but all of us feel that, in the final analysis, we all belong to the Arab nation. We all belong to the Arab world and the differences will be dealt with as we go.”

He added: “This is not the first time that Egypt and other Arab countries [have had problems]. You remember after Camp David? That was a total boycott. And then you see what happened thereafter. So, I hope, I trust, that this tense situation will not continue for long.

“I agree with you, of course it is a tense situation. Of course, relations are not what they should be among Arab countries.”

Moussa said the region has com­pletely changed and that change requires Arab countries to work together to build a more stable future.

“With the developments that are taking place we have to discuss the future regional arrangement, particularly following the advent of two regional powers — Iran and Turkey — which are after all from the region but are not Arab,” he said.

“So, I believe that the solution to the Syrian issue and with it the Iraqi issue and with it the Kurd­ish issue and with it the Iranian ambitions and [safeguarding] Arab rights is for all of this to be dealt with in one pot. We must all sit and talk about the future of the region. And this is the constructive thing I am calling everybody to do.”

Moussa warned that, unless it worked together to put forward a clear vision for the future of the region, the Arab world could see the United States and Russia try to impose a vision that would lead to disaster.

“Should they [Moscow and Washington] commission Iran and Turkey to take care of the region? They can’t. They just can’t,” Mous­sa said. “They [Iran and Turkey] are not Arab. The majority [of the Middle East] is Arab and the Arabs will never say ‘Yes, sir’ to Turkey or Iran. But if there are leaders from among our own ranks, like the Saudis and Egyptians, so I believe this is the way to solve the problems.”

As for whether Egypt, which has been preoccupied with domestic concerns over regional ones since the 2011 revolution, has returned to its regional role after the revolu­tion, Moussa was clear.

“No, not yet but we are on the way,” he said. “It will take time and sound policies but the Arab world is in need of Egypt. Wher­ever you go, you will hear talks that ‘We cannot do it without Egypt. We want Egypt back’. This, in itself, is essential for Egypt to assist the situation. As the Arabs need Egypt, Egypt also needs the Arabs and altogether we can do the game. Separately we can’t.”

Egypt must play a larger role in resolving regional crises, Moussa said, particularly the political and security crises next door in Libya.

“We witness active politics. Yes, Egypt is playing a role there, particularly as the situation in Libya is a threat to Egypt if it is left to the terrorists. They were eyeing Egypt [from Libya], especially [the Islamic State] ISIS. So, the role of neighbouring countries, and par­ticularly Egypt, is to bring together all of the parties in the Libyan conflict to sit together and chart the route forward. I can see some glimpse of hope now.”

Speaking less than one week after the inauguration of Don­ald Trump as the US president, Moussa struck a note of caution. “Well, the beginning has not been very encouraging but let us wait and see how things will develop. In the United States, it is not just the personage of the president himself; there are the rest of the institutions as well. So, let us give him the first 100 days, or even the first six months,” he said.

“Let us give him a chance. Provided, of course, that he does not embark on something that will confuse the whole issue,” he added, speaking before Trump’s controversial decree to ban citi­zens of seven Muslim countries from entering the United States.

This article was originally published here.

‘Integration’ remains key British migration issue


London – “Integration” has become a watchword in British poli­tics with government and parliamentary reviews into it being issued within a month of each other.

A landmark government review into integration, which pointed to a lack of it among Britain’s more than 3 million Muslims, was issued December 5th, the same week that a third-party survey revealed that British Muslims support “full in­tegration” and broadly shared the views and priorities of the wider population.

A 200-page report by British gov­ernment official Louise Casey into “opportunity and integration” in Britain painted a bleak picture of segregated British Muslim commu­nities and called for immigrants to take “an oath of integration with British values and society”.

The report said there were “high levels of social and economic isola­tion in some places and cultural and religious practices in communities that are not only holding some of our citizens back but run contrary to British values and sometimes our laws”. It called for increased focus on promoting the English language and on “women’s emancipation” in communities in which they are be­ing held back by “regressive cultural practices”.

A parliamentary report into inte­gration, issued on January 5th by the all-party parliamentary group on social integration, did not strike the same bleak tone regarding a divided Britain, although it did en­dorse the government’s recommen­dation that all immigrants be made to learn English.

“All immigrants should be expect­ed to have either learned English be­fore coming to the UK or be enrolled in compulsory ESOL [English for Speakers of Other Languages] class­es upon arrival,” the study advised.

Labour MP Chuka Umunna, who heads the parliamentary committee on social integration, outlined the difficulty of treating “integration” as a monolithic and easy-to-solve is­sue. “It’s clear that immigration has impacted on different communities in different ways and the pace of change has alarmed many,” he said.

“The government has a duty to address the lack of integration of immigrants… Failing to do so has left a vacuum for extremists and peddlers of hate to exploit,” said Umunna, who represents an ethni­cally and religiously diverse north London constituency.

However, a third-party poll pub­lished on December 2nd and billed as “the most extensive research of British Muslims ever conducted” put forward a far less bleak view of “integration”, asserting that British Muslims “broadly share the same views as the rest of the population”.

“Despite the greater religios­ity and social conservatism [among British Muslims]… their lifestyles are largely secular with only limited interest in sharia finance or separate religious education,” a report on the poll stated.

The poll, conducted by the Policy Exchange think-tank in conjunc­tion with the ICM polling company, surveyed more than 3,000 British Muslims. It revealed that 53% of re­spondents said they wanted to “ful­ly integrate with non-Muslims in all aspects of life”. Another 37% said they favoured integration on “most things” while 6% expressed support for leading “a separate Islamic life as far as possible” and 1% said they favoured a “fully separate” Islamic life.

The poll revealed that 93% of Brit­ish Muslims asked said they felt a fairly or very strong attachment to Britain and that British Muslims were more likely than the general population to condemn terrorism.

The three reports — one issued by a conservative-led government, one by a bipartisan parliamentary com­mittee and the other by a third-par­ty polling company — paint wildly contrasting views of British-Muslim integration. Many Muslim organisa­tions particularly criticised the re­proachful tone of the government report.

Harun Khan, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), dubbed the Casey review a “missed opportunity”, adding that the tone of the report seemed to in­ordinately blame Muslims.

“We need to improve integration and it needs to involve the active participation of all Britons, not just Muslims. As former prime minister David Cameron has stated, ‘Integra­tion is a two-way street’,” Khan said.

As for the all-party parliamentary report, Khan said: “Unlike recently published deliberations, this re­port includes a number of sensible recommendations, including local integration plans, training and Eng­lish learning classes for economic migrants…, community mentor­ing programmes, encouragement of social mixing and cutting natu­ralisation fees, as well as automatic pathways to citizenship for new ar­rivals.”

Mohammed Shafiq, chief execu­tive of the Ramadhan Foundation, a Muslim lobby group, condemned the Casey report as “inflammatory and divisive”.

“Sadly, in today’s Britain, Mus­lims are seen as an easy target to attack by politicians, commentators and parts of the media without any regard for the impact this has on communities,” he said.

Questions of integration have only been on the rise since the Brex­it vote, with many observers ex­pressing concern at the spike in race and religious hate crime reported following the June referendum. However, most British Muslims, the poll indicated, do seek integration.

“I grew up in Britain, I would class myself as British. My values are the same as any ordinary British person, I just happen to be from a particular faith,” answered one Birmingham-based British Muslim to the ICM poll.

 This article was originally published here.

Tunisian ambassador renews call for Britain to lift travel ban


London, The Arab Weekly – Tunisian Ambassador to the United Kingdom Nabil Ammar renewed calls for the British government to lift its travel ban on flights to Tunisia, a measure that has been in place since the June 2015 terror­ist attack in the eastern Tunisian city of Sousse.

“Eighteen months after the tragic events at Sousse, we think it is more than time to at least ad­just the travel ban,” Ammar said. “There has been a lot of change in terms of improving security and so it’s past time now to readjust this travel ban, which is not only hurt­ing the tourism sector but also af­fecting the image of our country.”

Since the attack, Tunisia has adopted stringent anti-terrorism measures, including the review of security procedures at hotel and travel installations. They an­nounced the dismantling of many jihadist cells and the prevention of a number of attacks.

“There is a gap between what the advice is saying and the reality on the ground in Tunisia,” Ammar said.

The British Foreign Office has ad­vised against “all but essential trav­el” to Tunisia since the attack at the Sousse beach resort, which resulted in the death of 38 tourists, includ­ing 30 Britons. A state of emergen­cy, which has been extended nu­merous times, remains in effect in Tunisia. It is set to end on January 19th, although many observers ex­pect it to be renewed again.

“The threat from terrorism in Tu­nisia is high. Further attacks remain highly likely, including against for­eigners. Security forces remain on a high state of alert in Tunis and other locations,” the Foreign Office warned in a statement.

“Although we have had good co­operation from the Tunisian gov­ernment, including putting in place additional security measures, the intelligence and threat picture had developed considerably, reinforc­ing our view that a further terrorist attack is highly likely.”

Ammar said that, given the cur­rent international climate, there can be no travel destination that is 100% safe from a terrorist attack.

“There is nowhere where it is zero risk. Is there any need for me to recall what happened in Paris or Turkey or Brussels?” he said. “So it is not a technical question. It has more to do with political courage, long-term vision and solidarity.”

“What we are saying is that there has been a lot of progress and the level of threat is comparable to any big city in Europe, including Lon­don,” he added.

Ammar’s views echo comments issued by Tunisian Interior Minister Hedi Majdoub, who recently visited London. “The threat exists eve­rywhere. The question is: Do you trust the Tunisians or not?” he told Britain’s Guardian newspaper.

“We are not saying to Europeans: ‘Please come to Tunisia; there are no threats’. There are threats, as there are all round the world, but we are ready to cooperate continu­ously on any security issue to as­sure the British and to ameliorate the situation and build confidence in us,” Majdoub said.

Spain and Sweden recently lift­ed their travel bans to Tunisia but restrictions continue to apply in Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands and Belgium. Despite facing such restrictions, Tunisia has sought to make up for the shortfall of tour­ists from elsewhere, particularly neighbouring countries and newer markets such as Russia and China.

China’s National Tourist Admin­istration said that four times as many Chinese tourists visited Tu­nisia in 2016 than in 2015, owing largely to rising income levels and easing of visa requirements, mean­ing more Chinese tourists than ever before are travelling abroad.

“This is good but it should not be at the cost of other tourists,” Am­mar said. “We want to add more people coming and visiting Tunisia. We want to improve our tourist sec­tor. Tunisia is a beautiful country, a land of culture and communica­tion, and we want this identity to endure.”

Ammar, who is originally from Sousse, said the most important thing is not the effect on Tunisia’s tourist economy but the global struggle against terrorism.

“By this travel ban, we are only fulfilling the terrorists’ objectives,” he said. “They want Tunisia to be cut off [from the rest of the world]… If we really want to fight against ter­rorism, we should say, ‘Yes, we are here. You will not win.’”

As for his message to British tour­ists, historically among the most numerous visitors to Tunisia, Am­mar said: “On the same beaches our blood — Tunisians and Britons — were mixed to fight against Nazism. Today, it’s almost the same kind of struggle.

“For those who know the coun­try, we know that you love our country as the country loves you so the real challenge today is to in­crease understanding between our people and to improve communica­tion. I believe, very much, in com­munication at the level of peoples. We need to work together to over­come this challenge.”

This article was originally published here.

First Brexit, then Trump. What next?


Not long after the sur­prise election victory of Donald Trump, UK In­dependence Party lead­er and leading Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage met with the United States’ next president in New York.

A populist campaigner for Brexit, Farage posed for a picture with one of America’s unlikeliest presidents against the backdrop of the opu­lent gold-and-diamond-studded doors of Trump’s penthouse suite. Trump flashed a thumbs-up, Far­age grinned broadly and gestured to Trump as if to say: “Can you be­lieve this?”

For many, the answer to that unspoken question is “No”. There are many parallels to be drawn be­tween Brexit and Trump’s election, not least how the so-called main­stream media and the polls failed to predict them. These are parallels that Trump was keen to embrace. “They will soon be calling me Mr Brexit,” he posted on Twitter in Au­gust. He riffed on the idea at rallies, saying his election would be “Brexit plus” and “Brexit times five”.

In both votes, immigration was a main issue in the campaign, fol­lowed closely by terrorism and the economy. In both votes, fears were on the rise, stoked largely by those who ended up victors. In both votes, the political establishment and the mainstream media failed to accurately understand ordinary people’s concerns.

So, just who voted for Trump? And who voted for Brexit? And why?

Voting data indicate 58% of white voters (52% of white women and 63% of white men) voted for Trump. While he won a clear major­ity of voters of all ethnicities aged 45 or over; 88% of black voters and 65% of Latinos voted for former US secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The vote was evenly split among high school and college graduates but only 37% of post-graduate de­gree holders voted Trump.

Similar figures were borne out by Brexit: White voters voted to leave the European Union with 53% of the tally. A majority (56%) of those aged 45 or over voted “Leave”; the figure rose to 60% of those aged 65 or over. The most dramatic split was educational: 70% of those with a General Certificate of Education — educated until age 16 — or lower voting “Leave” and 68% of those with a university degree voted “Re­main”.

One interpretation is that the whiter one is or the older one is or the less formal education one has — or some combination of all three — the more likely the person was to vote for Brexit or Trump. Another is that the poorer one is, the less hope one has for the future, the more one looks to past glories rather than new horizons, the more likely one was to vote for Brexit or Trump. The answer is not to demonise these voters but speak to their is­sues and try to win them back.

Ultimately, Trump spoke to most of the issues that mattered to more of the people. More important, he differentiated himself from Clin­ton, who was viewed as being part of the establishment that brought about the status quo that has failed so many voters.

It was those voters — who per­ceive themselves to be disenfran­chised even if that is not necessar­ily the case — Trump spoke to when he decried special interests and talked about “draining the swamp”.

While many of those who voted for Brexit did so for similar reasons, for a hazy desire for change, even if they were not sure what that change would look like precisely. Change is preferable to the status quo.

Both Brexit and Trump repre­sented a victory for nativism over the forces of globalisation. Those who voted for Brexit in Britain and Trump in the United States were, for the most part, those most left behind by globalisation. Why would they not vote for change?

More dangerous is what comes after Brexit and Trump, particu­larly with elections set for France, Germany, Hungary and the Nether­lands in 2017. Is Brexit and Trump just the beginning? There has been a rise of right-wing rhetoric across Europe due to rising fears of im­migration and terrorism. While the right-wing have firm, if flawed, answers to these questions, mod­erates and the left appear flum­moxed.

Speaking about his meeting with Trump, Farage said the two had discussed “freedom and winning”. There can be no doubt that Marine Le Pen and the National Front in France and Geert Wilders in Hol­land, among others, would like to join the party.

This article was originally published here.

‘Lack of critical introspection’ a problem in Islam today, says Quilliam’s Adam Deen


London, The Arab Weekly – Adam Deen is an ex-Islamic extremist seeking to fight Islamic extremism. After being promoted to managing direc­tor of the Quilliam Foundation, a counter-extremism think-tank, Deen finds himself confronting an increasingly polarised discourse about Islam in the West.

“I think my new role is more to build on the success of Quilliam, not so much to change what they’ve been doing but to complement it. One area we particularly need to focus on is claiming more of the ground in the Islamic intellectual space, putting forward a more moder­ate and pluralistic reading of Islam,” Deen told The Arab Weekly in an interview.

Deen is a former senior member of the banned al- Muhajiroun group, which was led by infamous British preacher Anjem Choudary, who has been sentenced to more than five years in prison after being convicted on charges of inciting support for the Islamic State (ISIS).

The son of Turkish immi­grants, Deen had a keen interest in learning about Islam as a young man and became radical­ised while attending university. After becoming disillusioned with radical Islam over a period of years, he left al-Muhajiroun in the mid-2000s to pursue a more tolerant vision of Islam. He joined Quilliam in November 2015 as head of outreach and in September was promoted to managing director.

“Being a former extremist, we have an insight into the inner workings of the extremist mindset and the ideas they hold on to,” Deen said. “I think extremism cannot be totally grasped unless you were one before. As much as it is to do with ideas, it’s also experiential.”

For organisations such as the Quilliam Foundation, perhaps the biggest problem is that it is ploughing a lonely furrow regarding the popular discourse about Islam in the West.

“One of the biggest challenges in this field is that we have two kinds of polarised views. One that says that it [extremism] has nothing to do with Islam… and the other side that says it’s everything to do with Islam and Islam is the problem. Quilliam is the middle ground, the voice of reason, to balance these two out,” he said.

“We represent the silent majority [of Muslims] that want a more inclusive and tolerant Islam. I think we speak for that majority who have been silent for some time and we want to take someone who is at the crossroads and help him.”

Deen has little time for those Muslims who refuse to acknowl­edge the problems that Islam is facing, particularly the rise of Islamic extremism. “If we understand Islam to be our scholarly tradition, our interpre­tation, then we have to say ‘Yes, there is a problem.’”

“The challenge is to say ‘Yes, some of our great scholars in the past got it wrong.’ And that takes courage. There is a lack of critical introspection [by Muslims]. We are being held back by a [schol­arly] tradition that is unques­tioningly revered. That needs to change,” Deen said.

It is views such as this that have led Deen and the Quilliam Foundation to being accused of being in the government’s pocket, particularly their backing of the government’s counterterrorism Prevent strategy, which is strongly opposed by some sections of society. Horror stories of teach­ers referring students to the authorities for donning the hijab or discussing religion have been widely reported in the media after the Prevent Order went into effect earlier this year.

“In principle, Prevent makes perfect sense. It is about safe­guarding children in the same way we would try to safeguard children from any other kind of toxic view,” Deen said. “But it has had some problems and what it fundamentally comes down to is a training gap. That training gap has resulted in Prevent being misapplied.

“I don’t always think it is malicious. I think there is a kind of agenda that is driven by certain Islamist organisations that want to spin it that way,” he said.

Quilliam is seeking to provide teachers with training to help them spot genuine signs of radicalisation and deal with this phenomenon.

“The overall response [from teachers] is one that is quite anxious, sometimes even hostile but by the end of the training… there’s a sense of relief actually that now they understand and have the confidence to tackle these issues,” Deen said.

In addition to its domestic operations, Quilliam has set its sights on new horizons, includ­ing North America where the think-tank is preparing to open a branch in the United States at a time when discourse about Islam and Muslims has been a major feature of a divisive presidential election campaign season.

“There is a place for Quilliam in the US and I think it’s going to be even more important given the heightened tensions now,” Deen said.

 This article was originally published here.