Headlines 27 October, 2006
MINISTER TO TACKLE HUMAN TRAFFICKING(Norway)
The Ministry for Social Affairs will use a multi-million kroner allocation to stop prostitution and other forms of slave labour
25/10/2006 - A new initiative from the Ministry for Social Affairs and Gender Equality hopes to make inroads into the underworld of human trafficking by offering confidential health checks to the illegal workers. The minister for social affairs, Eva Kjer Hansen, plans to intensify scrutiny of areas where slave labour may exist, particularly prostitution. As part of this initiative, fully discreet health care clinics where illegal workers can receive treatment will be established nationwide. The centres will be based on a proven existing model, the Pro Vejle prostitution centre. 'The centre has proved to be a good way of making contact with women from an otherwise closed environment,' said Hansen. Human trafficking is not only a problem in third-world and Eastern European countries. Denmark is unfortunately also an end station for people - especially women - forced to work under degrading conditions and without basic human rights. The new initiative is supported by a DKK 70 million government allocation, to be used over the next four years. Although the initiative will continue to concentrate on women and prostitution, it will also focus on all forms of slave labour. 'The field work has to be strengthened, and therefore I plan to coordinate it and broaden it to the entire country,' said Hansen. Until now, organisations such as Stop Woman Trafficking and Pro Vejle have had to seek out women forced into prostitution on the streets or at other clinics. Besides the obvious health risks involved in prostitution, another major concern has been the problem of what happens to those women when they are expelled from Denmark. Hansen has therefore invited ministers from all the Nordic and Baltic countries, as well as those lands neighbouring the Baltic countries, to a meeting next week to discuss the issue of human trafficking.
© The Copenhagen Post
EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT PUTS OFF ISRAEL TRIP OVER FAR-RIGHT MEP(Belgium)
26/10/2006 - A European Parliament delegation to the Middle East, including Israel, has been thrown into disarray by the presence of far-right politician Marine Le Pen on the 16-strong list of MEPs. Scheduled to begin next 28 October and run to 4 November, the trip has now been postponed because the group ran into problems with the Israeli authorities over National Front member Mrs Le Pen, daughter of party leader Jean-Marie Le Pen. "The composition of the delegation which includes a person coming from a party whose ranks are linked to anti-semitism and holocaust deniers made it very, very difficult for us," an Israeli diplomat told EUobserver. The diplomat added that it is now up to the European Parliament to contact the Israelis about a new date and trip. The decision to postpone the date – officially for "technical reasons" - was taken at Thursday's (26 October) weekly meeting of the political group leaders in the parliament and came after several days diplomatic to-ing and fro-ing to try and find an acceptable solution for all sides. The draft agenda had included meetings in Israel with prime minister Ehud Olmert, foreign minister Tzipi Livni and defence minister Amir Peretz. But with the Israelis refusing to schedule high-level meetings with a delegation including Mrs Le Pen, the MEPs risked going to Israel and being ignored by all politicians of consequence making it "rather pointless" as one parliament official said. On the other hand, according to the official, there was concern on the parliament's side that a national government should not be allowed to dictate the composition of the group. MEPs are usually quite adamant about this principle, cancelling a delegation to Turkey recently because the Turkish authorities were objecting to the presence of a Cypriot MEP in the delegation.
The official noted that it is likely to be quite difficult to find a solution on the Israeli delegation in the near future as the participation list has been set, indicating that a lot of negotiation with the non-attached MEPs, to whom Mrs Le Pen belongs, is in the offing. Prior to the postponement decision, members of the delegation were themselves divided on the issue with some wanting to cancel because the trip would be meaningless and others fearing that cancelling the trip would give a platform to the National Front. Speaking before Thursday's decision was announced, Irish centre-right MEP Simon Coveney, on the delegation list, told EUobserver that he believed the trip should go ahead. "I don't think we should be cancelling the event … personally I am going because I am interested [in the issue]." He added that any members of a parliament delegation have to remember that they are representing the views of the EU assembly and not their own personal view points. Meanwhile, National Front deputy Bruno Gollnisch in plenary on Thursday praised the parliament for taking the decision to postpone the delegation rather than let a government dictate its makeup.
DEBATE ON VEIL SHOWS HOW WEST IS TURNING ON ISLAM, SCHOLAR WARNS(uk)
27/10/2006 - A leading Muslim scholar has said the debate on women wearing veils highlights a growing "global polarisation" between the West and the Islamic world. Tariq Ramadan, a visiting professor at Oxford University told an interfaith conference in London yesterday that the debate sparked by Jack Straw, who said the veil hampered integration, was part of a global phenomenon in which a "them versus us" attitude was being fostered between Muslims and non-Muslims. "The atmosphere has deteriorated in the last year or so," Professor Ramadan said. "It's not only a British reality, but European and American. "To nurture this polarisation is the easiest way for politicians when we don't have social policy. The most dangerous thing is the normalisation of this discourse." The Venerable Michael Fox, Archdeacon of West Ham, echoed Professor Ramadan's sentiments, and said he was worried by the rise of the far-right in Barking and Dagenham. "There has been a normalisation of far-right discourse in the last couple of years," he said. "I grew up in Barking and Dagenham, which now has 12 BNP councillors, and I have listened to people's concerns which include all sorts of fantasies. At the heart of it is the question, 'how do I live with difference?'."
Professor Ramadan said British Muslims should not adopt a "victim mentality" or react "emotionally" to controversial statements made by politicians. Earlier this month, Mr Straw, the Commons leader, triggered a storm when he said he asked women to remove the veil when he met them because it was a "visible statement of separation". Tony Blair was among a number of politicians who supported him. This week, Trevor Phillips, the head of the Commission for Racial Equality, said the discussion had "deteriorated" since it was first raised and he feared that the Muslim community was being unfairly targeted. Professor Ramadan, who was speaking alongside an expert panel in east London yesterday, including Sheikh Abu Sayeed, chair of the Islamic Sharia Council of Britain, Tahir Alam, assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, and the Archdeacon, stressed that a mature debate from inside the community was welcomed by him, and that, "we should say thank you for the question". He said: "We know we have a problem in the Muslim community. We better start discussion from within." He also believed that the wearing of the niqab was not compulsory for Muslim women but only meant historically for the wives of the Prophet Mohamed. The United by Faith conference, hosted by Da'watul Islam UK & Eire, in Tower Hamlets, was attended by community and political leaders as well as senior Metropolitan Police officers. It was the first face-to-face meeting between Islamic scholars and the public in which direct questions about the veil could be posed to the experts.
© Independent Digital
MOHAMMED CARTOON NEWSPAPER ACQUITTED(Denmark)
The drawings of Mohammed printed in Jyllands-Posten newspaper were not racist, a court in Århus has decided
26/10/2006 - Two editors of Jyllands-Posten newspaper have been acquitted of racism charges stemming from its publication of 12 drawings of the prophet Mohammed in September 2005. Seven Muslim organisations had charged editor in chief Carsten Juste and culture editor Flemming Rose with racism in civil suit. The court said the organisations had not proven that the drawings or the accompanying articles had intentionally offended Muslims. The decision is the third time the Muslim organisations have had their efforts to have the newspaper charged with racism turned down by the courts. They will appeal today's decision. The courts rejected other attempts to have the paper tried for criminal charges of blasphemy, racism and hate speech. The decision came as no surprise to Juste. 'Anything other than an acquittal would have been a catastrophe for freedom of the press,' he said. 'You can say what you want about the drawings and the decision to publish them, but the paper's inalienable right to do so has been confirmed by the courts.' Representatives from Muslim organisations were disappointed with the decision, but said they would respect it. Others said they feared it would re-open sores created by violent protests against Denmark earlier this year. 'The court has given Jyllands-Posten the right to offend Muslims and Muslims' feelings and to associate us with terrorism,' said Kasem Said Ahmad, the spokesman for the Islamic Faith Association, one of the groups bringing charges. 'I don't think anyone will understand the decision,' he added, referring to how it would be received by Muslims in Denmark and abroad. Ahmad added that his group would use 'all the legal options available to it' to try to overturn the decision and win 'society's understanding' for its position.
© The Copenhagen Post
JOBS, RACE, INTEGRATION: FRANCE YET TO BREAK DOWN BARRIERS
25/10/2006 - Tackling racism and discrimination was declared a top priority after riots broke out in high-immigration suburbs across France, but the country is still struggling to break down the barriers one year on. President Jacques Chirac, in a solemn address at the height of the troubles, vowed to combat the "poison of discrimination", telling black and Arab youths from the run-down areas that they too were "children of the Republic". But while the riots forced France to take a closer look at ethnic discrimination -- north and west African immigrants and their children are underrepresented in public life and harder hit by unemployment -- there have been few signs of radical change. State watchdogs have been given new powers to root out discrimination in the job market and the media, and the issue has been firmly thrust to the centre of public debate ahead of next year's presidential elections. Symbolic changes -- such as the temporary appointment of a black newsreader on the main television news, or the box office success of a recent film, "Days of Glory", on World War II soldiers from France's African colonies -- were also seen as steps in the right direction. But Mouloud Aounit, secretary general of the MRAP anti-racism group, says that although ethnic diversity is "accepted in sports and show-business, in politics and the media, France is still very far behind." Meanwhile, on the central issue of jobs, random tests show that an applicant with a north African-sounding name has five times less chance of securing an interview than one with a traditionally "French" surname.
For many black and Arab youths in riot-hit areas, where unemployment rates among 15-24 year-olds reach twice the national average, the outlook is bleak. Yazid, a 25-year-old of Algerian origin from the Bosquets housing estate in Seine-Saint-Denis north of Paris, has been unable to find a job despite his masters degree in marketing, "I got four interviews in the past year -- and each time they made me feel like they didn't want an Arab, they kept asking me about where I live and whether my qualifications were real," he said. "A lot of promises were made during and after the riots, but we haven't seen anything concrete." "Discrimination is a massive problem in France," French recruitment specialist Alain Gavand confirmed in a recent interview, calling for a "radical change of mindset, for companies to really start thinking in terms of merit and talent -- not just diplomas." Many top French companies will only consider graduates from the country's elite "Grandes Ecoles" -- to which even the brightest of black or Arab students from the suburbs rarely think of applying.
French companies and unions are currently negotiating on the terms of a "diversity charter", but one strong initiative to fight discrimination, anonymous job resumes, was recently dropped by the government in the face of resistance from the business community.
Meanwhile there is still powerful resistance in France towards US-style affirmative action to favour minorities -- despite pressure from the government whose Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy is a champion of the idea. "Positive discrimination" is the subject of fierce debate in France, where its critics argue that it undermines the Republican principle of equal citizenship regardless of race or religion.
For the same reasons, France bans any study based on racial, religious or ethnic origin, making it hard to measure the problem of discrimination. The education ministry came under fire recently for a study that tried to pinpoint a link between school performance and a child's country of origin. Some academics favour loosening the rules, arguing that after the riots an accurate picture of France's ethnic mix is increasingly urgent, but many rights groups are adamant that "racial profiling" leads to harmful sterotyping.
© The Tocqueville Connection
ANGLICAN LEADER BACKS RIGHT TO WEAR VEIL AND CROSS(uk)
27/10/2006 - Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said on Friday he opposed any government interference in a Muslim woman's right to wear a veil or a Christian's right to wear a cross. Senior British government minister Jack Straw sparked heated debate earlier this month by saying Muslim women who wore full veils made community relations harder. Prime Minister Tony Blair later called the veil "a mark of separation". "The ideal of a society where no visible public signs of religion would be seen -- no crosses around necks, no sidelocks, turbans or veils -- is a politically dangerous one," said Williams, head of the world's 77 million Anglicans. "It assumes that what comes first in society is the central political 'licensing authority', which has all the resource it needs to create a workable public morality," he wrote in an article in the Times newspaper. Blair and other European leaders have said the wearing of full veils presents difficulties for their nations with Muslim communities and immigrants needing to integrate into Western societies. The question of whether Europe is doing enough to integrate Muslims has been urgently addressed by governments since British-born Muslim suicide bombers killed 52 people in attacks on London's transport system in July 2005. But some Muslims say there is increasing "Islamophobia".
"The proverbial visitor from Mars might have imagined that the greatest immediate threat to British society was religious war, fomented by 'faith schools', cheered on by thousands of veiled women and the Bishops' benches in the House of Lords," said Williams. Last week, a British employment tribunal ruled a Muslim teaching assistant had not been discriminated against when the school where she worked asked her to remove her veil. Earlier, a British Airways worker said she was sent home for refusing to conceal a small Christian cross while on duty.
© Reuters AlertNet
EXHIBITION EXPLODES MYTH OF SPONGING REFUGEES(uk)
27/10/2006 - One is a doctor who fled Saddam Hussein's Iraq and now runs a £1m felafel business. Another is a young Polish Roma woman who captains a boys' football team while another is a Kurdish separatist with a flourishing acting career. The courage of Britain's refugees and their contribution to their adoptive nation were yesterday highlighted in a new exhibition designed to refute the image of asylum-seekers as a social and financial burden. The show at the Museum of London, entitled Belonging, took two years to produce and is the first major exhibition in Britain focused on refugees. It tells the stories of 150 refugees who arrived in the UK in the past 50 years from countries including Germany, Bosnia, Chile and Eritrea. Organisers said it was an attempt to redress the balance against the portrayal of refugees as "swamping" Britain in search of a lifestyle unavailable in their native countries. The exhibition, which includes a display of alarmist headlines about asylum-seekers from newspapers including the Daily Mail and the Daily Express, was conceived by a refugee agency in London after it was inundated with complaints from clients that their image was being distorted. Tzeggai Deres, the Eritrean director of the Evelyn Oldfield Unit and the creator of the exhibition, said: "A certain image has been created of refugees. Britain has a fine tradition of welcoming outsiders, reinforced by an inherent sense of justice and democracy. But the right-wing media has created confusion and frightened people who think their country is being invaded. In reality, refugees are people who have overcome adversity to come here and make a difference. It is time to make their stories better known."
The project recorded the oral history of each featured refugee, amassing tape recordings from 15 communities. The footage, which took two years to collect and has been stored in a sound archive, would take 400 hours to play back. Organisers said they wanted the recordings to be used to inform future generations of refugees and their children of the challenges and successes of their predecessors.
Nearly a quarter of refugees who arrive in Britain have a university degree from their native country, underlining the fact that many become successful professionals or entrepreneurs once settled in the UK. Among those featured in the exhibition are doctors, teachers, restaurateurs, scientists, a bus driver, a driving instructor and an engineer. The stories range from Shabibi Shah, a poet who fled Afghanistan in 1984 to protect her teenage son from conscription and now works as a charity trustee, to Tesfay Sebhat, a blind Eritrean refugee and now a youth worker who arrived in Britain on Guy Fawkes' night and thought the explosions were fighting between the British authorities and the IRA. Among the items on display are memorabilia, including a model of a refugee centre housed in a north London church, built by two women from Iran and Albania, and the Arsenal shirt worn by a Congolese teenager, Fabrice Muamba, in his first game for the club. But with applications for asylum standing at 25,720 last year, compared to 6,156 in 1986, participants in the project said they were concerned that there has been a change in British attitudes towards refugees. Mahdi Mahdi, who left Iraq in 1979 following intimidation from Saddam Hussein's Baathist movement and now employs 30 people in his Middle Eastern food company, said: "It worries me that the traditional culture of welcome is being eroded. It might not be obvious but it is easier to say something against asylum-seekers now than in sympathy for them. That is a big change since I arrived." The exhibition, which is free, will run until 25 February.
© Independent Digital
POLICE UNABLE TO SHUT DOWN NEO-NAZI WEBPAGE BASED IN US(Czech Republic)
26/10/2006 - The police have been unable to shut down a webpage of the National Socialist Education Centre, which openly promotes Nazism, as its creators have based it in Atlanta, where the promotion of Fascism is not a criminal act, TV Nova reports. US authorities rejected a request for help from the Czech police, Nova said. The appeals published at the controversial web page have hurt representatives of the Czech Freedom Fighters association of WWII veterans and the Jewish and Romany communities. While promotion of fascism is not illegal in the US, anyone from the Czech Republic posting racist texts on the Internet is liable to criminal prosecution, Hantak said, adding that first police must find the computer and find the incriminating evidence on it. The web page in question promotes the former National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP). The police said earlier that they were prosecuting two persons in connection with the case. "We have been watching the web page for some time. It is created by a number of persons and also includes the Internet magazine Last Generation, whose two editors are being prosecuted for some racially-motivated crimes," Blanka Kosinova, spokeswoman for the police squad for uncovering of organised crime (UOOZ), told Nova on Wednesday.
© Prague Daily Monitor
CALL TO MAKE STUDY OF ISLAM MAINSTREAM(uk)
26/10/2006 - Leading Muslim academics in Scotland yesterday described the study of Islam in Britain's higher education institutions as divisive and insular. A report by experts from Dundee University claims that only when Islamic education becomes mainstream will extremism and fundamentalism be eliminated. The report, entitled Time for Change, says Islamic studies in universities and colleges are not meeting the needs of the UK's multicultural society. It calls for Islamic studies to be brought into the mainstream of the university curriculum rather than being consigned to religious affairs or Islamic studies departments. The report, written by Professor Abd al Fattah El Awaisi and Professor Malory Nye from Dundee's Al Maktoum Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies claims education structures are "letting down" Muslims. They are calling for a "new agenda" offering education which is more relevant to contemporary Britain with a more multicultural approach. Prof El Awaisi said a new agenda was necessary to prevent the misguided and narrow interpretation of Islam which is the source of so many problems in Britain's multicultural society. "It is only through multicultural education we can work to eliminate extremism and fundamentalism," he added.
The report found most British non-Muslims do not understand what makes Muslims "tick". "Many British communities, including British Muslims, have failed to understand each other. There is mutual incomprehension and this can only be addressed by education," it says.
It adds that Muslim schools and colleges run by Muslims for Muslims is not the answer. "Multiculturalism is not about separatism, ghetto-isation or Balkanisation, it is instead recognition of diversity, the need for common ground, mutual respect and cultural engagement," it says. The report adds that some departments concentrated on "out-of-date and irrelevant issues", while others chose local religious leaders as lecturers for reasons of "political correctness". It also criticised some Muslim institutions for focusing on their own political links and agendas and not those of multicultural Britain. The report makes recommendations including a government-commissioned study on Muslim institutions and their place in the development of Islam as an integral part of multicultural British society. It also calls for Muslim institutions to be encouraged to integrate into the British higher education system. With more than 1.5 million British Muslims living in the UK, they make up the largest non-Christian grouping. Prof Nye said: "All those who participate in the development of this area of higher education have the responsibility to respond to the new realities of multicultural Britain."
© The Herald
BERLIN POLICE SAY 16 ARRESTED DURING NEO-NAZI DEMONSTRATION
22/10/2006 - Sixteen neo-Nazis were arrested during a demonstration supporting the jailed lead singer of a banned skinhead rock group, Berlin police said Sunday, amid concerns far-right extremists are becoming more active and more violent. Some 750 neo-Nazis and other far-right supporters turned out Saturday outside of a Berlin prison to call for the release of Michael Regener, who has been jailed since 2003, when a Berlin court found his rock band Landser, or Foot Soldiers, guilty of spreading hate in their songs against Jews and foreigners. The demonstration was organized by the far-right National Democratic Party, which last month won representation in the state legislature of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. The party, which is growing in popularity in the former East Germany, also holds seats in Saxony's state parliament, where another extremist party is also represented. Mainstream politicians and Jewish leaders have expressed concern that far-right groups, including violent neo-Nazis, are growing in strength, particularly in the east.
Experts say they are exploiting the region's shallow democratic roots after decades of communism and tapping frustration at the depressed local economy. Israeli Ambassador Shimon Stein warned over the weekend that Jews in Germany feel increasingly "unsafe," pointing to the heavy security that surrounds most synagogues or Jewish community centers, according to a newspaper report. "They are not able to live a normal Jewish life," Stein was quoted as telling the Neue Osnabruecker newspaper in its Saturday edition, calling on Germans to take extra measures to fight the trend of what he called rising anti-Semitism. Last week, the German government committed an additional €5 million (US$6.3 million) to nationwide programs aimed at fighting far-right extremism, including teams of traveling consultants, and victims' groups.
© International Herald Tribune