NEWS - Archive January 2010

Headlines 29 January, 2010

COUNCIL OF EUROPE: TIME FOR PAN-EUROPEAN CONSOLIDATION (opinion)

In the coming two years, three key decision making bodies of the Council of Europe (CoE) will be headed by “non-European Union” Europeans: the Norwegian secretary-general, the Turkish Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) president and the Committee of Ministers’ chairmanships consecutively assumed by Switzerland, Macedonia, Turkey and Ukraine. What does this mean for Europe?
By Murat Daoudov, the director of EU studies and international relations at the Union of Municipalities of Marmara (İstanbul/Turkey).

29/1/2010- The future of the Council of Europe and, in particular, its correlation with the overshadowing European Union have been broadly debated in its cliques and political circles in the past decade. Rejecting despair, the council strives to stir itself up and reaffirms its particular position as a genuinely pan-European organization. The issue is, however, far from being a matter of mere institutional coexistence between Strasbourg and Brussels; the very articulation between the “Greater Europe,” represented by the council, and the “Small Europe,” united by the EU, is at stake. Since in office, new Secretary-General Thorbjorn Jagland has come to grips with the question of interaction with the EU. Yet the new quest should extend beyond the issue of avoiding duplication and overlaps in policies; the CoE should aim to be more than a mere “standards institute,” but instead become a continent-wide political forum for more challenging projects. The new leadership conjuncture in the CoE offers the opportunity to set priorities from a broader pan-European point of view, bringing to the table issues that matter to all of Europe. Certainly, it is up to the “non-EU” wing to seize this historic opportunity of taking the helm at a critical time and to shape accordingly the priorities of their leaderships. Both the CoE and the EU have gone through a shaky period of institutional tumult and uncertainty. Finally, however, the Lisbon Treaty comforted Brussels while Strasbourg elected its high-profile secretary-general. Now it is time for business. Here we could list some challenges that would be applicable to all Europeans, summarized in two main topics: strengthening intra-European harmony and fostering the international “rayonnement” of Europe.

Deepening Greater Europe
The foremost step would be to foster the process of EU’s adhering to the European Convention on Human Rights and, as further step, joining the CoE as its 48th member. Such a development will strengthen the “EU component” of the CoE and increase its political weight. The two actors shall also share what they have built up the best. According to Terry Davis, the former secretary-general of the CoE, the EU works to achieve better living standards for its citizens, while the council cares for their quality of life. Mutual enrichment will be a clear win-win game for both. Thus, while the EU adopts the Strasbourg acquis in the field of human rights and democracy, its own standards could go far beyond its enlargement. The CoE could act as a privileged channel for spreading the EU’s consumer protection, health, food safety and environmental standards, adopting these in its conventions. Another challenging project would be the gradual creation of a “visa-free Europe.” This is not a completely utopian goal as Europe isn’t at an astronomic distance from that ideal. Between the CoE’s 47 member states, there already exist several visa-free spaces, such as the EU-EEA-EFTA-Western Balkans area which includes some 38 countries. Turkey allows all CoE countries’ citizens to travel freely within its borders, while only few of them need a visa for Ukraine. And even Russia, which remains Europe’s most “closed” country, has been bargaining with the EU on the mutual softening of visa regimes for a while. With a pan-European commitment, these policies could be interconnected. After all, Europe must deal with something people can dream of.

Extending the outreach
Another role for the CoE would be to increase its worldwide impact, actively spreading its acquis across the Afro-Eurasian mainland. Several priorities and target areas can be outlined. In this respect, cooperation with the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) is paramount. The fact that the CoE and the OIC, the second largest organization in the world after the United Nations (57 states), don’t enjoy observer status with each other reflects their mutual lack of awareness. Because of this, when the OIC wishes to build closer relations with Europe and to tackle the issue of Islamophobia, it “naturally” envisages opening its representative’s office in Brussels, even though, the council has more to share with the OIC than the EU does. Not only because intercultural dialogue and anti-discrimination are more the core business of the council, but also because of its dual advantage of experience and of the applicability of its solutions. Both the CoE and the OIC are international organizations and the Islamic world is not ready for the EU-style supra-national approach. Moreover, the council’s decades-long experience in inter-parliamentary cooperation is more along the lines of what the OIC needs to adopt, establishing its own parliamentary assembly. It is also time for the OIC to promote its own “CoE-like” charter on local self-government and the Organization of Islamic Capitals and Cities (OICC), its affiliate body, could also evolve into an assembly similar to the CoE’s Congress of Local and Regional Authorities. Here Turkey’s role as a bridge is crucial. A member of both groups since their foundation, today her representatives chair PACE and hold the position of secretary-general of the OIC.

Another challenge for the CoE would be to discuss its further enlargement. In the east, Kazakhstan has enjoyed observer status at PACE since 1999 and such debate on the country, which is the chair the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2010, is symbolically important. In the south, Morocco, which since the 1960s has cherished dreams of European integration, has recently joined the CoE’s North-South Center. Inside and outside Europe, the CoE must fully assume “goal-setting” and “soft power” roles. It should dare to constantly push for deeper integration throughout the continent, to broaden the common space of democratic standards and to influence positive change in the Afro-Eurasian region. Of course, such an ambitious agenda requires a proactive and strategic-thinking mindset from the leadership. In this respect, the Norwegian-Turkish tandem is well-appointed. Both countries show deep-rooted commitment to the organization that they have supported since its foundation and their political classes have the courage to assume international responsibilities.
© Today's Zaman

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IS ANTI-FASCISM A CRIME? (Austria)

28/1/2010- Police and City of Vienna criminalize protest against the extreme-right WKR-Ball (dancing event of the 'Wiener Korporationsring'/Vienna umbrella organization of German-nationalist student's organizations)! Above all, the Vienna police banned an anti-fascist demonstration on the day of the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp. On January 29th the ball of the 'Wiener Korporationsring' (WKR) is taking place in the Viennese 'Hofburg', the former imperial palace. Like in the past years numerous proponents of the extreme right will rendezvous there ­ from german-nationalists to virulent anti-Semites, no one wants to miss that chance for right-wing networking. While these activities are not hindered by the authorities in any way, the anti-fascist counter- demonstration was now banned.

At the WKR-ball the 'Who is Who' of the European extreme-right is shaking hands, which is easily revealed by a look on the list of participants: former and current guests at the ball include(d): Jean-Marie Le Pen from the French Front National, the fascist Enrique Ravello, anti-Semites like Alexander Dugin and representatives of the German extreme-right DVU, as well as spokespersons of the Austrian extreme-right parties, among them Martin Graf, third president of the National Council with a tendency to anti-semitic tirades, Barbara Rosenkranz, exponent of a home-stove-'mother's cross' policy and fighter against the 'gender-delusion' and John Gudenus, who has already been sentenced to one year on parole because of Holocaust-denial. It seems to go without saying that there are protests against this gathering. In the last years sizeable demonstrations have already been taking place ­ typically for Austria these have been accompanied by a repressively huge contingent of police and a ban from the premises of the WKR-gathering. But even that seems to be too much disturbance now. The demonstration, which this year had been planned by the alliance
nowkr, queer-feminists, the criticalmass, feminist womenlesbian groups, a number of students' representatives and many other groups, was now completely banned. The reason given by the police is telling: because of the group of people expected to attend the demonstration 'public security' would be endangered ­ an argument, which equals a total negation of the right to demonstrate.

In that the authorities in scandalous manner follow the 'arguments' from German-nationalist students' associations, the FPí ('Freedom Party') and neo-Nazis, who for years have been lobbying for a complete ban of anti-fascist demonstrations or would rather like to take self-administered justice. A notorious neo-Nazi website stated in an entry called 'Tips for House and Home ­ This Time Weapons' that it would be on time to 'question the state's monopoly on violence', just to dedicate their next entry to agitate against 'Entartete' - a nazi-term meaning 'degenerated', in this context denouncing queer-feminists ­ and the 'sub-human filth'. Above all it is the city of Vienna, which ­ personified by its mayor Michael Haupl ­ likes to present itself as an anti-fascist stronghold against the rise of the extreme right, that now together with the police serves in fulfilling right-wing extremists' dreams. This fact tells more about the state of this country than any number of leaflets could. It is only fitting that the ban was announced right on the Holocaust Memorial Day when official representatives of the republic show themselves to be deeply moved. While the importance of anti-fascist engagement is stressed in official settings, actual antifascist activism is banned and neo-Nazis, right wing extremists and anti-Semites are offered room at the 'Hofburg', which after all is also the official residence of the Austrian president.

Even if these developments show their face more clearly in Austria than in other countries, they do follow a disastrous international trend. Anti-fascism is criminalized all over Europe: Only recently the demonstration against the largest neo-Nazi march in Europe has been criminalized in Germany, posters were confiscated, websites blocked and more repression against the organizers of the anti-fascist demonstration followed. All these developments have to be countered resolutely. We won't let
anti-fascism be banned! Therefore: Everyone to the demonstration against the extreme-right WKR-ball!

Rosa Antifa Wien 

© email source

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DANES NOT GOOD TO MINORITIES

A third of Somalis in Denmark have experienced personal discrimination according to an EU report.

27/1/2010- Denmark comes towards the top of a list of countries in which hate crimes take place, with only Roma in the Czech Republic and Somalis in Finland worse off than Somalis in Denmark, according to an EU report. In the report on selected minority groups in all of the member countries, a third of Somalis in Denmark say they have experienced serious racist assault, serious harassment or threats. The survey was based on 27,000 interviews across the European Union. “Denmark has a major problem in relation to discrimination,” says Morten Kjaerum, head of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights which carried out the survey. “We see that the figures that we have previously worked with (...) were only the top, in fact only the very top of the iceberg,” he says.

Researcher not surprised
Mandana Zarrehparvar, who is head of the Department of Equality and Diversity is not surprised that Somalis are particular targets – and not only for ethnic Danes. “Somalis are particularly vulnerable simply because of their very dark skin colour. They are lowest in the hierarchy, including among other ethnic groups,” says Zarrehparvar who undertook a survey of hate crime for Copenhagen Council.

Often heard
The Chairman of Somali Development Denmark is not surprised at the results either. “This is something we often hear from people. Most have experienced verbal harassment, but many also experience physical aspects,” says Muhammed Maxamed Abshir. Maxamed tells of women who are pushed in the street; a boy who was held around the neck and many who are shouted or spat at in buses or in the street. He says that racist harassment and threats are part of everyday life several places in Jutland. Only some 80 percent of attacks on Somalis are reported to the police. “They are afraid that the authorities won’t do anything and that things will just get worse. Many have complained without anything being done and that spreads from family to family. At the end of the day you learn to live with it,” says Maxamed.

Hate crime
“Denmark focuses too little on hate crime. The police should be trained to handle situations and investigate when hate crimes are reported,” says Zarrehparvar adding that minorities themselves must be aware of their rights and where they can seek help.

Others also harassed
Other minority groups also appear to be harassed. The National Association of Gays, Lesbians and Transgender people says that there are attacks each weekend. Also the Documentation and Advice Centre on Racial Discrimination says that Jews and Turks are affected. The Socialist People’s Party has proposed a task force to inform and train police officers so that they are better able to register and solve hate crimes. The proposal is currently on its way through Parliament.
© Politiken.dk

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WILDERS' PARTY IS 'NEW RADICAL RIGHT' (Netherlands)

28/1/2010- Geert Wilders' political movement PVV is not an extreme right wing party but contains some radical right wing elements, according to a report into radicalisation in the Netherlands by Tilburg University research group IVA. PVV statements on 'islamisation' and non-western immigrants appear to be discriminatory and the party organisation is authoritarian rather than democratic, the researchers say. The researchers, who were looking into polarisation and radicalism across the Netherlands, describe the PVV as 'new radical right', a party with a national democratic ideology but without extreme right wing roots. In particular, the party's pro-Israel stance shows it is not neo Nazi, the report states. Nevertheless, the PVV has a preference for 'the familiar' and turns against things which are 'foreign' and its political opponents, the report said. This, coupled with an authoritarian tendency show it leans towards a national democratic ideology. And on the internet, for example, the party is a magnet for extreme views, the researchers point out.

Scandalous
Wilders told news agency ANP the report is 'scandalous' - in particular the link between defending the national interest and the radical right. And he attacked the decision to publish it now, just as he is on trial for discrimination and inciting hatred. An earlier version of the report, leaked to the Volkskrant in November, said Wilders' party is an extreme right wing grouping and a threat to social cohesion and democracy. The paper claimed at the time the researchers were under pressure to water down the conclusions because of their political sensitivity. Home affairs minister Guus ter Horst, who commissioned the research, has denied exerting any influence on the report.
© Dutch News

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ANTI-SEMITISM ON THE RISE IN AMSTERDAM (Netherlands)

In 2009, the number of anti-Semite incidents in Amsterdam doubled compared to the year before. The Jewish community fiels under siege.

26/1/2010- On an evening during the week-long Jewish holiday of Sukkot, Ber van Halem (22) crossed a street in Amsterdam’s affluent Zuid neigbourhood, only to hear a group of boys invoke a Dutch ethnic slur (“Kankerjood”) involving both a deadly disease and his Jewish heritage. Not once, but several times. Van Halem confronted the boys and continued on his way. Suddenly, he heard the sound of bicycles behind him. He turned around and an argument developed. Out of nowhere, he felt somebody hit him. He fell to the ground. “I was kicked in my stomach and on my shoulder while prone,” Van Halem recounted. Van Halem’s beating, which took place in October 2008, remains one of the most infamous manifestations of anti-Semitism in the Netherlands in recent years. The incident led to public outcry, when local police failed to find time to register Van Halem’s formal complaint days later. “We were very busy working a robbery,” a spokesperson for the Amsterdam- police force explained. The Van Halem case has since been closed. Not one perpetrator was caught.

Anti-Semitist incidents doubled
In 2008, 14 anti-Semitic incidents were reported in the Dutch capital, making for relatively calm year in the city that is home to most of the country’s approximately 40,000 Jews. New - as yet unpublished - data collected by a semi-governmental agency that reports on discrimination, have shows that the number of reported incidents grew to 30 in 2009. This development is in line with national trends, said Elise Friedmann of the Centre for Information and Documentation on Israel, a pro-Israel lobby group in the Netherlands. “We estimate the total number of reported incidents doubled in 2009,” she said. Israel’s military offensive in the Gaza strip in January of that year was the driving force behind the explosive growth, according to Friedmann. “In that month alone we had a hundred or so reports come in, almost the same amount we did over the entire year before,” she said. When an Israeli military operation dominates the headline, Van Halem is one of the first to notice it on the streets. “The verbal abuse hurled at me on the streets is becoming more severe and more regular,” he said. Experience has taught him that the boys taunting him are almost always of Moroccan descent. “Their reasoning goes something like this: Israelis are Jews, Palestinians are Arabs, so we Moroccan ‘Arabs’ in the Netherlands are going to take on Dutch Jews,” said Menno ten Brink, a rabbi for the liberal Jewish community in Amsterdam.

More and more under siege
At the time when Van Halem was beaten, Israel was relatively quiet however. “They spotted my skullcap and started swearing at me,” he recounted. Van Halem has been wearing the traditional headgear, proscribed by the Jewish faith, since he was six. “Ever since, I have been cursed regularly. When I was 8 I hurt myself after I was pushed against a bicycle stand. My leg needed stitches,” he said. Many people witnessed his 2008 beating and were able to give the police good descriptions of the assailants. Van Halem was surprised when the police sent him a letter, letting him know that the perpetrators had never been found. Rabbi Ten Brink wonders whether the police had really tried its best. “All these witnesses and the police can’t find the guy who did it. Telling,” he said. A spokesperson for the Amsterdam police force assured they had done everything within their power. We had plainclothes cops staking out the area for days, looking for the boys. But we couldn’t find anyone,” the spokesperson said. The case was finally closed in May of last year. Ten Brink’s sceptical attitude towards the police illustrates of the Amsterdam Jewish community at large. Jews here feel more and more under siege as they are exposed to a growing barrage of name-calling, hate mail, firecrackers in their mailboxes, graffiti and – occasionally – physical abuse. They feel the government should do more about it, by coming down harder on perpetrators, for one, but also by investing more in their security financially.

'Hilter let one get away'
The liberal Jewish community in Amsterdam is building a new synagogue. “Security is costing us hundreds of thousands of euros,” Ten Brink said. “In Antwerp and Paris, synagogues were attacked. The same could happen here.” On the shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, security officers guard the synagogues. “Fear has taken hold,” said Max Engelander, chairman of the Amsterdam police force’s Jewish network, which was founded last year. “That is why we do not take lightly to anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination,” he said. How big is anti-Semitism really in Amsterdam? “It is a serious problem, but it doesn’t occur on a daily basis,” Ten Brink said. Rabbi Raphaël Evers a rabbi serving Amsterdam’s orthodox community, felt the problem was more serious. “I do not get out much, but when I do I am almost always insulted along the lines of ‘Hitler let one get away’. My mother says it is worse now than it was before the second world war,” he said. Bloeme Evers-Emden, a 83-year old survivor of the concentration camps, lost most of her family during the Holocaust. “In 1939 I was 13. The NSB [The Dutch fascist party] disseminated a lot of anti-Jewish propaganda back then, but I do not remember Jews getting beaten as they are now.” Evers-Emden lives in a part of Amsterdam home to a lot of Moroccans. “I saw a kid about 8 years old yelling something about ‘killing Jews’. I asked him ‘do you know what you’re saying?’ He said ‘yes’, and went on repeating himself.” Van Halem feels uncertain whether anti-Semitism is on the rise. “It goes up and down, mostly following events in Israel,” he said. He and his friends do feel an urge to strike back. “A lot of my friends have been trained in the Israeli army. I have years of martial arts training myself. Occasionally we’ll say: ‘come on, let go get them back’. But in the end, we don’t want to form a militia or anything.”
© The NRC

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27/1/2010- Integration should not be confused with assimilation, the Netherlands’ European affairs minister said. “You can ask people to change their attitude according to social requirements, but you cannot ask them to change who they are,” Frans Timmermans said Wednesday, speaking with press at a roundtable meeting in Ankara. Turks and Moroccans constitute substantial minorities in the Netherlands, where Islamophobia has increased and, as a result, a radical parliamentarian suggested in September extra taxes for those wearing a headscarf. Geert Wilders, the leader of the far-right Freedom Party, proposed that any Muslim woman who wants to wear a headscarf, which he described as a “head rag,” would have to apply for a license and pay 1,000 euros. “After Sept. 11, all of a sudden, Turks, Moroccans and Somalis all became Muslims. Islam is perceived as a threat to their liberty,” Timmermans said. Timmermans held talks with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, State Minister and Chief Negotiator for EU Affairs Egemen Bağış, Finance Minister Ali Babacan, Culture and Tourism Minister Ertuğrul Günay, members of the Turkish-Dutch Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Group and a number of businessmen during his three-day visit to Turkey. The European Union integration process, Turkey’s EU bid, envisaged constitutional changes, judicial reforms in Turkey, regional developments, the G-20 and the global economic downturn were all on the agenda. He also discussed what economic and cultural events could happen in 2012 to mark the 400th anniversary of relations between the Netherlands and Turkey. Timmermans, praising Turkey’s efforts to align with EU standards, said: “My government is committed to this process [Turkey-EU accession] and so feels responsibility.”

Turkey’s accession would be a significant reconciliation similar to the one between France and Germany, and it would prove European diversity, which respects all religions and races, the Dutch minister said. “This accession will have a huge affect on both development of the EU and the world,” he said, noting Turkey’s bridging role between the East and the West. The deadlock in Cyprus may freeze the Turkey-EU accession process, he agreed, noting the lack of a settlement “is not only Turkey’s problem but it is a European issue.” Mentioning there is no consensus between the government and the opposition over constitutional changes, Timmermans said: “It is clear there are difficulties, but at the same time, the commitment is very strong and I’ve found this very encouraging.” The minister said Turkey has been tremendously transformed in minority rights over the last 12 years but added: “Still a lot remains to be done. There is anxiety and distrust in all sides.”
© Hurriyet

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JEWISH CEMETERY IN STRASBOURG DESECRATED (France)

MKs attending Int'l Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony in France shocked to find headstones in local Jewish graveyard broken, sprayed with swastikas

27/1/2010- A grave expression of anti-Semitism was discovered in Strasbourg, France, Wednesday: Knesset Members Shlomo Molla (Kadima) and Amnon Cohen (Shas), who attended a city ceremony marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day, found that the local Jewish cemetery was desecrated by neo-Nazis, and closed by police. Upon trying to visit the graveyard, which was founded in 1810, the two found 31 of desecrated headstones: "It was a horrible sight, which probably stemmed from the rising anti-Semitism is Europe," Molla told Ynet. There were dozens of shattered tombstones, swastikas sprayed everywhere – complete destruction. This is a heinous crime," he added. "And today of all days, when dozens of European dignitaries attending the ceremony… this is a reminder that anti-Semitism is alive. World nations must pass laws against such anti-Semitic expressions." Israeli consul to Marseille Simona Frankel, who arrived at the cemetery said the perpetrators "must have has extraordinary ill will, considering the temperatures in Strasbourg dropped below -10 last night. "The timing, obviously isn’t coincidental, either. There's some anti-Semitism in France, but this is the first time I've come across it personally. I can't even describe the shock."

Gilbert Roos, Israel's honorary consul to Strasbourg, said the city is home to 17,000 Jews: "Unfortunately, we see such incidents here from time to time. Every once in a while the incidental idiot, some neo-Nazi or a member of a far-right group will carry out this kind of anti-Semitic act. "We're not afraid, but this kind of thing seems to be happing more often. Mostly, we're just appalled that 65 yeas after the war this kind of thing still exists." The report about the Strasbourg cemetery desecration came at the same time Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was addressing the crowd at an International Holocaust Remembrance Day memorial in Auschwitz. "We will always remember what the Nazi Amalek did to us, and we won't forget to be prepared for the new Amalek, who is making an appearance on the stage of history and once again threatening to destroy the Jews," Netanyahu said at the ceremony.
© Ynet News

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FRANCE MOVES CLOSER TO BAN ON BURQAS

25/1/2010- French lawmakers could recommend Tuesday that the fiercely secular country ban the burqa, the full-body covering worn by some Muslim women. French President Nicolas Sarkozy controversially told lawmakers in June that the traditional Muslim garment was "not welcome" in France. "The problem of the burqa is not a religious problem. This is an issue of a woman's freedom and dignity. This is not a religious symbol. It is a sign of subservience; it is a sign of lowering. I want to say solemnly, the burqa is not welcome in France," Sarkozy said. A day later, the French National Assembly announced the creation of an inquiry into whether women in France should be allowed to wear the covering. A cross-party panel of 32 lawmakers has been studying whether the burqa poses a threat to France's constitutionally-mandated secularism. A ban could make it impossible for women who wear the burqa to receive any public services, from buying a bus ticket to picking up a child at school. Some members of parliament want to go even further with a law that might make wearing a full veil subject to a $1,000 fine. "You know, it is not only an article of clothing to hide your face," said parliamentary majority leader Jean-Francois Cope. "I am sorry, it's a choice which is not compatible with the rules of the republic." Within days of Sarkozy's announcement, al Qaeda threatened to "take revenge" on France "by every means and wherever we can reach them," according to a statement posted on radical Islamist Web sites.

Connect the World: Is it right to ban the burqa?

"We will not tolerate such provocations and injustices, and we will take our revenge from France," said the statement, signed by Abu Musab Abdul Wadud, calling himself "commander of al Qaeda in North Africa [Islamic Maghreb]." But more than half of French people support the ban, according to a recent opinion poll. The Ipsos poll for Le Point magazine found 57 percent of French people said it should be illegal to appear in public wearing clothes that cover the face, like the burqa. That's despite government estimates that less than 2,000 women in the country actually wear the full Islamic veil. France has about 3.5 million Muslims, representing about 6 percent of the population, according to research by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. The country does not collect its own statistics on religion in accordance with laws enshrining France's status as a secular state. French lawmakers believe the burqa is a growing phenomenon beneath which lies a not-so-subtle message of fundamentalism. Those who advocate the ban say women are often forced to wear full veils by the men around them -- husbands, fathers or brothers -- and that it is a sign of subjugation. However, women who actually wear the veils deny that. "You are going to isolate these women and then you can't say that it is Islam that has denied them freedom, but that the law has," said Mabrouka Boujnah, a language teacher of Tunisian origin. Boujnah, who at 28 is about to have her first child, says she came to wearing a full veil gradually, after wearing headscarves as an teenager. She believes a law like the one being discussed will take away fundamental rights of Muslim women. She and her friend Oumkheyr say they prefer to cover their faces out of piety. Oumkheyr, in her 40s and unmarried, says she even has friends who wear full veils against the wishes of their husbands. Oumkheyr, who is from Algeria, would not give her last name. The women, both French citizens, say they are only following their religious beliefs and France should respect that.

But even some Muslims here think the full veil goes too far. There is nothing in Quran that directs women to cover their faces, said Imam Hassen Chalghoumi, who runs the Islamic center in Drancy, a Paris suburb. He said it is ridiculous to do so in France. While French lawmakers from both left- and right-wing parties seem ready to pass at least a resolution discouraging the full veil in public places, it's a choice Boujnah and Oumkheyr say they will continue to make. They pair say they will willingly show their faces for identification purposes -- but if it comes to it, they will break any law that runs contrary to their religious beliefs.. At the very least any law directed at full veils is likely to be challenged in the courts both here and at the European level. What's more, even police find it hard to imagine how they could -- or would -- enforce such a ban. In 2004, the French parliament passed legislation banning Muslim girls from wearing headscarves in state schools, prompting widespread Muslim protests. The law also banned other conspicuous religious symbols including Sikh turbans, large Christian crucifixes and Jewish skull caps. In 2008, France's top court denied a Moroccan woman's naturalization request on the grounds that she wore a burqa. France is not the only European Union country to consider banning the burqa. Dutch lawmakers voted in favor of a ban in 2005, although the government at the time left office before legislation could be passed.
© CNN

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ONLY 75 MIGRANTS GRANTED ASYLUM IN CZECH REP. LAST YEAR

28/1/2010- The Czech Republic granted asylum to 75 foreigners in 2009, which was the lowest number since 1995, according to the Interior Ministry data released to CTK Thursday. Only 1258 foreigners asked for asylum last year, which is the lowest number since 1994. From 1990 to 2009, 89,1623 migrants applied for asylum in the country and Czech authorities met 3508 of the applications. The highest number of applications were approved in 1991 (776), followed by 2006 (268). Only 30 asylums were granted in 1990 and 59 in 1995. The most successful asylum seekers have been migrants from Romania (477), Russia (384), Belarus (318), Afghanistan (293) and Armenia (208). In 1990-1996, 175 citizens of the former Soviet Union were granted asylum. Last year, asylum was granted to citizens of Burma (21), Ukraine (9), Vietnam (8), Afghanistan (7) and Kazakhstan (7), among others. The number of successful asylum claimants has been steadily decreasing in the recent years in the Czech Republic. While 268 migrants received asylum in 2006, it was 191 in 2007 and 157 in 2008. The Czech Republic joined the Schengen system without borders in December 2007 and none of its borders is an external border of the Schengen area. The only direct entry to the country for foreigners are international airports. However, a number of foreigners apply for asylum on Czech territory, usually after staying in the country for some time. They may apply for it in prisons and detention and health facilities, for example.
© The Prague Daily Monitor

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GOVT: CZECH ROMA NOT EU'S MOST DISCRIMINATED MINORITY

25/1/2010- The Czech government has protested against a European survey that in early December said Czech Romanies are a minority that is the most discriminated against in the EU. Michael Kocab, Czech minister in charge of human rights and minorities, told journalists that a number of Romany intellectuals live in the Czech Republic, who are able to distinguish and describe discrimination and report on it abroad. The Czech government is trying to solve the problem openly and transparently, which, however, does not mean that it can admit Czech Romanies being [referred to as] the most discriminated against in the EU, Kocab said. According to Kocab, the survey's results reflect the relatively high legal awareness on the part of Czech Romanies, their higher ability to identify discrimination in society in which they are far better integrated than Romanies in other countries. "In view of this, Czech Romanies have a much bigger chance of full-fledged integration in society, though they show a strong feeling of being discriminated against," Kocab said in a press release. He said Romanies in the Czech Republic have good knowledge of the country's anti-discrimination measures and of the organisations providing help and advice in this area. This corresponds to the developed network of NGOs that focus on fighting discrimination in the Czech Republic, he said. The Romanies are aware of the impacts of the social and economic transformation. "However, they consider them a violation of the egalitarianism applied by the previous communist regime. They are able to orient themselves in their rights and demand their observance," Kocab said. He said an improvement in this area also ensues from the report on Czech Romanies' emigration to Canada that the cabinet discussed today.

The cabinet also approved a manual for Czech embassies concerning the Romany issue. It will serve for diplomats to respond basic questions about the Czech Republic's approach to Romany integration, Kocab said. The study was worked out by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) on the basis of interviews with 23,000 immigrants and ethnic minority members. According to it, 64 percent of Romanies in the Czech Republic were discriminated against in the past 12 months, and 42 percent of Czech Romanies fell victim to crime. The Czech government's office for Romany affairs, however, says the situation is in fact not that alarming. The office director Gabriela Hrabanova told CTK previously that the objective situation of Romanies in the Czech Republic is better than in some other states, mainly in east Europe. Residents of Romany settlements in Slovakia and Romania face far worse living conditions, she said. Hrabanova, too, pointed to the relatively large integration of Czech Romanies with the majority society, "At some places they live in total segregation. As a result, they do not meet with discrimination at all," she said. She said most Czech Romanies are in contact with the majority society, therefore they better realise mutual differences. The FRA has examined minority members' experiences with discrimination in nine areas of everyday life - in seeking jobs and at work, in housing, health care and social services, at schools, in cafes, pubs and night clubs, in shops and in banks. It also looked into wehther minority members fell victim to crime. The FRA found the strongest discrimination in terms of access to education and work, but said there are shortcomings in other areas as well.
© The Prague Daily Monitor

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