On Islam, Trump Takes a Different Approach at Home and Abroad – The New York Times

Striking, if not surprising. Notable understatement by the Republican Muslim Coalition president, likely a lonely position:

The White House’s guest list last week for President Trump’s first dinner celebrating the Muslim holy month of Ramadan included a who’s who of diplomats from the Middle East. But the event turned out to be more notable for who apparently was not there: representatives from Muslim American groups.

The night highlighted a paradox of Mr. Trump’s presidency. While he has sought to ally himself with Middle Eastern leaders, in part by at times softening his hostile tone on Islam, at home Mr. Trump has seemingly made little attempt to repair his fractured relationship with Muslim Americans — even those in his own party.

Saba Ahmed, the president of the Republican Muslim Coalition and a Trump supporter, said that at the outset of the presidency, there was a “complete shutdown of engagement” with Muslim Americans.

“It was quite a challenge” to work with Mr. Trump’s campaign staff, Ms. Ahmed said. “Even for the Republican Muslims who campaigned for him and helped him.”

The reinstatement of the dinner, which has been hosted by three previous presidents, and the departures of some staff members with hard-line views on Islam have left her optimistic that the White House will grant more access to its Muslim supporters.

“They have tarnished the image of Islam and Muslims, but I do think he is concerned about American Muslims,” Ms. Ahmed said. “The fact that he’s coming around, that he hosted the dinner, gives me a lot of hope.”

Activists outside the Republican Party do not share that hope.

“There is absolutely zero engagement with the Muslim American community,” said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “Not good, not bad, not indifferent. Zero.” Everything he has said and done, Mr. Hooper said, “has had a tremendously negative impact on Muslim Americans.”

Mr. Trump has provided evangelicals with unprecedented access to the Oval Office, meeting regularly with a cadre of conservative Christians for issue-specific “listening sessions.” And although his meetings with faith leaders skew heavily toward Christians, they have been sprinkled with phone calls and holiday celebrations with members of the Hindu and Jewish American communities.

But according to his public schedule, the president has yet to meet with any Muslim American groups. Another hitch came last year when Mr. Trump upended a decades-old tradition by not hosting a gathering for iftar, the meal that breaks the daily fast during Ramadan.

But the snub at this year’s iftar dinner was “a double-edged sword,” Mr. Hooper said.

“I don’t know a lot of Muslim American leaders who would have even wanted to attend,” he said. “But to have absolutely no Muslim American leaders invited? It’s a real slap in the face.”

The dinner tradition was started in 1996 by Hillary Clinton, the first lady at the time, and continued by Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The attendees have historically included cabinet members and diplomats, but also members of advocacy groups and the public, according to a review of published guest lists.

Past presidents have also used the dinner to highlight noteworthy Muslim Americans. Mr. Bush made a point in 2006 of inviting Muslim military veterans and New York City police officers who were serving on Sept. 11, 2001, and Mr. Obama sought to emphasize women and young leaders by seating them at his table in 2015.

The White House has not made this year’s guest list public and did not respond to requests for comment. Among those in attendance were at least a dozen Middle Eastern ambassadors, including from countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, according to pool reports.

The relationship had begun to fray well before last week’s dinner. On the campaign trail, Mr. Trump frequently lobbed vitriolic remarks about Muslims. “I think Islam hates us,” he declared in an interview with CNN, and more than once he made unfounded claims that “thousands and thousands” of Arab-Americans in New Jersey cheered as the World Trade Center fell on Sept. 11.

Once Mr. Trump took office, one of his first acts was signing an executive order barring people from several predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States. And he has appointed officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, whose remarks about Islam and ties to anti-Islam groups have raised concern among Muslims.

Farhana Khera, the executive director of Muslim Advocates, said her nonprofit used to “believe in engagement as a tool” and worked with the Obama administration on civil rights issues. When Mr. Trump was elected, Ms. Khera hoped to continue that tradition, and accepted a meeting with Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, in the weeks before Mr. Trump’s inauguration.

Ms. Khera said she thought it was important to meet with Mr. Kushner “to have the opportunity to determine to what degree the hateful rhetoric used on the campaign trail was bluster.”

A couple of weeks later, she said, the travel ban was rolled out.

“It became abundantly clear that this was his agenda,” she said. “Our posture now has really moved; our form of engagement now is really filing lawsuits.”

Despite his track record at home, however, Mr. Trump has shifted in the eyes of some Middle Eastern royalty to ally from antagonist. And in March, he called the United States’ relationship with Saudi Arabia “probably the strongest it’s ever been.”

The president has also publicly praised Islam abroad. Last year in Saudi Arabia, at a summit meeting of dozens of Muslim leaders, he retreated from his incendiary language and called Islam “one of the world’s great faiths.”

Speaking before Middle Eastern diplomats at last week’s iftar gathering, Mr. Trump reiterated that statement and focused on the summit meeting, calling it “one of the great two days of my life” and giving thanks for the “renewed bonds of friendship and cooperation.”

The remarks were less than convincing for American Muslims.

“What the president does is motivated in his self-interest,” Ms. Khera said. “He believes he motivates his base by demonizing Muslims, and when it comes to a foreign audience, especially in the gulf, he’s looking to curry favor with these power brokers. He’s a transactional person.”

Although the president has tried to rally Middle Eastern leaders to join him in combating terrorism and extreme ideology, according to experts, engaging Muslims in the United States is just as crucial as mounting an effective counterterrorism campaign.

Mr. Trump’s actions “negatively impact the view toward Muslims in the United States, and it creates a situation where future generations might feel alienated or targeted,” said Ali Soufan, a member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council and a former F.B.I. agent. “In Europe, in some communities, Muslims feel they are second-class citizens, and it’s these young kids who are questioning their identity who can become radicals and join ISIS.”

Mr. Soufan said that while Mr. Trump’s inflammatory remarks cater to his base, more caution is needed “not to bring cancer into the United States.”

But for some activists, it is too little, too late. Maha Elgenaidi, the executive director of the Islamic Networks Group, a cultural literacy nonprofit, cast doubt on the likelihood that Mr. Trump could repair his relationship with Muslim Americans.

“It’s not going to be easy to shift because many of the policies they’ve acted on have been based on religious profiling and are supported by evangelicals, his base,” she said. “I don’t think that’s going to be easily changed.”

Mr. Hooper, the Council on American-Islamic Relations spokesman, said that for the community to sit at the table with Mr. Trump, it would take a complete repudiation of anti-Muslim remarks, policies and staff members he had appointed.

“You’ll find that every Muslim American leader wants to have a good relationship with any sitting president,” Mr. Hooper said. “But how is that possible when all of these negative forces are out there?”

via On Islam, Trump Takes a Different Approach at Home and Abroad – The New York Times

American Muslims on Trump’s iftar: Thanks, but no thanks

Appropriate non-attendance:

A scene from the horror movie “Get Out.” A moment of bloody betrayal — the dreaded Red Wedding — from HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” A medieval painting depicting a huge mouth devouring people as they eat.

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump’s White House will host its first iftar, the sundown meal that breaks fasts during the holy month of Ramadan. For some American Muslims, it’s also time to break out the horror-movie memes.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said “30 to 40” people had been invited to the iftar, though Trump administration officials haven’t yet released a guest list or divulged many details about the event.
On Wednesday, a White House spokesperson said Trump will host the iftar dinner in the State Dining Room at 8 p.m. ET “for the Washington diplomatic community.”
In years past, White House iftars have invited not only diplomats but dozens of American Muslims from civil society, including corporate executives, scholars, activists and athletes.
But many American Muslims say they are reluctant to break bread with Trump, citing the President’s rhetoric and actions toward Muslims and other religious and racial minorities.
“We do not need an iftar dinner,” said Imam Yahya Hendi, the Muslim chaplain at Georgetown University. “Rather, we need to get the respect we highly deserve. Do not feed us and stab us.”
Hendi attended a White House iftar in 2009, when President Barack Obama was in office. He said he was not invited this year. Like many prominent Muslims who have attended previous White House iftars, Hendi said he would not attend if invited this year.
Many American Muslims said they suspect Trump’s iftar is aimed at placating the country’s allies overseas, rather than making genuine connections with their community, with whom the president has had a troubled relationship.
“I was not invited to the White House iftar, but I would not attend if I were,” said Dalia Mogahed, director of research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.
“Attending this event, especially during the holy month, a time of introspection and spiritual growth, would be inappropriate in my view as it would appear to normalize this administration’s behavior.” …

Source: American Muslims on Trump’s iftar: Thanks, but no thanks

What Islamophobic Politicians Can Learn From Mormons @NYTOpinion

Valid points regarding how previous experiences of discrimination can shape current attitudes for some groups:

Last month, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on President Trump’s travel ban, popularly known as the “Muslim ban” because of his statements, like one in 2015 calling for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

But Mr. Trump is far from the only Republican willing to discriminate against Muslims. BuzzFeed News reported in April that since 2015, Republican officials in 49 states have publicly attacked Islam, some even questioning its legitimacy as a religion.

The only exception? Utah. In that state, where a majority of residents is Mormon, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, elected officials seem to have a deep understanding that an attack on the religious freedom of one group is an attack on the religious freedom of everyone. The rest of the nation should follow their example.

Utah’s politicians stand out against many of those whose statements BuzzFeed News chronicled, like an Oklahoma state representative named John Bennett, who in 2014 called Islam “a cancer,” and last year met with Muslim constituents only after they filled out questionnaires asking whether they beat their wives. A Nebraska state senator, Bill Kintner, proposed that Muslims be required to eat pork if they wished to enter the United States. A state senator in Rhode Island, Elaine Morgan, wrote that “Muslim religion and philosophy is to murder, rape and decapitate anyone who is a non-Muslim” and recommended that Syrian refugees be housed in camps. She later said she was referring only to “fanatical/extremist” Muslims.

In January, Neal Tapio, a South Dakota state senator who is running for the United States House, questioned whether the First Amendment applies to Muslims, asking, “Does our Constitution offer protections and rights to a person who believes in the full implementation of Islamic law, as practiced by 14 Islamic countries” and millions of Muslims “who believe in the deadly political ideology that believes you should be killed for leaving Islam?”

Representative Bennett, the lawmaker who required Muslim constituents to answer questionnaires on whether they beat their wives, said in 2014, “Islam is not even a religion; it is a social, political system that uses a deity to advance its agenda of global conquest.”

Jody Hice, a 2014 Republican congressional candidate from Georgia, questioned the compatibility of Islam with the American Constitution and wrote in 2012 that “Islam would not qualify for First Amendment protection since it’s a geopolitical system.”

And yet, in Utah — one of the most crimson-red states in the Union — such rhetoric is conspicuously absent.

“I’d be the first to stand up for their rights,” said Utah’s senior senator, Orrin Hatch, in 2010 amid the controversy surrounding the construction of an Islamic community center close to ground zero in New York City. He called Islam “a great religion.”

Utah’s other Republican senator, Mike Lee, said he did not vote for Donald Trump in part because he saw the travel ban as a “religious test.” In explaining why many in Utah opposed the ban, Utah’s Republican governor, Gary Herbert, observed, “We had Rutherford B. Hayes in 1879 issue an envoy to Europe saying in essence, ‘Don’t send those Mormon immigrants to America anymore.’”

Pointing to this history of Mormon persecution, in 2017, a group of scholars with expertise in Mormon history filed an amicus brief in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit opposing the ban. They drew a comparison between the government’s current posture toward Muslims and the government’s 19th-century treatment of Mormons. “This court should ensure that history does not repeat itself,” they wrote.

Mormon politicians seem to understand better than many of their fellow Republicans that if another’s freedom of faith is under attack, so, too, is their own. Perhaps this has to do with the church’s 11th Article of Faith, which states, “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where or what they may.”

Their interest in the rights of people of other faiths has also been traced to the views of the Mormon founder Joseph Smith, who put it this way: “If it has been demonstrated that I have been willing to die for a Mormon, I am bold to declare before Heaven that I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist or a good man of any denomination.”

Mormons know too well what it means to be singled out for persecution, and to have one’s faith maligned as a threat to America. But it shouldn’t require that experience to understand that religious freedom for some is really religious freedom for none.

via Opinion | What Islamophobic Politicians Can Learn From Mormons – The New York Times

Reuven Firestone: Muslims and Jews are ‘manipulated by fear’

Interesting and relevant historical and social context:

With attacks on Jews in Germany increasing, DW spoke with the renowned theologian Reuven Firestone, about the complex relations between Islam and Judaism, and how Muslims and Jews could be brought closer together.

Deutsche Welle: There are studies that claim that the religion of Islam is essentially against Judaism? Do you agree with this theological position?

Reuven Firestone: Islam emerged in an environment in which major religions already existed. The birth of a new religion is always seen as a critique of the old religions. Its very existence is a statement that says, “Well, the old religion is not good enough; otherwise why would God reveal a new scripture that corrects or nullifies what is currently practiced?” So the followers of established religions always resent the newcomer.

At the time of Islam’s birth in Arabia in the seventh century, all established religions resented it and attacked its prophet. The Quran records their criticisms and their attacks, and it replies with attacks of its own, criticizing Jews and Christians and believers of the local religions, whom it calls “mushrikun,” or “those who join” other deities with God — i.e., polytheists.

So, yes, the Quran does contain negative references to Jews, but not only about them. It talks negatively about other threatening communities (I should add that it also contains positive references to Jews and Christians, although not to polytheists). The important point is that the Quran and the early Muslims did not criticize Jews exclusively.

We must not forget that the same scenario played out with the emergence of Christianity. The Jews resented those who claimed that Jesus was the Messiah, and especially that he was God’s incarnation. And the New Testament criticizes Jews in response to attacks on the new community.

Similarly, the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) slams the older religions that were clearly against the Israelites.

During the early phase of Islam, Muslims and Jews coexisted peacefully. When did the rifts begin to appear, and were the reasons more political than theological?

As I said, there were always tensions between Muslims and Jews over the authority of their respective faiths. It was both a political matter and a theological issue. When Islam became the dominant power, like all pre-modern and non-democratic powers, it privileged the people it identified as its own over all others. Therefore, while Jews (and Christians) were considered citizens of the Muslim world and protected by the law of the land (including religious law, the Sharia), they were given a second-class status that was defined by restrictions in position, prestige and freedom. How this actually worked out in history varied from time to time and place to place. In some situations, Jews were treated essentially as equals, but in others they were persecuted severely.

Explanations such as mine should be understood in a context. Keep in mind that minority communities were not treated equally under law or custom in pre-modern, non-democratic regimes. All historians agree that, on average, Jews suffered more under Christian rule than they did under Muslim rule.

The Prophet Muhammad’s time in exile in the city of Medina provides some great examples of Muslim-Jew coexistence, but at the same time violent conflicts marred their ties. How do you see that phase of Islam, and do the events in Medina, in which the Jewish tribe of Qurayza was said to have betrayed Muhammad, shape present day “Muslim anti-Semitism”?

The tensions, and the violent conflict that eventually broke out between Muhammad and the Jews of Medina, have become points of heavy stereotyping on both sides. A separation between the two communities has grown over the years. Jews were accused of betraying their equal religious and civil status in Medina by trying to aid an enemy intent on destroying Muhammad, and even of trying to assassinate him. As a result, the Jewish communities of Medina were forcibly exiled, and one Jewish community was massacred.

Many Jews and Christians point to this period as a prime example of what they consider the fundamentally violent behavioral norms exhibited by Muhammad that are established in Islam. Many Muslims point to this as a prime example of how Jews are, by nature, deceitful, corrupt and can never be trusted.

There are mixed accounts of those events, and we have no Jewish versions of the story. What is tragic about this is that an incident a millennium and a half ago has become a tool for some radicals in both communities to try to vilify and defame the other.

Although both Judaism and Islam are Abrahamic religions, why do they appear to be so far apart?

Actually, Judaism and Islam are essentially quite close in many ways. In fact, most religious scholars consider them closer to one another than either is to Christianity. The theology of divine unity in Judaism and Islam is understood in Christianity through the Trinitarian nature of God. Jews and Muslims agree that this is simply impossible to accept. Even the theological terminology between Judaism and Islam is quite similar. For example, iḥūd in Hebrew and tawḥīd in Arabic are linguistically related terms that refer to the same essential nature of the absolute unity of God.

What needs to be done to bridge the gulf between Muslims and Jews? What inspirations can be taken from the religious texts?

The tension between Muslims and Jews today cannot be resolved simply by taking inspiration from the sacred texts. Both Judaism and Islam are great and complex religious civilizations. The sacred texts have been read in a variety of ways by people through the ages. One can cite texts that inspire fear and hatred in both religious traditions, and one can cite texts that inspire appreciation and love.

The core of the conflict between Muslims and Jews is a willingness to be manipulated by fear. Fear allows people to draw false conclusions that would not otherwise be possible. All people, with very few exceptions, strive to do good and avoid evil. We must check our impulse to draw negative conclusions based on fear and rumor. Both the Bible and the Quran emphasize that one should not succumb to the fear brought about by evil, but one should only fear God.

Reuven Firestone is the Regenstein Professor in Medieval Judaism and Islam at the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, which has campuses in Cincinnati, Ohio, New York, Los Angeles and Jerusalem. Firestone has written over one hundred scholarly chapters and articles and eight books, with translations into many languages. Having lived with his family in Israel, Egypt and Germany, he regularly lectures in universities and religious centers throughout the United States, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

Source: Reuven Firestone: Muslims and Jews are ‘manipulated by fear’

Perception vs. reality: Why negative views of Islam should be challenged – Sheema Khan

Another good column by Khan, presenting the positive side of Canadian Muslims:

Jan. 29 will mark one year from the evening that six Muslim worshippers were massacred at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City. Nineteen were injured, children were left fatherless and wives widowed.

The atrocity resulted in an outpouring of support for traumatized Muslims across the country. That did not last long, however. Human-rights activist Bernie Farber and Mira Sucharov, associate professor of political science at Carleton University, have chronicled hateful incidents directed at Muslims during the rest of 2017. As they wrote in an opinion piece: “It was as though the Jan. 29 killings had never happened.” In one example, students at a Mississauga elementary school were subject to religious epithets from demonstrators denouncing Islam and prayer rooms. The year concluded with Muslim worshippers in Quebec worried once again about their safety. Quebec-based TVA falsely reported that a Montreal mosque barred female construction workers near its premises on Fridays during prayer sessions, leading to alleged hate-filled invective and death threats directed at the mosque. The network later apologized for the baseless report.

Surely these isolated incidents do not reflect the majority view. Or do they?

In November, the Angus Reid Institute released a poll indicating that nearly half of Canadians believe that “the presence of Islam in their country’s public life is damaging.” No other religion faces such widespread contempt. Let it sink in. If you do not hold a negative view of Islam, then someone in your immediate circle does.

Yet the perception of Islam is so different from the lived reality of Canadian Muslims. Some have a cultural affiliation to the faith. For others, the attachment is deeper. Across the diverse spectrum of belief, it can be argued that basic Islamic teachings contribute richly to our collective social fabric.

Sadaqah (charity) is ingrained in Islam. Muslims perennially organize drives to clothe, shelter and feed fellow Canadians. Mohamad Fakih answered a call from fellow business person Jennifer Evans to provide hotel rooms and meals for 18 homeless people in Toronto during the recent deep freeze. Islamic Relief Canada, a national charity, has launched a similar campaign.

Muslims have responded to natural disasters (e.g., flooding in Quebec and Ontario and fires in Fort McMurray, Alta.) with their time, money and emotional support. They have raised funds for hospitals and joined neighbours to clean parks. Last year, Ottawa’s Muslim community quickly collected $23,000 to fund extracurricular activities and resources for public schools lacking a school council.

The Islamic pillar of fasting, observed during the month of Ramadan, inculcates discipline, empathy, gratefulness and generosity. This year, take the opportunity to join in the sunset meal (which ends the daily fast) and experience the beauty of human fellowship.

The Koran states that saving one life is akin to saving all of humanity. In 2017, two Canadian Muslims personified this noble teaching.

Aymen Derbali directly faced the gunman at the Quebec City mosque to divert him from killing others. He was shot multiple times and lay in a coma for two months. The father of three is now paralyzed, yet grateful for the generosity of Canadians in helping him find a home that accommodates his disability.

Yosif Al-Hasnawi, a 19-year-old student at Brock University, was shot to death outside an Islamic centre as he tried to help a stranger who was being attacked by two men. The good Samaritan had just left the centre after participating in a celebration of the birth of the Prophet Mohammed.

Another important Islamic tenet is forgiveness. Al Salam mosque in Fort Smith, Ark., was vandalized in 2016 by three men, including Abraham Davis, who later wrote a letter of apology to the mosque from jail. The mosque board advocated forgiveness and opposed the charges against him. Nonetheless, Mr. Davis was fined and ordered to stay away from the mosque and its members. He posted a gracious note of thanks on Facebook. One member replied: “Bro move on with life we forgave you from the first time you apologized don’t let that mistake bring you down. I speak for the whole Muslim community of fort smith we love you and want you to be the best example in life we don’t hold grudges against anybody!” The story didn’t end there. Unable to pay his fine, Mr. Davis was set to enter jail for six years. The mosque intervened and paid the full amount. The members want him to succeed.

In the coming weeks, mosques across the country will hold open houses. Take an opportunity to peek in. Get to know Muslims who are your neighbours, co-workers and fellow Canadians.

And then ask yourself if Islam is damaging to Canadian society.

via Perception vs. reality: Why negative views of Islam should be challenged – The Globe and Mail

The year since the mosque shooting has made amnesiacs out of Quebec’s political class: Martin Patriquin

Another reminder by Patriquin of one of convenient forgetfulness:

On the morning of Jan. 31, 2017, with camera in hand, I walked into the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec. Less than 48 hours before, a gunman had walked into the centre, killing six and injuring 19. Once the police had finished their work, mosque administrators opened the doors to journalists, if only to show firsthand the often-visceral consequences of unchecked hatred and ignorance.

It was like the aftermath of war. Men and women parishioners wandered around, dazed and weeping. Bullets, dozens of them, had splintered drywall and shattered glass. And blood was everywhere: on the carpet and prayer rugs, on the Linoleum floor outside the main room, caking the stairs to the basement and circling a storage closet drain. It smeared windows and pooled in sinks. I left with it on my boots.

‘Senseless violence’

The province’s political leaders were immediately and appropriately sombre. Quebecers “must avoid words and gestures that separate, divide and attract hate,” said Premier Philippe Couillard. François Legault, leader of the conservative Coalition Avenir Québec, expressed his solidarity in the face of “senseless violence” with Quebec’s Muslim community. Parti Québécois leader Jean-François Lisée said the most by stating the obvious. “It’s not easy to be a Muslim in the 21st century,” he told reporters.

If time weakens emotions and fades memories, the year since the shooting has made amnesiacs out of Quebec’s political class. Last week, the National Council of Canadian Muslims asked the federal government to designate Jan. 29 as a national day of remembrance and action on Islamophobia. In Quebec, the idea of questioning exactly why the shooting took place was largely met with shrugs or worse.

Both the PQ and the CAQ quickly opposed such a thing. “I think we’ve debated the divisions surrounding the presence of religion enough in Quebec,” PQ MNA Agnès Maltais told Le Devoir. The governing Liberals, who harvest the vast majority of the province’s Muslim vote come election day, utterly waffled on the idea.

Once aghast at the many Muslim victims who had done nothing but gather for prayers, these politicians now declared the deliberate targeting of Muslims passé — an isolated incident perpetuated by a crazy man. “Quebecers are open and welcoming, they are not Islamophobic,” said a CAQ spokesperson. (Only Québec solidaire, the Montreal-centric lefty redoubt, came out in favour of the NCCM proposal.)

Clearly, the amnesia stretches beyond the last year. On Dec. 6, 1989, Marc Lépine walked into Montreal’s École Polytechnique and killed 14 women before turning his gun on himself. Like Alexandre Bissonnette, the man currently on trial for last year’s mosque massacre, Lépine was more than just a crazy man with a gun. He harboured a deep resentment of women, which he weaponized and made homicidal in the classrooms and corridors of Polytechnique.

The Polytechnique shootings sparked a societal debate in the province about gender, feminism and the extent of institutional misogyny in Quebec society, purportedly one of the more equalitarian in the country. It was a painful but wholly necessary exercise, one commemorated by the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

At first glance, it might be difficult to see why most Quebec politicians are ambivalent at best about a similar exercise for Muslims in Quebec and beyond. Lépine blamed feminists for his problems. Bissonnette left an online trail of anti-Muslim rhetoric before the mosque shootings. And as with Polytechnique 28 years earlier, the mosque shootings were but the bloodiest example of institutional enmity against an identifiable group.

Crimes targeting Muslims

Police-reported hate crimes against Muslims in Canada tripled between 2012 and 2015, according to Statistics Canada. In Quebec City, crimes targeting Muslims have doubled since the mosque shootings, according to the city’s police chief.

Apart from being alarming, such statistics are fodder for Muslim extremists, who use society-wide anti-Muslim animus as a recruiting tool. If this is the case, these extremists have a veritable wellspring of recruiting material in Quebec City’s many populist (and enduringly popular) radio stations, which — with a few notable exceptions — remain largely anti-Muslim and anti-immigration a year after the mosque shootings.

A week after the deadly shooting at a mosque, hundreds took to the streets of Quebec City to honour the victims. 1:54

For its politicians, perhaps it’s less about amnesia than Quebec’s own brand of crass identity politics. The three main political parties are locked in a battle for the hearts and votes of Quebec’s lily-white, lapsed Catholic hinterland in Quebec City and beyond — everywhere, it seems, save for Montreal. The dynamics are such that even the Liberals, who have a lock on the non-Francophone vote, can demonize Montreal’s multicultural reality.

In 2013, the PQ government attempted to ban “conspicuous” religious symbols from the bodies of anyone drawing a government paycheque. Though it failed, the ensuing Liberal government last year passed a ban on face coverings for anyone giving or receiving a government service. Only Québec solidaire protested the law’s blatant targeting of Quebec’s Muslim minority. Everyone else said it didn’t go far enough.

A year ago, these very politicians professed shock and sadness at a murderous hate crime perpetrated on their watch. Demonstrably, as Quebec approaches a fall election, political reality has pushed this emotion aside. Maybe they didn’t forget the tragedy. Maybe they just don’t want to be reminded of the reasons behind it.

via The year since the mosque shooting has made amnesiacs out of Quebec’s political class | CBC News

Muslims and Jews find common ground in faith, hope — and security

Good example of communities working together even if the circumstances which compelled this cooperation are unfortunate:

From the outside, the mosque is an unremarkable, warehouse-like building in an industrial pocket of central Mississauga. Away from city lights, a few streets down from the highway, its doors are always open, the Islamic school brimming with women and children during the day, the echoes of Arabic prayer quietly streaming in its halls.

Jeffrey Brown, an Orthodox Jew from Thornhill, spent the last day of Hanukkah there meeting with three police officers, five Muslim men, and a Muslim woman. In December, the unlikely congregation had gathered in the teal-coloured carpeted prayer hall to talk about restoring a sense of security in their places of worship.

For more than 10 years, Brown has served as a community security volunteer at his synagogue. He has developed relationships with police, created a pool of volunteer patrols, and established a security infrastructure.

He’s clear-eyed about the need for security. “People in a house of worship have to be comfortable where they are,” Brown said. “They should be able to concentrate on prayers and know if something happens, plans are in place.”

But until last year’s mass shooting at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre, Brown had not had any close interactions with the Muslim community.

Where a shocked nation saw the faces of the six Muslim men who were killed there, Brown saw an open and unguarded door.

“There was nothing there,” said Brown. “No one there.”

For months after the shooting, a single-shooter scenario played in Mohammed Hashim’s mind every time walked into a mosque. He imagined where a gunman would come in from, where the children would hide, where the exits were.

Hashim is a crisis manager for the Canadian Muslim community — stepping in to help whenever, and wherever, they need it. He went to Quebec City the day after the shooting to witness “everyone’s worst nightmare.”

In May, he attended a rare interfaith event for the first time. Held at Brown’s synagogue, Hashim walked through metal detectors, as people with walkie-talkies stood inside, and police cars stood outside.

“I thought it was overdone at first — whoa, it’s Thornhill, not a war zone,” said Hashim. “But then, as I started thinking about it, it felt like deterrence. There was a sense of prevention conveyed to those who seek to do harm.”

Brown said that there was chatter about protests in the lead-up to the interfaith event, so he told his police contacts and made the necessary arrangements.

“Critical to community security is knowing who to work with in the police department,” said Brown. “This requires proactive work before incidents happen. It’s a two-way street — you have to learn about the police while they learn about the community.”

At the interfaith dinner, Brown surprised Hashim by offering to share his experience with the Muslim community.

“I don’t think we could’ve gotten this level of help from anyone other than the Jewish community because I don’t think any other faith group has felt under siege as much as them,” said Hashim.

“They’re so advanced in their state of security that it’s only natural that it was someone like Jeffrey,” he said.

“It’s his job now: To teach Muslims how to do security.”

**

Until last year, Atif Malik had never spoken to an Orthodox Jew. When Hashim persuaded him to meet Brown, Malik hesitated. He didn’t know how to speak to someone from the Jewish community. He didn’t know how he’d react if the interaction didn’t go well, if one of them got offended.

Hashim, a big brother figure to Malik, 32, connected the two because of how similar they are. Both are members of the legal profession with a desire to help their respective communities, and to learn. Malik could be the Muslim counterpart to Brown, said Hashim.

Malik’s hometown of Mississauga has one of the largest Muslim populations in Ontario. He calls in “an incubator” that has largely insulated him from racism.

After 9/11, the mosques he attended made a conscious effort to open themselves, to ensure they remained part of the community and not boxes of seclusion. Even if there was only one person inside, the doors to his mosques were always unlocked.

The Quebec mosque shooting shattered his incubator. Imams and mosque volunteers began talking about cameras and protocols.

All of this feels like “a conversation that should’ve happened a long time ago,” said Malik, who feels guilty that he didn’t prompt them earlier. “I question now why I didn’t make the effort to reach out and make connections with other communities, regardless of faith group,” he said. “Could we help them? Could they help us?”

He found empathy in Brown, who spoke about the same fears and complicated emotions. The Jewish community “has gone through a learning curve that we haven’t gone through,” Malik said. “Now, they’re handing us the information — here’s how you do it, if you have any questions come back to us, our doors aren’t closed. It’s mind-blowing.”

Now, they are working together on common security practices to be shared with all mosques, beginning with three in Mississauga and one in Brampton.

Neither will specify the practices being discussed or prevented, for fear of compromising their efficacy. Security is dealt with as quietly as possible, said Brown, apparent only to the person who wants to cause harm.

In this way, both men have become crisis coordinators for their communities, someone who, in the event something happened, would have police on speed dial and a response at the ready.

**

“Here in Canada, we have a complacency when it comes to houses of worship,” said Bernie Farber, executive director of the Mosaic Institute. “We just don’t believe something like [the Quebec mosque shooting] can happen here.”

Farber was one of the first to respond to the shooting, calling imams and volunteers like Hashim to offer his condolences and support. The former chief executive officer of the Canadian Jewish Congress oversaw security and safety for the Jewish community for 30 years, beginning in 1986.

In the 1980s and 1990s, having a security officer at large congregations of events was discomforting — an uncomfortable sign that the world had changed, and places of worship weren’t the sacrosanct sanctuaries that could be left unguarded.

Events like the Quebec mosque shooting change everything, said Farber. “The place no longer feels the way it should feel. Whether you ever regain that sense of safety, I don’t know.”

“People come to mosques to find peace, but that sanctuary was violated in the most horrific way,” said Hashim. “I think people saw that as a violation of one of our most basic provisions and rights, which is the right to practice freely and safely.”

Watching and facilitating the Muslim and Jewish community come together with police organisations to try and regain a sense of safety, however, has been a unique experience for Farber and Hashim. “I suppose between every bleak, dark avenue there is a pinpoint of light, said Farber. “This terrible tragedy brought together two communities that are united by hateful acts against them.”

Jeffrey Brown, left, who has served as the lead community security volunteer at his synangogue for 10 years, has been working with mosques and their members in Missisauga for the last six months. He's training a counterpart, Atif Malik, and leading an interfaith conversation about security and safety.
Jeffrey Brown, left, who has served as the lead community security volunteer at his synangogue for 10 years, has been working with mosques and their members in Missisauga for the last six months. He’s training a counterpart, Atif Malik, and leading an interfaith conversation about security and safety.  (RICHARD LAUTENS)  

Such acts can be deadly, as the Quebec mosque shooting, or just a series of less threatening acts: Putting bacon on a mosque’s door handle. Carving swastikas onto a synagogue. Graffiti of hateful messages.

Rabbi John Moscowitz, who also reached out to imams in the wake of the shooting, believes that social bonds constitute a different type of security. “When you can trust people of different faiths from you and stand together in the wake of something like the mosque attack, it deepens relationships,” he said. “And that deepens the bonds of trust, commonality and brotherhood.”

“Sometimes security feels less secure because you’re aware of why security is there” said Moscowitz. Community bonds, he added, are an “antidote to loss of faith” that heal.

At that first conversation in Mississauga, the unlikely group of one Jew, six Muslims and three police officers shook hands and promised that the conversation would continue.

“Both our faiths and our country demand a sense of respect and friendship amongst peoples,” said Hashim, “and I don’t think I witnessed that so clearly as I did that night.”

“This is about new communities getting established and getting comfortable,” said Brown. “We too were once strangers in a strange land.”

“When we had that meeting, we felt God’s presence.”

via Muslims and Jews find common ground in faith, hope — and security | Toronto Star

A vote — from anyone — is a terrible thing to waste: Regg Cohn

Good profile by Regg Cohn on the Muslim community’s successful effort to increase political participation and voting (Liberals won a massive majority of the Muslim vote in the 2015):

Every political party gets out the vote on voting day.

Their vote. And only their vote.

GOTV, as it’s called, is an axiom of democracy. And yet the better that parties get at GOTV, the less democratic the turnout tends to be. From one election to the next, a political movement masters the technique or musters the technology to outhustle all rivals on voting day. But do we really want elections decided on the strength of a well-oiled electoral machine rather than a well-honed democratic impulse?

What if we got out the full vote (GOTFV) with a full pull — motivated not by partisanship but participation?

That’s what the Canadian Muslim Vote tried in the last federal election — and plans again for the coming provincial ballot. Mindful that Muslims vote far less than others, the group’s volunteers focused on their own faith group — but without trying to divine anyone’s partisan loyalties.

“We didn’t care who they’d vote for,” said Seher Shafiq, part of the leadership team at the non-partisan, non-profit organization.

As long as they voted for someone. For too long, too many of Canada’s 1.3 million Muslims voted for no one, she told a panel on democratic engagement that I moderated at Ryerson University on the weekend because this issue is crucial for me. Her group tried to understand how Muslim participation in the 2011 election was a mere 35 to 45 per cent in key ridings, compared to the national turnout of 61 per cent.

“We were shocked by this research . . . and we wanted to know why,” Shafiq told a couple of hundred democracy activists at the conference sponsored by Ryerson’s Leadership Lab and the Open Democracy Project.

The reasons were both banal and discouraging; people didn’t know who to vote for, how to vote, how to master the issues, and how to get engaged. In short, how they could make a difference.

Focused mostly on ridings in the Greater Toronto Area — where most volunteers, and most Muslims, happen to live — the group attended hundreds of grassroots events, paid for robocalls, mounted a social media push, and knocked on thousands of doors. Celebrity endorsements were part of the campaign, including Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri.

The bigger stars, however, were influential imams at local mosques. Her group persuaded them to praise the virtues of civic engagement and democracy in their regular sermons.

“For the first time ever, people saw the Muslim community was organizing politically,” she told the audience. “We really felt the buzz.”

It added up to a dramatic increase in the Islamic turnout — 79 per cent in the 2015 election versus 45 per cent in the previous vote, according to public opinion research commissioned by the group. In nine GTA ridings targeted by the group, the Islamic turnout averaged 88 per cent.

The Canadian Muslim Vote doesn’t take full credit for the improvement. Community concerns were bubbling up over perceived anti-Islamic rhetoric after the Stephen Harper government talked about banning religious face coverings, and proposed a “barbaric cultural practices” snitch line.

But I asked Shafiq if lessons learned from the Muslim mobilization could be transferable to other groups in the next provincial election. She is already comparing notes with Black Vote Canada and other organizations that motivate voters.

“Without talking to them — and having people who look like them talk to them — I don’t think they will be as engaged as they could be.”

Fellow panelist Dave Meslin, a grassroots activist trying to reform the electoral system, dismissed traditional GOTV as “a scam” that merely harasses people on election day, with little evidence that it improves democratic outcomes.

“Are we really building these lists (of supporters) to make sure we increase engagement, or are the lists designed to make sure we don’t pull the wrong people — that the Liberals don’t pull Conservatives, that Conservatives don’t pull New Democrats” he asked rhetorically.

Our third panelist, ex-MP and mayoralty candidate Olivia Chow (full disclosure: like me, she is a visiting professor at Ryerson), talked about the power of motivation in democratic engagement. Participatory movements are fine in theory, but a top-down approach may leave the grassroots as unmoved — and unmotivated — as ever.

“We talk about winning hearts and minds, not minds and hearts,” Chow reminded the activists. “Hearts come first.”

But Shafiq won a round of applause when she projected an image onscreen of her grandmother voting for the first time in the 2015 election at age 85. And then came a public confession from Shafiq about herself — the great persuader.

It turns out that she had never taken an interest in politics before she took on the role with the Canadian Muslim Vote. But at the age of 25 she finally joined her 85-year-old grandmother in focusing on the election, figuring out the issues, and making up her own mind.

Because a vote — from anyone, of any persuasion — is a terrible thing to waste.

via A vote — from anyone — is a terrible thing to waste | Toronto Star

How Newfoundlanders are taking a remarkable stand against Islamophobia

Interesting vignette:

Islamophobia haunts the nation, slinking into hearts and minds and laws, and some say if we could just learn from the ethnic diversity of Newfoundland—Newfoundland?—we could become more tolerant, too.

“We wanted to present Newfoundland as a role model,” says Mahmoud Haddara, president of the Muslim Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, who feels he lives on an anomalous island of peace. “This is what we wanted to tell, the story of Newfoundland.”

Haddara flew to Ottawa in October to testify before the standing committee on systemic racism and religious discrimination, part of the federal government’s attempt to stem bigotry. While Quebec’s Bill 62 proposes to ban people wearing face coverings from using public services, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have instead stood in solidarity with Muslims who live in villages as remote as Nain. They have become so curious about Islam that the one-mosque province must move its overflowing holiday prayers into a hockey arena. Hate crimes still happen, but when other provinces wonder how to promote interfaith understanding, the answer may be blowing in the brisk, Atlantic wind.

“We don’t want this bubble to be contaminated,” says Ayse Akinturk, a colleague of Haddara. “Our only worry is how long are we going to be able to preserve this beautiful experience, whether [or not] it will be spoiled by the outsider negative experience.”

The 3,000 Muslims in the province say they are the only congregation in North America to include both Sunnis and Shias, the two largest sects of Islam. In 1990, St. John’s simply didn’t have the Muslim population to support two mosques, so they created a uniquely diverse hub on Logy Bay Road, where neighbours include a carpet factory and a liquor store.

“I was reared up by my grandparents pretty good,” Ashley Smith of Norman’s Cove told CBC when the local station did an entire series on Islam in the province. Smith has converted to Islam and wears a hijab; and though she still cooks a traditional Jiggs’ dinner, and fish and brewis, she said after her conversion, “I finally feel at peace.”

Muslim immigrants are some of the best-educated citizens in the province. They serve as much-needed doctors in rural areas, engineers for oil rigs, and teachers. Although some Muslims arrived in the 1960s, immigration increased when Newfoundland ended its denominational school system in 1998, the last province to do so. There are now Muslims in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador City, Nain—“they are everywhere,” says Haddara. The RCMP in St. John’s has requested Islam 101 sessions from the Muslim association, which also considers itself a friend of the clergy.

On 9/11, Newfoundland refreshed its code of hospitality as the town of Gander hosted about 6,200 airline passengers from around the world. And when six worshippers were shot and killed in Quebec last year, Newfoundlanders created a human shield around their own mosque in solidarity. “We were praying inside, and all these 1,500 Newfoundlanders were surrounding the mosque and waiting until our prayer was over,” recalls Haddara. “We live in complete confidence and harmony with each other.”

However, the mosque recently received $46,000 from the government for requested security equipment, including surveillance cameras, and research by Jennifer Selby*, an associate professor of religious studies at Newfoundland’s Memorial University, has documented hate crimes including graffiti of racist slurs. Islamophobia does exist.

“We see many narratives of positive navigation and negotiation related to religious difference,” says Selby. “At the same time, micro-aggressions are pervasive and we must become more attuned to the institutional and structural Islamophobia and anti-Muslim racisms within daily life” in Newfoundland and Labrador. There is also discrimination in employment in St. John’s, she notes.

The province is still 97 per cent white and 90 per cent Christian. Among the Muslims Selby talked to, one student from Kuwait was referred to as  “Osama,” and said a professor assumed he would be a devout Muslim and arranged a prayer room for him. Another person arrived for dinner at a local’s house and was served bacon bits.

Locals have also complained that Muslim refugees are draining resources, although one refugee, 14-year-old Mohammad Maarouf, reports an unwavering welcome. He spends time with his friend Connor and by the sea: “We catch herring and catfish and sometimes we catch something called sturgeon,” he says.

Muslims in Newfoundland are not excluded from the tradition of getting screeched in. Instead of drinking rum, Haddara explains, they kiss the obligatory fish, paired with a glass of apple or orange juice.

via Macleans

ICYMI – Islam in Germany: Muslims prefer to be talked to rather than talked about | DW | 03.10.2017

Understandable concerns of German Muslim communities:

On a day celebrating German unity, many Muslims have reason to wonder if “German unity” applies to them in light of recent federal election results. The third strongest party in the Bundestag will be the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), a party which has rejected the Islamic faith as part of German cultural identity.

October 3 is the country’s national holiday and, for many Germans, just a day to sleep in or earn some extra cash at work. For mosques around the country, however, it’s the day of their national open house: neighbors can take a tour, satisfy their curiosity about Islam and local Muslims and – of course – eat.

To be Muslim and nonpartisan

Indeed the smell of oil and charcoal wafting into the prayer room is the only indication that something different is going on at this Cologne mosque. The plush Bourdeaux carpeting of the sacred space seems to absorb all outside sounds – and our feet – as Tarik Yilmaz and Mustafa Karatas talk community outreach.

“Our religion is at the forefront of our work. Not politics,” Karatas tells DW.

Germany’s mosques began annual open houses in 1997 and have carried forth the tradition ever since. Technically, though, most mosques in Germany are open year round to the public upon appointment

Muslims have become the center of many heated debates over public safety, women’s rights and even loyalty to the German state in recent years. Hence, dispelling misconceptions is one of their priorities. However, they emphasize that this work is nonpartisan, just like their cooperation with local religious groups and charities.

“It’s a mosque community so it’s a good idea not to be politically active,” the board’s representative explains.

Yilmaz, a 27-year-old theologian who recently started working at the primarily Turkish house of worship, agrees: “People come here to pray or because they have friends here and to eat some food. We don’t really talk politics.”

Still, in a community where they have strong partnerships, what do they make of the AfD winning over 9 percent in their constituency? An answer is out of the question.

Feeling the pain of neo-Nazi terrorism

Just a few blocks away from that mosque and theology school in northeastern Cologne is the site of a nailbomb attack perpetrated by the neo-Nazi National Socialist Underground (NSU). It was a hit on the Turkish community and an attack on social cohesion and multiculturalism in Cologne.

The wounds of the attack lie much deeper than the shrapnel that left over 20 injured in June 2004. The terrorist attack on Keupstrasse was one of a dozen the NSU carried out between 2000 and 2007. Yet, despite the attackers’ identities being known to police in the late 1990s, it wasn’t until a botched robbery brought the right-wing terror cell to light in 2011 that officials cleared members of the Turkish community of suspicion.

The bomb planted by the NSU sent over 700 nails flying through Keupstrasse. For several years, officials interrogated locals suspecting the crime to be linked to Turkish mafia

The case has raised questions about right-wing sympathizers among police and a how large the blind spot to right-wing extremism in Germany is.

And, with the rise of the a party like the AfD – one whose leaders have made racist and Islamophobic comments, as well as relativized the Holocaust and have been known to use Nazi rhetoric – critics worry that a far-right party in parliament could embolden the country’s radical right-wing scene.

Rising violence toward Muslims

For Ahmed Erdogan, like many on Keupstrasse, the swift rise of the far-right AfD has been a shock. “Where will this lead?” he wonders.

Tucked away from the frilly bridal dress shops and bounteous bakery display cases that line Keupstrasse, the local mosque is easy to overlook. It’s one of the oldest in the Cologne neighborhood of Mühlheim, where over 40 percent of the population has foreign roots. According to Erdogan, who’s on its board, it has been and remains very active in community outreach and cooperation – making the AfD’s popularity all the more puzzling.

Infografik AfD Bundestagswahl 2017 Bundesländer ENG

This year, there have nearly 20 attacks on Muslims and nearly 400 incidents of “Islamophobic crimes,” ranging from hate speech, threats and damage to property, according to a governmental inquiry from the Left party. As it’s the first year officials have assessed the crime rate against Muslims, no previous data for comparison has been analyzed.

Meanwhile, the AfD’s rhetoric surrounding Islam has also raised concerns. In addition to dismissing the religion – one practiced by over 4 million people in Germany – as being a part of German society, the AfD also wants to prohibit minarets and the call to prayer.

“The AfD sees a great danger to our state, our society and our set of values through the spread of Islam and the presence of over 5 million Muslims, whose numbers are increasing,” the AfD said in its party platform, which states that Muslims who obey the law and are “integrated” are “valued members of society.” The far-right party denies all accusations of Islamophobic or racist rhetoric.

Given the need for dialogue these days, mosques can choose to stay out of politics, but as a Muslim it’s hard to “keep out it,” Erdogan tells DW.

The Keupstrasse mosque doesn’t participate in the national open house because it’s open to anyone everyday, just like most mosques. And if there’s one point Erdogan and his colleagues at the neighboring mosque agree on, it’s this: dialogue – and not fear – is the only way forward.

Source: Islam in Germany: Muslims prefer to be talked to rather than talked about | Germany | DW | 03.10.2017