May 22, 2014
The American Embassy in Prague is financing a new project aimed at promoting Islam in public elementary and secondary schools across the Czech Republic.In Austria, police say they believe that two teenage girls who vanished from their homes in the capital of Vienna on April 10 may be in Turkey, and that whoever helped them get there is using them as pin-up girls to boost recruitment efforts for the "holy war" in Syria.
The new law removes the requirement that there must be a special reason to sue for defamation or insult. Swedish thought police will be able to prosecute anyone who expresses an opinion about Muslim immigration and much else if that opinion is deemed to be defamation or slander. The Swedish government is also spending 60 million krona ($9 million) to boost voter turnout in Muslim neighborhoods.
"The influx of immigrants is reaching biblical proportions. Italy is fighting a losing battle." — Admiral Giuseppe De Giorgi, Head of the Italian Navy
Friends of Samra Kesinovic, 16, and Sabina Selimovic, 15, said the girls had become radicalized after attending a local mosque run by a Salafist preacher, Ebu Tejma, and learning about the duty of every Muslim to participate in jihad. The girls were expelled from school after inscribing "I Love Al-Qaeda" on tables and walls.
But the girls' parents—originally Bosnian refugees who settled in Austria after the ethnic conflicts of the 1990s—say that messages and photographs posted on social media networks which claim that the girls are on the front line and fighting with their new husbands are fake.
In a possible break in the case, Austrian police say they traced a phone call Samra made to her sister in late April to a landline based in Turkey. The search for the girls continues.
At least 100 Austrian citizens or residents have participated in the fighting in Syria, according to Austrian media. Approximately 40 of them are currently on the front lines, 44 have already returned to Austria and 19 have been killed in action.
Also in April, the most senior leader of the Muslim Brotherhood living in exile in Britain, Ibrahim Munir, denied claims that the group was moving its international headquarters from London to the Austrian city of Graz. The Daily Mail, a British newspaper, reported on April 12 that the Muslim Brotherhood was preparing to move its headquarters to Austria in an "apparent attempt to avoid an inquiry into its activities set up by the Prime Minister."
The group was expelled from Egypt after a counter-revolution there in July 2013, and recently opened a new headquarters above a kebab shop in London. On April 1, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced an investigation of the Muslim Brotherhood's activities in Britain.
A full summary of Islam in Britain during the month of April can be found here.
In the Czech Republic, police on April 25 raided the headquarters of Prague's Islamic Foundation in the center of the capital and a mosque on the outskirts of the city. Police arrested 20 people, including the Czech translator and publisher of a book about Islamic theology that security officials said promotes hate speech and incites hatred toward Jews.
The book—"The Fundamentals of Tawheed" [Islamic monotheism] by Bilal Philips, a Jamaican-born, Qatar-based Muslim extremist who has been banned from entering Britain and Germany—was being used, police said, to spread Salafist ideology in the Czech Republic.
Also in April, it emerged that the American embassy in Prague is financing a new project aimed at promoting Islam in public elementary and secondary schools across the Czech Republic.
In Denmark, police in Copenhagen on April 25 said the man they believe tried to assassinate the Danish journalist Lars Hedegaard in February 2013 was arrested in Istanbul's Atatürk airport as he tried to enter Turkey on a false passport. The man, identified only by the initials B.H., is awaiting extradition—a process that could take three months—in a high-security prison in the city's Maltepe district.
Danish police say the suspect is a 26-year-old Danish citizen of Lebanese—possibly Palestinian—origin. At the time of his arrest, he was in possession of a fake passport. He left Denmark on the same day of the assassination attempt, police said, and has been traveling between Syria, Lebanon and Turkey ever since.
In Finland, the Parliament's Constitutional Law Committee on April 4 ruled that the long-standing tradition of singing a summer hymn known as the "Suvivirsi" at end-of-school ceremonies can continue. In March, Deputy Chancellor of Justice Mikko Puumalainen had called on the Board of Education to look into the matter because the song has Christian overtones and could be offensive to the country's growing Muslim community.
"It's curious that the minority can so strongly influence the activities of the majority," said Education Chancellor Pekka Iivonen. "Laws concerning religious freedom work both ways: in addition to having the right not practice religion, we also have the right to practice religion in Finland, where the majority of people belong to the Lutheran church."
In France, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve on April 23 presented a new anti-radicalization plan aimed at preventing French citizens or residents from waging jihad in Syria and other Muslim conflict zones. The strategy includes more than 20 measures aimed not only at preventing French citizens from joining the war in Syria, but also at combatting the radicalization of young French Muslims during the earliest stages of indoctrination.
On April 22, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told RTL Radio that nearly 500 French citizens or residents are believed to have joined the fighting in Syria. "This is a very big subject," Fabius said. "Now more and more young people are going [to Syria] ... Our plan is to tackle this upstream [at the source] and all the way downstream. We will identify young people caught on this tragic path. We will monitor this online, and then we must stop them from crossing the Syrian border, and monitor their return and reintegration."
Some believe the plan is a political ploy by French President François Hollande aimed at blunting the rising popularity of the anti-immigration National Front party, which captured a record number of city council seats and mayorships in local elections in March.
National Front party leader Marine Le Pen told RTL Radio that the government's plan to fight French jihadists is cosmetic. "It does not attack the root of the problem—the speech in some mosques that are genuine calls to jihad," she said. "Nor does the plan attack recruiters and funding from foreign countries known to support terrorist fundamentalism, such as Qatar."
Le Pen also said it might be necessary to create a new law on mercenaries that would 1) prohibit those who have French nationality from engaging in fighting abroad; and 2) revoke French nationality from individuals convicted of participating in this type of fighting.
A confidential intelligence document leaked to the French newspaper Le Figaro says a form of Muslim ghettoization is gaining ground within the French school system. The report says that Muslim students are effectively establishing an Islamic parallel society completely cut off from non-Muslim students.
The 15-page document, dated November 28, 2013, includes 70 examples—headscarves in school playgrounds, halal meals in cafeterias, chronic absenteeism during Muslim religious festivals, clandestine prayers in gyms or hallways—of the Islamizing trend in schools throughout France.
The document says that Muslims are engaged in a "war of attrition" aimed at "destabilizing the teaching staff." It adds that Muslim fundamentalists are circumventing the law that bans religious symbols in schools, and that self-proclaimed "young guardians of orthodoxy" in many schools are exerting pressure on Muslim girls.
"During the Muslim holidays, especially during the Eid-el-Kebir [Eid el-Adha], classes are abandoned by students," with absenteeism bordering 90% in certain parts of Nîmes and Toulouse. A high school principal in a northern district of Marseille said that some of his pupils pray with such zeal that their foreheads bear bruises.
In Évry, a commune in the southern suburbs of Paris, police arrested four Muslim boys (three Turkish brothers between the ages of 13 and 15, and one 17-year-old from Morocco) for gang raping an 18-year-old woman as she left the main train station. During police questioning, the minors said they attacked the woman simply because she was French and "the French are all sons of whores."
The boys were jailed for rape and—unusually in France—reverse racism. Three of the minors have previously been jailed for rape and robbery, but only six months ago they were released early as part of a government plan to go easy on minors.
One French commentator asks: "Where did their hatred come from? The hatred that drove them to engage in unspeakable acts on a young girl, barely older than themselves, who symbolized their host country? What will I report? Unemployment? Poverty? Inequality?"
In Paris, the 31st congress of the Union of Islamic Organizations in France (UOIF) was turned into a platform for Muslim anti-Semitism when keynote speaker Hani Ramadan—a prominent Muslim leader from Geneva—blamed Jews and Zionism for a litany of maladies in France, Iraq, Rwanda, Syria and Central Africa. "All the evil in the world originates from the Jews who have only one thing in mind, realizing the dream of Greater Israel," the French daily Le Figaro quoted him as saying.
Ramadan said the media and politics are controlled by Zionists. "In the United States, no one can be elected president without having to kowtow to AIPAC," he said. "It is the same in France, where no one can be elected without the approval of the CRIF [an umbrella group of French Jewish organizations], which in fact leads in the shadows. Against these international schemes of the Zionist power there is only one rampart: Islam."
Hani Ramadan is the director of the Islamic Center of Geneva and is a brother of Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss professor banned from entering the United States. The UOIF congress, held from April 18-21 this year, is one of France's largest and most prominent Islamic events.
In Germany, the interior ministry on April 8 said it had outlawed the charity "Waisenkinderprojekt Libanon" [Orphan Project Lebanon] for allegedly raising millions of euros for Hezbollah. The group, based in the city of Essen, collected €3.3 million ($4.6 million) in donations between 2007 and 2013 for the Lebanese Shahid [Martyrs] Foundation, an "integral" part of Hezbollah. The interior ministry said the funds were used to recruit fighters "to combat Israel, also with terrorist measures" and to compensate the families of suicide bombers.
Also in April, it was reported that the 39-year-old German rapper Deso Dogg (born Denis Cuspert), operating under the alias "Abu Talha Al-Almani" [Abu Talha the German], was killed on April 20 as a result of infighting among jihadi groups battling in Syria.
Deso Dogg—the son of a Ghanaian father and German mother, and raised by an American stepfather—abandoned his rapping career and converted to hardline Salafism in 2010 after nearly being killed in a car crash. Soon after his conversion, he began recording nasheeds [traditional Islamic devotional music] in German, praising Osama Bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Deso Dogg's nasheeds inspired Arid Uka, an Albanian-German Islamist, who killed two U.S. airmen and seriously wounded two others at the Frankfurt airport in March 2011.
Before and After: Left, German rapper Denis Cuspert in 2005, then known as "Deso Dogg". Right, Cuspert as jihadist in Syria, in 2013, operating under the alias "Abu Talha Al-Almani" [Abu Talha the German]. (Image sources: Wikimedia Commons, ISIS)
Despite being monitored, Deso Dogg crossed into Syria undetected in 2013, and gave his oath of allegiance to the jihadist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIS] in early 2014. According to many media sources, he was reportedly killed by a rival al-Nusra suicide bomber in eastern Syria. Reports of his death, however, have not been independently confirmed, and ISIS fighters interviewed by the German newspaper Die Welt have denied he is dead.
A new survey published on April 29 shows that only half of the German population believes that Islam is a part of German culture and society. The Integration Barometer 2014, produced by the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration, found that 44% of those with an immigrant background and 53% without a migration background rejected the statement: "Islam is part of Germany." About half of the respondents, both with and without a migration background, nevertheless advocated religious instruction in schools. About two-thirds believe Islamic theology should be offered at universities.
The situation is different when it comes to making exceptions for individual Muslims, such as exemptions from sports or swimming lessons because of religious sensitivities. A clear majority, 76% of those without a migration background, viewed such special privileges in a negative light. In addition, 63% of those without a migration background rejected the right of Muslim teachers to wear headscarves in class. "The majority of respondents obviously believe that equality and religious neutrality are more important than the granting of special treatment on religious grounds," the study concludes.
On April 22, the Bavarian Administrative Court in Munich ruled that an 18-year-old Muslim student does not have the constitutional right to wear a face-covering niqab in class at her state-run vocational college. The court said that her school had done nothing illegal in asking her to remove the veil, and that this prohibition did not infringe on her freedom of religious worship.
The court also said that the veil acted as a barrier for non-verbal communication. "Open communication during teaching is based not only on the spoken word, but also on non-verbal elements such as facial expressions, gestures and other body language," the court said.
Meanwhile, a German-Turkish candidate for city council elections in the town of Neuss near Düsseldorf provoked the ire of many Germans when he added the Islamic crescent-moon to the logo of his party, the center-right Christian Democratic Union. The Islamized logo appeared on promotional campaign products such as pens, stickers and 4,000 bags.
Irritated CDU officials ordered Yasar Calik, 37, to cease and desist. He responded by accusing them of intolerance. Calik said many Turks are skeptical of the CDU and that he wants Muslims to know they can vote for the party, which some have dubbed the "Islamic Democratic Union."
In Greece, controversial plans to build a taxpayer-funded mega-mosque in Athens have been delayed once again after a group of concerned citizens filed an appeal to block the €950,000 ($1.3 million) project. The government had agreed in November 2013 to build a mosque at the site of a former naval base in Votanikos, near central Athens.
Aris Spiliotopoulos, a candidate for the mayor of Athens for the center-right New Democracy party, called for a referendum on the construction of the mosque. In an April 16 interview with Skai TV, Spiliotopoulos, a former education and tourism minister, criticized plans to build a Muslim place of worship in the heart of Athens, saying that the capital does not need "another pole for illegal immigration" or "third-world tents under the sacred rock of the Acropolis." Votanikos is located 3km from the Acropolis. Spiliotopoulos said: "I don't want the mosque next to the Parthenon."
The Friendship, Equality and Peace Party, purportedly representing Greek Muslims in region of Thrace, described Spiliotopoulos' referendum proposals as an "insult to the hundreds of thousands of Muslims living in Athens, the only capital in the European Union without a mosque." The group added:
"The construction of a mosque has been delayed for strange reasons for many years, which has opened a deep wound in terms of freedom of religion. Now, proposing a referendum for a place of worship has created great disappointment. We expect politicians to leave such a mentality, to avoid putting our country Greece in a difficult position within the international arena."Meanwhile, Muslim vandals are being blamed for a spate of attacks against Greek Orthodox churches on the island of Crete. Anti-Christian slogans written in Arabic were discovered on the walls of at least three churches.
In Italy, Home Secretary Angelino Alfano on April 4 warned that his country is facing a catastrophic wave of immigration from the Muslim world. "According to our information between 300,000 and 600,000 people are on the other side of the Mediterranean on the North African coastline, waiting to cross sooner or later," he said at a conference on immigration in Palermo, Sicily.
In the first three months of 2014, more than 11,000 immigrants have landed in Italy, a seven-fold increase on 2013, with the high season for crossings about to begin as the weather improves. "The landings are non-stop and the emergency is increasingly glaring," Alfano said.
On April 4, an official statement from the Italian Ministry of Health declared "the activation of appropriate measures of surveillance at all international access points to Italy" due to fears that at least 40 immigrants from Africa were infected with the Ebola virus.
The head of the Italian Navy, Admiral Giuseppe De Giorgi, said the influx of migrants is reaching "biblical proportions" and that "Italy is fighting a losing battle."
Justice Minister Andrea Orlando on April 1 signed an agreement with his Moroccan counterpart to have Moroccan convicts sent back home. The move is aimed at tackling chronic overcrowding in Italian prisons. The agreement will affect Moroccans who have been convicted in Italy and sentenced to one or more years in prison, according to a statement released by the Justice Ministry. The new plan will allow convicts to serve out the rest of their sentences in Morocco while receiving "social reintegration" there, where "they have social and family ties." There are some 4,000 Moroccan prisoners in Italian prisons.
In the Netherlands, Interior Minister Ronald Plasterk and Rob Bertholee, the head of the Dutch intelligence agency AIVD, on April 23 presented the AIVD annual report for 2013. The report says that more than 100 Dutch citizens or residents travelled to Syria in 2013 with the intention of taking part in jihadist activities there.
The vast majority of Dutch jihadists joined one of two groups: the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) or Jabhat al-Nusra (JaN). A relatively small proportion of jihadists (just over 20) returned home during the course of the year. The AIVD believes that at least ten men from the Netherlands were killed in Syria in 2013, including two Dutch jihadists who took their own lives in suicide attacks.
The report warns:
"The participation of foreign jihadists in the conflict in Syria has contributed to its escalation. Their experiences there, and the contacts they establish with international networks, mean that they may well pose a threat to national security if and when they return home. For the jihadist groups active in Syria, the presence of European fighters represents an excellent opportunity to recruit individuals familiar with our region to commit acts of terrorism here. In addition, returnees could exploit their status as veterans to radicalize others in the Netherlands.Meanwhile, police said they had arrested a 35-year-old Dutch-Turkish national named Aydin Coban in the case of a Canadian teenager who was blackmailed after exposing herself in front of a webcam. The 15-year-old girl, Amanda Todd, later committed suicide after detailing her harassment on a YouTube video watched by millions around the world. Dutch prosecutors said the man is suspected of blackmailing girls in Britain, the Netherlands and the United States. Canadian police said they would seek extradition.
"As well as potentially posing a direct threat, returnees from Syria might also have a radicalizing and mobilizing effect upon fellow Muslims. In the Netherlands, they could act as the catalyst pushing some young people already attracted by a radical strand of Islam into militant activism. That could strengthen local radical groups and spread their message to a wider audience."
The number of people requesting asylum in the Netherlands rose by more than 4,000 in 2013 to 17,190, the immigration service said on April 14. Somalia topped the list with just over 3,000 requests, followed by Syria (2,670) and Iraq (1,090).
In Norway, the education ministry approved a controversial plan to launch the country's first Muslim-only primary school in Oslo. The school will be run by the Association of Muslim Mothers, which wants to teach its pupils Arabic and Islamic values as well as the standard subjects on the curriculum. A standard course on Religion, Philosophy and Ethics would be replaced by Islam, Religion and Philosophy.
The school aims to have 200 students, and is expected to look for premises in the east side of Oslo, home to many immigrants. Both Norway's opposition Labour Party and the anti-immigrant Progress Party, which is part of the government coalition, have voiced opposition to the plan.
On April 28, envoys from Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries accused the Norwegian government of doing too little to protect its Muslim minority, and called for all criticism of Islam to be made illegal. The accusations against Norway were made in Geneva during a session of the United Nations Universal Periodic Review, which occurs every four years. Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende told Norway's NTB newswire: "It is a paradox that countries which do not support fundamental human rights have influence on the council, but that is the United Nations."
In Spain, a large Muslim umbrella group called the Union of Islamic Communities in Spain [UCIDE] sent letters to education officials in all of the country's 17 regions asking for precise data on the number of students in primary and secondary public schools who have applied for Islamic religious training.
UCIDE is lobbying the Spanish government to expand the teaching of Islam in the public school system, and is said to be compiling the data to back up its claim that there are not enough Islam teachers to keep up with the growing demand.
On April 30, police in Almería, a port city in southern Spain, arrested a French-Algerian jihadist who was returning to Europe from combat in Syria. Abdelmalek Tanem, 25, was a member of the al-Qaeda-linked group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIS], from October 2013 to January 2014, according to a statement issued by the Spanish Interior Ministry.
"During this period, Tanem is believed to have carried out the work of 'combatant' and as a 'facilitator' on the Turkish-Syrian border in order to make it possible for other European citizens to be integrated into this jihadist group," the statement says. Tanem is the second returning jihadist who has been arrested by Spanish police; the first was Mohamed Sadik Abdeluahid in Ceuta, in January.
On April 29, the Spanish government announced that it would allocate €2.1 million ($2.9 million) to try to stem illegal border crossings in Ceuta and Melilla, two Spanish exclaves in North Africa. More than 1,000 African migrants attempted to reach Spain in April during nearly daily attempts to storm and scale the six-meter (20-foot) triple-layer fence separating Melilla from Morocco.
In Sweden, the parliament on April 10 approved a new law that will make it easier for public prosecutors to take criminal action against Swedes who criticize immigrants or government officials online. The new law removes the requirement that there must be a special reason to prosecute for defamation or insult. Critics say the new law, which takes effect on January 1, 2015, is an assault on the exercise of free speech: Swedish thought police will be able to prosecute anyone who expresses an opinion about Muslim immigration and much else if that opinion is deemed to be defamation or slander.
The measure has been pushed by Swedish parliamentarian Andreas Norlén, who in an unchallenged debate on the issue in parliament, said: "I do not think it takes very many prosecutions before a signal is transmitted in the community that the Internet is not a lawless country: the sheriff is back in town."
The Swedish government is also spending 60 million krona ($9 million) to boost voter turnout in Muslim neighborhoods—such as the Rinkeby district in Stockholm, the Rosengård district in Malmö, and the Rymdtorget and Bergsjön districts in Gothenburg—ahead of European elections in May.
Separately, the government was forced to drop a controversial plan to lower the tax rates in Muslim neighborhoods after the European Commission said that allowing immigrants to pay lower taxes than Swedes would violate EU rules on state aid.
According to the latest data from Eurostat, Sweden is the EU country that receives the most asylum seekers from developing countries relative to their population. Most of the asylum seekers in 2013 were from Afghanistan, Kosovo, Pakistan and Syria.
At the same time, more than 50,000 native Swedes fled the country in 2013, according to new data from Statistics Sweden (SCB). This is the highest figure since the peak years of emigration to North America in the 1880s. By contrast, immigration from the developing world to Sweden reached its highest level ever in 2013, with nearly 115,800 immigrants, according to the SCB.
On April 5, it emerged that a Swedish national of Somali origin was arrested in Kenya on suspicion of trying to recruit young men for the Islamic terrorist group, Al-Shabaab. Some 30 Swedish nationals have traveled to Somalia to join Islamic militant groups, according to the Swedish intelligence agency Säpo.
In Switzerland, the University of Fribourg will host the country's first training center for imams. The center will provide courses for imams on Swiss culture and society, courses for social workers and health professionals on accommodating the Muslim community and, ultimately, a training program for new imams. The objective is to produce locally-trained imams to join the ranks of the country's 150 imams, all of whom were schooled abroad.
The original idea for the project came from a national research program called "Religious Groups, State and Society," which found that most of the imams and teachers of Islam did not speak Swiss national languages and did not know Swiss society, culture and laws.
Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter.