Islam in Europe

I had the great honor of attending the presentation and celebration of my friend Serge Berdugo’s book project on the rehabilitation of Jewish cemeteries in Morocco. The event took place at the Institut du Monde Arabe, a magnificent cultural center dedicated to highlighting the cultures of the Arab world. The Institute is headed by the exuberant socialist intellectual Jack Lang, who served as France’s minister of culture throughout much of the 1980s and twice as minister of education in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Ministers, ambassadors, rabbis, imams, bishops, intellectuals, diplomats and many others came together to celebrate Morocco’s millennial Jewish history, the country’s diversity, and many other virtues that single out Morocco in the region and, in some cases, the world.

Following the presentation of the book, three French Moroccans—an imam, a rabbi, and a bishop—all practicing in the same district of Évry, a suburb of Paris, were awarded medals of honor by the King of Morocco through his sister, Princess Lalla Meriem. It was during this moment that France’s Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, a man who has been in the limelight following the recent terrorist acts in Paris, walked to the podium, condemned all forms of discrimination, and then proceeded to explain the badly misunderstood concept of laïcité (which approximates the American idea of secularism) by showcasing the three men of god who were being honored as perfect examples of why laïcité protects freedom of religion by keeping the government out of people’s private faiths.

It is often said that France went too far with its anti-clerical revolution, but Valls gave his nation’s ideology—laïcité—a decidedly Jeffersonian meaning.


by David Miller and Tom Mills, Open Democracy, January 15, 2015

Terrorism “expert” Steve Emerson is more than a comic buffoon. His claims about no-go zones for non-Muslims in European cities are just part of a wealthy network spreading Islamophobia across the west.

On Sunday, the veteran terrorism expert Steven Emerson appeared on Fox News to discuss Europe’s Muslim population and claimed that Birmingham was an example of a ‘totally Muslim [city] where non-Muslims just simply don’t go in’. The claim led to him being ridiculed online, and after the news media picked up on the story he issued an apology to ‘the beautiful city of Birmingham’ for his ‘terrible error’. So high profile was the story, that the Prime Minister David Cameron felt moved to comment, reportedly describing Emerson as ‘a complete idiot’.

The claims were idiotic. But Emerson is not simply an ‘idiot’, or a hopelessly misinformed ‘expert’. An examination of his background, the sources of his ideas, and the funding for his think tank the Investigative Project on Terrorism, show that he is part of what the Center for American Progress in a widely cited 2011 report Fear Inc. described as ‘a small, tightly networked group of misinformation experts’ that ‘peddle hate and fear of Muslims and Islam’. (more…)

The recent flood of commentaries on the Paris bombing of Charlie Hebdo prompted another facile Facebook image change. All of a sudden people who had never read the satire magazine, or even knew it existed, were eager to empathize visually by posting je suis Charlie. I applaud empathy for victims of any horrific murder scenario, but the same day as the cartoonists and policemen were killed, about 40 Yemeni police cadets were killed in an al-Qaeda bombing and now we learn that Boko Haram has brutally murdered more than 2000 Nigerians. So should every one who was mourning the Parisians now switch over to the Yemenis or Nigerians? And if tomorrow there is, as there likely will be, yet more deaths somewhere else, do we just keep je suising along?

My problem with this digital outpouring of Western empathy is that it is relative. When one of “us” is harmed, it cuts deep. But why do we have such little deep seated sorrow over others who are not like “us”? Is a Nigerian life in the bush or a young Yemeni man standing in a line less valuable than a Parisian cartoonist? If it is the act that we abhor, and indeed should abhor, should we not shed tears for all the victims. The Nigerians killed were apparently mainly children. Do we care? I have yet to see a je suis Nigerian on Facebook, at least by those who were quick to identify with the satire magazine. (more…)

As the spate of commentary on the killing of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists and two policemen continues, there is a poignant response from Joe Sacco, the graphic artist. Check it out at The Guardian.

And for those Fox News viewers who think Muslims are not condemning this criminal act, check out

In solidarity with the people killed in Paris, this illustration is accompanied by the caption, “Break one, thousand will rise,” as part of the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag. Many people and media outlets have been sharing this illustration by Lucille Clerc but incorrectly crediting Banksy.
Credit: Lucille Clerc License: All rights reserved..

by Omid Safi, Director of Duke University’s Islamic Studies Center, On-being, January 8, 2015

As a person of faith, times like these try my soul. Times like these are precisely when we need to turn to our faith. We turn inward, not because the answers are easy, but because not turning inward is unthinkable in moments of crisis.

So let us begin, not with the cartoons at the center of the shootings at the office of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, but with the human beings. Let it always be about the human beings:

• Stéphane “Charb” Charbonnier, 47 (editor)
• Bernard Maris, 68 (economist)
• Georges Wolinski, 80 (cartoonist)
• Jean “Cabu” Cabut, 78 (cartoonist)
• Bernard “Tignous” Verlhac, 57 (cartoonist)
• Philippe Honoré, 73 (cartoonist)
• Elsa Cayat (columnist)
• Michel Renaud (a guest)
• Frederic Boisseau (building maintenance worker)
• Franck Brinsolaro, 49 (a police officer)
• Moustapha Ourrad (copy editor)… It’s not Muslims vs. cartoonists, as long as there are Muslim cartoonists.
• Ahmed Merabet, 42, (police officer)… A Muslim who died protecting the cartoonists from Muslim terrorists. Muslim vs. Muslim.

And brothers Said Kouachi and Cherif Kouachi, and Hamyd Mourad — the shooters, with a legacy of crime behind them.

I try to resist the urge to turn the victims into saintly beings, or the shooters into embodiments of evil. We are all imperfect beings, walking contradictions of selfishness and beauty. And sometimes, like the actions of the Kouachi brothers and Mourad, it results in acts of unspeakable atrocity.

So how do we process this horrific news? Let me suggest nine steps:

Muslim police officer Ahmed Merabet. He was shot in the head while lying on the ground begging for mercy on the streets near Charlie Hebdo’s office building.

1) Begin with grief.
We begin where we are, where our hearts are. Let us take the time to bury the dead, to mourn, and to grieve. Let us mourn that we have created a world in which such violence seems to be everyday. We mourn the eruption of violence. We mourn the fact that our children are growing up in a world where violence is so banal. (more…)

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment)

The horrific murder of the editor, cartoonists and other staff of the irreverent satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, along with two policemen, by terrorists in Paris was in my view a strategic strike, aiming at polarizing the French and European public.

The problem for a terrorist group like al-Qaeda is that its recruitment pool is Muslims, but most Muslims are not interested in terrorism. Most Muslims are not even interested in politics, much less political Islam. France is a country of 66 million, of which about 5 million is of Muslim heritage. But in polling, only a third, less than 2 million, say that they are interested in religion. French Muslims may be the most secular Muslim-heritage population in the world (ex-Soviet ethnic Muslims often also have low rates of belief and observance). Many Muslim immigrants in the post-war period to France came as laborers and were not literate people, and their grandchildren are rather distant from Middle Eastern fundamentalism, pursuing urban cosmopolitan culture such as rap and rai. In Paris, where Muslims tend to be better educated and more religious, the vast majority reject violence and say they are loyal to France.

Al-Qaeda wants to mentally colonize French Muslims, but faces a wall of disinterest. But if it can get non-Muslim French to be beastly to ethnic Muslims on the grounds that they are Muslims, it can start creating a common political identity around grievance against discrimination. (more…)

[Go to the website for an audio interview with Nabil Matar.]

Nabil Matar, Henry Stubbe and the Beginnings of Islam: The Originall & Progress of Mahometanism­
Columbia University Press, 2014

by Elliott Bazzano, New Books in Islamic Studies, September 18, 2014

In Henry Stubbe and the Beginnings of Islam: The Originall & Progress of Mahometanism­ (Columbia University Press, 2014), Nabil Matar masterfully edits an important piece of scholarship from seventeenth-century England by scholar and physician, Henry Stubbe (1632-76). Matar also gives a substantial introduction to his annotated edition of Stubbe’s text by situating the author in his historical context. Unlike other early modern writers on Islam, Stubbe’s ostensible goals were not to cast Islam in a negative light. On the contrary, he sought to challenge popular conceptions that understood Islam in negative terms, and although there is no evidence that Stubbe entertained conversion, he admits many admirable characteristics of Islam, ranging from Muhammad’s character to the unity of God. The English polymath was well versed in theological debates of his time and therefore equipped all the more to write the Originall, given the benefit of his comparative framework, which in part explains why the first portion of his text devotes itself to the history of early Christianity. Strikingly, however, it seems that Stubbe never learned Arabic, even though he studied religion with a leading Arabist of his time, Edward Pococke. Indeed, one novelty of Stubbe’s work was precisely his re-evaluation of Latin translations (of primary texts) that were already in circulation. Stubbe’s contributions to scholarship also speak to the history of Orientalism—a word that did not yet exist at Stubbe’s time—or how scholars in the “West” more broadly have approached Islam. Stubbe’s Originall offers insights into present-day Western discourses that still struggle—at times with egregious incompetence—to make sense of Islam and Muslims. In this regard, Matar’s detailed scholarly account of Henry Stubbe and his carefully edited version of the Originall remains as timely as ever. Undoubtedly, this meticulously researched book will interest an array of scholars, including those from disciplines of English literature, History, and Religious Studies.

There is a very good Youtube video of interviews with a hundred British imams about the problems with ISIS and how it is doing damage to Islam, especially in Britain. It is well worth seeing. The video was posted on July 11, 2014.

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