Review of the Year Oct-Dec 2016: Trump wins and Aleppo falls

We conclude our look back on 2016 with the months October to December, during which international news dominated with the election of the Islamophobe Donald Trump as US president and the victory of pro-Damascus forces in the battle of Aleppo.

Starting with UK news first, in October Olympic gymnast Louis Smith told 5Pillars that his behaviour in a video where he was shown mocking Islam was “inexcusable,” and that he wanted to make amends by learning more about the religion.

Smith said his comments weren’t racist but acknowledged that he was ignorant about religion and that he had let a lot of people down.

The video, leaked by The Sun newspaper, showed Smith with fellow gymnast Luke Carson laughing while pretending to pray and shouting “Allahu Akbar.”

Smith is shown giggling and holding a drink as Carson takes a hanging rug off the wall. He then says “Six o’clock prayers” as the friend repeatedly says “Allahu Akbar”. Carson then kneels on the rug, bowing in mock worship.

At that point a female wedding guest enters the frame and says to Carson: “Actually, you are taking the p***, actually.” But Smith retorts: “No, no he’s not, he’s doing his six o’clock prayers.”

Carson yells out, “The Prophet Muhammad,” before Smith says: “Sixty virgins.” It continues as the woman says: “You are not funny.” Smith insists: “Yes it is.”

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Also in October, The Charity Commission appointed an interim manager to review the governance structure and financial controls at Muslim Aid.

The regulator said it opened a statutory inquiry into the international aid charity in November 2013 to examine a number of financial irregularities relating to areas of the charity’s overseas activities. As a result of this investigation, the charity was given 12 months to comply with an order to improve its governance and financial management.

The Commission said that there has been regular and continued engagement and correspondence with the charity. But despite the charity, which recently appointed Jehangir Malik as its new chief executive, co-operating with the Commission throughout the inquiry it “has become clear that they are unable to resolve the matters themselves” and comply with the order.

As a result the Charity Commission has appointed Michael King of Stone King as interim manager to review the governance infrastructure, as well as the financial controls in relation to its domestic and international operations.

”The Charity Commission is headed by the right-wing William Shawcross. Since he took over the regulator a number of high profile investigations have been launched against Muslim charities.

In November twenty six mosques and community centres in Luton wrote to the local council to express their opposition to the controversial Prevent counter-terrorism strategy.

In the letter, Luton Council of Mosques and the Sunni Council of Mosques described Prevent as “ineffective” and “unjust.”

Addressed to Trevor Holden, the Chief Executive of Luton Borough Council, the letter said that Prevent:

  • Uses vague and constantly changing definitions of extremism developed without consultation with the diverse British community or respected faith leaders.
  • Breeds mistrust and suspicion about all Muslims in the wider community, causing fear and leading to discrimination, abuse and violence.
  • Scapegoats Muslims and Islam without fairly acknowledging political context as a significant factor in causing the type of disenfranchisement that can lead to radicalisation.
  • Causes significant fear and anxiety amongst the Muslim community.
  • Conflates issues of integration and cohesion with counter-terrorism.
  • Relies on an empirically flawed policy.
  • Blurs the lines between “counter-terrorism” and wider social issues including safeguarding, education and healthcare.
  • Targets children in nurseries, schools and colleges.
  • Fails to consider the social, cultural and religious context of local communities evidenced through numerous cases of misunderstanding of basic differences between “extremism” and acts of religiosity.
Katie Hopkins

In December, the Islamophobic media personality Katie Hopkins apologised to a Muslim family she accused of being extremists after they were refused entry to the US for a Disneyland trip.

Mail Online, which published her claim, also paid £150,000 in libel damages to the Mahmood family.

Hopkins wrongly said the family had links to al-Qaeda in two articles published in December 2015.

The family of 11 had planned to holiday to Disneyland on 15 December 2015 but were stopped by US authorities at Gatwick Airport.

Hopkins’s article from 23 December said “you can’t blame America for not letting this lot travel to Disneyland – I wouldn’t either.”

However, the apology read: “An article published in Katie Hopkins’ column on 23 December 2015 (‘Just because Britain’s border security is a Mickey Mouse operation you can’t blame America for not letting this lot travel to Disneyland – I wouldn’t either’) suggested that Mohammed Tariq Mahmood and his brother, Mohammed Zahid Mahmood, are extremists with links to Al Qaeda; that their purported reason for visiting the USA – namely to visit Disneyland – was a lie; and that US Homeland Security were right to prevent them from boarding their flight.

“We are happy to make clear that Tariq Mahmood and Zahid Mahmood are not extremists, nor do they have links to Al Qaeda. They were travelling to the USA with their families to see one of their brothers for a holiday in California and they had indeed planned to visit Disneyland as part of their trip.

“In addition a further article in Katie’s column on 29 December (‘A brave Muslim tried to warn us their week about the extremists taking over his community. What a tragedy it is that our PC politicians would rather not know’) suggested that Hamza Mahmood (Mohammed Tariq Mahmood’s son) was responsible for a Facebook page which allegedly contained extremist material.

“Our article included a photo of the family home. Hamza Mahmood has pointed out that he is not responsible for the Facebook page, which was linked to him as a result of an error involving his email address. We are happy to make clear that there is no suggestion that either Hamza nor Taeeba or Hafsa Mahmood (Hamza’s mother and sister) have any links to extremism.

“We and Katie Hopkins apologise to the Mahmood family for the distress and embarrassment caused and have agreed to pay them substantial damages and their legal costs.”

Also in December, the former leader of the far-right group Britain First, Paul Golding, was jailed for eight weeks for his involvement in an attempted “mosque invasion.”

Golding, 34, admitted breaching a High Court injunction not to enter a mosque or encourage others to do so.

He and his deputy Jayda Fransen were banned from entering all mosques in England and Wales by the High Court in August.

The pair were also barred from Luton town centre under the injunction after Bedfordshire Police argued they had caused “community tensions.”

Former leader of Britain First, Paul Golding.

London’s High Court heard that nine days after the injunction was imposed, Golding drove four Britain First members to the Al-Manar Centre in Cardiff for a “mosque invasion.”

Golding stayed outside and there was no violence but there was a verbal confrontation between his four colleagues and a mosque trustee.

James Weston, counsel for the Chief Constable of Bedfordshire Police who brought the committal application, said members of the mosque found the conduct provocative and unnerving and were concerned that it could have escalated if prayers had not been over.

Sentencing Golding yesterday, Judge Moloney said the breach was a “deliberate and cynical defiance” of the court’s order as well as an affront to the Muslim community, not merely in Cardiff but throughout the country where Britain First might circulate its propaganda.

World News

On the international scene, Bulgaria’s parliament approved a law in October banning women from wearing veils that cover their faces in public.

The law was pushed by the nationalist Patriotic Front coalition, whose co-leader Krasimir Karakachanov cited security reasons, saying “the burqa is more a uniform than a religious symbol.”

The ban will apply for both Bulgarian citizens and those entering the country temporarily.

The new law states that clothing that conceals the face may not be worn in the institutions of Bulgaria’s central and local administrations, schools, cultural institutions, and places of public recreation, sports and communications.

The covering of the head, eyes, ears and mouth will only be permitted for health reasons, professional necessity and at sporting and cultural events.

The ban will also apply to houses of worship, such as mosques, which probably won’t go down well with Bulgaria’s 580,000 Muslim minority who make up around 8% of the population.

In November, American Muslims reacted with shock and dismay to Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election.

Moussa ElBayoumi, who heads the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR) branch in Kansas, told Al Jazeera that Trump’s win was unsettling due to the anti-Muslim sentiments he expressed during his presidential campaign.

Elbayoumi called on Trump “to respect the United States constitution and the values upon which it is built.” If the new president failed to live up to his duties as a president of all Americans regardless of their racial, religion and national background, Elbayoumi said “CAIR would stand ready to defend the civil liberties of all American citizens, including Muslim Americans.”

Islamic scholar Hamza Yusuf quoted from a sermon from the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh):

“O community of Muslims, roll up your sleeves, for the matter is momentous. Prepare for an imminent journey. Garner provision now as the journey is long. Lighten your loads, for before you is an ascent most steep! Only those traveling lightly shall bear its climb.

“O humanity, before the Hour comes, you will see wonders, vast tribulations, and difficult times. Darkness will prevail, and foulness will take the forefront. Those who enjoin right will be oppressed, and those who condemn vice will be suppressed.

“Hence, strengthen your faith for that time, and cling to faith as you would clench on for dear life.

“Flee to righteous deeds, and force yourselves to perform them. Be patient during the difficult times, and you will eventually arrive to eternal bliss.”

In December,  the foreign ministers of Iran, Russia and Turkey issued a joint statement on Syria following the fall of Aleppo to pro-regime forces, all stating their commitment to reach a political resolution to the nearly six-year war.

The ministers met in Moscow on Tuesday 20 December, and the joint statement was issued in the wake of the assassination of the Russian ambassador in Turkey on Monday.

The statement which has been dubbed by the Russia press as the “Moscow Declaration” stated:

1. Iran, Russia and Turkey reiterate their full respect for sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic as multi-ethnic, multi-religious, non-sectarian, democratic and secular state.

2. Iran, Russia and Turkey are convinced that there is no military solution to the Syrian conflict. They recognize the essential role of the United Nations in the efforts to resolve this crisis in accordance with UNSC resolution 2254. The Ministers also take note of the decisions of the International Syria Support Croup (ISSG). They urge all members of the international community to cooperate in good faith in order to remove the obstacles on the way to implement the agreements contained in these documents.

3. Iran, Russia and Turkey welcome joint efforts in Eastern Aleppo allowing for voluntary evacuation of civilians and organized departure of armed opposition. The Ministers also welcome partial evacuation of civilians from Fuaa, Kafraia, Zabadani and Madaya. They commit to ensure the completion of the process without interruption and in a safe and secure manner. The Ministers express their gratitude to the representatives of ICRC and WHO for their assistance in conduction of the evacuation.

4. The Ministers agree on the importance of expanding ceasefire, unhindered humanitarian assistance and free movement of civilians throughout the country.

5. Iran, Russia and Turkey express their readiness to facilitate and become the guarantors of the prospective agreement, being negotiated, between the Syrian Government and the opposition. They invited all other countries with the influence on the situation on the ground to do the same.

6. They strongly believe that this Agreement will be instrumental to create the necessary momentum for the resumption of the political process in Syria in accordance with the UNSC resolution 2254.

7. The Ministers take note of the kind offer of the President of Kazakhstan to host relevant meetings in Astana.

8. Iran, Russia and Turkey reiterate their determination to fight jointly against ISIL/DAESH and Al-Nusra and to separate from them armed opposition groups.
The nasheed artist and businessman Junaid Jamshed is feared dead as he was one of the 47 passengers on board the Islamabad-bound flight that crashed near Havelian in Pakistan today.

Finally, the Pakistani nasheed artist Junaid Jamshed was killed in a plane crash near Islamabad.

The nasheed artist, 52, traveled extensively for preaching purposes and was already in Chitral for preaching-related work. He was also a familiar figure among British Muslims and frequently visits this country.

After graduating with a degree in engineering, Jamshed briefly worked as a civilian contractor and engineer for the Pakistan Air Force before focusing on a musical career.

He first gained nationwide prominence and international recognition as group Vital Signs vocalist in 1987. But in 2004, Jamshed left both his engineering and music careers and, since then, has focused on his religious activities and reciting nasheeds on TV and releasing them on CD’s.

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