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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

European 'No-Go' Zones for Non-Muslims Proliferating "Occupation Without Tanks or Soldiers"

In a lecture presented to a young Muslim audience at the University of Western Sydney on Friday 30 March 2001, the prominent Australian Muslim leader Dr Zachariah Matthews was discussing the role of 'migration' (Hijrah) in the 'phases' of dawah (i.e. the stages involved in proclaiming and establishing Islam).  One of the aspects of establishing Islam through migration, he argued, is to secure local sovereignty, as modeled by the Muslim community when they migrated from Mecca to Medina.  Matthews taught:
"The Hijrah ['migration'] to Madinah provided the Islamic Dawah with one very important thing, land, or a territory over which Muslims could have political sovereignty. The Hijrah made the Muslims Masters of their own internal affairs, external relations and matters relating to war and peace."  (The Hijrah: a necessary phase in the Dawah)
What does it mean in practice when migrant communities establish local territory in which Muslims are masters of their own internal affairs?   Is the theological principle of establishing local sovereignty the ideological wedge which is so successfully subverting multiculturalism throughout the lands of migration?

The following article by Soeren Kern suggests that the answer to this question may well be 'Yes'.

By Soeren Kern
August 22, 2011 at 5:00 am
Islamic extremists are stepping up the creation of "no-go" areas in European cities that are off-limits to non-Muslims. Many of the "no-go" zones function as microstates governed by Islamic Sharia law. Host-country authorities effectively have lost control in these areas and in many instances are unable to provide even basic public aid such as police, fire fighting and ambulance services.
The "no-go" areas are the by-product of decades of multicultural policies that have encouraged Muslim immigrants to create parallel societies and remain segregated rather than become integrated into their European host nations.

In Britain, for example, a Muslim group called Muslims Against the Crusades has launched a campaign to turn twelve British cities – including what it calls "Londonistan" – into independent Islamic states. The so-called Islamic Emirates would function as autonomous enclaves ruled by Islamic Sharia law and operate entirely outside British jurisprudence.

The Islamic Emirates Project names the British cities of Birmingham, Bradford, Derby, Dewsbury, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Luton, Manchester, Sheffield, as well as Waltham Forest in northeast London and Tower Hamlets in East London as territories to be targeted for blanket Sharia rule.
In the Tower Hamlets area of East London (also known as the Islamic Republic of Tower Hamlets), for example, extremist Muslim preachers, called the Tower Hamlets Taliban, regularly issue death threats to women who refuse to wear Islamic veils. Neighborhood streets have been plastered with posters declaring "You are entering a Sharia controlled zone: Islamic rules enforced." And street advertising deemed offensive to Muslims is regularly vandalized or blacked out with spray paint.

In the Bury Park area of Luton, Muslims have been accused of "ethnic cleansing" by harassing non-Muslims to the point that many of them move out of Muslim neighborhoods. In the West Midlands, two Christian preachers have been accused of "hate crimes" for handing out gospel leaflets in a predominantly Muslim area of Birmingham. In Leytonstone in east London, the Muslim extremist Abu Izzadeen heckled the former Home Secretary John Reid by saying: "How dare you come to a Muslim area."

In France, large swaths of Muslim neighborhoods are now considered "no-go" zones by French police. At last count, there are 751 Sensitive Urban Zones (Zones Urbaines Sensibles, ZUS), as they are euphemistically called. A complete list of the ZUS can be found on a French government website, complete with satellite maps and precise street demarcations. An estimated 5 million Muslims live in the ZUS, parts of France over which the French state has lost control.

Muslim immigrants are taking control of other parts of France too. In Paris and other French cities with high Muslim populations, such as Lyons, Marseilles and Toulouse, thousands of Muslims are closing off streets and sidewalks (and by extension, are closing down local businesses and trapping non-Muslim residents in their homes and offices) to accommodate overflowing crowds for Friday prayers. Some mosques have also begun broadcasting sermons and chants of "Allahu Akbar" via loudspeakers into the streets.

The weekly spectacles, which have been documented by dozens of videos posted on (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here), and which have been denounced as an "occupation without tanks or soldiers," have provoked anger and disbelief. But despite many public complaints, local authorities have declined to intervene because they are afraid of sparking riots.
In the Belgian capital of Brussels (which is 20% Muslim), several immigrant neighborhoods have become "no-go" zones for police officers, who frequently are pelted with rocks by Muslim youth. In the Kuregem district of Brussels, which often resembles an urban war zone, police are forced to patrol the area with two police cars: one car to carry out the patrols and another car to prevent the first car from being attacked. In the Molenbeek district of Brussels, police have been ordered not to drink coffee or eat a sandwich in public during the Islamic month of Ramadan.

In Germany, Chief Police Commissioner Bernhard Witthaut, in an August 1 interview with the newspaper Der Westen, revealed that Muslim immigrants are imposing "no-go" zones in cities across Germany at an alarming rate.

The interviewer asked Witthaut: "Are there urban areas – for example in the Ruhr – districts and housing blocks that are "no-go areas," meaning that they can no longer be secured by the police?" Witthaut replied: "Every police commissioner and interior minister will deny it. But of course we know where we can go with the police car and where, even initially, only with the personnel carrier. The reason is that our colleagues can no longer feel safe there in twos, and have to fear becoming the victim of a crime themselves. We know that these areas exist. Even worse: in these areas crimes no longer result in charges. They are left 'to themselves.' Only in the worst cases do we in the police learn anything about it. The power of the state is completely out of the picture."

In Italy, Muslims have been commandeering the Piazza Venezia in Rome for public prayers. In Bologna, Muslims repeatedly have threatened to bomb the San Petronio cathedral because it contains a 600-year-old fresco inspired by Dante's Inferno which depicts Mohammed being tormented in hell.
In the Netherlands, a Dutch court ordered the government to release to the public a politically incorrect list of 40 "no-go" zones in Holland. The top five Muslim problem neighborhoods are in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht. The Kolenkit area in Amsterdam is the number one Muslim "problem district" in the country. The next three districts are in Rotterdam – Pendrecht, het Oude Noorden and Bloemhof. The Ondiep district in Utrecht is in the fifth position, followed by Rivierenwijk (Deventer), Spangen (Rotterdam), Oude Westen (Rotterdam), Heechterp/ Schieringen (Leeuwarden) and Noord-Oost (Maastricht).

In Sweden, which has some of the most liberal immigration laws in Europe, large swaths of the southern city of Malmö – which is more than 25% Muslim – are "no-go" zones for non-Muslims. Fire and emergency workers, for example, refuse to enter Malmö's mostly Muslim Rosengaard district without police escorts. The male unemployment rate in Rosengaard is estimated to be above 80%.
When fire fighters attempted to put out a fire at Malmö's main mosque, they were attacked by stone throwers.

In the Swedish city of Gothenburg, Muslim youth have been hurling petrol bombs at police cars. In the city's Angered district, where more than 15 police cars have been destroyed, teenagers have also been pointing green lasers at the eyes of police officers, some of whom have been temporarily blinded.
In Gothenburg's Backa district, youth have been throwing stones at patrolling officers. Gothenburg police have also been struggling to deal with the problem of Muslim teenagers burning cars and attacking emergency services in several areas of the city.

According to the Malmö-based Imam Adly Abu Hajar: "Sweden is the best Islamic state."

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

When Speaking on Sensitive Topics

This blog post is about how to speak reasonably about sensitive topics, and specifically ones which can give rise to charges of vilification.

In ideal world, speech would be free, and everyone would use their freedom responsibly.  But human nature being what it is, speech is never completely free, and human beings often act up in bad ways.

How then can we talk about difficult and reactive topics, such as destructive forms of religion, or the negative attributes of particular classes of people such as nations, cultures, races or tribes?

One of the challenges to freedom of speech in the west today is the emergence of so-called hate-speech laws, also known as (racial or religious) vilification laws.  These laws are built upon the concept of incitement.  They attempt to make illegal certain forms of speech which could incite or provoke others to have bad feelings towards particular groups of people.  An example in Victoria, Australia, is the oddly-named Racial and Religious Tolerance Act, which aims to ban conduct that incites 'hatred', 'serious contempt', 'revulsion' or 'severe ridicule' against classes of people on the basis of their religion or race.

One problem with the concept of anti-incitement laws is that some realities about human beings' attributes really are beyond the pale, and deserve robust critique precisely because they should incite strong negative emotions.  A bad effect of anti-incitement laws is that they can make a person who speaks about such things responsible for the negative emotions which could and even should arise from their subject material.  For example if I accurately describe the actions of communists under Pol Pot, including their genocidal slaughter of the Khmer population, this should incite feelings of revulsion towards the Khmer Rouge.  Irrespective of whether that is a good thing, it would still be incitement.  Usually anti-incitement laws provide a way around this.  The Victorian law includes escape clauses known as 'exceptions' which mean that under specific circumstances, a person will not be held accountable for their incitement.  These escape clauses involve acting 'reasonably and in good faith' for a specific purpose, such as an academic or scientific purpose, giving comment on something in the public interest, or creating a work of art. 

Another problem with anti-incitement laws is that truth is not a defense in the way it is for anti-defamation laws.  You cannot defame someone by speaking the truth about them.  But you can incite hatred, contempt etc against a group by speaking the truth about them, if the truth itself is unpleasant.  So a problem with anti-incitement laws is that they can make speaking unpalatable truths illegal.  That can be a big problem.  There is however usually a partial protection for truth tellers, in that getting your facts right can help demonstrate that you have acted 'reasonably and in good faith'.

I'm no fan of anti-incitement laws, whatever name they go by (whether 'hate crime' laws, 'anti-vilification laws' or 'defamation of religion' laws). For one thing they can inflame tensions between groups by inciting complaints and court cases.  These are inciteful laws which can easily provoke racial and religious tensions.

But my purpose here is not to complain about anti-incitement laws.  The purpose of this post is to  suggest a few principles which speakers and writers might be wise to follow when dealing with sensitive topics.  These principles, if followed, may help to provide some protection against complaints of incitement. 

Essentially these are tips for acting reasonably and in good faith, or to put it another way, for cooperative communication.

(Please note that I am not a lawyer, but a cleric and a linguist, and I offer no guarantees about the effectiveness of these principles!)
  1. State your purpose and stay on topic.
    If you want to criticize the Khmer Rouge, don't stray into a diatribe against Stalin. 
    If you want to criticize Islam's treatment of women, don't stray into criticizing the clothing preferences of Arab men.  There is nothing like gratuitous off-topic insults for giving the impression that you are up to no good.  Don't fall into the trap of 'too much information!'.
    Often it is very helpful to state your purpose up front, e.g. "I am writing about the evils of the Hindu practice of suttee".
  2. Check your facts. 
    That one is obvious. 
  3. Don't say things you don't have adequate evidence for. 
    Obvious again.
  4. When you have a choice, take your information from the most authoritative and original source you can.
    "The Bible says X" will trump "my granny says the Bible says X".  "The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported X" is better than "The Readers Digest said X".  Always go to and check up a more original source if you can.  Don't rely on third-party information (hearsay) if you can avoid it.  For example if you want to make a claim about Muhammad, look up and check the original Islamic sources for yourself, even if it is in English translation.  
  5. If your source has some limitations (and most do) be aware of this and if necessary acknowledge it.
    Part of due diligence is  assessing the reliability of your source you do use, and being aware of its limitations, e.g., are you quoting from a translation?  Do you speak the original language of your source?  Do others accept your source as authoritative?  You can't be the world's expert on everything, but you can exercise due diligence with the information you use, not only in using the best source, but also being aware of the limitations of your source.
  6. Be dispassionante and avoid emotive judgements.
    It can be hard to restrain yourself, but really it is better to let people make their own emotive judgements about information they receive.  Offer people your arguments and evidence rather than your emotive perspectives.  For example, it is one thing to explain that Muhammad married a five-year old girl and consummated the marriage at 9 years old, and quite another thing to call Muhammad by derogatory words usually reserved for people who might want to do things like that today.  Let the hearer or reader come to their own conclusions about such labels.  Don't command people's emotions.  There are some exceptions of course.  If your whole presentation is to communicate a specific negative judgement (e.g. 'modern-day Mormon polygamy abuses women') then that judgement can be stated up front and central (point 1 above).  But don't sweat all the value judgements along the way.  Hold your emotional fire for when you really need it, and have confidence in your audience to make up their own moral minds.  People want to be informed, not coaxed.  If something deserves contempt, you usually don't need to tell people 'this deserves contempt'.  This can often just come across as 'shouting'.  Your audience probably won't like it, and it will come across as coercive.  Let the evidence speak for itself.  
  7. Avoid stereotyping.
    Stereotyping is all about attributing to the group the attributes of the few.  Don't say 'Christians believe X' unless you are really, really sure that virtually all Christians do believe X.  Be especially careful about attributing intentions to groups, e.g. 'Christians want to take over the world'!  Or 'Muslims don't tell the truth'. There are many ways to avoid stereotyping.  One is to use the words of representative voices and explaining their standing.  For example, you might say "The Archbishop of Canterbury, spiritual leader of Anglicans around the world has said X."  This is better than "Anglicans believe X".  Another way of avoiding stereotyping is to acknowledge contrary voices.  E.g. 'The pope says X, but many Catholics disagree'.  Another way when speaking about religious matters is to make a clear distinction between what texts or authorities say, and what individuals believe and do.  E.g. 'The Qur'an says "Kill the unbelievers" but many Muslims don't believe that applies to them.'  Another technique is to make a clear distinction between practices and beliefs.  Someone can believe something, but not act upon it.  (Be aware also that stereotypes can be negative or positive, and both types of stereotyping can be unhelpful.) 
  8. Refer people to original sources, so people can check things for themselves.
    If at all possible, always point people to a way to check what you are saying for themselves.  Some specific contexts don't allow this, but there are ways around this.  For example if you have published a book on a subject, with the sources clearly acknowledged, you could have more freedom to make claims in an interview, knowing that an audience could check things in your book and look up the sources for themselves. 
  9. Take appropriate responsibility for inferences others may come to.
    There are things you actually say, and things people think you said, because they inferred it from what you said.  Part of the due diligence of communicating with others in a reasonable way is to be  aware of how they might interpret what you say, and taking an appropriate degree of responsibility for this.  You should make what you say as informative as required.  If you leave key points open to interpretation, that probably means you didn't give enough information.
  10. Be clear.
    One of the most important things when talking about sensitive subject is just to be clear and orderly in the way you present your material.  
Much of the above points are expressions of Grice's Maxims of communication and the cooperative principle. It's all about being a responsible, cooperative communicator.  And Mark Durie's fifth maxim of anti-incitement communication is that the more sensitive and inflammatory a topic is, the more careful and 'cooperative' you need to be in addressing it.

Finally, one must acknowledge that there are many complications surrounding this subject.  One is that victims of abuse have rights.  One of their rights is to have strong feelings about their experiences of abuse.  Demanding that they be dispassionate about being raped, tortured, killed etc can be inhumane.  The advice given above is designed for the careful communicator.  But the testimony of first-hand witnesses can rarely afford such luxuries.  When victims are speaking, the audience has responsibilities too.  And one of these responsibilities is to allow that the testimony of victims is often not orderly, dispassionate, well-sourced, verifiable, to the point, bleached of stereotypes etc.  A listener has a duty of compassion to listen carefully to the testimony of victims.

Of course there are those whose sense of victimhood is out of all proportion to reality, and their testimony can demand that their audiences make the most unjustified allowances to uncooperative and unreasonable communications - let the reader beware.

Monday, August 15, 2011

2UE Radio Host Michael Smith's Comments on Muhammad's Marriage to Aisha

Today the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Michael Smith, 2UE Radio Host, is being investigated by the Australian Media and Communications authority "over his assertion that the prophet Muhammad 'married a nine-year-old and consummated it when she was 11'".

It would be excellent if Australian authorities did look into Muhammad's marital arrangements with his young wife Aisha, because it is a significant human rights issue which will not go away.

Accuracy in reporting is always important, and all the more so because Muhammad's example is regarded as perfect by pious Muslims, and a model for all humanity to follow.  The circumstances of Muhammad's marriages provide a fundamental point of reference for sharia law.  They determine, for example, the marriage age for girls in societies which seek to comply with the Islamic sharia.

The fact of the matter is that Michael Smith got his facts wrong.  The matter is worse than he said.  According to the most authoritative Islamic sources, Muhammad married Aisha when she was 6, and he consummated the union when she was 9.  He was 53 at the time. 

The following accounts are from the most highly regarded sources on Muhammad's life, the Sahih al-Bukhari and the Sahih Muslim. These are considered to be reliable and authoritative by pious Muslims.  Several other highly-regarded sources confirm these reports.
    Narrated 'Ursa: The Prophet [Muhammad] wrote the (marriage contract) with 'Aisha while she was six years old and consummated his marriage with her while she was nine years old and she remained with him for nine years (i.e. till his death). (Sahih Bukhari 7.88)
    Narrated 'Aisha: I used to play with the dolls in the presence of the Prophet, and my girl friends also used to play with me. When Allah's Apostle used to enter (my dwelling place) they used to hide themselves, but the Prophet would call them to join and play with me. (The playing with the dolls and similar images is forbidden, but it was allowed for 'Aisha at that time, as she was a little girl, not yet reached the age of puberty.)  (Sahih Bukhari 8.151)
Muhammad explained that he had to marry Aisha because he dreamed about her:
    Narrated 'Aisha: Allah's Apostle said to me, "You were shown to me twice (in my dream) before I married you. I saw an angel carrying you in a silken piece of cloth, and I said to him, 'Uncover (her),' and behold, it was you. I said (to myself), 'If this is from Allah, then it must happen.' Then you were shown to me, the angel carrying you in a silken piece of cloth, and I said (to him), 'Uncover (her), and behold, it was you. I said (to myself), 'If this is from Allah, then it must happen.' " (Sahih Bukhari 9.140)
Furthermore, one can note that Aisha's ages are given in lunar years, following the Islamic custom.  In fact the '6 years' could have been as young as 5 years and 10 months in Western reckoning.  And '9 years' could have been as young as 8 years and 9 months.

The subject is discussed on pp.52-53 of my book The Third Choice, where I explain:

Based on this example, and the Quranic verse Q65:4, Islamic scholars even developed regulations for remarrying young girls, namely that a divorced prepubescent girl would need to wait three months before remarrying (this waiting period is known as the ‘idda). Thus the Sahih al-Bukhari includes the following passage in the Book of Marriage:
(39) CHAPTER. Giving one’s young children in marriage (is permissible)
By virtue of the Statement of Allah ‘… and for those who have no (monthly) courses (i.e. they are still immature) (V.65:4).
And the ‘Idda for the girl before puberty is three months (in the above Verse).
5133. Narrated A’isha that the Prophet married her when she was six years
old and he consummated his marriage when she was nine years only, and
then she remained with him for nine years (i.e. till his death). [Tafsir Ibn Kathir. Commentary on Q65:4. Vol. 10, p.43 - or visit]
 Ibn Kathir, in his commentary on Q65:4 [Chapter 65, verse 4 of the Qur'an] states:
The same is for the young, who have not reached the years of menstruation.
Their ‘Iddah is three months like those in menopause. This is the meaning
of the saying ‘and for those who have no courses’ [Q65:4]
Such reports of Muhammad’s life are found in the hadith and sira, and should be well known to trained scholars of Islam, but they are not meant to be discussed publicly, especially not before non-Muslims.
Nevertheless they have enormous practical consequences. Setting a marriage age of nine for girls is no matter of obscure theological interest or polemical debate, but an intensely practical issue of enormous consequence for the lives of countless young girls in Muslim nations.

The Ayatollah Khomeini, then in his late 20’s, married Batoul Saqafi Khomeini when she was eleven years old, following his prophet’s example. Today some Muslim countries make 9 the minimum age of
marriage for girls, and in others such marriages are not prevented, even though they may be illegal. Countless thousands of young girls’ lives are affected by Muhammad’s example in marrying Aisha.
One hopes that the Australian Media and Communications authority corrects Michael Smith's error, and informs the  public of the actual marriage age of Aisha – as reported in authoritative Islamic sources.  They could also explain to the public the human rights implications of this well-documented fact.

The right of Australians — Muslims and non-Muslims alike — must be respected, to comment upon Muhammad's life freely and openly, because it impacts the human rights of millions of fellow human beings.  This is not about sacred history, but about the lived conditions of people all over the globe.

Everyone has a right and a duty to inform themselves about Muhammad, and to speak up to discuss the interesting and important challenges which his life presents to people living in the world today.