The controversial Egyptian Islamic scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi is moving to Norway to help Muslims in the polar regions of the country establish their prayer times. Qaradawi, who has been banned from entering Britain and the United States for his defense of suicide attacks against Jews as "martyrdom in the name of Allah," will work to determine the five daily Muslim prayer times, which are calculated according to the position of the sun.
In the polar regions of Norway and other parts of Scandinavia, the sun shines for twenty-four hours during the summer months and there is permanent darkness during the winter. In recent years, when the Islamic month of Ramadan has coincided with the summer season, Muslims in the northernmost parts of Europe have had to break their fast, eat their pre-dawn meal and pray the evening prayer all within the span of one hour. The Islamic Council of Norway hopes al-Qaradawi can find a solution to this problem in a country where Islam is now the largest minority religion.
Al-Qaradawi's trip to Norway is just one of hundreds of Islam-related news items that made the headlines in Europe last month. A perusal of just a few of these headlines offers insights into how Muslim immigration is transforming the continent, and the different ways in which Europeans are responding to the rise of Islam in their midst.
In Denmark, the President of the International Free Press Society, Lars Hedegaard, was found guilty of racist hate speech for comments he made about Islam. He was ordered to pay a fine of 5,000 Danish Kroner (about $1,000). Hedegaard's legal problems began in December 2009, when he remarked in a taped interview that there was a high incidence of child rape and domestic violence in areas dominated by Muslim culture.
Although Hedegaard has insisted that he did not intend to accuse all Muslims or even the majority of Muslims of such crimes, and although he was previously acquitted by a lower court, Denmark's thought police refused to drop the case until he was found guilty. After the court handed down its verdict, Hedegaard said: "The real losers today are freedom of speech and Muslim women. How can we speak up for them if we risk getting a state sanctioned label of racism?"
Also in Denmark, a new poll shows that a majority (72%) of Danes believe foreigners in Denmark should "predominantly adopt local Danish customs." The poll comes after Danish Integration Minister Søren Pind publicly rejected the idea that Denmark should be a multicultural society. At the same time, it was announced that 100 employees of the Danish Tax Authority would take a course entitled "Operational Culture and Islam" to improve tax collection in Muslim neighborhoods.
In Britain, Islamic extremists intent on imposing Islamic Sharia law in London are threatening non-Muslim women who do not wear headscarves with violence and even death. The so-called "London Taliban" are also targeting homosexuals by plastering public walls with posters stating: "Gay free zone. Verily Allah is severe in punishment."
In one instance, an Asian woman who works in a pharmacy in east London was told to dress more modestly and wear a veil or the shop would be boycotted. When she talked to the media about the abuse she was suffering, a man later entered the pharmacy and told her: "If you keep doing these things, we are going to kill you." The 31-year-old, who is not a practicing Muslim, has since been told to take a holiday by the pharmacy owners, and now fears she may lose her job.
Elsewhere in Britain, an electrician in West Yorkshire may lose his job for displaying a small cross on the dashboard of his van. Colin Atkinson, who has an unblemished work record, is facing a full disciplinary hearing for gross misconduct, which could result in dismissal, for attaching an 8-inch-long cross made from woven palm leaves to the dashboard shelf below his windshield. His employer fears the cross could offend Muslims.
In Sweden, the artistic director for Stockholm's premier cultural venue, Kulturhuset, apologized for hastily cancelling a feminist performance in which women were set to dance to a score that included recitation of verses from the Koran set to music. Eric Sjöström said his decision to cancel part of a two-day performance piece, entitled "Celebration of Womanhood," was taken out of concern for public safety. The event will now go forward in May, but without the parts that recite the Koran.
One of Sjöström's sharpest critics, the musician and former Abba star Björn Ulvaeus, said there is now "an unofficial prohibition against blasphemy" that only applies to Islam, and that Kulturhuset had put religious sensitivities ahead of art, free speech and women's rights.
The Church of Sweden, meanwhile, has sent out a letter to pastors in Sweden advising them to avoid christening Muslim asylum seekers who have converted to Christianity due to the risk of reprisals in the case of repatriation.
In France, the much-debated "burqa ban" entered into force on April 11. The new law prohibits the wearing of Islamic body-covering burqas and face-covering niqabs in all public spaces in France. However, French police have been warned not to arrest any women wearing Muslim veils in or around mosques.
Abu Imran, the leader of a group called Sharia4Belgium, responded to the ban by posting a message on the Internet in which he called on French First Lady Carla Bruni to convert to Islam and wear the niqab. "We are coming to say: Oh Sarkozy, enemy of Allah, dog of the Romans, son of the unbeliever, we are on our way. We are coming to take back what belongs to us, to regain our land and purify it of unbelief and of the unbelievers. We are coming with 'There is no god but Allah.' We are coming because we reject democracy. We do not accept democracy. We accept nothing but the tawhid of Allah. We accept nothing but: 'There is no god but Allah.' We accept nothing but the Sharia of Allah."
Meanwhile, French Interior Minister Claude Guéant faces a lawsuit for saying that the growing population of Muslims in the country "poses problems." Muslim immigrants have accused Guéant of Islamophobia for saying that "the question [of Muslim immigration] worries our citizens: there are many who think the rules of secularism are being stretched." Muslim groups reacted to Guéant's comments by distributing five-pointed green stars to Muslims in districts of Paris in an effort to equate themselves with the persecution suffered by the Jews in the Holocaust.
Also in France, researchers have found that use of anonymous CVs without personal information like name, address and age does not reduce discrimination in recruitment. Researchers say that people of foreign origin and those who live in underprivileged areas are less likely to be invited to an interview if their CV contains no name or address.
Elsewhere in France, a man in Strasbourg went on trial for burning and urinating on a Koran. The prosecutor asked for three months' suspended sentence and a fine of €1,000 ($1,500) for incitement to racial and religious hatred. According to an official at the Strasbourg Mosque, "He told me 'We are in France and we can burn a book on Winnie the Pooh, in the same way we can burn the Koran.' He was totally coherent and he didn't seem to realize the impact of his acts."
At the same time, a 21-year-old Jewish man was seriously wounded in an anti-Semitic attack by two North African youths in the town of Villeurbanne, in southern France.
During a summit in Rome on April 26, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi sought to ease tensions over North African immigration by calling for the reimposition of passport controls for travel within the European Union. So far this year, approximately 25,000 North African immigrations have arrived in southern Italy on overloaded fishing boats. Once inside the European Union, migrants can move freely around 25 European countries.
In Switzerland, three Hindus, who announced their intention to burn the Koran and the Bible on Bern's Parliament Square last November, were acquitted by a Swiss court. The judge ruled that the men could not be prosecuted for simply announcing their intention to burn the religious texts. However, the three were asked to pay half of the court costs, on the grounds that they had overstepped the boundaries of personal freedom and injured the religious feelings of others.
In Germany, police arrested three alleged members of al Qaida on suspicion that they were plotting attacks in Germany. Local media reported that the three were Moroccans living in the western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, and were caught with "large amounts of explosives." Citing security sources, the newspaper said the suspects were targeting the Eurovision Song Contest, which will be held in Düsseldorf on May 14.
Meanwhile, the trial of eight people accused of spreading Islamist propaganda over the Internet opened in Munich on April 12. Prosecutors say the defendants used Internet forums and blogs to call for a holy war.
In response, German Education Minister Annette Schavan says she wants to promote "European Islam" by having Muslim clerics teach courses on Islam in public schools. The German government is also financing the creation of four new institutes devoted to Islamic theology. They will be located at the universities of Tübingen, Erlangen, Osnabrück, Münster and Frankfurt.
In Finland, the nationalist True Finns Party won more votes than the governing party in parliamentary elections on April 17. The party has drawn Finland's political map with a platform of opposition to multiculturalism and Muslim immigration.
Meanwhile, the Finnish Ministry of the Interior has launched a new Internet site focused on immigration. The politically correct objective is to "give a boost to factual and serious debate and information on the issue," and "to get away from an 'us and them' position as well as from preaching and guilt attitudes." Of course, the site does not have a discussion forum.
In Belgium, the Chamber of Deputies -- the lower house of parliament -- approved a bill that would ban all clothing that covers or partially covers the face. It would prohibit Muslim women from wearing burqas and niqabs in all public spaces in Belgium. The bill was passed by a vote of 136-1 and two abstentions. If approved by the Senate, Belgium would become the second European country after France to put such a law into practice. Violators of the law would be subject to a fine of up to €25 ($35) and/or imprisonment for up to seven days.
Also in Belgium, the Turkish Embassy in Brussels has condemned the anti-immigrant Vlams Belang party for using posters depicting Turkish and Moroccan immigrants as sheep being kicked out of Europe. The Turkish Ambassador to Belgium said the poster was racist and "thus constitutes a crime under Belgian law." Speaking at a conference on April 10, Vlaams Belang leader Bruno Valkeniers said that Flemish cities have begun to look like Moroccan cities, with mosques mushrooming over the region. He also proposed the establishment of an anti-immigration network bringing together other like-minded parties across Europe.
In the Nethrlands, Queen Beatrix said in a speech that "in our country we make every effort to promote tolerance." Of course, that tolerance does not extend to Dutch lawmaker M.P. Geert Wilders, whose anti-Islam hate-speech trial resumed in Amsterdam on April 13. His trial was halted in October 2010 after it emerged that one of the judges attempted to influence an expert witness before the trial. Even though the public prosecutor says there is not enough evidence to indict Wilders, politically activist judges now insist that the trial must proceed.
Wilders is facing five charges of inciting racial and religious hatred for remarks which include equating Islam with fascism, and other remarks calling for a ban on the Koran and a tax on Muslim headscarves. Viewed more broadly, however, the Wilders trial represents a landmark case that likely will establish the limits of free speech in a country where the politically correct elite routinely seek to silence public discussion about the escalating problem of Muslim immigration.
Wilders has articulated what is at stake in this case: "I am being prosecuted for my political convictions. The freedom of speech is on the verge of collapsing. If a politician is not allowed to criticize an ideology anymore, this means that we are lost, and it will lead to the end of our freedom."