APNewsBreak: Extra security at UK mosques

AP News
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Posted: Jul 24, 2011 7:13 PM
APNewsBreak: Extra security at UK mosques

Some British mosques are boosting security after Norway's horrific massacre was traced to a man who fears Muslims are taking over Europe _ an attack that exposed a failure to root out Islamophobia that has bled into the European mainstream.

European government leaders may even be feeding fears of Islam through measures such as bans on face veils on the streets, aimed at appeasing a non-Muslim majority wary about the continent's rising Muslim population.

Muslim leaders say it's time for governments to wake up to the threat of anti-Islamic extremism and stop pandering to far right nationalist movements that have made inroads in politics from the Netherlands to Austria. European attitudes, though, are unlikely to change overnight.

"People are looking over their shoulders and afraid that we will be the next target," said Mohammed Shafiq of the Ramadhan Foundation, one of Britain's largest Muslim organizations. He spoke to The Associated Press in a telephone interview from the sidelines of an international gathering of Muslim scholars and leaders Sunday. "As a result, we've told people to be extra vigilant and there will be added security placed at mosques."

Mohammed Bechari, head of the European Islamic Conference, said that even though millions of Europe's Muslims were born here and have assimilated into societies that consider themselves open and tolerant, "there is a rise in Islamophobia. Racism, anti-Muslim sentiments have become the norm."

Hours after Norway's terrorist attack Friday, a law went into effect in Belgium banning the Islamic face veil, for what authorities called security reasons. France, with western Europe's largest Muslim population, has a similar law, and Switzerland has banned new mosque minarets.

The wall of a mosque in the Russian town of Berezovsky was defaced overnight Friday with graffiti reading "Russia for Russians!" according to the website Islamnews.ru. Muslim cemeteries in France are regularly vandalized.

When news of Norway's attacks first emerged, suspicion immediately fell on Islamic extremists, responsible for some of Europe's worst horrors in recent history.

That the chief suspect turned out to be a blond man with anti-Muslim, fundamentalist Christian views caught many off guard and exposed a knee-jerk Islamophobia that puts Europe's leaders in a new bind.

Islamic terrorism is a real threat to Europe. Islamophobia channeled by extreme right groups may be a graver threat than many had estimated. Governments must try to stamp out both, while persuading their populations that Muslims as a whole are not a menace to Europe's future.

Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik is accused of two attacks Friday, one outside government headquarters in Oslo that killed seven, and a shooting spree on nearby island that killed 86. A manifesto he published online the day of the attack ranted against Muslim immigration to Europe and vowed revenge.

"Hatred of others, hatred of those who look different, of the supposedly foreign _ this hatred is our common enemy," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Saturday. "All of us who believe in freedom, respect and peaceful coexistence. We all must confront this hatred."

It's uncertain whether Norway's monstrous attack, widely condemned by religious leaders and politicians of all stripes, will jolt European leaders into attacking Islamophobia with the same zeal seen in the fight against Islamic terrorism.

And European attitudes toward Muslims are unlikely to change overnight. Bernard Godard, a consultant to European politicians on Muslim issues, says far-right parties are channeling frustrations in communities with high poverty and unemployment and directing their anger at Muslim immigrants.

"We need to ask: Are we passing to a new stage, a new level of anti-Muslim sentiment with these attacks?" he said. "The ideas of the extreme right have become ordinary. We should pay more attention to what they are saying."

He said police have not paid enough attention to groups such as France's nationalist Bloc Identitaire, which uses online organizing to stage provocative mass public parties with wine and pork sausages _ both forbidden under Islam.

In Britain in recent weeks, a pig's head was left at a mosque outside of Oxford, while there have been repeated attacks on women wearing headscarves and full-face coverings, Shafiq said.

Muslim groups say they have long warned Britain's police of increasing hostility from far-right groups.

Shafiq said security discussions were under way with police in Manchester, home to many of Britain's nearly 2 million Muslims. Thousands will be gathering at mosques this week ahead of Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month that begins at the end of the month. Manchester police would not immediately confirm the talks.

Britain's Muslims have seen an increase in attacks since 2005, when homegrown suicide bombers killed 52 people during morning rush-hour attacks in London. Since the suicide bombings, and the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States, more resources have been dedicated to fighting Islamic terrorism instead of far right or left extremism.

Dalil Boubakeur, the moderate rector of the Grand Paris Mosque, said no new security measures are yet planned but urged "vigilance" and said there is a "reflection" under way about what to do next. "There is a fear for the future."

In France, critics say President Nicolas Sarkozy is trying to sap support for the far-right National Front and its popular leader Marine Le Pen ahead of next year's presidential election, by borrowing populist language about France's national identity that is seen as code for anti-Muslim views.

Sarkozy's party insists that the laws it has championed on the face veil and banning headscarves from the classrom are aimed at protecting women's rights.

Bechari, of the European Islamic Conference, said the laws "are seen among Muslims as laws that exclude them" _ not integrate them, as Sarkozy's party claims it aims to do.

Far-right political groups that have gained some ground in recent years in Europe sought to distance themselves from Norway's attacker.

"Terrible attack in Oslo, many innocent victims of violent, sick mind," Geert Wilders, one of Europe's best-known and influential anti-Islam politicians, said on Twitter.

Wilders, who spent years on the fringe of Dutch politics, was the kingmaker of the right-wing government elected last year. Wilders, responding to news accounts that the shooter shared his party's anti-Islam views, called him a "sick psychopath" and said his party "abhors everything that this man stands for and has done."

The all-white British National Party, which does not accept nonwhite members and calls for the "voluntary repatriation" of immigrants, won two of Britain's 72 seats in the European Parliament, gaining ground in economically battered areas that once were strongholds of Britain's left-wing Labour Party.

In Belgium, the far-right nationalist party Vlaams Belang _ Flemish Interest in Dutch _ has been pushing for stricter limits on immigration, fighting in particular what it calls the growing "Islamization" of Belgian and Flemish cities. In elections last year, Vlaams Belang won almost 8 percent of the vote, down from 12 percent three years earlier.

Vlaams Belang didn't immediately respond to requests for comment Sunday.

Germany lacks any mainstream political party with anti-Islam and anti-Muslim rhetoric as a central tenet, but there has been growing tension about perceived dangers posed by Muslim immigrants.

Last year, a book by former central bank board member Thilo Sarrazin _ which used blunt, often harsh language to portray Muslim immigrants as welfare cases weakening German society and making it "dumber" _ became a bestseller _ although Merkel condemned its tone.

Abdullah Anas _ a Muslim cleric who delivers sermons at some of Britain's largest mosques and used to be an ally of Osama bin Laden before he fell out with him over the prospect of a global holy war _ said the Norway attacks would likely be raised at some of this week's Friday prayers.

"It is a challenge for everyone _ Muslims and non-Muslims _ because there is a lot of anger that must be contained," Anas, originally from Algeria, told the AP. "There are too many people who think the killing of innocents is acceptable just because they are angry over certain things."

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Charlton reported from Paris. Arthur Max in Amsterdam, Geir Moulson in Berlin, Don Melvin and Gabriele Steinhauser in Brussels and Sylvia Hui in London contributed.