Al-Ahram Weekly Online   6 - 12 February 2003
Issue No. 624
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By Salama A Salama

Salama Ahmed Salama The world waits for Saddam Hussein's death sentence to be announced by Colin Powell in front of the Security Council. It will be followed by the mobilisation of missiles, jet fighters and US forces set on invading Iraq. Meanwhile security services in the US and several European countries restrict the rights of their Muslim and Arab communities as recent anti- terrorism laws are being used against hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Muslim permanent residents.

The initiative began when FBI agents began collecting statistics about all the mosques and Muslims in the US. Civil rights groups objected to these new measures which, they said, effectively made of every Muslim a suspected terrorist.

In Europe the campaign against resident Muslims and Arab immigrants takes another shape. It aims to limit, if not halt, legal and illegal immigration from Muslim and North African countries. It keeps resident Muslim communities and their religious and social activities under strict surveillance and forces such communities to accommodate themselves to the general habits and values of the European communities in which they live.

These campaigns are coordinated across Europe and result in the daily arrest of large numbers of Arabs and Muslims in European cities. The excuses vary from "suspicion" of being a member of Al-Qa'eda to the discovery of explosive material and poisonous substances, and include the possession of letters written in Arabic and making provocative speeches defending Bin Laden. These campaigns, in which until now no one knows exactly how many have been arrested, continue in the name of fighting terrorism.

In reality, though, these campaigns are undertaken as a precaution in case of an imminent war against Iraq. They are intended to limit the anti-American and anti-European rage any war might provoke among several million Arabs and Muslims residing in Europe, particularly in Italy, Spain and Britain, Washington's staunchest supporters. It is this that lies behind the sudden appearance of stories about arrests made by Italian, Spanish and British police forces of Muslim extremists. Time magazine has allotted extensive coverage to these campaigns as the war drums against Iraq bang louder.

It is ironic that at a time when Arabs are calling for a dialogue between Islam and the West to promote compassion and correct misunderstandings some Muslim countries are being accused of limiting religious freedoms and persecuting minorities. In the meantime demands are made in Italy that its Muslim minority be forced to pledge not to take part in any political activities and to blend into Italian society. The war against terrorism is thus being manipulated to obstruct and restrict the movement of Muslims and curtail their activities. Yet the Muslim community is asking for no more than the rights accorded to, say, its Jewish counterpart.

There is no question that Muslim communities in Europe do anything other than adapt themselves with the laws of the land and the rules of the society in which they live. At the same time they must also be allowed to participate in legal political activities and in organisations that protect their rights. Yet many European governments are taking advantage of the Iraqi crisis, as they did of the war in Afghanistan, to tighten the noose around the necks of their Muslim communities. The sense of xenophobia sweeping Europe must be resisted and exposed as the crude racial discrimination it is.

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