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PAKISTAN: Pakistan lifts ban on radical Islamist party Tehreek-e-Labbaik

Pakistan lifts ban on radical Islamist party

The far-right Tehreek-e-Labbaik party has called off a march on the capital, and the government has said allowing the party back into the political mainstream is in the “national interest.”

DW News (08.11.2021) – https://bit.ly/2YxBVch – Pakistan ended its prohibition of the radical Islamist Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP) on Sunday, one year after violent protests led to a government crackdown against the party.


The lifting of the ban followed an agreement reached between the party and Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government that TLP would call off its proposed march to the capital, Islamabad.


The government defended its decision by saying it was in the “larger national interest” as a means to prevent future violence from the extremist group.


Why was Tehreek-e-Labbaik banned in the first place?


The initial ban followed violent protests led by the TLP in response to the republication of caricatures of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad in the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo.


French President Emmanuel Macron’s defense of the images triggered widespread anger throughout the Muslim world.


The TLP called for the expulsion of the French envoy, which Islamabad agreed to but ultimately did not carry out.


The leader of the hard-line conservative party, Saad Rizvi, was arrested and charged under the anti-terrorism act in the wake of the protests.


The TLP gained prominence in Pakistan’s 2018 election when it vowed to defend the country’s blasphemy law, which calls for the death penalty for anyone who insults Islam.


What is the current state of relations between Pakistan and the TLP?


The government’s agreement to lift the ban — and to release Rizvi — came as the TLP piled up the pressure.


Thousands of supporters clashed with police in late October as they began their “Long March” from Lahore to Islamabad, nearly 300 kilometers (186 miles) away.

The violence left at least two police officers and two demonstrators dead.


In line with the agreement, the TLP is supposed to formally call off its march. But many supporters planned to maintain a sit-in until the government follows through on its promise to release Rizvi. Last week, Pakistani authorities released over 1,000 detained members of the party.


Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said that a proposal to expel France’s envoy would be discussed in parliament. However, he has also stated that Pakistan cannot afford to damage its relations with the EU by carrying out such an act, news agency EFE reported.


Photo : Tehreek-e-Labbaik have not yet officially called off their ‘Long March’ on Islamabad – Rana Sajid Hussain/picture alliance/Pacific Press

Further reading about FORB in Pakistan on HRWF website

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AFGHANISTAN: What is the Taliban’s conservative religious ideology?

What is the Taliban’s religious ideology?

Despite the Taliban’s military victory, it remains to be seen whether they will be able to impose their extremely conservative religious view of society on the Afghan people in the long run.

DW(02.11.2021) – https://bit.ly/2ZZAAvi – After the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, they changed the name of the country to the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” — a name that was in use when the fundamentalist group previously ruled the country, from 1996 to 2001.


The name Islamic Emirate reveals what kind of rule the Taliban want to impose on the nation, namely a religious one.


“However, the interpretation that the emirate will mean a religious form of rule is not the only possible one,” Katja Mielke, an Afghanistan researcher at the Bonn International Centre for Conflict Studies (BICC), told DW.


In Arabic, the term “emirate” refers to a territory that is under the rule of an emir.

The emir can be a religious leader, but not necessarily. He can just as easily be a member of a royal family, a warlord or a governor. “The meaning is varied and not religiously bound,” Mielke said.


Origins in British India  


“The tendency to load existing concepts with a meaning that suits them is typical of the Taliban,” said Milad Karimi, deputy director of the Center for Islamic Theology at the University of Münster.


He pointed out that the origin of Taliban ideology was in so-called Deobandism, which was founded during the British colonial rule of India in the 19th century. Its adherents placed particular emphasis on education, with the aim that Muslims should be able to give an appropriate response to the political circumstances of their time, namely European colonialism, the expert explained.


In 1857, there was an uprising in India against the British. After its suppression, British rule on the subcontinent became harsher. Some Indian Muslims reacted to this by adopting a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam.


“They were convinced that salvation, both religiously and socially, lay exclusively in a pure, historically unadulterated Islam. That is why they abandoned all openness, all dialogue with other religions, and concentrated exclusively on what seemed to them to be the right, pure doctrine,” Karimi said.


“In essence, this is the birth of the ideology that the Taliban took up a century and a half later and continues to cultivate to this day,” he had.


Anti-Soviet resistance and its consequences  


This doctrine came to a head in the 1970s, when large numbers of religiously motivated Afghans, particularly Pashtuns, revolted against then President Mohammed Daoud Khan. After the president’s assassination in 1978, they fled to Pakistan to escape Afghan security forces.


Following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, Pakistani President Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq ensured that much of the money provided by the United States to support resistance fighters flowed to extremist groups.


Zia-ul-Hag, who came to power in a 1977 coup and ruled to 1988, strongly promoted the Islamization of Pakistan’s judiciary and administration. He hoped to retain power at home and exert influence abroad, especially in neighboring Afghanistan.


Under these favorable circumstances, radical and fundamental interpretations of Islam from parts of the Deobandi school spread rapidly among Afghan resistance fighters, some of whom became precursors of the Taliban


“You have to keep in mind that these people were not just sitting in some schools and universities doing theological studies, but they were also at the same time involved in the fight against the Soviet Union, so they were living in a war situation,” Mielke said.


Radicalization in Pakistan  


Against this backdrop and encouraged by Pakistani intelligence, the mujahedeen became alienated from the traditions of their own country.


In his book on the Taliban, British-Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid wrote that these traditions had been destroyed in brutal power struggles. This created an ideological vacuum, which the Taliban then filled, he argued.


“The Taliban represented no one but themselves, and they recognized no Islam but their own. But they had an ideological base, an extreme form of Deobandism preached by Pakistani Islamic outfits in Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan.”


Over the years, Karimi said, Afghan fighters operating from Pakistan have become alienated from their homeland. “However, there is a clear generational divide,” he said. “While the first fighters to migrate to Pakistan, the so-called mujahedeen, were still firmly attached to Afghanistan, its history and its predominantly tolerant religious tradition, the younger ones lost this attachment and became radicalized accordingly.”

“The ideology established at that time then formed the ideological foundation of today’s Taliban,” Karimi said.


Taliban are ‘fractured ideologically’  


This could change, Mielke said.


“Some developments indicate that this ideologically orthodox line could be changing,” she added. “This is not least a question of power. It depends very much on which factions of the Taliban will prevail in the future, and what ideology they then represent. Right now, this movement is very fractured ideologically.”


Women, in particular, are bearing the brunt of the new Taliban rule at the moment.

Human rights organizations report that women have had to give up their jobs in many areas, and some Afghan women told DW that they have fled to Pakistan because they feared being forced to marry Taliban fighters.


In fact, the Taliban grant women very few rights, Karimi said.

“For them,” he said, “women belong in a dungeonlike environment, namely the four walls of their own home.”


There they would have to perform certain tasks, Karimi said: “They would have to bear children, run the household and be ready for their husband’s sexual desire at any time. This view of women is neither religiously legitimate nor Islamically justifiable.”


This article has been translated from German.

Photo :Nick Connolly/DW

Further reading about FORB in Afghanistan on HRWF website

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GERMANY: ‘Put your star away’: Jewish singer refused service at German hotel

‘Put your star away’: Jewish singer refused service at German hotel


When German musician Gil Ofarim arrived at a hotel in Leipzig, he says he was told to put away his Star of David necklace or he would not be allowed to check in. Hundreds of people came out to protest in solidarity.

DW (05.10.2021) – https://bit.ly/3AeRHW5 – A hotel in the eastern German city of Leipzig was facing accusations of antisemitism on Tuesday after a musician said he was denied service for wearing a Star of David.


The video sparked sharp criticism from Germany’s Jewish communities and drew the attention of police.


What happened?

In a video posted on social media, German musician Gil Ofarim said he attempted to check in to the Hotel Westin in Leipzig on Monday evening. Ofarim, who is Jewish, was wearing a necklace with a Star of David pendant.


Due to technical issues with the hotel’s computers, a long line had formed at the reception. Ofarim noticed that others in the line were waved forward, but he was not called up.


“What’s going on? Why is everyone else being called up ahead of me?” Ofarim says he asked the worker behind the desk.


The hotel employee then told him they were trying to reduce the line, but did not acknowledge that Ofarim was also standing in line.


“Then someone called out from the corner: ‘Put your star away,'” the singer says.


Ofarim said that the hotel worker then repeated the call for Ofarim to remove or hide his Star of David, saying that “once you put it away, then you can check in.” A visibly upset Ofarim ends the video with the words: “Germany, 2021.”


Police ‘informed’ about incident


Leipzig police told DW they were alerted to Ofarim’s video and were currently processing it.


“We were informed by our social media team about the case,” police spokesperson Theresa Leverenz told DW.


“We have secured the video and are preparing to send it to prosecutors for consideration,” she added.


Authorities did not comment on whether any criminal charges have been filed, saying the case was in its early stages.


How has the hotel responded?


A spokesperson for the Westin Leipzig told news agency dpa that the hotel was deeply concerned and was taking the case “extremely seriously.”


The hotel’s parent company has tried to reach out to the singer to understand what happened. The spokesperson also emphasized that the hotel’s goal was to treat guests and employees with respect, regardless of their religion.


Protesters gather in Leipzig


The incident described in Ofarim’s video prompted a wave of shocked responses on social media.


On Tuesday evening, hundreds of protesters in Leipzig gathered in front of the hotel to demonstrate against antisemitism.


At least 600 people were in attendance, according to local newspaper Leipziger Zeitung. Hotel employees also stood near the entrance, holding up a banner in what appeared to be a show of solidarity.


The incident also sparked swift condemnation from Germany’s Jewish communities.


“The antisemitic hostility against Gil Ofarim is appalling,” Josef Schuster, the president of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, said in a statement posted on Twitter.


He said he hoped the Westin would take action against those involved and hoped that Jewish people in Germany “will be met with solidarity in the future whenever we are attacked.”


Who is Gil Ofarim?

The 39-year-old is the son of Israeli star musician Abi Ofarim.


Himself a singer and songwriter, Ofarim has played in two rock bands and has released music in German and in English.


In 2017, he won “Let’s Dance,” the German version of the celebrity ballroom dancing show Dancing with the Stars or Strictly Come Dancing, and has also acted in several TV shows and done voiceover work for dubbed films.


Correction: This story was updated to remove a sentence that said Ofarim did not name the hotel in the Facebook video he posted; Ofarim did mention the Westin hotel in the video.


Photo: Gerald Matzka/dpa/picture alliance

Further reading about FORB in Germany on HRWF website

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GERMANY: Germany’s military appoints first rabbi since before Holocaust

Germany’s military appoints first rabbi since before Holocaust

At a time of frequent reports of right-wing extremism within the military and rising antisemitism in German society, the reestablishment of Jewish military chaplaincy is a clear statement, 76 years after the end of WWII.

By Christoph Strack


DW (21.06.2021) – https://bit.ly/2TRgznA – Forty-two-year-old Zsolt Balla is one of Germany’s most prominent rabbis. He has been a member of the Orthodox Rabbinical Conference of Germany for nine years, and the leading rabbi of the eastern state of Saxony for two.

“It is our goal to make it normal again for Jewish citizens to serve in the German army,” he said on the occasion of his appointment.


Field rabbis in World War I

The installation of a Jewish chaplain in the military marks a significant day for Germany and its Jewish community. Balla is not by any means the first German military rabbi. When World War I broke out in July 1914, some 12,000 Jewish Germans volunteered to serve in the military. Establishing a Jewish military chaplaincy became important in view of the large number of Jewish front-line soldiers. So, by September 1914, the first rabbis were introduced as chaplains.

The best-known Jewish field chaplain — one of nearly 30 in wartime — was the scholar and theologian Leo Baeck (1873-1956). Now considered the most prominent 20th-century German rabbi, Baeck survived the Theresienstadt concentration camp and later settled in London, where he served as the chairman of the World Union for Progressive Judaism.


But the Jewish military chaplaincy that Baeck and others carried out would be eliminated in the two decades that followed World War I as the Nazis came to power. Hitler reorganized the country’s armed forces into the newly formed Wehrmacht and dismissed all Jews from the military, including the Jewish chaplains, as part of the Nazi persecution of Jewish people across all aspects of society. The Wehrmacht was disbanded in 1945 after the end of WWII.


A political signal

Nine decades on, the renewed creation of Jewish chaplaincy is seen as a milestone for Germany’s modern armed forces, the Bundeswehr, which was created in 1955.

state treaty introducing chaplaincy for Jewish soldiers was signed by the German government and the Central Council of Jews in Germany in December 2019.

“That this is possible and becoming a reality after the inconceivable crimes committed by Germany makes me humble and grateful,” Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said at its signing.


The rabbinical appointment comes at a time when the German army has been in the headlines because of radical right-wing extremism in its ranks. The defense minister spoke Monday at a synagogue in Leipzig, saying that the Jewish military chaplaincy will join the Protestant and Catholic chaplaincies in offering “important support for our soldiers.” The Bundeswehr also announced in 2019 that it intends to recruit Muslim chaplains.


Kramp-Karrenbauer called the appointment “a great sign of trust” and added that “in view of our history, is also a cause for humility.” At the same time, she said, the installation of a military rabbinate indicates “a great commitment to our democracy, for our open, diverse and tolerant society.”


In recent years, Germany’s armed forces have repeatedly come under fire over suspicions that some members have far-right sympathies. In 2018, then-Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen ordered the military to purge all links to the wartime Wehrmacht when it emerged that Nazi-era army memorabilia was openly displayed at one of its barracks. Since then, her successor Kramp-Karrenbauer has vowed to take decisive action against cases of radicalism in the security forces after a string of scandals over far-right networks in the police and military.


Germany’s Military Counterintelligence Service said last year some 600 Bundeswehr soldiers were suspected of right-wing extremism.


How many Jewish soldiers are serving at present in the Bundeswehr is not known. Currently, the Ministry of Defense estimates there are about 300 Jewish soldiers in the Bundeswehr.


At the synagogue on Monday, the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, drew a distinction between Germany’s modern armed forces and the Nazi-era military. “The Bundeswehr has nothing in common with the former Wehrmacht, and that is the only reason why it is possible today for us to introduce a federal military rabbi,” he said.


German Jewish life across society


Balla, who now takes on the title of “federal military rabbi” in addition to his other rabbinical work, hopes in any case that his being in the role contributes to the normality of Jewish life in all aspects of German society. He knows from his experience in youth work “that there are young Jews who can envisage a career as a soldier,” he said in an interview with the Jüdische Allgemeine newspaper. “We hope that here in Germany, despite the country’s history, it will eventually become normal for Jews to take this career path.”


Born in Budapest in 1979, Balla is the son of a lieutenant colonel in the Hungarian People’s Army. “I learned from my father to respect the work of soldiers very much,” he says. It is important to him that as a part-time military rabbi, he and 10 other clergypeople — liberal or Orthodox — are not only responsible for accompanying Jewish servicemen and women.


This is not about religious instruction, but about the ethical foundations of soldierly action, Balla said. “It is another important task for us rabbis to also take preventive action against antisemitism among all soldiers. There is a lot to do in this respect,” he says. It must be clear, he adds, “that the Bundeswehr is a place where people are committed to democratic values.”


A clear statement in an important year


The father of three is no stranger to trailblazing. When he was ordained as an Orthodox rabbi in Munich in 2009, Balla was one of the first Orthodox rabbis who had been trained in Germany since 1938.


Now, the introduction of the first military chaplain in the modern-day Bundeswehr and the start of Jewish military chaplaincy comes as the country celebrates 1,700 years of Jewish life in Germany.


Monday’s event in the small Leipzig synagogue is intended as a clear statement that Jews have a place everywhere in German society.


Photo:  Copyright Sebastian Kahnert/dpa-Zentralbild/ZB/dpa/picture alliance

Further reading about FORB in Germany on HRWF website

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GERMANY: German police launch hunt for synagogue arsonist

A masked man was seen pouring liquid on the synagogue’s exterior wall, which was then set alight. The attack in the southern city of Ulm has been slammed as “vile.”


DW (05.06.21) – https://bit.ly/2T2OGbA – Police in the German state of Baden-Württemberg said fire crews called by the witness promptly extinguished the incendiary fluid that left the synagogue’s facade covered in soot and damaged a pane of glass.

State Premier Winfried Kretschmann described the Saturday morning incident as a “vile attack.”


“It shows the insidious face of antisemitism, which we oppose clearly and unambiguously, ” said Kretschmann.


Throwing incendiary devices at synagogues was “repulsive,” said Thomas Strobl, interior minister for the state.


Anyone who tried to set fire to a Jewish place of worship would be “met with the full the full force of the law,” insisted Strobl, a senior member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), who govern with the Greens in the southwestern state.


Precautions for Jewish residents

Kretschmann’s bureau said Baden-Württemberg’s Office of Criminal Investigation (LKA) had sent cybercrime and forensic experts to Ulm, a university city of 125,000 on the Danube River bordering Bavaria, some 90 kilometers (55 miles) from Stuttgart.

Consultations were taking place with Jewish community members in Ulm, where security had been “ramped up” and risk assessments made for Jewish facilities in other parts of the state, added Kretschmann’s chancellery.


Ulm’s synagogue, which opened in 2012, stands near the site of its old house of worship that was gutted by Nazi German paramilitaries on Pogrom Night of November 1938 and later demolished by the city’s Nazi-era administration.


At that 2012 opening, Kretschmann said German society must never again fail the Jewish people, and the model of cooperation between state and religion must be fostered and cultivated.


Echoes of Halle attack

Saturday’s arson attack precedes a regional election Sunday in Germany’s eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, whose city of Halle was the scene of a synagogue attack in October 2019 that ended in two deaths.


A lone gunman attempted to blast his way into Halle’s synagogue, where, inside, 51 people were observing Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.


His arsenal failed to breach its locked outer gates. He shot dead two other people — a 40-year-old woman passerby and a 20-year-old painter eating his lunch in a nearby kebab shop.


Photo : Cybercrime and forensic experts have been sent to Ulm-ipj/mm (epd, dpa, AFP)

Further reading about FORB in Germany on HRWF website

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