Dortmund : It was the second week of Islam class, and the teacher, Mansur Seddiqzai, stood in front of a roomful of Muslim teens and pointed to the sentence on the chalkboard behind him: “Islam does not belong to Germany.”
He scanned the room and asked: “Who said this?”
Hands shot up. “The AfD?” one student with a navy blue headscarf said, referring to Germany’s far-right anti-refugee party. “No,” Mr Seddiqzai shook his head.
“Seehofer,” tried another. “Yes, and who is that?” “A minister,” said a third.
Finally, someone put it all together, identifying Horst Seehofer, the head of Bavaria’s conservative Christian Social Union and chancellor Angela Merkel‘s interior minister and coalition partner, who has on multiple occasions threatened to torpedo her government over the issue of immigration.
“Yes, that’s right,” Mr Seddiqzai said, turning to the others. “And what do you think? Is he correct?”
In a country where the debate over “who belongs?” has deeply divided Ms Merkel’s government, fuelled massive demonstrations and propelled the rise of anti-immigrant populism, these 16 and 17-year-olds confront versions of that question every day, in the headlines and in their personal lives: Do I belong, too? Can I be German and a Muslim?
Public schools in some of Germany’s most populous cities are helping such students come up with answers in a counterintuitive setting: Islam class.
The classes, taught by Muslims and intended for Muslim students, were first launched in the early 2000s and now are offered as electives in nine of Germany’s 16 states, by more than 800 public primary and secondary schools, according to the research network Mediendienst Integration. They include lessons on the Quran, the history of Islam, comparative religion and ethics. Often, discussions shift to the students’ identity struggles or feelings of alienation.
“When a German asks me which country I’m from, I tell them Turkey,” said Gulendam Velibasoglu, 17, who is taking Mr Seddiqzai’s 10th-grade Islam class this year. She was born and raised in this western German city. Still, she says, “If I said ‘German’, they wouldn’t accept the answer. They will see me as a foreigner, even though I’m a German citizen.”
Germany has the European Union’s second-largest Muslim population after France, according to estimates by Pew Research. In 2016, 4.95 million people, or 6.1 per cent of the German population, were Muslim. But less than half of those pray regularly, and even fewer regularly attend a mosque, according to the latest government surveys.
The country’s leaders have expressed an ambivalent view of Islam, at best. Mr Seehofer’s statement that “Islam does not belong to Germany” came just months after the Islam-bashing AfD, or Alternative for Germany, entered parliament. Ms Merkel denounced the statement and ruled out sharing power with the AfD. Nevertheless, the AfD has steadily gained support over the past two years: on 14 October, it scored the biggest electoral gains of any party in Bavaria, Germany’s most populous state.
Threats to US would mean Iran’s end, warns Trump
Washington: US President Donald Trump has asked Iran “never to threaten” the US and warned Tehran that if it wants a fight, it would be “the official end” of the Islamic nation.
“If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran,” Trump tweeted.
His tweets appeared to be a considerable shift in tone from the President’s brief remarks at the White House on May 16, when he responded “I hope not” after being asked whether the US and Iran were headed toward war, The Washington Post reported.
The White House has not officially responded to Trump’s tweets.
Trump issued his threat a few hours after the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Hossein Salami, said on Sunday that Iran does not fear a war but the US does, reports Efe news.
Salami said in a speech at a military ceremony broadcast on state-run Iranian TV that Tehran was not seeking war but did not fear it either, in contrast to the US, which is afraid of war and does not have the willpower to engage in one.
He also warned that the entire Middle East could become “a powder keg” for Washington.
Last week, the US decided to deploy to the Persian Gulf the amphibious assault ship USS Arlington, Patriot missiles, the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and assorted warplanes, including bombers, after claiming that it had detected unspecified “indications” of Iranian plans to attack US forces in the Middle East.
In recent weeks, concern has been increasing that National Security Adviser John Bolton, a long-time hawk on Iran who was instrumental in instigating the invasion of Iraq under George W. Bush, might be working to edge the administration closer to some kind of military action against Tehran.
Last year, prior to bringing Bolton into the administration as one of his top advisers, Trump withdrew the US from the Iran nuclear deal. More recently, Trump has tightened economic sanctions against the Tehran regime and his administration says it has built up the US military presence in the region.
White House unveils 1st part of Middle East peace plan
Washington: The White House has unveiled the first part of its Middle East peace proposal, which is being deemed as an economic “workshop” to encourage investing capital in the West Bank, Gaza, and the region, a senior administration official told CNN.
The White House announced on Sunday that the workshop will take place in Manama, Bahrain, on June 25 and 26, bringing together finance ministers with global and regional business leaders.
The effort is being headed by Jared Kushner, the senior White House adviser and President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, and White House Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, who have spent years developing the proposal along with the much stickier political component, which officials said would be announced later in the year.
Kushner told CNN that “people are letting their grandfathers’ conflict destroy their children’s futures. This will present an exciting, realistic and viable pathway forward that does not currently exist”.
The senior administration official said that the plan will discuss four major components: infrastructure; industry; empowering and investing in people; and governance reforms “to make the area as investible as possible”.
The economic plan will also include a “combination of grant money, low interest loans and then also private capital”, the official said.
The workshop however, will avoid political issues such as whether the Palestinians will get their own state; the status of Jerusalem; measures Israel takes in the name of security; and what should happen with Palestinians and their descendants who fled or were expelled from Israel around the time of the state’s creation in 1948, he added.
Finance ministers, but not foreign ministers, will be invited along with delegations of business leaders.
However, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, told CNN that the plan was “futile”.
“Any economic plan without political horizons will lead nowhere… Palestinians will not accept any proposals which do not include a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.”
The decision on whether or not Palestinians would attend the workshop would be made by the leadership of Abbas, Abu Rudeineh said, adding that when a similar meeting was held in Washington in March 2018 to discuss ways of improving the economic and humanitarian situation facing Gazans, the Palestinians had chosen to stay away.
Tourist bus near Egypt’s Gaza pyramids hit with bomb; injures 17
Cairo: A roadside bomb hit a tourist bus near the Giza Pyramids, wounding at least 17 people including tourists, Egyptian officials said. The officials said the bus was travelling on a road close to the under-construction Grand Egyptian Museum, which is located adjacent to the Giza Pyramids but is not yet open to tourists.
The bus was carrying at least 25 people mostly from South Africa, officials added. The attack comes as Egypt’s vital tourism industry is showing signs of recovery after years in the doldrums because of the political turmoil and violence that followed a 2011 uprising that toppled former leader Hosni Mubarak.
The officials said security forces cordoned off the site of the explosion and the wounded were taken to a nearby hospital. The explosion damaged a windshield of another car, they said. Footage circulated online shows shattered windows of the bus.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to brief media. Atif Moftah, general supervisor of the Grand Egyptian Museum, said the explosion did not cause any damage to the museum, in a statement issued by the antiquities ministry.
No group has immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. It is the second to target foreign tourists near the famed pyramids in less than six months.
In December, a bus carrying 15 Vietnamese tourists was hit by a roadside bomb, killing at least three of them.
Egypt has battled Islamic militants for years in the Sinai Peninsula in an insurgency that has occasionally spilled over to the mainland, hitting minority Christians or tourists. The insurgency gained strength after the 2013 military overthrow of the country’s first freely elected president, an Islamist whose brief rule sparked mass protests.
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