Japan and NATO to further strengthen cooperation — joint statement

Japan and NATO to further strengthen cooperation — joint statement
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg shakes hands with Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo (REUTERS)
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Updated 31 January 2023

Japan and NATO to further strengthen cooperation — joint statement

Japan and NATO to further strengthen cooperation — joint statement
  • Security environment is most tense since World War Two -leaders
  • Concern voiced over Russia’s nuclear threats, drills with China

TOKYO: NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg and Japanese premier Fumio Kishida pledged on Tuesday to strengthen ties, saying Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its growing military co-operation with China had created the most tense security environment since World War Two.
The comments came in a statement issued during Stoltenberg’s trip to Japan following a visit to South Korea on which he urged Seoul to increase military support to Ukraine and gave similar warnings about rising tension with China.
“The world is at a historical inflection point in the most severe and complex security environment since the end of World War II,” the two leaders said in the statement.
It also raised concerns about Russia’s nuclear threats, joint military drills between Russia and China near Japan, and North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons.
Stoltenberg told reporters a Russian victory in Ukraine would embolden China at a time when it is building up its military, “bullying its neighbors and threatening Taiwan.”
He added, “This war is not just a European crisis, but the challenge to the world order.
“Beijing is watching closely, and learning lessons that may influence its future decisions. What is happening in Europe today could happen in East Asia tomorrow.”
While the North Atlantic Treaty Organization groups 30 countries in Europe and North America, Stoltenberg has said its members are affected by global threats.
Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol became the first leaders from their countries to attend a NATO summit last year, joining as observers.
China has previously criticized NATO’s efforts to expand its alliances in Asia. Russia, which calls its invasion of Ukraine a “special operation,” has repeatedly cast NATO’s expansion as a threat to its security.
Late last year, Japan unveiled sweeping plans to beef up its defense capabilities, changes once unthinkable for a pacifist country that will make it the third-biggest military spender after the United States and China.
Bolstering its co-operation with NATO in areas from maritime security and arms control to cyberspace and disinformation will further help to respond to the changing strategic environment, the statement added.
The meeting comes as Japan prepares to host the annual Group of Seven (G7) summit in May, when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is expected to be a major topic of discussion.
Kishida is considering visiting Kyiv in February to reinforce his support for Ukraine in the conflict, domestic media have said.

Indonesian Buddhists step out to support Muslims in Ramadan fast 

Indonesian Buddhists step out to support Muslims in Ramadan fast 
Updated 30 March 2023

Indonesian Buddhists step out to support Muslims in Ramadan fast 

Indonesian Buddhists step out to support Muslims in Ramadan fast 
  • Buddhism has about 2 million followers in Muslim-majority Indonesia 
  • Temples offer snacks to break the fast, some cook iftar meals 

JAKARTA: As millions of people in Muslim-majority Indonesia are observing the fasting month of Ramadan, members of the Buddhist community have been extending their support and preparing iftar meals for those breaking their fast at dusk. 

Muslims comprise nearly 90 percent of Indonesia’s 277 million population, but the multifaith nation officially recognizes six religions, including Buddhism, which has an estimated 2 million followers. Since Ramadan began last week, many Buddhist temples across the country have been extending support to their Muslim neighbors. 

In Cirebon, West Java province, members of the Dewi Welas Asih Temple congregation have come together to prepare iftar meals throughout the fasting month. 

They hand out meal boxes around 4 p.m., right before sunset, hoping to reach the people who need their support the most. Each box consists of rice, sauteed vegetables, fried eggs and either chicken or beef, all home-cooked. 

“It doesn’t matter what religion you have, if there is one good moment to do good deeds, all of us here at the Dewi Welas Asih Temple believe that it’s very wise, right, and honorable to give back, even if it’s not on your own religious holiday,” Yulia Hiyanto, who has been organizing the temple’s iftar activities, told Arab News. 

“When we are able to give back and it is accepted with a smile…my heart feels something that can neither be described nor bought, and I hear this from other friends too, this feeling of utmost happiness.” 

In a similar spirit, the youth of the Dhanagun Temple in Bogor, also in West Java, are dedicating their Sundays throughout Ramadan month to reach out as many people as they can across the city and hand out snacks commonly eaten in Indonesia to break the fast. 

“It is our hope that our program can help people in need, especially Muslims in Bogor, who are now fasting,” said Hansen, the temple’s youth leader. 

“Ramadan is a good month, a month filled with love…That is why we want to join in sharing kindness and love.” 

UK ‘urged to boost monitoring of Islamic schools’ in new report

UK ‘urged to boost monitoring of Islamic schools’ in new report
Updated 30 March 2023

UK ‘urged to boost monitoring of Islamic schools’ in new report

UK ‘urged to boost monitoring of Islamic schools’ in new report
  • Bloom consultation likely to support calls for stricter state oversight of unregistered madrasas
  • Muslim leaders say the government has failed to engage with religious community

LONDON: Britain should do more to monitor Islamic groups and schools, crack down on forced marriages and help people to leave oppressive religious groups, a government consultation is reported to recommend.

The report, to be released within weeks, is set to be what the Guardian described on Wednesday as “the most sweeping review of the relationship between faith and the state in recent times”. It is led by Colin Bloom, a former head of the Conservative Christian Fellowship who was appointed in 2019 to review the government’s engagement with various faiths. 

Several sources have told the Guardian that the report, which is due to be published by the Department for Leveling Up, Housing and Communities, will call for the monitoring of unregistered faith schools, where there are concerns about abuse and radicalization.

It however also warns that such measures risk clashes with faith leaders, who have previously resisted attempts by ministers to intervene in religious affairs.

Other sections will also call on the government to do more to combat forced marriages and offer more help to those attempting to leave oppressive religious groups. 

The recommendations are likely to boost calls for stricter monitoring of Islamic groups by Secretary of State for Leveling Up, Housing and Communities Michael Gove. 

The Muslim Council of Britain told the Guardian: “There remains a lack of any meaningful engagement by government with diverse British Muslim communities.

“We would hope that the Bloom report recognizes how vital it is for the government to establish meaningful engagement with British Muslim communities more broadly and the key role Muslim-led representative bodies can play in facilitating this.”

In the past, Conservative ministers have attempted to regulate such schools before but were forced to back down due to protests from mainstream religious groups. 

Following the “Trojan horse” scandal in 2015, the then-Prime Minister David Cameron wanted to crack down on Islamic madrasas by allowing inspectors to visit any institution where children are taught for more than six hours a week. 

Islamic groups claimed they were being unfairly singled out premised on shaky evidence of systemic radicalization within their community. 

Cameron reportedly abandoned the plans after Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby warned that it would make running Sunday schools more difficult.

Some of the Bloom proposals will also be intended to strengthen religion as a core component of British society. This includes providing resources for religious education in schools and increased funding for chaplains in prisons, schools, and universities. 

“I have never seen a report on religion and the state which is this comprehensive,” one source familiar with large parts of the report told the Guardian.

“Colin [Bloom] has gone in-depth into many areas of public and religious life from which ministers normally stay well away,” they added.

Richy Thompson, the director of public affairs at Humanists UK, said: “In the past, the government has sometimes been nervous about tackling problems caused by religious groups, but those problems can extend to the most extreme forms of abuse. 

“If this report is to see the government change tack here, then that is to be welcomed.”

To fight climate change, Islamic seminary in southern Pakistan turns to fruit plantations

To fight climate change, Islamic seminary in southern Pakistan turns to fruit plantations
Updated 30 March 2023

To fight climate change, Islamic seminary in southern Pakistan turns to fruit plantations

To fight climate change, Islamic seminary in southern Pakistan turns to fruit plantations
  • Pakistan is among countries most vulnerable to changing climate
  • School in Sindh started tree-planting drive 4 years ago

KARACHI: A seminary in southern Pakistan has set a new trend for religious schools as it cultivates large swathes of land to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
Pakistan contributes less than 1 percent of the global greenhouse gases that warm our planet but its geography makes it one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change.
Last year, one-third of the country was submerged by unprecedented monsoon floods that claimed the lives of more than 1,700 people and caused an estimated $30 billion in damage.
Located in Hala village in Sindh, a province that was one of the worst affected by the floods, the Jamia-Tul-Uloom-il-Islamia boarding school also saw its orchards destroyed, which made it even more determined in its tree-planting drive.
“What’s happening due to climate change makes it essential for us to plant more and more trees to stop its adverse effects,” Umar Farooq, who supervises the institute’s agricultural land, told Arab News.
The seminary, which is also a trailblazer in introducing science alongside religious education, has been planting trees for the past four years.
It now has 8,500 mango trees, 1,400 date palms and a lemon orchard.
“Seeing the havoc that floods wreaked recently, we will have to plant more trees,” Farooq said. “We have been expanding our orchards with the help of scientific methods.”
When it was established in the 1950s, the school received farmland to grow crops and meet its administrative needs. The idea was unique as most Islamic boarding schools in South Asia rely on external funding.
But it was only with the tree-planting drive that this potential began to be realized, as Jamia-Tul-Uloom-il-Islamia’s management observed that its orchards could bear fruit that could be sold for income.
“We have planted orchards in the surrounding fields, which will improve the weather conditions and also increase the income and resources of our seminary,” Maulana Muhammad Ahsan Bhutto, the seminary’s administrator, told Arab News.
The management is aware of the worsening impacts of the changing climate and is trying to engage students as well in efforts to mitigate it, at least to lessen their contribution to global warming and raise awareness.
“We teach our children to plant trees in their areas,” Bhutto said. “We ask every child to plant one tree annually and look after it.”


British Muslims welcome Humza Yousaf’s election as Scotland’s first minister

British Muslims welcome Humza Yousaf’s election as Scotland’s first minister
Updated 30 March 2023

British Muslims welcome Humza Yousaf’s election as Scotland’s first minister

British Muslims welcome Humza Yousaf’s election as Scotland’s first minister
  • His win adds to successes in Muslim representation within UK political establishment in recent years
  • 37-year-old, whose family is of Pakistani heritage, is first Muslim leader of a major party in Western Europe

LONDON: Muslim community leaders and MPs have welcomed the election of Humza Yousaf as leader of the Scottish National Party and Scotland’s first minister.

His win adds to successes in Muslim representation within the UK’s political establishment in recent years, including Sadiq Khan’s election as London mayor in 2016 and re-election in 2021, the election of a record 18 Muslim MPs in the 2019 general election, and the SNP’s Anum Qaisar taking a by-election victory two years later.  

Sunder Katwala, director of think tank British Future, which looks to foster diversity and inclusion, singled out the “pressure” that built following 9/11 and the London bombings of July 7, 2005, as a catalyst in this movement.  

“In that moment of pressure and scrutiny, there was something that seemed to catalyze the determination among British Muslims to push toward greater integration and inclusion, and push back against the negativity surrounding Islam in the UK,” he told Arab News.

“If you travel abroad, it couldn’t be clearer. Maybe Canada aside, Britain is alone in its cross-party diversity.

“France has candidates from minority backgrounds on the left but not on the right. It has been normalized now (in Britain), rather than seen as exceptional, which can only be good.”

In Holyrood, Scotland’s Parliament, Yousaf — who in replacing Nicola Sturgeon became the first Muslim leader of a major political party in Western Europe — faces off against another Muslim at the despatch box, head of Scottish Labour Anas Sarwar.

Afzal Khan, elected as MP for Manchester Gorton in 2017, said “despite our political differences it’s excellent news to see Humza win,” telling Arab News that each minority success in politics is a “manifestation of change and improvement.”

Afzal added: “Before becoming an MP, I was the youngest Lord Mayor of Manchester and I became the UK’s first Muslim minister for the European Parliament by beating the British National Party’s Nick Griffin, and I’m from a working-class background.

“They talk about Sadiq Khan being the son of a bus driver. I was a bus driver, and I think this is very important.

“We’re all from different backgrounds. Even when I look at (British Prime Minister) Rishi Sunak, he’s not Muslim and he’s from incredible wealth, but his success sends a powerful message.”

Katwala said the participation of Muslim Britons in national life remains underexplored despite there being more than a century’s worth of Muslims living in the country, with the community largely ignored by wider society and the press until the 1990s.

But Noor Ahmed, general manager of the Citizens’ Archive of Pakistan, said the “long and interlinked history” of the UK and South Asia detailed in the archives she administers showed that there had always been involvement in political life, if not representation.

“Involvement was always there. It wasn’t as prominent as it is now, and it’s definitely new to see these communities represented in the way they are now — it sort of gives a formality to it,” Ahmed told Arab News.

“It’s a rising trend that we’re certainly seeing play out, and the appointment of Humza, whose family is of Pakistani heritage, to lead Scotland’s largest party and the third-largest party in the UK was lauded in Pakistan and offers an incredibly aspirational story.”

Yousaf, 37, narrowly won the leadership race on Monday after a bruising contest that followed the surprise resignation last month of Sturgeon, who had dominated Scottish politics for almost a decade.

As much as his win, it is Yousaf’s willingness to not only discuss but show his faith that offers Mustafa Field, director of the Faiths Forum for London, the greatest encouragement that the UK is becoming increasingly accepting.

“It’s really exciting having someone showing their cultural and religious sides comfortably. There was something incredibly powerful about Yousaf tweeting a picture of himself praying — that visual display of his comfort in showing his faith,” Field told Arab News.

“There are conservative voices asking how one can reconcile faith and politics, and we saw this with the SNP election, but I think Yousaf shows the way you can separate faith and duty, with the latter recognition of your constituency.

“Unlike other politicians, Humza has been open about his faith. This is important, and it’s why there has been a lot of celebration in the Muslim community over his success, even from those who differ with him politically.”

Dr. Rima Saini, senior lecturer in sociology at Middlesex University London, said in recent years the Conservative Party had been “framed” as a political home for aspirational ethnic minority politicians, “albeit upper-middle-class and right-wing” ones.

But she added that this appears to be shifting, with greater traction and mainstream support for Muslims in senior political leadership outside of the Conservatives, pointing to the numbers elected in both the Labour Party and the SNP on “relatively progressive platforms.”

Saini told Arab News: “This signals that these parties hold a home for minorities, particularly those with a Muslim background who are — and this is important — hyper-racialized and more socioeconomically diverse than the British Hindu and Sikh diaspora, for example.

“Whether these political appointments point to a general decline in racism and Islamophobia is unclear, especially if we consider how strong xenophobic and racist sentiment has been in the UK since Brexit, and the government’s ‘hostile environment’ approach to immigration.

“Furthermore, politics in all corners still lacks class inclusivity, particularly at the top. At the risk of homogenizing a diverse sub-population, these are nonetheless meaningful symbolic gains for British Muslims.”

Afzal warned that “we have to be careful” when presenting stories of progress, which he stressed often involve “steps back as well as forward,” but with “pressure” there is a “clear trajectory.”

Police shooting of Black man referred to UK prosecutors

Police shooting of Black man referred to UK prosecutors
Updated 30 March 2023

Police shooting of Black man referred to UK prosecutors

Police shooting of Black man referred to UK prosecutors
  • Chris Kaba died after an officer fired a single gunshot through the windshield of the car
  • Kaba's family has accused London's Metropolitan Police of racism and called for the officer to be charged

LONDON: Britain’s police watchdog asked prosecutors Thursday to decide whether to charge a police officer over the fatal shooting of an unarmed Black man in London last year.
Chris Kaba died after an officer fired a single gunshot through the windshield of the car the 24-year-old was driving in a residential area of south London on Sept. 5.
Officials said at an inquest last year that the Audi was believed to be linked to a firearms incident that took place the previous day. The vehicle’s registration number had been entered into a database for automatic camera recognition, although Kaba’s name was not included in an officer briefing.
Kaba’s family has accused London’s Metropolitan Police of racism and called for the officer to be charged.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct said Thursday it has completed a homicide investigation into Kaba’s death and passed on a file of evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service.
The watchdog’s director, Amanda Rowe, said it was up to prosecutors to decide whether or not to charge the officer, who was suspended from duty while under investigation.
Kaba’s family welcomed the move and said they hoped “the truth will emerge, without delay, through criminal proceedings.”
“Our family and community cannot continue waiting for answers,” the family said in a statement.
Kaba was expecting a child when police pursued and blocked the Audi, according to information from the inquest. An officer who got out, stood in front of Kaba’s car and fired through the windshield struck him in the head. He died in the hospital soon after.