Government emails show USCIS was caught off guard and unprepared by the Muslim Ban

Just a week into president Donald Trump’s term he tried to make good on one of his signature campaign promises: banning Muslims from entering the US. After Trump signed an executive order banning US travel from a number of Muslim-majority countries, chaos at the borders followed, with people being turned away, held in detention, or not even allowed to board flights home.

While airport immigration checkpoints were probably the most visible area of disarray left in the wake of the executive order, newly released emails show that the back offices processing visa extensions and work authorization for people from the affected countries were caught unprepared to implement the new policies. The emails, released to Quartz through a public records request, show staffers at the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) feeling their way through implementing the wide-ranging order with little guidance from its authors in the White House.

The ban was signed on January 27, a Friday. But just hours before the ban was signed Andrew J. Davidson, a senior member of the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate at USCIS, wrote to a small number of his colleagues that “we need immediate clarification in Section 3(c).” Davidson was referencing the part of the order that barred people from Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen from entry into the US. USCIS processes applications from people already living in the US as well as those outside of it seeking to come.

Hours after the order was signed, there was still discussion over what steps needed to be taken by officials to comply. “For clarity, what would be suspended are I-485s, l-539s, I-129s and I-131s. If I’m missing something please let me know.” wrote Donald W. Neufeld, who oversees all of the facilities that process application forms for USCIS. Neufeld was referring to the forms used to do everything from the common task of applying for a green card to the more bespoke requesting of a reentry permit.

Saturday morning the edict went out. “Effectively immediately and until additional guidance is received, you may not take final action on any petition or application where the applicant is a citizen or national of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan, and Libya,” wrote Daniel M. Renaud, associate director of USCIS field operations, to dozens of USCIS staff and listservs. That email was reported contemporaneously by The Intercept, which first reported the administrative disarray at USCIS. The Intercept spoke to a senior US immigration official who said the Trump administration’s actions were bringing staffers to tears.

At the time, Quartz heard from lawyers and immigrants describing the same disarray these emails now reveal. The application process for citizenship had ground to a halt for people from the countries covered by the ban. For immigrants already in the US who had spent years preparing and waiting, their interviews and background checks suddenly seemed to carry no weight. Applicants just formalities away from citizenship—people who did everything right, living in the US to a higher moral and legal standard than many citizens—were stopped at the door, told their oath ceremony was canceled.

By Saturday night there was even more uncertainty. “I’ve only seen this on Twitter, but it looks like a judge in EDNY”—the US district court for the Eastern District of New York—”has granted a nationwide stay of the refugee EO. I haven’t been able to nail down a copy of the actual order, so I have no actual details. Anyone else hear anything?” wrote Larry Levine, who was then the temporary head of USCIS’s policy and strategy office. He followed up 12 minutes later to cite a Reuters story reporting the stay applied to holders of valid visas, too.

Sunday afternoon, it was all over. Renaud wrote: “Field Offices may continue to adjudicate N-400 and N-600 applications and administer the oath of citizenship for approved candidates who remains eligible. This message lifts the hold on citizenship applications and petitions.” Renaud was citing the forms used to apply for naturalization and to apply for a citizenship certificate.

“I can assure you” Daniel Cosgrove, a USCIS spokesman at the time, wrote Quartz four days later, “USCIS continues to adjudicate N-400 applications for naturalization and administer the oath of citizenship consistent with prior practices.”

Source: Quartz

Taj Mahal is Muslim tomb not Hindu temple, Indian court told

Government archaeologists reject claim the structure was built by Hindus and that they should be allowed to worship there

A court in India has heard testimony from government archaeologists that the Taj Mahal is a Muslim mausoleum built by a Mughal emperor to honour his dead wife – delivering an official riposte to claims it is a Hindu temple.

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), which protects monuments of national importance, had been ordered to give its view in response to a petition filed by six lawyers stating that the Unesco world heritage site in the city of Agra had originally been a temple called Tejo Mahalaya dedicated to the Hindu deity Shiva.

The petition also demanded that Hindus be allowed to worship in it. Only Muslims are permitted to offer prayers at the 17th-century monument.

Dr Bhuvan Vikrama, the ASI’s superintending archaeologist in Agra, said he rejected the claims: “Our written statement called the claims concocted and we asked the court to dismiss the petition. It’s up to the judge to decide what happens.”

Claims that the Taj Mahal is a Hindu temple have surfaced periodically, either from lone Hindu mavericks, revisionists, or extremist Hindu groups ever since PN Oak, an Indian writer, published his 1989 book Taj Mahal: the True Story, in which he claimed it was built before Muslim invaders came to India. Proponents of this theory resent that its glory belongs to India’s Muslim heritage and argue that since some of the Mughal invaders destroyed Hindu temples or converted them into mosques, it follows that the Taj Mahal must have originally been a Hindu structure.

“History shows conquerors all over the world converting existing monuments to suit their own ideas,” said Parsa Venkateshwar Rao, an author and columnist. “But this claim about the Taj is absurd because features such as the dome and minaret cannot be found in earlier periods and it is silly for the judge to have even allowed the petition.”

Oak, who died in 2007, took his claim as far as the supreme court in 2000 where it was thrown out as no more than a “bee in his bonnet”.

Hari Shankar Jain, one of the lawyers who took the case to the Agra court, had said he was looking forward to winning the case and performing Hindu prayers at the Taj Mahal. Asked if he would disinter the body of Mumtaz Mahal, the Mughal empress buried inside, he replied: “Of course not because there is no body inside. It’s built on a Hindu temple so there is no question of anyone being buried in it.”

Source: The Guardian

Sydney Architecture Festival unveils the city’s newest mosque

Approached by Punchbowl’s Sunni community a decade ago to design a place of worship, architect Angelo Candalepas thought, “how strange, a mosque.”

Mr Candalepas is of the Greek Orthodox faith and his whole family are involved in church activities. “I found it complicated and difficult to imagine myself working on a mosque to be honest.”

In the same week he received requests to design a new Antiochian church, an augmentation to the Great Synagogue, a Protestant church in Sutherland and a respite centre for the Greek Orthodox Church.

The award-winning architect accepted all projects. “Every one of them has to have space which is spiritual and non fashionable … they aren’t interested in shape but in things that should last.”

 

The mosque posed a unique challenge – to respect the sacred traditions of the Islamic faith as described by the qiblah wall facing Mecca and the minbar or pulpit, rising high to address worshippers and observe the planning guidelines and height restrictions of the red brick and tile suburb.

The result is one in which the traditional wedding cake mosque with its high minarets and dome sitting on top of a cube has been reinvented.

“There is going to be a series of intense lights through the little skylights that exist in every single one of these half domes and there will be 102 stars,” Mr Candalepas said. “It will be beautiful, don’t you think?”

 

"This is a mosque but not as we know it," says Sydney Architecture Festival Director Tim Horton.“This is a mosque but not as we know it,” says Sydney Architecture Festival Director Tim Horton.  Photo: Steven Siewert

The mosque, still with scaffolding, will be unveiled for the four-day Sydney Architecture Festival, founded 11 years ago to bring discussion around architecture and design out of boardrooms and studios and into the community.

At a free public open day event called Meet the Aussie Mosque, Sydney will be introduced to the architectural and culturally significant features of the $12 million mosque.

Festival director Tim Horton said the mosque’s design represented the template for a new form of mosque with its own unique Australian identity, and the open day was a chance to bridge cultural differences.

“This is a mosque but not as we know it,” Mr Horton said. “Driving past it would turn anyone’s head. It’s even more intriguing once you know its purpose and it’s even more thrilling once you step inside and see a very ancient tradition of the dome and the arch used in a completely new way by Angelo and this will be unfinished, this is a contemporary concrete building.

“We are not saying that architecture can solve the world’s problem by itself but we are saying sometimes we can bridge our differences at the end of the day by breaking bread, and loving a good building.”

The festival, with its program of talks, exhibitions, panel discussions and open day events running from September 29 to October 2, is focused on western Sydney. Broad themes revolve around the built environment representing the city’s past, present and future.

The mosque’s minaret has been adapted so that worshippers imagine the importance of the call to prayer “without having a pole upon which they climb because today we have the ability to create an augmentation of voice without necessarily screaming it from a post,” Mr Candalepas said.

The women’s gallery, he said, has been deliberately placed at the centre of the dome “elevated as it were in what I would consider a more powerful space than men underneath them”.

The mosque is inspired by brutalist​ architecture and the festival is offering tours of Sydney’s classic brutalist architecture buildings.

“Cities like London, Berlin and Paris are all rebirthing their great brutalist buildings and finding that there is an awful lot to love,” Mr Horton said. “They are more richly textured and crafted than we think but you have to get up close to these brutes to understand their soft side.

“They are textured, they often have the thumb print of their maker, you’ve got rough sawn timber boards that have often been the result of formwork.

“You’ve got generous spaces because this is the time when actually social gatherings and communities were really important. Sydney has loved its various eras – convict, Victorian, Georgian – and moving into the 21st century we can’t forget the 20th century is a layer that says something about ourselves.”

source: sydney Morning herald

Rohingya Muslim villages ‘burned by Burmese army’

By Independent:

Activist groups have accused the Burmese army of burning down villages and shooting Rohingya Muslim civilians as part of a crackdown on insurgents in Rakhine state.

Violence has driven thousands of Rohingya Muslims fleeing towards Bangladesh for safety, along with a smaller exodus of ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, where they face growing danger of sickness and attempts by the Bangladesh authorities to send them home.

The Burmese government has blamed Rohingya insurgents for the violence, including the arson.

Insurgents launched coordinated attacks last week against police patrols, with the government giving an official death toll of 96, although the actual number is likely to be higher.

Both the government, in official statements, and its critics, in posts on social media often accompanied by video clips, said there was widespread burning of buildings and even whole neighbourhoods in Maungdaw township in northern Rakhine.

“Extremist terrorists blew out improvised bombs, set fire the villages and attacked the police outposts in Region-2 of Maungtaw yesterday from the morning to afternoon,” an English-language statement issued by the Information Ministry said.

Arakan Times, an online news website serving the Rohingya community, said Burmese troops and border guard police burned down 1,000 homes in actions beginning Saturday and continuing on Monday.

Both sides’ claims are difficult to verify, because the government denies most journalists access to the area.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said satellite photos appear to show widespread burning in 10 areas of northern Rakhine.

While the causes of the fires could not be ascertained, it noted that it “compared the locations of these fires with witness statements it has collected and media reports, and found a correlation with some reported incidents where residences have allegedly been deliberately burned.”

The group urged the government to “grant access to independent monitors to determine the sources of fires and assess allegations of human rights violations.”

A Rohingya insurgent group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, or ARSA, took responsibility for Thursday night’s attacks on more than 25 locations, saying they were in defence of Rohingya communities that had been brutalised by government forces. They vowed to continue to defend the communities.

The treatment of around 1.1 million Muslim Rohingya in Burma has become the biggest challenge for national leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been accused by Western critics of not speaking out on behalf of the long-persecuted minority.

The Rohingya have faced severe discrimination and were the targets of violence in 2012 that killed hundreds and drove about 140,000 people — predominantly Rohingya — from their homes to camps for the internally displaced, where most remain.

The government refuses to recognise Rohingya as a legitimate native ethnic minority and most Rohingya are denied citizenship and its rights.

Council to be questioned after placing Christian girl with Muslim foster carers

The Guardian:

The children’s rights watchdog is to investigate reports that a five-year-old Christian girl was left distressed after being placed in foster care in two Muslim households in east London.

The office of the children’s commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, confirmed it would be contacting Tower Hamlets council to find out why the decision was made. The child has reportedly been in the care of a Muslim family for the past six months.

The Times published an article on Monday after seeing confidential local authority reports, in which a social services supervisor describes the child sobbing and begging not to be returned to one foster carer because “they don’t speak English”.

The reports state that the supervisor heard the girl, who at times was “very distressed”, claiming that the foster carer removed her necklace, which had a Christian cross.

Longfield said: “I am concerned at these reports. A child’s religious, racial and cultural background should be taken into consideration when they are placed with foster carers.”

A spokesman for the children’s commissioner confirmed the office would be contacting Tower Hamlets to find out more about the case.

The Children Act 1989 requires a local authority to give consideration to “religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background” when making any decision about a child who is in care as a result of a court order.

MPs have expressed concern over the case, including Robert Halfon, the Conservative chairman of the Commons education committee, who said it would be equally concerning if a Muslim child who did not speak English were placed with a Christian foster carer whose family did not speak the child’s language.

The reports have been seized upon by far-right activists including the former English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson, as well as Britain First and the EDL.

Miqdaad Versi, the assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, who has secured dozens of national press corrections over reporting about Islam and Muslims, criticised the Times report in various tweets, calling it “appalling” and adding: “Demonisation of the foreigner (especially the Muslim foreigner) is the clear undercurrent in this entire piece. It is appalling.”

Tower Hamlets council has been approached for comment.

In April, the authority faced severe criticism from Ofsted inspectors who “found widespread and serious failures in the services provided to children who need help and protection in Tower Hamlets”.

Rating the children’s service as inadequate, Ofsted condemned an “entrenched culture of non-compliance with basic social work standards”.

 

Letters threatening acid attacks sent to Muslims in Bradford

By: The Guardian

West Yorkshire police launch hate crime inquiry and step up patrols saying they are taking the threats ‘extremely seriously’

A woman and boy walking in the Manningham district of Bradford
Police carried out extra patrols in the Manningham area of Bradford following the anonymous letters. Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian

Police have launched a hate crime investigation after anonymous letters threatening acid attacks on Muslims were posted in Bradford.

West Yorkshire police said they were taking the threats “extremely seriously” and had increased patrols in Hanover Square, a mainly Muslim inner-city area where at least two residents received the letters last week.

The literature shows an image of a sword and the St George’s flag with the words: “Kill scum Muslims”. It questions why Muslim women wear burqas then states: “We are now going to do acid attacks on anyone who wears the funny black masks around your square & Bradford & other places.”

It alleges that “three of ur male pigs” were grooming four white girls, then states: “We know who the three male pigs are they are walking dead pigs.”

Police carried out extra patrols over the bank holiday weekend on Hanover Square, in the Manningham area of Bradford near the city centre. Naz Shah, the Bradford West MP, said she had reported the letters to police on Saturday.

Mohammed Qayd, 27, one of the recipients of the letter, said his mother was afraid that she would be targeted and that the threats had come “completely out of the blue”.

 

“I was shocked. My mum wears a burqa and she goes to town regularly so I was concerned for her. When I explained it to her she realised the severity of it and was afraid. You start wondering whether it’s safe to go out on their own.”

Qayd said the letter was delivered by second-class post and had a Lancashire postmark, but that he believed it had been sent by someone who knows Hanover Square and its residents.

Another recipient, who did not want to be identified beyond his first name, Shoab, said the letter could raise tensions before a planned English Defence League (EDL) march in Bradford on Saturday, which coincides with Eid celebrations.

He said: “The police mentioned the EDL will be marching. It can worry you if you really think about it – what if they’re something to do with it? But the EDL have come and gone before, sometimes something tends to happen. It could erupt, you see.

“Eid could be Friday or Saturday – a lot of times we’ll all be out to families, people go out to restaurants in the town centre. There’s always that chance something could happen.”

Outside the Masjid Nimrah mosque, which broadcast a call for prayer on Monday lunchtime, Masood Ahmad, 43, said the threats had concerned residents. “Everybody’s shocked. There’s a lot of women in the street wearing the burqa,” he said. “I didn’t know about the EDL [march] but if this spreads out it might create a problem. It might be chaos here.”

The letters follow a sharp rise in Islamophobic hate crime after the terror attacks on Westminster, Manchester and London Bridge. The spike in anti-Muslim incidents is thought to have fallen to normal levels following a surge of 500% in Greater Manchester in the month after the arena bombing.

A West Yorkshire police spokeswoman said: “A thorough investigation has been launched and officers are working with the local community and partners to identify and prosecute those responsible for this despicable crime.

“We understand the impact hate crime and hate incidents can have on our communities and on individuals, and crimes of this nature will not be tolerated.”

Nadeem Murtuja, the chair of advocacy group Just Yorkshire, which was set up to restore race relations after the Bradford riots in 2001, said she was extremely concerned that Muslims were having to shave their beards or remove hijabs as a result of Islamaphobic threats.

“This is a time for calm heads and people in positions of power, locally and nationally, need to become more visible in their stance towards protecting the human rights of all communities, including the Muslim community.”

 

Burmese army ‘killed a baby’ in crackdown on Rohingya Muslims, villager claims

By : Independent

The Burmese army has been accused of carrying out extra-judicial killings of Rohingya Muslims in response to clashes with insurgents.

Soldiers have allegedly shot indiscriminately at unwarmed men, women and children during their intensified operations against Rohingya insurgents after three days of clashes with militants in the worst violence involving Burma‘s Muslim minority in five years.

The fighting – triggered by coordinated attacks on Friday by insurgents wielding sticks, knives and crude bombs on 30 police posts and an army base – has killed 104 people and led to the flight of large numbers of Muslim Rohingya and Buddhist civilians from the northern part of Rakhine state.

The violence marks a dramatic escalation of a conflict that has simmered in the region since October, when a similar but much smaller series of Rohingya attacks on security posts prompted a brutal military response dogged by allegations of rights abuses.

One witness told Al Jazeera the army stormed his village in Maungdaw and began “firing indiscriminately at people’s cars and homes,” killing women, children and even a baby.

He said government forces were “shooting at everything that moved” and accused them of carrying out arson attacks.

“Women and children were among the dead,” he added. “Even a baby wasn’t spared.”

Thousands of Rohingya have attempted to flee the violence across the border to Bangladesh, where border guards tried to push them back, leaving many refugees stranded.

Rohingya have been fleeing Burma since the early 1990s and there are now about 400,000 in Bangladesh, which has said no new refugees will be allowed in.

Nevertheless, an estimated 3,000 people have crossed into Bangladesh in the past few days, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told Reuters.

The Burmese government has evacuated thousands of non-Muslim villagers from the north of Rakhine state to towns, monasteries and police stations.

An Islamist group called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, or ARSA, which Burma has declared a terrorist organisation, claimed responsibility for the recent attacks. It was also behind the violence in October.

The group has said in statements it has to fight to protect the rights of Rohingya Muslims.

The Rohingya are denied citizenship in Burma and classified as illegal immigrants, despite claiming roots there that go back centuries, with communities marginalised and occasionally subjected to communal violence.

Kabul mosque attack: four-year-old called to safety

Afghan policemen try to rescue four-year-old Ali Ahmad at the site of a suicide attack followed by a clash between Afghan forces and insurgents after an attack on a Shi’ite Muslim mosque in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 25, 2017. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

KABUL (Reuters) – A four-year-old boy photographed in a Kabul mosque last week as police desperately tried to call him to safety during an attack by Islamic State gunmen is back with his family but still suffering nightmares, his father said.

Ali Ahmad was with his grandfather in the Shi’ite Imam Zaman mosque on Friday when at least two attackers in police uniforms stormed in, one exploding a suicide-bomb vest and the other firing indiscriminately at the hundreds of worshippers inside.

A picture by Reuters photographer Omar Sobhani showed Ali standing alone in the courtyard of the mosque as policemen taking cover behind a doorway called and waved to him. He survived the attack but his grandfather was among at least 20 killed.

Sayed Bashir, Ali’s father, was nearby but not in the mosque for the initial blast and ran to check on his family.

“Right after the explosion I thought everything was finished,” he said. “I called my father’s mobile phone number and my son answered and said: ’They killed grandpa’. He wanted me to bring the car and get him.”

“We were running everywhere in search of my son but the police were stopping us and didn’t let us get close,” Bashir said.

Afghan policemen try to rescue four-year-old Ali Ahmad at the site of a suicide attack followed by a clash between Afghan forces and insurgents after an attack on a Shi’ite Muslim mosque in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 25, 2017.Omar Sobhani

Bashir called the number again and was speaking to Ali when another explosion went off.

“I lost hope. I said to myself that everything was finished. I tried the number again but it was switched off,” Bashir said.

In fact, Ali had run around behind the mosque, disregarding the policeman frantically signaling to him in the courtyard. He was rescued soon afterwards but the effects of the attack may take much longer to heal.

Bashir, a building worker who lives in a district with many Shi’ite families, said Ali was still traumatized and having difficulty coming to terms with what happened.

“After the incident, my son has some problems. He’s scared a lot at night,” he said.

The attack, the latest in a series targeting Shi’ite mosques, was claimed by Islamic State Khorasan, the local branch of the group which takes the name of an old region that included what is now Afghanistan.

According to the United Nations, at least 62 civilians have been killed and 119 injured in six separate attacks on Shi’ite mosques this year.

Source: Reuters

 

Muslim scholar says: Burkas are political symbols not Islamic ones

Pauline Hanson’s recent burka stunt attracted criticism from both sides of Parliament, but a Muslim scholar and human rights adviser says it’s the garment itself that’s offensive.

Associate Professor Elham Manea, a Swiss-Yemeni citizen and the author of Women and Sharia Law, argues it is naïve — even racist — to regard the wearing of a burka as a sincere act of faith.

 

“It’s a tradition that comes from the heart of Saudi Arabia, a region called Nejd.”

Dr Manea says the veiled garment was not worn by women outside of Nejd until Saudi Arabia’s Wahabi regime came to power in the late 1970s.

“The re-Islamisation of Saudi Arabia according to the Wahabi Salafi fundamentalist principles led to the mainstreaming of the burka,” she said.

“With Gulf money you had a promotion of this ideology and a reading of Islam that turned the burka into an ‘Islamic’ tradition.”

Criticising the burka, not the stunt

The Koran calls for both men and women to “cover and be modest”, but this reference is open to interpretation.

In Australia, few Muslim women wear burkas, though many wear other kinds of hijab or head coverings.

Dr Manea, a member of the University of Zurich’s political science institute and a former advisor to the Swiss government, believes conversations around the validity and religiosity of the burka are essential.

“To tell me that by talking about the burka we are hurting the feelings of the Muslims is not only inaccurate, with all due respect, it’s almost racist,” she said.

Though she was careful not to align her views with those of Senator Hanson, Dr Manea did agree with one of the politician’s points: the burka is not a religious requirement.

“[The burka] is a sign of segregation, separation, rejection of the values we see all around us — values of acceptance and tolerance and otherness,” she said.

“[It reflects] a culture that treats woman as a sexualised object that has to be covered.

“[This culture] does not only deny her basic rights as a human being, but tells her that in order for you to go to heaven, you almost have to be a slave to your own husband.”

The scholar went on to criticise the Parliament’s bipartisan condemnation of Senator Hanson’s stunt, in particular citing the well-publicised censure from Attorney-General George Brandis.

Senator Brandis flatly rejected Hanson’s call to ban the burka in Parliament, saying: “To ridicule [the Muslim] community, to drive it into a corner, to mock its religious garments is an appalling thing to do and I would ask you to reflect on what you have done.”

Stressing the diversity of Muslim identities, and connections to faith, Dr Manea called out the Western liberal tendency of homogenising and defending “the other”.

“Like far-right groups, who believe every Muslim is a potential terrorist, they come [from] the other side and say every Muslim is religious and therefore we have to support these poor people who need our protection,” Dr Manea said.

“It’s an essentialist perception — they can’t believe that Muslims are people with different identities and attitudes.”

Defending women’s right to choose

However, La Trobe University lecturer Nasya Bahfen, argues Senator Brandis’s denunciation of Senator Hanson’s stunt was well-founded.

“You can criticise and absolutely have a discussion around issues to do with the burka,” Dr Bahfen said.

“I just don’t think the condemnation of Pauline Hanson was unwarranted.

“The debate around that should be held in completely different terms to somebody pulling a publicity stunt in Parliament.”

Despite referring to the burka as a “dehumanising sack”, Dr Bahfen, who herself wears a hijab, said it’s important to defend the right of Muslim women to wear what they wish.

“I have two sisters who don’t wear the hijab,” she said.

“It was never something that was forced upon us.

“You’re not trying to make a political statement to declare yourself holier than thou, and you’re not trying to appease men in your family — it’s [about] your relationship with Allah.”

Source: Abc news