One Goal: The Chicago Red Stars aim to capitalize on U.S. Women’s World Cup success (Newcity)

Published July 26, 2011 (http://newcity.com/2011/07/26/one-goal-the-chicago-red-stars-aim-to-capitalize-on-u-s-womens-world-cup-success/)

Chicago Red Stars“If Americans don’t fall in love with soccer after this, well, maybe they never will,” said Jim Litke, the sports columnist for the Associated Press, after the US women’s soccer team defeated Brazil in a dramatic comeback in the quarterfinal of the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup earlier this month. (They lost the final in a hard-fought nail biter.) The fact is, women’s soccer is a transient phenomenon for most sports fans in the United States. Every four years a squad of twenty-one of America’s best players give it their all, excite the crowds and typically walk away having performed very well. They’ve never finished the tournament in less than third place in its twenty-year history and on two occasions, the team walked away champions. Unlike their male counterparts, who have to play third fiddle to superior play in Europe and Latin America, women in America are arguably the best at soccer in the world. Yet a short time after the tournament ends, the women fade back into obscurity for the next four years as the American fair-weather love affair with soccer continues. But now a newish professional team aims to turn this occasional flirtation into a long-term commitment for Chicago fans.

The Chicago Red Stars are Chicago’s premier women’s soccer team and, although they have had a tumultuous four-year existence since being founded in 2007, they head into the championship finale of this year’s Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL) as very strong contenders after winning the Midwestern Conference. Elise Weber, the Red Stars captain and defensive linchpin, believes the success of American women in soccer has much to do with their determined fitness and physical ability. “I think you can be as technical as you want to be but, in the end, if you can’t play for ninety minutes regularly, like in the World Cup, then it doesn’t matter how technical you are,” says Weber. “Fitness is just huge for the women’s game.”

The Red Stars originally played their games at Toyota Park, the home of the Chicago Fire MLS team, when they were part of the Women’s Professional Soccer league (WPS), the top league in the US. Weber, however, explains that the team had to drop out of the league after two years due to financial difficulty. Now the team plies its trade at the Benedictine University Sports Complex in the western suburb of Lisle. “I think there’s still support which is great,” says the Chicago native Weber, “but it is harder to come by support when you don’t have a stadium for all of your games.” She explains that sustaining a team in the top league is difficult, that other teams went through a similar rise and fall after the league began in 2009, including her first professional team, St. Louis Athletica. “I think it’s the nature of starting a women’s league,” Weber says. “It’s hard, at first, to get a lot of fans and support for the games.”

The Red Stars were regardless able to head into the WPSL 2011 season with a strong team. “We had a little bump in the road at the very beginning,” says Weber. “We lost our first game but since then we’ve grown so much as a team and pretty much dominated.” Next year, with the right investment, the Red Stars hope to return to the WPS. For now, they look ahead to the coming weekend’s championship, which sees the Red Stars host games between Orange County Waves, Tampa Bay Hellenic and Boston Aztec in Lisle. Cubs fans be warned, however—watching your local team succeed may be a bit of a culture shock. (Ben Small)

The semi-finals at the Village of Lisle-Benedictine University Sports Complex, 5700 College Road, Lisleare scheduled for 1pm and 3pm on Saturday, July 30, and the final takes place at 1pm on Sunday. Tickets for all the weekend’s action cost a mere $12, or $8 for each day separately, and are available at RedStarsGear.com.

Norwegian Terrorist Associated with Anti-Muslim Groups in the US and UK (CAIR-Chicago)

Published July 26, 2011 (http://www.cairchicago.org/2011/07/26/norwegian-terrorist-associated-with-anti-muslim-groups-in-the-us-and-uk/)

By Ben Small

Some of you may have come across the article that I wrote last week on the English Defence League (EDL), an anti-Islamic street movement in my homeland, Britain.  The article drew comparisons with Islamphobia in the US, particularly among Tea Party constituents.

In the wake of the abhorrent events that occurred last Friday in Norway, information has come to light revealing connections between the terrorist suspect, Anders Brehing Breivik, to the anti-Islam movement in England, as well as to prominent Islamophobes in the US. Do these recent revelations mean that people will begin to identify the extreme right as a terrorist threat and stop assuming that all terror acts are associated with Muslims?

There are unconfirmed reports that Breivik, whose deplorable acts were committed to “save Europe” from Islam, was involved directly with the EDL as recently as 2010 when he attended at least one of the movement’s marches.

Much attention has also been given to Breivik’s championing of the American right-wing, anti-Muslim celebrities Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller who are mentioned numerous times in his 1,500 page manifesto entitled ‘2083: A European Declaration of Independence’.

Breivik cites Spencer’s work as inspiration, saying, “about Islam I recommend everything written by Robert Spencer.” Breivik cites him scores of times throughout the manifesto; he clearly held him in very high regard.

Similarly, he lists Geller among his roll of “decent human beings”, linking to her anti-Muslim blog Atlas Shrugs . The two partners in spreading Islamic hatred together created such anti-Muslim hysteria as the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy and have, interestingly, both vocalized their support of the EDL [although Gellar retracted her support recently when she realized the EDL is also anti-Semitic.

There is no doubt that to, at least some extent, the opinions and thoughts of Breivik have been influenced by the likes of Spencer and Gellar. Whether it actively informed his detestable views or simply made him more comfortable in the fact that he is not alone in what he believes.

Breivik’s relationship with far-right groups in England dates back to 2002, when the seeds of Breivik’s vile hatred were originally being sewn, seven years before the EDL was officially founded. It was then that Breivik allegedly met with other extremists in London to clarify their goal: to establish the Knights Templar Europe, a group that harkens back to the Crusades of the Middle Ages and brings forth those ideas to the arena of modern Europe to campaign against Islam.

Since then he has been in league with those involved with the EDL, whether it be before its founding or after, amassing 600 EDL friends on Facebook and speaking with “tens of EDL members and leaders”, as described in his manifesto.

He even claims to be an important part of the EDL’s foundation, saying “I was one of the individuals who supplied them with processed ideological material (including rhetorical strategies) in the very beginning.” A sobering prospect indeed that the same terrorist that murdered scores of people last Friday served to inspire the formation and the tactics of an anti-Islamic group in England.

Following what I wrote on the far-right threat last week, the events on Friday made very clear the threat cannot be ignored. In fact, the popularity of far-right groups in Europe is increasing as they speak about Islamic hatred on cultural grounds, rather than the racial grounds of the traditional far-right. This is deemed a more acceptable and less irrational for those that feel their cultural values are “threatened”.

The notion of “Eurabia”, which is the idea that due to high immigration and birth rates the European continent will become Muslim, has been snowballing in recognition in recent years. A very popular video with 13 million views on YouTube, entitled “Muslim Demographics”, is partly responsible.

The video is a lesson in scaremongering as it uses incorrect facts and figures to lead the viewer to believe various implausible outcomes for European countries, such as France becoming an Islamic Republic within 39 years. The BBC produced a video countering these claims for the BBC Radio 4 program More or Less that explains how the authors of the original video altered figures to make the situation appear different. It explains that, in general, the science of population demographics to project future population trends is often inaccurate, and I’m sure this is particularly true when the figures are wrong and the authors have a political agenda.

Nonetheless, it is the rhetoric of “Eurabia” in videos such as “Muslim Demographics” and opposition to notions of multiculturalism that inspired Breivik (the word “Eurabia” was commonly featured in his manifesto, alongside “demographic Jihad”) and could serve to inspire others. The fear links the British and the American far-right most notably with groups such as Stop the Islamization of America (SIOA) and their counterpart Stop the Islamisation of Europe (SIOE).

It has even impacted mainstream conservative politics as British Prime Minister, David Cameron, alongside the French and German premiers, Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel, who have all discussed the failure of multiculturalism. Further, Dutch politician and leader of the Netherland’s third-largest political party, Geert Wilders, regularly spouts his alarm over a Muslim Europe among his peers of more far-right leanings.

These groups and politicians deplore Breivik’s actions but their attitudes are the same. Although Spencer and Gellar’s words do not direct the reader to commit a massacre, there is complicity. When the two of them blame the teachings of Islam for causing terrorism, where do they see their own teachings in the terrorism they inspire? Breivik consumed their views, like millions of others around the world, but was simply more willing to step further in getting his point across. He is certainly a deranged individual but what is to say that there are not many more like him. Not all that make up the far-right are as erratic, unintelligent and disorganized as the thugs that constitute the English Defense League. Some, like Breivik, are calculated, methodical and capable of far greater atrocities than an immature street chant about Allah.

Islamophobia in the UK: The English Defense League (CAIR-Chicago)

Published July 21, 2011 (http://www.cairchicago.org/2011/07/21/islamophobia-in-the-uk-the-english-defense-league/)

By Ben Small

As an Englishman abroad in the United States, something that has truly struck me is the different channels and the vast parity in scale that Islamophobic rhetoric pervades American society in comparison to England.

Obviously there are Islamophobes in my country. The United Kingdom has a Muslim population that numbers almost three million (around 5 percent of the total population, compared to 0.8 percent in the US) and has a rich history of intolerance; from the heyday of the National Front in the 1970s to the more recent exploits of the British National Party, who managed to gain seats in the European Parliament in 2009 before their fall from grace in the 2010 General Election.

Today, it is the hate group the English Defense League’s (EDL) name that is gracing the headlines. Yet, what is comforting about the EDL is the vast majority of England’s population ignores their nonsense as exactly that: nonsense. In fact, counter-protests by groups such as Unite Against Fascism (UAF) often substantially outnumber and outlast any protest by the EDL.

What troubles me about the United States is that Islamophobia reaches out to many more people with much greater success. The Tea Party movement captivates the minds of many using fear, lies and propaganda through prominent politicians, including members of the House of Representatives and the Senate. There is even a whole news channel that is dedicated to transmitting these ideas that stir up anti-Islamic sentiment. Islamophobia has much more power and influence in the U.S. as it finds its way to society through these “legitimate” means in comparison to the illegitimate protests of the EDL. Reports in recent months suggest the Tea Party is forging links with the EDL. Could this have implications for Islamophobia on both sides of the Atlantic?

The Tea Party’s Islamophobic tendencies are clear to see. From their unfounded resistance to Park51, to the email exposed by the Huffington Post that was issued by TeaParty.org, in which they called for a blanketexpulsion of Muslims from the shores of America.

Figures in the Tea Party will slip up in public statements with banal and immature statements regarding Islam that fall in line with their ultra-conservative beliefs. One classic example of this was Tea Party Express organizer, Mark Williams, who referred to Allah as a “monkey God”.

Alongside the Tea Party movement, overpaid right-wing commentators for conservative TV networks and talk radio shows attract millions of viewers and listeners each week. Personalities such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh have an insurmountable amount of power to influence the views of swathes of America’s population with misinformed statements that help to spread not just Islamophobic views, but racist and homophobic views too. One must only point to Beck’s ludicrous statement that 10 percent of Muslims are terrorists. Or Limbaugh’s views that the success of Park51 is a win for “terrorists”, comparing it to the Klu Klux Klan erecting a memorial at Gettysburg. Those in the audience who do not seek out or understand an alternative opinion will take these views as fact, encouraging them to adopt an Islamophobic outlook. What these media personalities spout is not the full story or, for the most part, not a story at all.

The EDL on the other hand utilize far different tactics in their spread of Islamophobia. They are the newestgroup making waves across the Atlantic, having formed in June 2009 with the explicit goal to prevent the spread of Islam. Their beliefs stem from passionate national pride combined with the idle racism of working-class pub culture in England.

Although, interestingly, the Muslim population of the United Kingdom, which the EDL target under the guise of patriotism, is said to be more patriotic than the rest of the population, according to a 2009 study.

This study exists in stark opposition to the EDL’s view that Muslims aim only to wreak havoc and “Islamize” the nation. The methods of the EDL are inspired by the violent activity of soccer hooliganism, a subculture that many members claim allegiance to. They are not a political party but merely a street protest movement with membership in the thousands whose ultimate aim, besides the removal of Islam from Britain, is to arouse violence and provoke reaction. Yet, the hateful opinions of the EDL are ultimately no different from the multi-millionaires that grace the media and inspire the political movements of America. Only the millionaires are better trained at PR and infinitely more powerful. One must only point to the incident in which Tea Party Express leader Mark Williams wrote a “satirical” letter from the “Colored People” of America to President Lincoln that praised slavery. This did get Mark Williams fired, but the reference to Park51 as a place for “terrorists to worship their monkey God”, was apparently not offensive enough to warrant an appraisal of Williams’ position in the movement.

Not that this renders the EDL insignificant. Their inflammatory behavior not only inspires pages upon pages of media coverage, but also serves to destroy community cohesion and strike fear into those targeted in the heavily Muslim populated towns and cities that the group seeks out, for example Bradford, Luton and Blackburn. Those protesting emblazon themselves with the St. George’s Cross, whether simply flying the flag or wearing intimidating masks featuring the famous red cross. These masks are designed to simultaneously express their national “pride” alongside hiding the identity of the wearer, in a manner acknowledging the illegality of their behavior, whilst others mockingly wear burqas. They sing inane words to the tune of traditional soccer chants, including the grammatically nonsensical “I’m England ‘til I die”, “we love the floods” in reference to the recent floods in Pakistan and “who the **** is Allah?” There is absolutely nothing peaceful about the manner in which EDL supporters protest and, as such, they consistently crescendo with an outbreak of violence.

In recent weeks EDL activity has increased due to the anniversary of 7/7, a terrorist attack in London in 2005. In the incident, four Islamic terrorists, born in the United Kingdom, coordinated a suicide bomb attack on public transport in the capital, killing 52 people and injuring over 700 more. The EDL use this as a flash point to raise awareness for their cause, with marches occurring in Halifax, Middlesbrough, Plymouth and Cambridge all in the same weekend.

One EDL supporter, Christopher Payne, was arrested for placing a pig’s head scrawled with an anti-Muslim message on a 4ft pole outside of a proposed new mosque site at the end of June. A group of forty people even attempted to intimidate a Muslim European parliament member, Sajjad Karim, outside his home in Lancashire whilst his wife and children remained inside.

When the EDL say they are opposed only to “Islamic extremism”, they routinely attack any semblance of Islam. Members of their 92,000 strong Facebook group spout hateful comments on a regular basis, calling for a “Muslim holocaust” and for anything with the word “Islam” in it to be burned.

What is particularly foreboding about the EDL is that they do not look like they are going to disappear any time soon. In their two year history their support has grown exponentially and the organized marches are increasing in regularity. More concerning is the transatlantic link that is forming between the EDL and the Tea Party here in the U.S.

A Tea Party activist and Rabbi, Nachum Shifren, who is a regular speaker at Tea Party conventions, was invited to speak in London during October last year. In his speech about Sharia law in London he referred to Muslims as “dogs” and said that the EDL would start “the liberation of England from evil”.

Pamela Gellar, a figure growing in prominence within the Tea Party after her involvement with Park51 and Stop the Islamization of America (a registered hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center), publicly supported the EDL and defended their actions. “I share the EDL’s goals,” Gellar said in her blog, “We need to encourage rational, reasonable groups that oppose the Islamization of the west.”

Gellar did withdraw her support of the EDL on 30th June in response to rising anti-Semitism from neo-fascist elements of the movement. It doesn’t bear thinking what would, in her eyes, be ‘unreasonable’ if she did once deem their actions ‘reasonable’. “They [EDL] now have been clearly infiltrated by the worst kind of influences,” she said, “they are now unrecognizable to me.” Her attitude reeks of double-standards when it comes to religious persecution. She clearly has no issue with the anti-Islamic hatred that boils within the EDL, but when their rhetoric has murmurs of anti-Semitism she is quick to dismiss the group.

Whilst the mainstream Tea Party activists may distance themselves from the violence of extreme groups, it is clear that this opinion is not shared by all supporters. The potential financial support from the wealthy Tea Party members could see the EDL’s operations spread beyond a street movement to become a political party up for election. Likewise, could the EDL’s influence be supplanted to the U.S. with greater utilization of guerilla street tactics?

The former seems much more likely than the latter as financial support is far more subtle than the adoption of protest methods that could destroy the reputation of the Tea Party. What’s more, the Tea Party is far more established and powerful than the EDL, likely forming a role akin to a parent in any such relationship between the two. Although Gellar’s rejection of the EDL shows indifference to the Islamic cause, hopefully it is a sign that even the most extreme segments of the Tea Party will continue to distance themselves from this violent group, much like its mainstream constituents do. These Tea Partiers may share the opinions of many members of the hateful and despicable EDL, but they should know when to draw the line on what they publically endorse.

411: Wright Returns to the Rookery (Newcity)

Published July 14, 2011 (http://newcity.com/2011/07/14/411-wright-returns-to-the-rookery/)

RookeryThe Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust is honoring its namesake’s position in the rich heritage of Chicago’s architectural history with the grand opening of the new Shop Wright gift store on July 21 in the Rookery, one of Chicago’s oldest and most historically significant buildings. Wright remodeled the lobby of the Rookery in 1905 and it was then restored to his designs at the end of the twentieth century. Heidi Farina, director of multi-channel retailing at the Preservation Trust, explains that the Shop Wright opening has always been the next step after the central offices of the Trust were relocated to the Rookery in late 2010. “It allows us to reach a new, different type of audience,” she says, “not only the tourists but the business community of Chicago.” The grand opening, which the public can attend, will feature “champagne and shopping” from 5pm-7pm together with appetizers, three prize giveaways and a ten-percent discount to the public and twenty-percent to members of the Trust.  Alongside the boozing and browsing, the Trust is offering rare tours to the Rookery Vault storage, which usually has no public access and features catalogued architectural items from recent renovations, including ornamental ironwork and elevator grilles. Farina says that the gift store will contain many new items that incorporate the Rookery’s design styles with floral, geometric patterns and elements taken from the elevators, as well as bird styles that pay homage to the heritage of the Rookery’s name. These will slot in beside the rich catalogue of Shop Wright’s furniture, books, accessories, jewelry and art inspired by Wright’s design work. Together with the new store, tours of the iconic Rookery are being expanded to five days a week beginning at noon every day, Monday through Friday. (Ben Small)

The Go Wright grand opening is July 21 at the Rookery, 209 South LaSalle, 5pm-7pm. RSVP at gowright.org/rsvp-rookery.html.