Muslims of France condemn London attacks

Muslims of France (formerly Union of Islamic Organizations of France) released the following statement regarding the London attack:

“The concurrent attacks have caused shock and fright in the streets of London and left seven dead and 50 wounded. Frenchmen figure within this record. We mourn the death of one while seven others are hospitalized and four are in critical condition.

Muslims of France condemns these despicable attacks with the greatest firmness.

Muslims of France wishes to express its complete solidarity with the families of the victims, those wounded, and with the people of the United Kingdom.

During this blessed month of Ramadan, Muslims of France calls on all believers to pray for the victims of those attacks carried out throughout the world in these last days.”

Muslims of France

La Courneuve, June 4, 2017.

 

UK Communities Secretary says Muslims need to do more to stop radicalisation

In response to the recent terror attacks in London and Manchester, UK Conservative Party politician, Sajid Javid argued that Muslims have an added responsibility to limit extremism than that of other British residents. Javid is a Muslim himself and services as the Communities Secretary.

He argues against the “well-meaning” idea that the attacks have nothing to do with Islam, saying that the Muslim community needs to do more “soul searching” to find the links between Islam and terrorism.

He believes the only people who can stop terrorism are young Muslims speaking out and showing that “this is not their fight and they want no part of it.”

 

Tariq Ramadan: Stigmatising Muslims is a counterproductive response to terror attacks

Tariq Ramadan, a prominent Muslim thinker and a professor at the University of Oxford, first argues that “it is important for us to be consistent in our condemnation of these criminal acts, and to maintain our support for all the victims, whoever they are, wherever they live.”

He argues for bringing all people together against senseless violence in the UK and globally. He warns that “to portray criminal acts as part of an ideological battle between extremist, anti-western Muslims and western people and values” alienates Muslims and ignores Muslim victims.

In his opinion, the demonisation of Islam contributes to radicalisation. More security is not the answer to the problem of terrorism. Rather, domestic policy needs to be meaningfully pluralistic and foreign policy should be based in economic and social justice. This includes recognising the British role in promoting  oppression abroad, including the effects of the Balfour Declaration on Palestinians and the effects of the invasion of Iraq on both Iraqis and Syrians.

UK Communities Secretary says Muslims need to do more to stop radicalisation

In response to the recent terror attacks in London and Manchester, Muslim Communities Secretary Sajid Javid argues that Muslims have an added responsibility to limit extremism.

He argues against the ‘well-meaning’ idea that the attacks have nothing to do with Islam, saying that the Muslim community needs to do more ‘soul searching’ to find the links between Islam and terrorism.

He believes the only people who can stop terrorism are young Muslims speaking out.

German Muslim leaders react to the attacks in the UK

Muslim representatives in Germany have condemned the recent attacks in Manchester and London.

Especially the events of Manchester gave rise to expressions of shock and anger, as the targets of Salman Abedi’s suicide bombing that left 23 dead had been a pop concert by US singer Ariana Grande and its mostly very young audience.

Responses of the large associations

Germany’s largest Islamic association, Turkish-dominated DİTİB, issued a press release condemning the attack and any other form of terrorism, as well as expressing the organisation’s condolences to the families of the victims.

The chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD), Aiman Mazyek tweeted: “In deep sorrow I look to #Manchester. We pray for the bereaved, injured, their relatives. Many child victims to be feared – terrible.”

Bekir Altaş, secretary general of the Islamist-leaning Islamic Community Millî Görüş (IGMG) also took to twitter: “#PrayForManchester! Aghast and shocked! In our hearts we are with all victims and their relatives.” The chairman of the Islam Council (IR) issued a similar statement.(( http://www.islamiq.de/2017/05/23/religionsvertreter-trauern-mit-manchester/ ))

Rehashing a well-rehearsed ritual

Representatives of Germany’s Church communities also voiced their condemnation of suicide attack in Manchester. Shortly afterwards, on May 23, the leading Catholic and Protestant clergymen of Berlin held a private vigil with the Great Imam of Al-Ahzar, Ahmed al-Tayyeb, commemorating the victims.(( http://www.bild.de/regional/aktuelles/berlin/grossimam-und-bischoefe-gedenken-der-terroropfer-51881922.bild.html ))

At the same time, these statements did not – and in some sense could not – go beyond the by now well-rehearsed tropes of outrage that are being used after every attack. The demand that Muslims and their representatives must dissociate themselves from the suicide bombing hung in the air, and they duly complied.

This is not to claim that these demands the corresponding statements of Muslim leaders were made in bad faith. Yet it does underline the fact that there is little by way of a genuinely meaningful public conversation on attacks such as the ones that occurred in Manchester and London. Instead, in an involuntary expression of their helplessness, all sides continue to shelter behind the familiar ritualistic assertions.

German Army rocked by right-wing extremism revelations

To what extent is the German Army – the Bundeswehr – a home for far-right sentiments? This disconcerting question has dominated the German political debate since last week’s arrest of Franco A. Apparently motivated by far-right ideology, the 28-year-old Lieutenant is suspected of having planned attacks on politicians, civil society institutions, and Jewish and Muslim representatives while seeking to make it appear as if refugees were to be held responsible.

A far-right backstory

Franco A., who is a member of the Franco-German Brigade stationed in Illkirch in the French Alsace region, has a history of engagement with far-right ideas. The young man’s master’s thesis – submitted at the French elite military academy of Saint-Cyr in 2014 – was marked by an obvious adherence to right-wing extremist and racial ideologies.

His professors notified their German colleagues, whose evaluation of the thesis came to the same conclusions: an internal Bundeswehr document noted that the text was “not a work for an academic degree but rather a radical nationalist, racist call for action”.(( https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article164193275/Die-voelkisch-rassistische-Masterarbeit-des-Franco-A.html ))

Nevertheless, his superiors still reached the conclusion that any doubts about the soldier’s fitness for service and about his politico-ideological convictions could be “excluded”. As a result, no further steps were taken and his disciplinary file remained unsullied.(( https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article164193275/Die-voelkisch-rassistische-Masterarbeit-des-Franco-A.html ))

A second identity as a refugee

In light of Franco A.’s brinksmanship, the following events read like an adventure tale. In late 2015, he approached local authorities in Bavaria under the pseudonym ‘David Benjamin’ and, claiming that he was a green grocer from Damascus, sought asylum in Germany.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/bundeswehr-offizier-unter-terrorverdacht-das-bizarre-doppelleben-des-franco-a-a-1145166.html ))

Inexplicably enough, over the following months he managed to lead a double life by commuting back and forth between his refugee shelter in Bavaria and his barracks in Alsace. And even more remarkable is the fact that, although he spoke hardly any Arabic, he not only managed to demand legal protection in Germany – he also obtained it.

Whilst this casts an extremely bad light on the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), Franco A. prepared meticulously for his role by questioning fellow soldiers who had helped out at the Office at the height of the so-called refugee crisis in late 2015 and early 2016. In this way, he appears to have obtained valuable insider information on the conduct of asylum procedures and hearings.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/franco-a-soll-bundeswehr-kollegen-vor-asylantrag-ausgefragt-haben-a-1146248.html ))

Run-in with the police at Vienna Airport

Subsequently, Franco A. – together with an accomplice who has also been arrested but whose role remains unclear – began collecting weapons and ammunition. He had hidden an old pistol in the cleaning shaft of the toilet facilities of Vienna’s international airport. The weapon was discovered; and A. was briefly detained when attempting to recuperate it in February 2017.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/bundeswehr-offizier-unter-terrorverdacht-das-bizarre-doppelleben-des-franco-a-a-1145166.html ))

The Austrians tipped off their German counterparts, who began a surveillance operation. Over the following weeks and months, ample materials testifying to A.’s far-right views were collected. Investigators reached the conclusion that A. and some of his confidants might be planning an attack.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/bundeswehr-offizier-unter-terrorverdacht-das-bizarre-doppelleben-des-franco-a-a-1145166.html ))

This premonition appeared justified when, following the arrests of A. and one of his accomplices, investigators uncovered a large stash of ammunition, most of which was taken from Bundeswehr depots.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/bundeswehr-soldat-franco-a-hortete-1000-schuss-munition-a-1146177.html ))

Accomplices and targets

The size of the Lieutenant’s network is as of now unclear. The weapons were stored by fellow soldier Matthias F. in the central German city of Offenbach.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/bundeswehr-soldat-franco-a-hortete-1000-schuss-munition-a-1146177.html )) A blacklist of potential targets for assassinations appears to have been compiled by Franco A. together with at least one other accomplice, Maximilian T., who served together with Franco A. in the Alsace-based battalion.(( http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2017-05/bundeswehr-franco-a-mitwisser-angela-merkel-ursula-von-der-leyen ))

The blacklist seems like a compilation of all political actors A. and his followers despised: targets include former German President Joachim Gauck, current Minister of Justice Heiko Maas, Green party politician Claudia Roth, as well as Bodo Ramelow, Minister President of the state of Thuringia and leading member of the Left party.

Yet the list also mentioned civil society institutions, such as the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, the most important foundation seeking justice for the victims of far-right and neo-Nazi violence; as well as the Central Council of Jews and the Central Council of Muslims.(( http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2017-05/bundeswehr-franco-a-mitwisser-angela-merkel-ursula-von-der-leyen ))

A larger issue

The extent to which the conspirators’ deliberations amounted to a coherent plan or just to a megalomaniacal laundry list of unreachable targets needs to be uncovered by further investigations. Yet even so, the events surrounding Franco A. cast an exceedingly negative light on the Lieutenant’s environment in Germany’s armed forces.

Not only was A.’s master’s thesis not seen as a cause for a concern (critics would say that it was, in fact, swept under the rug). Army inspectors also visited the Lieutenant’s barracks in French Illkirch, only to report that they had found swastikas drawn on the barracks’ walls as well as on an assault rifle. They also noted that the buildings contained a range of memorabilia from the Wehrmacht, the National Socialist predecessor of the current German Bundeswehr.(( http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2017-05/bundeswehr-verteidigungsministerin-ursula-von-der-leyen-usa-reise ))

Extremism in the Bundeswehr

The Bundeswehr has repeatedly had to struggle with allegations of unsavoury behaviour in its ranks. Over the past few months, a string of sexual harassment scandals have rocked the Army. Moreover, the armed forces have faced repeated accusations that they are too lenient vis-à-vis right-wing extremism.

The military intelligence agency (Militärischer Abschirmdienst, MAD) is currently investigating 280 cases of potentially far-right and neo-Nazi soldiers. Yet the treatment of these affairs is long-winded and the number of unreported cases potentially considerably higher.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/rechtsextremismus-in-der-bundeswehr-wenn-der-soldat-den-hitlergruss-zeigt-1.3493827 ))

In fact, an overriding concern in recent years had been the possibility that Islamists might join the armed forces in order to gain military training or even battlefield experience. This is, to be sure, a risk: from 2007 to 2016, 24 soldiers with Islamist leanings were identified by the MAD.(( https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/bundeswehr-islamisten-101.html )) Nevertheless, against the backdrop of the case of Franco A., this strong focus on Islamists looks like a major blunder on the part of the military and intelligence leadership.

Political repercussions

These events have placed considerable pressure on the German Defence Minister, Ursula von der Leyen. Widely dubbed as a potential successor to Chancellor Merkel in her CDU Party, von der Leyen took up the Ministry of Defence after the last federal election in 2013 in order to gain political clout.

At the same time, the Ministry is famed for being “ungovernable”.(( http://www.dw.com/de/schleudersitz-verteidigungsministerium/a-16889658 )) Successive corruption affairs, as well as managerial incompetence have long plagued the German defence portfolio, including during von der Leyen’s tenure. Yet no scandal has developed into such a threat to von der Leyen’s position as the case of Franco A.

The Minister initially took a strikingly bold stance, attesting the army an “attitude problem” and “leadership weaknesses”. However, a backlash from within the CDU forced von der Leyen to apologise for these utterances, seen as tarnishing the work of thousands of committed soldiers. Others questioned von der Leyen’s ability to actually control her own ministry and the armed forces. (( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/bundeswehr-skandal-nur-merkel-verteidigt-von-der-leyen-1.3492235 ))

Growing militancy of the German far right

The case involving Franco A. is only the latest indication of growing militancy on the part of the German far-right. Answering to an information request by a Left party MP, the federal government has just published new data showing that more and more known far-right activists are acquiring weapons, with numbers nearly doubling between 2014 and early 2017.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/news/politik/waffen-750-rechtsextreme-besitzen-legal-schusswaffen-dpa.urn-newsml-dpa-com-20090101-170506-99-343300 ))

In recent months, the German National Day celebrations were have been overshadowed by bomb blasts and far-right agitation. More generally, the incidence of xenophobic hate crimes has skyrocketed with the ‘refugee crisis’ has remained high ever since.

On the backs of refugees

The fact that Franco A. sought to pass himself off as a Syrian grocer is also indicative of a scapegoating mechanism that seeks to paint refugees as the originators of violence. In this respect, the presence of refugees is instrumentalised to carry out agendas of violent action.

These agendas need not necessarily be political. A particularly striking case in this regard was the recent bomb attack on the team bus of the Borussia Dortmund football team. The perpetrator placed three letters at the scene in which the so-called Islamic State appeared to claim responsibility.

Investigators later found, however, that the man had most likely sought to make large financial gains on the stock market by speculating on a dramatic fall in the football clubs’ share prices in the aftermath of his attack.(( https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-04-21/german-soccer-team-attacker-hoped-to-profit-from-share-slump ))

A Young Latino Arab American Throws His Hat in Congressional Ring

A young, American-born man of Latino and Arab heritage decided to throw his hat in the political ring after working as a community activist and in the Obama administration.

Ammar Campa-Najjar, 28, announced his candidacy Thursday in the hopes of unseating a long-term Republican representative in California’s District 50 in 2018.

Campa-Najjar, whose mother is Mexican American and whose father is Palestinian American, says he spent a lot of time speaking to Hispanic voters in his district to get them to the polls. Arab Americans have faced stereotyping and discrimination after the 9/11 attacks. But Campa-Najjar believes he can use his experience in Gaza and California to bridge divides and listen to voters’ anxieties about terrorism.

 

London terror attacker profiled

Khalid Masood, age 52, attacked London, driving a car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge and stabbing a police officer who was guarding parliament. 

Masood was not born into a Muslim family. His birth name was Adrian Russell Ajao. He was born in Kent to a 17-year-old mother. In school, he was interested in football and parties. 

Masood has two daughters with Jane Harvey, his partner with whom he lived in the mid-1990s. He also has a son with another woman.  

Most of his noted criminal acts occurred before his conversion to Islam.  He was convicted for criminal damage at the age of 18. He also had convictions for assaults, weapon possession, and disturbing public order. At least two of his convictions were for knife-related assaults.

It is unclear exactly when he converted to Islam. In 2004, he married a Muslim woman, Farzana Malik but they separated a few months later as a result of Masood’s abusive actions. By 2005, he was living and working in Saudi Arabia, where he earned qualification to teach English. A few months after returning to the UK from Saudi Arabia, he began to teach English to language learners in Luton.

It is also unclear when he was radicalised; however, he spent time in 3 prisons and told a friend that he had become Muslim in jail. 

In the most recent years, he has been moving around the UK with a notable lack of stability. In about the past 5 years, he has lived in Luton, Forest Glen in East London, and Winson Green in Birmingham. Some of that time was spent incarcerated.

At his death, he was married to Rohey Hydara who did not know of the attacks in advance. His wife and mother have both expressed their condolences to the families of the victims and anger at Masood’s actions. 

CNRS study measures French youth support for terrorism

A recent CNRS study has attempted to measure support for “radical beliefs” among high schoolers in France following the November 2015 attacks. 7,000 students, ages 14-16, were interviewed about their opinions on radical religion and violence, the combination of these two factors demonstrating a possible susceptibility to jihadist propaganda.

Regarding religion, a minority adhere to “fundamentalism”: 11% believe there is “one true and correct religion” and that “religion is [more correct] than science,” regarding the Earth’s creation. This figure is 6% for those who are Christian and 32% for those who are Muslim.

Moreover, 25% of those interviewed believed in “violence and deviance”–33% among Muslims interviewed. They believed it was “acceptable” to “participate in violent action in support of one’s beliefs.” Researchers predicted this population is likely to “face run-ins with the police” in the future. “There is, among certain segments of the youth, a culture of violence and delinquency that has become commonplace,” stated Olivier Galland, one of the researchers. “When this culture combines with radical religion, it becomes very worrying.”

 

 

Marine Le Pen says Assad solution to Syria crisis

French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen on Monday called Syrian President Bashar Assad “the most reassuring solution for France,” a major divergence with her nation’s official policy.

Le Pen, head of the National Front, spoke after meetings with Lebanese President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Saad Hariri. They were among numerous officials, including the Christian Maronite patriarch, that Le Pen was meeting on her two-day visit to Lebanon, a former French protectorate.

The trip represented the first major foray into foreign policy for Le Pen, a leading candidate in France’s April 23 and May 7 election.

She said she told Hariri that there is “no viable and workable solution” to the Syrian civil war beyond choosing between Assad and the Islamic State group.

“I clearly explained that in the political picture the least bad option is the politically realistic. It appears that Bashar al Assad is evidently today the most reassuring solution for France.”

Le Pen has made known her preference for Assad in the past — a position that runs counter to the French government’s strong anti-Assad approach — but it carries extra weight being stated while on a foreign visit with a Syrian neighbor, and during unusual meetings with the nation’s top officials. The trip is Le Pen’s first real public foray into foreign policy.

Before meeting with the prime minister, Le Pen had a visit with Aoun, the leader of a Christian party allied with the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia fighting on the side of Assad.

Le Pen said she and Hariri, who has longstanding ties to France, agreed on “the absolute necessity” for nations wanting to fight the Islamic State group tearing Syria and Iraq apart to come “to the table,” an apparent reference to formal talks. She noted the threat to France of the Islamic State group which has claimed deadly attacks in Paris, Nice and elsewhere, and has lured hundreds of French youths to the war zones in Syria and Iraq.

Le Pen was also using her two-day visit to the former French protectorate — and her unusual encounter with a foreign president — to appeal to the thousands of French voters in Lebanon.