Dutch anti-Islam politician Wilders does not rule out legal ban of Islam in the future

29 March 2016

Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch anti-Islam party PVV (Party for Freedom), has not ruled out a possible future legal ban on Islam. “It might get that far at some point”, he said during a recent parliamentary debate on the Brussel Attacks.

According to Wilders the time has begun to become intolerant to the intolerant. As far as he is concerned this means that the borders in the Netherlands close and an effort must be put into the de-Islamization of the Netherlands in order to protect the Dutch culture.

Halbe Zijlstra, party chairman of the Dutch Liberal Party (VVD), reacted resentfully to Wilders’ proposal: “Everyone in the Netherlands enjoys the same freedoms, be they Muslim, Jew, or atheist.” According to Zijlstra Wilders cannot defend the Dutch cultural values and freedoms of equal rights as long as he differentiates on the basis of religion.

Tunahan Kuzu, parliamentary member for the new Muslim political movement called DENK, pointed out to Wilders that a ban on religion and “intolerance against the intolerant” was also at play in Nazi-Germany, right before the Second World War. “This is ver sad indeed”, he said.

Meet the British Muslim who wants to lead an Islamic reformation

When Adam Deen agreed to join the Quilliam Foundation in November 2015 it caused a stir among politically engaged British Muslims. By becoming Quilliam’s head of outreach, Deen is now a key member of staff at the world’s first self-styled counter-extremism think tank. And in the same vein as Quilliam’s founder Maajid Nawaz, Deen’s personal journey as a Muslim is seen as one of extremist activist turned counter-extremist campaigner.

Deen joined al-Muhajiroun while studying at Westminster University in 1995 and would stand on street corners denouncing non-Muslims to hell and accusing fellow Muslims of being sell-outs. He supported the group’s call to establish a global Islamic state but he left al-Muhajiroun in 2003 – two years before the group was banned for links to violence – after a former member encouraged him to seek out a different understanding of Islam.

Nearly a decade later in 2012, he established the Deen Institute, a Muslim debating forum named after the Arabic word for religion, which aimed to promote critical thinking among British Muslims that would reflect his own journey away from extremism.

In joining Quilliam Deen has moved on to work at an organisation which has sought to place itself at the forefront of the debate around Islamic extremism since its founding in 2008, during which time it has often courted criticism for its perceived closeness to British government counter-terrorism policy.

Deen, who is from London and has Turkish parents, joined Quilliam after months of negotiations with its leadership, and despite holding reservations about the organisation’s past actions, he concluded that it has an “honourable premise” which is to challenge ideas he believes have hijacked Islam.

Nearly six months on from joining Quilliam, Deen sat down with Middle East Eye at a coffee shop in Russell Square, to discuss his opinions on problems impacting British Muslims and to outline his vision for a reformed understanding of Islam. Throughout the 90 minute discussion Deen passionately warned of grave problems facing British Muslims, most of which are rooted in what he views as a puritanical understanding of Islam. He believes the religion has become “divorced from ethics” and while he is proud of being a Muslim he feels disconnected from his community.

“Confucius said he loves humanity but hates people. If I could borrow from his sentiments I love Islam, but I have a big problem with Muslims,” he said. “Most Muslims are good people, most Muslims are helping their neighbour. I’m talking about those voices – the self-proclaimed vanguards of our faith – as being the ones with a problem.”

Deen’s strident belief that ideology is the root cause of extremism led him back to an argument about what he views as a problem within Islamic theology and its relationship with ethics.

“There’s a major crisis in our theology that supports the view that our ethics are only derived from the Quran and Hadith. That’s a major problem because what that means is Muslims in society operate outside of the ethical sphere.”

Libya: France led covert action against Islamic State

February 24, 2016

There are estimated to be between 3,000 and 5,000 Islamic State militants in Libya. According to military sources France has launched covert operations against them. While the United States announced the death of Tunisian Noureddine Chouchane and five others by US Air Force raids on a training camp, France was nearby. The killing of the highest leader of the Islamic State in Libya, the Iraqi Abou Nabil, was the result of French air strikes. France has also reportedly intervened with its special forces.

A defense leader told Le Monde that “the last thing we want to do is intervene in Libya. We must avoid all public military action, we must act discretely.” In a country that France surveyed for months, the objective isn’t to win a war but to target the leaders of the terrorist group, with the objective of slowing its rise to power. Actions were reportedly jointly directed by Washington, London, and Paris.

The precedent set by president Hollande rests for the moment on unofficial military involvement. These special forces–whose presence Le Monde became privy to, have been spotted in the east of Libya since mid-February. And that’s not all. Several sources told Le Monde that the fight against the terrorist group may also include covert operations, led by the Directorate-General for External Security. The former was spotted because although they acted discretely they were wearing French uniforms. The latter have also provided military support but thus far remain unseen.

Libya’s officials have rejected international intervention, an idea that has been discussed for months. Officials said they would tolerate targeted action but will not allow a foreign coalition on their soil. The principal Western actors that would be a part of the force–France, the United States, or Italy–appear generally unwilling after Muammar Gaddafi’s death in 2011 sent the region into chaos, especially without UN forces present. By applying new pressure to the Islamic State there is a risk that the problem will be transferred to fragile Tunisia or southern Europe. With a presence in Libya, “the Islamic State controls a coast for the first time,” said the General Staff of the French Navy, who revealed: “We are preparing scenarios on the hard sea.”

In a video released Monday by the press office of the Libyan Armed Forces, Haftar told soldiers in Benghazi: “Victory is valuable, there is nothing more valuable. So we need to protect this victory.”

On Wednesday, the Associated Press cited two Libyan military officials who reiterated the claims of French special forces’ involvement in the country. According to the Associated Press, the two sources “said that French forces work with Libyan troops to pinpoint [Islamic State] militant locations, plan operations and carry them out. They had also been training Libyan forces.”

The recent rise in Western operations against ISIS in Libya comes as officials increasingly fear that terrorists will use the chaos there as a staging ground for terror attacks against Europe, as well as entrench themselves amid another conflict.

Six universities create courses on Islam and radicalization

February 20, 2016

Six universities or schools will acquire, in the upcoming academic year, new curricula and instructors, to strengthen research on Islam, as requested by the Ministry of Education.

Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem announced the plans with Secretary for Higher Education Thierry Mandon.

“The Ministry announces the creation of posts for instructor-researchers which will allow us to strengthen training and research projects on these issues by the beginning of the next academic year,” the statement announced.

Following the January 2015 attacks at Charlie Hebdo, the Ministry of National Education launched a “Mobilization of Schools for the Values of the Republic.” Six out of twenty seven schools that responded were chosen: Panthéon-Sorbonne, Strasbourg, Aix-Marseille, the University of Lyon, as well as the Ecole pratique des hautes études. A sixth selection will be announced according to the Ministry. “In total, these new posts will cost $650,000 for the university school year,” the statement clarified.

Salah Abdeslam would have hidden in Brussels for three weeks (video)

February 20, 2016

Following the Paris attacks, one of the most-wanted men in Europe, reportedly would have hidden in Brussels for three weeks in an apartment that was searched several days after his escape by Belgian authorities. “It is rather difficult to think this group of men could have gone to Syria” after leaving their apartment, said Claude Moniquet, consultant at iTELE and terrorist specialist and intelligence.

Medicine against radicalism

18 February 2016

With a little bit of luck a Dutch-educated imam would also be a good remedy against radicalism, the minister believes. Some of the current Dutch imams are on another frequency than the youth in their mosques. They do not always speak Dutch well, while they mostly know a lot about theology. Bussemaker: “This is while the youth are also looking for someone to give moral guidance. Someone who can indicate limits.”

That mosques are in need of imams that speaks the Dutch language well and that can also be moral leaders, became apparent at a recent meeting at the VU in Amsterdam. There Bussemaker spoke to a multifarious company of 75 imams. During the debate the imams made clear they do not always succeed in being theologian, pedagogue, and moral leader. “That message was clearly received”, Bussemaker said afterwards. As minister of education she cannot solve all problems, but “I do can show that the imams are not alone in this.”

Muslims in France say emergency powers go too far (video)

February 17, 2016

Depending on who is telling the story, Daoud Muradyan, a blind 21-year-old, is either a potential terrorist or a harmless immigrant who embodies everything that is wrong with France’s broad new antiterrorism powers.

Mr. Muradyan came under suspicion after having contact with a radical imam, the French authorities say. They also say that he recently traveled to a part of Brussels where several of the attackers in the Nov. 13 Paris assaults had lived, and that he had five cellphones and four USB memory sticks in his possession when the police raided his home in the southeastern city of Avignon.

But Mr. Muradyan, who converted to Islam and moved to France from Armenia in 2007, says he just likes to buy electronics and travel a bit. “The policemen were very mean when they came in, very mean and scornful,” he said, recounting the search of his home. “They broke everything.”

He is now one of hundreds of French Muslims who have been placed under house arrest under the state of emergency declared by President Francois Hollande after the Paris attacks the Islamic State. He must tap his way to a police station three times a day to check in with the authorities.

Muslim groups point to Mr. Muradyan’s case as an example of government overreach as over the last year France has become a laboratory for balancing security concerns with civil liberties. At the very least, his case shows the quandary facing the authorities as they work to head off another terrorist attack, but risk further alienating French Muslims.

The emergency powers now in effect allow the police to conduct raids of homes, businesses, associations and places of worship without judicial review and at any time. The police can place people under house arrest even if they do not have sufficient evidence of wrongdoing to detain or charge them.

Critics of the new emergency security powers say the human cost of such warrantless searches, about 3,300 of which have been conducted since the Paris attacks, has been disproportionate to their efficacy. Less than 1 percent of raids have resulted in new terrorism investigations, the Interior Ministry acknowledges. Many people whose homes have been searched, like Mr. Muradyan, complain that their privacy was invaded, their families frightened and their property damaged.

Beyond the emergency powers, Mr. Hollande’s government has already pushed through an expansion of surveillance laws. It is now lobbying for a raft of constitutional changes, including provisions that would allow some convicted terrorists to be stripped of their citizenship, a step that has raised fierce debate and protest from even members of his Socialist Party.

The French Parliament voted on Tuesday to extend the state of emergency for another three months. Marc Trévidic, a judge who oversaw terrorism cases for 10 years, emphasized the dangers for France if it failed to strike the proper balance. During his tenure, he said, he listened to many wiretapped phone conversations of young people considering whether to follow a more extreme form of Islam.

“They have the impression that France doesn’t like Islam,” Mr. Trévidic said, adding that those young people often have not yet taken the step of becoming active in a terrorist organization because they have jobs, families and a stake in society. As the number of warrantless searches rises in the weeks after the attacks, scores of French citizens posted photographs and videos on social media websites showing the damage to their front doors, their furniture and their possessions. The damage stung all the more for those who did not have the money for the repairs.

In one widely reported case, police officers burst into a halal restaurant where families were eating dinner and ordered them to put their hands on the table, but did not check their identity papers. They searched mosques as well as a shelter for battered and homeless Muslim women. Often it was unclear why the police were conducting the raid. Amnesty International reported this month that many people caught up in the raids said in interviews that they feared the searches were often based on little more than unsubstantiated suspicions passed along by neighbors.

The authorities have also put 407 people under house arrest since Nov. 14, requiring them to report to the police three times daily, which forced those who were working to quit their jobs or take leaves of absence.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls defended the raids, detentions and house arrests during a Feb. 5 session of the National Assembly, saying that they were “efficacious” and “indispensable to the security of the French people.”

Mr. Valls said the emergency powers had enabled the government to uncover at least one attack in the planning stage. However, it was unclear how far along it was and whether it involved a conspiracy engineered by a larger extremist group such as the Islamic State or Al-Qaeda. The available evidence suggests that, at most, a handful of potential extremist assailants have been found as a result of the emergency measures.

In only 10 percent of the searches did the government open new judicial proceedings. Of those, just 28 were related to terrorism, with the vast majority — 23 — for the crime of “apologizing for terrorism,” or “praising terrorism.” In many cases, such an act in the United States would be protected as free speech.

That means just five cases involved potential terrorism offenses such as preparing to travel to the Middle East for training or gathering information for a potential attack.

As for the 407 house arrests related to terrorism, the government effectively has admitted it was mistaken in at least 41 cases and has lifted those house-arrest orders. Another 27 were related to the climate conference, and the house arrests were lifted when the conference ended.

Two individuals have also been freed by order of the Conseil d’Etat, the highest administrative court, on the grounds that the government failed to prove its case. At least 108 cases are being appealed. In the course of 3,289 raids on homes, mosques and associations, the police netted 560 weapons. The interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, said on Feb. 9 that 42 of them were “heavy weapons” such as semiautomatic guns, while more than half were either shotguns or handguns.

“Today what has happened is that every Muslim is seen as a potential terrorist,” said Mohamed Bajrafil, the imam of a congregation of more than 3,000 in Ivry-sur-Seine on the outskirts of Paris.

“It really has to stop. One could say, that Daesh has won because its goal has been to sow trouble, and they have succeeded,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State, which is also known as ISIS or ISIL.

Those on the receiving end of the raids say they feel as if the state is conducting a witch hunt in which their property is damaged, their dignity disregarded and their families humiliated. Many have asked why the heavily armed police officers needed to break doors and furniture when no one was resisting them, but it has been difficult to get the government to respond, several Muslim groups said.

Malik Nekaa, a lawyer in Lyon, who has many Muslim clients, said he believed that Muslims felt rejected in France in part because of the way the police have behaved: casting a wide net and often explaining little about why they were searching or what they were looking for.

He said the police had brought 100 officers to a small hotel near Lyon that had been rumored to have been hosting a meeting of Turkish Muslims — it turned out later that it had not been. The raid terrified people in the neighborhood, but most of all, it struck local Muslims as a sign that they could be next, he said. “It made people afraid,” he said, “because they saw that the government was not capable of distinguishing who is dangerous and who is not.”

Amnesty International calls for end to state of emergency in France

February 9, 2016

France’s state of emergency measures have resulted in repeated abuse and discrimination against Muslims in the country, according to separate reports by human rights groups.

The country has granted law enforcement officials more pervasive powers and restricted mass public gatherings since Islamic militants killed 130 people in Paris in November. The powers expire this month, but lawmakers have debated extending the measures, with Prime Minister Manuel Valls saying in January that he believed the state of emergency should stay in place until the “total and global war” against the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) is won.

According to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch since November law enforcement officials have repeatedly used excessive force against Muslim residents in raids on homes, restaurants and places of worship. Both reports argue that thousands of raids carried out have produced few results to warrant the potentially traumatizing experiences for the Muslim community. HRW says that, while as many as 400 people have been placed under house arrest, the Parisian prosecutor’s counterterrorism unit has opened only five terrorism-related investigations.

Meanwhile, those who have been subject to the searches have described police damaging their property, throwing sacred objects such as Korans on the floor, and costing some people their jobs due to excessively restrictive house arrest terms. Some of this took place in front of children, the reports say.

More than 60 people interviewed by Amnesty said police used excessive force and harsh measures with little or no explanation. Harrowing incidents are described by HRW, which reports that one raid resulted in police breaking four of a disabled man’s teeth before they realized they had mistaken him for someone else. In another instance reported by Amnesty, an 80-year-old man suffered a heart attack after police forcibly broke down his door.

“In a context of growing Islamophobia, the French government should urgently reach out to Muslims and give them assurances that they are not under suspicion because of their religion or ethnicity,” said Izza Leghtas, Western Europe researcher at HRW.

“Freedom, equality, and fraternity have been badly damaged in the weeks since the November attacks. France should live by those words and restore their meaning,” Leghtas added.

HRW was critical of the French government’s push to further extend the state of emergency, explaining that there is still no “compelling evidence that would justify the need to continue these sweeping measures.”

Islamic state threatens National Front

February 10, 2016

The Islamic State has set its sights on its latest European target, threatening France’s far-right National Front party.

The terrorist group’s French propaganda magazine Dar al-Islam says in its latest issue that the party and everyone associated with it are “apostates,” citing them as “prime targets” for attack.

The magazine published its threats together with a photo of a National Front demonstration, suggesting that the right-wing party’s rallies may be a target. National Front leader Marine Le Pen has positioned herself as France’s most outspoken critic of Islam and has frequently made headlines for her controversial statements about migrants and Muslims.

Last October, Le Pen went on trial in France, charged with inciting hatred after she compared Muslim street prayers to the Nazi occupation.

Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, headed the National Front before his daughter took over, and was himself summoned to court last summer for saying that the gas chambers were a “detail” of World War Two.

Following last November’s terror attacks, Marine Le Pen called to “destroy Islamist extremism … and deport foreigners who preach hatred in our country, as well as illegal immigrants who have nothing to do here.”

In response to the threats, French police have upped security for the party. IS also issued a more general threat to the rest of France, saying that “it’s not a question of if we attack the French, but how and when.” On Monday, the lower house of the French parliament voted in favor of enshrining in the constitution the process of declaring a state of national emergency, one of a series of controversial amendments the government proposed after November’s Paris attacks.

President Francois Hollande imposed a state of emergency in the wake of the deadly events, giving police and security forces sweeping powers to raid houses and hold people under house arrest without judicial oversight.

As is the case now, parliament would still need to give its approval for a state of emergency lasting more than 12 days.

A state of emergency would last for a maximum of four months under the new rules, after which it would need to be renewed by parliament.

Manuel Valls warns of future terror attacks

February 11, 2016

France’s prime minister is warning that the terrorist threat is a long-term one and there will be other major attacks.

Manuel Valls told a group top defense officials and diplomats Saturday that after the two 2015 attacks in France, the world has “entered a new era.”

He says “we are at war with terrorism; we need to be sincere with our people and we need to tell them there will be other attacks, major attacks, this is something we know for sure.”

In addition to committing military power to fighting the Islamic State group, Valls said nations needed to fight the radicalization of youth and work for peace in places such as Syria, telling Russian Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev, “we need to stop bombing civilians.”