Why French military may be more tolerant of Muslims than French society

March 1, 2016

Abdelkader Arbi’s office is fairly typical for an employee of the French military, with its spacious desk, ceiling-high French flag planted in one corner, and a portrait of President François Hollande affixed to the wall.

But from time to time, it serves an unorthodox purpose for a room in a state-run building: when the Army prayer room is unavailable, it becomes a makeshift mosque for soldiers who don’t have a place to pray.

“Obviously, soldiers need to learn to live together, but sometimes it’s just not convenient or practical for them to pray,” says Mr. Arbi, the French military’s first ever Muslim chaplain, who is celebrating his 11th year in the position. Soldiers often live up to six in a dormitory or work in an open space during the day, which can be a challenge for practicing Muslims trying to observe the required five daily prayers. “They come to pray here so they don’t bother anyone.” In a country that struggles with fears of radicalization and the perception that its definition of secularism is synonymous with Islamophobia, the military offers a model for embracing religious freedom without completely banishing it in the public sphere. While it is theoretically illegal for a chaplain to preside over a public school or office building, church and state are still entwined in the military. And in recent years, the government has worked to make sure religious freedoms are extended to the growing number of young Muslims joining the Army.

“These soldiers simply want to do their jobs while fully respecting their religion,” says Arbi. “They finally feel like they’re being treated equally. After all, everyone here is fighting for the same cause – France.” 

Allowing soldiers to pray on military grounds wouldn’t necessarily be shocking, except that this is France – a country that prides itself on its strict secularism laws, or laicité.

France has fought hard to uphold laicité, including through bans on wearing conspicuous religious symbols in schools since 2004 and the burqa in public places since 2010.

But a clause within a 1905 law to separate church and state makes a provision for people in public prisons, hospitals, and boarding schools – anywhere where an individual does not have free access to traditional religious facilities. In these cases, the government must provide access to a state-appointed chaplain.

The 1905 law parallels a similar one from 1880 that provides the same rights to members of the French Army. There are currently 38 Muslim chaplains in the military, along with the more than 200 chaplains from Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish faiths.

“Religion can’t be practiced in many places in France, but for those who don’t have all their rights, religion is a way to give them this liberty back,” says Valentine Zuber, a professor of religious studies at the Paris-based Practical School of Advanced Studies (EPHE).

But this hasn’t always applied to everyone. While Christian and Jewish soldiers could frequent the on-site prayer halls and chaplains, Muslim soldiers were largely excluded from religious life, even 100 years after religious freedom provisions allowed for military chaplains. Practicing Muslims felt compelled to hide their daily prayers before Arbi arrived at the Vincennes military fort on the outskirts of Paris in 2005, and had little recourse when faced with racist jokes, insults, or feelings of exclusion. 

But that sort of behavior is untenable today due to the Army’s growing Muslim contingent, which represents around 10 to 20 percent of France’s military population. The push for Muslim chaplains finally came in 2004, when a study that looked at second-generation immigrants in the Army showed widespread and primarily religious discrimination.

Samir, a soldier in the south of France and second-generation Moroccan (identifying details have been changed to protect his anonymity), was a practicing Muslim when he first entered the Army in 2005. While his religious practice now extends only to abstaining from eating pork, Samir says he has seen the difference between life with and without religious freedoms.

“Ten years ago, Muslims simply didn’t practice their religion on the base,” says Samir. “The officers didn’t want to see it.”

And while racism and religious discrimination still exists within the ranks – Samir says he recently heard a young officer berating a Muslim soldier for praying in his room – attitudes towards North African and black soldiers is improving. “This new generation of soldiers is very diverse and things are changing for the better, even if that evolution is taking place very slowly.”

Since Muslim chaplains have arrived on the base, soldiers are allowed to pray in their rooms, consult with chaplains when necessary, and choose halal food packs during overseas missions. Some chaplains help organize annual trips to Mecca for the Hajj pilgrimage. But otherwise, the country’s laicité laws are applied in a similar fashion to that of public spaces – no outward religious symbolism is allowed.

“We can’t express anything apparent about our religion,” says Samir. “No chains, no beards – we have to remain neutral. The only place we can pray is in the military chapel or our bedroom.”

Maintaining a balance between overt and private religious practice and a middle-of-the-road approach to providing support – chaplains do not have the right to proselytize – could be what keeps the military’s version of secularism functioning. Unlike in public office buildings or schools, where laicité debates have created deep tensions, the practice of religion in the military generally remains clear of suspicion or scandal.

Hovering between the public and private, the military allows for individuals to practice their religion as long as it does not disturb public order – the original definition of laicité.

“The military seems to be the place where neutrality and freedom are the most respected in France,” says Zuber.

And because the state funds military chaplains, in a country where the government is prohibited from financing religious institutions or employees, the religion itself is given a certain presence and credibility, she adds.

“Our current system of laicité doesn’t allow us to apply similar rules anywhere else,” Zuber says, “but maybe if the role of chaplains were better understood, it would change people’s mentalities. For now, there is no political willingness to do so.”

The moderate approach could also be seen as an attempt to keep radicalization at bay. While France has had problems with radicalization in its prisons, instances within the military remain uncommon. Still, Arbi says that even if he has rarely seen a soldier exhibiting signs of radicalized thoughts, it is his role to remain vigilant, especially since terrorist attacks traumatized France in January and November of last year.

“Anyone can go off the rails, but this isn’t a Muslim problem,” says Arbi. When Mohammed Merah went on a shooting spree in Toulouse in 2012, two of the three soldiers killed were Muslim. “These are French soldiers and even though it might be difficult to remember, Islam is not a ‘foreign’ religion. The relationship between Islam and France has a huge history.”

As France continues to debate the balance between promoting secularism and discouraging Islamophobia, Arbi says that the opportunity for Muslims in the military to practice freely is insurance against Muslim resentment festering into radicalism. The best way to approach things, he says, is like parenting – treating each person equally is fundamental.

“Our job is to make war,” says Arbi. “But if soldiers don’t feel equal among themselves, that war can turn inward.”

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.

Dutch government shows lack of leadership in refugee question

1 February 2016

Both people that are positive and negative about the coming of refugees think the Dutch government is lacking in its information concerning the housing of refugees. People feel uninformed. This was concluded by researcher Marjan de Gruijter of the Knowledge Platform Integration & Society (KIS) based on in-depth interviews about the refugee question.

The interviewees unanimously believe the government is responsible for a solution, but criticize the lack of leadership and communication fro the side of the government and the parliament. Researcher Marjan de Gruijter thinks this consensus is remarkable. Proponents think that because of that the government is undermining the public support for the housing of refugees. Opponents think the government is consciously holding back on information.

The support amongst the interviewees for allowing refugees to enter the Netherlands is extensive. People understand that fleeing the war is not a choice, but a necessity. However the interviewees also thought that many refugees have economic motives. About those the interviewees were not so understanding.

That victims of war are welcome does not mean people are not worried about the impact on society. De Gruijter: “Both proponents and opponents are worried about the consequences for the Dutch society as a whole. They wonder what pressures it puts on facilities and our ways of dealing with each other. On the other hand there are concerns about the wellbeing of the refugees themselves. About the (mental) consequences of having to flee, the circumstances of refugee housing, and the future integration into Dutch society.”

To read more about this research follow this link:

http://www.kis.nl/sites/default/files/bestanden/Publicaties/mensen-zoals-jij-en-ik.pdf

Germany contemplating greater military engagement against ISIL in North Africa

21 February 2016

According to German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen, Germany and its EU allies are contemplating an expansion of the mandate of the EU Mediterranean naval mission ‘Sophia’ – tasked so far with curbing the flow of human trafficking across the Mediterranean – in order to stem the rising influence of the so-called Islamic State in Libya. Von der Leyen stressed, however, that an official request for military support by a government of national unity in Libya would be a precondition for such an expanded mission. Such a unity government is yet to be formed in war-torn Libya. This shift in focus towards the situation in Libya comes as a US intelligence report averred that the number of ISIL fighters in Syria and Iraq was on the decline, while the organisation’s ranks were swelling in Libya.

In related news, representatives of the German foreign and defence ministries also announced that they would be holding talks in Tunisia in the coming week, with the aim of setting up a military training camp in Tunisia for Libyan soldiers. These new initiatives come after Germany, in the wake of the Paris attacks of November 2015, took on a more active role in the fight against ISIL in Syria and Iraq, as well as a greater role in the French-led military mission in Mali. At the same time, German military strategists have warned of further overstretching the capabilities of the German armed forces, with all branches of the army struggling with severe shortages in materiel and personnel.

Six suspects arrested in Lyon, planned to carry out attacks in sex clubs and join ISIS

February 2, 2016

France’s anti-terror police have arrested six people who allegedly planned to attack sex clubs and leave for Syria.

The group of five men and a woman, who had already bought bus tickets to join Daesh in Syria via Bulgaria and Turkey, were arrested outside the French city of Lyon.

At least two of them were planning to obtain weapons to attack French nightspots and then leave Syria-bound after 8 February, according to French security forces.

The suspects had converted to Islam and were in the radar of French intelligence for extremist views.

French authorities said the suspects were known for ‘active proselytism, their allegiance to Daesh, or their calls for Jihad’.

European extremists with the Islamic State group returned to France to carry out the Nov. 13 attacks that left 130 dead in Paris, most at a rock show and bars and restaurants.

ISIS has called on followers to launch attacks in France and the rest of Europe.

In Syria and Iraq one-third of French fighters are female

The number of French women joining the ranks of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria is on the rise, say figures reported in the French media on Thursday, a sign of the increasing importance placed on female recruits by the organization.

French authorities have long been concerned by the number of the country’s citizens undertaking the journey to the Middle East to wage jihad, particularly should they then return to France to commit terrorist acts on home soil.

The dangers of this were made apparent in the terror attacks on Paris in November last year, with several of the perpetrators French nationals who had fought in Syria.

Until recently, the vast majority of French nationals making the trip to Syria have been men. But figures from a confidential report by intelligence agencies seen by France Info show that women now make up more than a third (35 percent) of French citizens travelling to Iraq and Syria to join the Islamic State (IS) group, up from just 10 percent in 2010.

And the numbers are still rising. As of September last year, 164 French women were thought to have made the journey to join the IS group, France Info reported. By December that number had risen to 220.

The figures also reveal that one-third of the female recruits are converts to Islam, rather than raised Muslim, compared to just one sixth of French males fighting with the IS group in Iraq and Syria.

According to Wassim Nasr, FRANCE 24’s expert on jihadist movements, the figures seem credible.

“It confirms a trend that has been ongoing since 2013,” he says.

French and other foreign women travelling to IS group’s Middle East strongholds are, however, likely to fulfill a very different role within the jihadist organization’s self-proclaimed caliphate to their male counterparts fighting on the front lines.

“They don’t fight, they don’t have the right,” says Nasr.

Instead, their most likely role will be as wives to jihadist fighters – men they may well have already committed to marrying before leaving for Syria or Iraq and will meet in person for the first time upon their arrival.

French journalist Anna Erelle described in her book “The Skin Of A Jihadist” how an Islamic State group member in Syria attempted to recruit her online in 2014, believing she was a 15-year-old girl interested in jihad.

“It’s my job to recruit people, and I’m really good at my job. You can trust me. You’ll be really well taken care of here. You’ll be important. And if you agree to marry me, I’ll treat you like a queen,” the recruiter told her.

But rather than peripheral figures confined to carrying menial tasks under the Islamic State group women instead form a key part of the organization’s vision of a functional Islamic state, says Nasr. “It is wrong to think they just handle cooking in the kitchen or they are just there to have children. They have an education role, teaching in schools. We also see many women acting in medical roles, both for the IS group and other Islamist groups. “They are preparing the next generation of jihadists. The IS group believes they are building a new model of society and in any model of society women are needed.

In the eyes of the jihadists, Western women are particularly useful in this role.

“Western women who join jihadists groups tend to be very motivated for ideological reasons, more so than women who are already on the spot in Syria or Iraq,” says Nasr.

Another role awaiting some Western women travelling to Syria is membership of the Khansaa Brigade – an all-female religious police force that operates in territories controlled by the IS group, tasked with enforcing its strict interpretation of Islamic teachings.

Infringements such as wearing make-up or dressing in a way that does not sufficiently hide their body shape can invoke the wrath of the Khansaa Brigade for women in Mosul or Raqqa, with whippings, beatings and worse among the punishments reportedly meted out.

According to reports from former members, foreign women are well represented within the Khansaa Brigade’s ranks.

That women are crucial to the Islamic State group’s strategy is evidenced by the apparent effort the organization has put into recruiting Western women and girls.

One known tactic is to use social media accounts allegedly maintained by Western women who are married to jihadi fighters to convince others to follow them to Iraq and Syria.

“By creating content specifically targeting female jihadi supporters, the [Islamic State group] is able to establish a pipeline to assist Western women in traveling to Syria … and contribute to the formation of their new society,” a 2015 report by the SITE Intelligence Group said.

For those women who do make the journey to join up with the jihadist group, it is often a one-way ticket, with reports of those wanting to return home again being prevented from doing so or even killed – as in the case of Austrian teenager Samra Kesinovic, reportedly beaten to death after trying to flee Syria.

Shukee Begum, a British woman who travelled to Syria to be with her husband, told the UK’s Channel 4 News in an interview in October how she would “love to go back to the UK”.

“This is what I want to make clear as well to other women thinking of coming into [Islamic State group] territory – that you can’t just expect to come into [its] territory and then expect that you can just leave again easily. There is no personal autonomy there at all,” she said.

It is a warning that vulnerable young women in France and elsewhere seem not to be heeding.

Follow the Money: UK Gov’t to Investigate Foreign Funding of UK Jihadis

The British government’s new Extremism Analysis Unit [EAU] has been ordered by the Prime Minister to investigate the extent of foreign money used to fund extremist groups in the UK.

The call for the inquiry came from the Liberal Democrat party after the House of Commons voted in favor of extending airstrikes in Syria.

“We call on [the government] to conduct an investigation into foreign funding and support of extremist and terrorist groups in the UK,” said Tim Farron, leader of the Lib Dems.

The EAU was established in September 2015, making it a legal duty for universities and colleges in the UK to ban extremists from radicalizing students on campuses and support those at risk of radicalization.

The EAU must also examine overseas revenue streams subsidizing jihadi groups in the UK.

However, reports suggest that the government-led investigation could lead to a potential stand-off between the UK and Saudi Arabia — Britain’s biggest ally in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia is the UK’s largest single market for British arms and the UK government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review recently outlined Britain’s intentions to continue to work with close allies including “vital partners, such as Saud Arabia, in the Middle East.”

However, Saudi Arabia has been publicly accused by German vice chancellor Sigmar Gabriel of funding extremist mosques and groups in the West.

“Wahhabi mosques all over the world are financed by Saudi Arabia. Many Islamists who are a threat to public safety come from these communities in Germany,” Sigmar Gabriel told Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

Wahhabism — a fundamental sect of Sunni Islam, practiced in Saudi Arabia — has inspired terrorist groups, including Daesh, also known as Islamic State, as well as al-Qaeda.

Man drives car into troops guarding mosque in Valence

The driver, 29, was seriously injured when the soldiers shot at him, but according to a government statement, his injuries are not life threatening. Authorities said the man was taken to a hospital, where his wife had arrived to visit him, but he had yet to be questioned and his motives are still unknown.

Local intelligence services in Valence had no information on the man, who is a French native, the Guardian reported. He is from a Lyon suburb, about an hour from Valence.

A 72-year-old male passerby was injured during the incident by a stray shot from one of the soldier that struck his calf, Valence Mayor Nicolas Daragon told the iTELE news channel.

“The four soldiers were in front of the mosque, a moderate, quiet mosque, in between two prayer sessions, at a time when many worshippers arrived,” Daragon said. “A car drove at them.”

The driver tried twice to ram his car at the soldiers before they shot at him on his second attempt, the mayor said.

Since the November attack that killed 130 in Paris, France has been on high alert. Soldiers are stationed around the country, protecting sensitive places such as official buildings and religious sites.

British jihadist in Syria: ‘I’m fighting Islamic State and Assad’

Sitting in Syria, and speaking via the internet, “Abu Dujana” told me: “I’m not a big fan of the suicide attack or exploding oneself.” But after giving it careful consideration, the British Muslim convert said he was prepared to be martyred, to kill himself for his cause.

He is perhaps in his mid-20s, has been fighting in Syria with the Islamic Front for the past three years, and comes from “somewhere’ in England. He came, he says, with the intention of giving humanitarian help, but soon picked up a gun. His identity is hidden, the biographical details are scarce, because he realises that by killing in Syria, he risks arrest at home. Yet, still, he could be the British government’s ally on the battlefield against the so-called Islamic State group.

Prime Minister David Cameron believes there are 70,000 “moderate” rebels fighting in Syria – a figure that many believe is an overestimate – ready to face IS, also known as Isis, Isil or Daesh. Abu Dujana is one of those moderate rebels. He meets Britain’s “moderate” criteria on two points: first, that he’s prepared renounce terrorism, and second, that he will accept a post-conflict Syria that includes all faiths and religions.

David Cameron admits it is too much to ask for “ideal partners” in the fight in Syria, and has asked: “Do we wait for perfection?” Abu Dujana sees fighting in Syria as his religious duty – jihad – but says he’s no different from other British citizens who have gone to fight IS and that he should be treated the same.

More than 700 Britons have gone to Syria to fight, mostly with IS, but no-one knows how many have taken up arms with other groups.

From the Lone Wolf to the Management of Savagery Amidst violence worldwide, it is time to take religion seriously

In the early phases of the war in Syria, ISIS did not appear as a major threat to the West. Jihadists made their way to Syria to fight the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad with little interest to carry out attacks in their respective countries. The November 13 attacks in Paris reveal a shift of strategy, but also, a change in actors of the global jihad.

Until this point, global attacks were the defining feature of Al Qaeda, especially in the West. Ironically, a few days before the Paris attacks, Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri sent a message to the Muslim youth to intensify their fight in the West.

Many observers have noted that the November 13 coordinated attacks endorsed by ISIS illustrate not only a change of players but also of the rules of the game. Yet they fail see that this strategy is not driven only by the material, institutional, and geopolitical features of the Islamic State. It expresses a binary vision where the merciless and relentless “fighters of God” aim to destroy the “forces of Evil.” We should not underestimate the influence of such a vision, which provides an ideology of resistance to the disenchanted youth, and therefore will require mobilization of religious and cultural narratives that could offer credible alternatives to this “cosmologic” vision.

The November attacks in Paris and Beirut follow a war strategy inspired by Abu Bakr Naji (a pen name), author of the tract called the Management of Savagery, which was released online in 2004 and used by the Iraq branch of Al Qaeda in 2005-07. In this pamphlet, he advocates for restless violence and massacre in order to scare and exhaust the enemy. In his own words:

“The tyrants plan and plot together for the continued humiliation and pillage of the Ummah, the suppression of the jihad, and the buying off of the youth and the (Islamic) movements. Therefore, we must drag everyone into the battle in order to give life to those who deserve to live and destroy those who deserve to be destroyed … Thus, we must burn the earth under the feet of the tyrants so that it will not be suitable for them to live in …” (p.176)

The means to achieve this goal are not only military, but also psychological. It entails attacking everywhere and at anytime in order to destabilize populations across countries. It is what Naji calls “waves operations”–which never end and maintain high levels of fear among masses. The fight is also about capturing the hearts and minds of youth in the lands of savagery by raising their belief and turning their energy and enthusiasm into lethal weapons against the “armies of Evil.” The November massacres in Paris and Beirut, and the downing of the Russian jetliner in the Sinai, are signals that the whole world will be the target of successive waves, which will be more intense and restless than those of Al Qaeda ones.

A military response to destroy ISIS’s infrastructure in Iraq–and to dismantle its material resources beyond oil–is with no doubt an important component of any attempt to defeat them. But will it diminish their global appeal? Probably not.

First, because only a military response cannot defeat such an apocalyptic vision. Beyond the combat zones in Syria and Iraq, ISIS provides a narrative–or “ideology of resistance”–not only against the pitfalls of domestic and international politics, but also against the personal disenchantment and anxiety of the youth. What is needed is an alternative global narrative that is appealing across nations and cultures. Attempts of counter-narratives are doomed to fail from the start if initiated by western political actors.

Second, such a narrative has to include some religious references, because interventions based only on secular motivations run the risk of actually increasing the solidarity and empathy of Muslims with ISIS, especially if those interventions are pitching the West against Islam, as some American politicians have already done.

Like an efficient military strategy, the search for an alternative narrative is actually a global issue and requires involvement of all Muslim countries, and most importantly, non-state Muslim actors.

In these conditions, it is imperative that political leaders take religions seriously both domestically and internationally and include it in any response to ISIS. However, it is easier said than done because of the secular culture that prevents or inhibits governmental and international agencies to take into account the religious dimension of peace building, conflict resolution, and any form of positive development.

The main reason for this inhibition is related to the dominant but false perception that religious groups and actors are not as rational, nor inclined to compromise, as non- religious ones. It also neglects the crucial influence of political and cultural contexts that fashion and shape the readings and interpretations of religious texts.

In other words, the understanding of the context in which religious actors are operating is key to identifying the ones that could support international initiatives in favor of peace or rapprochement.

It also means that such international policies inclusive of religion will require specific information and understanding that cannot be gathered in the high peak of crisis or conflict, but rather through a prior understanding of religion across nations and regions.

It is also important for Muslims and non Muslims alike to stop repeating that Islam needs a reform. ISIS are the heirs of the eighteenth-century reform in the Arabic peninsula, known as Salafism, which is based on the imitation of the Prophet Mohammad at Medina. This interpretation undermines the principles of plurality and flexibility of opinions that are central to the Islamic tradition.

The exportation of this “reform” from Saudi Arabia to the whole world since the 1970s, benefited also of the discredit of traditional clerics seen as tools of the authoritarian nation-states. It has therefore gained influence across Muslim countries while presenting itself as “the true” Islam. The challenge is for Muslims to regain ownership of their tradition in all its diversity. For this purpose, centers for education and transmission of Islam outside authoritarian Muslim countries are deeply needed.

To avoid isolating Islam as the “problem,” it would also be critical to create a global network of religious groups and actors of all denominations and traditions who work locally in favor of peace, economic development, and social justice. The key word here is “local.”

Too often, the action of religion at the international level consists of high profile religious figures signing a document enunciating the broad principles of peace and tolerance. In most of the cases, these documents do not have any impact on the ground.

For example, the “Amman Message,” initiated by the King of Jordan in 2004, is a remarkable document bringing prominent Muslim figures to assert–or re-assert–the tolerance of the Islamic message. Regretfully, this document is not known or referenced by religious actors in different localities. In contrast, a more positive action would provide greater visibility to groups and actors who are not automatically religious scholars and authorities, but who act positively in the name of religion.

Introducing religious actors and organizations into policymaking is not angelic or naïve; it is sorely needed to overcome the one-sided perception of religion that is dominant, not only within political agencies, but also among religious radical actors as well.