France Must Bring Secularism and Islam Together

The killing of a priest during morning mass at a Catholic church near Rouen on July 26 has sent new shockwaves through France—a country that prides itself on its secularism, but in which religion still plays a large part in many communities.

The rapid succession of attacks on French soil claimed by Islamic State (IS), from the truck rampage in Nice on Bastille Day to the killing of 84-year-old Jacques Hamel 15 days later, is a worrying sign that IS has intensified its strategy known as the “management of savagery” and that France is a primary target in its fight against the “evil forces”.

Named after the 2004 pamphlet that influenced actions of the Iraq branch of Al Qaeda in 2005-7, “management of savagery” advocates restless violence and continuous massacres in order to scare and exhaust the enemy. It means that IS wages a psychological war as much as a military one. It entails attacking everywhere and at any time in order to destabilize populations across countries. It entails “waves operations”—that never end and maintain high levels of fear among the masses.

This view is based on a binary vision of the world where the merciless and relentless “fighters of god” aim to destroy the “forces of evil”. In this binary vision, the West is not simply a military enemy. It is the incarnation of evil because of its moral, political corruption and its promiscuous and decadent lifestyle that threatens the souls of Muslims everywhere: both those in Western democracies and in Muslim-majority countries ruled by westernized and corrupted leaders.

In this sense, the West is no longer a geopolitical concept but a word used to describe cultures, promiscuous lifestyles and atheism but also Christianity and Judaism that threaten to destroy “pure” Islam everywhere.

Defending secularism

France holds a specific status in this worldview because of its stringent version of secularism or laïcité characterized by a very limited tolerance for religious signs in public spaces. As a result, the trend is to push most Islamic practices, and especially dress code, into the private sphere. At the same time, leniency is maintained for the visibility of some catholic signs and nun’s dresses, often associated with French national culture. This is ironic, given that laïcitéwas first and foremost designed at the time of the separation of church and state in 1905 to crush the infamous power of the Catholic Church.

Discrimination against Islamic religious practices occurs everywhere in Europe, but it is somewhat different in France where there is a more systematic use of the law against Islamic practices. Since the 2004 law banning all religious signs in public schools that was intended to exclude the hijab from the classroom, this has extended to the total prohibition of the niqab(face veil) in public spaces in 2010.

In this context, laïcité is presented by politicians from right to left as the major pillar of French national identity, in need of defence against Islam. Their rhetoric suggests that the problem is not just a particular conservative or political Islamic trend, but Islam itself.

This existential war has been present since the late 1980s with the ongoing controversies on the headscarf and the rise of respected intellectuals and celebrities who have urged their followers to defend France’s universal secularist values against Islam. Most of these figures are on the left side of the political spectrum, such as the acclaimed novelist Michel Houellebecq, or feminists, like journalist and writer Caroline Fourest. Interestingly, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in France has not been part of this anti-Islamic battle, siding instead for respect of Islamic practices.

Reconciliation needed

This existential war between the core values of the West and Islam does, of course, happen elsewhere in Europe, but it is at its peak in France. French Muslims have become internal enemies of the state because they seem to endanger the core value of laïcité. French Muslims are also perceived as external enemies because of the war on terror and the rise of radical Islam. Under these conditions, any expression of Islamic identity or practice, from head covering to dietary rules, is seen as “uncivic” and therefore deemed illegitimate. No doubt that the succession of recent attacks from Nice to Rouen will exacerbate this sentiment.

All Muslims are affected, even when they are not particularly religious. As my research has shown, this has exacerbated a sense of estrangement caused by other ongoing factors including a lack of socio-economic integration or of political representation.

So it is not surprising that for some, including converts, IS provides a powerful narrative that reverts the stigma by making Islam good and the West evil. IS’s fight for the so-called caliphate is also about capturing the hearts and minds of youth in the “lands of savagery” by turning their energy and enthusiasm into lethal weapons against the “armies of evil”.

It is particularly attractive to the most fragile segments of the Muslim youth, especially young men from North African backgrounds who struggle with employment, education and gender relations. In this sense, France has become the major battlefield of inverted perceptions of Islam and the West that reinforce each other: the jihadi perception of the West as the quintessential enemy of Islam and the extreme French secular vision of Islam as the enemy of the West.

The reconciliation of Islam with French laïcité will certainly not defeat IS on the ground, but it may diminish the group’s attraction as a global ideology of resistance for young Muslims. French leaders, both political and religious, need to make sure they focus on this need for reconciliation.

Jocelyne Cesari is professor of religion and politics and director of research at the Edward Cadbury Centre at University of Birmingham.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali and the dangerous anti-Islamic logic of the war on terror

April 20, 2014

 

Ayaan Hirsi Ali lost an honorary degree from Brandeis for articulating the same twisted thinking as Dick Cheney

It’s been over a week since students at Brandeis compelled their university to refuse Ayaan Hirsi Ali an honorary degree, and the blogosphere is still roiling with grievance. Kirsten Powers laments Islam’s preferential treatment in USA Today. Mark Steyn notes the incident, as part of a eulogy to free speech in this weekend’s Spectator. Bill KristolJohn PodhoretzAndrew Sullivan and Ross Douthat have all registered their disgust at this assault on a free and open discourse. Zev Chaffets at Fox News.com describes the incident as an “honor killing.”

The Change.org petition that cost Ali her honorary degree acknowledges the legitimacy of her grievances with Islam, but condemns the “hate speech” through which she expresses them. The petition quotes her as saying:

Violence is inherent in Islam – it’s a destructive, nihilistic cult of death. It legitimates murder … the battle against terrorism will ultimately be lost unless we realize that it’s not just with extremist elements within Islam, but the ideology of Islam itself …

Ali told Reason magazine in 2007, “There are Muslims who are passive, who don’t all follow the rules of Islam, but there’s really only one Islam, defined as submission to the will of God. There’s nothing moderate about it.”

Curiously, not one of the pieces protesting Brandeis’ decision actually quotes Ali’s past rhetoric. Instead, they refer obliquely to her “stinging attacks on non-Western religions,” “provocative ideas” or, most opaquely, her “life and thought.” The simplest explanation for this chronic omission is that to actually engage with Ali’s rhetoric would be to expose the absurdity of the Judeo-Christian persecution complex that informs so much of the genre.

The backlash the students of Brandeis have incurred for asserting that Islamaphobia is in fact bigotry, reflects precisely what makes Ali’s rhetoric so dangerous. Far from being a fringe position in our discourse, the idea that Islam is a uniquely malevolent ideology is the necessary fiction behind the war on terror.

To be clear: Fundamentalist religion is a scourge. And without question, fundamentalist Islam enjoys more political salience in many countries across the Middle East, than fundamentalist Christianity does in American politics (though the influence of the latter is considerable). What is fictitious in Ali’s rhetoric, and in the logic of our public policy, is the notion that Islam is uniquely susceptible to violent interpretation, and therefore all Muslims are inherently suspect.

Salon.com: http://www.salon.com/2014/04/20/ayaan_hirsi_ali_and_the_dangerous_anti_islamic_logic_of_the_war_on_terror/

Britain’s wars fuel terror. Denying it only feeds Islamophobia.

In the week since a British soldier was horrifically stabbed to death by London jihadists on the streets of Woolwich, it’s July 2005 all over again. David Cameron immediately rushed to set up a task force and vowed to ban “hate clerics”. Now the home secretary wants to outlaw “nonviolent extremist” organisations, censor broadcasters and websites and revive plans to put the whole country’s phone and web records under surveillance. As for the impact on Muslims, the backlash has if anything been worse than in 2005, when 52 Londoners were killed by suicide bombers. As the police and a BBC reporter described the alleged killers as of “Muslim appearance” (in other words, non-white), Islamophobic attacks spiked across the country. In the first five days 10 mosques were attacked, culminating in triple petrol bombing in Grimsby. One key change since 2005 is the rise of the violently anti-Muslim English Defence League, given a new lease of life by Woolwich. More than 40% of Islamophobic incidents recorded by the Muslim organisation Faith Matters last year were linked to the EDL or other far-right groups.

 

But almost nobody in public life mentions the war. The reason cited by the alleged Woolwich killers – the role of British troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and the war on terror – has been mostly brushed aside as unseemly to discuss. Instead, the problem is once again said to be “Islamism”, regardless of the string of democratic Islamist governments elected from Turkey to Tunisia. There can be no surprise, however, that such attacks take place. It’s not just opponents of the war on terror who predicted from the start that it would fuel terrorism not fight it. The intelligence services on both sides of the Atlantic did the same. The perpetrators of one attack after another, from London 2005 to Boston 2013, say they’re carrying them out in retaliation for the vastly larger scale US and British killing in the Muslim world.

 

What is indisputable is that there were no jihadist attacks in Britain before 9/11, itself claimed as a response to US support for Arab dictatorships, Israeli occupation and murderous sanctions on Iraq. Wars supposedly fought to keep Britain safe have been shown to do the exact opposite.

 

Denial of the role of US-British wars, occupations and interventions in the Muslim world in fuelling terror attacks at home helps to get politicians off the hook. But it also plays into the hands of those blaming multiculturalism and migration, feeding racism and Islamophobia in the process. The wars should be ended because they are wrong and a failure – but also because they fuel terrorism and divide communities.

 

Those who carried out last week’s killing are of course responsible for what they did. But those who have sent British troops to wage war in the Arab and Muslim world for more than a decade must share culpability.

Arrests of Americans in Pakistan raise concerns about possible trends of homegrown terrorism and radicalization abroad

In the years since 9/11 no further terrorist attacks have occurred, and the American war on terror was partly predicated upon the idea that fighting terrorism abroad will prevent fighting it at home. But a recent string of terrorism arrests is challenging the idea that American soil is immune to homegrown radicalism. The Obama Administration this week conceded that the US now faces a rising threat of homegrown radicalism.

This raises a new question: are Muslims in the US really more assimilated and less prone to extremism than European Muslims?

Bruce Hoffman, Georgetown University terrorism expert says “it is myopic to believe we could insulate ourselves from the currents affecting Muslims everywhere else.”

US Muslims feel unfairly implicated in the war on terror

As the FBI pursues one alleged terrorist plot after another, Muslim Americans are grappling with a widespread sense that the government thinks they all could be terrorists.

In dozens of interviews across the country, McClatchy Newspapers has found that the government’s search for the enemy within is threatening to divide and destroy America’s Muslim communities.

“It’s not a guilty complex; it’s the stigma of being a Muslim and constantly having to defend religion,” said Edina Lekovic, the communications director for the Muslim Public Affairs Council. “It causes people to give up and say, ‘Why should I bother? No one likes me. Why should I keep trying?’ ”

US asks Germany to take 10 Guantánamo inmates

The US government has officially asked Germany to accept as many as 10 inmates from the Guantánamo Bay prison, handing over a list to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office and the Foreign Ministry. The request was made last week during a visit by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who spent four days in Europe talking to top judicial and interior officials from the European Union about how President Barack Obama intended to close the prison within the year. “A specific request has been made,” a German Interior Ministry spokesman said Sunday. After his talks in Berlin, Mr. Holder said Wednesday that 30 inmates could be freed immediately if a host country would be willing to take them in. In all, about 50 of the 241 inmates cannot be sent back to their own countries because they may be tortured or face the death penalty there. In an apparent contradiction to the Interior Ministry, Mr. Holder had added that no “specific requests” or “specific promises” had been made. The German interior and foreign ministries said Daniel Fried, a senior diplomat and a member of Mr. Holder’s team, had presented the list. Mr. Fried, who has been the assistant secretary of state for European affairs and is a former ambassador to Poland, is now Washington’s top diplomat dealing with the closing of the Guantánamo prison. The issue has divided the German government. Mrs. Merkel’s conservatives are in no hurry to accept any former inmates, fearing that they could pose a security threat. The Social Democrats, Mrs. Merkel’s coalition partners, are more eager to accept them, for moral reasons but also because they want to give the Obama administration tangible help. Wolfgang Schäuble, the interior minister and a member of Mrs. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, discussed with Mr. Holder in detail the logistics of taking in any inmates. Mr. Schäuble has always made it clear that the United States has primary responsibility for the inmates, because it opened the camp after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But in recent weeks, Mr. Schäuble also said Germany might consider taking some detainees, under certain conditions.

Washington Post

Terror trial begins: four men stand accused of German terror plot

Germany on Wednesday kicked off the country’s biggest terror trial since the 9/11 attacks. Four men accused of plotting to carry out bomb attacks on targets across Germany are the focus of a high-profile case expected to last up to two years. Under tight security, four men aged between 23 and 30 took to the dock on Wednesday in Düsseldorf to answer accusations of plotting a spate of bombings in discos, restaurants, airports, the Federal Prosecutor’s Office and US army installations. The alleged plot, which was in its final stages when it was thwarted by police in September 2007, would have been the most destructive in Germany’s postwar history. Sitting behind panes of bulletproof glass, the suspects being tried — Fritz Gelowicz, Adem Yilmaz, Daniel Schneider and Atilla Selek — face charges of conspiring to commit murder, plotting to launch explosive attacks and membership in a terrorist organization, the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU). The men have remained silent since their arrest 18 months ago. Police detained three of the so-called “Sauerland cell” members during a sweep on a holiday home in a quiet village in the Sauerland region in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The raid was Germany’s biggest anti-terror operation to date. Police said they had been tracking the terror cell for months but stormed the cottage when it appeared that the suspects were nearly ready to strike. They are accused of having turned the unassuming holiday cottage into a bomb-making base. Among the evidence, police impounded hydrogen peroxide-based liquid explosives more potent than those used in the 2004 Madrid bombings or the 2005 attack in London.

Muslim converts accused of holy war bomb plots

Two Muslim converts and two Turks go on trial in a bomb-proof courtroom in Düsseldorf today accused of plotting to blow up German civilians and US soldiers. “The world will burn!” boasted an intercepted e-mail sent between the accused, who are alleged to have wanted to wage an Islamic holy war in the heart of Europe. Three of the men — Fritz Gelowicz, 29, Daniel Schneider, 23 and the Turkish national Adem Yilmaz, 30 — are accused of attending a training camp on the Afghan-Pakistani frontier run by an Uzbek-based terror organisation known as the Islamic Jihad Union.

Intelligence services say that it has links with al-Qaeda. Using detonators — supplied, the state prosecutor claims, by Attila Selek, 24, a German citizen of Turkish origin — the gang prepared bombs with the explosive force of 410kg (904lb) of TNT, to be set off in and around the US Ramstein air base and other targets. The bombers in London on July 7, 2005, had 4kg of explosive.

‘Jihad’, ‘Islamist’ necessary terms: US army report

A report entitled “Freedom of Speech in Jihad Analysis: Debunking the Myth of Offensive Words” written by unnamed civilian analysts and contractors for the US Central Command has said that words like ‘jihad’ and ‘Islamist’ are needed in discussing 21st century terrorism issues.

The report added that federal agencies which avoid such words are “soft-pedaling” the link between religious extremism and violent acts. The report is quoted as saying: “We must reject the notion that Islam and Arabic stand apart as bodies of knowledge that cannot be critiqued or discussed as elements of understanding our enemies in this conflict.”

The report counters a January 2008 memorandum from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, which recommended avoiding using such terms as “jihadist,” “Islamic terrorist,” “Islamist,” or “holy war” saying that such terminology would create a negative climate and spawn acts of discrimination and harassment.