Kerry calls for more resources to fight ‘global extremism’


Top: Georges Wolinski, Jean Cabut (Cabu), Stéphane Charbonnier (Charb) Bottom: Bernard Maris, Bernard Velhac (Tignous) (Image credit: AFP/Metronews)

Top: Georges Wolinski, Jean Cabut (Cabu), Stéphane Charbonnier (Charb)
Bottom: Bernard Maris, Bernard Velhac (Tignous) (Image credit: AFP/Metronews)

Countries must devote more resources to fight global extremism, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said today, but the battle would falter if it becomes consumed by sectarian division or Islamophobia, Reuters reports:

Speaking against a backdrop of deadly Islamist militant attacks in France, Pakistan, Nigeria and elsewhere, Kerry told leaders at the annual World Economic Forum: “These kinds of actions can never be excused. And they have to be opposed. …..He compared efforts to curb the spread of extremist violence to the fight against fascism in World War Two. “The first step is to make clear the civilized world will not cower in the face of this violence,” he said.

Kerry made no specific new proposals for how to counter the tide of violent militancy. U.S. President Barack Obama has invited allies to a Washington summit on the issue on Feb. 18. Saying world leaders must “keep our heads,” Kerry warned: “The biggest error that we could make would be to blame Muslims collectively for crimes not committed by Muslims alone.

“Unless we direct our energies in the right direction, we may very well fuel the very fires we want to put out,” he said. “There’s no room for sectarian division, there’s no room for anti-Semitism or Islamophobia.”

He added: “We can’t change minds without knowing what’s in them. And we have to do so mindful of the fact that understanding and acceptance are not the same.”

“We have to do more to avoid an endless cycle of violent extremism,” he said.

islamists nytBut New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman endorses columnist Rich Lowry’s  Politico essay in which he suggested that “the administration has lapsed into unselfconscious ridiculousness”  by using the phrase ‘violent extremism’ in order to obscure or deny the ideological motivation of radical Islamists.

Friedman also cites a remarkable piece in The Washington Post  by American Muslim Asra Q. Nomani, which called out the “honor corps” — a loose, well-funded coalition of governments and private individuals “that tries to silence debate on extremist ideology in order to protect the image of Islam”:

It “throws the label of ‘Islamophobe’ on pundits, journalists and others who dare to talk about extremist ideology in the religion. … The official and unofficial channels work in tandem, harassing, threatening and battling introspective Muslims and non-Muslims everywhere. … The bullying often works to silence critics of Islamic extremism. … They cause governments, writers and experts to walk on eggshells.”

Indeed, the aftermath of the tragic spate of terrorist attacks in Paris provokes several difficult questions, notes Mohammed Dajani Daoudi, founder of the Wasatia movement of moderate Islam:

How can we reform Islam? How can Islam, and for that matter all religions, be purged of radicals and extremists who preach and practice hate and intolerance in the name of God? Can the state impose religious reform without the support of official religious authorities? Can there be an honest and enlightened interpretation of the Quran without sparking a counterrevolution?

Moderate Muslims cannot remain bystanders, he writes for Fikra Forum:

We have to join forces in recognition that our religion has been hijacked by a small, vocal minority for political ends. We, the silent, moderate majority, must raise our voices no matter the risk and stand up for what we believe. Only our voices can stem the allure of radical Islam. We must draw on our creativity and innovation to promote moderation in religion and politics, and strive to create a world built on egalitarianism, democracy, moderation, and prosperity.

There is a remarkably novel and unlikely ideological alternative emerging to Islamist radicalism, argues David Romano, Professor of Middle East Politics at Missouri State University, and co-editor of Conflict, Democratization and the Kurds in the Middle East (2014, Palgrave Macmillan):

The Kurds of Syria and Turkey, in the most unlikely of circumstances, have reinvented their leading political movements and begun experimenting with a modern variant of egalitarian, local, direct democracy. In a world thirsty for ways to contain the Islamist fever that has taken over many Muslims, one would expect people to pay a bit more attention to such secular efforts, or to at least be a bit more enthusiastic about such alternatives. Yet serious discussions of “democratic autonomy” barely make the mainstream news. 

 A  “new integrationist” discourse is widely shared across European countries and, interestingly, promoted by former left-wing activists, notes Jocelyne Cesari, Senior Research Fellow at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, and Director of Harvard University’s Islam in the West Program:  

Gender equality and rejection of religious authority, which were primary left-wing topics of struggle in the 1960s have become in the present decade the legitimate markers of European identity. In these conditions, all groups and individuals are required to demonstrate conformity to these liberal values in order to become legitimate members of national communities. The “Moderate Muslims” label serves this purpose. It creates a distinction that is supposedly not based on Islam as such but on the adherence of Muslims to liberal values.

Brutal intimidation of actual and potential critics is just one of the aims of revolutionary groups, notes Ian Buruma, Professor of Democracy, Human Rights, and Journalism at Bard College:

What revolutionaries hate most of all are not direct attacks by their enemies, but the necessary compromises, the give and take, the negotiations and adaptations that go with living in a liberal democracy. Their most important goal is to gain more recruits for their cause. If they are Islamists, they must try to force peaceful, law-abiding Muslims to stop making compromises with the secular societies they live in. They need more Holy Warriors.

The most effective way to do this is to provoke an anti-Muslim backlash by attacking symbolic targets, such as the Twin Towers in New York, a notorious filmmaker in Amsterdam, or a controversial satirical magazine in Paris. The more Muslims in Europe feel feared, rejected, and under siege by the non-Muslim majority, the more likely they are to support the extremists.

“If we conclude from last weeks’ murders that Islam is at war with the West, the jihadis will have won a major victory,” Buruma contends. “If we embrace the peaceful majority of Muslims as our allies against revolutionary violence, and treat them as fully equal fellow citizens, our democracies will emerge stronger.”

For analyst Ahmed Benchemsi, founder & editor in chief of, promoting democracy in so-called Muslim countries and empowering local liberals would be a good place to start.

US senators urge Saudis to halt ‘barbaric’ flogging of blogger

raif-badawi-cropped-internalA high-powered group of U.S. senators is demanding that Saudi Arabia cancel the “barbaric punishment” of a blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes for criticizing the country’s clerics, saying the floggings are particularly troubling in the wake of terror attacks driven by “religious intolerance,” reports suggest:

Blogger Raif Badawi (left) has been ordered to endure 20 weekly sets of 50 lashes until he is whipped 1,000 times. Saudi authorities postponed the second round, after a doctor concluded his wounds from the first 50 lashes had not yet healed. …Eight U.S. senators, in a letter to Saudi King Abdullah, warned that “further violence” against Saudi citizens expressing themselves peacefully “will unfortunately be a source of continued divergence between our two countries.”  

The Jan. 16 letter was signed by: Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.; Jeanne Shaheen, R-N.H.; Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; Ron Wyden, D-Ore.; Mark Kirk, R-Ill.; and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

Saudi ArabiaEuropean soccer champions Bayern Munich returned from a training camp in the Middle East to a barrage of criticism over a friendly played in Saudi Arabia, with some politicians and fans claiming the club had turned a blind eye to human rights violations, The Guardian reports:

The German champions spent just over a week at a training camp in Qatar earlier this month before playing a friendly against Al-Hilal in Saudi Arabia on Saturday and returning to Germany a day later.

Qatar, where the 2022 World Cup will be staged, has been under scrutiny over widespread reports of human rights violations against migrant workers building the infrastructure for the tournament. Bayern’s game in Saudi Arabia also coincided with the uproar over the flogging in the country of activist and blogger Raif Badawi.

If there is one point of consensus from the many Middle Eastern freedom fighters I’ve spoken with over the last decade, it is that Saudi Arabia is the root of all evil. Everywhere one looks, the fruits of Saudi-backed extremism are clear, rights advocate David Keyes writes for The Daily Beast:

Intolerance is Saudi Arabia’s greatest export. The country’s highest religious authority called to burn down all churches in Arabia. Saudi textbooks call Jews the decendents of “apes and pigs.” Christians are forbidden from wearing crosses, building churches or bringing in Bibles….

One of the main excuses for supporting Saudi Arabia is that they are needed to combat Iran. Relying on one hate-mongering, xenophobic tyranny to combat another is a very bad bet. Iran is undoubtedly one of the most dangerous regimes on Earth and the free world must apply enormous pressure against it, but backing Saudi Arabia is not the answer. Iran can be undermined without relying on the Kingdom of Hate.

I am told over and over that Saudi Arabia has no liberals. It is true that Saudi culture is deeply conservative and liberalism is not exactly teeming over. But what are democracies doing to support those few Saudi democrats who risk life and limb for a more tolerant future? The answer is next to nothing.

“Flogging harms the country’s reputation because it is old and medieval,” said Abdullah Alweet, the author of a book last year on reform and renewal in Islam. “It is unnecessarily humiliating,” he told the Wall Street Journal:

The Quran and Prophet Muhammad’s teachings list three crimes as punishable by flogging: adultery, falsely accusing someone of adultery, and drinking alcohol. Even in those cases, flogging isn’t meant to cause physical harm. Instead, it is intended in Shariah, or Islamic law, as a symbolic act to signal society’s anger at immoral behavior, said Abdulaziz Algasim, a former judge who now runs a law firm in the capital Riyadh.

“In Shariah, flogging as punishment was meant to be very mild and doesn’t aim to cause pain. That’s why the stick must have a specific description. It doesn’t leave a mark on the skin. This indicates that the punishment is symbolic. But it is now being used as a tool of torture,” Mr. Algasim said.

The leaders of the free world have abandoned Saudi liberals, but you need not, adds Keyes: 

Raif Badawy’s wife posted on, Advancing Human Rights’ new crowd-sourcing platform, to alert the world that her husband could die if the lashes continue. Global pressure led the Kingdom to postpone the lashes. But if his life is to be saved, much more must be done. No Saudi diplomat should be able to leave his embassy without being confronted with Badawy’s name.


David Keyes is the executive director of Advancing Human Rights and a contributor to The Daily Beast. He has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy and Reuters and appeared on CNN, MSNBC, Bloomberg TV and Al Jazeera. He can be reached at is a crowdsourcing platform created by Advancing Human Rights which connects activists from dictatorships with people around the world with skills to help them.



The ideology motivating Charlie Hebdo attackers

Mustapha Ourrad: "a Charlie Hebdo copy editor of Algerian descent who was among the victims, a hero."

Mustapha Ourrad: “a Charlie Hebdo copy editor of Algerian descent who was among the victims, a hero.”

The perpetrators of the Charlie Hebdo massacre were not motivated by the religion of Islam, but by a political ideology based on a distorted perversion of the faith, analysts suggest.

The strike Wednesday on the French newspaper known for satirizing Islam [and other religions] staggered a continent already seething with anti-immigrant sentiments in some quarters, The New York Times reports:

Olivier Roy, a French scholar of Islam and radicalism, called the Paris assault — the most deadly terrorist attack on French soil since the Algerian war ended in the early 1960s — “a quantitative and therefore qualitative turning point,” noting the target and the number of victims. “This was a maximum-impact attack,” he said. “They did this to shock the public, and in that sense they succeeded.”

The attack on Charlie Hebdo “was a calculated act of intimidation, an attack on the freedom of expression that is the pillar of any democratic society. It was designed to seed an insidious form of self-censorship,” said the Financial Times. But the FT”s European Editor was criticized for suggesting that the magazine provoked the attack.

“This was an attack on our fundamental human right to freedom of expression,” said Maajid Nawaz, chairman of Quilliam, the UK-based anti-extremism group. “This freedom poses a threat to totalitarianism and extremism of all kinds. We must therefore defend this freedom and challenge the extremist ideas that are used to legitimise terrorism.”

“We urge a period of introspection within Muslim communities in the West to seek the compatibility between their faith and their existence in liberal democracies of the 21st century,” the group said:

charlie-hebdo-mahometIn particular, we support Muslims who want to challenge medieval blasphemy codes and want to seize their religion back from the violent extremists who have hijacked it…..We must develop comprehensive policies to prevent European citizens from traveling to join jihadist organisations around the world and must improve our processes for dealing with them when they return. Some of those who return will remain convinced of Islamist extremist ideology, committed to violent jihadist strategies, and have skills learned from Islamic State or Al Qaeda training.

“The killers are soldiers in a war against freedom of thought and speech, against tolerance, pluralism, and the right to offend—against everything decent in a democratic society,” while the fatalities “are only the latest blows delivered by an ideology that has sought to achieve power through terror for decades,” George Packer writes for The New Yorker:

It’s the same ideology that sent Salman Rushdie into hiding for a decade under a death sentence for writing a novel, then killed his Japanese translator and tried to kill his Italian translator and Norwegian publisher. The ideology that murdered three thousand people in the U.S. on September 11, 2001. The one that butchered Theo van Gogh in the streets of Amsterdam, in 2004, for making a film. The one that has brought mass rape and slaughter to the cities and deserts of Syria and Iraq. That massacred a hundred and thirty-two children and thirteen adults in a school in Peshawar last month. That regularly kills so many Nigerians, especially young ones, that hardly anyone pays attention.

The Charlie Hebdo massacre seems to be the most direct attack on Western ideals by jihadists yet, The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg writes:

I’ve seen arguments advancing the idea that 9/11 represents the purest expression of Islamist rage at a specific Western idea— capitalism, in that case—but satire and the right to blaspheme are directly responsible for modernity. In the words of Simon Schama, “Irreverence is the lifeblood of freedom.”

Because the ideology is the product of a major world religion, a lot of painstaking pretzel logic goes into trying to explain what the violence does, or doesn’t, have to do with Islam, Packer continues:

Some well-meaning people tiptoe around the Islamic connection, claiming that the carnage has nothing to do with faith, or that Islam is a religion of peace, or that, at most, the violence represents a “distortion” of a great religion. (After suicide bombings in Baghdad, I grew used to hearing Iraqis say, “No Muslim would do this.”) Others want to lay the blame entirely on the theological content of Islam, as if other religions are more inherently peaceful—a notion belied by history as well as scripture.

He believes France needs “a renewed debate about how the republic can prevent more of its young Muslim citizens from giving up their minds to a murderous ideology—how more of them might come to consider Mustapha Ourrad (above), a Charlie Hebdo copy editor of Algerian descent who was among the victims, a hero.”

There can be no negotiation between liberal democracy and totalitarian theocracy, notes a British observer:

In a globalised world, where ideas can be distributed from Paris to Fallujah in real-time, we can no longer protect people from ideas they do not like, even if we wanted to. We cannot but help insult the religious. Our way of life is an insult. Should gay couples not Instagram their wedding in case it insults those wed to religious orthodoxy? Should atheists hold their tongue to avoid insulting religious prophets?

Turkey needs checks and balances to halt dangerous drift


turkey2With Turkey’s political system  on the brink of profound change, the June 2015 general election will be the last until 2019 could define much more than the next four years, Tulin Daloglu reports for Al-Monitor.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been victorious in all elections since coming to power a decade ago, but the party has lost some seats in the last election lowering its current total to 312.

Speaking to Al-Monitor, Ersan Sen, an Istanbul-based law professor, said even though the AKP may not win enough seats to make constitutional change alone in the parliament, it can still build alliances with the pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party (HDP) to reach that crucial number. “It’s however impossible to make any changes to the constitution or to take any draft proposal to referendum without the exact number of parliamentarians’ noted in the constitution,” Sen said.

Former United Nations High Commissioner Navi Pillay has urged Erdoğan and the Turkish government not to follow in the ways of oppressive governments.

“It’s very important that President Erdoğan respect dissent and allow the free flow of information and respect freedom of speech because that is what democracy means.”

Turkey_biden ndiThe importance of separation of powers in government was the theme of a meeting last week in Istanbul, Turkey, between U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and the Checks and Balances Network, a coalition working for greater democracy and pluralism, supported by the National Democratic Institute:

“Our founders concluded that a concentration of powers was the most corrosive thing that can happen to any system,” Biden said of the U.S. system. “We still believe that.”

“My take away from this meeting,” said Berrin Sönmez of the Capital City Women’s Platform, “is the idea that ‘checks and balances’ is not a system for export but rather a set of principles and mechanisms that each country in its own way can adopt to address its specific needs.”

Formed in 2012 with assistance from NDI and Sabancı University’s Istanbul Policy Center, the Checks and Balances Network is a coalition of more than 180 civil society organizations today represented in all 81 of Turkey’s provinces.  The network’s campaigns and advocacy programs aim to bring about a new constitution, reform institutions including parliament, the judiciary and the media, and foster a new political culture based on participation, transparency and accountability.

NDI has worked in Turkey since 1997 supporting civil society and increased citizen participation in the political process, with funding from the National Endowment for Democracy, the U.S. Department of State, and American Councils for International Education.RTWT

Facebook ‘lets Iran trolls silence on-line dissent’

irantavaanaFacebook is inadvertently acting as the “morality police” for authoritarian regimes eager to silence on-line dissent, activists report. 

Tavaana, a civil-society empowerment initiative has trained thousands of Iranians in live e-learning classes about democracy, women’s rights and similar topics, say Mariam Memarsadeghi and Akbar Atri , the group’s co-founders and co-directors. Our Facebook page is one of the most popular in the Persian language, engaging more than one million people a week with civic-education resources and updates on human-rights violations, they write for The Wall Street Journal:  

On Wednesday last week, we were unable to open Tavaana’s Facebook page and then discovered that our account had been logged out. When we tried to sign in, Facebook presented us with a photo of a woman in a bikini, one that we had posted nearly a year ago, and told us that publishing such content violates Facebook’s terms of use. …. The woman is Jackie Chamoun, a Lebanese Olympic skier. When photos of Ms. Chamoun posing on skis for a calendar shoot were released last year, many Lebanese and regional social networks protested her so-called immodesty and lack of morality. Others defended her brazenness. Tavaana joined this socially significant discussion, posting the image and asking our community to weigh in. 

irancyberWe have a hunch about why this happened. The way Facebook’s detection systems work, once a post is reported by enough users—no matter the content, intent or who is reporting it—the post is marked as a terms-of-use violation. As it happens, the Iranian regime, much like the Chinese and Russian governments, is adept at mobilizing trolls to report activity it doesn’t like.  

The same tyrants benefit from other well-intentioned Facebook policies. The prohibition on anonymous users, for instance, has kicked off thousands of activists who use pseudonyms to protect their own safety. Whistleblowers, advocates for political prisoners, rally leaders, labor activists, feminists and bloggers all use the platform to organize without detection..                             

Organizations that exist out in the open, like ours, have trouble getting official page verificationfrom Facebook, something that could help protect us from threats and troll attacks from the Iranian government,” they write. “Even requests from the U.S. government go unanswered: Our donors at the State Department and United States Agency for International Development have told us that they have tried to relay these concerns to Facebook several times. No luck.