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 FreeArabs.com, promoting democracy in so-called Muslim countries and empowering local liberals would be a good place to start.

Let locals take the lead on ISIS

Mideast Syria Militants Rise AnalysisThere may be a continuum between the purportedly non-violent Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic State, or ISIS. Nevertheless, “it bears repeating that ISIL’s campaign is not fundamentally a religious phenomenon, or manifestation of mainstream Islam,” said Tom Malinowski, Assistant Secretary at the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Here is a great example, he told  the launch of the Senate Human Rights Caucus:

Here is a great example: Last year, two wannabe jihadists, Yusuf Sarwar and Mohammed Ahmed, set off from England to join ISIL in Syria. Before they left, they ordered two books from Amazon: Islam for Dummies and The Koran for Dummies. This is a movement for people whose only religion is nihilism. The fellowship they seek is not from people seeking God, but from those who get their kicks from killing. And they will be destroyed first and foremost by those whose traditions of faith they have hijacked.

Let locals lead

When western forces fought in Afghanistan in 2001 and in Iraq in 2003, they quickly defeated the armies fielded by those states. But then the west took primary responsibility for defeating the insurgencies that had taken root inside the borders of those states, notes Emile Simpson, a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and author of ‘War From the Ground Up’:

The follow-on mission, which I experienced as an infantry officer in southern Afghanistan, became indistinguishable from local politics. Given the need to tackle all the problems that stoked insurgency – poor governance, corruption, land rights, ethnic prejudice – it could not have been anything less. The hard military objective of defeating an enemy evolved into an open-ended commitment to stabilise politics and civil society.

“If the mission is to remain within clear bounds, it cannot take responsibility for the permanent defeat of Isis, which must lie with local actors and regional states,” he writes for the Financial Times. “Their security is what is primarily at stake, and the long-term stabilisation needed to defeat an insurgency requires them to fix their politics

The West should also be wary of inadvertently enhancing Iran’s regional power, say analysts.

“ISIL is a five-year problem,” Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s strategic affairs minister, said a few hours before Mr. Obama addressed the nation on Wednesday night, using the acronym the Obama administration employs to describe the Sunni extremist group. “A nuclear Iran is a 50-year problem,” he told the New York Times, “with far greater impact.”

“The Iranians may well think we need them to help defeat ISIS and that this will make us more accommodating in the nuclear negotiations,” said Robert Einhorn of the Brookings Institution, who had responsibility for enforcing sanctions. “If they do think that, it is an illusion.”

ISIL did not emerge from nothing, Malinowski told the Senate Human Rights Caucus:.

There’s a reason why such a destructive force ascended in this part of the world at this moment in history. It ascended because a dictator in Syria has spent three years trying to crush what began as a peaceful democratic movement, destroying towns and cities, driving half the people of his country from their homes, until some of them became so desperate that they turned to the false deliverance and destructive fanaticism ISIL offered. It ascended because many in Iraq’s Sunni population felt legitimate grievances were ignored by the government in Baghdad. ISIL not only abuses human rights; it is the product of the abuse of human rights.

Libya’s recovery short-lived as country risks falling apart

libya-free_1835951cA comeback by Libya’s oil industry may be short-lived as a confrontation between armed groups risks splitting the country three years after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, Reuters reports:

Oil production has risen to 650,000 barrels per day (bpd), five times the level two months ago, in a rare success for the economy at a time when armed groups and two parliaments fight for control of the North African country. ….The recent increase comes after a group of federalist rebels campaigning for regional autonomy implemented a deal to reopen major eastern ports such as Es Sider.

But Libya expert Dirk Vandewalle said federalist rebel leader Ibrahim Jathran might close these ports again, after a rival armed faction from the western city of Misrata took control of the capital Tripoli.

This group has pushed to reinstate Libya’s old General National Congress (GNC), refusing to recognize the new House of Representatives. Part of the Misrata forces are backed by the Muslim Brotherhood. In response, the federalists might opt to exert their power over oil exports and the economy as a whole.

“There is always the possibility that the federalists may take this opportunity to reassert themselves,” said Vandewalle, author of the book “History of Modern Libya”.

Secret air strikes are “an astounding and unusual action,” said William Lawrence of the Elliott School of International Affairs in Washington, adding that the US would not have approved of the move.

Libya expert Lawrence agrees that Security Council talks need to take place, saying, “Libya needs to be stabilized and hasn’t been able to do so on its own.” Instead, Lawrence tells DW, a UN mission is needed to help the country establish reliable political institutions and an inclusive government: “We need a political dialogue that includes the Islamists but doesn’t let them take the lead.”

In the campaign to overthrow Qaddafi, many militias currently fighting each other were comrades-in-arms. But many have since become enemies on the battlefield, RFE/RL reports.

“Over time, the different groups have associated themselves with different political currents, primarily nationalists and Islamists, and that automatically pits one against the other,” says George Joffe, a Libya expert and lecturer at the University of Cambridge, who estimates that around 350 different militias are currently operating in Libya.

“Each of them has represented an autonomous power center and has been very unwilling to share power with other groups. On top of all that, there is the question of the regional and tribal identities of the groups involved.”

Three important themes that have surfaced in the most recent episode of Islamist/Non-Islamist conflict concern the bifurcation of Libya, foreign intervention and the proxy war that Libya has become, Jason Pack of Libya-analysis.com told Aljazeera’s Inside Story.

While much of the world’s attention has been focused on crises further east, the situation in Libya in the past few weeks has dissolved into the worst chaos since the 2011 war that ousted Moammar Gaddafi, the Washington Post’s Ishaan Tharoor and Adam Taylor observe.

With reports that Egypt and the United Arab Emirates are now getting involved, the conflict has turned into something of a proxy war for the Middle East’s big powers…..Put simply, the crisis could be framed as a contest between Islamist and Arab nationalists — a familiar trope throughout the Arab world.

But there are other factors at play, including regional rivalries, rump parliaments and outside agendas that don’t always align neatly, they add, providing a helpful guide to the key actors in the Libyan maelstrom….RTWT

As extremists surge, future of political Islam tenuous?

The Islamist politicians who swept elections in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, undermining the militant thesis that violence offered the only hope for change, are now in frantic retreat, David D. Kirkpatrick reports for The New York Times:

Instead, it is the jihadists who are on the march, roving unchecked across broad sections of North Africa and the Middle East. Now they have seized control of territory straddling the borders of Iraq and Syria where they hope to establish an Islamic caliphate.

And they are reveling in their vindication.

“Rights cannot be restored except by force,” the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the surging Qaeda breakaway group, declared last year after the Egyptian military removed President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood from office. Islamists must choose “the ammunition boxes over the ballot boxes” and negotiate “in the trenches rather than in hotels,” the group proclaimed, calling the more election-minded Muslim Brotherhood “a secular party in Islamic clothes” and “more evil and cunning than the secularists.”

NYTimes

NYTimes

“But others, led by the moderate Islamists here in Tunisia, argue that …if moderates hope to counter the jihadists and build democracies, their parties must be much more inclusive and conciliatory toward non-Islamist rivals and even those who participated in the old authoritarian governments,” Kirkpatrick continues:

The extremists always warned the moderates not to trust the military, said Rachid al-Ghannouchi, founder and chairman of Tunisia’s Islamist party, Ennahda.

“Unfortunately,” he said, “their predictions were true.” But Mr. Ghannouchi said the solution for the Islamist movement was not to fight back with weapons, but to further embrace pluralism, tolerance and compromise. “The cure for a failed democracy is more democracy,” he said, because “dictatorship disguised in religion is the worst kind of dictatorship.”….

Mohammed Sawan, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya, echoed the Tunisians, arguing that his faction needed to do a better job cooperating with liberals. “The battle in the Arab region isn’t about Islam or identity at all,” he said. “It’s about the fundamental values of democracy, freedom and rights. It has nothing to do with Islamists versus non-Islamists.”

With the downfall of Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and the militant approach of Islamists in Iraq, Syria, Libya, analysts say the future of political Islam in the Arab world is tenuous, VOA’s Mohamed Elshinnawi reports:

Tarek Abdel Hamid, a former member of a militant Islamist group in Egypt, now a senior fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy, said Islamists need to moderate their ideology and define a political model.

“In the past the military regimes in Egypt, Syria and Iraq used security measures to repress Islamists, but now because of their ideological defeat, the population turned against them, so they will have a very negative future.” he said.

“They are not fit to rule because they are still motivated by ideology not focusing on pragmatic solutions for citizens’ demands whether the economy, social justice, gender equality or freedom of religion,” he said.

But Shadi Hamid (above), an analyst at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, said while the Muslim Brotherhood failed to govern in Egypt, he is convinced that political Islam will have a future.

“There is a widespread support in the deeply conservative societies in the region for Islamists’ objective of more mix of religion and politics, so if there is a popular demand for this, someone has to supply it,” he said.

When Islamists from around the region gathered last fall at the Middle East Studies Center in Amman, Jordan, to assess lessons learned, the NYT’s Kirkpatrick reports, the main conclusion was that “Islamists must now develop an idea of national partnership with the other forces,” Jawad el-Hamad, the center’s director, said in an interview.

But while what has happened in Egypt will not easily replicate itself in the region, Nathan Brown, a professor of political science at George Washington University, said that it has already affected thinking throughout Islamist circles everywhere.

“It has inspired some governments to move against Islamists and has made some Islamists reevaluate their surroundings,” he said. “Political Islam is hardly dead, but the movements that lead Islamism into the formal political process are likely to be just a little bit more leery of that path almost everywhere—and perhaps totally shut out of it in Egypt.”

Hamid said obituaries of political Islam are premature. 

“You can kill an organization but killing an idea is much more difficult. Even if we saw Islamists at an existential threat, their vision for the society is deeply entrenched in the region,” he said. “In spite of repression of Nasser in Egypt, Hafez Al Assad in Syria and Ben Ali in Tunisia we saw the Muslim Brothers in Egypt and Syria, and [the] Ennahda movement in Tunisia recovered and reemerged once there was a political opening.” he said. 

“The struggle for and within political Islam is important for what it can tell us about how beliefs and ideology are mediated and altered by the political process,” he said.

RTWT

Arab transitions: ‘more democratic, less liberal’?

 

Credit: NDI

Credit: NDI

The troubled transitions of the Arab Spring pose a thorny question for Western observers: Do Arabs have the right to decide — through the democratic process — that they would rather not be liberal? Brookings analyst Shadi Hamid asks.

This is the Middle East’s difficult twist, he writes for The New York Times:

For secularists and liberals, certain rights and freedoms are, by definition, nonnegotiable. They envision the state as a neutral arbiter that stays out of the private lives of its citizens. On the other hand, even the most “moderate” Islamists want the state to promote a basic set of religious and moral values through the soft power of the state machinery, the educational system and the media. As one of Ennahda’s “hard-liners,” Sheikh Habib Ellouze, told me in February 2013: “There aren’t any of us who do not believe in the rulings of Shariah. All of us believe in banning alcohol one day. What we disagree on is how best to present and express our Islamic ideas.”

Liberals would say that their solution is the only acceptable compromise. In a liberal society, everyone — secular and Salafi alike — can freely express their religious preferences. But the notion that liberalism is “neutral” can be accepted only within a liberal framework.

TEMPTATIONS ISLAMISTIslamists cannot fully express their Islamism in a strictly secular state, argues Hamid, the author of Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East:

If elected Islamist parties have to give up their Islamism, then this runs counter to the essence of democracy — the notion that governments should be responsive to, or at least accommodate, public preferences. Asking Islamists to concede who they are and what they believe is also unsustainable and perhaps even dangerous, pushing conservatives outside the political process.

The implications are clear, if somewhat unsettling. For democracy to flourish in the Middle East it will have to find a way to truly incorporate Islamist parties and, by extension, it will have to be at least somewhat illiberal…..

The ideology and ideas of Islamists need to be taken seriously as something deeply and honestly felt. Islamist movements do, in fact, have a distinctive worldview and vision for their societies. If anything, what their detractors say is at least partly true (and it’s something that many Islamists themselves will admit in private): There is, in fact, a “politics of stages” — you concede your Islamist objectives in the short term to strengthen your hand in the long run.

But, as troubling as this may be for Arab liberals, mainstream Islamist movements have been and are likely to remain committed to a democratic process, Hamid suggests:

The lesson of the Arab Spring isn’t that Islamist parties are inimical to democracy, but that democracy, or even a semblance of it, is impossible without them. When there are democratic openings — whether that’s in 5, 10 or 15 years — Islamists might look different and talk differently, but they will still be there, waiting and ready to return to political prominence, and perhaps even power.

RTWT

Shadi Hamid is a fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center and the author of “Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East.”