Tag Archives: Islamism

Ayaan Hirsi-Ali – A question and answer session with one of the world’s most high profile critics of Islam

From the Australian Rationalist (Melbourne), v.104, Autumn 2017: 16 – 19. Journal of the Rationalist Society of Australia, www.rationalist.com.au

The Somali-born feminist Ayaan Hirsi is one of the world’s most prominent critics of Islam and how Islamic societies treat women. In particular, she has targeted the barbaric practice of female genital mutilation, which she was subjected to.

Hirsi has had an exceptionally high profile career in politics and in other areas of public life. In 2003, she was elected to the Netherlands’ lower house of parliament as a representative of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), but a controversy relating to the validity of her Dutch citizenship led to her subsequent resignation.

In 2004, she collaborated on a controversial short movie with Theo van Gogh called Submission, which depicted the oppression of women under Islam. This resulted in death threats against the two creators, and the eventual assassination of Van Gogh later that year.

In 2005 she was named by Time magazine in the 100 most influential people in the world. She has received several awards, including the Moral Courage Award. She subsequently emigrated to the United States where she founded the women’s rights organisation the AHA Foundation. She is married to Scottish historian and public commentator Niall Ferguson, and has one child.

Hirsi has published five books, including two autobiographies. Her latest book Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now, published in 2015, argues that a religious reformation is the only way to end Islamic terrorism, sectarian warfare, and the persistent repression of women and minorities.

Hirsi’s tone is often vigorous, even combative. In her latest book, for example, she declares that her intention is: “To make many people — not only Muslims but also Western apologists for Islam — uncomfortable.”

It is therefore unsurprising that she has attracted considerable criticism. This ranges from the extreme to the more reasoned. The extreme end was in evidence with the outrageous comments by Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian-American activist and executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, who was a principal organiser of the women’s march on Washington after the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency. Sarsour said of Hirsi that she did not “deserve” to be called a woman.

More moderate criticisms tend to focus on Hirsi’s generalisations about Islam. For example, Max Rodenbeck commented in the New York Review of Books:

“Hirsi Ali is probably quite correct to assert that, while it is particularly noisy and violent, the jihadist ‘ Medina ’ end of the Islamic spectrum is narrow and thinly populated compared to the much larger ‘ Mecca ’ group. She is also right that the outspokenly critical Muslims are even less numerous. But surely the 1.5 billion ‘ Mecca ’ Muslims do not all fit into a single hapless category. Like the members of any great religion, one might imagine they instead have a diversity of views, as designations that Muslims use for one another, such as, for example, Salafist, Sufi, Ismaili, Zaidi, Wahhabist, Gulenist, Jaafari, and Ibadi, would suggest.” (New York Review of Books, 3 December 2015).

Rodenbeck also questioned some of Hirsi’s other claims. Sharia law, he said, is not a homogenous, rigid set of laws. Instead, he claimed, it “is an immense amalgam of texts and interpretations that has evolved along parallel paths within five major and numerous minor schools of law, all of them equally valid to their followers.”

Hirsi’s counter, however, is that while there are variations of sharia law, the underlying assumptions about the status of women and their rights is common across all variants.

The practice of martyrdom and suicide bombing, Rodenbeck says, is also comparatively recent, dating from the 1980s. “The four main schools of Sunni jurisprudence, including arch-conservative Saudi clerics, all concur that suicide is a serious sin,” he notes.

Likewise, there are those who question the claim that Islam has aggressively imposed itself on infidels. The history of the Ottomans, for example, suggests the opposite; that non-Muslims in the conquered countries were allowed to practice their religion freely. Hirsi responds by pointing to current behaviour in Islamic countries.

If there are points of disagreement about what Islam is, what is not in doubt is Hirsi’s courage. She went to the Netherlands to escape an arranged marriage in Kenya and was granted refugee status and, ultimately, given a Dutch passport.

She earned a Master’s degree that led her into outreach work with Muslim immigrant women, initially in affiliation with the Labour party. Witnessing the repression of women in immigrant communities, and deeply shocked by the 11 September 2001 attacks, she became a vocal defender of universal women’s rights, which she believes are ignored in Islamic societies.

In making her case against the treatment of women in Islamic societies,  something that has sparked the ire of the liberal left, especially in America , Hirsi has exposed the selectivity common in Western feminism. As she has pointed out, there have been large demonstrations against the decision by President Trump to deny entry to people from some countries that have a majority Muslim population.

Where, she asked in a television interview, was the outrage when, in 2015, a woman in Pakistan was condemned to death for allegedly blaspheming? Or the many other barbaric acts against women in Islamic countries?

Thus when Hirsi describes the leaders of these protestors as “fake feminists” who do not genuinely speak on behalf of Islamic women, she is making a case for the universality of human rights: the belief that what is considered unacceptable in one country should be considered unacceptable in all countries. That sits uncomfortably with many left-wing activists, who have had difficulty resolving the tension between arguing for universal rights on the one hand, and being tolerant of cultural differences on the other.

Australian Rationalist interviewed Ayaan Hirsi, who is being brought to Australia by Think Inc. (See dates below.)

     Australian Rationalist (AR): You have been subjected to an enormous amount of pressure, ranging from death threats to, more recently, the insults from Linda Sarsour. Psychologically how do you deal with that sort of thing?

Ayaan Hirsi: There is no psychology to it. I have been doing this since 9/11 of 2001. I listen to women like Linda Sarsour and think: “She doesn’t know me and 1 don’t know her.” I know that she is devoted to Islamic law and the implementation of Islamic law, and so I think of her as a fake feminist. And I think other people should do their due diligence when they march with people like her.

She is in fact a proponent of Islamic law and there is no principle that is more demeaning and degrading and dehumanising to women than Islamic law. I fight for what I believe in, which is universal human rights and the equality between men and women before the law. And religious tolerance and rights for gay people and the LGBT community. They should have every right that heterosexuals have. That is what I believe in and that is what I fight for.

I understand that she and I are ideological opponents. I do not stoop to the kind of language that Sarsour uses, but it is very clear to me that she hates me because of my ideas.

     AR: There seems to be a lot of hatred and the debate seems to be becoming more extreme. Where do things stand? How likely there is to be constructive ways of moving forward?

Hirsi: The trouble is that with the values that are in Islamic law a compromise is just not possible. You are not going to offer a little bit of equality between men and women. [Those on the other side] are not going to say that we will go the other way and kill apostates or strip them of their rights. There is no middle ground there. It is characteristic of Islamic extremism that they just don’t argue their position.

I have spent hours and hours thinking about how I should sell the ideas. What is wrong with my way of looking at the world? I can be persuaded up to a certain point, but there are some values I will never give up. I will never use violence. Whereas Islamic extremists disagree with that and use the harshest language possible, and they are very happy also to use violence.

A lot of people say Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. Well, you know, there are so many Muslims who are terrified of coming out and saying that they are not Muslims any more. They are afraid of their own families.

AR: If there is no room for compromise, how can you reform Islam? Is there a way of doing it?

Hirsi: There is, because I am one of those people who believe that ideas — I believe Islam is a human idea — can be changed in the minds of people. I am now seeing, with relief, more and more Muslims coming out and saying this moral code that is Islamic law is false. They can’t align it with their conscience.

The question and discussion I have with some of these Muslim reformers is to ask the question: “What is it about Islam that should be shed? What should be seen in an historical context and belongs in a museum and not in real life?” I identify five principles [that need to be rethought]. Following blindly the edicts in the Koran and Mohammed’s conduct. Believing that life after death is more important than life before death. Believing that some individuals occupy the commanding heights, have the power to enforce the law. And the practices of sharia law and jihad.

These are the key components that Muslim reformers should gather around and try to persuade Muslims to change their minds around that. It is going to be a very long struggle.

AR: I have heard it argued that some people say some of this is not true to Mohammed. How many of those principles are genuinely stated by Mohammed rather than added later?

Hirsi: There are two discussions that come up every time that Islamic extremism is discussed. One is a set of Muslims saying: “Look, Mohamed never said these things and he never did it and it is not in the Koran, and the scripture and history of Islam is one of peace.”

That is easily debunked; you just look at the Koran and you look at Mohammed, and I am not talking about what non-Muslims say about Mohammed, I am talking about the hagiographic biography of Mohammed written by people who believe in him.

When we look at occasions when Islamic law is implemented, what do you see? Do they look very peaceful to you? These are places that have internal repression. A good example is Iran . Another good example is Saudi Arabia . So that claim is easily debunked.

The other issue that arises here — if we fantasise about an ideal world where people, Muslims, will stop denying what Islam actually says — is it possible for them to be Muslim and at the same time criticise the Prophet Mohammed?

Ultimately, Muslims will have to find their own solutions to that. It is possible, in my view, for Muslims to shed all the violence and intolerant principles and remain Muslims. Because they will then adhere to the example of the Prophet Mohammed in Mecca when he prayed, and he fasted, and he was religious in the way we think of religion today. It is only after he goes to Medina that he starts to develop not just a religious doctrine but a political and military doctrine.

AR: Another argument is that many of the problems in the Middle East are more cultural rather than religious. In some of the societies that do Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), Christians do it as well as the Muslims. So it is attributed more to a cultural history rather than a religion. What is your view of that kind of position?

Hirsi: The practice of cutting and sewing the genitals of girls and women predates Islam. It was there before Islam, and it happens in places where people are not Muslim at all. What makes it fit into Islam is that there is this hadith — hadith is a narrative. People saying that the Prophet Mohammed had recommended it. The view of modesty, virginity, the position of the woman and her honour in Islam is what makes it prevalent in Muslim countries.

You could argue, technically, that even if Mohammed did recommend it, a recommendation is different from an obligation: you don’t have to do it. But even if that is the case, it is really about the position of women in Islam. It is part and parcel of measures such as having women covered from head to toe. Or having women be wards for the rest of their lives. Forcing children into marriage. They are never seen as adults.

This is an attitude towards women, and if you see it in that context you will understand why the Muslim Brotherhood introduced the practice into Indonesia where before that it was never practised.

There are several places in the world where Islam has transported the practice of female genital mutilation in the name it Islam. So who can deny that it is Islamic? We don’t want to have empty discussions. We want to really talk about the core problem, and the core of the problem is the attitude to women. Simply refusing to recognise women as fellow human beings.

     AR: Is there actually a theological position in Islam that men and women aren’t equal.

Hirsi: It is implicit and explicit. The Koran, the hadith and the practice of Islam makes women subordinate to men. Women are not seen as autonomous owners of their own bodies. You could argue that that is Arab culture and many other non-Muslim societies. But you cannot argue that men and women are regarded as equal in Islam.

AR: Is that said overtly in a theological way in Islam?

Hirsi: Yes, it is. There are many ways it is said theologically. For instance, the wife has to obey without question. If she disobeys, or if he fears her disobedience, he warns her and he can leave her alone in bed or beat her if he needs to. This is at the core of Islam’s attitude to women. Even in cases where Islam is not implemented in the sense of hands and feet cut off, or people are beheaded, it is still the case in those places that the family law, which is the law of the land, strips women of their rights.

I am talking here about more progressive countries in North Africa . Even where they have the laws on the books that are very European, still the way that people live is to subordinate women to men. All of this is argued in the name of Islam — all of it.

     AR: What is your view of Donald Trump at the moment? Are you a supporter of what he is doing, are you indifferent, or are you against what he is doing. Particularly the refugee ban, but also his general positions?

Hirsi: He gave a speech in August last year, which I thought was very heartening. When he said we have to call Islamic extremes [sic: extremism?] by its name. He put it in the same realm as the totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century: Nazism, fascism and communism. He said the threat of the day is Islamic extremism. He said if he was elected president that was how he was going to fight it. He was going to see it as an ideology.

He has only been in office in 13 or 14 days; he has been very busy. but I think his basic premise is right. Now we just need to develop a very effective tool box to fight it as an ideology.

The trouble with Obama’s presidency and even George W. Bush’s presidency was that they focused only on the violence and therefore limited the tool box of measures that they could apply. They confined themselves only to surveillance and military tactics.

But you can’t really bomb bad ideas out of people’s heads. Islamic law is a bad idea and if we develop a counter-narrative, a counter-set of ideas, then sell that, then I think we will be able to persuade lots of Muslims to abandon Islamic law.

     AR: What arc the elements of that narrative. What does it look like?

Hirsi: One of the tools that Islamic extremists use to recruit people and inspire them is to say that there are all these rewards promised in the after-life. We could develop a counter-narrative of life where they say we love death more than life; we could say we love life more than death. Here is a narrative of life.

But that means you are going to talk about life after death, and you will be accused of blasphemy and attacking Islam and all the rest of it. You could also point to open liberal societies, and even though they are not perfect societies, they are prosperous. People grow old and die in their beds most of the time. That the idea of liberty and liberalism is superior to the idea of Islamic law.

You can point it out to those they target: that is, the young and impressionable men, and say: “Why are you fleeing your country of origin. Why are you trying to get to the United States of America ? Because America implements the idea of liberty, and what you are promised as a young man or a young woman when it comes to sharia law is a cruel society, cruel economics. It is inhumane.”

So you have a counter-narrative in exactly the same way as we had in the Cold War. We used all sorts of cultural norms and cultural persuasive tools to get to the people behind the Iron Curtain and persuade them that Marxism was a nihilist, violent and empty ideology. It looked good on paper, but it was not when put into practice.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali will be appearing at the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre on 6 April, the Festival Hall in Melbourne on 7 April, Darling Harbour Theatre in Sydney on 8 April, and in the Llewellyn Hall in Canberra on 10 April. All starting times are 7 p.m. https://www.thinkinc.org.au/events/hirsi-ali/

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Maajid Nawaz and the New York Times weigh in on the Nice attacks

Why Evolution Is True

Yes, I’ve had to add a new category of post: “terrorism.” It’s sad. When I wrote about the Nice attack yesterday, I suspected that the perpetrator, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, might have religious motivations, or at least be working for an organization like ISIS, but there was little information. This morning I learned from CNN that ISIS has now claimed credit for the murders:

In an online statement by the terror group’s media agency Amaq and circulated by its supporters, it said the person behind the attack is an ISIS “soldier.”

Five others, including  Bouhel’s wife, have been arrested: the CNN piece gives more detail. It’s not clear whether Bouhel was actually sent by ISIS to do the deed, or was a sympathizer working under their direction. Or, I suppose, ISIS could be lying, but I’m not aware that they’ve falsely taken credit for an attack.

Yesterday Maajid Nawaz weighted in…

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Islamic State exploiting Europe’s porous borders and intelligence failures: Turnbull

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Violent Islamist extremism appears to have reached a crisis point in Europe with a “perfect storm” of circumstances, Malcolm Turnbull has said.

These were failed or neglected integration, foreign fighters returning from Iraq and Syria, porous borders, and intelligence and security bodies struggling to keep pace with the scope and breadth of the threat.

This combination had been described as creating a favourable ecosystem for an Islamist milieu, he said.

“For all intents and purposes there are no internal borders in Europe … and their external borders are difficult to manage,” Turnbull told the Lowy Institute on Wednesday night. Recent intelligence indicated that Islamic State “is using the refugee crisis to send its operatives into Europe”.

Turnbull contrasted Australia, which was “better placed” than many European countries to deal with the threat “because of the strength of our intelligence and security agencies, our secure borders and our successful multicultural society, one that manages to be both secure and free”.

Australia’s national security laws were regarded by its allies as among the world’s best, he said.

“The advantage of our island geography, our effective border protection systems and counter-terrorism agencies mean we have confidence that we know who is arriving.

“Strong borders, vigilant security agencies governed by the rule of law, and a steadfast commitment to the shared values of freedom and mutual respect – these are the ingredients of multicultural success, which is what we have achieved in Australia.”

Earlier, Turnbull said that while it was impossible to guarantee absolutely against a terrorist incident here, “I can assure Australians that our security system, our border protection, our domestic security arrangements, are much stronger than they are in Europe where regrettably they allowed security to slip”.

He told the Lowy Institute Australia was united with Belgium in the battle against terror. “Just as our forebears were 100 years ago on the fields of Flanders in the first world war, we are in the same struggle and we stand with you shoulder to shoulder.”

The scourge of terrorism was a global one, he said. In this fight, Australia was fully committed to playing a leading role in finding political and military solutions in the Middle East, working with our regional counterparts, particularly Indonesia and other ASEAN partners, and continuing to remain vigilant at home.

The terrorist attacks in Europe underscored “the importance of our military contribution against ISIL in Syria and Iraq, in which we have been the second largest contributor to the coalition effort.

“ISIL’s ability to inspire let alone direct terrorism around the world will be largely eliminated if its so-called caliphate is decisively defeated in the field. Its defeat requires military force and a political settlement. We are working with our allies to deliver both.”

Turnbull said that we must “take care not to view our strategic circumstances solely through the prism of counter terrorism.

“Terrorism is an example of the propaganda of the deed – it is designed to frighten and intimidate. It is designed to deter us from our normal way of life.

“That is why [Indonesian] President Joko Widodo was determined to ensure that Jakarta was back to normal within four hours of the terrorist bombing in that city in February, and why Belgium Prime Minister Charles Michel is determined to return Brussels back to business as soon as possible.”

The ConversationMichelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

 

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If Islamic State is based on religion, why is it so violent?

The Conversation

Aaron W. Hughes, Philip S. Bernstein Professor of Jewish Studies, University of Rochester

Islamic State’s seemingly sudden prominence has led to much speculation about the group’s origins: how do we account for forces and events that paved the way for its emergence?

In today’s instalment of our series on the origins of Islamic State, religious studies scholar Aaron Hughes considers whether this jihadist group’s violence is inherent to Islam.


Despite what we’re told, religion isn’t inherently peaceful. The assumption is largely based on the Protestant idea that religion is something spiritual and internal to the individual and that it’s corrupted by politics and other mundane matters.

But people kill in the name of religion, just as they love in its name. To claim that one of these alternatives is more authentic than the other is not only problematic, it’s historically incorrect.

The Crusades, attacks at abortion clinics, some political assassinations, and price-tag attacks – to name only a few examples – were and are all motivated by religion.

This is because religion is based on the metaphysical notion that there are believers (in one’s own religion) and non-believers. This distinction is predicated on “good” versus “evil”, and can be neatly packaged into a narrative to be used and abused by various groups.

An imagined past

One such group is Islamic State (IS), which is inherently violent and claims it mirrors the Islam of the Prophet Muhammad. In this, it’s like other reformist movements in Islam that seek to recreate in the modern period what they imagine to have been the political framework and society that Muhammad (570-632 CE) and his immediate followers lived in and created in seventh-century Arabia.

The problem is that we know very little about this society, except what, often, much later sources – such as the Biography (Sira) of Muhammad and the work of historians such as al-Tabari (839-923 CE) – tell us it was like.

A central ideal for IS is that of restoring the caliphate. A geopolitical entity, the caliphate was the Islamic empire that stretched from Morocco and Spain in the West, to India in the East. It symbolises Islam at its most powerful.

 

When it was spreading across the Middle East and the Mediterranean region in the seventh century, Islam was highly apocalyptic. Many early sources, such as the second caliph Umar’s letter to the Byzantine Emperor Leo III, as well as contemporaneous non-Muslim sources, such as the mid-eighth-century Jewish apocalypse The Secrets of Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai and the seventh-century polemic Doctrina Jacobi, speak about the coming destruction of the world as we know it.

The destruction is to begin with a battle between the forces of good (Muslim) versus those of evil. And IS has adopted this apocalyptic vision.

Again, though, it’s worth noting two things. The first is that the majority of Muslims today don’t buy into this apocalyptic vision; it’s mainly something recycled by groups such as Islamic State.

Second, such an “end of days” vision is by no means unique to Islam; we also see it in Judaism and Christianity. In these other two traditions, as in Islam, such groups certainly do not represent orthodox belief.

Medieval tolerance

But apocalypse aside, was Islam particularly violent in the seventh century? One could certainly point to three of the first four of Muhammad’s successors (caliphs) having been assassinated.

One could also point to the tremendous theological debates over who was or was not a Muslim. And such debates included the status of the soul of grave sinners. Was such a sinner a Muslim or did his sin put him outside the community of believers?

What would become mainstream Muslim opinion is that it was up to God to decide and not humans. But groups such as Islamic State want to make this distinction for God. In this, they certainly stray from orthodox Muslim belief.

While this doesn’t make them “un-Islamic”, to say groups such as IS represent medieval interpretations of Islam is not fair to medieval Islam.

Manuscript with depiction by Yahya ibn Vaseti found in the Maqama of Hariri depicts the image of a library with pupils in it, Baghdad 1237.
Wikimedia Commons

The eighth century, for example, witnessed the establishment, in Baghdad, of the Bayt al-Hikma (The House of Wisdom), which symbolised the so-called golden age of Islamic civilisation. This period witnessed, among other things, Muslim, Jewish and Christian scholars studying the philosophical and scientific texts of Greek antiquity.

These scholars also made many advances in disciplines, such as mathematics, astronomy, medicine, alchemy and chemistry, to name only a few. Within a century of its founding, Islam represented a cosmopolitan empire that was nothing like the rigid and dogmatic interpretation of the religion seen in the likes of IS.

A powerful tool

Observers in the West who want to claim that Islam is to blame for IS and use it as further proof that the religion is inherently violent, ignore other root causes of the moment.

These include the history of European colonialism in the area; US and European support for a number of ruthless Middle Eastern dictators; and the instability created by the American invasion of Iraq after the events of September 11, 2001.

It’s juxtaposed against these recent events that groups such as IS dream of reconstituting what they romantically imagine as the powerful Islamic caliphate.

The fact is that religion’s ability to neatly differentiate between “believer” and unbeliever”, and between “right” and “wrong”, makes it a powerful ideology. In the hands of demagogues, religious discourses – used selectively and manipulated to achieve a set of desired ends – are very powerful.

While it would be incorrect to say that the discourses used by IS are un-Islamic, it’s important to note it represents one particular Islamic discourse and that it’s not the mainstream one.


This article is the third in our series on understanding Islamic State. Look out for more stories on the theme in the coming days.


Aaron will be online for an Author Q&A between 9 and 10am AEDT on Thursday, February 18, 2016. Post your questions in the comments section below.

The ConversationAaron W. Hughes, Philip S. Bernstein Professor of Jewish Studies, University of Rochester

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

 

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The Truth About the Regressive Left


 

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Andrew Neil’s message to Paris attackers

Andrew Ferguson Neil (born 21 May 1949) is a Scottish journalist and broadcaster, who was editor of The Sunday Times for 11 years, and currently presents live political programmes, Sunday Politics and This Week on BBC One and Daily Politics on BBC Two.

 

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Anonymous takes on Islamic State and that’s not a good thing

The Conversation

Levi J. West

It’s been a week since the terrorist attacks in Paris and the hacktivist group Anonymous has further expanded its online confrontation with the Islamic State (IS). Its campaign was originally captured under the #OpISIS banner, but is now titled #OpParis.

The initial operation was launched in response to the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, and since then, Anonymous claims to have taken down some 149 IS related websites and 5,900 IS videos.

While on the surface this seems like an overall positive outcome against IS, given its highly regarded and consequential online presence, the reality is much more complex and nuanced. It demonstrates the risks of vigilante style action being undertaken in areas of sensitive national security matters.

When not to take down IS content

Action in this domain, regardless of its quality and the implications, can be seen as inherently beneficial. But an absence of context, proper understanding and incongruent purposes can make the counter efforts of the state more difficult.

When a government is looking at IS content online, the context varies depending on the outcome it seeks to achieve and for the department or agency involved. In a law enforcement context, IS content can be used to form the basis of a search warrant or a control order, or as evidence in a prosecution.

For an intelligence agency, an IS website may prove to be a vital element in ongoing surveillance, or form part of a broader assessment of an individual or a cell’s behaviour.

Beyond this, even the military may make use of IS online content as part of offensive information warfare targeting.

The distinction here is that the mere presence of IS content, while negative in the discreet sense, is part of the broader apparatus that is IS. It is multifaceted and complex, as is the response to it by the agencies of national security.

It is simplistic to think that merely removing IS content from cyberspace is sufficient, or even necessarily positive in the overall sense. There can often be a greater good achieved by leaving certain pieces of content in play.

This greater good is not supported by the interdiction of people unaware of the broader operations of government agencies, flawed and less than perfect as they may be.

For the public’s safety

The purpose for which Anonymous removes IS content is relatively narrow when contrasted with the public protection purposes of the state.

When a government, in collaboration with those companies responsible, removes online content, it is because it has been deemed both detrimental to public safety and security. It’s also because it’s considered that the content does not serve any other additional purposes, such as those mentioned above.

But Anonymous removes IS videos because IS disagrees with, and acts against, free speech. This presents both an ironic contradiction and also a much more self-interested motivation for Anonymous’ actions.

Tolerating vigilante style action by people affiliated with Anonymous would be an easier exercise if they were in some way representative, rather than a self-appointed vanguard, acting in the name of a public good they have determined to be overwhelmingly important.

When things goes wrong

The actions of Anonymous are also undertaken in a publicity-seeking manner. As further details are revealed in relation to #OpParis, it has been demonstrated that some of the personal details hacked and publicised by Anonymous were inaccurate.

While the state is not free of these types of errors, democratic states are at least accountable to some form of electoral and rule-of-law consequences.

In this heightened political and societal environment in the aftermath of a terrorist attacks, when a group such as Anonymous errs in identifying an individual as an IS recruiter or financier, it places those individuals in substantial danger while remaining largely free of consequences.

This is separate from the fact that much of the process of obtaining the data in the first instance is likely criminal.

While the actions of Anonymous in a range of domains, and in relation to many issues, can be seen as an overall positive, there are some very sensible reasons as to why its followers perhaps ought not to play in the national security space.

The takedown of IS content is generally viewed as being of fairly low impact when governments are involved, let alone when a vigilante style organisation adds additional risks of exposing innocent people, and undermining broader efforts to counter IS.

Perhaps most importantly, it does nothing for the people of Syria or Iraq, or those suffering within the controlled territory of IS.

The ConversationLevi J. West, Lecturer, Terrorism and Security Studies; Program Manager, Masters of Terrorism and Security Studies

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.
 

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An atheist and a Muslim on reforming Islam

Sam Harris, an atheist, author and neuroscientist, and Maajid Nawaz, a former Islamist member of Hizb-ut-Tahrir who went on to found anti-extremist think-tank The Quilliam Foundation, have come together to write a book, Islam and the Future of Tolerance: a Dialogue.

In a discussion on the ABC’s Lateline, they confronted what they said was Islam’s failure to modernise and they challenged liberal left thinkers who they accused of defending extremism in the name of cultural tolerance.

 

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Sam Harris on Charlie Hebdo

Sam Harris (born April 9, 1967) is an American author, philosopher, and neuroscientist. He is the co-founder and chief executive of Project Reason. He is the author of The End of Faith, which was published in 2004 and appeared on The New York Times Best Seller list for 33 weeks. The book also won the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction in 2005.  In 2006, Harris published the book Letter to a Christian Nation as a response to criticism of The End of Faith. This work was followed by The Moral Landscape, published in 2010, his long-form essay Lying in 2011, the short book Free Will in 2012, and Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion in 2014.

Harris is a contemporary critic of religion and proponent of scientific skepticism and the “New Atheism“. He is also an advocate for the separation of church and state, freedom of religion, and the liberty to criticize religion. Harris has written numerous articles for The Huffington Post, Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Newsweek, and the journal Nature. His articles touch upon a diversity of topics including religion, morality, neuroscience, free will, terrorism, and self-defense.

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The European exemplar

The Conversation

By Mark Beeson, University of Western Australia

No-one doubts that Europe, or more specifically the European Union, has got more than its fair share of problems. Even before home-grown jihadists inflicted their version of divine retribution on an unambiguously irreverent group of archetypically Parisian artists and intellectuals, the EU was wracked with political, economic and social problems.

Paradoxically enough, though, the spectre of religious intolerance may yet bring out the best in Europe. Recent events may remind Europe’s leaders – and the rest of us, for that matter – just what Europe represents and why it remains the greatest experiment in transnational political cooperation the world has ever seen.

For all Europe’s problems, if it fails and falls apart, the symbolic consequences may come to outweigh the practical chaos.

No doubt many readers are already rolling their eyes in disbelief. Isn’t the EU synonymous with a bloated bureaucracy, unaccountable, overpaid (if not corrupt) officials, and chronic inefficiency? Perhaps so. But the EU is also the most enduring reminder of the possibility of co-operation across borders and of the active creation of an enduring peace where none existed before.

It is worth remembering that Europe has already been responsible for some of the most important turning points in the history of the world. Hyperbole? I think not. Whatever you may think about the system of sovereign states that now dominates the international political system, for example, it had its origins in Western Europe.

If there’s one date undergraduate international relations students manage to commit to memory it is 1648, when the Treaty of Westphalia established the principles of sovereign rule and put an end to the interminable blood-letting associated with Europe’s religious wars.

Modern Europeans’ ancestors could teach the jihadists a thing or two about gratuitous, pointless, cold-blooded murder on an epic scale – all in the name of God, of course – or some theological difference we have thankfully forgotten about or no longer take seriously.

Political pluralism and tolerance were painfully won, important artifacts of centuries of conflict and slaughter. They remain profoundly important parts of the architecture of European political and social life to this day. It is precisely this unprecedented achievement that is at stake now.

To be sure, having more or less solved the religious problem, Europeans subsequently found other reasons to tear each other apart. The First and Second World Wars had their origins in Europe and remain the gold standard for megalomania, folly and carnage on a truly epic scale. And yet, Europeans also seem to have gone a long way toward solving the hitherto insoluble problem of war, too.

The sight of Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande walking together in solidarity will no doubt be dismissed by some as meaningless political theatrically. I think this would be a mistake. No doubt Hollande will be pleased about the up-tick in his personal approval ratings, but there was still something of great symbolic importance about the leaders of France and Germany expressing common purpose in this way.

I don’t think it is too fanciful or hubristic to say that the response of many of Europe’s leaders and peoples is an expression of something rather important – even magnificent – about “Western civilization”. Even to invoke this phrase will no doubt invoke howls of protest and derision. And yet if Western civilisation is about anything, it is about a hard fought respect for, and protection of, individual rights, tolerance and pluralism.

Yes, I know what Gandhi said about Western civilisation, and he was right: it does sound like a good idea. The challenge, as ever, has been translating good intentions and noble principles into reality. But it is worth considering the alternative: religious zealots and theocratic states leave little room for the unbelievers and the radicals – to say nothing of gays and women, of course.

I also recognise that imperial Europe pioneered new forms of control over, exploitation of, and violence toward the rest of the world’s population. But that was then and this, as they say, is now. We must deal with the world as it is and try to identify forms of political and social organisation that at least hold out the prospect – in principle, anyway – of providing individuals with the chance to live their lives as they wish.

We should not be squeamish or reluctant to say that some values and principles are more likely to bring this about. Universal suffrage, racial equality, the emancipation of women, religious and ideological tolerance and – yes! – freedom of speech are all good, universally applicable principles and unambiguously better than the alternatives.

At great cost and with immense effort, Western Europe has gone further and played a more prominent role than any other part of the world in developing and implementing such values. Europeans – and the rest of us – need to remember that it this unprecedented, unlikely achievement that is at the heart of all that is best and most important about Europe. Long may it continue. Je suis European.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged with permission). Read the original article.

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