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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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Terror in London: Western cities will always be vulnerable to these attacks

The Conversation

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Five people are dead – including the perpetrator – following a terror attack in London. EPA/Andy Rain

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Just when the Western world had absorbed the shock of a truck attack in Berlin in December that claimed 12 lives, it is reminded again of the dangers of “lone-wolf” attacks inspired by Islamic State (IS) that are almost impossible to guard against. The Conversation

When a sole attacker drove randomly across London’s Westminster Bridge towards the Houses of Parliament – one of the most trafficked thoroughfares in the Western world – killing and maiming innocent bystanders, it served as a reminder, if that were required, that open, global cities are vulnerable to such attacks.

These are moments that serve as a reality check for those in authority who are striving to maintain a balance between oppressive policing and surveillance and a free society. This is enormously challenging in an environment in which strains of fanaticism have been let loose.

Regrettably, the London terrorist attack leading to five deaths, including the perpetrator and a policeman, will find its way into a racially tinged political discourse – and not in a way that will be particularly edifying.

But there is also no point in pretending that mayhem in the Middle East can be separated from what takes place on the streets of London or Brussels or Berlin or Nice, or in other places that become victims of continuing upheaval in a crescent that stretches from the Mediterranean to South Asia.

Now that the weapon of choice for lone-wolf terrorists seems to have become a vehicle to mow down people innocently going about their business, a policing task becomes even more difficult.

Peter Bergen, a terrorism expert, noted in a post for CNN that as long ago as 2010, al Qaeda’s Yemen branch had encouraged its recruits in the West to use vehicles as weapons.

A headline on its webzine, Inspire, had described vehicles as “the ultimate mowing nachine” – not to “mow grass, but mow down the enemies of Allah”. He wrote:

These attacks are hard to defend against in free societies where crowds will gather, as was the case for Bastille Day in Nice, or the Christmas market in Berlin … and now throngs of tourists and visitors that typically crowd the sidewalks around the Houses of Parliament.

The utter cynicism and brutality of these random low-tech attacks pose enormous challenges for security.

This latest episode will not be the last such vehicle attack with the possibility that something much worse might eventuate, including the detonation of a truck packed with explosives and shards of shrapnel. Open Western cities will always be vulnerable to these sorts of attacks.

The threat of IS-inspired terrorism is now embedded in Western societies. It is no good pretending it is not.

Since 2014, when IS proclaimed its caliphate, there have been more than 70 terrorist attacks “conducted or inspired” by its followers in 20 countries (not including Syria and Iraq), according to a running total kept by CNN.

If Syria and Iraq were added, such terrorist attacks would number in the hundreds.

In 2014, CNN lists seven terrorist incidents, including the stabbing of two Australian police officers in New South Wales. Six died and 12 were injured in 2014, in Belgium, Australia, Canada, the US and France.

That was the beginning.

By 2016, the numbers of casualties from IS-inspired terrorism had risen sharply across the Middle East and in Europe. This included the Brussels bombings at a metro station and an airport, in which 32 people died and 340 were injured.

It is not least of macabre coincidences that the London terrorist attack occurred on the first anniversary to the day of the Brussels bombings.

So far this year, there have been five major incidents. Most, if not all, are linked to IS.

London was the first such episode in continental Europe. The others occurred in Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

Out of all this, it is a depressing conclusion, but as IS in its strongholds in Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria is further degraded, chances are it will step up its terrorist activities elsewhere.

In other words, risks to countries involved in the war against IS will rise as its fortunes in its so-called caliphate slide. IS is on the ropes in its Middle Eastern strongholds. This makes it more dangerous to Western interests.

In London, and among Britain’s allies, political leaders have hastened to express solidarity, but all would be aware that such ritualistic professions of support and concern will not provide a foolproof shield against the next Islamist-inspired terrorist attack.

The question is not if, but when and where.

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

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

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Why Berlin Christmas market attack puts new pressure on Angela Merkel

The Conversation

Patricia Hogwood, University of Westminster

A juggernaut ploughed into a crowded Christmas market in Berlin city centre on the evening of December 19, killing at least 12 people and injuring at least 48. Minister of the interior Thomas de Maizière said that it was a deliberate attack.

The Berlin police have urged caution until more about the incident is known, but this has done little to dampen speculation about the perpetrator, nor to prevent an unseemly scramble in some quarters to gain political capital from this tragedy.

This high-profile attack in the festive period looks certain to polarise an already strained political debate between German liberals of the left and centre, and populists on the right, piling pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s leadership at a sensitive time in the electoral calendar. On the other hand, it may help to strengthen bonds between governments and nations at the European level as they work together to enhance security co-operation.

Chancellor holds her line

At home, internal security looks set to be a campaign issue in federal elections in September 2017. At the same time, 58% of Germans currently believe refugee policy is the biggest challenge the country faces. In light of this, Merkel is well aware that she needs to challenge an association, promoted by the populist right, between internal security and refugees: an association that insidiously asserts the inherent criminality of foreigners.

Policemen guard the truck which crashed into a Christmas market in Berlin. Britta Pederson/EPA

This narrative shows signs of taking root in public debate. The recent murder of a young student in Freiburg, apparently by an Afghan asylum-seeker, prompted such widespread outrage that the authorities had to speak out against the scapegoating of migrants.

In the last year, Merkel has proved adept at acknowledging the fears of the public over security while at the same time underlining her humanitarian approach to refugee policy. In her first response to the Berlin attack, the chancellor stated that if the perpetrator turned out to be a refugee, it would be dreadful for the many Germans who are involved in helping refugees on a daily basis “and for the many people who really need our protection and are making an effort to integrate into our country”.

Her traditional New Year’s Eve address to the country will give her another opportunity to drive this message home. But will it be enough?

‘Germany is no longer safe’

Whoever turns out to be responsible for the Berlin attack, the political damage is done. Frauke Petry, the outspoken leader of the right-wing populist Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany) has already pointed to the government’s refugee policy as being partly responsible for the atrocity. She claimed it has negligently and systematically imported a milieu in which such acts can thrive and that “Germany is no longer safe”.

Provocative as these claims are, they have been matched by voices from within Merkel’s own party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU/CSU). The Berlin attack has already shattered recent attempts to heal the intra-party rift over immigration that could threaten to derail party unity in next year’s election campaign.

Klaus Bouillon, CDU chair of the standing committee of interior ministers from the federal Länder (regions), was quick to claim that Germany found itself in a “state of war” – even though “some people, who only ever see the good, won’t like to admit this”. Noting that copycat attacks would be likely, Bouillon called for upgraded security measures and for the police to be heavily armed.

Problems at home – but promise for Europe?

Before the Berlin attack, Merkel might have been able to prevent the refugee issue from dominating the election agenda by making a feature of other public concerns (albeit less pressing), such as pensions and care for the elderly. Now, the field is open for the right to make capital from criticisms that Merkel is too involved in her role as international statesman. They are likely to step up critiques that she is losing touch with domestic problems, that her policies are tired and that she is running out of ideas.

Perversely, at the European level, the Berlin attack might offer an incentive to heal fractious relations between member states and to consolidate the co-operation that already exists on internal security and counter-terror operations. Following the UK’s June referendum result and Theresa May’s rhetoric of a “hard Brexit”, the UK’s standing within the EU is at an all-time low.

However, it is widely recognised that no other European member state has as much experience and expertise in counter-terrorism. Constructive co-operation with Germany in a concerted effort to keep Europeans safe may help a little to stabilise relations between EU partners in the testing times to come.

The ConversationPatricia Hogwood, Reader in European Politics, University of Westminster

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

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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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The Truth About the Regressive Left


 

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Frydenberg accuses grand mufti of an attempted ‘cover up’ and failure of leadership

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Cabinet minister Josh Frydenberg has accused Australia’s Grand Mufti, Ibrahim Abu Mohamed, of seeking to “cover up” his failure of leadership in the wake of the Paris attacks, and said Australians have to understand the “sheer nature” of the Islamic State (IS) threat.

Frydenberg said it was necessary to acknowledge that religion was part of the problem.

Those who preached hate in the mosques had to be disrupted, and “we have to focus on integration as opposed to segregation in the schools,” he said.

The Grand Mufti said the incidents highlighted that current strategies to deal with the threat of terrorism were not working and therefore “all causative factors” must be comprehensively addressed. These included “racism, Islamophobia, curtailing freedoms through securitisation, duplicitous foreign policies and military intervention”.

After much criticism, a follow-up statement said: “It is incorrect to imply that the reference to causative factors provides justification for these acts of terrorism. There is no justification for the taking of innocent lives.”

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was careful in his comments and welcomed the clarification.

But Frydenberg, in tough comments on Sky, said: “The Grand Mufti failed in his leadership with his statement. He sought to cover that up subsequently, but it was a graphic failure.

“And he has more of a responsibility, not only to the Muslim community, but to the community at large, because all our security is at risk,” he said.

“We need to acknowledge the significance of this threat, to acknowledge that religion is part of this problem and thirdly – because this is the key point – we need to deal with it at a hard edge with the military response but also we need to deal with a counter narrative.”

Frydenberg justified his allegation that the grand mufti was guilty of an attempted “cover up” by saying his first reaction “was his instinctive reaction”.

He would not be drawn on whether the grand mufti should resign. “That’s a question for the Mufti and for the Islamic community”.

The vast majority of the Islamic community appreciated the significance of this extremist threat and wanted to see the end of it, Frydenberg said.

There were wonderful members of the Islamic community in Australia “and I want to hear those moderate voices,” he said. “We need to hear more of those voices, because clearly we’re not winning the battle of hearts and minds, and we do need to win it.”

He said he would not accept that terrorism in our cities was the new norm. “Daniel Andrews, the premier of Victoria, said we have to accept that violent extremism is part of contemporary Australia. Well, I say no. That’s rubbish. I will not accept that.”

Saying this was a problem within Islam, Frydenberg said extremists were a minority – “but it’s a significant minority … and it does pose a challenge to our way of life in Australia”.

“As the Australian community, we have to acknowledge the seriousness of this threat, the reasons for it, and try to deal with it in a very considered and, as the prime minister said, calm and strategic way,” he said.

Frydenberg was in Paris after the attacks, and spoke emotionally about the experience.

Deputy opposition leader Tanya Plibersek, asked about Frydenberg’s comments said it was “important for all members of parliament to be leaders that bring our community together”.

“The most important partners we have in the fight against violent extremism is the Muslim community.”

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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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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Boris Johnson on the Paris terror attacks

Some people have told me in the last couple of days that they couldn’t sleep after the first images started to come in from Paris on Friday night. Others have said that they had unexpected crying fits, or the shakes.

Of all the horrors that have taken place recently in the world, these massacres seem so immediate – because they are immediate: geographically, culturally, politically, spiritually. Paris is our sister city, just a couple of hours away on the train – a place you can go to for lunch, a city that in the last few years has despatched so many talented workers to London that I am the proud mayor of one of the biggest French towns in the world.

And so there is always one question that people want to ask me, even if – for fear of seeming selfish – they leave it unspoken. That question is: Could it happen here? Is London going to be hit by shootings on that scale?

The answer is that even though I think an attack of that particular type is unlikely, and even though we are doing everything in our power to prevent it, I am afraid that it would be impossible – and irresponsible – to rule it out completely.

How could we rule it out? Yes, of course the police and the security services are doing an amazing job – with the resources they have – in monitoring the thousands of potential suspects (perhaps 3,000-4,000), some of them clearly more dangerous than others. They foil all sorts of plots, half-baked or otherwise. They make arrests with great frequency. But it is plainly no use hoping that the problem of Daesh-inspired terrorism is going away.

Just in the last few months we have seen appalling loss of British life on the beach in Tunisia; we have seen a Russian passenger jet blown out of the sky; and now 129 people killed in Paris, in the most vicious and shocking fashion, and many others seriously wounded.

Several people over the weekend have echoed the sentiments of the excellent French ambassador to London, Sylvie-Agnes Bermann, who said that this massacre was qualitatively different from the Charlie Hebdo shootings in January. This, she said, was a 9/11 moment. This was an act of war. I agree. And as we deliberate on how to respond, it is essential to be cautious, and to be pragmatic – and yet to use every weapon at our disposal.

First of all we need to catch the bastards before they strike; and I am afraid that I have less and less sympathy with those who oppose the new surveillance powers that the government would like to give the security services.

To some people the whistleblower Edward Snowden is a hero; not to me. It is pretty clear that his bean-spilling has taught some of the nastiest people on the planet how to avoid being caught; and when the story of the Paris massacre is explained, I would like a better understanding of how so many operatives were able to conspire, and attack multiple locations, without some of their electronic chatter reaching the ears of the police. I want these people properly spied on, properly watched – and I bet you do, too.

Second, we need to be able to intercept them at frontiers. I know Molenbeek, the melancholy Brussels suburb that is said to have produced some of the Paris killers. I remember happy hours walking its bemerded and frituur-smelling streets, and alas I am not surprised to find – a generation later – that some of those scampering North African children have grown up to become jihadis.

What are the implications for the security of Europe, if you can load your car with Kalashnikovs in Molenbeek, and drive unimpeded not just to Paris but to any EU capital you please?

The Paris massacres – as the French have implicitly confirmed, by trying to control their own frontiers – have greatly strengthened the hand of David Cameron as he argues for better control at the borders. And yet it is not enough just to spy on them.

It is too late to try to catch them, once they have pupated into proto-terrorists. We must intercept them before the metamorphosis begins. We need to get the antidote down their throats before the poisonous death-cult takes over their minds. That means working ever harder to enlist the vast majority of Muslims who despise Daesh (so I propose to call them, since it is a shame to play their game and use the word Islamic in their title), and who can help most powerfully in differentiating their abominable doctrines from the teachings of the Koran.

It means working with the families, and coming down hard on parents who – all too often, alas – are allowing their kids, of both sexes, to go online and imbibe the jihadi madness: the ranting sermons, the home-made hydrogen peroxide suicide belts, and all the rest of the claptrap.

We need to be much faster and much cleverer in beating the absurd propaganda from Raqqa. How hard can that be? Their “caliphate” is savage, dysfunctional, and so scary that many British would-be jihadis end up pleading to come home. But there it is – a breeding-ground of terror; and it looks very much as if at least one of the Paris killers actually came from Syria, via Leros. And so we come to the last of our possible responses – the military one. All the generals I have talked to are leery.

They want to understand the mission, and how we propose to achieve it. Would we go in with Putin? Would we effectively be backing Assad? No choice looks attractive; no plan is perfect. But is doing nothing any better? It is more than two years since the government was defeated in its plan to intervene in Syria, and the rhythm of terror would appear to be increasing.

These people avowedly want to destroy us, and in those circumstances no military option can be off the table. This is a fight we will one day inevitably win – because in the end our view of the human spirit is vastly more attractive and realistic than theirs. But we won’t win if we don’t fight back.
 

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