The road to radicalism in Charlottesville

Julia Ioffe writes: “Of course, it was terrorism,” said General H.R. McMaster on Sunday morning, the day after James Alex Fields, Jr. allegedly plowed his gray 2010 Dodge Challenger into a crowd of anti-white supremacist protestors, then reversed and, bumper dangling by a thread, hit still more people on the way back. When he was done, one person, 32-year-old Heather Heyer, was dead and 19 more were injured. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on Monday that the attack was an act of “domestic terrorism” and that the Department of Justice was investigating him. Fields is being held without bail on a second-degree murder charge.

In being an act of violence with an apparent political motive, Fields’s alleged actions clearly “count” as terrorism according to most definitions of the term. But there are also parallels between Fields and other terrorists in aspects of his route to Charlottesville.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about Fields, but there is evidence that he was an adherent of a violent and extremist ideology. Just hours before he allegedly drove his car into that crowd, he was seen marching with and carrying a shield featuring the insignia of Vanguard America, a known white-supremacist group. According to Fields’s former high-school teacher Derek Weimer, Fields was also infatuated with the Nazis. “It was obvious that he had this fascination with Nazism and a big idolatry of Adolf Hitler,” Weimer told The Washington Post. “He had white supremacist views. He really believed in that stuff.” A paper Fields wrote in high school, according to the teacher, was a “big lovefest for the German military and the Waffen-SS.”

In American political discourse, terrorism is a label often reserved for followers of a violent interpretation of Islam, whereas people who commit violence in the name of extremist far-right ideology based on race are sometimes portrayed as troubled young men, or criminals. The actions of the Trump administration have only deepened that gap. As one of its first acts, the administration reoriented the Department of Homeland Security’s Countering Violent Extremism program away from combatting white-supremacist groups. Life After Hate, an organization which helps people leave such groups, says it never received a promised $400,000 grant, even as the Southern Poverty Law Center received increased reports of hate crimes and threats in the period immediately after the election. In the months after the election, Life After Hate reported getting a 20-fold uptick in calls from family members, begging for help to pull their loved ones out of violent white supremacist groups. [Continue reading…]

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Deputy assistant to Trump, Sebastian Gorka, says ‘the alpha males are back’

The Washington Post reports: On the night of President Trump’s inauguration, Sebastian Gorka attended the celebratory balls in a high-necked, black Hungarian jacket. Pinned on his chest was a Hungarian coat of arms, a tribute to his father who had been tortured by the communists, and a civilian commendation from the U.S. military.

For years, Gorka had labored on the fringes of Washington and the far edge of acceptable debate as defined by the city’s Republican and Democratic foreign policy elite. Today, the former national security editor for the conservative Breitbart News outlet occupies a senior job in the White House and his controversial ideas — especially about Islam — drive Trump’s populist approach to counterterrorism and national security.

Amid the cheering, music and confetti that night, Gorka talked about Trump’s opening shot in a high-stakes civilizational war, still in its early days.

“Everything’s changed,” Gorka said.

He homed in on three words from Trump’s dystopian inaugural address that day: “Radical Islamic terrorism.”

“When he used those three words today — radical Islamic terrorism — he put the marker down for the whole national security establishment,” Gorka told an interviewer from Fox News.

For Gorka and his allies, the words are more than just a description of the enemy. They signal a radical break with the approach that Republicans and Democrats have taken over the past 16 years to counterterrorism and the Muslim world.

Only days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, President George W. Bush insisted the terror strikes had “violated the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith.”

“Islam is peace,” he told a nation still reeling from grief.

President Barack Obama sounded the same theme routinely during two terms in office.

Gorka has relentlessly championed the opposite view.

For him, the terrorism problem has nothing to do with repression, alienation, torture, tribalism, poverty, or America’s foreign policy blunders and a messy and complex Middle East. [Continue reading…]

Politico reports: Several experts interviewed by POLITICO puzzled over the gap between the numerous military academic credentials listed by Gorka — a political science Ph.D. who unfailingly uses the title “Dr.” — and their unfamiliarity with his work and views.

“When I first encountered his name during the transition, I did a triple-take. I’ve been in counterterrorism since 1998, and I thought I knew everyone. But I’d never heard his name and couldn’t recall anything he’d written or said,” said Daniel Benjamin, who served as counterterrorism coordinator under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Retired Col. Peter Mansoor, a former top aide to Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq who helped rewrite the Army’s counterinsurgency manual, also said he’s never crossed paths with Gorka. “What I’ve heard has not been complimentary,” added Mansoor, who now teaches at Ohio State University and remains active in military circles. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: has appeared in a number of television and radio interviews as a representative of the Trump administration and a member of a White House team called the Strategic Initiatives Group. The Daily Beast called it a think tank within the White House that was set up by Mr. Bannon and the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner.

The group’s formation raised red flags, said Julianne Smith, a former deputy national security adviser to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and the director of strategy and statecraft at the Center for a New American Security.

The National Security Council has traditionally played a decisive role in foreign policy decisions, she said. “Now we have the Strategic Initiatives Group and the National Security Council both working on issues of national security and strategy. So my question on Sebastian, ultimately, is: Who is he reporting to? Is he reporting to the National Security Council? Or is this a direct line to Bannon?” [The Washington Post article cited above says he reports to Bannon.] [Continue reading…]

Like most self-described “experts” on jihad, Gorka has never spoken to a jihadist:

 

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How the USSR’s effort to destroy Islam created a generation of radicals

Amanda Erickson writes: In 1929, Soviet leader Mikhail Kalinin laid out his vision for Central Asia: “teaching the people of the Kirgiz Steppe, the small Uzbek cotton grower, and the Turkmenian gardener the ideals of the Leningrad worker.”

It was a tall order, especially when it came to religion. About 90 percent of the population there was Muslim, but atheism was the state religion of the USSR. So in the early 1920s, the Soviet government effectively banned Islam in Central Asia. Books written in Arabic were burned, and Muslims weren’t allowed to hold office. Koranic tribunals and schools were shuttered, and conducting Muslim rituals became almost impossible. In 1912, there were about 26,000 mosques in Central Asia. By 1941, there were just 1,000.

Rather than stamp out Islam, though, efforts to stifle Islam only radicalized believers. It’s a trend that’s played out again and again over the past century, and one that could have dire consequences in the war on terror. Today, Central Asian Muslims are radicalizing at alarming rates. Thousands have flocked to the Islamic State, and Turkish media reports suggest that the suspect who killed 39 people in an Istanbul nightclub last week was an ethnic Uighur from Kyrgyzstan. [Continue reading…]

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Arrested German spy was a onetime gay porn actor — and a secret Islamist

The Washington Post reports: Two weeks ago, German intelligence agents noticed an unusual user in a chat room known as a digital hideout for Islamic militants. The man claimed to be one of them — and said he was a German spy. He was offering to help Islamists infiltrate his agency’s defenses to stage a strike.

Agents lured him into a private chat, and he gave away so many details about the spy agency — and his own directives within it to thwart Islamists — that they quickly identified him, arresting the 51-year-old the next day. Only then would the extent of his double life become clear.

The German citizen of Spanish descent confessed to secretly converting to Islam in 2014. From there, his story took a stranger turn. Officials ran a check on the online alias he assumed in radical chat rooms. The married father of four had used it before — as recently as 2011 — as his stage name for acting in gay pornographic films.

Authorities on Tuesday said they had arrested him on suspicion of preparing to commit a violent act and for violating state secrecy laws. His arrest was first reported in Germany’s Der Spiegel. But two German officials familiar with the case — a senior intelligence official and a senior law enforcement official — revealed new details about his double life in interviews with the Washington Post. They include his role in pornographic films, which could cast a fresh light on the judgment and vetting of the German intelligence agency at a critical time. [Continue reading…]

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Michael Flynn, Trump’s choice as national security adviser, imagines China and North Korea have ties to jihadists

The New York Times reports: What if someone were to tell you that China and North Korea are allied with militant Islamists bent on imposing their religious ideology worldwide?

You might not agree. After all, China and North Korea are officially secular Communist states, and China has blamed religious extremists for violence in Muslim areas of its Xinjiang region.

But such an alliance is the framework through which retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the pick of President-elect Donald J. Trump for national security adviser, views the two East Asian countries. To the list of pro-jihadist anti-Western conspirators, General Flynn adds Russia, Cuba and Venezuela, among others. (Never mind that he has recently had close financial and lobbying relationships with conservative Russian and Turkish interests.)

By appointing General Flynn, Mr. Trump has signaled that he intends to prioritize policy on the Middle East and jihadist groups, though the Obama administration seems to have stressed to Mr. Trump the urgency of dealing with North Korea’s nuclear program. General Flynn is an outspoken critic of political Islam and has advocated a global campaign led by the United States against “radical Islam.” He once posted on Twitter that “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL.”

General Flynn is about to take on what many consider the most important foreign policy job in the United States government. He is expected to coordinate policy-making agencies, manage competing voices and act as Mr. Trump’s main adviser, and perhaps arbiter, on foreign policy. [Continue reading…]

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Ohio State attacker complained bitterly in Facebook post of treatment of Muslims ‘everywhere,’ reports say

The Washington Post reports: Just minutes before an 18-year-old Somali college student used a car and butcher knife to attack people on the Ohio State University campus Monday morning, he said in a Facebook post that he’d reached a “boiling point” and was “sick and tired” of seeing Muslims around the globe “killed and tortured,” law enforcement officials told CNN and NBC.

The post said the U.S. should stop “interfering” in the Muslim world and referenced “lone wolf” attacks.

The post appeared to be on the Facebook page of the alleged attacker, Ohio State student Abdul Razak Ali Artan, and has since been disabled, reported ABC News. The Post could not independently confirm the story.

On Twitter, CNN’s Jake Tapper shared the full text of the post, which he said law enforcement officials confirmed was connected to Artan.

It began with a general denunciation of violence against Muslims “everywhere,” then referenced specifically the Rohingya Muslim community in Burma, who have been long-persecuted and are denied citizenship and basic rights. While the struggles of the Rohingya Muslims receive little publicity in the U.S., their situation has attracted more attention in recent weeks, as the Post’s Annie Gowen reported. Thousands of them have been fleeing into the forests and neighboring Bangladesh on the heels of a brutal military crackdown that followed a terrorist attack on police posts Oct. 9, allegedly carried out by Rohingya militants.

This week, a United Nations refugee agency official told the BBC that Burmese troops were “killing men, shooting them, slaughtering children, raping women, burning and looting houses, forcing these people to cross the river” into Bangladesh.

The official claimed the government’s goal was “ethnic cleansing of the Muslim minority.” [Continue reading…]

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Islamist extremists celebrate Trump’s election win

Ishaan Tharoor writes: Donald Trump’s presidential election victory has already been cheered by Russian President Vladimir Putin, a constellation of right-wing European populists, a former Ku Klux Klan leader and a Middle Eastern strongman. But there’s another curious constituency that seems to be happy about the new American president-elect.

Shortly after Trump was declared the victor, a number of prominent Salafist ideologues linked to jihadist outfits in the Middle East took to social media to cheer the prospect of a Trump presidency.

The remarks signaled the militants’ apparent belief that the victory of a candidate like Trump, who has suggested potentially unconstitutional blocks on Muslim immigration and advocated torture, undermines the United States’ moral standing in the world.

Social-media sites associated with both the Islamic State and al-Qaeda also hailed Trump’s success as the beginning of “dark times” for the United States, marked by domestic unrest and new foreign military campaigns that would sap the strength of the American superpower.

“Rejoice with support from Allah, and find glad tidings in the imminent demise of America at the hands of Trump,” said the Islamic State-affiliated al-Minbar Jihadi Media network, one of several jihadi forums to post commentaries on the results of the U.S. election. [Continue reading…]

Reuters reports: The Afghan Taliban on Wednesday called on U.S. president-elect Donald Trump to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan.

“Our message is that the Americans should draft a policy not to take away the independence and sovereignty of other nations. Most importantly they should withdraw all their troops from Afghanistan,” the Taliban said in a statement in reaction to Trump’s surprise election win.

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How our leaders, and would-be leaders, became accomplices in terrorism

Christopher Dickey writes: When President Barack Obama says there will be no more 9/11s, he almost certainly is right, although what’s left of the core al Qaeda leadership still longs for an atrocity worthy of disaster-film director Roland Emmerich.

The bad news: in the Age of Anxiety, as my colleague Michael Weiss calls it, the jihadists have learned they get almost as much social, political and economic impact out of minor events, and even failure, as they do out of “successful” atrocities.

And that’s not so much because of the bad guys as it is because of us.

The terror perpetrated by the few has become a tool used by demagogues — our demagogues — to frighten and sometimes to stampede the masses. (Am I thinking of Donald Trump? Marine Le Pen? Geert Wilders? Boris Johnson in Brexit mode? Yes.)

What we have lost in the 15 years since the horrors of September 11, 2001, is a sense of perspective about the scale of the threat we face. [Continue reading…]

The threat from terrorism is asymmetrical in obvious ways, but fearmongers — with the help of the media — obscure the most significant asymmetry that is evident in the immediate aftermath of every atrocity: the inhumanity of the perpetrators is dwarfed by the humanity evident in the responses of the survivors. In the face of terror, the people who reach out to help each other, vastly outnumber the terrorists. Those whose fears are most susceptible to being purposefully amplified are those who get terrorized at a distance.

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Saudis and extremism: ‘Both the arsonists and the firefighters’

Scott Shane reports: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump do not agree on much, but Saudi Arabia may be an exception. She has deplored Saudi Arabia’s support for “radical schools and mosques around the world that have set too many young people on a path towards extremism.” He has called the Saudis “the world’s biggest funders of terrorism.”

The first American diplomat to serve as envoy to Muslim communities around the world visited 80 countries and concluded that the Saudi influence was destroying tolerant Islamic traditions. “If the Saudis do not cease what they are doing,” the official, Farah Pandith, wrote last year, “there must be diplomatic, cultural and economic consequences.”

And hardly a week passes without a television pundit or a newspaper columnist blaming Saudi Arabia for jihadist violence. On HBO, Bill Maher calls Saudi teachings “medieval,” adding an epithet. In The Washington Post, Fareed Zakaria writes that the Saudis have “created a monster in the world of Islam.”

The idea has become a commonplace: that Saudi Arabia’s export of the rigid, bigoted, patriarchal, fundamentalist strain of Islam known as Wahhabism has fueled global extremism and contributed to terrorism. As the Islamic State projects its menacing calls for violence into the West, directing or inspiring terrorist attacks in country after country, an old debate over Saudi influence on Islam has taken on new relevance.

Is the world today a more divided, dangerous and violent place because of the cumulative effect of five decades of oil-financed proselytizing from the historical heart of the Muslim world? Or is Saudi Arabia, which has often supported Western-friendly autocrats over Islamists, merely a convenient scapegoat for extremism and terrorism with many complex causes — the United States’s own actions among them?

Those questions are deeply contentious, partly because of the contradictory impulses of the Saudi state.

In the realm of extremist Islam, the Saudis are “both the arsonists and the firefighters,” said William McCants, a Brookings Institution scholar. “They promote a very toxic form of Islam that draws sharp lines between a small number of true believers and everyone else, Muslim and non-Muslim,” he said, providing ideological fodder for violent jihadists.

Yet at the same time, “they’re our partners in counterterrorism,” said Mr. McCants, one of three dozen academics, government officials and experts on Islam from multiple countries interviewed for this article.

Saudi leaders seek good relations with the West and see jihadist violence as a menace that could endanger their rule, especially now that the Islamic State is staging attacks in the kingdom — 25 in the last eight months, by the government’s count. But they are also driven by their rivalry with Iran, and they depend for legitimacy on a clerical establishment dedicated to a reactionary set of beliefs. Those conflicting goals can play out in a bafflingly inconsistent manner.

Thomas Hegghammer, a Norwegian terrorism expert who has advised the United States government, said the most important effect of Saudi proselytizing might have been to slow the evolution of Islam, blocking its natural accommodation to a diverse and globalized world. “If there was going to be an Islamic reformation in the 20th century, the Saudis probably prevented it by pumping out literalism,” he said. [Continue reading…]

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Hate preachers to be held in separate prison units in England and Wales to curb radicalisation

The Guardian reports: Influential hate preachers will be held in separate prison units after an official inquiry found inmates were acting as “self-styled emirs” behind bars.

A government-ordered review into radicalisation in jails has concluded that some charismatic prisoners exerted a “radicalising influence” over fellow Muslims. It also claimed that some have attempted to engineer segregation, encouraged aggressive conversions to Islam, and been involved in the intimidation of prison imams.

The claims have emerged in a review led by former prison governor Ian Acheson and commissioned last year by then justice secretary Michael Gove. Such concerns in Whitehall were disclosed by the Guardian in February.

Its conclusions will overturn 50 years of dispersing the most dangerous prisoners across the prisons system. Critics have previously warned that such a move could also provide a focal point for public protests and claims of a “British Guantanamo”. [Continue reading…]

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What is extremist belief? An answer from medieval Islamic philosophy

By Anthony Booth, University of Sussex

Every time we are shocked by a new terrorist atrocity, or when a surge in hate crimes takes hold in a country, we lament the malign grip of extremism. But what exactly do we mean when we say that someone holds extreme beliefs? And what exactly is wrong with extreme beliefs? Frankly, there has been little work in western philosophy to tackle these questions. Luckily, however, we can look to the work of a medieval Islamic philosopher – Abu Nasr al-Farabi – to help us find some answers.

Let’s consider two possible models for conceptualising extreme belief. One we might call the “defective belief model” which has become the tacit consensus view of the contemporary West. The other is the “over-belief model” favoured by al-Farabi, one of the great figures of the Islamic golden age of medieval philosophy, who lived in Baghdad in the 9th and 10th centuries. Al-Farabi is well known for his contributions to logic – his contemporaries gave him the moniker “the Second Master”, suggesting that only Aristotle surpassed his logical prowess. In Europe, he was better known as Alfarabius.

I want to make some conceptual points against the Western model of extremism and some in favour of al-Farabi’s.

Let’s begin by taking a look at the idea of defective belief. Under a version of this model, someone has extremist beliefs when they believe propositions that are morally bad to believe, such as that racism is permissible, or that it is permissible to target non-combatants during war.

[Read more…]

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How safe is it to lock up Anjem Choudary in prison with Muslims he could radicalise?

Andrew Neilson writes: The conviction of the cleric Anjem Choudary for inviting support for the Islamic State (Isil) brings into sharp focus a longstanding concern about prisons and radicalisation. The spectre is that jailed Islamist extremists – or indeed any other kind of political extremist – find that there is no better recruiting ground for their cause than prisons themselves.

We know, for example, that a number of extremists behind recent terror attacks in France associated with Isil had spent time in the French prison system and had been radicalised there. Now a man described as the “most dangerous man in Britain”, who counter-terrorism chiefs have spent the best part of two decades pursuing on charges of radicalisation, will most likely be sent to prison for many years. What might he achieve in the potentially fertile recruiting ground of British prisons?

As it happens, and possibly with the looming conviction of Choudary in mind, the former Secretary of State for Justice Michael Gove commissioned a review into Islamist extremists in prison. That review is yet to be published, and with the appointment of Elizabeth Truss to the Ministry of Justice its future is currently rather uncertain. We do know, however, that the review found that such extremism is a growing problem within prisons (although we do not know what data the review relied upon to reach this conclusion). The review also found the National Offender Management Service, which oversees the prison system, lacked a coherent strategy to deal with the problem. Some 69 recommendations were made for change. [Continue reading…]

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Anjem Choudary was a leader. His conviction will damage terror networks

Raffaello Pantucci writes: The conviction of Anjem Choudary marks a significant moment in the history of British jihadism, but it is unclear what kind of an impact it will have. Terrorist groups and networks do suffer when they lose charismatic leaders. Their removal is unlikely to completely destroy a group, but it does change the dynamic.

Terrorist networks are, at their core, groups of people gathering around an ideology. Individuals are drawn in for various (often deeply personal) reasons, but to function as an effective unit that works to advance an ideology requires organisation and leadership. Otherwise, it is just a cluster of angry people with no particular direction.

It is here that leadership figures are key. They provide direction and can help motivate others, as well as offering some practical experience and, crucially, contacts. An individual who has risen to the top of a terrorist network after a long period of time will develop an understanding of what works. The relationships they will have developed over time are hard to replicate. [Continue reading…]

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Radicalisation in Bosnia: Old wounds reopened by an emerging problem

By Louis Monroy Santander, University of Birmingham

Bosnia experienced a difficult reconstruction process after its 1992–1995 war. Now its ongoing political and economic crisis is making it harder to respond to a growing global problem – radicalisation.

According to recent reports, Bosnians have been travelling to Syria to fight for radical Islamist groups in increasing numbers since 2012. They now constitute one of the largest European foreign fighter contingents as a proportion of national population. Figures from 2015 suggest there are more than 300 Bosnians in Syria.

There have also been a number of low-level incidents of terrorist violence in Bosnia. In April 2015, for example, a 24-year-old man from an area near the town of Zvornik drove into a police station and opened fire. He killed one officer and injured two others before being shot dead.

This has prompted heated debates about how to handle the problem without feeding into the tensions that pervade in Bosnian politics. Of particular concern is the possibility that decisions about security will be coloured by ethno-politics.

[Read more…]

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Boris Johnson rebuked for blaming Munich shooting on terrorists

The Guardian reports: The foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, was urged to avoid passing politically sensitive judgments on world events until he was in full possession of the facts after he prematurely blamed Islamist terrorists for the killings in Munich on Friday.

Johnson made his remarks before the identity of the killer – an 18-year-old German citizen of Iranian descent who was obsessed with mass slaughter – had been known.

Although early reports of the attack, in which Ali Sonboly shot nine people dead before killing himself, suggested a gang of three people might be on the loose in Munich in a terror attack reminiscent of the killings in Paris, no definitive information was available and the authorities had not identified a motive for the killings.

Speaking about the attack on Friday while in New York, Johnson told the press that that the “global sickness” of terrorism needed to be tackled at its source in the Middle East.

“If, as seems very likely, this is another terrorist incident, then I think it proves once again that we have a global phenomenon and a global sickness that we have to tackle both at the source – in the areas where the cancer is being incubated in the Middle East – and also of course around the world.”

He added: “We have to ask ourselves, what is going on? How is the switch being thrown in the minds of these people?”

Tom Brake, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, told the Guardian: “Just days into his new role, Boris demonstrates again why it was a huge gamble appointing him. The off-the-cuff remark may suit Have I Got News for You, but it doesn’t the tragedy in Munich. In future, Boris needs to hold his tongue until he is in full possession of the facts. There is too much as stake.” [Continue reading…]

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How Kosovo was turned into fertile ground for ISIS

The New York Times reports: Every Friday, just yards from a statue of Bill Clinton with arm aloft in a cheery wave, hundreds of young bearded men make a show of kneeling to pray on the sidewalk outside an improvised mosque in a former furniture store.

The mosque is one of scores built here with Saudi government money and blamed for spreading Wahhabism — the conservative ideology dominant in Saudi Arabia — in the 17 years since an American-led intervention wrested tiny Kosovo from Serbian oppression.

Since then — much of that time under the watch of American officials — Saudi money and influence have transformed this once-tolerant Muslim society at the hem of Europe into a font of Islamic extremism and a pipeline for jihadists.

Kosovo now finds itself, like the rest of Europe, fending off the threat of radical Islam. Over the last two years, the police have identified 314 Kosovars — including two suicide bombers, 44 women and 28 children — who have gone abroad to join the Islamic State, the highest number per capita in Europe.

They were radicalized and recruited, Kosovo investigators say, by a corps of extremist clerics and secretive associations funded by Saudi Arabia and other conservative Arab gulf states using an obscure, labyrinthine network of donations from charities, private individuals and government ministries.

“They promoted political Islam,” said Fatos Makolli, the director of Kosovo’s counterterrorism police. “They spent a lot of money to promote it through different programs mainly with young, vulnerable people, and they brought in a lot of Wahhabi and Salafi literature. They brought these people closer to radical political Islam, which resulted in their radicalization.”

After two years of investigations, the police have charged 67 people, arrested 14 imams and shut down 19 Muslim organizations for acting against the Constitution, inciting hatred and recruiting for terrorism. The most recent sentences, which included a 10-year prison term, were handed down on Friday.

It is a stunning turnabout for a land of 1.8 million people that not long ago was among the most pro-American Muslim societies in the world. Americans were welcomed as liberators after leading months of NATO bombing in 1999 that spawned an independent Kosovo.

After the war, United Nations officials administered the territory and American forces helped keep the peace. The Saudis arrived, too, bringing millions of euros in aid to a poor and war-ravaged land.

But where the Americans saw a chance to create a new democracy, the Saudis saw a new land to spread Wahhabism.

“There is no evidence that any organization gave money directly to people to go to Syria,” Mr. Makolli said. “The issue is they supported thinkers who promote violence and jihad in the name of protecting Islam.”

Kosovo now has over 800 mosques, 240 of them built since the war and blamed for helping indoctrinate a new generation in Wahhabism. They are part of what moderate imams and officials here describe as a deliberate, long-term strategy by Saudi Arabia to reshape Islam in its image, not only in Kosovo but around the world.

Saudi diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks in 2015 reveal a system of funding for mosques, Islamic centers and Saudi-trained clerics that spans Asia, Africa and Europe. In New Delhi alone, 140 Muslim preachers are listed as on the Saudi Consulate’s payroll.

All around Kosovo, families are grappling with the aftermath of years of proselytizing by Saudi-trained preachers. Some daughters refuse to shake hands with or talk to male relatives. Some sons have gone off to jihad. Religious vigilantes have threatened — or committed — violence against academics, journalists and politicians.

The Balkans, Europe’s historical fault line, have yet to heal from the ethnic wars of the 1990s. But they are now infected with a new intolerance, moderate imams and officials in the region warn.

How Kosovo and the very nature of its society was fundamentally recast is a story of a decades-long global ambition by Saudi Arabia to spread its hard-line version of Islam — heavily funded and systematically applied, including with threats and intimidation by followers. [Continue reading…]

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The real source of terror in Bangladesh

William B. Milam writes: On Friday, a doctor in western Bangladesh was hacked to death. Last weekend, it was a Buddhist monk, in southeastern Bangladesh. The week before, it was a Sufi Muslim leader, up north. Less than two weeks earlier, it was an L.G.B.T. activist. Just days before that, an English professor.

Some of these attacks have not yet been claimed, but they follow a gruesome pattern: There have been at least 25 violent, sometimes public, killings of religious minorities, secularists and free-speech advocates in Bangladesh since February 2015. A dozen more people have been assaulted in similar ways and survived.

Of these attacks, more than 20 have been claimed by the Islamic State, about half a dozen by Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent and one each by the indigenous Bangladeshi extremist groups Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh and Ansar al-Islam.

The surge is worrying Western governments, which fear that local Islamist terrorists may now be competing for the attention of international jihadist networks or cooperating with them. Several Western countries have responded with antiterrorism measures: Japan is providing aviation security; the United States has called for strengthening cooperation with the Bangladeshi authorities to counter terrorism and violent extremism.

This is a predictable reaction, but it is misguided, and dangerous, because it proceeds from the wrong diagnosis.

The recent string of vicious killings in Bangladesh is less a terrorism issue than a governance issue: It is the ruling Awami League’s onslaught against its political opponents, which began in earnest after the last election in January 2014, that has unleashed extremists in Bangladesh. [Continue reading…]

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