Growing anti-Muslim rhetoric permeates French presidential election campaign

The Washington Post reports: For some, the French presidential election will alter the course of a troubled nation steeped in economic and social turmoil. For others, it will alter the course of a troubled continent, challenging the very existence of European integration.

But in France itself, something far less abstract and far more intimate is at stake. In a country that remains under an official “state of emergency” following an unprecedented spate of terrorist violence in the past two years, the election also has become a referendum on Muslims and their place in what is probably Europe’s most anxious multicultural society.

Before the election’s first round of voting Sunday, each of the five leading contenders — from across the ideological spectrum — has felt compelled to address an apparently pressing “Muslim question” about what to do with the country’s largest religious minority.

Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front, has made her answer crystal clear. In February, in the same speech in which she declared her candidacy for president, she decried “Islamist globalization,” which she called an “ideology that wants to bring France to its knees.”

While Le Pen’s diverse array of opponents do not all share her extremity or conviction, each seems to agree that, when it comes to Muslims, something needs to be done. [Continue reading…]

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How Marine Le Pen relies on dividing French Jews and Muslims

Ethan B Katz writes: Marine Le Pen, the National Front party leader who is among the frontrunners in France’s upcoming presidential elections, made waves this month with her insistence that France was not responsible for the infamous “Vel d’Hiv” roundup of July 1942, in which French police chose to arrest more than 13,000 Jews and deport them to Auschwitz. Many were stunned by the comment. It not only contradicted decades of official presidential statements and consensus among historians, but also seemed to clash with Le Pen’s recent effort to court Jewish voters.

In fact, however, the only surprise here was that Jews were mentioned alone, rather than being paired with Muslims. For all Le Pen’s efforts to rebrand her party, she has reminded voters throughout this campaign season that the French far right remains wedded to a politics that has a special place for Jews and Muslims—as closely aligned racial “others.” Le Pen, like so many before her, regularly treats the two faith groups as sources of danger residing at the edges of the French nation, while also seeking to pit the one against the other.

Since becoming party head in 2011, Le Pen has gone to great lengths to give a facelift to the National Front, seeking to free it from the shadow of her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, who founded the party and led it for 40 years. She has undertaken a delicate balancing act: to position the party, long associated with fascist tendencies, as within the mainstream of French republican and democratic values, while also maintaining the National Front’s longstanding far-right constituency. [Continue reading…]

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Liberté, égalité, fraternité, racisme?

Ursula Lindsey writes: France will head to the polls at the end of April to elect a new president. With the country still shaken by recent terrorist attacks, and the rise of a far-right candidate who has campaigned on fear of Muslims and immigrants, public discourse has been dominated by a concern with Islam and radicalization.

The often acrimonious discussion has widened a rift among many public intellectuals and scholars, including those you might expect to be allies. The argument: whether the more serious threat to liberal values in France is the alleged Islamization of the country or the discrimination that many Muslims there face.

Georges Bensoussan, a historian and chief editor of the Shoah History Review, is a divisive figure in the debate. In October 2015, Bensoussan said during a radio show that “today we are in the presence of another people within the French nation, who are making a certain number of our democratic values regress. … There will be no integration until we rid ourselves of this atavistic anti-Semitism that is kept quiet as a secret. A courageous Algerian sociologist, Smaïn Laacher has said … that it’s shameful to maintain this taboo, which is that in Arab families in France, one suckles anti-Semitism like mother’s milk.”

Laacher, who is French of Algerian origin, teaches at the University of Strasbourg. He has said he was misquoted. Bensoussan’s remarks triggered a lawsuit by the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) and other human-rights associations for “incitement to racism.” He was acquitted in March, but the plaintiffs have filed an appeal. [Continue reading…]

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Nigel Farage: ‘Whatever Assad’s sins, he is secular’

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Trump travel ban ‘simplistic and wrongheaded’, says former CIA chief

The Guardian reports: The former CIA director John Brennan has described Donald Trump’s travel ban on visitors from Muslim countries as “simplistic and misguided”, predicting it would be counterproductive if implemented.

Brennan, who was director of central intelligence from March 2013 until the last day of the Obama administration on 20 January this year, was highly critical of a range of Trump policies and actions in an interview with the BBC Newsnight programme aired on Monday night.

He said the administration’s use of the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” served to legitimise terrorists in their own eyes, and warned that the president’s disparagement of US intelligence agencies would hurt morale and recruitment. [Continue reading…]

 

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Federal judge in Hawaii extends ruling halting travel ban indefinitely

CNN reports: A federal judge in Hawaii granted the state’s request for a longer-term halt of the revised travel ban executive order Wednesday.

US District Court Judge Derrick Watson blocked the core provisions of the revised executive order two weeks ago, concluding that the order likely violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution by disfavoring Muslims.

But Watson’s earlier decision was only a limited freeze of the executive order through a temporary restraining order.

As a result, the plaintiffs asked the judge to convert that decision into a longer-term preliminary injunction and Watson agreed Wednesday night, meaning that the President’s 90-day ban on foreign nationals from six Muslim-majority countries and the 120-ban on all refugees entering the country are now blocked indefinitely unless any higher court changes Watson’s order or the state’s lawsuit is otherwise resolved. [Continue reading…]

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Bill Maher makes us dumber: How ignorance, fear and stupid clichés shape Americans’ view of the Middle East

Steven A Cook and Michael Brooks write: Last Sunday was the 14th anniversary of the American invasion of Iraq. Given the outcome of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the milestone passed almost completely without comment among the many who led the charge to Baghdad in 2003. There are soldiers of all ranks who went into battle carrying copies of Ibn Khaldun’s “The Muqaddimah,” Hans Wehr’s Arabic-English Dictionary and other works that might help explain the land and region to which they were ostensibly bringing liberty. Many of these honorable men and women are wiser and more in touch today with the history, politics and culture of the Middle East than when the invasion order came. The same cannot be said for America’s political leaders or Americans more generally.

Prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom, and certainly before the attacks on New York and Washington in September 2001, Americans lived mostly in ignorance of the Middle East. All these years later they remain ignorant but in a different way. Previously, Americans had simply been uninformed about the region. What little they knew tended to be shaped by the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, the fading memory of the Iranian hostage crisis and the brief Persian Gulf War of 1991 to reverse Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein’s annexation of Kuwait.

Today Americans remain ignorant about the Middle East not because they are unaware of the region, but because they are poorly educated about it. It was not long after the Twin Towers fell and the smoldering fire at the Pentagon was extinguished that terms like jihad, Salafi, Wahhabi, madrassa and al-Qaida became part of the American political lexicon. It seemed that anyone who had attained the rank of colonel, or could claim (legitimately or otherwise) onetime employment at the CIA, or was a columnist who had visited an Arab country once or twice was booked on television to shed light on “why they hate us.” To be fair, this reflected a surge of genuine interest in the Middle East. Suddenly, university Arabic classes were oversubscribed, and books about the region that once reached tiny audiences did very well.

As 9/11 became a distant memory and the Iraqi venture became a disaster, the laudable desire to learn more about the Middle East seemed to fall off even as the casualties returning home continued at a steady pace. Yet in ways the region continued to be an obsession — not just for policymakers and foreign policy analysts, but also for a network of groups and individuals that fostered mistrust and fear of Middle Easterners in general and Muslims in particular.

People like Frank Gaffney, Brigitte Gabriel, Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer had long been fringe figures in American public discourse. But their dogged efforts to brand Islam a hostile political ideology and characterize Muslims as a fifth column in the United States paid off in a variety of ways that reinforced one another. The controversy over the “ground zero mosque” in lower Manhattan is instructive in this regard. Such people were able to inject their Islamophobic worldview into the reporting on the debate over the “mosque” — actually a community center with a prayer room — which then wended its way into political spheres where these ideas became increasingly more mainstream. While figures on the far right and the emerging alt-right may have been responsible for propagating Islamophobia, liberal punditry and pop culture also gave it wider currency. [Continue reading…]

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The alt-right populists who collaborate with terrorists

John Harris writes: As proved by Paris, Berlin, Brussels, and now Westminster, it is increasingly as much a part of the awful theatre of terrorism as the acts themselves: inside an hour or two of the news starting to break, figureheads of the so-called alt-right either reaching for their smartphones or sprinting to the nearest TV studio, and dispensing messages that chime perfectly with the intentions of the killers. They want rage, uncontrollable tension and intimations of the apocalypse to begin to embed in the societies they seek to attack. And guess what? The people who brought us Brexit, Trump and a thousand verbose radio spots and newspaper columns are only too happy to oblige.

With grinding inevitability, Nigel Farage appeared on Fox News on Wednesday night, and made his case with all the manic insistence of a Dalek, assisted by a large helping of what we now know as Alternative Facts. So, from the top: “What these politicians have done in the space of just 15 years may well affect the way we live in this country over the next 100 years … We’ve made some terrible mistakes in this country, and it really started with the election of Tony Blair back in 1997, who said he wanted to build a multicultural Britain. His government even said they sent out search parties to find immigrants from all over the world to come into Britain … The problem with multiculturalism is that it leads to divided communities. It’s quite different to multiracialism … I’m sorry to say that we have now a fifth column living inside these European countries.”

The same network also included a quickfire contribution from one Walid Phares – “Fox News national security and foreign policy expert” – who reckoned that the attack had proved that “one man can stop a city”, before Katie Hopkins went even further. “Great Britain is absolutely divided, more than at any time than in its past,” she said. “We are in fact a nation of ghettoes. I think liberals think multiculturalism means we all die together.” Not long after, the Ukip donor (or ex-donor – it is never quite clear) Arron Banks weighed in on Twitter, first associating the acts of a terrorist who would soon turn out to be British-born with “illegals”, and then carrying on regardless: “We have a huge Islamic problem courtesy of mass immigration … It’s a failed policy of mass immigration without integration that has destroyed communities … we have communities who hate our country and way of life.” [Continue reading…]

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U.S. embassies ordered to identify population groups for tougher visa screening

Reuters reports: U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has directed U.S. diplomatic missions to identify “populations warranting increased scrutiny” and toughen screening for visa applicants in those groups, according to diplomatic cables seen by Reuters.

He has also ordered a “mandatory social media check” for all applicants who have ever been present in territory controlled by the Islamic State, in what two former U.S. officials said would be a broad, labor-intensive expansion of such screening. Social media screening is now done fairly rarely by consular officials, one of the former officials said.

Four cables, or memos, issued by Tillerson over the last two weeks provide insight into how the U.S. government is implementing what President Donald Trump has called “extreme vetting” of foreigners entering the United States, a major campaign promise. The cables also demonstrate the administrative and logistical hurdles the White House faces in executing its vision.

The memos, which have not been previously reported, provided instructions for implementing Trump’s March 6 revised executive order temporarily barring visitors from six Muslim-majority countries and all refugees, as well as a simultaneous memorandum mandating enhanced visa screening. [Continue reading…]

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American Muslims are young, politically liberal, and scared

The Atlantic reports: Muslims may be the religious group that’s most talked about and least understood in the U.S. President Trump has put Islam at the center of his policymaking, making shaky claims about how assimilated Muslims are into American life. And yet, in part because the group is so small, actual data about their religiosity, political leanings, and engagement with American culture is relatively scarce.

A new survey from the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, or ISPU, offers a rare look at this changing community. The report covers interviews with nearly 2,400 American residents from diverse religious backgrounds, including roughly 800 Muslims. The data suggest that this rapidly growing group is strongly shaped by a few factors. U.S. Muslims are younger and more liberal than their neighbors. They tend to be fairly religious. And they are extremely anxious about what’s happening in America.

Over the past decade, the Muslim community has grown significantly. According to the Pew Research Center, their share of the U.S. population more than doubled between 2007 and 2014. The group now makes up roughly 1 percent of the populace. [Continue reading…]

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Being Indian in Trump’s America

Amitava Kumar writes: On a September evening in 1987, Navroze Mody, a thirty-year-old Indian man living in Jersey City, went for drinks at the Gold Coast Café, in Hoboken. Later that night, after he left the bar, he was accosted on the street by a group of about a dozen youths and severely beaten. Mody died from his injuries four days later. There had been other attacks on Indians in the area at that time, several of them brutal, many of them carried out by a group that called itself the Dotbusters—the name a reference to the bindi worn by Hindu women on their foreheads. Earlier that year, a local newspaper had published a handwritten letter from the Dotbusters: “We will go to any extreme to get Indians to move out of Jersey City. If I’m walking down the street and I see a Hindu and the setting is right, I will hit him or her.”

When I first read about the attack on Mody, I had only recently arrived in the United States. I was a young graduate student at Syracuse University then, and although the news alarmed me I wasn’t fearful. In those days, distances felt real: an event unfolding in a city more than two hundred miles away seemed remote, even in the imagination. I might have worried for my mother and sisters, who wore bindis, but they were safe, in India. Whatever was happening in Jersey City, in other words, couldn’t affect the sense that I and my expat friends had of our role in this country. The desire for advancement often breeds an apolitical attitude among immigrants, a desire not to rock the boat, to be allowed to pass unnoticed. Since 1965, when Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act, abolishing the racist quotas of the nineteen-twenties, our compatriots had been bringing their professional skills to America. If we didn’t hope to be welcomed, we at least expected to be benignly ignored.

A lot has happened in the long interregnum. Indian-Americans have the highest median income of any ethnic group in the United States. There is a greater visibility now of Indians on American streets, and also of Indian food and culture. I’ve seen the elephant-headed deity Ganesha displayed all over America, in art museums, restaurants, yoga centers, and shops, on T-shirts and tote bags. The bindi isn’t the bull’s-eye it once was. But the bigotry, as we have witnessed in 2017, has not gone away. [Continue reading…]

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Once in the shadows, Europe’s neo-fascists are re-emerging

The New York Times reports: Head bowed in reverence, Robert Svec gently placed a bouquet of blood-red flowers at the foot of the only known statue of Jozef Tiso, Slovakia’s wartime fascist leader, in a weedy monument park known as the Pantheon of Slovak Historical Figures.

For years, Mr. Svec’s neo-fascist cultural organization, the Slovak Revival Movement, was a tiny fringe group. But now his crowds are growing, as 200 people recently gathered with him to celebrate the country’s fascist past and call fascist-era greetings — “Na Straz!” or “On the guard!” Mr. Svec is so emboldened that he is transforming his movement into a political party, with plans to run for Parliament.

“You are ours, and we will forever be yours,” Mr. Svec said at the foot of the statue, having declared this as the Year of Jozef Tiso, dedicated to rehabilitating the image of the former priest and Nazi collaborator, who was hanged as a war criminal in 1947.

Once in the shadows, Europe’s neo-fascists are stepping back out, more than three-quarters of a century after Nazi boots stormed through Central Europe, and two decades since a neo-Nazi resurgence of skinheads and white supremacists unsettled the transition to democracy. In Slovakia, neo-fascists are winning regional offices and taking seats in the multiparty Parliament they hope to replace with strongman rule. [Continue reading…]

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The denationalization of American Muslims

Peter Beinart writes: On March 6, the zoning board in Bayonne, New Jersey, turned down a request to convert an old warehouse into a mosque. Such denials are happening with increasing frequency in the United States. In the 10 years between 2000 and 2010, the Justice Department intervened seven times against local communities that prevented Muslims from building mosques or other religious institutions. In the six years between 2010 and 2016, that number jumped to 17.

At the zoning board meeting, one woman called Islam a “so-called religion.” Residents claimed the Muslim Brotherhood would control the mosque. The Facebook page of the group “Stop the Mosque in Bayonne” features a man holding a sign that says “Democracy or Sharia Law.”

This is the language of Frank Gaffney. For a decade and a half, Gaffney, a former Reagan administration Pentagon official who heads a small Washington think tank called the Center for Security Policy, has been making two interrelated arguments. First, that the Muslim Brotherhood—which he claims seeks to replace the United States Constitution with a Caliphate based upon Sharia law—secretly controls most American mosques and Muslim organizations. Second, that Islam is not actually a religion. It is a totalitarian political ideology. Thus, its adherents should be treated not like Christians or Jews, but like American Nazis during World War II.

For years, Washington conservatives ridiculed these arguments and stigmatized Gaffney for making them. In 2003, after Gaffney attacked two Muslim staffers in the Bush White House, anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist banned him from his influential “Wednesday meeting” of conservative activists. In 2011, according to sources close to the organization, the American Conservative Union informally barred Gaffney from speaking at CPAC, the ACU’s signature event. In 2013, the Bradley Foundation, which had backed the Center for Security Policy since 1988, cut off funds. That same year, Gaffney lost the Washington Times column he had been writing since the late 1990s. As late as December 2015, The Daily Beast declared that, “Frank Gaffney has been shunned by pretty much everyone in conservative intellectual circles.”

Yet less than 18 months later, America is led by a president, Donald Trump, who has frequently cited the Center for Security Policy when justifying his policies towards Muslims. Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, has called Gaffney “one of the senior thought leaders and men of action in this whole war against Islamic radical jihad.” Trump’s Attorney General, Jeff Sessions—who has said “Sharia law fundamentally conflicts with our magnificent constitutional order”—in 2015 won the Center for Security Policy’s “Keeper of the Flame” Award. Trump’s CIA Director, Mike Pompeo, has appeared on Gaffney’s radio program more than 24 times since 2013. Sebastian Gorka, who runs a kind of parallel National Security Council inside the White House called the Strategic Initiatives Group, has appeared on Gaffney’s radio program 18 times during that period. He’s called Sharia “antithetical to the values of this great nation” and recently refused to say whether he considered Islam a religion.

In truth, conservatives never actually marginalized Gaffney’s ideas. Even when shunned in Washington, they grew steadily on the grassroots right in response to conservative disillusionment with America’s post-9/11 wars. Gaffney’s theories represent an effort to “denationalize” American Muslims—to strip them of their national identity and legal protections—with chilling precedents in American and European history. And although these theories have opponents, as well as supporters, in the Trump administration, they are already changing the relationship between American Muslims and their government in frightening ways. [Continue reading…]

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American courts are tackling Islamophobia – why won’t European courts do likewise?

Muneer I Ahmad writes: On both sides of the Atlantic, courts this week have addressed the relationship of Islam to the west, but with radically different approaches and outcomes. In the US, federal courts in Hawaii and Maryland have halted Donald Trump’s second attempt at a Muslim ban. Meanwhile, the European court of justice, Europe’s highest court, has upheld the right of private employers to ban Muslim women from wearing headscarves.

American and European law each embrace principles of religious neutrality and non-discrimination, but the divergent application of those laws reflects different levels of discomfort with religion generally and a demographic anxiety with Islam in particular.

In both the US and Europe, politicians proselytize about Islam as a mortal threat to western civilization, with high degrees of success. The victory of Trump, the ascendancy of Marine Le Pen in France, and the rightward lurch in the Netherlands – notwithstanding the electoral defeat – of Geert Wilders, provide ample evidence that such populism pays political dividends. And yet, while European courts regulate the veil year after year, American courts by and large have refused to take the anti-Muslim bait. [Continue reading…]

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Internal Trump administration data undercuts travel ban

The Washington Post reports: At least two sets of internal data that have been available to the Trump administration — but that have never been publicized — appear to undercut the government’s argument for a travel ban that it had hoped would take effect Thursday, according to several officials familiar with the documents.

One internal report, titled “Most Foreign-Born US-Based Violent Extremists Radicalized After Entering Homeland,” analyzed roughly 90 cases involving suspected or confirmed foreign-born terrorists, finding that most of them probably embraced extremist ideology after they arrived in the United States, not before.

Another report, drawn on classified FBI data, has been used by the Trump administration to bolster its claims that refugees pose a risk of terrorism. But the figures that are the basis for that report undermine a key premise of the travel ban, with most of the suspects cited in the report coming from countries unaffected by President Trump’s executive order, according to officials familiar with the report.

Taken together, the two reports show there is a significant amount of internal government data that suggests the travel ban Trump wants to implement is not likely to be effective in curbing the threat of terrorism in the United States, these people said. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because some of the data is classified and none of it has been approved for public dissemination. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s plain words made clear his intention to ban Muslims

The New York Times reports: Rarely do a presidential candidate’s own words so dramatically haunt his presidency.

For the second time in two months, a federal judge on Wednesday refused to allow President Trump to impose a travel ban, citing his campaign rhetoric as evidence of an improper desire to prevent Muslims from entering the United States.

The judge’s stunning rebuke was a vivid example of how Mr. Trump’s angry, often xenophobic rallying cries during the 2016 campaign — which were so effective in helping to get him elected — have become legal and political liabilities now that he is in the Oval Office.

It is a lesson that presidents usually learn quickly: Difficult and controversial issues can easily be painted as black-and-white during a long campaign, but they are often more complicated for those who are in a position to govern.

That is especially true for Mr. Trump’s bellicose remarks about immigrants, which animated his upstart presidential campaign but now threaten to get in the way of his broader agenda for a health care overhaul, tax cuts and infrastructure spending.

It all seemed so simple before.

Five days after terrorists in California killed 14 people in December 2015, Mr. Trump whipped up his supporters at a rally by vowing to impose a complete ban on entry by Muslims “until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.”

The crowd roared its approval.

Later in the campaign, Mr. Trump backed away from calling for a total Muslim ban. But the judge in Hawaii who ruled on Wednesday appears to have concluded that Mr. Trump’s true motivations could be found by looking at his earlier remarks.

“These plainly worded statements,” wrote Judge Derrick K. Watson of Federal District Court in Honolulu, “betray the executive order’s stated secular purpose.” [Continue reading…]

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