Finland says it is nearing security deal with U.S. amid concerns over Russia

The Guardian reports: Finland says it is close to concluding a defence cooperation agreement with the US, the latest in a series of steps the formally neutral Nordic country has taken to bolster its security in the face of heightened Russian military activity.

The country’s defence minister, Jussi Niinistö, said he hoped the deal – incorporating joint military training, information sharing and research – would be signed before the US presidential election in November.

“It’s one of the reasons to have it done this autumn. But I’m certain we will continue to work together with either one of main candidates winning,” Niinisto told Reuters news agency. There was no immediate response from the Pentagon on a potential agreement.

The deal would provide a framework for increased cooperation between the armed forces of the two nations but would not involve any binding commitment for either country to come to the defence of the other. Finland signed a similar agreement with the UK in July.

Sweden, the other Nordic country to have remained outside Nato, signed a defence cooperation agreement with the US in June. Leaders from both Sweden and Finland also took part in a Nato summit last month in Warsaw, and their armed forces have taken part in Nato military exercises in the region as nervousness has grown around the Baltic over an increasing number of Russian military drills in the air and sea following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Both Nordic states have already signed agreements that would make it easier for them to host Nato troops in a crisis, and they contributed troops to the Nato mission in Afghanistan. [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.

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How should we live in a diverse society?

Kenan Malik writes: Debates about immigration are… rarely about numbers as such. They are much more about who the migrants are, and about underlying anxieties of nation, community, identity and values. ‘We should not forget’, claimed Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, as Hungary put up new border fences, and introduced draconian new anti-immigration laws, ‘that the people who are coming here grew up in a different religion and represent a completely different culture. Most are not Christian, but Muslim.’ ‘Is it not worrying’, he asked, ‘that Europe’s Christian culture is already barely able to maintain its own set of Christian values?’

Many thinkers, Christian and non-Christian, religious and non-religious, echo this fear of Muslim immigration undermining the cultural and moral foundation of Western civilization. The late Oriana Fallaci, the Italian writer who perhaps more than most promoted the notion of Eurabia – the belief that Europe is being Islamicised – described herself as a ‘Christian atheist’, insisting that only Christianity provided Europe with a cultural and intellectual bulwark against Islam. The British historian Niall Ferguson calls himself ‘an incurable atheist’ and yet is alarmed by the decline of Christianity which undermines ‘any religious resistance’ to radical Islam. Melanie Phillips, a non-believing Jew, argues in her book The World Turned Upside Down that ‘Christianity is under direct and unremitting cultural assault from those who want to destroy the bedrock values of Western civilization.’

To look upon migration in this fashion is, I want to suggest, a misunderstanding of both Europe’s past and Europe’s present. To understand why, I want first to explore two fundamental questions, the answers to which must frame any discussion on inclusion and morality. What we mean by a diverse society? And why should we value it, or indeed, fear it?

When we think about diversity today in Europe, the picture we see is that of societies that in the past were homogenous, but have now become plural because of immigration. But in what way were European societies homogenous in the past? And in what ways are they diverse today?

Certainly, if you had asked a Frenchman or an Englishman or a Spaniard in the nineteenth or the fifteenth or the twelfth centuries, they would certainly not have described their societies as homogenous. And were they to be transported to contemporary Europe, it is likely that they would see it as far less diverse than we do.

Our view of the Europe of the past is distorted by historical amnesia; and our view of the Europe of the present is distorted by a highly restricted notion of diversity. When we talk of European societies as historically homogenous, what we mean is that they used to be ethnically, or perhaps culturally, homogenous. But the world is diverse in many ways. Societies are cut through by differences, not only of ethnicity, but also of class, gender, faith, politics, and much else. [Continue reading…]

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Srebrenica: Why every life matters

In the West, the top three watershed geopolitical events of the modern era are commonly seen as the end of the Cold War with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the al Qaeda attacks in the U.S. in 2001, and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The 1995 Srebrenica Genocide, has largely been forgotten and outside the Muslim world its significance never widely grasped.

Yet as Brendan Simms noted in Europe: The Struggle for Supremacy, from 1453 to the Present:

In the Muslim world, the slaughter of their co-religionists in Bosnia contributed substantially to the emergence of a common consciousness on foreign policy. According to this global discourse, Muslims were now on the defensive across the world: in Palestine, Bosnia, Kashmir, Chechnya and elsewhere. A large number of Arab, Turkish, Caucasian, central Asian and other Mujahedin – in search of a new jihad after Afghanistan – went to Bosnia to fight. It was among European Muslims, however, that the Bosnian experience resonated most forcefully. ‘It doesn’t really matter whether we perish or survive,’ the Grand Mufti of Bosnia-Herzegovina [Dr. Mustafa Cerić] remarked in May 1994, ‘the lesson will always be there. And it is a simple one: that the Muslim community must always be vigilant and must always take their destiny in their own hands. They must never rely on anyone or anybody to solve their problems or come to their rescue.’ This ‘Zionist’ message echoed across the immigrant communities in western Europe, especially Britain. ‘Bosnia Today – Brick Lane tomorrow’ warned the banners in one East London demonstration. Some of the most prominent subsequent British jihadists such as Omar Sheikh, who masterminded the kidnapping and murder of the journalist Daniel Pearl, and the Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg – were radicalized by Bosnia. In other words, the new Muslim geopolitics of the mid-1990s was a reaction not to western meddling but to nonintervention in the face of genocide and ethnic cleansing [my emphasis].

A decade later, when Nadeem Azam interviewed Cerić (who in 2003 in recognition of his contributions to inter-faith dialogue, tolerance and peace, was awarded UNESCO’s Félix Houphouët-Boigny peace prize) he reiterated his message on the necessity of Muslim self-reliance.

What are your feelings about the future of Islam in Europe?

Not very good. The rise of fascism combined with an officially-sanctioned tendency to be unreasonable when it comes to discussion about Islam are bad omens. I am not a soothsayer but I can see the reality of a day when the treatment of a Muslim in Europe will be worse than that of serial killer: we are, I am afraid, on the verge of seeing a situation develops whereby it would be a crime to be a Muslim in Europe. The events of 11 September, 2001, have made things worse. May Allah protect us.

But having such feelings does not depress me. It actually should motivate us and make us even more resolute in our efforts. More importantly it should make us think of planning and organising. If the day comes – like it did in Bosnia – you might be unable to control events around you but you should at least be ready to do what is needed to be done by a Muslim at such an hour.
[…]
The message of the four year-long war we fought is a simple one: that the Muslim community must always be vigilant and must always take their destiny in their own hands. They must never rely on anyone or anybody to solve their problems or come to their rescue; they must always rely on God and the faith, goodness and compassion within their communities. This is very important. Our strength will always be reflective of the strength of our communities.

Today, Cerić’s fears are clearly all the more well-founded as across Europe xenophobia and Islamophobia relentlessly grow and in the United States a presidential candidate gains the strongest boost to his campaign by promising a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims.

The lesson that Srebrenica taught many Muslims in the West was that even when they are in no sense foreign or culturally set apart, they are still at risk of exclusion and elimination.

Last month after the EU referendum in the UK, a resident of Barnsley, South Yorkshire (five miles from where I grew up), when asked to explain why he had voted for Brexit said: “It’s to stop the Muslims coming into this country. Simple as that.”

Among opponents of the war in Iraq, a widely accepted narrative has long been that the antidote to the unintended consequences of so much ill-conceived Western meddling in the Greater Middle East over the last 15 years is to simply step back and disengage. This sentiment, in large part, is what got Barack Obama elected in 2008. Let the region sort out its own problems or let closer neighbors such as the Russians intervene, so the thinking goes. The U.S. has much more capacity to harm than to help.

Yet as the killing fields of Syria have grown larger year after year, the message from Srebrenica merely seems to have been underlined: the magnitude of the death toll in any conflict will be of little concern across most of the West so long as the victims are Muslim.

After Donald Trump called for Muslims to be shut out of America, Michael Moore declared: We are all Muslim. And he promoted the hashtag #WeAreAllMuslim.

Expressions of solidarity through social media are easy to promote and of debatable value, yet the isolation of Muslims in this instance, rather than being overcome, merely seemed to get reinforced. #WeAreAllMuslim was mostly deployed as a sarcastic slur shared by Islamophobes.

The global trends are strong and clear, pointing to a future marked by more and more social fragmentation as people withdraw into their respective enclaves where they believe they can “take care of their own.”

We live in a world in which we are getting thrown closer together while simultaneously trying to stand further apart. It can’t work.

At some point we either embrace the fact that we are all human and have the capacity to advance our mutual interests, or we will continue down the current path of self-destruction.

* * *

Last year, Myriam François-Cerrah, a British journalist who is also a Muslim, took a group of young people from the UK — all of whom were born in the year of the genocide — to Srebrenica where they learned lessons that arguably have more relevance now than they have had at any time since 1995.

 

The events immediately leading up to the genocide are recounted in this segment from the BBC documentary, The Death of Yugoslavia:

 

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How J.R.R. Tolkien found Mordor on the Western Front

Joseph Loconte writes: In the summer of 1916, a young Oxford academic embarked for France as a second lieutenant in the British Expeditionary Force. The Great War, as World War I was known, was only half-done, but already its industrial carnage had no parallel in European history.

“Junior officers were being killed off, a dozen a minute,” recalled J. R. R. Tolkien. “Parting from my wife,” he wrote, doubting that he would survive the trenches, “was like a death.”

The 24-year-old Tolkien arrived in time to take part in the Battle of the Somme, a campaign intended to break the stalemate between the Allies and Central Powers. It did not.

The first day of the battle, July 1, produced a frenzy of bloodletting. Unaware that its artillery had failed to obliterate the German dugouts, the British Army rushed to slaughter.

Before nightfall, 19,240 British soldiers — Prime Minister David Lloyd George called them “the choicest and best of our young manhood” — lay dead. That day, 100 years ago, remains the most lethal in Britain’s military history. [Continue reading…]

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Killing twice for ISIS and saying so live on Facebook

The New York Times reports: He stabbed an off-duty police officer and left him bleeding to death on his own doorstep. He forced his way inside the home and stabbed and killed the officer’s female companion. He then sat down and videotaped himself live on Facebook declaring allegiance to the Islamic State, according to the French law enforcement authorities.

Sitting just behind him was the couple’s son, a terrified 3-year-old boy, of whom Larossi Abballa, the killer, said dismissively, “I have not decided what to do with him,” according to David Thomson, a French journalist for Radio France Internationale and the author of a book on jihadists who saw Mr. Abballa’s online posts before they were taken down.

The events that unfolded between about 8 p.m. and midnight on Monday — when elite police forces broke into the house in the small town of Magnanville, fatally shot Mr. Abballa, 25, and rescued the boy — were the second time within 48 hours in which a person appearing to act alone claimed to kill in the name of the Islamic State.

In the attacks in both Magnanville and Orlando, Fla., the killers had more than just brushed up against the authorities before, in what has become a distressingly familiar pattern — from the set of attacks in Paris in November, to those in Brussels in March and beyond. The Orlando gunman, Omar Mateen, had been interviewed twice by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for his possible links to terrorism, and Mr. Abballa had been convicted for having links to a terrorist network and served about two years in jail before being released.

Further complicating the job of protecting Western nations are governments’ dual goal of preserving civil liberties while trying to make people feel secure.

The attack in France was shocking not only to neighbors in Magnanville, about 35 miles from Paris, but across the country because it underscored that extremist attacks can happen in the most ordinary places, above all in those where people believe they are safe.

Mr. Abballa’s Facebook post from Monday night made clear that he wanted to terrify and destroy those he deemed “unbelievers,” people he had come to hate. He also wanted to encourage other lone wolves to do the same.

“It’s super simple,” he said, looking into the camera. “It’s enough to wait for them in front of their offices; don’t give them any respite. Know this, whether you are a policeman or a journalist, you will never feel calm again. One will wait for you in front of your homes. This is what you have earned.”

Boasting that he had “just killed a policeman and I just killed his wife,” he called on fellow believers to give priority to killing “police, prison guards, journalists.” He specifically named several writers and journalists, adding rappers to the list because, he said, they “are the allies of Satan.”

Even more chillingly, he warned that jihadists had “reserved some other surprises for the Euro; I am not going to say more.’’

“The Euro will be a cemetery,” he said, referring to the Euro 2016 soccer tournament being played over the next several weeks in 10 French cities.

It was unclear whether Mr. Abballa had specific knowledge of a potential attack on the matches or the crowds gathered for them.

The version of the video released by the Islamic State’s Amaq news agency was trimmed by a couple of minutes to omit images of the boy and Mr. Abballa’s references to him. On Twitter, opinion was divided between those who thought the images of a defenseless child were tasteless even by the standards of the Islamic State’s hardened propagandists and those who speculated that the extremist news agency did not want to show Mr. Abballa as unwilling to kill a child. [Continue reading…]

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The forgotten story of European refugee camps in the Middle East

Ishaan Tharoor writes: Tens of thousands of refugees fled a war. They journeyed across the Eastern Mediterranean, a trip filled with peril. But the promise of sanctuary on the other side was too great.

No, this is not the plight faced by Syrian refugees, desperate to escape the desolation of their homeland and find a safer, better life in Europe. Rather, it’s the curious and now mostly forgotten case of thousands of people from Eastern Europe and the Balkans who were housed in a series of camps across the Middle East, including in Syria, during World War II.

As the Nazi and Soviet war machines rolled through parts of Eastern Europe and the Balkans, vast civilian populations were displaced in their wake. In areas occupied by fascist troops, Jewish communities and other undesired minorities faced the harshest onslaught, but others, particularly those suspected of backing partisan fighters, also were subject to targeted attacks and forced evacuations. [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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Deeyah Khan: Terrorists want us to become like them — intolerant, hateful, and cruel

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Islam is reshaping Europe

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Robert Kaplan writes: Orientalism, through which one culture appropriated and dominated another, is slowly evaporating in a world of cosmopolitan interactions and comparative studies, as [Edward] Said intuited it might. Europe has responded by artificially reconstructing national-cultural identities on the extreme right and left, to counter the threat from the civilization it once dominated.

Although the idea of an end to history — with all its ethnic and territorial disputes — turns out to have been a fantasy, this realization is no excuse for a retreat into nationalism. The cultural purity that Europe craves in the face of the Muslim-refugee influx is simply impossible in a world of increasing human interactions.

“The West,” if it does have a meaning beyond geography, manifests a spirit of ever more inclusive liberalism. Just as in the 19th century there was no going back to feudalism, there is no going back now to nationalism, not without courting disaster. [Continue reading…]

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White Europeans have a problem with otherness

Zia Haider Rahman writes: Twenty years ago, when New Yorkers asked me where I was from, all I’d say is that I grew up in Britain. Mentioning that I was born in Bangladesh drew only more questions, and New Yorkers simply wanted confirmation of what was to them the distinctive cultural marker: my British accent.

That accent was learned from imitating BBC News announcers on a cassette recorder. As a boy, I read about the destruction of millions of Jews and was gripped by fear: If white Europeans could do that to people who looked like them, imagine what they could do to me.

So I adapted, hoping to make myself less alien to these people so ill at ease with difference. I grew up not so long ago in a Britain that spat at nonwhites, beat us and daubed swastikas on walls.

Britain frightens its natives with the specter of a fifth column, and exhorts immigrants to integrate better and adopt British values. Do it and you’ll earn your stripes. But the promise is hollow, for Britain has no intention of keeping its side of the bargain. [Continue reading…]

Zia Haider Rahman read a longer version of this piece last month in Amsterdam.

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The Israeli Right’s historic ties to European fascism

Noam Rotem writes: The heads of the Freedom Party of Austria, an extremist, far-right political party, are currently visiting Israel following a formal invitation from the ruling Likud party.

This isn’t the first time top right-wing Israeli politicians have supported the Freedom Party of Austria, which was established by high-ranking members of the Nazi regime and SS officers. They themselves are deemed “Nazis” by Austrian politicians, publish anti-Semitic propaganda, and promote an Islamophobic, racist agenda. Deputy Minister of Regional Cooperation Ayoob Kara (Likud), for instance, participated in a 2010 ceremony alongside members of the party, while head of the Shomron Regional Authority in the West Bank, Gershon Mesika, took part in a conference organized by right-wing organizations, which included the Freedom Party of Austria.

However the ties between the Jewish-Israeli right and racist European movements goes back many years. [Continue reading…]

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