The attacks in Paris on Friday 13 November 2015 were the worst on French soil since 1945, where more than 125 people died and hundreds more injured. And among the dead and the maimed were a number of Muslims. For the first time, the country was confronted by suicide bombers in the heart of Paris.
Unlike the Charlie-Hebdo and the kosher store attacks in January 2015, the perpetrators this time targeted public places, chosen not for their symbolic character, but ordinary people out on a Friday night. The intent: to inflict maximum casualties and victims as well as disrupting ordinary life. Sadly, the perpetrators were largely successful.
Emotions in France and around the world are understandably deep and very palpable now. However as we reel from the magnitude and soreness of what just happened, we should not shy away from asking tough questions: Who stands to benefit from these attacks? What are the immediate effects and risks to us? What consequences can we anticipate and how best can we respond both at the domestic and international levels?
One very likely risk from the attacks is that the French may be pushed to blame Muslims in France for the actions of a few suspected deranged Muslims. Their actions will no doubt play into the hands of the National Front which is already on the ascendency in the country. With regional elections in December, the National Front has a high chance of coming out as the winner in the elections. This is especially the case in regions like the Provence Côte d’Azur or Nord, where if they succeed, they will gain considerable political and financial clout.
Right wing parties, and especially the Les Républicains led by Nicolas Sarkozy, are calling for proposals and laws that can only be described as draconian and undemocratic to provoke and sow divisions in French society. They are demanding that thousands of “suspected Islamists” be placed under house-arrest; they are asking for the adoption of a French version of the American Patriot Act of 2001 (“Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism”).
The French government has already installed a “state of emergency” and put under house-arrest over a hundred people. In the immediate aftermath of the Paris attacks, we have witnessed a surge in attacks targeting mosques, Islamic centres and adherents of the Islamic faith in France and in other parts of Europe.
It is well-known that that one of the aims of the so-called Islamic State, better termed as Daesh, is “the extinction of the grey zone” i.e. to polarise Western society by provoking Islamophobia. In Daesh’s official magazine, Dabeq, it states:
“Muslims in the crusader countries will find themselves forced to abandon their homes and live under the Khilāfa [caliphate], as the crusaders increase persecution of the Muslims residing in Western lands. [..] Eventually, the grey zone will become extinct and there will be no place for greyish calls and movements. There will only be the camp of Iman [faith in Allah] versus the camp of kufr [disbelief]”. We should not fall into this trap.
France is also a key target of the extremists like Daesh because it, along with the United States, is the most engaged militarily from Mali to Syria, and from the Central African Republic to Iraq. But its policy is incoherent and we should critically review the “war on terror” promulgated immediately after the September 11 attacks and re-launched after the capture of Mosul by Daesh in the summer of 2014. The failure of the War on Terror strategy is obvious: there have been more attacks, not less and very often in Muslim countries themselves. Within the last few weeks, we have witnessed bombings in the Turkish city of Ankara; the attack on a Russian-operated plane that came down over the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, killing all 224 people on board; and suicide attacks in Beirut in a popular suburb.
Never have so many people, especially the youth, been more engaged in extremist and violent groups like al-Qaida or Daesh, committed to what they believe is a resistance to international aggression against Muslims the world-over.
We should try to decipher the dynamics on the ground and grasp the context that render the Middle East a complex geography and reality. In this sense, it is unhelpful for pundits to simply reduce the current crisis in the region to solely Daesh. Rather, we must address the problems of poverty, education, foreign meddling, development, etc.
Is it not high time to think about the region as a whole and not only in military terms? We must confront Daesh to rid the world from its menace, but this can’t be achieved through bombing only. Instead, privileging a political solution is likely to yield in better results – and hopefully more lasting for a region that has been characterised by a spiral of chaos and instability especially since the US intervention in Iraq in 2003.
It is time too to push all regional powers, which have in their own way, compounded the Syrian conflict. The Vienna meeting which saw the participation of all these powers is perhaps a step in the right direction. It is also high time to robustly push for the solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by ending the occupation. And last but not least, we should reconsider the demands voiced by the masses during the Arab Spring and the fulfilment of these demands is the best route to stability for the long-run.
Prioritising diplomacy and political solutions over bombings is the best strategy for France.
*A French journalist, Dr Alain Gresh is former editor of Le Monde diplomatiqueand the current editor of OrientXX1.info (online magazine). A specialist on the Middle East, he is president of the Association of French journalists specialised on the Maghreb and the Middle East (AJMO). His books include The PLO, The Struggle Within (Zed Books, London, 1986), Un péril islamiste? (Complexe, Bruxelles, 1994), Israël-Palestine, vérités sur un conflit (Fayard, Paris, 2001). He co-authored, with Dominique Vidal, An A to Z to the Middle East (Zed, 1990, and I B Tauris, 2004); Palestine 1947, un partage avorté (Complexe, Bruxelles, 1987); Golfe: Clefs pour une guerre annoncée (Le Monde éditions, Paris, 1990); andL’Islam, la république et le monde (Fayard, 2004). Gresh co-authored, with Didier Billion, Actualités de l’Etat palestinien (Complexe, Bruxelles, 2000) and, with Françoise Germain-Robin et Tariq Ramadan, L’Islam en questions (Actes-Sud/Sindbad, 2000).
spectre of Hate: An Explanatory Guide to the Far Right in the UK
This guide provides an overview of British far-right and populist movements active today. Whilst organised far-right networks are collapsing and fragmenting, the rise of populist movements – with their emphasis on xenophobia and crude antiimmigrant sentiment – is a worrying new reality.
The guide examines the origins of the Far Right today, the history and recent misfortunes of most high-profile far-right groups – including the British National Party and the English Defence League – and covers the growth of a burgeoning number of fringe movements, most of which are the result of splits within larger extremist organisations.
As well as examining the common beliefs and ideologies shared by white supremacists (notably antisemitism), we look at the rise of the ‘Counter-Jihad’ movement, opposed to Islam entire. In examining the rise of the ‘lone wolf’, we examine the backlash which has taken place against Muslims post – the Woolwich murders of 2013.
We also profile the Far Right across Europe and provide positive alternatives to hate, with a series of case studies highlighting the important work undertaken to fight the spread of hate groups.
With the issue of extremism being at the top of the political agenda, never has it been more important to highlight the issue of the Far Right in the UK as a socio-political phenomenon, and to consider its wider and deeper implications on British society as a whole.
With government’s CST Bill to becoming law, police and security forces will be granted extra powers and more and more sections of society will feel the brunt of the implications of these new measures, leading to the risk of polarisation and demonisation increasing substantially. Hence, the challenge facing government and security authorities is to be seen to be even-handed, measured and consistent.
It is true that every group of people has its broad spectrum of ideas and stands, ranging from the right to the left, with manifestations of extreme ideas on both sides. However, it is also commonly true that those extremities represent a small minority that is usually ignored by the overwhelming majority occupying the mainstream of the spectrum. Whenever the extremes succeed in dictating or influencing the mainstream narrative or political stand, it’s a sure sign of failure on behalf of the masses.
And whilst, the Muslim community has constantly expressed willingness to act in confronting all forms of extremism within its midst, the question that always emerges from among British Muslims is on the Far Right, and why it is that they are often seen to get off easily despite what they see as clear extremism, whether verbal or physical emerging therefrom. It is often a mystery to most how prominent members of groups such as the EDL, Britain First and the BNP could escape prosecution despite their vitriol of a racist, discriminatory and inciting nature. The impact of this is further alienation of young Muslims, and an increased sense of being undermined and marginalised on the part of the community as a whole, leading to gaps and schisms which extremists and terrorist can exploit.
The worrying feature is that whilst one might expect groups on the extreme right to produce racist statements that appear to incite hatred and even violence, some of the groups have become acceptable elements within the spectrum of political discourse in modern-day Britain. The implication for British society as a whole on the short and long terms could be devastating, let alone on various ethnic and faith communities within society. Even more worrying is the apparent pandering of mainstream politicians desperately searching for floating votes, and believing that those are to be found on the right of British political narrative. The fact that such attempts proved worthy to some, threatens the very concept of co-existence and tolerance, let alone future security and prosperity within British society. As a result, Far Right groups only have to point to any one of the litany of public statements made by ‘mainstream’ politicians, journalists and public figures, to prove that they are by no means alone, isolated or even in a minority in expressing sentiments, which either feed into the racist narrative, or actually represent it.
Little doubt that the media plays a crucial role in drawing the parameters of public discourse, and it is when addressing the hot issues, topical themes and/or emotive subjects that this role becomes ever more important. Sadly, the overall impression of British media – noting some outstanding exceptions – is that rather than confronting and rejecting extremist narratives which emanate from the Far Right, it has largely played host to those lines and often provided a platform from which they have easily proliferated enjoying the false guise of reasonability and acceptability.
Governments also have a role to play which is not being fulfilled. Besides the need to understand the realities and implications of Far Right politics, racism, Islamophobia and extremism, much more responsibility needs to be shouldered regarding the stands and the statements made by politicians, and especially those who represent government. Of late, stories such as the Trojan Horse saga, which turned out to be a near figment of someone’s overactive imagination, and more recently the push to get the CST Bill passed, are not only adding to the feeling of marginalisation and demonisation among British Muslims, but are encouraging the Far Right and affording those players credibility and legitimacy which is far from deserved.
As such, The Cordoba Foundation embarked on this project in an attempt to dissect the Far Right, identify its various strands, the respective tactics employed, the funding sources, the primary figures and the overall aims and goals, for the sole reason that this element of British politics and society be more understood and countered.
The Spectre of Hate: An Examination of the Far Right in the UK, the third installment in The Cordoba Foundation’s toolkit series after the Media and the Lobbying and Campaigning guides, is an important insight into one of the pressing issues of our times, with an emphasis on the practical rather than the mere theoretical. It is an important examination of the roles of a number of players, including the government, the Muslim community, and wider British society, and how the various strands of the media have contributed towards this phenomenon, whether positively or negatively.
The Cordoba Foundation and the Public Interest Investigations launch a new report:
The Henry Jackson Society and the Degeneration of British Neoconservatism: Liberal Interventionism, Islamophobia and the ‘War On Terror’.
The reports examines the history, activities and politics of the Henry Jackson Society, a leading exponent of neoconservatism in the UK that is grounded in a transatlantic tradition deeply influenced by Islamophobia and an open embrace of the ‘War on Terror’.
Launch event will be hold on:
Thursday 11th June 2015
10.30am – 11.45 am
University of Bath, Claverton Down BA2 7AY
As part of the International Conference on Understanding Conflict at the University of Bath.
Islam and Democracy conference — Clarity and confidence for Muslim communities in the midst of growing uncertainty and fears
The Cordoba Foundation convened a successful conference on Thursday, the 12th of February in Central London. The conference examined, amongst other things, the growing interest and critique of political Islam following the Arab Spring, with particular focus on the Muslim Brotherhood.
Held at the Holiday Inn – Kensington Forum, the packed day-long conference with keynote addresses and break-out sessions brought together an esteemed line-up of international experts, scholars, academics, journalists and politicians. The morning keynote, entitled “Contemporary political Islam — an important object of social scientific inquiry?” was delivered by Professor Jeffrey Haynes, Associate Dean (research) of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities at London Metropolitan University. Professor Yasin Aktay, Deputy Chairman of the AK Party in Turkey, speaking at the inaugural session moderated by The Rt. Hon. Clare Short, Secretary of State (1997- 2003), mapped out the manifestation and role of political Islam in Turkey. Professor John Esposito, Professor of Religion and International Affairs and of Islamic Studies at Georgetown University, USA, rounded-up the conference with his keynote, “The Future of Political Islam: Democracy, Militant Jihadist and a War on Terrorism?”
Other topics ranged from Islamists’ perceptions of democracy, the State, secularism, violence and extremism; to specific issues related to the Muslim Brotherhood, including its ideology and principles of democracy; the relevance of the Brotherhood today and the impact of repressive measures targeting it globally. The conference also addressed the specific issue of the Western and European approaches to the Brotherhood and the UK Government “Review” that commenced in 2014.
Dr Anas Altikriti, CEO of The Cordoba Foundation commented: “this conference proved timely and the themes discussed quite relevant as the discussions that took place throughout were robust and raised many intriguing points. Political Islam in the aftermath of the Arab Spring is arguably the most important theme of any discussion of the MENA region and its dominant political trends, and the conference agreed that much more discussion and debate were necessary to better understand this topic and draw possible scenarios for the future of the most volatile region in the world today.”
Notes to editors:
1. The conference was titled, Islam and Democracy: Exploring the Strategies of Political Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Contribution, and was held the Holiday Inn London – Kensington Forum, 97 Cromwell Road, London SW7 4DN
2. Full conference schedule and profiles of speakers available here:
6. The Cordoba Foundation is an independent strategic think tank that works to promote intercultural dialogue and positive coexistence, through a range of activities including research and publications, training and capacity building, policy briefings and dialogues. The Foundation takes its name from the city of Cordoba. The European metropolis was once a symbol of human excellence and intellectual ingenuity, where cultures, civilisations and ideas thrived. Embodying this spirit, TCF today facilitates the meeting of minds, to advance understanding and respect for one another.
London Islam and Democracy conference — Exploring the strategies of political Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood’s contribution towards democracy
The Cordoba Foundation will be hosting a timely international conference next week in Central London, analysing the trending upsurge in interest and critique of political Islam following the Arab Spring, with particular focus on the Muslim Brotherhood.
Unpicking the nature and manifestation of political Islam in Britain today, the conference will principally explore whether the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood is compatible with democracy; the orientation of the Brotherhood towards violence, extremism and radicalisation in Britain and abroad; the repressive measures targeting the group globally and the impact thereof, and the increasing pressure placed on the political space by more extremist actors such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS.
Leading experts, scholars and academics will address a myriad of topics during a day-long conference, which Dr Anas Altikriti, CEO of The Cordoba Foundation, dubs as “a unique platform of specialists and experts debating one of the most pressing issues of our time: democracy and the role of political Islam.” Speakers include Professor John Esposito, Georgetown University; Professor George Joffé, Kings College, London; Professor Yasin Aktay, Deputy Chairman, AK Party, Turkey; as well as a host of academics, lawyers, politicians, specialists, journalists, writers and Muslim leaders including representatives from the Muslim Brotherhood and the Freedom and Justice Party in Egypt. For the latest list of speakers, visit http://www.thecordobafoundation.com/events.php?id=1&art=144
The sold-out event takes place on Thursday 12 February, 2015 from 10am-5pm at the Holiday Inn – Kensington Forum, Central London. There are limited spaces for members of the press to cover the event (contact details below to confirm attendance).
Notes to editors:
1. The conference is titled, Islam and Democracy: Exploring the Strategies of Political Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Contribution. The venue is: Holiday Inn London – Kensington Forum, 97 Cromwell Road, London SW7 4DN
3. The Cordoba Foundation is an independent strategic think tank that works to promote intercultural dialogue and positive coexistence, through a range of activities including research and publications, training and capacity building, policy briefings and dialogues. The Foundation takes its name from the city of Cordoba. The European metropolis was once a symbol of human excellence and intellectual ingenuity, where cultures, civilisations and ideas thrived. Embodying this spirit, TCF today facilitates the meeting of minds, to advance understanding and respect for one another.
The Coalition government’s fast-tracked Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill is now at report stage in the Commons and will soon proceed to its third reading. Rightly, human rights implications have been raised from all sides of the House, such as the lack of clarity in defining ‘reasonable suspicion’ when considering the seizure of travel documents or the serious matter of revoking the passport of a British citizen while overseas.
However some key aspects have not been sufficiently probed, and we call on you to be vigilant to its further implications: making the Home Office/ACPO Channel referral programme statutory, giving officials the discretion to assess whether an individual is ‘vulnerable to be drawn to terrorism’; placing statutory terrorism prevention duties on university lecturers and school teachers and a variety of public authorities including NHS Trusts; and, from recent reports, it appears that there will be an onus on nurseries and early years childcare providers to be alert to extremist inclinations! What impact analysis has there been in the education sector, where teachers seek to build a trusted environment in which to motivate and inspire and cultivate critical thinking?
CT legislation thus far has given latitude for subjective application and difficult-to-challenge powers to officialdom. The climate of oversight and control is widening; our financial institutions, for example, now have compliance officers with past careers in the police and even US Homeland Security. Sir Peter Fahy, chief constable of Greater Manchester, recently said that the battle against extremism could lead to a drift towards a police state in which officers are turned into ‘thought police’. The British Muslim community is bearing the brunt of this securitisation.
During the Trojan Horse controversy, which was about state schools with predominantly Muslim children, too often OFSTED inspectors’ reports contained judgemental phrases such as ‘governance is not good enough’ or ‘[governors] have little understanding of the quality of teaching’. The inspectors conflated religious and social conservatism as extremism. Muslim charities too have been disproportionately subject to investigation on the basis of hear-say, with bank accounts frozen, only to be cleared but at a cost to their reputation.
Many of us involved in doorstep work promoting voter registration in good time for the General Election are sensing alienation and anxiety. We are asked how the Chair of the Charity Commission William Shawcross can be trusted as a regulator when he was formerly associated with neo-con networks that demonise Muslims? We are asked how the former head of the Met’s anti-terrorist branch is both a board member of the Charity Commission and also called on to investigate Birmingham schools? The Bill will weaken trust within communities. Despotic regimes overseas with whom we have intelligence-sharing agreements will be emboldened to prompt ‘investigations’ more to do with silencing political opposition than tackling criminality. Note the pressure already placed by the UAE on Islamic Relief Worldwide, The Cordoba Foundation and the Muslim Association of Britain – all respected members of British civil society.
Please challenge this Bill’s schedules that draw public authorities further into a CT role. The hopes of many, Muslim and non-Muslims, in a fair Britain depend on you. We do not wish to see our values of transparency and democracy contaminated – not in this eighth centenary year of the Magna Carta!