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Ed Webb

How big were the changes Tunisia's Ennahda party just made at its national congress? - ... - 0 views

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    As Ennahda seeks to reboot its brand, are the changes as drastic as some have depicted?
Ed Webb

Exporting Jihad - The New Yorker - 0 views

  • A friend of Mohamed’s, an unemployed telecommunications engineer named Nabil Selliti, left Douar Hicher to fight in Syria. Oussama Romdhani, who edits the Arab Weekly in Tunis, told me that in the Arab world the most likely radicals are people in technical or scientific fields who lack the kind of humanities education that fosters critical thought. Before Selliti left, Mohamed asked him why he was going off to fight. Selliti replied, “I can’t build anything in this country. But the Islamic State gives us the chance to create, to build bombs, to use technology.” In July, 2013, Selliti blew himself up in a suicide bombing in Iraq.
  • Tourism, one of Tunisia’s major industries, dropped by nearly fifty per cent after June 26th last year, when, on a beach near the resort town of Sousse, a twenty-three-year-old student and break-dancing enthusiast pulled an automatic weapon out of his umbrella and began shooting foreigners; he spared Tunisian workers, who tried to stop him. The terrorist, who had trained at an Islamic State camp in Libya, killed thirty-eight people, thirty of them British tourists, before being shot dead by police.
  • he condemned the Sousse massacre and a terrorist attack in March, 2015, at Tunisia’s national museum, the Bardo, where three gunmen killed two dozen people. The victims were innocents, he said. Kamal still entertained a fantasy of joining a reformed police force. His knowledge of Islam was crude, and his allegiance to isis seemed confused and provisional—an expression of rage, not of ideology. But in Douar Hicher anger was often enough to send young people off to fight
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  • “The youth are lost,” Kamal told me. “There’s no justice.” Douar Hicher, he said, “is the key to Tunisia.” He continued, “If you want to stop terrorism, then bring good schools, bring transportation—because the roads are terrible—and bring jobs for young people, so that Douar Hicher becomes like the parts of Tunisia where you Westerners come to have fun.”
  • revolution opened up a space that Salafis rushed to fill. There were a lot more of them than anyone had realized—eventually, tens of thousands. In February, 2011, Tunisia’s interim government declared an amnesty and freed thousands of prisoners, including many jihadis. Among them was Abu Iyadh al-Tunisi, the co-founder of the Tunisian Combat Group. Within two months, he had started Ansar al-Sharia.
  • “The radical narrative tells you that whatever you’ve learned about Islam is wrong, you have to discard it—we have the new stuff. The old, traditional, moderate Islam doesn’t offer you the adventure of the isis narrative. It doesn’t offer you the temptation to enjoy, maybe, your inner savagery. isis offers a false heaven for sick minds.”
  • Democracy didn’t turn Tunisian youths into jihadis, but it gave them the freedom to act on their unhappiness. By raising and then frustrating expectations, the revolution created conditions for radicalization to thrive. New liberties clashed with the old habits of a police state—young Tunisians were suddenly permitted to join civic and political groups, but the cops harassed them for expressing dissent. Educated Tunisians are twice as likely to be unemployed as uneducated ones, because the economy creates so few professional jobs. A third of recent college graduates can’t find work. Frustration led young people to take to the streets in 2011; a similar desperate impulse is now driving other young people toward jihad.
  • the factors that drive young men and women to adopt Salafi jihadism are diverse and hard to parse: militants reach an overwhelmingly reductive idea by complex and twisted paths. A son of Riyadh grows up hearing Salafi preaching in a state-sanctioned mosque and goes to Syria with the financial aid of a Saudi businessman. A young Sunni in Falluja joins his neighbors in fighting American occupation and “Persian”—Shiite—domination. A Muslim teen-ager in a Paris banlieue finds an antidote to her sense of exclusion and spiritual emptiness in a jihadi online community. Part of the success of isis consists in its ability to attract a wide array of people and make them all look, sound, and think alike.
  • Souli wasn’t sure what should be done with returned jihadis, but, like nearly everyone I met, he spoke of the need for a program of rehabilitation for those who come back. No such program exists
  • In its eagerness to modernize, the Ben Ali regime encouraged widespread access to satellite television and the Internet. The sermons of Islamist firebrands from the Gulf, such as the Egyptian-born cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, entered the homes of Tunisians who felt smothered by official secularism. Oussama Romdhani, who was a senior official under Ben Ali—he was referred to as the “propaganda minister”—told me, “Radicals were able to use these tools of communication to recruit and disseminate the narrative, and they did it quite efficiently.”
  • Around 2000, the Tunisian Combat Group, an Al Qaeda affiliate, emerged in Afghanistan, dedicating itself to the overthrow of the Tunisian government. One of its founders, Tarek Maaroufi, provided false passports to two Tunisians who, allegedly on instructions from Osama bin Laden, travelled to northern Afghanistan posing as television journalists and assassinated Ahmed Shah Massoud, the Afghan mujahideen commander, on September 9, 2001. The Combat Group’s other leader, known as Abu Iyadh al-Tunisi, was an Al Qaeda commander; when the Americans overthrew the Taliban, in late 2001, he escaped from Tora Bora with bin Laden, only to be arrested in Turkey, in 2003, and extradited to Tunisia. (Sentenced to forty-three years in prison, he seized the chance to radicalize his fellow-prisoners.)
  • Why can’t the police do their job and stop the terrorists but let the smugglers go with a bribe?
  • “Maybe it’s the Tunisian nature—we like risk,” a former jihadi told me. A million Tunisians live and work in Europe. “A lot of drug dealers are Tunisian; many smugglers of goods between Turkey and Greece are Tunisian; a lot of human traffickers in Belgrade are Tunisian. Online hackers—be careful of the Tunisians, there’s a whole network of them.”
  • Walid was vague about his reasons for returning to Tunisia. He mentioned a traumatic incident in which he had seen scores of comrades mowed down by regime soldiers outside Aleppo. He also pointed to the creation of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, in April, 2013, which soon engaged in bitter infighting with the Nusra Front. Walid spoke of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the caliph of the Islamic State, with the personal hatred that Trotskyists once expressed for Stalin. He accused isis of destroying the Syrian resistance and helping the Assad regime. He believed that isis was created by Western powers to undermine Al Qaeda and other true jihadi groups.
  • these aged men from the two Tunisias—Essebsi a haughty remnant of the Francophile élite, Ghannouchi the son of a devout farmer from the provinces—began a series of largely secret conversations, and set Tunisia on a new path. In January, 2014, Ennahdha voluntarily handed over the government to a regime of technocrats. Ghannouchi had put his party’s long-term interests ahead of immediate power. A peaceful compromise like this had never happened in the region. Both old men had to talk their followers back from the brink of confrontation, and some Ennahdha activists regarded Ghannouchi’s strategy as a betrayal.
  • To many Tunisians, Nidaa Tounes feels like the return of the old regime: some of the same politicians, the same business cronies, the same police practices. The Interior Ministry is a hideous seven-story concrete structure that squats in the middle of downtown Tunis, its roof bristling with antennas and satellite dishes, coils of barbed wire barring access from the street. The ministry employs eighty thousand people. There is much talk of reforming Tunisia’s security sector, with the help of Western money and training. (The U.S., seeing a glimmer of hope in a dark region, recently doubled its aid to Tunisia.) But the old habits of a police state persist—during my time in Tunis, I was watched at my hotel, and my interpreter was interrogated on the street.
  • The inhabitants of Kasserine, however neglected by the state, were passionate advocates for their own rights. They had played a central role in the overthrow of the dictatorship, staging some of the earliest protests after Bouazizi’s self-immolation. In every coffee shop, I was told, half the conversations were about politics. Although Kasserine is a recruiting area for jihadis, Tunisia’s wealthy areas are so remote that the town felt less alienated than Douar Hicher and Ben Gardane.
  • “You feel no interest from the post-revolutionary governments in us here. People feel that the coastal areas, with twenty per cent of the people, are still getting eighty per cent of the wealth. That brings a lot of psychological pressure, to feel that you’re left alone, that there’s no horizon, no hope.”
  • The old methods of surveillance are returning. In the center of Kasserine, I met an imam named Mahfoud Ben Deraa behind the counter of the hardware store he owns. He had just come back from afternoon prayers, but he was dressed like a man who sold paint.

    “I might get kicked out of the mosque, because last Friday’s sermon was something the government might not like,” the imam told me. He had preached that, since the government had closed mosques after terror attacks, “why, after an alcoholic killed two people, didn’t they close all the bars?” To some, this sounded like a call for Sharia, and after informers reported him to the police the governor’s office sent him a warning: “In the course of monitoring the religious activities and the religious institutions of the region, I hereby inform you that several violations have been reported.” The imam was ordered to open the mosque only during hours of prayer and to change the locks on the main doors to prevent unsupervised use. The warning seemed like overreach on the part of the state—the twitching of an old impulse from the Ben Ali years.

  • “I never thought I would repeat the same demands as five years ago. The old regime has robbed our dreams.”
  • According to the Tunisian Interior Ministry, a hundred thousand Tunisians—one per cent of the population—were arrested in the first half of 2015. Jihadi groups intend their atrocities to provoke an overreaction, and very few governments can resist falling into the trap.
  • New democracies in Latin America and Eastern Europe and Asia have had to struggle with fragile institutions, corruption, and social inequity. Tunisia has all this, plus terrorism and a failed state next door.
  • Ahmed told himself, “If I pray and ask for divine intervention, maybe things will get better.” Praying did not lead him to the moderate democratic Islam of Ennahdha. His thoughts turned more and more extreme, and he became a Salafi. He quit smoking marijuana and grew his beard long and adopted the ankle-length robe called a qamis. He un-friended all his female friends on Facebook, stopped listening to music, and thought about jihad. On Internet forums, he met jihadis who had been in Iraq and gave him suggestions for reading. Ahmed downloaded a book with instructions for making bombs. In the period of lax security under Ennahdha, he fell in with a radical mosque in Tunis. He was corresponding with so many friends who’d gone to Syria that Facebook deactivated his account. Some of them became leaders in the Islamic State, and they wrote of making thirty-five thousand dollars a year and having a gorgeous European wife or two. Ahmed couldn’t get a girlfriend or buy a pack of cigarettes.
  • “Dude, don’t go!” Walid said when they met on the street. “It’s just a trap for young people to die.” To Walid, Ahmed was exactly the type of young person isis exploited—naïve, lost, looking for the shortest path to Heaven. Al Qaeda had comparatively higher standards: some of its recruits had to fill out lengthy application forms in which they were asked to name their favorite Islamic scholars. Walid could answer such questions, but they would stump Ahmed and most other Tunisian jihadis.
  • “We need to reform our country and learn how to make it civilized,” he said. “In Tunisia, when you finish your pack of cigarettes, you’ll throw it on the ground. What we need is an intellectual revolution, a revolution of minds, and that will take not one, not two, but three generations.”
Ed Webb

Mother of "cucumber, not cooker bomb" toddler speaks up - 0 views

  • While I’m upset at the way the teachers in my son’s school dealt with this matter, I feel sympathy for the teachers who have been forced to act as “security services” in schools. They are given 1-2 hours training and are expected to spot the very complex signs of “radicalisation”. Unfortunately, too many of these “signs” focus on the Muslim Community.
  • Let our teachers teach rather than behave like the police or like spies!
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    Prevent is a frigging disaster, and the US is planning to copy it.
Ed Webb

Parents protest as dream of bilingual education in Israel turns sour | Middle East Eye - 0 views

  • Hand in Hand operates four bilingual schools across Israel and two kindergartens. Jaffa’s primary school classes are the most recent addition.

    The idea of children from different cultural backgrounds learning together and speaking each other’s language may seem uncontroversial. But it has prompted a fierce backlash from right-wing Jewish groups in Israel.

    In late 2014 Hand in Hand’s flagship school in Jerusalem was torched by activists from Lehava, an organisation that opposes integration between Jewish and Palestinian citizens. Graffiti daubed on the walls read “Death to the Arabs” and “There can be no coexistence with cancer”.

    Three of the group’s members were jailed last year. In January Israel’s high court increased the sentences of two brothers involved in the arson attack.

    Although Lehava is a fringe group, it draws on ideas that have found favour with much larger numbers of Israeli Jews, especially over the past 15 years as the country has lurched to the right.

    A survey by the Pew polling organisation this month found that half of Israeli Jews wanted Arabs expelled from the state, and 79 percent believed Jews should have more rights than their Palestinian compatriots.

  • 1,350 children are currently in bilingual education, out of a total Israeli school population of some 1.5 million children.
  • The Jaffa parents argue that their coastal city of 50,000 residents, which is incorporated into the Tel Aviv municipal area, is the natural location for a bilingual school.

    A third of Jaffa’s residents are Palestinian, reflecting the fact that, before Israel’s creation in 1948, it was Palestine’s commercial centre.

    Although Israelis mostly live in separate communities, based on their ethnicity, Jaffa is one of half a dozen urban areas where Jewish and Palestinian citizens live close to each other.

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  • Within days of the bilingual first-grade classes opening last year, parents hit a crisis when school administrators refused to let the children take off the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha.

    When the parents rebelled and kept their children home, the management “flipped out”, said Ronel. “Now the trust has gone and we are demanding that they make commitments in writing that things will be different.”

  • Ronel, an Israeli Jewish journalist, said he had long been pessimistic about the region’s future and had contemplated leaving Israel with his family, taking advantage of his wife’s German passport. But that changed once his daughter, Ruth, began at the bilingual kindergarten.

    “I have become evangelical about it,” he said. “I see how her knowledge of Palestinian identity and the Arabic language has made her own identity much stronger.”

    He said knowing the other side was essential to strengthening Israelis’ sense of security and reducing their fears. “This is the model for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict too. I am sure this is what a solution will look like.”

  • bilingual schools are proving particularly popular in Israel’s mixed cities. Next year Hand in Hand will open the first bilingual elementary school in Haifa, Israel’s third largest city, following the success of a bilingual kindergarten there
  • Far-right Jewish religious groups, ideologically close to the settlers, have set up seminaries and exclusive housing areas in Jaffa and other mixed cities. “They are going the other way: they want even deeper segregation,” said Dichter.

    Hassan Agbaria, principal of the only bilingual school in a Palestinian community in Israel, located in the northern town of Kafr Karia, said there were problems in more rural areas too. 

    This month the gated Jewish community of Katzir, close to his school, refused to allow Hand in Hand organisers in for a parents’ registration meeting, accusing the group of “political activity”.

    “It is a big psychological hurdle for some of them,” he told MEE. “Some think you must be crazy to send your young children into an Arab community every day.”

Ed Webb

Liberal Islamophobia: Anti-Muslim hostility is not just a conservative phenomenon | Mid... - 0 views

  • it would be wrong to view Islamophobia as a strictly conservative phenomenon. Polling data indicate that 49 percent of Democrats hold unfavourable views of Islam. Also, Brookings Institution scholar Shadi Hamid has argued that US President Barack Obama, a Democrat, holds views that amount to “Islamic exceptionalism”. Hamid argues that Obama’s statements about Muslims suggest that he is “frustrated by Islam” and that he has bought into Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” thesis
  • American news media, including liberal outlets, have done a poor job contextualising stories about Muslims and Islam. A growing body of empirical research into American news media coverage of Islam reveals deeply problematic patterns - negative, stereotypical portrayals, almost no Muslim sources, and few mention of Muslims or Islam in the context of positive news. That American news outlets apply the “terrorism” description almost exclusively to Muslim-perpetrated violence cannot be lost on anyone paying attention
  • while denunciations of terrorism by Muslim groups generally go unreported, Islamophobic statements drive news narratives
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  • the CIA estimates that there are around 30,000 Muslim jihadists in the entire world. A Kurdish leader has suggested that the CIA underestimates the jihadist threat, and claims that the total number is closer to 200,000. Even assuming the larger figure, jihadists represent a grand total of 0.01 percent of the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims
  • A 2011 Gallup poll found that American Muslims were the least likely of all polled American religious groups to accept vigilante violence against civilians. In all, 26 percent of American Protestants, 27 percent of Catholics, 22 percent of Jews, 19 percent of Mormons, 23 percent of atheists, but just 11 percent percent of Muslims said that it is “sometimes justified” for an “individual person or a small group of persons to target and kill civilians”.
  • Glaringly absent from American news media are opinion polls showing that Muslims are no more likely to accept violence than other groups. For instance, a 2011 Gallup World Violence poll showed that Muslims were just as likely as non-Muslims to reject vigilante acts of violence against civilians
  • Media scholar Jack Shaheen carried out a content analysis of more than 900 Hollywood movies featuring Arab or Muslim characters. Shaheen found Muslim characters are almost never cast in positive or neutral roles. The overwhelming majority of films that feature Arab or Muslim characters cast them as enemies, terrorists, violent, savage or backwards
  • compared to other threats of violence, Muslim terrorism garners exaggerated attention in American news and politics.
  • In the 14 years since 1 January, 2002, Muslim terrorists have killed 45 Americans in the United States, a smaller number than right-wing conservative terrorists have killed during the same time period. Also, since the start of 2002, there have been more than 200,000 firearm-related homicides in the United States
  • More realistic, proportionate presentations would greatly improve American political life. However, given the extent to which the Islamophobia industry is funded, people shouldn’t hold their breath waiting for fairer, less sensational presentations.
Ed Webb

Muslim parents 'fear being reported for talking about terrorism': UK watchdog | Middle ... - 0 views

  • The UK government's Prevent counter-extremism strategy is stifling freedom of expression and "choking off" conversations about terrorism and related issues between teachers and students and some Muslim parents and their children, the country's terrorism legislation watchdog has warned.
  • some Muslim parents were fearful of having conversations about terrorism with their children because of concerns that their families could be referred to Prevent by “half-trained” teachers
  • teachers felt vulnerable, citing the case of a teacher in northern England who said she was referred to Prevent and suspended after telling a colleague that she was going to a fundraising dinner for Syria
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  • Other teachers had complained that the Prevent duty had inhibited classroom discussions about issues of terrorism and extremism, Anderson said.

    One teacher had told him how she would use discussion about the Islamic State (IS) group to encourage a debate about the use of violence, about Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi and peaceful political activism, and whether IS was the same as the IRA.

    “The toxic views would come out and they would hopefully either be blunted or neutralised, or [the students] at least would be given something to think about,” Anderson said. “She said if that happens now you choke off the discussion because teachers are watching their backs and don’t want to be reported.”

  • Muslim communities had not been properly consulted or involved as the strategy had evolved under the current Conservative government.
  • The UK had not made it illegal to be a Communist during the Cold War, but the current proposals were “not too far away from that”.
  • Prevent could infringe on European human rights laws guaranteeing freedom of religious expression and cited the case of a Muslim boy who wanted a place to pray at his secondary school.

    “There was a faith room in school but the godless Christians who made up most of the school's population were not very interested in using it. When asked if they could use it for Muslim prayers a panic ensued and various contradictory answers were given and eventually the room was locked as the most effective answer.”

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