Extremism struck again this week as Muslims at prayer were targeted in Christchurch, New Zealand. The perpetrator, nay the fundamentalist terrorist – let’s give him his proper name, cited numerous influences from Anders Brevik to Brexit in his manifesto of hate. His anti-invader/immigrant mythology also appears in ‘softer’ form in everything from ‘Make America Great Again’ to anti-migrant and refugee sentiment, the bolstering of borders and building of walls. How are we to instead build bridges between those that disagree and resort to extremism to put down their perceived enemies of the state – whether one that is built upon religion or race?
Invasion – ‘The Great Replacement’
The ideological language of the Christchurch killer conjures up the false idea of a Muslim invasion targeting the white Christian majority. Immigration is seen as “invasion”, as a “swarm“, “plague”, “flood“, “army”, the language of infestation and threat, when the majority are refugees and migrant peoples armed with nothing more than a determination to survive.
Who can forget the Twin Towers? The 9/11 World Trade Center attacks in 2001. Everyone remembers where they were on that day. I was watching television as the channel interrupted to show near-live footage of the terrorist atrocity. The prominent and powerful symbols of freedom, capitalism, the US (the ‘Great Satan‘), and the West itself, disintegrated in mere minutes as if they were the parabled house built upon sand and not rock.
Since then, and perhaps before, we have seen twin evils arise. Each blaming the other for their existence. Committing revenge attacks in response to real and imagined threats to their Caliphate or Caucasian identity. Claiming religious or racial purity as justification. Collecting new followers by radicalising susceptible minds wanting a cause. Creating separatist and supremacist ideologies and utopian or dystopian society worldviews, depending upon your point of view.
“The threat our societies face is so great, however, because it is a twin danger: a deadly combination of far-Right fascism and Islamist extremism….Our twin enemies are not madmen. They are driven by a purpose bigger than themselves and ideas that we must not underestimate.” – Ed Husain, Daily Telegraph, author of The House of Islam: A Global History (Bloomsbury, 2018) and a senior fellow at Civitas: Institute or the Study of Civil Society
The language of their recruiting, whether via brazen extremist preaching or hidden on message boards and the dark web, seeks to blame the ‘other’ and boast of themselves as the answer to prevent a perceived threat to their existence.
Chicken or Egg?
When summoned to the headteacher’s office after a fight, schoolkids would usually be challenged, “Who started it?” or was it “Six of one and half-a-dozen of the other”? How far back should we go – 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Israel, the betrayal of the Arabs after the First World War, imperialism and empires, caliphates and crusades?
Whatever the origins the outcomes are clear, mutual radicalisation by further atrocity and response. Islamic State is all but decimated but it creates a power if not a revenge vacuum for disaffected and disillusioned fighters who are not deradicalised and rehabilitated. Out of Al Qaeda (1988) and its ideology has grown Al Shabab and others affiliating or aligning such as Boko Haram.
With the far right, when the BNP faded the EDL arose. From Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists (BUF) in the 1930s to modern extreme nationalist movements, one fades and another arises, phoenix-like from its ashes. The UK-specific extremist right-wing parties have in common an ethnocentric identity as English or British and a xenophobic focus, often including Islamophobia, to their rhetoric – although, perhaps, rhetoric is too high-minded a phrase to describe an ancient art of discourse and persuasion.
Racism and Ostracism
Al-Qaeda and its affiliates and descendants vaunt the removal of all Western (and/or Judeo-Christian) foreign influences in Islamic countries leading to the creation of a new caliphate ruling over the entire Muslim world.
The hard and far-right similarly want the removal of all Middle Eastern influence (Jewish or Muslim) and an end to the immigration that, in their view, dilutes racial purity and an oppressed white-majority society.
Both extremisms promote a purity of religion or race as their fundamentalist base. They are similarly xenophobic – the hatred and ostracising of the ‘other’, whether the non-white or the non-Muslim. We’ve been there before with the Crusades and later Roman Empire in their attitudes to barbarians and infidels, essentially non-Romans and non-Christians.
Our liberal open societies – argues Ed Husain, are under threat. The moderate middle ground is being squeezed not only by radical and extreme left calls for revolution and far right wings threatening riots but by twin forces of ultra-conservatism and archaic-traditionalism that have become extreme and radicalised. They see each other as inherent evils in society and refuse to engage with each other. Liberal and centre which used to be harmonising language are now seen as the new elites and the ultimate compromisers of more radical solutions to society’s ills.
Brexit has created a new divide, over Europe, not simply Left or Right. Europe is seen as another liberal elite con creating a federalised coalition and increasingly common policies on finance, defence and foreign policy. These frustrate the feelings of independence that exist alike on the nationalist right and anarchist or anti-fa left.
Community and Cohesion
Without arguing for a lacklustre liberal middle-ground, since I am more on the Left myself, we must pursue greater community and cohesion, internationalism and inclusion. To avoid the scapegoating of the ‘other’ we must engage with each other – not platforming extremisms (although putting the BNP’s Nick Griffin on Question Time worked quite well to expose the flaws in his ideologies) but exploring the ideas and issues that may lead to radicalisation.
The reasons why people become disenfranchised, embittered and emboldened, and seek out cultish groups must be examined and policies put in place to re-engage with them and the causes that lead to their extremist leanings.
A former-EDL regional organiser I know challenged his own beliefs by visiting open mosques and engaging with difference. I was a religious fundamentalist (fortunately more charismatic creationist than militant apocalypsist) and right-winger in my now thankfully distant past but keeping an open mind eventually created one.
In my experience, at least, conversation and dialogue, opening lines of communication – with those willing to discuss issues in respectful ways, can ensure that moderates don’t drift to the extremes.
We need to challenge the real fascists and not just call everyone who disagrees with us one. The number of times I have heard “Nazi” and “Fascist” bandied around to simply describe all Leavers, or those that have economic objections to immigration, or that don’t support Muslims’ right to express their faith, or even those that critique transgender rights.
Sometimes, people seem beyond reach though, and our focus among them should be on countering all forms of hate-based violence and vitriol – online and in public – especially and particularly that which targets others based upon their religion or race, ethnicity and nationality.
We cease othering and ostracising best by encounter and engagement, meeting the human behind the label, discovering their difference but also realising our common humanity, emphasising that which unites and not that which divides.
It’s a beautiful day outside but it was an ugly night. The terrorist incident overnight in London brought out the best in the many and the worst from a few. Three perpetrators are now shot dead. Seven innocents (at this time) are counted among the dead and nearly 50 in hospital, several critical including a number of police officers. Whilst “London Bridge is Falling” may have trended on ISIS channels, #HopeNotHate, #LondonIsOpen and #SofaForLondon did here.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
Hope and Hospitality
Most of London resorted to opening their homes in response, a taxi driver tried to run down one of the attackers, a policeman lies in hospital injured during the 8-minute long initial and immediate response to prevent further carnage. The London Mayor Sadiq Khan, and several politicians called for “normality” and not changing our way of life.
Khan is emblematic of London’s diversity, its first ethnic minority and Muslim Mayor. I lived in central London for 7 years and it’s a place of community and cohesion despite its differences. The Blitz spirit lives on 77 years later, though the Londoners who embody it are more diverse but no less united against attacks on their open city.
Emily Thornberry, shadow foreign secretary said we need to:
“defend the essence of London as a multicultural and multiracial city.”
The political campaign and election on 8 June must go ahead, as democracy is part of our culture that needs defending. Needless to say, some will be calling for clampdowns on immigration, increased surveillance and security, and Muslim bans, like Donald Trump has. What we need is not necessarily less immigration, but more integration, more community, less conflict. I live in Norwich, a city whose response to hate is community and cooperation. Our security should be intelligence-led, not driven by fear.
More Love, less Hate
Back in 2012, Norway suffered an extremist attack on its young people. No, not an Islamist terrorist, but a far right xenophobe, Anders Breivik. There are many kinds of terrorist – but the response to them all should be along the lines of their Prime Minister:
“Our response is more democracy, more openness, and more humanity…We will answer hatred with love.” – Jens Stoltenberg
Hate and Islamophobia
Whilst messages of hate and hope circulated on social media, Katie Hopkins called for the incarceration of “the lot of them”, deportation, and even blamed the attacks in mock humour on food deprivation during Ramadan fasting. Who are this “lot”? All Muslims? When the IRA used to bomb London we didn’t round up all the Irish!
That’s the language of Donald Trump’s white and right Christian America, who nonetheless just returned from visiting Saudi Arabia and like the UK exchanging arms contracts worth billions.
Faith and Ideology
Friday, I was invited to a Shabbat meal at which another ideology’s desire to kill a people of an alternate belief was discussed, today many will go to church and pray. Yesterday evening Sikh Gurdwaras opened to people in need during the terror attack, as did many Londoners. Faith or no faith, nationalism or internationalism, it’s the actions and adherents of extremist ideologies, the interpretations and “twistings” of beliefs that lead a few to latch hold of isolated texts as justification to kill and maim. Those texts only excuse fighting if “oppressed” or denied freedom of expression of Islam – take away the oppression and the justification of military jihad is gone.
The fact that last night’s terrorists wore fake suicide bomb vests makes me think these were “inspired by” ISIS rather than orchestrated by.
The issue remains that they recruit, radicalise, foment extremism. They are able to celebrate terror on social media with virtual impunity. Free speech should never include hate speech and incitement to violence and terrorism. But even if we stop that, terror preaching behind closed doors wouldn’t stop. The funding of terror needs to stop too.
“Muslims everywhere are outraged and disgusted at these cowards who once again have destroyed the lives of our fellow Britons. That this should happen in this month of Ramadan, when many Muslims were praying and fasting only goes to show that these people respect neither life nor faith.” – Muslim Council of Britain
Practising Muslims in Britain and the Muslim Council of Britain condemn these attacks each time, so we can be clear this is not Islam attacking the West.
“There will always be particular groups which take views that are different from the mainstream but what is clear over the weekend is the extraordinary level of condemnation by every significant Muslim leader we know and every significant Muslim body we know.” – Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury
Kabul should be indicative of that too, with 100 killed in the last few days there during Ramadan and a funeral, Muslims are the majority victims of extremist Islamist terror. They are waging war within Islam more than they are waging war outside of it. The violence is as much sectarian and territorial as it done “in the name of Allah”, a claim opposed by the majority of other Muslims.
“Kabul has just suffered one of the bloodiest weeks in years, leaving its streets devoid of life and its residents gripped by fear – and feeling unprotected.” – Al Jazeera
Historically, Christians killed Christians in the name of interpretative differences, empire and territorial gain. They also targeted Muslims in the past and as recently as Bosnia. The story is repeated across most religions and ideologies. Settling differences by destruction not constructive dialogue.
True Muslims, yesterday, were praying and fasting not killing and maiming. They were celebrating Ummah – the “community” of its faith, not the extremism of its terrorist false prophets who seek to divide and destroy by preying on the vulnerable with the promise of heavenly gain after earthly jihadist carnage.
“Yes, there are evil Muslims who have carried out acts of terror, which are totally un-Islamic. The sooner we stop giving any credence to these evil people by attaching the label of the religion to their evil the better it will be for us, because by giving them that label we are giving them a platform that they seek to legitimise their evil ways.” – MCB
Practice peace, preach peace, encourage love not hate. Engage and educate!
Discriminate too – YES, yes discriminate between terrorists and people of faith, don’t tarnish all people with the same brush. Hate against Muslims rose five-fold after Manchester. Let it not deteriorate further.
Origins of Terrorism
The reasons people become terrorists are complex and though they include taking a cut and paste approach to the out of context and out of time scriptures of a religion, they also include revenge for bombings on family members by Western interventions in the Middle East.
“Let him who is without sin cast the first stone”. – The Bible, John 8:7
It is undeniable that Saudi Arabia, Iran and others have contributed to the rise of extremist ‘Islamist in name’ terrorism, but also that the USA encouraged Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein in the past, then invaded Iraq, Afghanistan etc; the West including Britain bombed Libya and Syria – the primary recruiting grounds of recent terror attacks.
Using military might to crush terrorism by creating more collateral damage victims only recruits more terrorists who’ve lost a brother, mother, daughter in a less-than-precision bombing raid.
A better way?
I don’t have answers, but what is clear is that returning hate for hate and bomb for bomb is not working. It is only perpetuating and escalating.
“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” – Einstein
You don’t solve an issue or many conflicts in any permanent way using the same weapons with which they are being waged. There is no lowest common denominator to which we must sink, it’s not a race to the bottom and basest instincts of people. We need a higher level of consciousness and rising above with which to end the recruitment to humanity as its most hopeless when it seeks to take the lives of others in the name of any ideology of hatred.
The EDL, UKIP, Britain First etc blame Muslim immigration for last week’s Westminster terrorist attack. Yet Adrian/Khalid was middle-class Kent-born, with a white British mother, well schooled, popular, sporty until he turned violent down the local pub – you know that breeding ground of foreign national terrorism – the British pub. His parents live on a farm in Wales, and his mum runs a craft business.
Actually, it seems he was radicalised after custody for a violent knife attack when imprisoned at HMP Wayland, Norfolk.
Violence is the problem, not nationality.
Masood was not Syrian, nor a migrant or refugee; not on Trump’s country flight ban list. Nor were all the perpetrators of the 7/7 London terrorist attack, they all grew up in diverse liberal Britain. Even in America, just 0.0006% of refugees have been convicted over the last 40 years or terrorist attacks.
Extremism is the problem, not immigration.
“We fret, rightly, that Isil is at war with Western civilisation. It is. But it is also at war with Muslim civilisation.” – Daily Telegraph
Adrian Elms’ conversion to Islam in a rural category C British prison was probably further narrowed in ideology during 4 trips to Saudi Arabia and its Sharia-supporting Wahhabism.
A disproportionate number of terrorists are adult converts to extremist Islam. 2-3x more likely. Zealotry, “evangelism”, recruitment, conversion.
“In the UK between 2001 and 2013, 12% of “homegrown jihadis” were converts, but less than 4% of the overall Muslim population were. In the US, the total in 2015 was 40%, against an overall level of 23%.” – The Guardian
Fundamentalism is the problem, not flags of origin.
I don’t support any religious opposition to LGBT freedoms. I also know LGBT Muslims and Christians. They are not incompatible, it depends upon your interpretation and ideology. I will always challenge the ideology that is homophobic but not the person with peaceful, inclusive views. The fewer exemptions for Faith Schools from experiencing and encountering diverse, liberal cultures and education the better.
As we are not born with hate, it is clearly taught and caught, it stands to reason that it can be untaught and uncaught.
Education is the answer, not bigotry.
Not in my name
Among those of religious affiliation, even Muslims, #notinmyname is the more likely response to terrorism. Again, surveys point to around 1-4% of Muslims supporting terrorism. The actions of one person or even one per cent do not a majority ideology make. The more moderates, however, that do stand up and say “Not in my name” the better. You only have to listen to a range of news sources, rather than just right wing tabloids and far right political parties to realise that British Muslims were just as condemning of last week’s terrorist incident as the non-Muslim population. Indeed, surveys point to a majority of Muslims feeling more British than other indigenous or immigrant populations here.
Hundreds of people in Norwich turned out to protest President Donald Trump‘s temporary immoral executive order banning Muslims from 7 countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen) entering the USA. One arrest was made, and the demonstration was otherwise peaceful with a diverse range of speakers and banners from the humorous to the very serious.
Perhaps, the best said it simplest, a woman in a headscarf whose placard read “judge me by what is in my head not what is on my head”.
Nobody is saying that ISIL’s dangerous ideology shouldn’t be countered, or that terrorists should be denied entry, but to blanket ban seven nations, marking them guilty before a trial, particularly when they are not in the top 25 nationalities that have threatened or attacked US citizens is disproportionate and against the founding charters of America that welcome immigrants, and don’t discriminate based upon religion and race.
Nobody is saying that ISIL’s dangerous ideology shouldn’t be countered, or that terrorists should be denied entry, but to blanket ban seven nations, marking them guilty before a trial, based upon nationality and religion alone, particularly when they are not in the top 25 nationalities that have threatened or attacked US citizens is disproportionate and against the founding charters of America that welcome immigrants, and don’t discriminate based upon religion.
The mood was far from damp, with resounding cries of:
“Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here”
If anything, it was the hundreds of comments on the EDP online and Mustard TV posts that made me realise why we do this. The spewing of hate and Britain first, echoing Donald Trump’s election manifesto of America first. I talked afterwards to two Donald Trump and Brexit supporters, teenage girls from City College, they had no problem with elitist, nationalist, selfish, protectionist policies, though our debate soon turned to mental health and we had a good conversation.
I was interviewed by Robbie West of BBC Look East, Emma Knights of the EDP, and ended up on a Mustard TV live stream. ITV Anglia also reported on the event. Good coverage and continuing to remind me of how great Norwich is, in the main, and after so many political protests and pro-migrant rallies over the last year it shows the strength of feeling in communities, both pro and anti.
Katy Jon Went speech text
The 7 nation Muslim visa and refugee ban was signed on Holocaust Memorial Day, a day when the Whitehouse chose to #alllivesmatter the victim list by not mentioning Jews and homosexuals at all.
The fear that LGBT people may have their Obama-won state protections removed has also been concerning people, even if that comes to nothing, people are living in fear and anxious times. America’s biggest terror massacre since 9/11 was by an American, albeit the son of an Afghan immigrant – but not on Trump’s ban list, who traveled back and forth to Saudi Arabia – also not on the list, before killing 49 people, mainly Latinos, in the Orlando Pulse club shooting. No connection to the seven nation ban list.
Despite the so-called British exemption, Iranian-born but raised in Italy and doing post-grad veterinary studies at the University of Glasgow, Dr Hamaseh Tayari was denied US-leg travel by the presidential executive order, the extra flights avoiding America cost £2600 however, public response raised more than double that via crowdfunding with the excess going to the Scottish Refugee Council. That is one way we can help. Similar to the folk providing food and funds, and many lawyers offering pro-bono free advice at airports across America. Lawyers are saying that “It’s not lawful to ban immigrants on the basis of nationality” but judges and others unwilling to enforce it are being replaced.
Speaking about the ‘Muslim’ travel block and its effect on the vet student, the University of Glasgow’s principal said:
“The free movement of people, of ideas, of intellect is surely the very hallmark of civilized society.” – Professor Anton Muscatelli, Principal of the University of Glasgow
Indeed, America and its innovations and inventions are built on immigrants, not just the last century or so, but even those that first came to America, those pilgrim fathers and conquering Catholic explorers of different faiths to the established indigenous inhabitants. Indeed 7 nations of foreign religious immigrants from the early Norse to the British, Dutch, French, Spanish, German, Irish and even Russians (Kodiak Island) came to America and populated it, and far from peacefully.
Blocking immigrants now is hypocrisy and against its founding principles. Take the inscription on the Statue of Liberty:
“Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; … Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me…”
The Quebec mosque attack last weekend that left 6 dead and 8 injured was not by Muslims, but of Muslims. First reports drew attention to the fact that one of those arrested was from Morocco, another fake news story from a pro-Trump reddit said they were Syrian refugees, but not the truth that the sole perpetrator, killer, terrorist, turned out to be a far right, anti-feminist, anti-immigrant and Trump supporting white supremacist inspired by Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen of Front Nacionale of France:
“Friends and those who knew him online said he had extreme political beliefs, but was not known to be violent. Eric Debroise said he called police after the shooting and told them Alexandre Bissonnette is “very right and (an) ultra nationalist white supremacist,” the French-language newspaper Le Journal de Quebec reports. “He really liked Trump and had a permanent discontent with the left.””
Will Donald Trump now block Canadians visiting the US, or won’t it matter if the victims are other Muslims and the aggressors other American continent citizens?
11,000 are killed on US soil each year at the hands of US citizens, black and white, Christian and Muslim. More toddlers than terrorists kill Americans. Ban guns not Muslims.
ISIS kills more Muslims than Christians and more people from the seven barred nations than American citizens. How many Americans you ask?
Even if we include attacks and plots with no fatalities, then just 20 refugees out of 3 and a quarter million have been convicted over 40 years, that’s just 0.0006%, which is statistically zero anyway. An American is 250 times more likely to be killed or murdered by other means than by a foreign-born terrorist.
“the order appears to have been rushed through without full consideration. You know, there are many, many nuances of immigration policy that can be life or death for many innocent, vulnerable people around the world.”
Even Donald Trump admitted it was a “ban”, announced in his best official and professional sounding statesman-like way on Twitter:
If the ban were announced with a one week notice, the “bad” would rush into our country during that week. A lot of bad “dudes” out there!
Another US Republican senator and former Presidential candidate, John McCain said:
“Our most important allies in the fight against ISIL are the vast majority of Muslims who reject its apocalyptic ideology of hatred. This executive order sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into our country. That is why we fear this executive order may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security.”
Even Mike Pence the Republican VP denounced it in 2015 when Obama was advised to do something similar but less extreme:
Calls to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. are offensive and unconstitutional.
Yes we need to be careful calling this an “all Muslim” ban or saying it came only from Donald Trump, as Obama’s advisors first drew up the list but as amendmends to the pre-existing Visa Waiver Program. The new ban cancels the visa themselves, rather than requiring them.
Wherever it started, it’s where it ends that worries me. “Theresa The Appeaser” came back from America and Foreign Secretary Boris ‘the joke’ Johnson announced British exceptions to the rules – just like Chamberlain’s futile appeasement attempts in 1938.
“An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.” – Winston Churchill
I can appreciate the irony of standing under Hitler’s favourite balcony, Norwich City Hall, protesting. We do need to attack the policies not the person, appreciate the complexities of their origins, and not demonise the man, reference mental health and little hands, that plays into the insecure dictator psyche and adds fuel to Trump supporters that we don’t hear their concerns.
Just as with Brexit true communal change can only come about with all parties engaged, remainers and leavers, Democrats and Republicans, Labour, Tory and the rest. We underestimated the fears of leavers and Trump supporters that led to them winning society changing votes that will affect the next 4-5 years or more.
I would commend peaceful and polite protest, therefore, but without passive appeasement. The women’s march saw millions gather because it was peaceful. Better to let Trump visit the UK and then have a protest he can witness the size of feeling at. Unrest and civil disobedience are always a later option.
If anything similar were to ever happen here as some Brexit supporters and Nigel Farage have called for, then I’m with Madeleine Albright (a Czech immigrant to the US and former Secretary of State) and would register as a Muslim to demonstrate solidarity, before they list any other categories of people that need rounding up or banning.
Resist the ban, welcome refugees, and provide practical and legal support where you can, illegal support if it ever comes to it! It’s open mosque day this Sunday – go to one.
I am reminded of another of Churchill’s statements that diplomacy does not mean friendship with another state acting immorally towards its people and demonising groups within it. It reinforces the dangerous moral path Theresa May treads in appearing as Donald Trump’s greatest foreign ally.
“You must have diplomatic and correct relations, but there can never be friendship between the British democracy and the Nazi power, that power which spurns Christian ethics, which cheers its onward course by a barbarous paganism, which vaunts the spirit of aggression and conquest, which derives strength and perverted pleasure from persecution, and uses, as we have seen, with pitiless brutality the threat of murderous force. That power cannot ever be the trusted friend of the British democracy.”
Movement for Justice and UEA student, Lotty Clare led a rally outside City Hall Norwich for Aleppo Syria with Tim Hughes of Stop the War Coalition, activist and writer Katy Jon Went, Norwich-based Syrian refugee Anas, and John Cowan. Cllrs Alan Waters and James Wright of Norwich City Council were among the gathered crowd to offer support and hear what could be done. Alan Waters said that the city’s MPs, Chloe Smith and Clive Lewis, would be written to.
One of the hardest things is feeling so powerless in the face of the humanitarian disaster, but there are actions that can be taken:
Writing to MPs
Writing to international embassies about the United Nations Responsibility to Protect to which all member nations signed up in 2005 to prevent genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity
Writing to Syria’s embassy as responsible for the wellbeing of its own people and to uphold the 16 UN resolutions regarding atrocities and human rights abuses in Syria
Welcoming Syrian refugees – offering spare rooms. Half of Syria have been forced out of their homes, the biggest refugee and displacement crisis since the Second World War, 11 million people
Keeping yourself informed to maintain international pressure on the parties responsible for perpetuating the situation
Attending rallies to keep Syria in the public and media eye
My own contribution evolved out of a facebook rant I wrote earlier in the day about the escalation of terror and atrocities in the weeks before Christmas, the supposed season of goodwill and peace to all mankind.
Text of my speech
A year ago, as the UK Parliament was considering joining the by then year long US & 13 nation coalition of bombing Syria, I attended a Don’t Bomb Syria rally. A year later and the situation is worse, not only in Syria but also in surrounding nations. 15 years of invasions, interference, and increased radicalisation by bombing the bombers, has not stopped or solved a single middle eastern crisis.
Christmas sees no let up in world chaos and terror, no salam, shalom, peace toward all men…an Advent calendar of death mostly meted out on non-combatants, mother and child, drone strike “collateral damage”, innocent victims of men’s rush to conquer and dominate, or to solve problems with swords rather than ploughshares, bombs rather than words.
On Sunday, IS killed 25, mainly women, in Cairo’s Coptic Cathedral, the same day Boko Haram forced two 7-year-old girls to act as suicide bombers in a Nigerian market. In the first 2 weeks of December alone, IS have executed 100 people, so have Syrian pro-government forces, and suicide bombs have gone off in Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria, Somalia, Turkey, Yemen.
Meantime the humanitarian disaster that is Syria and Aleppo continues to escalate with over 450,000 killed, and some 4.8 million refugees (along with 6.6m internally displaced, that’s half of Syria’s 22m population forced out of their homes), cities flattened, hospitals destroyed, children killed (up to 50,000). The current raids on Aleppo have been called by the UN this afternoon, in all probability a war crime. If the battle for Aleppo is over, then for Assad the victory is Pyrrhic as the city is demolished and its people dead and devastated.
Great progress world, congratulations on continuing to be a right royal fuck up 2016 years after baby Jesus/Yeshua/Isa was apparently born. Extremist and fundamentalist religious interpretations, repressive political regimes, and “proxy wars” are not on my Xmas card list, Syrian refugees are – an airdrop of aid, peaceful passage out of conflict zones, a welcome in the West, but better still – stop the bombing so they can stay, live and rebuild their land.
Instead, we continue the bombing, and breaking of ceasefires 2 hours after they are put into effect – even bombing the very roads the evacuations were due to take place on. Bombing escalates terror, and is a failed strategy, that even Donald Trump now admits! Indeed, Boris Johnson, against political and Tory party advice, has called a spade a spade, and for an end to proxy wars of geopolitical games carried out by Saudi Arabia, but perhaps also: Iran, Russia, Turkey and the US.
Each religion or political cause can be twisted to apparently justify slaughter, but that comes from man’s inhumanity to man, not faith or ideology per se. Equally, most faiths can be quoted from to encourage love, mercy and kindness. At this time of year, and every day, we need to be encouraging community, compromise and communication, not escalating conflicts creating mass casualties as the collateral toll of other people’s battles.
The 6.5 year long Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War says that Saddam Hussein was no imminent threat and Tony Blair “exaggerated” the case for war. The 2003 invasion of Iraq was “unnecessary”, not a “last resort” as the EU had reluctantly sanctioned, and Saddam Hussein was “no imminent threat”.
“We have concluded that the UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted. Military action at that time was not a last resort.” – Chilcot
It is shocking in the extreme that Blair favoured guaranteeing a war over negotiation! See pages 3-4 of this document. In addition, that he gave Bush and America, seemingly unconditional backing, irrespective of the people or Parliament:
“I will be with you whatever” – Tony Blair
Making the case for war
Whilst the “dodgy dossier” may not have been “sexed up” it was certainly “exaggerated” with an end plan in mind to “regime change” to remove Saddam and then going looking for any evidence to sell the casus belli. Something, both Bush and Blair as religious persons would have wanted to do in line with Just War Theory.
Iraq Regime Change
“[Afghanistan] is our one act of regime change so far, so it had better be a good advertisement” – Tony Blair (p5)
He says the “overwhelming weight of international legal opinion” says the invasion was illegal. It had devastating consequences, he says, fuelling terrorism and war across the region. By any measure the invasion and occupation of Iraq “has been for many a catastrophe”. He says it has led to “a fundamental breakdown of trust in politics.” – Jeremy Corbyn
Nobody had an exit strategy, where have you heard that one before? There was little thought given to post-War reconstruction or politics. A travesty for the 180,000 civilians who have been killed in the 12 years since, now some 1-2,000 a month, only recent numbers of which can be blamed on ISIS. Rather than one Saddam Hussein, Iraqis now feel that they have “One thousand Saddams now”.
The Iraq War and the EU Referendum may be chalk and cheese in reality, but politically they are similar. They are momentous decisions with long-term consequences, mass public demonstrations, Parliamentary democracy and sovereignty issues, and the ability to end political careers. It also demonstrates the danger of siding with America against a European consensus. We may have a “special relationship” with the US, but we are also closer to Europe on other issues including a tendency to peaceful negotiation rather than international interference as the self-appointed “world’s policeman”.
So, politicians “exaggerate” the facts to fit the cause they have already made their minds up to pursue. Somewhat like the EU referendum campaigns! Perhaps a 6.5 year long inquiry into Brexit would drag the whole process until the next generation of voters vote to Remain! Indeed, Chilcot said that on a decision as momentous as war, “Regular reassessment is essential.”
Were there to be a Brexit Inquiry, its findings, I can tell you now, would be that both sides “exaggerated” the pseudo-facts, “exaggerated” the costs and benefits, “exaggerated” the fear and threat, leading to the travesty of a divided Britain, rising hate crime, decimated political leadership, and 3-10 years in economic doldrums whilst we negotiate our way back up the international leaderboard.
First Brussels, now Iskandariya and Lahore, no wait, where are they? Iraq and Pakistan, so not Europe, well that’s okay then! It shouldn’t be normal to be unaffected by terror so long as it’s not in our back yard. The suicide bombs in a football match crowd south of Baghdad on Good Friday, killing 29, and on Easter Sunday in Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park, maiming hundreds and leaving at least 70 dead including 29 children, show that terrorism respects no religion nor nationality, sex, age or combatant status, since along with the bombs in Belgium, the victims were all civilians, women and children included. Whilst the Islamic State-supportive Taliban splinter group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility and that the target had been male Christians, the bombs did not discriminate.
“Christians were not the specific target of this attack because the majority of the dead are Muslims, everybody goes to this park.” – AFP report
We’ve witnessed nearly 2,000 deaths to terrorism in the first three months of 2016, over half were innocent civilians. One index suggests that there is one casualty from terrorism every 15 minutes – you are still 36x more likely to die in a car accident.
2014 saw a 172% increase in civilian deaths as well as an 80% rise in overall deaths from terrorism compared to 2013. Since 2000, deaths have risen nearly ten-fold from 3,329 to 32,685 in 2014, almost entirely accounted for by attacks in these 5 nations: Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Syria, where 78% of all attacks take place. Over 20% of the attacks were accounted for by Boko Haram alone.
Fewer than1% of all attacks occur in peaceful, democratic nations, around 0.5% in western nations – and of that, just 20%, i.e., 0.1% of the world total, is down to Islamic extremism in the West.
So far, in 2016, 14 attacks were of similar or worse scale to Brussels, especially in Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, and Turkey. How many profile pictures campaigns or social media check-in options were there for nations outside of Europe? Actually, having friends in Turkey and Pakistan, in each case Facebook did activate the “marked safe” check-in feature for those atrocities. Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, and others, experience terrorist incidents like Brussels on an almost daily basis, for them it is already sickeningly normal.
Is Terrorism the new Normal?
Peter Neumann, director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, says that “we [Europe] will have to get used to a constant terror threat”. He blames the easy recruitment of disaffected peoples by extremists on “migrant ghettoes” and their economic and social abandonment by the state:
“the more profound failure was to basically allow this situation to grow in the first place: to not engage with parts of the Belgian population that clearly were being abandoned. You essentially allowed a vacuum to rise in your own country. And that’s the root cause of the problem: Where you have a vacuum, that vacuum will be filled.
If you have a vacuum that consists of alienated, marginalized people from migrant backgrounds who are socially and economically deprived, then it is only a question of time. Of when extremists go into that, take advantage, and push their narrative — which is basically that society is against you, and you need to engage in war.” – Peter Neumann,Vox interview
The Washington Post, which also cites Neumann, is wrong on two counts suggesting that “terrorism [might] become the new normal in Europe“. Firstly, this is nothing new, the 70s and 80s were far from bloodless, even before the rise of Al Qaeda (1988), the Taliban (1994), Boko Haram (2002), Islamic State (1999/2014) and others. Secondly, the focus should not be on Europe alone, that only exacerbates our imperialistic western, first world, detachment from what happens elsewhere.
Tragedy World Map
The Mapamundi Tragico or “Tragedy World Map” was first created by Mexican designer Eduardo Salles, in April 2015, but epitomises the way we feel about terror in nations distant from our own. We are disengaged from anything but either the closest western victims or stray white holidaymakers killed abroad. Black lives, African lives, Syrian or Iraqi lives, just don’t matter.
By way of example, the Daily Telegraph report of twice as many people as Brussels killed in Lahore, was relegated to page 13 of a bank holiday edition of its paper.
The very luxury of our European contentment -peace since 1945, and living a version of the American dream, is some of what has simultaneously attracted mass migration and extremist condemnation of the alleged ungodliness of enlightenment modernism.
Globalisation of Terror
Less than a century ago we were still redrawing maps with colonial carte blanche or war-victor spoils, with total disregard for the ethnic and religious civil wars that might later ensue. The new normal is that terror knows no borders, Europe referendum or not. The ease with which ISIL has been able to declare a so-called caliphate and Islamic state that transcends recognised national boundaries, attracting alliances in North and East Africa across more than 11 countries, shows us that we cannot fight ISIS/Daesh in traditional ways. We have to step away from national concerns and be more international.
Hydra and Terrorism’s Evolution
Terrorism is like a cure-resistant mutating virus or a multi-headed myth and Marvel-like ‘Hydra’, where decapitating one head only leads to another more brutal rising up in its place. History shows that terror has been around for as long as we have had ideologies, religions, and, nationalistic expansion, civil wars or battles for independence.
“The tyranny of Isis terrorism will not always be with us. But history shows that a new militant threat will emerge” – Jason Burke,The Guardian
The Irish Easter Rising
This year is 100 years since the Irish Easter Rising when 320 civilian casualties out of 465 dead put a temporary hold on Irish independence/self-rule. Whilst Harry’s Game (1975) may have first espoused “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” the issue and pseudo-distinction has been around since time immemorial. Janet Daley writes today that:
“These terrorists aren’t religious radicals – they’re criminals with psychotic aims” – Janet Daley,The Telegraph
For me, the degree of civilian casualties is one of the markers of terrorism versus freedom fighter. The so-called collateral damage on ‘soft targets’ has sadly become more the norm, as innocents become the primary targets of extreme actions leading to state over-reactions and public states of fear. Fear that is incendiary to semi-closeted racism and Islamophobia, or that leads to a Brussels ‘March against fear’ being cancelled because of, well, safety fears.
Je Suis Sick of this Shit!
I wonder how many will notice or care about the innocent victims of the Iraq football match bomb on Friday or the Pakistan public park explosions today. It has become all too commonplace to be JeSuisCharlie and JeSuisEveryman on an almost daily basis. I am indeed JeSuisBruxelles, but also Ankara, Baghdad, Baidoa, Bodo, Dalori, Dikwa, Damascus, Homs, Istanbul, Kabul, Kouyape, Lahore, Meme, Mogadishu, Ouagadougou, Paris, and many more towns and cities. Today, I continue to be both Je Suis tout le monde and very much sick of this shit.
Thousands continue to protest and take to the streets to oppose bombing Syria, seeing such a move as disastrous and more likely to endanger the lives of Syrian civilians, and further radicalise and foment future terrorism in Europe by Islamic State (IS/ISIS/ISIL/Daesh). Hundreds and thousands of sorties and bombs by over a dozen nations over months and years did not prevent the attacks in Paris last month.
Update: On 2 December the UK Parliament voted to extend the Iraq bombing campaign to Syria but with no ground soldiers commitment or thought to future outcomes, rebuilding, Assad etc. Admittedly Hilary Benn, did give an excellent, almost convincing speech, but too many questions remain unanswered, avenues unexplored… and the UK has already carried out questionable drone strikes killing two British ISIS fighters – predating and without Parliamentary mandate.
Indeed, a majority of the country probably oppose the action according to polls, and Benn was out of touch with the majority of Labour Party supporters who are against action. Polls in the Telegraph had 59% for, in the Independent 59% against. At least there’s no “dodgy dossier” this time, but could we, in ten years time, be facing a similar enquiry into why we went to war, or even why we may still be at war, given that Cameron has suggested this could be lengthy, even many years.
Many see a bombing campaign as the obvious response to the attacks in Paris two weeks ago – precision, of course, because it is not like we want the human and financial expense of “boots on the ground” who can minimise civilian “collateral” losses by checking who they are targeting first. Presidents Hollande and Obama have called for ISIL to be destroyed. Many echo that reaction. But, it is just that, a reaction, not a strategic response.
Others recognise that after 14 years of responding to Middle Eastern turmoil by declaring a “War on Terror” we have actually multiplied rather than diminished terror. The 3,000 killed on 9/11 are now a drop in the ocean compared to the tens and hundreds of thousands who have died in the Middle East or fleeing it.
“The military actions of Western nations recruit more people to the cause than they kill. Every bomb dropped is a recruitment poster for ISIS, a rallying point for the young, vulnerable and alienated. And every bomb dropped on Syrian cities drives yet more people to flee and seek refuge in safer countries.” – The Quakers in Britain
Thirteen countries are already bombing Syria, Canada is considering pulling out, the UK of joining in. One more nation will not solve what a dozen have already failed to do.
Bombing Syria and anywhere else, for that matter, only increases tension, radicalises countless more fighters. In barely a decade ISIL has grown from a few hundred to a 100,000 fighters on the back of Western intervention and against more moderate interpretations of Islam. “In the month after the bombing began, 8,000 joined Isis alone.”
“I know Isis fighters. Western bombs falling on Raqqa will fill them with joy” – Jürgen Todenhöfer
Terrorist acts on domestic soil need to be treated as criminal rather than military acts. Declaring them a war only intensifies the pseudo-legitimacy of their cause and identity, making them think that they are now a force to be reckoned with.
“One thing I have learnt is that this western intervention never helps, it only makes matters worse. So much worse. These interventions only pour petrol on the fires of Middle East unrest.” – John Prescott
“What we have is this continued investment in conflict… the more bombs we drop, that just… fuels the conflict. Some of that has to be done but I am looking for the other solutions… history will not be kind to the decisions that were made certainly in 2003… We definitely put fuel on a fire… Going into Iraq, definitely… was a strategic mistake.”- Lieutenant General Michael T. Flynn, former Director of the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)
A mistake that the West seems to want to perpetuate, as Einstein may have never said, but Nick O’Brien, Chair of Norwich Stop the War, quoted in a rally on Saturday, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” Whilst the origin of this quote in clouded in mystery, another of Einstein’s may be even more apt, namely, that “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” In other words, bombing the bombers won’t solve anything other than create more bombmakers. Every bomb casualty or innocent victim creates loss and anger among relatives leading to further rationale for joining ISIS.
“The US… has been bombing Syria for over a year. Since September, France has been involved alongside them, although other members of a coalition put together last year, including Canada, Australia, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, have effectively withdrawn from bombing. Yet now both Russia and France have experienced severe terrorist attacks. Are we saying they have no connection to the raids? Far from making us safe, as politicians contend, they are likely to make us more vulnerable.” – Lindsey German, Stop the War
Bombing Syria, as with elsewhere in the Middle East is both a failed and inadequate strategy. Even those prepared to bomb Syria, admit it will not be enough and will require foot soldiers as well, something people are more reticent to commit to.
It is also dangerous and complex with more than two sides. There are factions within factions, militias, rebels, Assad’s forces, vested interests of Russia, Turkey and others, not to mention a dozen other Western allies and limited Middle Eastern nations already involved.
“Politically, it is a grave step. Britain is about to enter a confused battlefield on which Russia, the US, France, Turkey, Iran, assorted Arab states, ethnic foes and rival sects are all fighting for different causes while Syria and Iraq disintegrate.” – The Sunday Times
On Sunday another threat to the planet – climate change, saw protests and marches around the world ahead of a climate summit in Paris on Monday. Except in the French capital where such a large gathering had been banned on security fears or pretexts after the Paris attacks. Instead, people donated thousands of empty pairs of shoes to stand where people otherwise would have.
Don’t Bomb Syria Rally in Norwich
Norwich on Saturday saw around 100 people show up on a bitingly cold day to hand out leaflets to the public and hear from half a dozen speakers including local Muslims, Quakers, Labour and Green Party activists. One leafleter spoke to four servicemen who were supportive of the protest. A heckler interrupted by saying “two wrongs don’t make a right”, and then everyone realised that he was actually agreeing with what was being said.
Speakers included Dr Ian Gibson – former Labour MP for Norwich North, Nick O’Brien – Chair of Norwich Stop the War, Lesley Graham – Quaker peace activist, Jan McLachlan – Norwich People’s Assembly, Adrian Holmes – Green Party, Muhammad Ameen Franklin – Muslims of Norwich.
Clive Lewis, Labour MP for Norwich South issued this statement on the possibility of bombing Syria. He is a former TA soldier who served in Afghanistan, and BBC journalist.
“I understand there are occasions when military force is necessary. Therefore, I will not rule out supporting the use of military force against ISIL. However, the use of such force must not be an end in itself.
If there is one thing the ‘war on terror’ has shown, it is that military force alone is rarely the answer. We’ve been engaged in this ‘war’ for 15 years with with no end in sight. It has cost millions of lives, trillions of dollars, destabilised an entire region and arguably spawned a series of global, jihadist terror networks.” – Clive Lewis
A Muslim Voice
The speaker from the Ihsan Mosque in Norwich was warmly received and welcomed to applause. As with nearly 400 mosques and UK Muslim organisations who issued an unequivocal statement in the media on 18 November to “condemn the Paris attacks unreservedly”:
“The barbaric acts of Daesh (or ISIS, as they are sometimes known) have no sanction in the religion of Islam, which forbids terrorism and the targeting of innocents…. The aim of attacks like those inflicted on Paris and other cities across the world is to turn communities against each other. As Muslims, Britons and Europeans, we must stand together to make sure they do not succeed.”
“we want to make absolutely clear not only our complete abhorrence of the outrages perpetrated in Paris, Beirut and elsewhere by this small group of well-organised and ruthless killers, but that the religion of Islam does not countenance such actions in any way whatsoever. Moreover, not only is their action a crime, but there is prima facie evidence of such serious flaws in their apprehension of Islam as to call into question whether they should even be considered Muslims.”
It isn’t about race, faith, or nation state. Any political, religious or nationalistic ideology can be taken to extremes. Treating other’s lives as collateral in any cause is the inhumanity in any ideology.
“It’s not about Islam, or indeed any religion – each has been there with its own extremisms, the Crusades, the Inquisition, Biblical Judaism, even Buddhism and Hinduism, and Sikhism. As John Lennon sang – “Imagine … no religion”. But then there’s the Hitlers, Stalins, Maos and Polpots, of this world. Roman pagans trying to wipe out Christianity, Communist extremism. It is the extremism they have in common, not faith or race.” – Katy Went, Imagine all the people, living life in peace
Each religion can be twisted to apparently justify slaughter, but that comes from man’s inhumanity to man, not faith per se. Equally, most faiths can be quoted from to encourage love, mercy and kindness.
Backlash from Bombing and Terrorism
The important thing, now, is to avoid the backlash. If increased bombing of Syria goes ahead then there will be a backlash in terms of home grown and exported terrorism by those who see Britain’s involvement as Western interference, imperialism, and immorality. The other backlash is that against refugees and asylum seekers, particularly as one of the French terrorists was alleged to have gained access to Europe as a refugee. Thirdly, and an already happening reaction in the US, France, Britain and elsewhere is one that targets existing resident Muslims, those more or less happily already domiciled. Often, a kickback response to the visible presence of a mosque or headscarf, in total stereotyping ignorance of the variety of Islamic opinion and interpretations and indeed, the majority opinion in the UK, as expressed by the Muslim Council of Britain, that “almost all” Muslims “abhor terrorism”, though “even one person harbouring sympathy for the Daesh death cult is one too many”.
The extremist war of terror in Nigeria continues to claim more victims. Reports are coming in of around 600 more schoolgirls being captured. In April around 280 schoolgirls were abducted and in May several attacks killed dozens in the villages of northern Nigeria and over 120 died from two bombs in the central Nigerian million-plus population cosmopolitan city of Jos, J-town, or “Tin City”. Jos has been the scene of intra-community violence since 1994 between its Christian, Muslim, and minority residents, killing thousands of people, hardly the “home of peace and tourism” as the Plateau State is known.
Two decades of escalating violence
Jos has been the scene of intra-community violence since 1994 between its Christian, Muslim, and minority residents, killing thousands of people, hardly the “home of peace and tourism” as the Plateau State is known.
Over the last 5 months more than 2000 people have been killed in Nigerian violence and thousands more displaced, according to Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). From 2009-2013 under 4000 were killed, so there has been a definite escalation in the violence. Perhaps, this may be a response to Nigeria’s belated heavy-handed response to Boko Haram that has included alleged deaths in custody of probably over 1000 suspected Boko Haram fighters last year. Leaked information from a senior Nigerian army officer suggested 950 had died in the first half of 2013 alone. Back in 2009, Boko Haram’s then leader, Mohammed Yusuf, was killed in police custody after a police raid.
Education targeted by terror
Much of the violence appears indiscriminate, even if at times it has been directed at Christian or Muslim, churches or mosques, it often ends up being directed at schools, colleges, markets, wherever civilians gather and indiscriminate violence can have its most terrifying effect.
“Attacks against schoolchildren, teachers and school buildings demonstrate an absolute disregard for the right to life and the right to education.” – Lucy Freeman, Amnesty International’s deputy Africa director.
The full report by Amnesty on the terrorising of education in Nigeria makes one wonder whether Boko Haram would go to Taliban-like extremes of restricting access to education, especially of teenage girls. Indeed, Boko Haram in Hausa allegedly means “Western education is sin/prohibited (haram)”. The boko element can also mean “fraud”, “bogus” or “inauthentic”. Even locals, are not entirely sure what it means! It is less of a mouthful than its Arabic title: Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad, or “Congregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad”.
Complicated causes, not just religious
The apparent war between religions and ideologies masks more basic rivalries over resources, land, power, and tribal identities. Religion just exacerbates the incendiary melting pot.
Benjamin A Kwashi, the Anglican Archbishop of Jos, has said that:
“those who have in the past used violence to settle political issues, economic issues, social matters, intertribal disagreements, or any issue for that matter, now continue to use that same path of violence and cover it up with religion.”
An excellent Al Jazeera report into the origins and rise of Boko Haram concluded that:
“Unabated violence, a feeling of marginalisation by the federal government, unemployment and poverty however remain the primary seeds of discontent…” – Yvonne Ndege and Azad Essa, Al Jazeera
Ethnic or Economic Tensions?
Chris Kwaja is a lecturer and researcher at the Centre for Conflict Management at the University of Jos in Nigeria and writes:
“[A]s is often the case with identity conflicts in Africa…socially constructed stereotypes…are manipulated to trigger and drive violence in Jos. They veil deeper institutional factors within Nigerian law that are abused and exploited to deny citizens access to resources, basic rights, and participation in political processes—factors that, left unaddressed, have the potential to trigger violence across the country.” (p2)
“The ethnic or religious dimensions of the conflict have subsequently been misconstrued as the primary driver of violence when, in fact, disenfranchisement, inequality, and other practical fears are the root causes.” (p4)
Nigeria is as riven and driven by identity politics, ethnic “indigene” and/or religious affiliation as many xenophobic groups are racist against black Africans in the predominantly white West.
“In a survey conducted by Ellsworth in 1999, titled Re-imagined Communities, it was discovered that ethnicity and religious attachment are the two top ranked identity makers for a vast majority of Nigerians than other indices such as National, ECOWAS and African. The xenophobic tendencies that quietly run in our system is further compounded when the religious card is flashed, as is typical of Christian/ Muslim conflicts throughout most of the north, which is usually about anything (politics, economic control and competition after scarce resources, ethnicity).” Rotimi Maye, Nigeria and Indigeneship Question
Invariably, the victims are drawn from all religions and not just one, and from multiple indigenous and immigrant ethnic groups, of which Nigeria has some 500, 70% made up of Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, and Falani.
Nigeria has, this year, become Africa’s largest nation and economy, and is now ranked 26th in the world, thanks, in part, to its oil wealth, mainly in the south – something that is also fought over. Not only is Africa a divided continent by perhaps 3000 languages and ethnic groups, so too it is divided by wealth and opportunity, health and oil.
Boko Haram origins, Sharia law
Almost half of Nigeria, mainly in the north, now has some form of Sharia law. Over the last decade the extremist Islamist group Boko Haram has sought to impose Sharia and depose the existing rule of law. It is even against other muslims and one of its founding leaders firmly believed in a flat earth fundamentalism. Many Nigerian Muslim groups have condemned it. One Nigerian Muslim leader, The Sultan of Sokoto Sa’adu Abubakar, called Boko Haram “anti-Islamic” and “an embarrassment to Islam”.
“While Boko Haram is a religious organisation, it is almost impossible to separate the activities of the group with the political, economic and territorial struggles in northern Nigeria which, in spite of a secular consitution, is often divided on religious lines. Established in 2002 in Maiduguri, Boko Haram spent 2002-2009 consolidating its base, spreading its disdain for Western education and government corruption, culminating in the creation of alternative schools and attacking symbols of state power…” – Al Jazeera report
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a Somali-born feminist, activist and founder of the eponymously named AHA Foundation which seeks to protect women in the West from being subjected to religious or cultural oppressions including forced marriage, female genital mutilation (FGM) and honour violence. For her the conflict in Nigeria, at least that part for which Boko Haram can be held responsible, is about religion – or rather the patriarchal putting down of women, and jihadist suspicion of the liberal West. In a recent Wall Street Journal piece, Ali wrote that:
“The kidnapping of the schoolgirls throws into bold relief a central part of what the jihadists are about: the oppression of women. Boko Haram sincerely believes that girls are better off enslaved than educated. The terrorists’ mission is no different from that of the Taliban assassin who shot and nearly killed 15-year-old Pakistani Malala Yousafzai—as she rode a school bus home in 2012—because she advocated girls’ education. As I know from experience, nothing is more anathema to the jihadists than equal and educated women.”
#BringBackOurGirls, Western ignorance about Africa
Boko Haram were behind the kidnapping of some 276 Chibok schoolgirls last month which attracted international attention with the social media Twitter campaign #BringBackOurGirls. Again, somewhat indiscriminate as though the majority were Christian, several were Muslim, around 50 have subsequently escaped. Indeed, some images used to highlight their plight were not even of the kidnapped girls, or even Nigerian.
The West only kicked up a fuss when it was schoolgirls that were kidnapped, much as Live Aid in the 1980s fed off the famine of Africa’s starving using emotional images to stir up interest in a continent we were otherwise willing to ignore. US television networks ignored Boko Haram this last year despite 1500+ recent killings because African lives are worth less or, perhaps, even considered worthless. News stories for just 4 missing British sailors, a child-saving cat, or the latest UKIP xenophobic “Bongo-Bongo land” own-goal, dominate over any news from the “Dark Continent“, a reference originally not to race or colour, but to Africa’s remote and mysterious unknowns. To this day, for many, it remains a great unknown.
“The more Westerners learn about Africa from Africans, the better.” – Robert Bates
“Unfortunately…most westerners form their opinions of Africa based on the reporting and news in their own countries” – Louise Mushikiwabo
In a 2010 Guardian article, Louise Mushikiwabo, Rwanda’s Foreign Minister, went on to say that “In a globalised world we need to know more about each other than ever and the absence of genuine engagement only serves to exacerbate suspicion, and may affect the lives of the very citizens whom we all ultimately serve.” This could apply to any ethnic or ideological group, not only Africa and its 53 nations and thousands of languages.
Indeed, to every headline there is often a complex contextual backstory, no less so than in Nigeria. For instance, this AllAfrica report by Margaret Kimberley, editor and senior columnist at Black Agenda Report, cites the background to the Boko Haram kidnapping:
“Boko Haram members were detained by the police in 2011 and 2012 and that the group swore revenge. Boko Haram leader Abubakr Shekau said in one of his many videos, “Since you are now holding our women, just wait and see what will happen to your own women… to your own wives according to sharia law.” The kidnappings of the past two years are a direct result of the government’s mistreatment of its people and its failed efforts to fight Boko Haram.” – Margaret Kimberley, Nigeria: How Not to ‘Bring Back Our Girls’
Nigeria’s oxymoronically named President Goodluck Jonathan has described them as “enemies of human progress and civilisation”, a “tragic assault on human freedom”.
President Jonathan, whose wife is called Patience, are Christians from the Ijaw people of southern Nigeria. He holds a Masters degree and a PhD in Zoology and prior to entering politics and becoming President had worked in education and environmental protection. His people, the Ijaws, since the late 1990s had been involved in mainly peaceful protest against the oil companies‘ exploitation of their homeland and suffered state and military crackdowns of their actions.
Nigeria has all the potential to become an economic powerhouse – if it can control its ethnic and religious tensions, not to mention the international oil company exploitation and corruption. The President has faced calls to resign over the handling of, and seeming inaction over, the schoolgirls kidnapping. One critic wrote:
“It is all because those at the helm in the nation attach no value to the lives of others”.
That may well be true, but the “zero value” attached to human lives can surely be laid at the door of Boko Haram and others too. In the past Jonathan has instituted peaceful and progressive policies, so one hopes he will continue to reform and stabilise the country, and face his critics with renewed action on issues that divide the nation. Nigeria’s leader needs to be a leader of the people and of all its peoples. [Update: Goodluck Jonathan’s presidency is over and #365DaysOn we are now closer on #BringBackOurGirls]