Malaysia tackles the Jihadi Mess with its “best in the world” deradicalization progamme


December 4, 2017

Malaysia tackles the Jihadi Mess with its  “best in the world” deradicalization progamme

by Mariam Mokhtar@www.asiasentinel.com

https://www.asiasentinel.com/society/malaysia-confronts-jihadis/

Image result for Nur Afiqah Farhanah Che Samsudim

 

On November 24, a 26-year-old woman named Nur Afiqah Farhanah Che Samsudim was sentenced to eight years in prison in a Malaysian high court for attempting to enter Syria in a bid to die a martyr’s death.

Although she was on her way to the Middle East, Nur’s story has achieved disturbing relevance with the collapse of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria as jihadis flee on their way back for sanctuaries in Southeast Asia.  How many Nurs there are – or their male counterparts – is unknown. But according to Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, regional groups such as Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines, Jemaah Islamiyah and others serve as what he called a “home away from home” for those fleeing the deteriorating situation in Mosul and other Middle Eastern cities.  Malaysia faces accumulating its own share of the fleeing returnees and what to do about them.

Nur’s father died when she was 17. She became a mistress until her lover died in 2014. Stricken by grief, she married her lover’s younger brother, a drug addict, but the marriage only lasted two months. She then resumed her studies in medicine before being befriended by a man on social media who agreed to marry her on condition she travel to Syria.

Having sold her car to fund her ticket to Turkey, Nur entered Istanbul on August. 30, 2016 and was finally caught trying to cross the border into Syria in February of this year, to be deported back to Malaysia.

Nur’s loneliness, the change in her personal circumstances and her vulnerability, made her easy prey for ISIS propagandists. Had she been persuaded by her internet lover that going to Syria would give new meaning to her life, help her overcome grief and her daily frustrations? What prompted her to tell her mother that she was migrating to Syria to have a martyr’s death? And can Nur and her fellow victims be turned around?

The Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi says yes, that his Home Ministry’s program to deradicalize former prisoners, is “the best in the world.”  The results, he told a crowd in Kuching in February of 2016, are encouraging and recognized internationally.

“We are not praising ourselves, this is a recognition by the United Nations, Interpol and others,” Zahid said, “which is why Malaysia hosted the International Deradicalization Conference last month.”

The Principal Consultant of JK Associates, Khen Han Ming, works in close collaboration with the media and law enforcement agencies on global security issues, intelligence and terrorism.  He is a skeptic.

The prevention of radicalization in prisons is all about damage control. Khen said, “Inmates jailed for non-terror related offences meet other inmates who may have become radicalized, either as sympathizers or members of a wider terror network, prior to their detention.  Harsh conditions of confinement, overcrowding, racial divisions and isolation of inmates are to blame for radicalization.

“In a recent exposé by The Straits Times, a 53-year-old former ISA detainee was shown to have been actively recruiting inmates in Tapah Prison after he was arrested in February 2013, for terror offences.”

Radicalization in prison, isn’t just a Malaysian problem. It is a worldwide phenomenon. Khen lists those who were radicalized whilst in prison.

“Guantanamo Bay once housed Said Ali al-Shiri, the late al-Qaeda leader who masterminded the 2008 attack on the US embassy in Yemen,” he said. “The current al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was radicalized in Egyptian prisons, while the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi attempted to recruit fellow inmates to help him overthrow the government in Jordan.”

Richard Reid, the 2001 “shoe bomber” who attempted to blow up an airliner on a flight between Paris and Miami with explosives in his shoes, was radicalized while imprisoned in the United Kingdom.

Although the British, European Union and American governments have yet to find an effective strategy, in Malaysia, Zahid is all praise for his own program. Implemented under the Malaysian Prisons Department blue ocean strategy, steps so far used on 130 convicts were outlined by Zahid.

Convicts were separated during detention to stop their influence on other convicts, and 97 percent of those who have been rehabilitated, haven’t returned to their activities, he said. The department has close cooperation with the Malaysia Islamic Affairs Department (known by its Malay-language acronym JAKIM), psychology experts and NGOs.

“As a result, it makes Malaysia an example of the most successful country in the de-radicalization program, the best example in the world,” Zahid said.

However, Khen dismisses Zahid’s claim. “Zahid also said, in his entry in The Journal of Public Security and Safety, that “there is no formula by which one can measure the effectiveness of a given law, or in this context, the rehabilitation program. An effective de-radicalization program can be gauged by its rate of recidivism.”

Recidivism rates, he said, “can be very misleading because they reflect only what is known to intelligence services, which is limited to public knowledge. The 2004 Saudi de-radicalization program, also known as “PRAC” (Prevention, Rehabilitation, After-Care) was also described as one of the “best rehabilitation programs in the world,” and a role model for many countries.

It was considered a complete success until five years later, Khen said, when 11 former Guantanamo inmates and program graduates “were discovered to have returned to al-Qaeda.”

Another method for tackling radicalization is via community outreach programs involving both the private sector and NGOs. The aim is to take away the appeal of extremist groups like ISIS by disrupting radical and extremist narratives.

“We need a systematic program, which emphasizes inclusiveness rather than exclusiveness, and which delegitimizes extremist ideologies such as the “them against us” mentality,” Khen said. Citing the approach adopted from The Ministry of Home Affairs of Singapore, he added, “Community outreach clinics, or hotlines which offer help to people-at-risk, or individuals with information, widen the channels of communication and accessibility to information, which would otherwise be difficult.”

He strongly believes that local celebrities can help counter extremist views: “Malaysian Sultans and members of the Royal Household are increasingly getting involved, by speaking up against the encroaching Talibanization of our country. Celebrities have a huge following and are sometimes considered more reliable than politicians. They also have the capability to break the barrier of political distrust. They are often the symbol of solidarity and unity, when we see a terror attack, overseas.”

Many in the field agree that terrorism and violent extremism is a battle of ideology that must be addressed at many levels, using a multilateral approach. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution.

Badrul Hisham Ismail, the Program Director for IMAN, an organization which conducts research on society, religion and perception, told local media that to achieve successful rehabilitation and reintegration  into society, “we need to regain or rebuild trust and confidence, not only in society, but also between governments, civil societies and communities, to ensure strong collaboration and cohesion across all levels.”

Badrul added: “It is not only the responsibility of government or authorities. Each of us must play a crucial role in maintaining and promoting social cohesion and inclusivity – the remedy for any form of extremism.”

Khen, who has been involved in the provision of security services for over a decade, agreed and said, “Private sector involvement helps to address these issues, which affect everyone. Radicalization is not limited to religious indoctrination, but includes socio-political groups and similar groups.  We need to combat radicalization and violent extremism by disengaging them at their source, by advocating moderation and activism, to disrupt the spread of radical ideologies.

“Unless and until the main source of the problem is addressed, we are doomed to repeat the cycle.” The state, he said, shouldn’t waste its time and resources on de-radicalization programs but instead focus on addressing the root cause of extremism.

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Despite this, the authorities can appear to contradict themselves. In September, the Turkish moderate writer and journalist Mustafa Akyol, who was invited to give a series of talks in KL, was detained, while the Indian fugitive ‘terror-mentor’ Zakir Naik was given a safe-haven in Malaysia and made a Permanent Resident.

A controversial preacher, Zamihan Mat Zin, who outraged Malaysians and the Malaysian Royalty with his radical views on separate launderette facilities for “unclean” non-Muslims and his intolerance in race and religious matters, was found to be part of the deradicalization program.

Mariam Mokhtar is a Malaysian journalist and a longtime contributor to Asia Sentinel

Saudia Arabia puts itself in the bull’s eye


December 3, 2017

Targeting Islamic scholars from Malaysia to Tunisia, Saudia Arabia puts itself in the bull’s eye

By James M. Dorsey

Image result for crown prince mohammed bin salman

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Hamad I Mohammed / Reuters file

By declaring the Qatar-based International Union of Islamic Scholars (ILUM) a terrorist organization, Saudi Arabia is confronting some of the world’s foremost Islamic political parties and religious personalities, opening itself up to criticism for its overtures to Israel, and fuelling controversy in countries like Malaysia and Tunisia.

In a statement earlier this week, Saudi Arabia charged that ILUM was “using Islamic rhetoric as a cover to facilitate terrorist activities.” The banning of ILUM goes to the heart of the Gulf crisis that pits a UAE-Saudi-led alliance against Qatar and is driven by United Arab Emirates Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed’s visceral opposition to any expression of political Islam.

The UAE for several years has sought with little evident success to counter ILUM’s influence by establishing groups like the Muslim Council of Elders and the Global Forum for Prompting Peace in Muslim Societies as well as the Sawab and Hedayah Centres’ anti-extremism messaging initiatives in collaboration with the United States and the Global Counter-Terrorism Forum.

The ban appears to have been designed to position Saudi Arabia as the arbiter of what constitutes true Islam and marks a next phase in a four-decade long, $100 billion campaign waged by the kingdom to counter Iran by spreading for the longest period of time Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism, that often served as an ideological inspiration for jihadist philosophy – an iteration ultra-conservatives have condemned.

ILUM “worked on destroying major religious institutions in the Muslim world, like the Council of Senior Scholars in Saudi Arabia and Al-Azhar in Egypt,” one of the foremost institutions of Islamic learning, charged Abdulrahman al-Rashed, a prominent Saudi journalist and columnist for Al Arabiya.

Al Arabiya’s owner, Waleed bin Ibrahim al-Ibrahim, was among the kingdom’s top media barons arrested in Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s recent purge of members of the ruling family, senior officials, and businessmen under the mum of anti-corruption.

“The terrorism project hiding under Islam launched its work around the same time organizations which issue extremist fatwas (religious legal opinions) were founded. Like al-Qaeda and ISIS (an acronym for the Islamic State), these jurisprudential groups said they refuse to be local as they view themselves as global organizations that cross borders. The most dangerous aspect of terrorism is extremist ideology. We realize this well now,” Mr Al-Rashed said.

The Council of Senior Scholars, despite having endorsed Prince Mohammed’s reforms in a bid to salvage what it can of the power sharing agreement that from the kingdom’s founding granted his ruling Al Saud family legitimacy, is a body of ultra-conservative Islamic scholars.

Various statements by the council and its members critical of aspects of Prince Mohammed’s economic and social reform since his rise in 2015 suggest that support among its scholars is not deep-seated.

Prince Mohammed recently vowed to move the kingdom away from its embrace of ultra-conservatism and towards what he described as a more “moderate” form of Islam.

Speaking to The New York Times, Prince Mohammed argued that at the time of the Prophet Mohammed  there were musical theatres, an absence of segregation of men and women, and respect for Christians and Jews, who were anointed People of the Book in the Qur’an. “The first commercial judge in Medina was a woman! Do you mean the Prophet was not a Muslim?” Prince Mohammed asked.

Authorities days later banned pilgrims from taking photos and videos in Mecca’s Grand Mosque and the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina in line with an ultra-conservative precept that forbids human images. The ban was imposed after Israeli blogger Ben Tzion posted a selfie in Mecca on social media. Authorities bar non-Muslims from entering the two holy cities.

In a statement, authorities said the ban was intended to protect and preserve Islam’s holiest sites, prevent the disturbance of worshippers, and ensure tranquillity while performing acts of worship.

Founded by controversial Egyptian-born scholar Yousef al-Qaradawi, one of Islam’s most prominent living clerics and believed to be a spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, ILUM members include Rachid al-Ghannouchi, the co-founder and intellectual leader of Tunisia’s Brotherhood-inspired Ennahada Party, and Malaysian member of parliament and Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) head Abdul Hadi bin Awang.

Mr. Al-Qaradawi, a naturalized Qatari citizen who in the past justified suicide bombings in Israel but has since condemned them,  was labelled a terrorist by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt in June as part of their diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar. The UAE-Saudi-led alliance demanded that Qatar act against Mr. El-Qaradawi and scores of others as a condition for lifting the six-month-old boycott.

Mr. El-Ghannouchi was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2012 and Foreign Policy’s Top 100 Global Thinkers in 2011. He was also awarded the prestigious Chatham House Prize. Mr. El-Ghannouchi is widely credited for ensuring that Tunisia became the only Arab country to have successfully emerged from the 2011 Arab popular revolts as a democracy.

The banning of ILUM has, moreover, sparked political controversy in Malaysia. Karima Bennoune, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for cultural rights, recently noted a deepening involvement of Malaysia’s religious authorities in policy decisions, developments she said were influenced by “a hegemonic version of Islam imported from the Arabian Peninsula” that was “at odds with local forms of practice.”

“Arab culture is spreading, and I would lay the blame completely on Saudi Arabia,” added Marina Mahathir, the daughter of former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad

Critics of PAS  demanded that Mr. Bin Awang, President of the group, “come clean that he does not preach hatred” in the words of former PAS leader Mujahid Yusof Rawa, and called on the government to ask Saudi Arabia for information to back up its charges against the union.

Mr Bin Awang, referring to Saudi King Salman, asserted last week that he relied on the “Qur’an (for guidance) although the ruler who is the servant of the Two Holy Cities has forged intimate ties with Israel and the United States, because my faith is not with the Kaaba but with Allah.” One of the most sacred sites in Mecca, Muslims turn to the Kaaba when praying.

“Just like Qatar, PAS had tried to ingratiate itself with Iran in an attempt to cover both bases, along with Saudi. Now the chicken has come home to roost, and just like Qatar, global minnows like PAS find themselves caught in the middle between the two Muslim world influencers,” said Malaysian columnist Zurairi Ar.

Among other members of ILUM is controversial Saudi scholar Salman al-Odah, who was among clerics, intellectuals, judges and activists arrested in the kingdom weeks before the most recent purge.

With millions of followers on social media, Mr. Al-Odah, a once militant scholar, turned a decade ago against jihadis like Osama bin Laden and played a key role in the kingdom’s program to rehabilitate militants, but retained his opposition to the monarchy.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and co-host of the New Books in Middle Eastern Studies podcast. James is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title as well as Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and  Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa.

https://mideastsoccer.blogspot.nl/2017/11/targeting-islamic-scholars-from.html

Trump, Xi and the siren song of nationalism


November 28, 2017

Trump, Xi and the siren song of nationalism

A new generation of world leaders is embracing nationalist themes

by Gideon Rachman@www.ft.com

Image result for Trump, Xi and Macron

I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers. . . or our national anthem.” So said Mike Pence, the US Vice-*resident, after walking out of a football match  — when some players had “taken a knee” during the playing of the “Star Spangled Banner”. The Trump administration’s row with high-profile athletes might seem like an “only in America” moment. But similar arguments about national anthems are taking place in China, India and Europe.

These anthem rows are a symptom of a global ideological struggle between nationalist and internationalists. In the US, China and India, the militant defence of national hymns is justified by the new nationalists as simple, healthy patriotism. But a shrill focus on national anthems also has a disturbing side — since it often goes hand in hand with illiberalism at home, and aggression overseas.

Earlier this month, China’s National People’s Congress passed a law, making “insulting” the country’s national anthem an offence, punishable by up to three years in prison. The move is part of a growing vogue for displays of patriotism in China, as part of what President Xi Jinping calls the “great rejuvenation” of his people. It also reflects rising tensions between the government of mainland China and semi-autonomous Hong Kong. At recent football matches in Hong Kong, the Chinese anthem has been booed by anti-Beijing protesters.

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The Indian version of this dispute was triggered by a supreme court ruling last year, directing that the national anthem be played before any film shown in a public theater. Supporters of the ruling argue that the anthem is an important glue in a multi-religious country that speaks hundreds of languages. Indian liberals worry that it reflects a rise in intolerant nationalism under Prime Minister, Narendra Modi — which is making life tougher for religious minorities and critics of the government. They also point to incidents of vigilantism in which cinema-goers, who failed to rise for the anthem, have been attacked.

A different kind of anthem controversy took place in France, when Emmanuel Macron celebrated his election victory, last May. The background music when the new president strode on stage was not the Marseillaise but Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” — the EU’s anthem. This was a deliberate rebuke to his defeated opponents in the nationalist and anti-EU, National Front.

The fact that Mr Macron and Mr Trump have taken very different positions in the anthem rows is significant. For the US and French presidents are currently the two most important spokesmen for rival visions of international politics.

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In his speech at the UN in September, Mr Trump made the case for an international order based around “strong sovereign nations” — a phrase that he used repeatedly. The US president has also often attacked “globalism”, defined by his campaign as — “An economic and political ideology which puts allegiance to international institutions ahead of the nation state.”Ten days after Mr Trump’s speech, Mr Macron offered a very different worldview. In a lecture in Paris, he said that — “We can no longer turn inwards within national borders; this would be a collective disaster.” The French president saw his enemies as “nationalism, identitarianism, protectionism, isolationism.”

It would be easy to assume that Mr Macron’s internationalist message has more global support. But the Trumpian vision also has international adherents — from a network of politicians and intellectuals that can be termed the “nationalist international”.

Mr Trump’s nationalism is fired by a sense that America is in decline and can only recover, by getting tough with the outside world. Mr Xi’s nationalism is fuelled by a sense that China is on the rise, and can finally avenge historic humiliations. Those two rival visions could easily lead to US-China clashes in the Korean Peninsula, the South China Sea or at the World Trade Organisation.--Gideon Rachman@www.ft.com

In a recent article , Eric Li, a Shanghai-based commentator, argued that Xi’s China and Trump’s America, “have more in common than it appears”. Both leaders emphasise national sovereignty and are intent on pushing back against an “overly aggressive, one-size fits all universal order”. Mr Li argues that Mr Xi and Mr Trump have many potential soulmates in the anti-globalist camp — including leaders such as Vladimir Putin in Russia, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Viktor Orban in Hungary, Mr Modi and Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt, as well as Britain’s Brexiters. It is quite a list — underlining the extent to which nationalism is resurgent. The new nationalists argue that “strong sovereign nations” should be the basis of a stable, international order that rolls backs the excesses of a utopian and elitist “globalism”.

But there is something a little naive about the idea of peaceful coexistence between nationalists. Strongmen leaders may have a shared contempt for international bureaucrats and human-rights lawyers. But nationalism is often associated with disdain for the views and interests of foreigners. So, sooner or later, rival nationalisms are liable to come into conflict — and that is particularly the case with the US and China.

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The New China 7 Leadership

Mr Trump’s nationalism is fired by a sense that America is in decline and can only recover, by getting tough with the outside world. Mr Xi’s nationalism is fuelled by a sense that China is on the rise, and can finally avenge historic humiliations. Those two rival visions could easily lead to US-China clashes in the Korean Peninsula, the South China Sea or at the World Trade Organisation.

In his Sorbonne speech, Mr Macron warned that rising nationalism could “destroy the peace we so blissfully enjoy”. Sadly, it seems unlikely that anybody in Washington or Beijing was paying much attention.

gideon.rachman@ft.com

The cancer of Islamist extremism spreads around the world


November 3, 2017

The cancer of Islamist extremism spreads around the world

by Fareed Zakaria

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-cancer-of-islamist-extremism-spreads-around-the-world/2017/11/02/30162342-c005-11

Singapore

This week’s tragic terrorist attack in New York was the kind of isolated incident by one troubled man that should not lead to generalizations. In the 16 years since 9/11, the city has proved astonishingly safe from jihadist groups and individuals. And yet, speaking about it to officials in this major global hub 10,000 miles away, the conclusions they reach are worrying. “The New York attack might be a way to remind us all that while ISIS is being defeated militarily, the ideological threat from radical Islam is spreading,” says Singaporean Home Minister K. Shanmugam. “The trend line is moving in the wrong direction.”

The military battle against Islamist extremist groups in places such as Syria and Afghanistan is a tough struggle, but it has always been one that favored the United States and its allies. After all, the combined military forces of some of the world’s most powerful governments are up against a tiny band of guerrillas. On the other hand, the ideological challenge from the Islamic State has proved far more intractable. The terrorist group and ones like it have been able to spread their ideas, recruit disaffected young men and women, and infiltrate countries across the globe. Western countries remain susceptible to the occasional lone wolf, but the new breeding grounds of radicalism are once-moderate Muslim societies in Central, South and Southeast Asia.

Image result for People rally on behalf of Jakarta's former governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama in Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia

Governor Basuki “Ahok” Purnama after the sentencing in his blasphemy trial in Jakarta on May 9, 2017. © 2017 Reuters

Consider Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, long seen as a moderate bulwark. This year, the governor of Jakarta, the country’s capital and largest city, lost his bid for reelection after he was painted by Muslim hard-liners as unfit for office because he is Christian. Worse, he was then jailed after being convicted on a dubious and unfair blasphemy charge. Amid a rising tide of Islamist politics, Indonesia’s “moderate” president and its mainstream “moderate” Islamic organizations have failed to stand up for the country’s traditions of tolerance and multiculturalism.

Or look at Bangladesh, another country with a staunchly secular past, where nearly 150 million Muslims live. Founded as a breakaway from Pakistan on explicitly nonreligious grounds, Bangladesh’s culture and politics have become increasingly extreme over the past decade. Atheists, secularists and intellectuals have been targeted and even killed, blasphemy laws have been enforced, and a spate of terrorist attacks have left hundreds dead.

Why is this happening? There are many explanations. Poverty, economic hardship and change produce anxieties. “People are disgusted by the corruption and incompetence of politicians. They are easily seduced by the idea that Islam is the answer, even though they don’t know what that means,” a Singaporean politician explained to me. And then, the local leaders make alliances with the clerics and give platforms to the extremists, all in search of easy votes. That political pandering has helped nurture a cancer of Islamist extremism.

In Southeast Asia, almost all observers whom I have spoken with believe that there is another crucial cause — exported money and ideology from the Middle East, chiefly Saudi Arabia. A Singaporean official told me, “Travel around Asia and you will see so many new mosques and madrassas built in the last 30 years that have had funding from the Gulf. They are modern, clean, air-conditioned, well-equipped — and Wahhabi [Saudi Arabia’s puritanical version of Islam].” Recently, it was reported that Saudi Arabia plans to contribute almost $1 billion to build 560 mosques in Bangladesh. The Saudi government has denied this, but sources in Bangladesh tell me there’s some truth to the report.

Image result for Moderate Muslims in SingaporeHE Halimah Yacob, Singapore’s Eighth President, is a Muslim Malay.

 

How to turn this trend around? Singapore’s Shanmugam says that the city-state’s population (15 percent of which is Muslim) has stayed relatively moderate because state and society work very hard at integration. “We have zero tolerance for any kind of militancy, but we also try to make sure Muslims don’t feel marginalized,” he explained. Singapore routinely gets high marks in global rankings for its transparency, low levels of corruption and the rule of law. Its economy provides opportunities for most.

Asia continues to rise, but so does Islamist radicalism there. This trend can be reversed only by better governance and better politics — by leaders who are less corrupt, more competent and, crucially, more willing to stand up to the clerics and extremists. Saudi Arabia’s new crown prince spoke last week of turning his kingdom to “moderate Islam.” Many have mocked this as a public-relations strategy, pointing to the continued dominance of the kingdom’s ultra-orthodox religious establishment. A better approach would be to encourage the crown prince, hold him to his words and urge him to follow up with concrete actions. This is the prize. Were Saudi Arabia to begin religious reform at home, it would be a far larger victory against radical Islam than all the advances on the battlefield so far.

 

Book Review: JASTA and a Third World War


October 24, 2017

Book Review: JASTA and a Third World War

How a US act could trigger a nuclear conflict. By Kamil Idris. UK Book Publishing, Hard Cover, 176 pp. with index

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 In May of 2016, the US House of Representatives unanimously passed the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act allowing victims of bombings or other terrorist acts to sue the governments of countries where the terrorists had originated. It was subsequently passed unanimously by the Senate. Both houses then overwhelmingly overrode a veto by then-President Barack Obama.

The act was aimed at Saudi Arabia, the home of 15 of the 19 hijackers recruited by Osama bin Laden who on September 11, 2001 brought down the World Trade Towers in New York and ushered in an era of vulnerability to terrorism that has continued to this day. Using the act, known universally as JASTA, 1500 injured survivors and 850 family members of 9/11 victims filed a class action lawsuit against Saudi Arabia, alleging the government had prior knowledge of the attack and that some of its officials and employees were al Qaeda operatives or sympathizers.

Obama suffered the first and only veto override of his presidency out of a very real fear that allowing such lawsuits against not just Saudi Arabia but other countries could trigger escalating confrontations that would lead to a nuclear conflagration. Prior to passage of the act, such suits were possible only if the US Department of State designated such a state as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Now, virtually any citizen can initiate such a suit.  And, as Obama feared, it could trigger retaliation in which the citizens of, say, Yemen or Afghanistan or Pakistan or any of several other countries could sue the United States government for the deaths of their relatives in the myriad drone strikes the US has delivered that have killed large numbers of citizens by accident.

The result could be a tit-for-tab worsening of relations with any number of countries as any of their citizens become plaintiffs to take on such demands for reparations. This whole situation is deeply troubling to Kamil Idris, the ex-director general of two United Nations agencies and now a member of several other organizations including the United Nations International Law Commission.

Idris is hardly alone. A long list of legal scholars have questioned the wisdom, even the sanity of the act. But Idris raises deeper concerns, saying that, given the fanatical motivation of terrorists who have anyway complete contempt for international law or boundaries, the act is unlikely to discourage any terrorism, or play a role in efforts by other countries to contain terrorism within their bothers.

“My chief concern, however,” he writes, “is that JASTA will seriously affect the carefully established and sometimes precarious goodwill and understanding between the US and other nations by attempting to undermine their legitimate sovereignty.”

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President Obama was a chief executive whose caution in his dealings with other nations was praised by his supporters and decried by his opponents.  The President of the United States is now Donald J Trump, a loose cannon who, although Idris never says it, shows no qualms whatsoever – or takes any advice – in firing off condemnations of other countries.  JASTA in his hands is a potent and frightening weapon.

JASTA, Idris argues, is a violation of the sovereignty of foreign states, has no standing in international law, violates the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act passed in 1976, which holds that individuals do not have standing to sue in such cases and protects a foreign state from being liable for damages.

“JASTA is likely to lead to other countries adopting similar acts which would lead to the US itself facing lawsuits from all over the world,” Idris writes. “This is why President Obama himself was so critical of JASTA during the last few months of his administration.”

Obama’s fear of reciprocal claims, Idris says, is no joke. Indeed, According to several different sources, even as long ago as 2011, hundreds of civilians have died in drone strikes. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism found at least 15 percent of the total killed by drone strikes were either known civilians or unknown.  At least 160 children have been killed in Pakistan. The New American Foundation estimated that the non-militant fatality rate was 20 percent between 2004 and 2011. “Collateral damage,” the euphemism for such killings, has taken the lives of hundreds in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan, according to former President Jimmy Carter.

So far, Saudi Arabia is the only country to come under a lawsuit inspired by JASTA. But, Idris writes, if it is fully implemented, “I am arguing that there could be a consequent retreat into a hardening form of nationalism as a protective measure.” Certainly in the United States, the retreat into nationalism has been marked under President Trump, leading US Sen. John McCain, in a dramatic speech on Oct. 16, to refer obliquely to the administration as retreating into “some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems (which) is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.”

Idris’s reasons for raising questions over rising nuclear tensions, he said “is because I believe we are now close to mirroring conditions that eventually led up to the First World War. It is imperative that we learn and apply the lessons of history and we ignore the facts at our peril.”

In sum, Idris has written a disturbing and important book. It is an irritating one – he has a habit of citing dozens of cases only by title with no explanation of what the cases are about. The index is little more than a list of single names, with no indication of what the cites deal with. But within the pages of this book he lists a long litany of specific cases in countries that could trigger JASTA.

‘It is a sobering thought that any of these areas of conflict could quickly ignite and set off a chain reaction in the wider world. Once again it is aggressive nationalism that is the main contributing factor to the tensions and if JASTA becomes a reality, then the problem will only intensify.” A deeply respected jurist, Idris has delivered a clear-headed warning that a tense world – and the President in Washington – needs to heed.

 

MP Nurul Izzah to The Donald–Support Democracy, Justice and Freedom, not Kleptocracy in Malaysia


September 13, 2017

MP Nurul Izzah to The Donald–Support Democracy, Justice and Freedom, not Kleptocracy in Malaysia

by Nurul Izzah Anwar, MP

Nurul Izzah Anwar is a member of the Malaysian Parliament and Vice President of the People’s Justice Party. She is a Graduate of SAIS, John Hopkins University

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/democracy-post/wp/2017/09/11/heres-what-president-trump-should-tell-malaysias-prime-minister/?utm_term=.857897e8f561

Image result for Najib I am not a crookThe Donald is hosting this Malaysian Prime Minister at The White House. A slap in the face of all freedom loving Malaysians–the unintended consequence of his invitation

 

On Tuesday (September 12), President Trump will host Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak in the White House. The two men will discuss cooperation on counterterrorism and economic development. But what should be foremost on the agenda is the hatred and fear fueled by Najib’s own party’s support of extremist groups that routinely harass and frighten the country’s significant Christian, Buddhist and Hindu minorities. Any conversation with a purported partner against extremist violence who fails to address these concerns at home is pointless.

As a Malaysian, I am sorry to say that my country faces a desperate situation. For the 60 years since independence, we have been under single-party rule. The corruption scandal surrounding our sovereign wealth fund 1MDB, the largest of its kind ever investigated by the U.S. Justice Department, alleges that Najib’s government routinely pilfers public funds for its own enrichment and the funding of its political survival. Our political leaders are so accustomed to power that they will do anything to keep it. Our elections are routinely corrupted just enough to maintain the ruling status quo. Print and broadcast media are more than 95 percent owned or controlled by the ruling party, and peaceful political protest is routinely a cause for detention under laws meant to fight terrorism.

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I know this from first-hand experience. As an opposition member of Parliament, I was arrested under sedition laws and imprisoned with actual terror suspects simply for daring to raise questions in the legislature about the political imprisonment of my father, detained opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. Before he was thrown in jail, my father championed a multi-ethnic and multi-religious opposition movement in Malaysia that garnered 52 percent of the votes in the 2013 parliamentary election — a victory set aside because of gerrymandering. His arbitrary detention has been condemned by the United Nations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Image result for Trump Hotel on Lafayette Park, Washington DC

Prime Minister Najib Razak and his Delegation are staying at Trump International Hotel Washington DC 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest, Washington, DC, 20004, United States of America. What a coincidence!

 

All the while, a growing cohort of educated young people facing high unemployment is growing deeply mistrustful of their leaders. These energetic young men and women are frustrated by the absence of democratic institutions. That they may feel compelled to seek recourse for this dissatisfaction outside the political system represents a major threat to Malaysia’s future.

Tensions between different ethnic and religious groups have also reached alarming levels. Najib’s ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) party has not just turned a blind eye to extremism — they have actively encouraged it. Religious extremists are permitted to promulgate their views with impunity, and the government has actually incorporated those views and personalities into its own platform. As if this weren’t astonishing enough, in 2014, Najib himself encouraged his own party followers to emulate “brave” Islamic State fighters.

If Najib’s autocracy and extremist actions are not condemned and resisted, all of us are at risk.

Image result for Najib meet Donald Trump

Yet despite our challenges, I love my country and I know that we have incredible potential. In fact, that is what makes this issue so important. Unlike many autocratic Muslim-majority countries, Malaysia can be a true functioning pluralistic democracy with real economic strength and growth potential. Our coalition of opposition parties follows the leadership of our imprisoned leader, Anwar Ibrahim, in asserting that the only acceptable way forward for Malaysia is as a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, democratic and freedom-supporting state.

But to achieve this, the Malaysian people need the help of true friends and partners around the world. Najib must hear from every nation that his actions are a threat to international security and undermine genuine efforts at countering violent extremism.

President Trump has the opportunity to deliver this message. As a former golfing buddy of the prime minister, he has an established rapport with Najib. And Trump set a precedent in his recent recalibration of aid to Egypt, where he laudably recently recognized the opportunity to stress civil society reforms by cutting some U.S. aid to Egypt. The same frankness should be applied when assessing Najib as a potential recipient of anti-terror funding from the United States.

To advance his foreign policy goals and the mission of international security cooperation, Trump must hold Najib to account. Trump must make clear that Washington will no longer be silent when U.S.-Malaysia cooperation on countering violent extremism is undermined by the Malaysian government itself. To start, Najib should immediately cease persecution of journalists and opposition leaders, and release all political prisoners, including my father. Trump must also make clear that the United States does not tolerate partners who harbor and protect terrorists, much less partners who actively encourage such behavior.

Without reforms, the Malaysian government is not a reliable partner on counterterrorism, international security or economic development. A clear message, followed by strong action, is the only way to transform Malaysia from a liability to a credible ally.