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Leading author calls for 'attack on all fronts' against Islamic fundamentalism

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2015 03 25 Brussels Briefing 10Leading law professor Karima Bennoune (pictured, centre-left) says that religious extremism in Muslim countries and contexts "undermines human rights" by denying people the freedom to practise their religious beliefs.

Speaking exclusively to EU Reporter, she also called for an "attack on all fronts" against Islamic fundamentalism and extremism which she says poses a "grave danger" to civilization.

The award-winning author was in Brussels to speak at a policy briefing organised by the European Foundation for Democracy (EFD), a Brussels-based policy institute, and British Socialist MEP Julie Ward.

The highly topical event on Wednesday (25 March) adds to the current debate on how best to counter Islamic terrorism and deconstruct the radical Islamist narratives which have become so attractive to young Muslims across the globe.

The visit to Belgium also gave Bennoune a chance to talk about her highly acclaimed book, Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here, which explores the stories and struggles of democratic opponents of fundamentalism.

For the book, Bennoune interviewed nearly 300 people in 30 Muslim countries, many of them who have suffered human rights violations at the hands of IS and other extremists.

She spoke about the common themes that emerged, including a "shared sense" among those on the frontline that they have received inadequate support worldwide.

The renowned scholar was also able to draw on the experience of her own father, Mahfoud, a farmer’s son turned professor, who was forced to flee the Algerian capital, Algiers, after his name was added to a “kill list" posted in extremist-controlled mosques.

In her book, Bennoune, who grew up in Algeria and the US and is an ardent critic of Islamism, said she set out to "capture the voices" of those battling fundamentalism on the front lines of countries such as Algeria, Afghanistan, Niger, Russia and Pakistan.

Bennoune interviewed 286 people and travelled to Algeria, Pakistan, Niger, Afghanistan, Mali and other countries. Her subjects, she said, share the view that "political Islam" is dangerous.

When Bennoune asked her interlocutors what they thought should be done to support them, she says their answers included: clearly support secular feminist groups and the principle of universal rights and openly support those who defend the separation of religion and politics.

The Islamic State's blitz through Syria and Iraq last summer drew recruits from across the world. According to the U.S intelligence estimates, IS has 20,000 foreigners representing some 90 countries, along with about 18,000 Syrians and Iraqis, making it the biggest Arab jihadist group.

Recent battlefield setbacks have made the formidable group more fragile and U.S-led airstrikes have diminished its resources, something Bennoune says the West “should take heart in."

But she also cautions that the so-called war on terror could take a generation to win, saying, "It is not a war between Islam and the West but a global struggle against the most bloody and anti-human movement imaginable.

"What it represents is an extreme threat to a way of life and culture in the Arab world and elsewhere. It is one of the most major human rights threats civilization faces today."

"That is why it is critical that all is done to protect young people from the lure of IS. It is going to be a long battle and it is not just about defeating IS but about defeating their warped ideology."

She says the "vast majority" of victims of IS and current Islamic extremist groups were those Muslim people, many of them women, who oppose IS in their own countries.

"I care of course about all victims but this is something we should remember. We have to expose the crimes of IS against not just westerners but the local population in Muslim countries.

"We have got to counter the argument of these groups they they somehow act in defence of Muslims. They do not. They victimise Muslims in the most atrocious way. They have got to be stopped and this is what we should focus on."

The only solution, she said, is a "comprehensive" strategy, part military but also educational and political. "We cannot beat this by force alone," she said.

The strategy should also include the "very important terrain" offered by cyberspace which, she says, enables IS and others to "spread their message of hate" so successfully.

"We need to shut down as many of these accounts that they currently use."

In her book she recounts stories of Muslims who have "stood up" to the threats posed by IS and others in their own countries.

Ultimately, Muslim fundamentalism is not a question of security for westerners, says Bennoune, but a more basic question of human rights for hundreds of millions of people who live in Muslim-majority countries. And she has little patience with the argument that human rights is a western concept that should not be applied to Muslim countries.

And, her message?

"Islam belongs in people's lives but it does not belong in politics," she said.

Her comments are largely echoed by John Duhig, Senior Counsellor at the European Foundation for Democracy , the policy institute that hosted the briefing.

Duhig added: "We need to amplify the voices of the people Karima spoke with in compiling her book because they are struggling to be heard. We also need to make social media- in particular Twitter - play a responsible role in denying terror organisations like IS the oxygen of publicity and power to recruit vulnerable young Muslims.”

The institute works with grassroots activists, media, policy experts and government officials throughout Europe. The aim is to ensure that the universal values of political pluralism, individual liberty, government by democracy and religious tolerance remain the core foundations of Europe’s prosperity and welfare, and the basis on which diverse cultures and opinions can interact peacefully.

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EU countries should ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health

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MEPs urge member states to protect and further enhance women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights in a report adopted today (11 May).

In the draft report approved by the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality by 27 votes in favour, six against and one abstention, MEPs point out that the right to health, in particular sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR), are fundamental women’s rights which should be enhanced and cannot in any way be watered down or withdrawn.

They add that violations of women’s SRHR are a form of violence against women and girls and hinder progress towards gender equality. They thus call on EU countries to ensure access to a full range of high-quality, comprehensive and accessible SRHR, and remove all barriers impeding full access to these services.

Access to abortion, contraception and sexuality education

Women’s Rights and Gender Equality MEPs stress that some member states still have highly restrictive laws prohibiting abortion except in strictly defined circumstances, leading to women having to seek clandestine abortions or carry their pregnancy to term against their will, which is a violation of their human rights. Thus, they urge all member states to ensure universal access to safe and legal abortion, and guarantee that abortion at request is legal in early pregnancy, and beyond if the pregnant person’s health is in danger. They also recall that a total ban on abortion care is a form a gender-based violence.

Furthermore, MEPs demand that EU countries ensure universal access to a range of high-quality contraceptive methods and supplies, family counselling and information on contraception.

They also urge member states to ensure access to comprehensive sexuality education for primary and secondary school children, as SRHR education can significantly contribute to reducing sexual violence and harassment.

The negative impact of the pandemic on women’s health

Regretting that access to abortion continues to be limited during the COVID-19 crisis, as well as the effects the pandemic has had on the supply and access to contraceptives, MEPs urge EU countries to consider the health impact of this crisis through a gender lens and ensure the continuation of a full range of SRHR services through the health systems.

Rapporteur Pedrag Matić (S&D, HR) said: ‘‘In the text adopted today, we clearly call on member states to ensure universal access to SRHR for all, and demonstrate there is strength in the EP to counter those opposing basic human rights. Sexuality education, access to contraception and fertility treatments as well as abortion constitute some of the key components of SRHR services. This is an important step in ensuring that all EU citizens have access to SRHR and that no person is left behind in exercising their right to health.

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Civil protection: Council adopts new rules to strengthen disaster response

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The Council today (11 May) adopted a regulation to strengthen the EU civil protection mechanism. The new rules will allow the EU and the member states to better prepare for natural and man made disasters and to respond faster when they strike, including in cases which affect a majority of member states simultaneously, such as a pandemic. The text also sets out the funding of the civil protection mechanism in the context of the multiannual financial framework 2021-2027.

The proposed rules will allow the European Commission to address gaps in the area of transport and logistics, and, in cases of urgency, directly procure certain additional rescEU capacities. These rescEU capacities, as well as those hosted by member states, will be fully financed from the EU budget.

Prevention and preparedness will also be improved under the proposed regulation. The Commission, in co-operation with member states, will define and develop EU disaster resilience goals in the area of civil protection

The text sets out a total of  €1.263 billion in funds for the 2021-2027 period. It also includes an amount of up to €2.56bn to implement the civil protection related measures to address the impact of the COVID-19 crisis foreseen in the EU recovery instrument. This is an increase of over three times as compared to the 2014-2020 budget. It reflects the strengthening of the EU's collective response to disasters, including the recent establishment of a reserve of capacities (rescEU), the reinforcement of the European civil protection pool and the improvements in disaster prevention and preparedness.

Background

The EU civil protection mechanism was first established in 2001 and it coordinates the response to natural and man-made disasters at the EU level. Its objective is to foster cooperation among national civil protection authorities, increase public awareness and preparedness for disasters and enable quick, effective, coordinated assistance to affected populations.

The EU civil protection mechanism includes a European civil protection pool. This is a voluntary pool of capacities pre-committed by member states for immediate deployment inside or outside the EU. The civil protection mechanism was last amended in 2019, when an additional reserve of resources, called rescEU, was created to provide assistance in situations where overall existing capacities are insufficient.

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EU and Japan hold high-level policy dialogue on education, culture and sport

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On 10 May, Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commissioner Mariya Gabriel held a videoconference with the Japanese Minister for Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Koichi Hagiuda (pictured), to discuss EU-Japan co-operation in the fields of their portfolios. Both sides reaffirmed their commitment to continued cooperation and support from their respective programmes, and agreed to join forces on researcher mobility. This ongoing cooperation has taken on new significance during the COVID-19 crisis, which has hit these sectors hard.

Commissioner Gabriel said: “Education, culture and sport bring people together – to learn, to teach, to create and to compete. International cooperation in these areas will always lead to a better understanding – like between Europe and Japan. In Brussels, as in Tokyo, we are looking at the future of education and the digital transition. I was delighted to exchange ideas and good practices in this field, as well as in culture and sport, with Mr Hagiuda and his team.”

Ahead of the Summer Olympic Games in Japan, Minister Haiuda shared updates during the meeting on the organisation of such a large-scale event in these unprecedented times. Commissioner Gabriel and Minister Hagiuda also welcomed the progress of the three special joint EU-Japan Erasmus Mundus Master programmes in robotics, extended reality, and history, which were launched as an outcome of the first policy dialogue of July 2018. Finally, they both emphasised the importance of people-to-people exchanges and agreed to maintain direct discussions on a regular basis. The forthcoming EU-Japan Summit will further highlight the scale and breadth of cooperation under the EU-Japan Strategic Partnership Agreement. A joint statement and more information following today's meeting are available online.

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