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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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