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French government intensifies action against Islamism, Macron says

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The French government has intensified action against Islamist extremism in recent days after a teacher was beheaded for showing caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad in class, President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday (20 October), writes Geert De Clercq.

Macron also said a local group involved in Friday’s beheading attack would be disbanded.

“We know what needs to be done”, Macron told reporters after a meeting with a unit for the fight against Islamism in a northeastern suburb of Paris.

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The abduction of Western freedom

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Silvia Romano (pictured), the Italian NGO volunteer who spent 18 months in captivity in Somalia, landed at Rome’s Ciampino airport on Sunday (10 May), dressed from head to toe in full Islamic garb. The fact that the 25-year-old woman—who was abducted in November 2018 by Al-Shabab terrorists in Kenya, where she was working on behalf of the Italian charity, Africa Milele, at a local orphanage—returned home in a hijab is cause for alarm, not an expression of freedom of religion, writes Fiamma Nirenstein. 

The radical Islamist world in which the kidnapped Italian girl was indoctrinated during her captivity is antithetical to the Western values on which she was raised. Its mantra boils down to placing death on a higher plane than life, and in subjugating women, non-Muslims and “apostates.” “I have converted to Islam of my own free will,” Romano said upon disembarking her plane from Mogadishu. This is doubtful. It is more plausible that 'Stockholm Syndrome' is behind her becoming a Muslim. Being held captive by for 536 days by Islamist terrorists will do that–particularly, perhaps, to idealistic youth from the West who travel to the Third World for "good causes", and post photos of themselves surrounded by underprivileged children on social media. Romano—whose release was obtained through painstaking efforts of the Italian and Turkish intelligence services and secured with a four-million-euro ransom—nevertheless was defended her abductors.

They treated her well, she said, while only slightly acknowledging their problematic practices in relation to women. These involve subjecting the members of her gender to beatings and torture; turning them into sex saves; and using them to provide offspring for “warriors”—proud mothers of terrorist children. Shuttled across forests and dirt roads between Kenya and Somalia, in the hands of a pack of murderers—that the al-Shabab men certainly are—she might have married one of her kidnappers. If so, he would be one of 7,000-9,000 members of the organization whose founding charter promotes such punishments as limb-amputation for robbery and stoning for adultery. It also sets as its goal the advent of global Islam—an aspiration for which they are willing to die and commit mass murder.

Indeed, Al-Shabab—that routinely recruits suicide terrorists for its missions—has perpetrated so many atrocities that it is impossible to list them all. But the few following examples that come to mind are sufficient to illustrate the group’s blood-lust. These include: the October 2017 bombing in Mogadishu that left 500 dead; the January 2016 slaughter of 180-200 Kenyan soldiers at a military base in Somalia; the April 2015 massacre at the Garissa University College in Kenya, in which 148 mostly Christian students were killed; and the September 2013 attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, which left 67 people dead. It is not clear whether Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio were aware of Romano’s change of identity when they went to the airport to greet her and celebrate the victory of her release. In any case, they should have been prepared with remarks to stave off the propaganda that the young woman spouted, either voluntarily or out of transformed stupidity.

Freedom of religion should not be a cloak for pernicious political ideologies. As an Italian citizen and a daughter of democracy, Romano has the right to convert—a right that would not be granted by radical Islamist regimes. But she and her supporters should remember that she was rescued by her country precisely because it is a free democracy.

Nor is the Islam of Al-Shabab merely a religion like any other. It belongs to “Dar al-Harb” (the house of war), rather than “Dar al-Islam” (the house of peace). In other words, it is the enemy of the values that Romano should hold dear. Both Conte and Di Maio, then, should have reiterated the values in the name of which Romano was saved, not shy away from denouncing those responsible for her ordeal. Indeed, they should have announced that the latter have no place in Italy. Their inability to do so demonstrates the way in which Western leaders do not really wish to confront terrorist Islam; they don’t even like uttering the words “Islam” and “terrorism” in the same breath.

As a result, Romano has become a vehicle for the wrong message. Rather than representing freedom from radical-Islamist bondage, she remains a tool for the spread of Al-Shabab propaganda that will resound across Europe. The lesson is that terrorism pays, both literally in the form of cash, and figuratively as a method. Each smile flashed by a government official at the sight of Romano in a headscarf adds another wound to the heart of Western freedom.

Journalist Fiamma Nirenstein was a member of the Italian parliament (2008-13), where she served as vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Chamber of Deputies. She served in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, and established and chaired the Committee for the Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism. A founding member of the international Friends of Israel Initiative, she has written 13 books, including Israel Is Us (2009). Currently, she is a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author alone, and do not represent the opinions of EU Reporter.

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Upset #Hindus seek right to cremation in #Malta as 'burial hinders soul’s journey'

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Worldwide Hindus are upset over Malta not having mechanism for the cremation of deceased Hindus, forcing the community to bury their loved ones in contradiction of their long-held beliefs.

Hindu statesman Rajan Zed (pictured), in a statement in Nevada, US, said that Malta should show some maturity and be more responsive to the hurt feelings of its hard-working, harmonious and peaceful Hindu community; which had been in the country since 1800s and had made lot of contributions to the nation and society, and continued to do so.

Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, noted that cremation had been a pre-BCE tradition prescribed in ancient Hindu texts. Cremationsignified spiritual release, helped severe ties to earthly life and gave momentum to the soul for its continuing spiritual journey. World’s oldest extant scripture,Rig-Veda, pointed out: Agni, set him free again to go to the fathers.

It was simply heartbreaking for the community to perform something in clear violation of their faith. If Malta was unable to provide proper crematoriums, Hindus should be allowed to cremate their deceased on traditional open pyres for which Malta should build a cremation ground near a body of water; Rajan Zed indicated.

Zed further said that Hindus were planning to approach various bodies/officials like European Union, Council of Europe, European Parliament; European Commissioner for Human Rights; European and Malta Ombudsman; Malta President, Prime Minister and other government offices; National Commission for the Promotion of Equality; Roman Catholic Archbishop of Malta; etc.; on this issue; as being able to follow one’s faith traditions was a fundamental human right.

Funeral rites/ceremonies were one of the main samskaras (sacraments) of Hindu life. In majority cases, Hindus were cremated, except infants and ascetics. After some ancient rituals at the cremation, remains (bones/ashes) were ceremoniously immersed into holy river Ganga or other bodies of water, helping in the liberation of the deceased. In Hinduism, death did not mark the end of existence; Rajan Zed pointed out.

Moreover, tenets of Hinduism and other world religions should be taught in all Malta State schools at par with religious teaching of the Roman Catholic Apostolic Faith. Opening-up the Malta children to major world religions and non-believers’ viewpoint would make them well-nurtured, well-balanced, and enlightened citizens of tomorrow; Zed stated.

Rajan Zed was of the view that Malta should also provide some land and help in raising a Hindu temple, as Maltese Hindus did not have proper traditional worship space.

Malta should follow its own constitution, which stated: “All persons in Malta shall have full freedom of conscience and enjoy the free exercise of their respective mode of religious worship”. Moreover, Malta, a member country of European Union, reportedly was a signatory to the Protocol 1 to the European Convention on Human Rights; Zed noted.

Rajan Zed further said that as a dominating majority in Malta, Catholics also had a moral responsibility to take care of minority brothers/sisters from different faith backgrounds, and should thus also seek equality treatment for all. Equality was the fundamental tenet of Judeo-Christian faith, of which Catholicism was a significant part.

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Europe must remain a safe place for #Muslim reformers

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Meanwhile, free-thinking, liberal Muslim thought leaders and reformers are struggling to live and work in peace at home. Muslim-majority nations are either ruled by nasty autocrats, military strongmen or flawed and fragile democrats. In many places, to speak up is to find yourself dead or in prison. If you are lucky, you can go into exile – but perhaps not for long.

Escape routes to the West are closing fast. Islam-bashing has become the favourite sport not just of Trump but also of populist parties across Europe. Rants against Islam unite members of the ‘populist international’ on both sides of the Atlantic. As the far right looks set to perform well in elections in many Western countries in the coming months, expect the anti-Islam vitriol to get nastier.

Europe should indeed focus on keeping out Muslim extremists. But it must not ignore the plight of Muslim reformers who are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. Speak up at home, and they are likely to be branded ‘kafir’ (unbeliever). Head for shelter abroad, and they turn into potential troublemakers or even terrorists.

“Space for freedom of expression has been shrinking in the Muslim world,” says Surin Pitsuwan, Thailand’s former foreign minister and a much-respected former secretary-general of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

“Muslim intellectuals cannot pursue their examination of laws and principles at home… they have to do that outside the Muslim world,” he told a World Forum for Muslim Democrats meeting in Tokyo last month. “Academics have to migrate in order to do their job. Muslim democrats feel the space for exercising their role is being limited… they cannot visualize their future.”

The Muslim world is suffering from a severe democratic deficit. Muslims long for freedom, the rule of law and representative government, said Nurul Izzah Anwar. She is Vice-President of the People’s Justice Party of Malaysia, which was set up by her father, Malaysian opposition politician Anwar Ibrahim (who is still in jail).

“There is confusion about how Muslims relate to democracy and to the challenge of facing extremism,” said Nurul Izzah. Muslims have to deal simultaneously with “fanatic ideologies and kleptocratic regimes”.

For many Muslims also, the struggle centres on efforts to reclaim their religion from the stranglehold of Saudi-based Wahhabist interpretations of Islam.

“It’s a fight that is long and difficult. Wahhabism is a dirty word in Indonesia. It is considered to be primitive,” said Indonesian scholar of Islam Azyumardi Azra. Unlike other countries, Indonesia is not dependent on money from Saudi Arabia, he said. “Our flowery Islam is embedded in our local culture.”

Yet for all its traditional tolerance and openness, Indonesia faces the challenge of protecting its minorities. Indonesian police has opened a criminal investigation into Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known as ‘Ahok’, for alleged blasphemy.

Ahok, a Christian, is the first member of Indonesia’s ethnic Chinese community to be elected as the capital’s governor. The investigation shows the authorities are “more worried about hardline religious groups than respecting and protecting human rights for all,” according to Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty International’s Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

What happens in Indonesia is particularly relevant given the country’s reputation as a role-model for other Muslim countries.

Muslim reformers and intellectuals could once find shelter and asylum in the West. And while many have benefited from such protection and continue to do so, extremists in the United States and Europe are making clear that Islam is their new enemy.

As the extremists gain traction, the welcome for Muslims will wear even thinner in Europe. As former Egyptian member of parliament Abdul Mawgoud Dardery told the conference, “We feel betrayed by the US and Europe”.

Tragically, such betrayals are likely to become the norm. The US President-elect is likely to side with fellow ‘strongmen’ in the Muslim world. Europe’s populists can be expected to be just as indifferent to the plight of Muslim human rights defenders and democrats.

But Europe must keep its doors open to those in the Muslim world who want change, reform and democracy. As Surin underlined, “Muslim democrats have to face a dual challenge: we have to fight extremism in our midst and Islamophobia outside”.

Friends of Europe’s regular ‘Frankly Speaking’ column takes a critical look at key European and global issues.

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