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Social media platforms have 'crucial role to play in combating extremist rhetoric'

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radical-islamThe head of a leading NGO says that social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook can help "challenge extremist rhetoric" and combat the 
radicalization of young Muslims.

Speaking in Brussels on Wednesday (1 July), Tehmina Kazi, director of British 
Muslims for Secular Democracy and a Fellow of the European Foundation for Democracy, said that it is not just extremist rhetoric that needs to be challenged effectively on social media, saying that "fundamentalist rhetoric should be as well."
Kazi was one of the keynote speakers at a policy dialogue organized by European Foundation for Democracy, a Brussels-based policy institute, and the European Policy Centre think tank. The debate was timely, coming in the wake of recent deadly Islamic
attacks in France, Kuwait and Tunisia and the also the murderous attack on a Baptist church in South Carolina.
Kazi shared her experiences of working closely with Muslim communities, especially in the UK where she cites the example of the group “Inspire” which has equipped Muslim women with the skills to 'just say No' to extremism, bigotry and patriarchy “in all its forms.”
She added, “They have made good use of social media by creating peer-led 'talking heads' videos to discourage women and men from joing
Islamic State. These were widely shared on Facebook."
Kazi also said that in order to “make sense of the confusing and often competing facets of reality before them” young people must be trained in "logic, argument, reason and the ability to weigh up different
truth claims". She went on: “To this end, I would support specialized 'critical thinking' e-learning programmes for 16 to 21-year-olds." She added that there were too many conservative Muslim voices teaching in schools and universities. She said that there was not a lot of courage among leftist movements to counter the discourse of extremist religious groups. Fundamentalist rhetoric should also be challenged, she says, and one example is the petition last year calling for the removal of Maajid Nawaz as a prospective Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for tweeting an innocuous Jesus and Mo cartoon.
She told the audience that a number of secular activists challenged this “dirty tricks campaign" and Nawaz was kept on as a candidate:
“A proliferation of similar social media initiatives would send out a clear message - that extremist and fundamentalist viewpoints would be robustly challenged by a critical mass of people from religious and non religious backgrounds.” She also cautions against the propagation of the “them v us” mentality that emphasises “otherness" of non-Muslims.
This, she said, “demeans and castigates” people from Muslim backgrounds who "happen to be different", such as Shia, Ahmadi or feminist.
“I have a background in equality and human rights and actively support humanist causes and organisations. It truly depresses me to see members of the new generation signing up to a version of Islam that is
so anti-human, un-egalitarian and brimming with hate … and this is before they have even fall into the clutches of Daesh itself."
Kazi, who is based in London, noted that “a lot of people” claim that Muslim communities are not ready for “certain progressive changes”, be that an acceptance of  same-sex relations, encouraging women  into religious leadership roles or a refusal to make excuses for individuals' involvement in terror. “We have seen the impact of this disastrous racism of low expectations all around us,” she declared.
Other speakers included Gilles de Kerchove, who as EU counter-terrorism coordinator has spearheaded the EU’s fight against terrorism for over seven years and who warned that efforts to tackle radicalisation of young Muslims by groups like Daesh will “take a long time”. However, he pointed to several initiatives currently underway which he believes could have an impact, including a newly-launched, 18-month pilot project designed to “better communicate” the "good work"
undertaken by the EU and others in areas such as humanitarian aid.
He conceded: "At present, the communications strategy for these things is a bit disorganised. But some excellent work is being done on the diplomatic, humanitarian and development fronts and we need to be advertising this more.” Europol, the EU policy agency, also launched another initiative earlier this week which, he says, is designed to help all those involved in the fight against extremism, including law enforcement officers, to better distinguish between online content that may be deemed as illegal and extremist rather than merely “distasteful”. He also points to another initiative, a forum being set up later this year by the European Commission which seeks to involve social media operators and encourage them to more closely monitor online extremism.
De Kerchove said that he also broadly supports efforts by the “Counter Extremism Project”, a U.S-based initiative, to curb the spread of extremism on social media platforms. CEP has fiercely championed the cause since its launch last September and, earlier this week, launched a European project in cooperation with the European Foundation for Democracy which will seek to
lobby support to press social media companies, in particular Twitter, to remove any content that might be deemed as extremist or an incitement to carry out acts of violence such as those witnessed recently in Africa and Europe.
Mark Wallace, a former U.S ambassador to the United Nations who was also on the panel, called for the accounts of anyone found to be spreading "extremist" messages to be closed with immediate effect. However,  Wallace, CEO of the "Counter
Extremism Project”,  says that
Twitter, compared with other social media like Facebook and You Tube, has been particularly slow to deal with such "aggressive" messaging. Wallace said:  “Twitter is currently the ´gateway drug´ for those seeking to recruit fighters for Islamic terrorism and this must be stopped.”
Further contribution came from Dr August Hanning, who as former head of Germany's intelligence service was responsible for internal security in the country, who said that leaders of Muslim communities had a “special responsibility’" to help steer young Muslims from the path of extremism.
He said: “Whenever an atrocity happens they say that such acts have nothing to do with them but this violence is being carried out in the name of Islam so, yes, they have a special responsibility to do
something about it."

coronavirus

EAPM and ESMO bring innovations to health policymakers

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For the eighth year in succession, the European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) has held a high-level conference series alongside the annual ESMO Congress, writes EAPM Executive Director Denis Horgan.

The EAPM conference was opened with the announcement that the following article was published and contributed to by more than 40 experts across the EU on how to bring Greater Accuracy to Europe’s Healthcare Systems: The Unexploited Potential of Biomarker Testing in Oncology.  Please click here to have access.

Sessions include: Session I: Tumor Agnostic, Session II: Biomarkers and Molecular Diagnostics, and Session III: Utilising Real-World Evidence in a health-care setting.  The conference runs from 08.00 – 16.00. Here is the link to the agenda. The conference aims to bring  key recommendations to the EU level, so as to shape the EU Beating Cancer Plan, EU health Data Space, the updating EU Pharmaceutical Strategy as well as the EU Health Union. 

The conference is held following the first State of the Union address by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday (16 September) – in her first annual address, von der Leyen said the coronavirus pandemic had underlined the need for closer cooperation, stressing that people were “still suffering”.

For me, it is crystal clear – we need to build a stronger European Health Union,” she said. “And we need to strengthen our crisis preparedness and management of cross-border health threats.” Von der Leyen said her commission would try to reinforce the European Medicines Agency and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

And she also raised the importance of the European Beating Cancer Plan as well as European Health Data Space. “This will show Europeans that our Union is there to protect all,” she said.

Fabrice Barlesi, medical director of Gustave Roussy, said: “RCTs are no longer the way to go. A way ahead could be EU support for trialing a new drug and delivering data to a centralised registry, which could give good consolidated data from across Europe.”

Divided into three sessions, the EAPM conference at the ESMO Congress, as mentioned,  dealt with such diverse issues as tumour agnostics, biomarkers and molecular diagnostics and real-world evidence in a health-care setting. Concerning cancer, specifically tumours, the congress stated that  tissue-agnostic cancer drugs are antineoplastic medicines that treat cancers based on the mutations that they display, instead of the tissue type in which they appear.

These drugs include, for example, Entrectinib, Pembrolizumab and Larotrectinib. Former Spanish health minister and MEP Dolors Moseratt highlighted her support for the work of EAPM and looks forward to getting the recommendations of the outcomes from the conference.  “The European added value of health is obvious. It would avoid duplication and enable a better allocation of resources. And it will minimize the risk of fragmented access to therapy across member states.”

And the EAPM conference is at pains to seek the best ways forward for the implementation of Real-World Evidence (RWE) into health care in Europe – looking to find consensus with key decision makers, including at member state level, not least with representatives in the European Parliament, on how to proceed in this area. RWE for health care is a simple concept – harnessing various health data in real time to help make faster and better medical decisions.

Real-World Evidence is an umbrella term for different types of health-care data that are not collected in conventional randomised controlled trials, including patient data, data from clinicians, hospital data, data from payers and social data.

Rosa Giuliani, consultant in medical oncology at the Clatterbridge Cancer Center, said: “Key elements to advance the use of TACs is to conduct dialogue that transcends silos, and to explore re-engineering of the development pathway.” And, as far as biomarkers and molecular diagnostics are concerned, a lot has been said about testing, and often the lack of it, in terms of the COVID-19 outbreak, with different countries adopting different strategies and, also, having different resources when it comes to acquiring necessary kits.

The key focus in the ESMO session was on better and more equitable access to biomarkers and molecular diagnostics across Europe.  This is a must, but, as the attendees acknowledged, we’re a long way short of it. Access to personalised medicine and new diagnostic technologies can help resolve many inefficiencies, such as trial-and-error dosing, the potential for increased hospitalisation time due to adverse drug reactions and the problem of late diagnoses. It may also enhance the effectiveness of therapies through better tailored treatment administration.

In conclusion for the morning session, Giuseppe Curigliano, associate professor of Medical Oncology at the University of Milano, and head of the division of Early Drug Development, at the European Institute of Oncology said: “A real challenge to overcome is the different endpoints between investigators and payers. Policy frameworks and co-operation is essential.” The session in the afternoon will focus on utilizing real-world evidence in a health-care setting.

A report will be available next week. 

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Brexit

EU's Barnier still hopes trade deal with Britain possible, sources say

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The European Union’s Brexit negotiator told the bloc’s 27 national envoys to Brussels that he still hoped a trade deal with Britain was possible, stressing that the coming days would be decisive, diplomatic sources with the bloc told Reuters, write and

Michel Barnier addressed the gathering on Wednesday (16 September) and the three sources either participated in the discussion behind closed doors or were briefed on its content.

“Barnier still believes a deal is possible though the next days are key,” said one of the EU diplomatic sources.

A second diplomat, asked what Barnier said on Wednesday and whether there was still a chance for a new agreement with the UK, said: “The hope is still there.”

The first source said tentative concessions offered by the UK on fisheries - a key point of discord that has so far prevented agreement on a new EU-UK trade deal to kick in from 2021 - were “a glimmer of hope”.

Reuters reported exclusively on Tuesday (15 September) that Britain has moved to break the deadlock despite that fact that publicly London has been threatening to breach the terms of its earlier divorce deal with the bloc.

A third source, a senior EU diplomat, confirmed the UK offer but stressed it was not going far enough for the bloc to accept.

Brexit talks descended into fresh turmoil this month over Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plans to pass new domestic laws that would undercut London’s earlier EU divorce deal, which is also aimed at protecting peace on the island of Ireland.

US Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden warned Britain that it must honour the Northern Irish peace deal as it extracts itself from the EU or there would be no US trade deal for the United Kingdom.

The third EU source, who spoke under condition of anonymity, said that the bloc would take a more rigid line in demanding a solid dispute settlement mechanism in any new UK trade deal should Johnson press ahead with the Internal Market Bill.

“There is unease about what Britain is doing but Barnier has stressed he will keep negotiating until his last breath,” said a fourth EU diplomat, highlighting the bloc’s wariness about being assigned blame should the troubled process eventually fail.

Asked about an estimate by Societe Generale bank, which put at 80% the probability of the most damaging economic split at the end of the year without a new deal to carry forward trade and business ties between the EU and the UK, the person said:

“I would put it around the same mark.”

Barnier is due to meet his UK counterpart, David Frost, around 1400 GMT in Brussels on Thursday.

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Brexit

Biden warns UK on #Brexit - No trade deal unless you respect Northern Irish peace deal

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US Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden warned the United Kingdom that it must honour the Northern Irish peace deal as it extracts itself from the European Union or there would be no US trade deal, write and

“We can’t allow the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit,” Biden said in a tweet.

“Any trade deal between the US and UK must be contingent upon respect for the Agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period.”

Johnson unveiled legislation that would break parts of the Brexit divorce treaty relating to Northern Ireland, blaming the EU for putting a revolver on the table in trade talks and trying to divide up the United Kingdom.

He says the United Kingdom has to have the ability to break parts of the 2020 Brexit treaty he signed to uphold London’s commitments under the 1998 peace deal which ended three decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland between pro-British Protestant unionists and Irish Catholic nationalists.

The EU says any breach of the Brexit treaty could sink trade talks, propel the United Kingdom towards a messy exit when it finally leaves informal membership at the end of the year and thus complicate the border between Northern Ireland and EU-member Ireland.

The EU’s Brexit negotiator told the bloc’s 27 national envoys that he still hoped a trade deal with Britain was possible, stressing that the coming days would be decisive, three diplomatic sources told Reuters.

Michel Barnier addressed the gathering on Wednesday and the three sources either participated in the discussion behind closed doors or were briefed on its content.

“Barnier still believes a deal is possible though the next days are key,” said one of the EU diplomatic sources.

Johnson told The Sun that the EU was being “abusive” to Britain and risking four decades of partnership.

He said the UK must “ring-fence” the Brexit deal “to put in watertight bulkheads that will stop friends and partners making abusive or extreme interpretations of the provisions.”

Societe Generale analysts said on Thursday they now see an 80% chance that Britain and the EU will fail to strike a trade deal before the end of the year.

Biden, who has talked about the importance of his Irish heritage, retweeted a letter from Eliot Engel, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the US House of Representatives, to Johnson calling on the British leader to honour the 1998 Good Friday peace deal.

Engel urged Johnson to “abandon any and all legally questionable and unfair efforts to flout the Northern Ireland protocol of the Withdrawal Agreement.”

He called on Johnson to “ensure that Brexit negotiations do not undermine the decades of progress to bring peace to Northern Ireland and future options for the bilateral relationship between our two countries.”

Engel said Congress would not support a free trade agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom if Britain failed to uphold its commitments with Northern Ireland.

The letter was signed by Representatives Richard Neal, William Keating and Peter King.

Johnson is pushing ahead with his plan.

His government reached a deal on Wednesday (16 September) to avert a rebellion in his own party, giving parliament a say over the use of post-Brexit powers within its proposed Internal Market Bill that breaks international law.

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