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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."

Brexit

Ex-EU Brexit negotiator Barnier: UK reputation at stake in Brexit row

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Head of the Task Force for Relations with the UK, Michel Barnier attendsthe debate on EU-UK trade and cooperation agreement during the second day of a plenary session at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium April 27, 2021. Olivier Hoslet/Pool via REUTERS

Michel Barnier, the European Union's former Brexit negotiator, said on Monday (14 June) that the reputation of the United Kingdom was at stake regarding tensions over Brexit.

EU politicians have accused British Prime Minister Boris Johnson of not respecting engagements made regarding Brexit. Growing tensions between Britain and the EU threatened to overshadow the Group of Seven summit on Sunday, with London accusing France of "offensive" remarks that Northern Ireland was not part of the UK. Read more

"The United Kingdom needs to pay attention to its reputation," Barnier told France Info radio. "I want Mr Johnson to respect his signature," he added.

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coronavirus

Parliament president calls for a European Search and Rescue Mission

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European Parliament President David Sassoli (pictured) has opened a high-level interparliamentary conference on managing migration and asylum in Europe. The conference focused particularly on the external aspects of migration. The president said: “We have chosen to discuss today the external dimension of migration and asylum policies because we know that only by tackling the instability, crises, poverty, human rights violations that occur beyond our borders, will we be able to address the root causes that push millions of people to leave. We need to manage this global phenomenon in a human way, to welcome the people that knock on our doors every day with dignity and respect.
 
“The COVID-19 pandemic is having a profound impact on migration patterns locally and worldwide and has had a multiplier effect on the forced movement of people around the world, especially where access to treatment and healthcare is not guaranteed. The pandemic has disrupted migration pathways, blocked immigration, destroyed jobs and income, reduced remittances, and pushed millions of migrants and vulnerable populations into poverty.
 
“Migration and asylum are already an integral part of the external action of the European Union. But they must become part of a stronger and more cohesive foreign policy  in the future.
 
“I believe it is our duty first of all to save lives. It is no longer acceptable to leave this responsibility only to NGOs, which perform a substitute function in the Mediterranean. We must go back to thinking about joint action by the European Union in the Mediterranean that saves lives and tackles traffickers. We need a European search and rescue mechanism at sea, which uses the expertise of all actors involved, from Member States to civil society to European agencies.
 
“Second, we must ensure that people in need of protection can arrive in the European Union safely and without risking their lives. We need humanitarian channels to be defined together with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. We must work together on a European resettlement system based on common responsibility. We are talking about people who can also make an important contribution to the recovery of our societies affected by the pandemic and demographic decline, thanks to their work and their skills.
 
“We also need to put in place a European migration reception policy. Together we shoulddefine the criteria for a single entry and residence permit, assessing the needs of our labor markets at a national level. During the pandemic, entire economic sectors came to a halt due to the absence of immigrant workers. We need regulated immigration for the recovery of our societies and for the maintenance of our social protection systems.”

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EU

Commissioners Schmit and Dalli to participate in meeting of employment and social affairs ministers

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Jobs and Social Rights Commissioner Nicolas Schmit and Equality Commissioner Helena Dalli (pictured) will participate in the meeting of employment and social policy ministers today (14 June) in Luxembourg. The ministers will discuss a broad range of issues, including the follow up to the Social Summit in Porto and next steps to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights. In particular, ministers are expected to exchange views on setting national employment and social targets and monitoring progress within the European Semester process. The Council is expected to adopt conclusions on the Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2021-2030. The Strategy is a joint tool to improve the lives of persons with disabilities, covering all aspect of the UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. The Council is also expected to adopt a Recommendation establishing a European Child Guarantee, which aims to tackle child poverty and social exclusion. It recommends concrete actions to Member States to guarantee access to a set of key services for children in need and to promote equal opportunities. Ministers will also discuss the progress of the Commission proposal for adequate minimum wages in the EU.

Further items on the agenda include economic and social policy coordination, long-term care, pension adequacy, teleworking, social dialogue, health and safety at work, and social security coordination. The Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the EU will also highlight the upcoming High-Level Conference on 21 June in Lisbon to launch the European Platform on Combatting Homelessness. Commissioner Dalli will join the meeting to report to Ministers about the celebrations of the European Diversity Month in May and the way forward regarding the LGBTIQ Equality Strategy. Other points of discussion will be the Directive on binding pay transparency measures and the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 on gender equality. Both the morning and the afternoon sessions will be livestreamed on the Council website. The meeting will be followed by a press conference with Commissioners Schmit and Dalli, which will be broadcast on EbS.

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