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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}


Useful Idiots: Why The Violent Extremists Welcome Attacks On Islam

Whenever an act of horrific terror enrages the West, a predictable second act ensues. Furious commentators and activists on the right erupt with blanket denunciations of Islam, Muslims, and their supposed plots to enslave us all under Shari’a law, urging that we ban the religion, stigmatize its faithful, and restore the Judeo-Christian exclusivity of America. Sometimes a few even seek retribution in attacks on mosques, individual Muslims, and anyone unfortunate enough to “look Muslim.”

Violent or merely loud , these are the “useful idiots,” whose divisive blundering underscores the propaganda of al Qaeda, ISIS, and imitators around the world. They represent precisely the opposite of what we must do and say if we are to defeat Islamist extremism in all its manifestations.

Look behind the delusional murderers who actually carry out such crimes as the massacres at Charlie Hebdo and the Paris kosher market: What is the strategic objective of those who deploy them? Not a military victory over the French army, nor even an atmosphere of fear in Paris. They seek to provoke a harsh crackdown on innocent Muslims, especially the young and unemployed, along with expressions of bigotry and discrimination – to highlight the simmering communal conflicts they hope to inflame into a “war of civilizations.”

So the extremists can only be grateful when anti-Muslim propaganda, repeated constantly in right-wing publications and broadcasts, casts them as the defenders of Islam, rather than its defilers. Every time Islam is publicly defined as a religion of violence, the jihadis gain prestige. Their appeals become more persuasive to oppressed young Muslims – especially if no alternative is apparent.

Yet the narrative of endless conflict and implacable distrust is not only untrue – as we saw last week when Parisians of all faiths and none rallied together – but deeply destructive to traditional democratic values and strategically stupid.

Yes, we must protect the right to commit free speech, including speech that is offensive to religions and even to ethnic groups, without fear of violent responses. We must also protect the rights of religious and ethnic minorities — including the right to protest peacefully against offensive speech. That requires swift action against those who will conspire to maim, murder, and terrorize – and the capacity whenever possible to neutralize those criminals before they act.

But Americans will need to do much more than surround ourselves with police, armies, and intelligence services if we ever hope to overcome our extremist enemies. Effective counterterrorism demands a contrasting narrative of coexistence, respect, fairness, and opportunity.

The elements of that political arsenal exist already — in the stories of Ahmed Merabet, the Muslim policeman who died heroically in Paris, and Lassana Bathily, the young Muslim employee who led Jews in the kosher market to safety; in the undeniable fact that the extremists murder hundreds of innocent civilians, overwhelmingly Muslim, every week; and in the secure, prosperous existence that millions of ordinary Muslim families have enjoyed in this country for decades, despite outbursts of prejudice and harassment.

We ought to note with pride that Muslims serve in the U.S. military and every branch of government, including two members of Congress, because the Constitution specifically bans any religious test for public office. (Certain figures on the religious right may need to be reminded too.) Muslims should know that their holy days are routinely celebrated in the White House by presidents of both parties — even as all religions are subject to disbelief, criticism, and even jeering satire in a free society.

The consensus among ordinary Muslims is well known to public opinion pollsters: By large majorities, here and abroad, they fear and disdain the violent extremists who have defamed their religion. Let’s at least stop trying to change their minds.


Paris Terror: What ‘Je Suis Charlie’ Should Mean To Us

Not long after 9/11, leading figures in France’s champagne industry decided that they would hold their 2002 annual awards gala in New York City rather than Paris. At no little expense, they displayed solidarity with New Yorkers, and America, at a time of sorrow and fury – like so many of their compatriots. The first toast of the evening included the words, “We are all New Yorkers.” It was one more instance, symbolic but significant, when the French renewed the bond that has existed since this country’s founding.

And not too long after that, disagreement between the French government and the Bush administration over the invasion of Iraq led to a breach between us and our oldest allies. They tried in vain to save us from a tragic mistake or worse, and were rewarded with vilification from Fox News to the floor of Congress.

By now, of course, we know that the French never disagreed with us about the danger posed by Islamist jihad, only about the means and priorities in combating that adversary. Today the French military is supporting the U.S. and other allies by conducting airstrikes against the so-called Islamic State in Iraq. That continuing alliance requires us all to repeat “Je Suis Charlie” in the aftermath of the atrocious terror attack on the Parisian satire magazine Charlie Hebdo.  Yet while we owe that gesture to our old friends, we still owe them, ourselves, and the world much more.

As an assault on liberty and security, the barbaric shootings that killed the editor of Charlie Hebdo, four cartoonists, a police officer and six more innocents cannot be excused or explained. The victims had every right to do what they were doing and what they had done, regardless of the violent anger they stirred among the perpetrators and their sponsors. It is criminal warfare by an implacable enemy that will not desist until it is destroyed.

To understand what is at stake in this struggle, it is important to look closely what we are defending. There is no equivalent to Charlie Hebdo in the United States, nor is there a tradition of the kind of anti-religious satire that has been among its specialties. Those killed had the kind of cultural stature of Doctor Seuss, Doonesbury’s Garry Trudeau, the editors of Mad magazine or the producers of The Daily Show – except that their style is far more offensive and challenging than most Americans can imagine, not only in insulting Islam but Christianity, Judaism, and every other congregation of believers in France.

Rightists who regard the defense of Charlie Hebdo as merely another opportunity to bash Muslims ought to glance back at the magazine’s equally savage assaults on institutions they hold dear, since its anarchic sense of humor has spared no one. Nobody needs to approve of anything that the editors published, including the mocking cartoons of Muhammad, to reject the use of violence to suppress them.

Indeed, it is possible to reject the content of those drawings and still stand firmly with the Charlie Hebdo staff. In free societies, there will always be writers and artists who use their freedom in ways that the rest of us find obnoxious, ugly, even dangerous. The French imam who denounced the killings clearly and called the victims “martyrs” surely doesn’t care for those cartoons. But he knows the price of living under constitutional freedom that protects his right to worship – and to protest, without violence, words and pictures that offend.

If only the would-be persecutors of Islam in the West adequately comprehended that same principle. And if only they realized that such persecution is exactly what the jihadists desire.

Effective opposition to violent Islamism means neither denying that this grave challenge exists nor demonizing Muslims. It means seeking to make ordinary Muslims, by far the most common victims of Islamist terror, our allies as well. And in the aftermath of the Iraq war, the Senate torture report, and every other mistake and crime since 9/11, supposedly committed to defend liberty, it means restoring and preserving everything decent that distinguishes us from our enemies.

AFP Photo/Marc Braibant

Suicide Bomber Kills 48 High School Students At Nigeria School

By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times

Dozens of schoolboys were killed Monday in a suicide bomb attack on a high school in the town of Potiskum in Nigeria’s Yobe state, Nigerian police confirmed Monday.

Monday’s attack happened at about 8 a.m. as students gathered for school assembly, according to local media.

Dozens were killed and injured, with 48 killed in the attack, carried out by an attacker disguised in a school uniform, according to AP. A police spokesman, Emmanuel Ojukwu, said 47 were dead and 79 injured.

“Many bodies of students are presently on the ground in pools of blood. We are running home now,” an unnamed witness told Nigeria’s Premium Times newspaper.

“We were waiting for the principal to address us, around 7:30 a.m., when we heard a deafening sound and I was blown off my feet, people started screaming and running, I saw blood all over my body,” 17-year-old student Musa Ibrahim Yahaya told AP, speaking in a hospital.

Since 2013, multiple attacks on schools and colleges in Yobe state in Nigeria’s troubled north-east have targeted schoolboys, students and teachers, often killing dozens at a time. The attacks are believed to be the work of the extremist Islamist militia, Boko Haram, which is bitterly opposed to Western-style secular education.

Boko Haram emerged about a decade ago, fighting for an Islamic state, but has stepped up attacks in recent years, killing thousands of Nigerians in the north east. Nigeria’s military, often accused of fleeing attacks or abandoning its posts, has been criticized for failing to halt the insurgency.

In north eastern Nigeria, extremists have also abducted hundreds of women and girls, including 279 abducted from a school in Chibok town earlier this year.

Nigerian authorities have repeatedly claimed progress in the fight against insurgents in the northeast of the country, only to be proven wrong. Boko Haram, or Islamist militia splinter groups have seized control of dozens of towns and villages in neighboring Borno and Adamawa states in recent months.

Last month, Nigerian authorities claimed to have reached a ceasefire deal with Boko Haram, but attacks and abductions have continued. A video purporting to be from the Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau recently repudiated any deal and said the Chibok girls had been married off to fighters. (The authenticity of the video hasn’t been established.)

In June last year, gunmen suspected to be from the extremist Islamist militia, Boko Haram, invaded a government high school in Damaturu, the Yobe state capital, shooting down eight boys and a teacher in the dining room. A month later, gunmen attacked a boys boarding school in Mamudo village, Yobe state, killing 42 people. The victims were shot to death or burned alive in their dormitories.

In September last year, gunmen invaded a dormitory at an agricultural college in the Gujba district of Yobe state, in the early hours of the morning and shot dozens of students in their beds, killing at least 42 students.

In February this year, gunmen attacked a school in Buni Yadi, Yobe state. They sent female students away, before killing 59 boys. The attackers threw petrol bombs into dormitories were students were sleeping, and sprayed the rooms with gunfire. Some students had their throats cut as they tried to flee.

Monday’s attack follows a suicide attack last week in Potiskum on a Shiite religious procession, killing 30 people.

AFP Photo

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In Nigeria, Distrust Hampers The Fight Against Boko Haram

By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times

KANO, Nigeria — When soldiers of Nigeria’s corrupt and incompetent army patrol remote and vulnerable towns in the northeast, boys often watch as they pass, then hurl rocks at them.

Yet early last month, residents of Gamboru Ngala, on the border with Cameroon, cheered the uniformed men on military vehicles who drove into town around lunchtime on market day. It looked as though the army, sent off earlier that day to help rescue more than 200 missing schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram militants, had won a victory worth celebrating.

“People came out shouting and cheering and hailing them,” said Abba Adam, 42, a market trader. But the cheers soon died out. The uniforms weren’t quite right: baggy trousers here, a caftan there, a couple of turbans.

“That was when we realized that they weren’t soldiers,” said Ali Malallam, 32, a cellphone repairman who had just finished midday prayers.

The carnage was staggering. By the next morning, authorities had counted 315 bodies, many of the victims shot to death in the market, and 17 police officers killed at their headquarters. The officers were shot with AK-47s fired from SUVs, motorcycles and three armored personnel carriers. Just before they opened fire, the Islamic militants unfurled a black flag and yelled, “God is great!”

Now many in the Muslim northeast, already largely supportive of the opposition to President Goodluck Jonathan, wonder whether the army has been conspiring with Boko Haram to breed instability and commit genocide.

The local reaction reflects a legacy of distrust that helps explain why it has been so difficult for Nigeria to battle the insurgents. The country struggles with long-standing animosity between the north, which is largely Muslim, and the Christian-dominated south. Its army has a reputation for brutality, neglect and failure. Those problems hamper the type of close cooperation between the military and civilian population that is essential to a successful counterinsurgency.

The conspiracy theories run rife in northeastern Nigeria, no matter how wild. Rightly or wrongly, many see the military’s refusal to intervene after warnings of impending attack or during assaults as suspicious. Why, they ask, have there been so many attacks on villages just hours or a day after the military left?

Meanwhile, the president’s supporters, including prominent politicians in the south, are airing similar conspiracy theories, accusing northern governors opposed to Jonathan of funneling support to Boko Haram to make the country ungovernable for him in the run-up to elections next year. Such political, regional and sectarian strains unleashed by the Boko Haram insurgency are ripping at Nigeria’s frayed seams, threatening to pull the fragile country apart.

This month, Nigerian news reports said that 10 generals and 15 senior officers had been convicted of treason for giving information and ammunition to Boko Haram, although military headquarters denied the reports.

Gamboru Ngala is a major trading hub with a population of about 240,000. The attack there took place on a day when hundreds of traders were in town, some from nearby Cameroon and Chad.

Boko Haram’s latest tactic is to invade towns, pretending to be members of the military, order village men to gather in a central location, and then open fire.

“They invaded the town, burning and shooting and setting off bombs,” Adam, the trader, said by phone. “There was panic and everyone was running for safety.

“After the shots, we heard huge explosions of RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) and heavy machine guns. We were petrified. If they saw someone running into a house to try to escape, they’d shoot them and burn the house.”

Attacks apparently carried out by Boko Haram insurgents disguised as soldiers are increasingly common in Nigeria, with invasions of three northern villages, according to news reports. The gunmen are said to have invaded Danjara, Agapalwa and Antagara, gathering residents in the center of town and then opening fire, killing 200 people.

In Gamboru Ngala, the gunmen blasted the market shops with heavy weaponry and set them on fire, incinerating dozens of people inside, witnesses said.

“We just ran to the back of the market and started running home,” said Malallam, the cellphone repairman. “When we got to the police station, we saw these guys with APCs (armored personnel carriers) and heavy weapons. We just turned back because they were shooting.

“From there we were just playing cat and mouse. We’d run into an alley; then you’d see two of them coming and you’d have to run the other way. We ran in and out of alleys until we managed to get out and across the border into Cameroon,” he said.

Many people fled to the town of Fotokol, just across the border in Cameroon. But Malallam’s wife, Fatima, was trapped. She had been delivering party invitations, leaving her four children, ages 1 to 7, at home.

“She ran towards home to get to our children, but she ran into these people on APCs. They were setting fire to cars and shops and at one explosion, she passed out from the heat. Luckily a woman dragged her into a nearby house,” her husband said.

In the middle of the rampage, the gunmen laid out prayer mats and prayed. At the same time, a military jet arrived and started circling.

“We were cheering. We thought it would bomb them,” Adam said. “But the jet just circled for a long time and flew away, to our amazement.”

Adam said he crept back into town in the evening, after the five-hour attack ended.

“The whole town was all smoke. All I could see was burning houses. I groped my way home,” he said. He found his family, terrified but safe.

“Now people no longer trust the military,” Malallam said.

U.S. officials have long accused Nigeria’s military of being afraid to engage. Analysts in Abuja, the capital, describe corrupt officials who siphon millions of dollars of aid meant to fight terrorism, leaving foot soldiers ill-equipped, poorly trained and frightened.

Intense violence at election time is common, and both sides see at least part of the current violence as election-related.

In the northeast, Nigeria’s poorest region, the conspiracy theorists question how gunmen managed to get hold of military uniforms and armed personnel carriers, and how they travel freely at night when there’s a curfew and massive military deployment.

One governor in the region, Murtala Nyako, wrote a letter to other northern governors accusing the government of using the army to commit genocide against northerners, and claimed Boko Haram was a “phantom” that didn’t really exist. The attacks were a calamity induced by the government, he said.

“The common perception is that the federal government and Goodluck Jonathan are the ones perpetrating all the attacks in connivance with the military, to cripple the economy of the northeast,” Malallam said.

“More than 99 percent of the people in (Gamboru Ngala) believe that it was all a plot,” said Adam, “that Boko Haram and the military staged this to destroy the town. The feeling is this is all part of a grand design against the northeast.”

Northerners see a plot to maximize Jonathan’s support by creating so much instability that opposition backers will be afraid to vote next year.

In the wake of the Gamboru Ngala attack, furious residents called on the military to leave. When a truck tire burst recently, people panicked and fled, even police, Malallam said.

“Initially, people were being killed in ones and twos. Now they’re being killed in the hundreds,” he said. “It’s infuriating that people are being killed like chickens and the government doesn’t seem to care.”

Southerners have their own theories.

Last month, a prominent southern governing party figure, Salvador Adegoke Moshood, told the Vanguard newspaper that northern governors were financing Boko Haram to destabilize the north and oust Jonathan.

In April, Edwin Clark, chief of the Ijaw ethnic group and reportedly part of Jonathan’s inner circle, called on the president to sack the northeastern governors, suspend democracy and impose military rule there.

AFP Photo