‘The best way to fight the demagogues in Europe who are currently profiting from the chaos in the Aegean is not to indulge their disregard for international law, but to offer sustainable, principled solutions.
As European Union ministers in Brussels on Friday accepted a controversial plan described as a direct assault on the “very principle of international protection for those fleeing war and persecution,” advocates for refugees and human rights condemned not only the deal’s specifics but the deplorable deterioration of values it represents.
“The deal with Turkey has been approved,” tweeted Bohuslav Sobotka, the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, from inside the meeting of 28 European leaders. “All illegal migrants who reach Greece from Turkey starting on 20 March will be returned.” Continue reading →
Refugees at Vienna West Railway Station, 2015. Photo: Bwag (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Leaders at the emergency E.U. summit, focused on stemming migration to the European Union, have agreed in principle to a bold exchange plan. The proposals state that all new irregular migrants (those without correct documentation) crossing from Turkey to Greece will be returned to Turkey with the E.U. meeting the costs. In exchange for each person re-admitted by Turkey from the Greek islands, a Syrian from Turkey will be admitted to the E.U. Member States.
Nearly 6o million people are currently fleeing conflict and persecution around the world in the biggest refugee crisis since World War II. Over a million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe in 2015, and according to International Organization for Migration (IOM), total arrivals in Greece and Italy have already reached an estimated 141,141 in 2016. Despite newly deployed NATO vessels designed to thwart people smugglers, migrants and refugees continue to arrive daily on the Greek islands from Turkey — which are already host to some 3 million Syrian refugees. Continue reading →
Every four years, we vote for who we feel would be the best person to lead our country. Two months after the election, the new (or returning, if re-elected) president takes the oath of office:
“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
Donald Trump is the leading candidate for one of the two major parties, so we wondered how Donald would “preserve, protect and defend” the Constitution. We didn’t have to look to far to find troubling inconsistencies.
Then, we have his statements about Muslims. He wants to ban all Muslims entering the United States. While this is on shaky legal ground, it could be legal, provided he doesn’t include Muslims who live in the US re-entering the country. However, his other proposals definitely aren’t. He proposed requiring all Muslims in the country to register with the government, and creating a database from that information. By singling out a specific religion being required to register, this is definitely against the 1st Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause. He also proposes putting mosques under surveillance; a violation of both the 1st and 4th Amendments.
Last week, he said that if he was elected president, he’d toughen the libel laws. This would be another direct assault on the 1st Amendment and freedom of the press, as the way the law sits now, public figures must prove that any defamatory statements were made with “actual malice,” Under Trump’s proposal, basically any negative statement about him could be challenged in the courts by his administration.
There’s also pesky details that he overlooks. When he says that he’s unilaterally going to renegotiate the Iran deal or NAFTA, he overlooks the fact that while he can renegotiate or threaten to break agreements all he wants, he’ll still need congressional approval to do so. In fact, with most of Trump’s proposals, he fails to recognize that he’s only one of the three branches of government, and that what he says he’s going to do can’t be done without at least one of the other branches’ approval. And, make no mistake about it, a President Trump would face stiff opposition in both Congress and the Supreme Court.
So, would a President Trump remain true to his oath of office? From what we’ve seen so far, we’d have to say no; he’d break his oath numerous times within his first month.
In 2016, more than 300 people have died in the Aegean sea alone, says Doctors Without Borders. (Image: @MSF_Sea/Twitter)
With refugees dying by the hundreds and stranded by the thousands, people across the EU and beyond rallied on Saturday for “safe passage.”
“No more bracelets! No more confiscations! No more borders closed!” organizers said in a call-to-action online. Events big and small were planned for 115 cities in 28 countries.
“These people are running away from death,” the statement continued. “We cannot allow them to die in front of our eyes! We cannot allow them to be held in inhumane camps when they came looking for freedom and safety! We cannot watch our Europe fall apart!” Continue reading →
John Kirby briefs reporters at the Pentagon, 2014. DoD photo by Casper Manlangit [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
State Department spokesperson John Kirby is raising eyebrows after he released a recap of 2015 “success stories” in which he credits the United States for bringing “peace” and “security” to Syria and “stepping up” to help the country’s people at a difficult time.
“The United States and many members of the international community have stepped up to aid the Syrian people during their time of need,” wrote Kirby in his laudatory year-in-review released late last week. He went on to claim that “the United States has led the world in humanitarian aid contributions since the crisis began in 2011.” Continue reading →
Abdullah Kurdi, a Syrian refugee whose son drowned off Turkey this year, recorded a holiday message for Britain’s Channel 4. (Image: Channel 4)
The father of the three-year-old Syrian boy whose lifeless body washed up on a beach in Turkey—the powerful photo of which captured the human tragedy of the refugee crisis—will deliver a Christmas message in which he urges the world to have sympathy for those fleeing the ravages of war.
Abdullah Kurdi, who, in addition to losing three-year-old Alan, also lost his wife, Rehanna and five-year-old son Ghalib when the boat bound for Greece they were on capsized, will deliver the remarks in this year’s alternative Christmas message on the UK’s Channel 4. An excerpt of the message and transcript have already been released. Continue reading →
The discovery that several of the Paris attackers were European nationals has fueled concern about Muslim immigrants becoming radicalized in the West.
Some politicians have expressed views that the best way to avoid homegrown terrorists is to shut the door.
The refugee migration debate turned even more contentious after authorities found a Syrian passport at the scene of the attack. Poland is now turning back refugees, more than half of American governors have vowed to refuse Middle Easterners seeking a new beginning, and US House Speaker Ryan has asked for a “pause” on the federal Syrian refugee program.
Fearful reactions to terrorist violence are nothing new. Incidents of extremist activity are often followed by anti-Islam protests or hate crimes. Reports of ISIS luring Western Muslims abroad are followed by a tightening of homeland security policy. Just after the attacks in Paris, presidential hopeful Donald Trump said that he would be willing to close mosques in the US.
Such displays of intolerance can make Muslims feel like they don’t belong in Europe or the United States.
Our research, forthcoming in Behavioral Science and Policy, and in partnership with the World Organization for Resource Development and Education, shows that making Muslims feel this way can fuel support for radical movements. In other words, many Western policies that aim to prevent terrorism may actually be causing it.
In our research, we asked hundreds of Muslims in Germany and the US to tell us about their experiences as religious and cultural minorities, including their feelings of being excluded or discriminated against on the basis of their religion. We also asked how they balance their heritage identities with their American or German identities. We wanted to know if these kinds of experiences were related to their feelings toward radical groups and causes.
There are a lot of practical and ethical barriers to studying what makes someone become a terrorist.
We normally don’t know who terrorists are until after they’ve committed an attack. By then, we can only rely on after-the-fact explanations as to what motivated them. We can’t perform a controlled laboratory study to see who would participate in an act of terrorism. In surveys, we can’t ask someone straightforwardly how much they would like to join a radical movement, because most people who are becoming radicalized would not answer honestly.
Instead, we measured a couple of indicators of support for radicalism. We asked people how willing they would be to sacrifice themselves for an important cause. We also measured the extent to which participants held a radical interpretation of Islam. For example, we asked whether it’s acceptable to engage in violent jihad. Finally, we asked people to read a description of a hypothetical radical group and tell us how much they liked the group and how much they would want to support it. This hypothetical group consisted of Muslims in the US (or Germany, in the German study) who were upset about how Muslims were treated by society and would stop at nothing to protect Islam.
Overall, support for these indicators of extremism was very low, which is a reminder that the vast majority of Muslims do not hold radical views.
But the responses of some people showed they felt marginalized and identified with neither the culture of their heritage nor the culture of their adopted country.
We described people as “culturally homeless” when they didn’t practice the same customs or share the same values as others in their adopted culture, but also felt different from other people of their heritage.
We found that people who said they were torn between cultures also reported feeling ashamed, meaningless and hopeless. They expressed an overall lack of significance in their lives or a feeling that they don’t really matter. The more people’s sense of self worth was threatened, the more they expressed support for radicalism.
Our findings are consistent with a theory in psychology that terrorists are looking for a way to find meaning in their lives. When people experience a loss to their sense of personal significance – for example, through being humiliated or disrespected – they seek out other outlets for creating meaning.
Extremists know and exploit these vulnerabilities, targeting Muslims whose sense of significance is low or threatened. Radical religious groups give these culturally homeless Muslims a sense of certainty, purpose and structure.
For people who already feel culturally homeless, discrimination by the adopted society can make matters worse. In our data, people who said they had been excluded or discriminated against on the basis of their religion experienced a threat to their self-esteem. The negative effects of discrimination were the most damaging for people who already felt culturally homeless.
Our results suggest that cultivating anti-immigrant or anti-Islamic sentiment is deeply counterproductive. Anti-immigrant discourse is likely to fuel support for extremism, rather than squelch it.
Integration the goal
To decrease the risk of homegrown radicalization, we should work to improve integration of Muslim immigrants, not further isolate them. This means welcoming Syrian refugees, not excluding them. It means redefining what it means to be American or German in a way that is inclusive and doesn’t represent only the majority culture. It means showing interest in and appreciation for other cultural and religious traditions, not fearing them.
According to our data, most Muslims in the United States and in Germany want to blend their two cultures. But it is difficult to do this if either side pressures them to choose.
We should not confuse integration with assimilation.
Integration means encouraging immigrants to call themselves American, German or French and to take pride in their own cultural and religious heritage.
Our data suggest that policies that pressure immigrants to conform to their adopted culture, like France’s ban on religious symbols in public institutions or the “burqa ban,” are likely to backfire, because such policies are disrespectful of their heritage.
In the United States, the pressure to conform comes in the implicit meaning of the “melting pot” metaphor that underlies our cultural ethos. This idea encourages newcomers to shed their cultural uniqueness in the interest of forging a homogeneous national identity. In comparison, the “mixed salad” or “cultural mosaic” metaphors often used in Canada communicate appreciation for cultural differences.
In Germany, immigrants without sufficient German language skills are required to complete an integration course, which is essentially a tutorial on how to be German. Interestingly, we found that the more German Muslim participants perceived that Germans wanted them to assimilate, the less desire they had to do so. We also see these identity struggles in Muslim communities in France, where “being French” and “being Muslim” are thought to be mutually exclusive.
Our findings point to a strategy for reducing homegrown radicalization: encouraging immigrants to participate in both of their cultures plus curbing discrimination against Muslims. This strategy is better for both immigrants’ well-being and adopted cultures’ political stability.
For an example of how this can be done successfully, look to a jihadist rehabilitation program in Aarhus, Denmark, where the police work with the Muslim community to help reintegrate foreign fighters and find ways for them to participate in Danish society without compromising their religious values.
Communities can make it harder for terrorists to recruit by helping the culturally homeless feel more at home.
As the conflict in Turkey spirals out of control, dozens of people have reportedly been killed in Cizre and the army shows no signs of lifting the siege.
Written by Joris Leverink. Published by ROAR on Friday, September 11, 2015.
Photo by Sertaç Kayar, showing HDP-deputy Osman Baydemir scuffling with riot police on the road to Cizre.
Tanks shelling the city center. No-one allowed in or out. Electricity and water have been cut, as well as phone lines and internet access. The people have dug trenches to stop armored vehicles from entering their neighborhoods and have hung sheets in the streets to prevent being seen and shot by snipers.
While the above reads as a report from Kobane, from when the Syrian town was still under attack from the so-called Islamic State (IS), it is in fact a description of the current situation in Cizre, a predominantly Kurdish town in southern Turkey.
Cizre under attack
Since the Turkish government imposed a curfew in Cizre last week, its citizens have been forced to remain indoors, risking being shot by snipers as soon as they step out. The city is under total lock down, which means that for at least a week people have had no access to fresh food or water, medical services, or anything else for that matter. Even the wounded are not allowed to be transported to the hospitals, as a result of which a number of civilians have died from non-lethal injuries due to blood loss and infections, among them a baby of less than two months old.
Due to limited phone and internet access in Cizre news from the besieged town reaches the outside world only piecemeal, meaning that reports of what is going on inside the town are difficult to confirm – a very worrying sign in and of itself.
In order to break the siege – and the silence – the co-leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtaş has been leading a march in an attempt to reach the town on foot. At several instances this march was blocked by the police upon orders of the Minister of Interior Selami Altinok of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) who has argued that the HDP lawmakers are not allowed to enter the town “for their own security.”
While trying to circumvent the police blockades on the roads leading into town by following small trails through the fields and mountains, the HDP co-leader suggested that Cizre was being punished for voting “84 percent for the HDP” during the last elections in June. Demirtaş called Cizre “Turkey’s Kobane”, comparing the plight of the town and the resistance of its citizens to the Syrian Kurdish town when it was under attack from IS.
“In Cizre, 120,000 people have been held hostage by the state for a week,” he added. “They put ice on the corpses to stop them putrefying, because burials are banned.”
One of the most heart-breaking stories spoke of the young girl Cemile Çağırga, who was reportedly shot by the police in front of her house – under what circumstances remains unknown. After succumbing to her injuries her family was unable to transfer her body to the morgue due to the curfew and the threat of being targeted by snipers and artillery. For several days Cemile’s body was kept in a fridge in the family’s home before the young girl could be buried.
Violence spiraling out of control
The siege of Cizre occurs at a time when the recent upsurge in violence in the country’s southeastern Kurdish region appears to be spiraling out of control. An ambush by the Kurdish guerrillas of the PKK on a military convoy left at least 16 soldiers dead – or so the state media reported – followed two days later by another deadly attack on a police van, killing another 11 officers.
In response to these attacks nationalist groups around the country took to the streets en masse. In many cases these marches started as protests to show their indignation and anger, but they quickly turned into lynch-mobs targeting Kurdish neighborhoods, shops and individuals. A nationalist mob marching through a downtown Istanbul neighborhood was heard chanting “We don’t want a [military] operation, we want a massacre!”
Offices of the HDP were a popular target of the masses brandishing Turkish flags, hands held high up in the air making the “sign of the wolf” – a gesture emblematic of an ultra-nationalist organization called the Grey Wolves, which has been accused of countless racist and xenophobic attacks on Armenians, Kurds, Syrians and even Pope John Paul II. After two nights of attacks around 130 of the party’s offices were left destroyed or burned, windows broken and party signs torn down or covered with Turkish flags.
The HDP is perceived by many nationalist Turks as the political wing of the PKK, and as such as a terrorist organization in and of itself. The party’s historical success in the June elections, when it collected an unprecedented 13 percent of the vote and was able to send 80 delegates to the national parliament – the very first time a pro-Kurdish party entered Turkish parliament in the country’s history – angered many nationalists and AKP supporters alike.
Nationalists – represented in parliament by the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) – fretted about seeing what they perceived as “Kurdish terrorists” inside the parliament; and AKP supporters saw their dream of Erdogan being installed as the 21st century Sultan shattered when the party lost its absolute majority.
Both parties have reasons aplenty to be wary of HDP’s success. Another Kurdish victory in the upcoming November elections would seriously curb their aspirations to see their respective dreams of a Turkish utopia come to pass: an ethnically-pure country free of Armenians, Kurds, Greeks and Arabs in the case of the MHP; and a revived sultanate under the “auspicious” leadership of Erdogan in the case of the AKP.
The upsurge of violence in the east should be analyzed in light of the national elections of November. Plunging the country into war immediately after the coalition talks have broken down serves two purposes. First, it attempts to show that without the AKP at the wheel, the country is ‘doomed to disintegrate into chaos and violence’. Second, the escalation of violence is encouraged because of the belief that in times of crises people turn towards a strong leader who promises to restore peace and tranquillity — if only the people would grant him exceptional powers to do so.
A cry for solidarity
And while the party leaders cook up their plans to restore their power, its once again the ordinary people that suffer most; the mother who was shot by a sniper while holding her new-born baby in her arms; the young boy who got bored of sitting indoors days on end and decided to sneak outside for a quick peak, and got shot; the seven children who had to cover their mother’s dead body with bottles of frozen water to stop the body from decomposing because she couldn’t be buried after she was shot to death.
The siege of Cizre continues in a blatant violation of all morals and values that are supposed to determine the actions of a “democratic country.” It is outrageous that Turkey, especially as a NATO-member state, is allowed to target its own citizens, torturing them collectively in the name of ‘securitization’ and ‘fighting terrorism’.
In the case of Kobane the collective outcry of the international solidarity movement made the city’s plight impossible to be ignored. Let’s draw our lessons from this experience and raise our voices in solidarity with the people of Cizre, Silopi, Sirnak, Yüksekova, Sur and all those other towns, neighborhoods and villages that are being punished for demanding freedom, tortured for refusing to give in, arrested for simply being Kurdish and shot on the streets for daring to venture out of their homes.
Cizre is not alone, and it’s about time we’d let the world know.
Joris Leverink is an Istanbul-based freelance journalist, editor for ROAR Magazine and columnist for TeleSUR English.