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EU-certified Imams: limits and risks of a rushed proposal

by Andrea Molle

Following the recent attacks in Nice and Vienna, Macron meets with Austria, Holland, Germany, and the EU leaders to promote a series of joint initiatives to prevent terrorist threats, reform the Schengen agreements, and strengthen the European Union’s external borders. At the meeting, an old French obsession stands out: implementing a state-run system to train and certify Imams, perhaps even at a European level, as re-launched a few days ago by the President of the European Council Charles Michel. According to the French proposal, which is gaining momentum throughout the European institutions thanks to Macron’s undeniable charisma, the risk of foreign interference and the infiltration of radicalized individuals in the continent would be reduced. It is a typically French approach to regulation, which is applied with success in various social domains in the Hexagon: ranging from professional to sports federations and training schools. Nevertheless, extending this principle to religion is a step into uncharted and dangerous territory. Internal training tied to state certification of religious leaders is a very thorny issue. While it may seem a good idea at first glance, there are several reasons to believe this solution to be far more dangerous than the problem it sets out to solve. On the one hand, it is undoubtedly true that religious communities want to develop bottom-up curricula and training options independent from foreign countries’ hierarchies and economic supports or institutions. However, on the other hand, it is highly likely that a dominant role of the secular state, which will also become the only source of legitimacy, will be perceived as another attempt to interfere in the life of those same communities thereby increasing the vulnerability of the Muslim communities. In fact, scientific evidence suggests that radicalization is a byproduct of marginalization and increased state control. That would be especially true if, as expected, the system is not to be extended to all religions, including Christianity. Moreover, this move is somewhat hypocritical because it will come from the same governments that condemn state interference in religion when enacted by Russia or China, making it likely to ripple foreign policy effects. Bottom line: such interference would likely end up increasing the risk of radicalization.

while it may seem a good idea, there are reasons to believe this solution to be far more dangerous than the problem it sets out to solve

A state-run system would also clash with two other major dynamics known by researchers who study religious radicalization. First, assuming that centralization automatically decreases the risk of radicalization is pure wishful thinking. Like many French Muslim community leaders suggest, a system for “State Imams” would not benefit from the Muslim world’s theological legitimation. Secondly, such a system would not lead to the demise of groups not recognized by the government and perhaps sponsored by hostile foreign countries. Instead, it is quite possible that they would end up restructuring as underground groups, therefore more susceptible to infiltration and challenging to monitor. It is likely that their religious leaders, considered more legitimate than the state one, will gain even more power to persuade followers to embrace radicalization.

a system for “State Imams” would not benefit from the Muslim world’s theological legitimation

To double down on the limitations and risks mentioned above, it should be added that the prejudicial assumption that unchecked Mosques are inherently settings of radicalization is just a myth. It is a stereotype that rests on a French conception of religion as an irrational experience by design intrinsically prone to violence. It is a politically prevalent idea that is by no means supported by scientific evidence. Instead, relevant scientific literature suggests that worship places are a healthy response to the crisis experienced by the second and third generations of non-European immigrants. The literature also shows how these places have become liable over time to radicalization. It is suggested that it has happened because they have been repeatedly ignored, if not openly antagonized, by Western governments. In short, it would seem that the French laïcité, a form of orthodox quasi-religious (sic!) separation between State and Church, is a contributing factor to radicalization rather than a solution to it. This point is spearheaded by Chems-Eddine Hafiz, Rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris, who insists on how the fundamental issue at play is the lack of support for the Imams. Their lack of professionalization and access to financial resources produces the need to access foreign financial support and training that is likely to come with several strings attached.

it’d seem that the French laïcité, a form of orthodox separation between State and Church, is a contributing factor rather than a solution to radicalisation

A recent bill, sponsored by the French President, seemed to relax the orthodox approach to secularism and go in the right direction of integrating Islam and other minority religions within a new framework of acceptance of religion’s public and educational dimension. Today’s proposal of a state monopoly is a radical U-turn that would take us back of at least a decade of research and policy aimed to fight radicalization. In our opinion, a better science-based solution should be the one of deregulating religion and, therefore, increase the chances for independent moderate groups to access the French “religious market.” A healthy competition, lightly regulated by the state, would almost certainly favor the less extremist and violent experiences. Unfortunately, it seems that Macron and his fellow Heads of State have fallen for an old trick of terrorism: to provoke an excessive and untidy reaction guided by the logic of internal politics and to put one EU member state against the others. While France is prepared to nationalize religion, Austria goes even deeper into the rabbit hole by outlawing political Islam at once. Germany seems to go in a different direction altogether, and the southern states, the border states, are ignored or threatened to be excluded from Schengen. On top of that, the European Union’s Interior Ministers’ recent meeting speaks of different issues and heralds a new squeeze on online controls and propaganda. They all seem to ignore how challenging it is to define and operationalize such concepts as much as they ignore that they are doing precisely what terrorists expect them to do. That is why we believe the real winner at Macron’s meeting is Islamic radicalism, and we fear that the new course Europe has set itself on will end up breaking it up and benefiting only radicalism by increasing its recruitment pool.


The Turkish strategy in Libya: political advantage through Security Force Assistance

Libya: consequences of the Libya-Turkey joint military collaboration

by Claudio Bertolotti

On 15th September, the UN Security Council tasked Secretary-General Antonio Guterres with appointing a special envoy to broker peace in Libya. Meanwhile, Russia and China abstained from voting on the resolution which would also extend the UN mission in the country.

The following day (16th September) the Prime Minister of Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA), Fayez al-Sarraj, announced his intention to step down, prompting a flurry of speculations about his reasons for doing so. Many believe that Sarraj’s decision was brought about by strong international pressure – particularly by the US – with the intent of appeasing international parties disturbed by the agreements he signed with Turkey, specifically the maritime border demarcation agreement (exclusive economic zone – EEZ) which angered Europeans in general, and France and Greece in particular. Following the agreement and with Turkey’s help, the internationally-recognized premier, whose government controls only parts of western Libya, was able to quash last June a year-long offensive on the capital by eastern commander Khalifa Haftar.

This is a political evolution with serious strategic consequences, despite the fact that up to now, Libya remains divided into two main fronts (Tripoli on the one hand, Tobruk on the other), where multiple actors are pursuing their differing agendas. Ankara’s relations with Tripoli could be seriously affected by the above-mentioned resignation, should it ever materialize, as Turkish and Qatari Defense Ministers signed a deal on 17th August, aimed at providing assistance in restructuring the military in the country. The Government of National Accord of Libya (GNA) and Turkey already started implementing a series of programs to reconstruct the military in the war-torn country: the news was announced by Defense Minister Salah Eddine al-Namrush on 20th September.

The programs, which officially aim to establish a military force in line with international standards, include the restructuring of the armed forces, air defenses, counter-terrorism units, special operations’ units and the navy. Turkish military advisers are expected to provide training and logistical assistance in cooperation with Qatar, in order to re-establish a regular army in Libya.

Turkish military will provide assistance in restructuring the irregular and informal cluster of militias which now constitutes the Libyan Army, turning it into a regular army based on the model used for training the Azerbaijani Army

According to “Daily Sabah” (20th  September, 2020) the Turkish military will provide assistance during a transition phase which is expected to lead -through a disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) process- to the transformation of the irregular and informal cluster of militias which is now the Libyan Army, into a regular army based on the model that was used when Turkish forces provided training and assistance to their Azerbaijani counterparts. Turkish air force pilots also provided training, and the Azerbaijani military received technical equipment support from Turkey. The process launched by Turkey and Qatar in Libya aims at ‘standardizing’ training and recruitment (“Daily Sabah”, 2020).

So on the one hand, Ankara supports the GNA by means of a Security Force Assistance (SFA) mission, formally implemented through bilateral agreements with Tripoli; the mission includes military equipment and weapons’ supply which Ankara send to Tripoli in violation of the UN arms embargo – imposed by the United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) 1970 (2011), 2292 (2016) and 2473 (2019) –; it also exposes the shortcomings of EUNAVFORMED “Irini” mission, which is supposed to prevent weapons’ supply to Libya (Bertolotti, 2020). Turkey’s deployment of military personnel goes hand in hand with the supply of at least 10 types of military equipment consisting of: electronic warfare systems, anti-tank guided missiles, combat drones, self-propelled air defense guns and artillery, surface-to-air missile systems, frigates and fighter ground attack aircraft (Lederer, 2020).

On the other hand, and this represents the most critical aspect, several sources ascertained the presence of Syrian mercenaries sent by Turkey to Libya to fight on the GNA side, consisting in at least 5,000 Syrian fighters, partly belonging to the so-called Syrian “Hamza Division” as well as the extremist “Sultan Murad” group (which is among the Turkish-backed insurgent groups which volunteered to send fighters to Libya); these fighters, who operated with Ankara in Syria’s war, were then sent to help Tripoli-allied militias fight the so-called “Libyan National Army” (LNA) led by the east-based military commander Khalifa Haftar (Magdy, 2020), and were provided with Fnss Acv-15 armoured vehicles, Milkor Mgl grenade-launchers, and US Bgm-71 Tow anti-tank missiles. This presence is likely to decrease security and generate a strong and adverse reaction from the Libyan population. The GNA is probably aware of that and it therefore facilitated the relocation of  these jihadi Syrian mercenaries to Azerbaijan, where hostilities against Armenia are on the increase, as well as Turkey’s ambitions.

Focussing on the opposite front, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Russia military support to the LNA is all but marginal.

The UAE deployed military personnel and supplied at least five types of military equipment to Libya, including armored personnel carriers, patrol vehicles and a French Dassault Mirage 2000-9 jet fighter (Lederer, 2020).

Russia transferred at least two types of military equipment into Libya, namely a Mig-29A fighter jet operating from the al-Jufra airbase and a Sukhoi SU-24 supersonic attack aircraft operating from both al-Jufra and al-Khadim airbases, as well as “a main battle tank upgrade” for an unidentified Russian private military company (Lederer, 2020); as the Russian government does not officially acknowledge the mercenaries’ existence, it can deny or play down any Russian casualties while maintaining a military presence in the country. The Wagner group is thought to have transferred “armed private military operatives and military equipment into Libya” to support Haftar’s military operations, including two armored personnel carriers. Wagner military operatives also took part in the withdrawal of Haftar’s forces from Bani Walid on 27th May and on 1st July; Wagner’s operatives were reported to be based at five airbases – al-Jufra, Brak, Ghardabiya, Sabha and Wadden – and at the Sharara oil facility, the country’s largest (Lederer, 2020). Wagner’s involvement in Libya consists in the deployment of 800 to 1,000 personnel since October 2018 and in providing technical support for repair of military vehicles and participation in combat operations (BBC, 2020). Its members have been active as artillery and air observers, as well as in “providing electronic countermeasures expertise and deploying as sniper teams”. The personnel were mainly Russian, but there were also nationals of Belarus, Moldova, Serbia and Ukraine (Lederer, 2020; BBC, 2020).

The 10 other companies accused of violating the arms embargo by providing logistical support to Haftar’s forces include airlines from Kazakhstan, Syria, Ukraine and Tajikistan and two UAE companies (Lederer, 2020).

The resupply of both sides by air was extensive, with flights from the UAE to western Egypt and eastern Libya, and from Russia via Syria to eastern Libya to reinforce the LNA – and from Turkey to western Libya to reinforce the GNA (Lederer, 2020). As for shipments by sea, five vessels destined for government ports flying flags of Albania, Lebanon, Tanzania and Panama were in “non-compliance” with the arms embargo, along with two, destined for Haftar’s eastern ports. One vessel flying a Liberian flag has a UAE owner and the other, flying a Bahamas flag, has a Japanese owner (Lederer, 2020).


Society and technology – Take part in the international survey by DEFTECH / armasuisse

WHAT BOUNDARIES WOULD YOU SET TO THE USE OF TECHNOLOGIES BOTH IN A CIVILIAN AND MILITARY CONTEXT? WHICH APPLICATIONS WOULD YOU ACCEPT AND WHICH NOT? 

The Technology Foresight research programme by armasuisse Science + Technology asks for your opinion on the subject. The project’s aim consists in exploring the limits of the social acceptance of technologies.

Our time is characterized by technologies that develop very quickly. These developments allow for applications that were still considered pure science fiction a few years ago. A successful market launch of such products depends largely on their social acceptance. This applies to both the civil and military sectors. (DEFTECH)

CLICK HERE TO PARTICIPATE IN THE INTERNATIONAL SURVEY

You can express your views on a series of topics of your choice and in different languages. Everyone is invited to participate in the survey.

Autonomous Systems
Energy Consumption
Future Weapons
Genom Editing
Human Enhancement
Human-Machine-Teaming
Identity Recognition
Privacy (limits of privacy)
Space Activities

In democratic states, an army cannot avoid considering the social acceptance of technologies and their applications in its planning processes. (DEFTECH)

Results will be made available at a later stage. Thank you!


Main events in Maghreb and Mashreq – August

Algeria

Algeria protest movement marks 6 months Algerians launched an unprecedented protest movement in February, filling the streets of cities across the country and forcing the president out of office. Six months later, the movement is still going strong in the face of unyielding powers. Since Bouteflika stepped down, the movement has pushed for a complete overhaul of the political system. Demonstrators also called for a civil rather than a military state, after security forces tried to disperse the protesters and prevent them from reaching Central Post Square . Algeria opposition party Socialist Forces Front (FFS) calls on Army to draw inspiration from Sudan transition to launch a serious, inclusive, transparent and unconditional dialogue for an effective democratic transition . The high command of the army, weakened under the former leader, has meanwhile gained prominence. For the army chief, Ahmed Gaid Salah, the “fundamental demands” of the movement have been “entirely” satisfied: on August 2, he “categorically” rejected pre-conditions to launching talks with protesters, who have continued to call for his resignation and that of other Bouteflika-era insiders.

Egypt

Egypt seeks opportunities in Libya’s reconstruction. Libya’s reconstruction opens business opportunities for Egyptian construction material producers, especially in the presence of huge surpluses: Libya’s infrastructure, tourism, electricity and communications sectors are especially of interest for Egyptian companies. Projects in the first phase of Libya’s reconstruction are expected to cost approximately $20 billion to implement, the Libyan Trade Chambers Association said. Major Egyptian construction companies are reportedly contacting financing agencies, including the African Development Bank, the World Bank and the European Investment Bank, to bankroll projects in Libya. Competition from Chinese and Turkish companies is another challenge for Egyptian firms, especially with most companies from those counties not having the same financing problems Egyptian companies face .

Israel

August 17 Israeli forces shot dead a group of armed Palestinians along the Gaza Strip’s security fence, hours after three rockets were fired at southern Israel from the restive coastal enclave. Suspected infiltration attempt comes hours after three rockets fired at southern Israel from the Strip, one of which struck a home in Sderot. In a span of 10 days, six armed Palestinian terrorists — many of them current and former Hamas members — got through the security fence surrounding the Gaza Strip before being killed by Israeli troops. In one case on August 1, the gunman opened fire at IDF soldiers, injuring three of them, before he was shot dead. August 17, a group of four heavily armed terrorists, carrying assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and rations, attempted to infiltrate Israeli territory before they were spotted and shot dead by troops on the border. The spring of 2019 saw a dramatic increase in the level of violence along the Gaza border, with near nightly riots and airborne arson attacks, but the violence waned in recent weeks due to a de facto ceasefire agreement between Israel and the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group.

Lebanon

Lebanon sees high chances of offshore discovery, reforms on track-ministe. Lebanon has high chances of making an offshore energy discovery once drilling gets underway from November or December and its second licensing round is receiving lots of interest, the minister of energy and water said. Lebanon hopes an offshore energy discovery would give a big boost to its economy in the coming years. The country is in the eastern Mediterranean region where a number of sub-sea gas fields in Israeli, Cypriot and Egyptian waters have been discovered since 2009. Lebanon awarded its first offshore gas and oil exploration and production agreements in 2018 to a consortium of France’s Total, Italy’s Eni and Russia’s Novatek for two blocks .

Morocco

Spain has sent 750 vehicles, 15 drones, and dozens of radar equipment sets to Morocco to help improve migration control. The collaboration in migration border control between Spain and Morocco has resulted in a “significant decrease in the arrival of migrants to Spain”. Morocco’s efforts to curb irregular migration have received praise over recent months. Morocco’s efforts helped slow irregular migration in Spain.  The month of July ended with a significant decrease irregular migration. 13, 326  irregular migrants arrived in Spain, “almost 9,000 less than in the previous period.” In July security services intercepted 2,362 migrants at sea compared to 7,885 in the same period in 2018. The number of aborted attempts in July represents a 70% decrease. Morocco considers Spain one of its major partners in the fight against irregular migration. According to the European Border and Coastguard Agency Frontex the “number of detections of illegal border crossings on Europe’s main migratory routes rose 4% from the previous month to around 10 500.”

Syria

On August 19 Syrian forces entered the key town of Khan Shaykhunin Idlib province amid heavy fighting with jihadists and their rebel allies. Syrian military forces entered town for the first since they lost control of it in 2014. Earlier, there were reports pro-regime forces were locked in heavy fighting with militants, leaving dozens of combatants dead. Now almost emptied of inhabitants, Khan Shaykhun sheltered almost 100,000 people before the start of the current military escalation, the majority displaced from Hama province.
On August 6, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated his warnings that Turkey is poised to launch a military operation against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) east of the Euphrates River in northeastern Syria. The latest note came two days after Erdogan said Ankara had already notified both the United States and Russia of its plans. On August 19, Syrian fighter jets targeted at least one Turkish military convoy that had crossed into Syria, causing a number of casualties .


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