Glavin: On the death of Samuel Paty – Shouldn’t freedom of religion mean freedom from religion too?

Two articles responding to the reaction in many Muslim countries to French President Macron’s comments following the beheading of Samuel Paty, starting with Terry Glavin’s pointing out the hypocrisy of those who criticize Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate in the West while being silent on Chinese repression and arguably genocidal policies against the Uighurs:

Samuel Paty was a quiet 47-year-old middle-school civics teacher at the Collège du Bois d’Aulne, in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, in the suburbs of Paris. He would walk to and from school from his second-floor apartment in nearby Eragny, where he lived alone with his five-year-old son. After class, he liked to play tennis. By all accounts passionately devoted to teaching, Samuel Paty was otherwise a man of temperate disposition, well-regarded by his students and by his colleagues.

That was just three weeks ago. Now, Paty’s name is coming up in blood-curdling slogans shouted in the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh, and in arguments and imbecilities erupting in Ankara, Riyadh, Islamabad and Tehran. Ambassadors have been summoned. Diplomats have been recalled. Tuesday this week was officially International Religious Freedom Day. If there was anything worth observing about it, it’s that religious freedom must mean freedom from religion, too, or it means nothing at all.

Source: Glavin: On the death of Samuel Paty – Shouldn’t freedom of religion mean freedom from religion too?

More temperate commentary by Konrad Yakabuski along similar lines:

The beheading this month of a middle-school teacher by an 18-year-old Islamic extremist, upset that his victim had shown caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed to his students, was a crime so horrific that it shocked even France’s most-hardened anti-terrorism experts.

In a country permanently on high alert since a wave of terrorist attacks took the lives of hundreds of French civilians in 2015, the gruesome decapitation of teacher Samuel Paty was unanimously condemned by French politicians as an assault on the Republic itself.

“Samuel Paty was killed because the Islamists want our future and because they know that, with heroes like him, they will never have it,” President Emmanuel Macron declared at an Oct. 21 ceremony in honour of the slain teacher held outside the Sorbonne. “We will defend the freedom you taught and raise up secularism. We will not renounce caricatures, or sketches, even if others step back. We will offer all the chances that the Republic owes to its youth without discrimination.”

The caricatures that Mr. Paty had shown his adolescent students, as part of a lesson on freedom of expression, were the same ones that had led to an attack on the offices of the satirical publication Charlie Hebdo in 2015. That attack left 12 people dead and sparked the global “Je suis Charlie” movement in support of free speech. But Mr. Macron’s defence of the freedom of the press earned him nasty epithets throughout the Muslim world and exposed once again the clash in values between France’s secularist majority and its growing Muslim minority.

French police have rounded up dozens of suspected accomplices to the attack on Mr. Paty by a Chechen refugee who had been alerted to the teacher’s actions by French Muslims who denounced it on social media. Mr. Macron and hardline Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin have vowed further crackdowns on imams accused of promoting Islamic “separation” within France.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan led the foreign charge against Mr. Macron with weekend diatribes questioning the French President’s mental health and accusing him of “leading a campaign of hate” against Muslims akin to the pre-Second World War treatment of European Jews. On Monday, Mr. Erdogan joined growing calls for a boycott of French products. Anti-Macron protests erupted in several majority-Muslim countries.

While other Western leaders expressed solidarity with Mr. Macron in the wake of Mr. Paty’s killing, it took Prime Minister Justin Trudeau 10 days to even acknowledge the incident – and only after the Bloc Québécois brought forward a House of Commons motion condemning the attack “on freedom of expression” in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, northeast of Paris.

Questioned by journalists on Tuesday, Mr. Trudeau did condemn Mr. Paty’s killing, but declined to express his solidarity with Mr. Macron. “I’m going to take the opportunity to talk to world leaders, community leaders, leaders of the Muslim community here in Canada, to understand their worries, their concerns, to listen and to work to reduce these tensions,” Mr. Trudeau said.

Unfortunately for Mr. Trudeau, there is no middle ground in this debate. If he does not stand with Mr. Macron to defend freedom of expression, he automatically stands with Mr. Erdogan as an apologist for Muslim extremists. A listening tour will not cut it.

Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne also failed the grade with a Monday tweet in which he expressed “solidarity with our French friends.” He referred to “Turkey’s recent comments” as being “totally unacceptable” but did not rebuke Mr. Erdogan personally. He promised to “defend freedom of expression with respect.”

There is no other way to interpret Mr. Champagne’s tweet except as a repudiation of Mr. Paty and Charlie Hebdo. The caricatures depicting the Prophet Mohammed were anything but respectful. That was their whole point. No religion is off limits to satirists. And thank God for that.

The right to freedom of speech is meaningless if it is subject to conditions such as “respect.” The Constitution protects freedom of speech precisely because speech that is meaningful is often controversial. It is up to the courts to determine what constitutes hate speech under Section 319 of the Criminal Code. But the bar is set mercifully high. Democracy depends on it.

This is the second time in as many weeks that Mr. Trudeau’s government chose to trample on the Charter in the name of political correctness. After a University of Ottawa professor was suspended for using the n-word as part of an educational online lecture, Mr. Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland made banal pronouncements about fighting systemic racism rather than standing up for academic freedom. It was a facile cop-out on their part.

“We will not give in, ever,” Mr. Macron tweeted on Sunday, in French, English and Arabic. “We respect all differences in a spirit of peace. We do not accept hate speech and [we] defend reasonable debate. We will always be on the side of human dignity and universal values.”

Canadians should stand with Mr. Macron, even if their government will not.

Source: Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-canadians-should-stand-with-macron-even-if-trudeau-wont/

A Teacher, His Killer and the Failure of French Integration

Good in-depth background:

They could have easily shared the same classroom — the immigrant teenager and the veteran teacher known for his commitment to instilling the nation’s ideals, in a relationship that had turned waves of newcomers into French citizens.

But Abdoullakh Anzorov, 18, who grew up in France from age 6 and was the product of its public schools, rejected those principles in a horrific crime that shocked and enraged France. Offended by cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad shown in a class on free speech given by the teacher, Samuel Paty, 47, the teenager beheaded him a week ago with a long knife before being gunned down by the police.

France has paid national homage to Mr. Paty because the killing was seen as an attack on the very foundation — the teacher, the public school — of French citizenship. In the anger sweeping the nation, French leaders have promised to redouble their defense of a public educational system that plays an essential role in shaping national identity.

The killing has underscored the increasing challenges to that system as France grows more racially and ethnically diverse. Two or three generations of newcomers have now struggled to integrate into French society, the political establishment agrees.

But the nation, broadly, has balked at the suggestion from critics, many in the Muslim community, that France’s model of integration, including its schools, needs an update or an overhaul.

President Emmanuel Macron’s emphatic defense of the caricatures has also led to ripples overseas. Several Muslim nations, including Kuwait and Qatar, have begun boycotting French goods in protest. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey questioned Mr. Macron’s mental health in a speech, prompting France to recall its ambassador to Turkey.

Mr. Anzorov was the latest product of France’s public schools to turn against their ideals: Two brothers who went to public schools in 2015 attacked Charlie Hebdo, the satirical magazine that published — and republished last month — caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

Jean-Pierre Obin, a former senior national education official, said that public schools played a leading role in “the cultural assimilation and political integration” of immigrant children who “were turned into good little French” and no longer felt “Italian, Spanish, Portuguese or Polish.” Other institutions that also played this role — the Catholic church, unions and political parties — have been weakened, leaving only the schools, he said.

“Today, public schools can’t fully do this,” Mr. Obin said. “But I don’t see another model — especially the Anglo-Saxon model of multiculturalism, which I don’t think is more successful.”

The French model ran into obstacles when the immigrants were no longer European, white or Roman Catholic. Today about 10 percent of France’s population is believed to be Muslim.

The push to assimilate risks engendering a form of xenophobia in the broader population, said Hakim El Karoui, a senior fellow at the Paris-based think tank Institut Montaigne.

“The message is: ‘We don’t want your otherness because we want you to be like us,’” he said.

The children who fail to assimilate — and often end up lost, feeling that they belong to neither France nor their ancestral countries — embody the doubt “that our model is not the right one,” Mr. El Karoui said, a possibility that the French “obviously find unbearable.”

It was in schools that immigrant children learned not only proper French, but also how to politely address teachers as “Madame” or “Monsieur.” They also absorbed notions like secularism in a country where, much like in the United States, ideals form the basis of nationhood.

At least on paper, Mr. Anzorov seemed a good candidate to fit into French society. A Russian of Chechen descent, he arrived in Paris when he was 6 and entered a public primary school. When he was about 10, his family moved to Évreux, a city in an economically depressed area about 55 miles west of Paris and home to about 50 Chechen families, according to Chechens living in the city.

The Chechens largely kept to themselves in Madeleine, a poor neighborhood with other immigrants, who are mostly from former French colonies and whose integration is often complicated by France’s colonial legacy. 

Mr. Anzorov attended a middle school called Collège Pablo Neruda that, hewing to the national curriculum, also offered civics lessons on secularism and freedom of expression. He lived in a rent-subsidized, five-story apartment building with his family, with a direct view of the local jail.

“He always passed in front of my place when going home,” said Ruslan Ibragimov, 49, a Chechen who arrived in Évreux 18 years ago. “He was always alone, with his backpack. Even when he would see me from afar, he’d come over to greet me. He never talked much.”

Never much interested in his studies, Mr. Anzorov was passionate about mixed-martial arts, said a 26-year-old Chechen who also practices the sport. When he was 16 in 2018, Mr. Anzorov lived for a while in Toulouse, where he had an uncle.

There, he joined a sports club that had a Chechen coach and a good reputation among athletes, the 26-year-old said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he said he feared reprisals against Chechens.

“His goal was to fight in the U.F.C.,” the 26-year-old said, referring to the Ultimate Fighting Championship, a top promoter of mixed martial arts.

Located in a public facility, the club was investigated by the local authorities because some members prayed in the locker room and asked women to cover their arms and legs, according to the French news media.

In a country guided by strict secularism, such actions are a violation of French law and regarded as signs of radicalization by the authorities — and they have led to many sports clubs being placed under surveillance.

But it was not known what, if any, influence the club exerted on Mr. Anzorov, who had not been on any terrorism watch list.

Unsuccessful in Toulouse, Mr. Anzorov came back to Évreux. His father, who specialized in setting up security for construction sites and other businesses, was encouraging his son to join him, Mr. Ibragimov said. The father had recently bought his son a car, he added.

“But he couldn’t drive it yet because he still hadn’t gotten his driver’s license,” Mr. Ibragimov said.

It was only in recent months that the teenager had shown signs of radicalization, said the special antiterrorism prosecutor, Jean-François Ricard. Mr. Anzorov’s transformation appeared to have played out online, according to an analysis by the French news website Mediapart of a Twitter account that he created in June and that was deleted last week after his death.

His posts on Twitter attacked a wide range of targets — from Jews to Christians to the rulers of Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Paty was teaching history and civics at a middle school in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, a middle-class Paris suburb, at the time of the attack.

“He is the kind of teacher who leaves his mark, by his gentleness and open-mindedness,” said Maeva Latil, 21, who joined a tribute in front of the Jacques-Prévert middle school, in a small village south of Paris, where Mr. Paty taught between 2011 and 2018.

In history classes, he used contemporary examples — from Pink Floyd songs to a book on racism by a soccer player — to make his teaching resonate with his students, said Aurélie Davoust, 43, a former literature teacher at Jacques-Prévert.

“With him, there was really this aspect: You don’t study history to talk about dead things, you study history to become a citizen,” she said.

Mr. Paty was a strong believer in laïcité, the strict secularism that separates religion from the state in France. Ms. Davoust recalled Mr. Paty once asking a young girl wearing a cross around her neck in school to take it off.

“Our democracy was established against the Catholic Church and the monarchy, and laïcité is the way that democracy was organized in France,” said Dominique Schnapper, a sociologist and president of the Council of the Wise, a group created by the government in 2018 to reinforce laïcité in public schools.

In a class on freedom of expression — including the right to say blasphemous things about all religions — Mr. Paty used caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, Jesus and rabbis to teach, former students said.

After his transfer a few years ago to Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, in a Paris suburb with a more diverse population, he appeared to adjust his approach. When showing caricatures, he began telling students who might be offended that they could leave the classroom or look away.

At the new school, students said he showed mostly caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad that had been published by Charlie Hebdo. One of the two shown this month was titled “A star is born” and depicted Muhammad fully nude. That upset many Muslim students and their parents, according to the local chapter of PEEP, a national parents association.

Mr. Paty said he was surprised by the backlash and apologized to students, said Talia, a 13-year-old student who was present at the lecture.

“He told us that he’s a teacher, that this class is part of his program, that France is a secular country and so is our school,” said Talia, who asked that she be identified by her first name only given the sensitivity of the situation.

One angry father complained about the teacher in videos he uploaded on social media. Enraged, Mr. Anzorov, the Chechen teenager, traveled all the way from Évreux to Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, nearly 60 miles, to kill Mr. Paty.

“Did he never have committed teachers? Or did he have them and he didn’t hear them?” Ms. Schnapper, the president of the Council of the Wise, said of Mr. Anzorov’s years in France’s public schools. “We’ll never know. But it’s a sign of failure.”

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/26/world/europe/france-beheading-teacher.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage

Islamic State: Giant library of group’s online propaganda discovered

Highlights the degree of sophistication and resources:
One of the largest collections of online material belonging to the group calling itself Islamic State has been discovered by researchers at the Institute of Strategic Dialogue (ISD).
The digital library contains more than 90,000 items and has an estimated 10,000 unique visitors a month.
Experts say it provides a way to continually replenish extremist content on the net.
But taking it down is difficult because the data is not stored in one place.
And despite counter-terrorism authorities in Britain and the US having been alerted to this growing repository, it continues to grow.

‘Better terrorist’

The discovery came after the death of the prominent IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in October 2019.
At the time, many social media posts supporting the organisation contained a short link.
It led researchers to documents and videos in nine different languages.
They included details of attacks, including those on Manchester Arena on 22 May 2017, in London on 7 July 2005 and in the US on 11 September 2001.
“[There’s] everything you need to know to plan and carry out an attack,” said ISD deputy director Moustafa Ayad, who discovered the archive.
“Things that teach you how to be a better terrorist essentially.”
The ISD named the library the Caliphate Cache.
For months the institute’s researchers have studied how it evolves, how it is being administered and who is visiting it.
The data is spread across a decentralised system, rather than a single computer server.
Anyone can share the content across the web, via servers based at multiple locations.
And this hampers any effort to take it offline.
But as long as the Caliphate Cache remains live, it aids IS by providing a means to continuously seed out content.

Pop singer

The material is added to social-media comments pages and spread via bot accounts.
Another technique has been to target Twitter accounts linked to celebrities and athletes.
For example, IS hijacked an account belonging to a fan of the pop singer Justin Bieber and used it to promote material from the cache.
In another case, the group managed to fool the English rugby team’s account into following one of its own by masquerading as a supporter.
“They understand how not just to game platforms, they understand the power of the content that is contained within the Caliphate Cache,” Mr Ayad said.

Runaway brides

Not all the cache’s content is violent.
Visitors also encounter philosophies of IS, religious texts and propagandised versions of what an IS lifestyle looks like.
The researchers say this includes material runaway brides such as Shamima Begum would have seen.
Most of those drawn to the Caliphate Cache are 18- to 24-year-old males in the Arab world, with 40% of the traffic coming from social media, largely via YouTube.

Extremist groups

The ISD has also discovered the Caliphate Cache is not unique.
There are smaller repositories belonging to other extremist groups, many of which are also using decentralised platforms.
“The attraction for jihadists of these platforms is that the developers of these decentralised platforms have no way of acting against content that is stored on user-operated servers or content that’s shared across a dispersed network of users, ” BBC Monitoring senior jihadi specialist Mina Al-Lami said.
“It’s really all about privacy, freedom and encryption.
“That’s what attracts jihadists.”
The researchers have alerted the US Attorney’s Office for Eastern District of New York, which prosecutes counter-terrorism cases, as well as the Met Police.
The authorities in New York have not commented.
But the Met acknowledged receiving the referral and said it was being assessed by specialist officers.

Source: Islamic State: Giant library of group’s online propaganda discovered

UK must restore ISIL bride Shamima Begun’s citizenship

Echoes of previous debates regarding citizenship revocation under C-24, repealed by the Liberal government. Challenge, of course, remains in successfully prosecuting those involved in ISIS.

And of course, given that those involved in ISIS range from immigrants, second generation and “old-stock” citizens, revocation has a broader impact than just immigrants and their children.

Moreover, there is a risk of viewing those involved in ISIS only as victims, without any agency or responsibility:

ISIL bride Shamima Begum, whose British citizenship was revoked in 2019 on national security grounds, can return to the UK from Syria to plead her case to restore her citizenship, according to a UK court. The Court of Appeal ruled on July 16 that Begum had been denied a fair hearing because she could not properly defend herself from Syria. The verdict means that the UK government is now required to find a way to coordinate the return of Begum, who is currently being held in Camp Roj, a refugee camp in northern Syria.

This case could set a precedent for Canada and the rest of the Western world.

At the age of 15, Begum travelled to Syria to marry a Dutch jihadi who had converted to Islam and joined ISIL. After four years with ISIL, Begum, nine months pregnant, revealed her identity to war correspondent Anthony Loyd. “I am a sister from London,” she told him. “I’m a Bethnal Green girl…I’m scared that this baby is going to get sick in this camp…That’s why I really want to get back to Britain, because I know it will get taken care of, health-wise at least.”

By then, Begum’s two other children had died in ISIL territories, reportedly due to malnutrition. Loyd’s story appeared on the front page of The Times and created a social media storm.

In under a week, the UK government stripped Begum of her citizenship. While the Geneva Conventions prohibit making citizens stateless, the government justified taking away citizenship by pointing out that Begum’s mother is Bangladeshi, which means Begum might be eligible for Bangladeshi citizenship. However, in May 2019, the Bangladeshi foreign minister, Abul-Kalam Abdul-Momen, stated that Begum has “nothing to do” with Bangladesh and would be denied entry, and if she did find her way there she would face capital punishment due to zero-tolerance policies for terrorist activities. “The British government is responsible for her,” he said. Three weeks after her citizenship was revoked, Begum’s baby died of a respiratory infection. She continues to be effectively stateless.

Loyd described Begum as emotionless and awkward, with no discernible sympathy. Begum revealed she was not disturbed by the sight of decapitated heads of fighters in a trash can in Raqqa, by other atrocities or by the torture and murder of Western journalists by ISIL. After hearing this, anyone would see Begum as someone who does not deserve empathy. Scholar Lisa Downing has argued that it should not matter how we feel about Begum. Even so, if Begum’s intention has been to return, why has she not at least pretended to be remorseful?

Begum’s statements are precisely what I would anticipate from an indoctrinated child, spending years living within the reach of ISIL’s extreme propaganda machine. Her demeanour and lack of emotion and remorse may be a response to emotional trauma. We don’t know the full story because she has not undergone a proper evaluation with a trauma specialist. Begum’s lack of emotion matches that of many born-again insurgents whom I have interviewed.

In my fieldwork, an ex-combatant with Jundallah, an insurgent group in Iran, told me about the first time he was assigned to execute a hostage to prove his devotion to the cause. “The man was weltering around, fighting for his life, screaming.” It took multiple bullets to kill the prisoner, not the single shot he had imagined. “It killed me inside…After that experience, nothing fazes me anymore…I am dead inside.” The reality of what it means to fight for the cause shook him, and he eventually escaped to Turkey to help with a disillusionment, deradicalization and disengagement initiative. He explained that many foreign recruits want to prove themselves, to be considered insiders. They take their assignments seriously and cling strongly to the ideology to remove any remnant of hesitation, doubt or guilt.

Putting aside Begum’s lack of penitence, the first question should never have been “Where are her parents from?” but rather “What is the right thing to do?” It was much easier to strip her of citizenship and reframe the discussion in the media than to ask the hard question: Why do men and women join extremist organizations? Western-born members often have the opportunity to enjoy comfortable, middle-class lives, with the chance to advance in admired, conventional careers. Instead, they choose terrorism and commit heinous acts of violence against their fellow citizens, often at the price of their own lives. We need to rewind and ask what went wrong.

During my 2018 fieldwork, I met Jabbar, a 32-year-old barbershop owner in Paris. While he disdained acts of terror, he told me that he understood why people join extremist groups. When he was younger, with no job, and “constantly getting harassed by everyone on every occasion,” he internalized vast challenges with his identity and harboured a deep sense of alienation. He was accepted neither in France nor in Algeria, where his parents emigrated from. To be accepted as French, “you have to change your hair, switch your name to Pierre, eat pork, drink wine, and in the end, they still call you a cosmopolitan Muslim.” He was also ridiculed in Algeria and was not considered a true Algerian because of his accent and clothing. He asserted that was why second-generation youths feel alienated and excluded.

Begum’s case is an example of how citizenship, along with other rights often taken for granted by the majority, is variable and portrayed as a privilege for those whose parents or grandparents are immigrants.

In a story that made headlines recently, a sales manager named Mohamed Amghar described being coerced to change his name to Antoine, a traditional French name, at work. He is suing his former firm for 440,000 euros and filing a discrimination complaint. He was pressured into using the name on business cards, conference badges, plane tickets and even performance awards. “If people like me, who did what was necessary to get good jobs, to get training, to live as citizens, are besmirched and denied our rights, where are we going?” Amghar said. “I only have one name, I only have one nationality,” he added. “My name is Mohamed, and I am French.” The systemic nature of micro-aggressions, discrimination, racism and xenophobia has been documented throughout most of Western Europe, the United States and Canada. This narrative was common across my fieldwork and may be applicable for young recruits who have gone on to conduct terrorist activities, recruited by a group that claimed to finally accept them in all aspects of their being.

As part of Western governments’ obligations to fix their counterterrorism strategies, Western countries need to create an effective response for returnees. Begum’s case is an example of how citizenship, along with other rights often taken for granted by the majority, is variable and portrayed as a privilege for those whose parents or grandparents are immigrants. Insurgent groups appeal to this notion. An ISIS magazine  stated, “They never will consider you an equal to the white man,” and claimed you will always be considered second-class citizens. Efforts have continued to “other” Begum for her mother’s immigrant status. All the while, politicians have riled up the public, framing her case as a decision about whether to “welcome back a terrorist.”

I am not saying Begum shouldn’t be held accountable. I firmly believe that she should be subject to criminal prosecution, if appropriate, along with rehabilitation. As I have argued before, bringing back returnees may provide the opportunity to enhance counterterrorism intelligence by drawing upon them as a resource on extremist recruitment and radicalization strategies. Perhaps even more importantly, bringing back returnees would allow the UK and other Western nations to uphold human rights by pursuing justice through the judicial system and by providing the appropriate rehabilitation. Instead, we are seeing an acceleration and cultivation of separate justice for separate peoples. Consider this: Would Begum have lost her citizenship if her parents were from Leeds?

Revoking citizenship based on parents’ immigration status sidesteps the ethical obligations that states have toward their citizens and alienates second-generation immigrants, deepening prejudices they are already well accustomed to experiencing. The UK has the opportunity to change its course and set an example for Canada and the rest of the world. Begum should have a fair trial in the only country where she has ever held citizenship.

Western nations should reconsider their stance on repatriation despite the challenges involved. They should bring home their citizens to demonstrate their commitment to justice for all and prevent the secondary effects of the cycle of alienation, isolation and othering that leads to extremism in the first place. This is part of any proper justice system and could reduce radicalization in youth in the long run. It could foster belonging, which is something the politics of fear cannot do. Western nations must look upstream and deconstruct the systems and policies in place that are riddled with micro-aggressions, structural xenophobia and outright racism to reconstruct an inclusive society that would eliminate the breeding ground for radicalization that currently exists.

Source: UK must restore ISIL bride Shamima Begun’s citizenship

Prosecuting IS returnees in Germany requires the law’s longest arm

Interesting account of some of the challenges involved:

Taha A.-J.*, an Iraqi man believed to have belonged to the “Islamic State” (IS), has been standing trial in Frankfurt since late April on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. At the center of his trial is the death of a 5-year-old girl belonging to the Yazidi minority group.

The charges are based on statements by his wife, Jennifer W.*, a staunch IS supporter who lived with him in the Iraqi city of Fallujah. In 2018, she told a police informant that during her first stay in IS territory in 2015 she saw Taha A.-J. punish the girl, purchased as a slave, for wetting the bed. Jennifer W. alleged that he had chained the girl to a window in the scorching sun, where she died an agonizing death.

Jennifer W. has been on trial herself since April 2019, as she did nothing to save the girl. In that case, the girl’s mother — also a slave in the same household — testified that she was forced to watch her daughter die.

Unprecedented case

Taha A.-J. was arrested in Greece in May 2019 under a German arrest warrant and was transferred to Germany in October. His ongoing trial — the first against a former IS militant to deal with the IS genocide of the Yazidi — has attracted international attention.

Genocide is the most serious crime under international criminal law. But according to Alexander Schwarz, a Leipzig-based lawyer who specializes in international law, “the difficulty lies in proving that the individual perpetrators were actually determined to destroy an entire ethnic group.”

Schwarz told DW that Taha A.-J.’s trial is unprecedented. “For the first time, the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office is pursuing a purely international offense,” he said, pointing out that the alleged act was not committed in Germany, that neither perpetrators nor victims are German citizens, and that the accused wasn’t even on German territory at the time of his arrest.

International criminal law is becoming an increasingly important part of the work done by the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office. When the trial of the 35-year-old IS returnee Omaima A.* began in Hamburg on May 4, charges against her also included crimes against humanity. Omaima A., the widow of IS jihadi Denis Cuspert, who was killed in Syria in 2018, is also said to have kept a 13-year-old Yazidi girl as a slave.

After Omaima A. returned from the Syrian war zone in 2016, she lived a peaceful life in her hometown of Hamburg for three years. It wasn’t until investigative journalist Jenan Moussa, reporting for Arab television network Al-Aan TV, uncovered the necessary evidence against her that charges could be filed.

With thousands of photos and videos found on the phone Omaima A. used while living in Syria, Moussa was able to retrace her life in IS territory in great detail, eventually producing a documentary about the German IS supporter.

Not just housewives and mothers?

The photos shown in the documentary — introduced as evidence at Omaima A.’s trial — show her alone and with children, posing with an AK-47 assault rifle and other weapons. Moussa’s work also uncovered chat conversations with several men. These documents show that the perception of female IS supporters as passive, easily influenced victims needs to be reconsidered, said Schwarz, the lawyer from Leipzig. “Numerous returnees — female IS fighters — were armed, with automatic weapons, AK-47 rifles or pistols,” he said.

Many women also worked for the so-called morality police, controlling how other women dressed, behaved and lived under IS rule. According to Schwarz, the practice of keeping slaves was “an act that can be attributed to the female fighters, and was even predominantly practiced by them.”

In order to issue an arrest warrant and charges, Germany’s top judges have said that evidence of explicit support for IS, or proof that a person directly fought for the militant group, is necessary. Without this proof, suspects could go unpunished. It’s exactly for this reason that many IS returnees have repeatedly claimed they were only responsible for taking care of the household and the children, and that they had no knowledge of reported atrocities.

Slave ownership has featured in other cases against IS returnees, including that of Sarah O.*. Details of her trial, which has been ongoing since October, have been kept from the public, as she was said to have been a minor when she allegedly committed the crimes she’s been charged with. According to investigators, the now 21-year-old decided to move to IS territory in Syria at the age of 15.

In addition to slave ownership, Sarah O. has also been accused of having lived with her husband and children in apartments assigned to them by IS forces. That may sound harmless. Legally, however, this is considered a form of looting: if IS assigned jihadis to live in an apartment,  that meant the previous residents must have been expelled or killed. This is defined as looting, or pillaging — and is thus a violation of article 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Targeting female jihadis

This interpretation of the law was first used in the trial against Sabine S.* in 2019. She was sentenced to five years in prison for war crimes, mainly for taking possession of two apartments. Since last year, Germany’s federal prosecutors have accused IS returnees of eight violations of the Rome Statute, with the looting charge particularly being used to prosecute female jihadis.

Lawyer Serkan Alkan, however, has been critical of the court’s reliance on this charge. Alkan has represented several IS supporters in German courts, and told DW that women had no say under IS rule. “The idea that you could stand there, as a woman, and say, ‘No, I will not take this house because it’s a violation of international criminal law’ — that’s a rather utopian perspective,” he said.

But federal prosecutors have been successful with this approach. Sibel H.*, from Aschaffenburg near Frankfurt, twice made the journey to IS territory, the first time in 2013. She returned to Germany the following year after her husband was killed, only to remarry an IS supporter and head back to the Middle East, where they had two children before she was captured. In spring 2018, she was transferred from a Kurdish prison in northern Iraq to Germany, where she was eventually arrested and charged with the looting offense under international criminal law. On April 29, 2020, she was sentenced to three years in prison in Munich, where she is taking part in a reintegration program.

In the past five years, 122 IS supporters have returned to Germany from Syria or Iraq, according to government figures reported in late 2019. Of those returnees, 53 have been classified as a “potential threat,” and 18 are considered “relevant persons,” that is supporters or even leading figures within IS. Relying on international criminal law, Germany aims to make these people responsible for their actions.

*Editor’s note: DW follows the German press code, which stresses the importance of protecting the privacy of suspected criminals or victims and urges us to refrain from revealing full names in such cases.

Source: Prosecuting IS returnees in Germany requires the law’s longest arm

Why Is Europe So Islamophobic? The attacks don’t come from nowhere.

Of note, but article is too dismissive of the impact of Islamist-inspired extremism and terrorism on public opinion and political reactions:

We live in a time of Islamophobia.

In February, two violent attacks on Muslims in Europe, one in Hanau in Germany, the other in London, took place within 24 hours of each other. Though the circumstances were different — the attacker in Hanau left a “manifesto” full of far-right conspiracy theories, while the motivations of the London attacker were less certain — the target was the same: Muslims.

The two events add to a growing list of violent attacks on Muslims across Europe. In 2018 alone, France saw an increase of 52 percent of Islamophobic incidents; in Austria there was a rise of approximately 74 percent, with 540 cases. The culmination of a decade of steadily increasing attacks on Muslims, such figures express a widespread antipathy to Islam. Forty-four percent of Germans, for example, see “a fundamental contradiction between Islam and German culture and values.” The figure for the same in Finland is a remarkable 62 percent; in Italy, it’s 53 percent. To be a Muslim in Europe is to be mistrusted, visible and vulnerable.

Across the Continent, Islamophobic organizations and individuals have been able to advance their agenda. Islamophobic street movements and political parties have become more popular. And their ideas have been incorporated into — and in some instances fed by — the machinery of the modern state, which surveils and supervises Muslims, casting them as threats to the life of the nation.

From the street to the state, Islamophobia is baked into European political life.

This has been nearly 20 years in the making. The “war on terror” — which singled out Muslims and Islam as a civilizational threat to “the West” — created the conditions for widespread Islamophobia. Internationally, it caused instability and increased violence, with the rise of the Islamic State in part a consequence. Domestically, in both Europe and the United States, new counterterrorism policies overwhelmingly targeted Muslims.

In Britain, for example, you are 150 times more likely to be stopped and searched under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act — a draconian piece of legislation that allows people to be stopped at ports without “reasonable suspicion” — if you are of Pakistani heritage than if you are white. And then there are policies that in the name of “countering violent extremism” focus on the supposed threats of radicalization and extremism. In place across Europe, including in the European Union, such policies expand policing and counterterrorism to target the expression of political ideologies and religious identities. In practice, Muslims are treated as legitimate objects of suspicion.

In this setting of suspicion, a network of organizations and individuals preaching about the “threat” of Islam has flourished. Known as the “counter-jihad movement,” it exists as a spectrum across Europe and America of “street-fighting forces at one end and cultural conservatives and neoconservative writers at the other,” according to Liz Fekete, the director of the Institute of Race Relations. In Europe, groups like Stop Islamization of Denmark and the English Defense League have been central to fostering violence against Muslims.

In America, the relative absence of grass-roots, street-based groups is more than made up for by the institutional heft of the movement — its five key organizations include Middle East Forum and the Center for Security Policy — and its proximity to power and influence. The movement is funded by what the Center for American Progress calls the “Islamophobia network,” with links to senior figures in the American political establishment. The movement has successfully popularized the association of Muslims with an external “terrorist threat,” of which President Trump’s so-called Muslim ban is a prime expression.

What’s more, far-right parties built around Islamophobia and the politics of counter-jihad have become electorally successful. Vlaams Belang in Belgium, the Sweden Democrats and the Alternative for Germany have in the past few years become major parties with substantial support. And their ideas have bled into the rhetoric and policies of center-right parties across Europe.

Successive center-right political leaders have repeatedly warned against “Islamist terrorism” (Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany) and the incompatibility with European values of “Islamist separatism” (President Emmanuel Macron of France). The banning of forms of Muslim veiling in various public spaces — from the hijab ban in French schools and restrictions for teachers in some parts of Germany to an outright ban of the face-covering niqab in public spaces in Denmark, Belgium and France — shows how anti-Muslim sentiment has moved comprehensively from society’s fringes to the heart of government.

Britain has led the way. In 2011, it expanded the scope of its counterextremism policy, known as Prevent, to include “nonviolent” as well as “violent” manifestations. The change can be traced to the neoconservative elements of the counter-jihad movement: It was successful lobbying by Policy Exchange and the Centre for Social Cohesion (now part of the Henry Jackson Society), both widely regarded as neoconservative think tanks, that secured it. The expansion of the scope of these policies effectively turns schoolteachers, doctors and nurses into police operatives — and any Muslim into a potential security threat.

In Britain, we can see a vicious circle of Islamophobia, replicated in some form across Europe. The state introduces legislation effectively targeting Muslims, which in turn encourages and emboldens the counter-jihad movement — whose policy papers, polemics and protests propel the state to extend legislation, all but criminalizing aspects of Muslims’ identity. The result is to fan Islamophobic sentiment in the public at large.

The way such an atmosphere gives rise to violence is complicated. Anders Breivik, the Norwegian who killed 77 people in 2011, described his massacre as an effort to ward off “Eurabia” — the theory, popularized by Bat Ye’or and fervently taken up by the counter-jihad movement, that Europe will be colonized by the “Arab world.” Likewise, the attacker in Hanau fixated on crime committed by nonwhite immigrants and possessed what the German authorities have called “a deeply racist mind-set.” Both drew from the groundswell of Islamophobic rhetoric that has accompanied policies that single out Muslims for special scrutiny. But both operated alone, and neither maintained links to any organization or party. Their actions were their own.

The line from policy to act, rhetoric to violence, is very hard to draw. And the process by which Islamophobia spreads across European society is complex, multicausal, endlessly ramifying.

But that doesn’t mean it comes from nowhere.

Narzanin Massoumi (@Narzanin) is a lecturer at the University of Exeter in Britain and a co-editor of “What Is Islamophobia? Racism, Social Movements and the State.”

Source: Why Is Europe So Islamophobic?

Collège de Maisonneuve: après les aspirants djihadistes, la bataille «pour mieux vivre ensemble»

Interesting doc on a deradicalisation effort:

Présentée ce dimanche en première mondiale aux Rendez-vous Québec Cinéma, Maisonneuve – À l’école du vivre-ensemble se veut un message d’espoir. Un exemple concret du fait que « le jeu en vaut la chandelle », « qu’il vaut mieux essayer de s’ouvrir aux autres que d’imposer une vision ou de se replier sur soi-même », même si c’est plus compliqué, avance le cinéaste Nicolas Wadimoff, en entrevue avec La Presse.

Petit retour en arrière avant d’aller plus loin.

En 2015, une dizaine d’élèves du cégep ont quitté ou tenté de quitter le Canada pour aller rejoindre le groupe armé État islamique en Syrie. Deux de ces jeunes, Sabrine Djermane et El Medhi Jamali, ont d’ailleurs eu un procès à Montréal, au terme duquel ils ont été acquittés des accusations de terrorisme qui pesaient sur eux.

Dans la tourmente, le collège de Maisonneuve a reçu l’année suivante une subvention de 400 000 $ pour « mettre en place des mesures d’appui à la diversité ethnoculturelle ».

C’est dans ce contexte que Nicolas Wadimoff et la journaliste Emmanuelle Walter y ont effectué leur incursion, sorte de « laboratoire in vivo », pour reprendre les mots du réalisateur. Ils ont passé deux sessions à Maisonneuve, dont ils nous présentent l’univers à travers le regard d’une dizaine de protagonistes.

Nicolas Wadimoff voit en eux des « chevaliers de la cause du vivre-ensemble ». « C’est une démarche citoyenne pour mieux vivre ensemble aujourd’hui et encore mieux demain. »

Est-ce que ça marche ? Oui… et non.

Il ne faut pas être naïf, dit le cinéaste d’origine suisse : « Le chemin est long et ce n’est pas facile tous les jours. Mais il y a des moments qui donnent de l’espoir. »

Parmi ces moments, notons ceux qui mettent en scène Mohamed Mimoun, Momo pour les intimes, un « travailleur de corridor », sorte de travailleur de rue du collège embauché dans la foulée des événements de 2015. Il joue les modérateurs, apaise les esprits et multiplie les conseils, surtout auprès de membres de l’importante communauté arabo-musulmane.

Les interventions de Momo auprès d’Idir Mazouzi, élève inscrit en comptabilité qui tente en vain de se faire élire à l’association étudiante (SOGEECOM), sont particulièrement révélatrices d’un clivage encore manifeste.

Ce clivage est ici illustré par les interactions entre deux groupes. D’un côté, des membres de l’association étudiante, blancs, ouvertement de gauche, militants antiracistes et impliqués dans la vie du cégep. De l’autre, des élèves arabes qui se sentent mis de côté et qui déplorent, parfois maladroitement, le manque de représentativité de leur association étudiante.

À la recherche de solutions

Malgré les efforts de réconciliation incontestables, le fossé persiste. Le jeune Idir, par exemple, ne comprend pas pourquoi les membres de l’assemblée lors de laquelle il présente sa candidature aiment mieux laisser un poste vacant que de l’élire trésorier, alors qu’il est pourtant inscrit en comptabilité. Les rires de quelques jeunes dans l’assistance quand sa défaite est annoncée font mal.

C’est Momo qui lui soulignera que les reproches formulés à l’endroit de l’exécutif étudiant pendant son discours devant les électeurs ont peut-être été à l’origine de sa défaite. Le travailleur de corridor fait une observation semblable à un autre jeune, Adam Belghadid, lui aussi frustré des positions de l’association. « N’oublie pas, on est dans une société comme le Québec où la confrontation n’est pas quelque chose qui fait partie de la culture. Ça, c’est très méditerranéen. »

Lorsqu’une élève, Rayene Bouzitoun, adopte la stratégie opposée et s’assoit avec la SOGEECOM pour trouver des solutions visant à une meilleure représentativité culturelle, on est surpris de la réponse. « Je suis d’accord que c’est peut-être un problème, la représentativité, mais je ne suis pas d’accord qu’il y a des choses à faire en tant [qu’association]. C’est un syndicat d’application volontaire. Essayer de force d’intégrer des gens de minorités, ça ne serait pas trop une solution. Quand des gens voudront s’impliquer, ils s’impliqueront. »

Malgré ces écueils, la volonté de favoriser l’harmonie est visible. On la sent dans le discours des membres de la direction, mais aussi dans les paroles et les gestes du corps professoral et des élèves. Il y a cette prof de sociologie qui amène ses élèves en technique policière à la mosquée. Il y a ce futur policier qui participe bravement à une discussion sur le profilage racial avec un groupe composé uniquement de membres de minorités. Il y a cet animateur socioculturel qui apprend à jouer d’un instrument de musique pour gagner la confiance des membres d’une minorité.

« Il faut travailler fort. Il faut que tout le monde accepte de sortir de sa zone de confort », conclut le réalisateur. Son film montre que beaucoup l’ont fait au collège de Maisonneuve.

Taking Away Citizenship as a Counterterrorism Tool Is Fraught with Challenges

Phil Gurski, from the security perspective:

Citizenship is an important part of the modern world. Most of us are a citizen of at least one country. Having citizenship confers special privileges: the right to vote, the right to receive certain social assistance, the right to work, and a feeling of belonging. It should not be dismissed or used frivolously.

A lot of countries also grant citizenship to those who emigrate from their homelands to a new one (sometimes called ‘naturalized’). This process often takes some time – years in most cases – and is accompanied by all sorts of checks and reviews. After all, no state wants to bring in people with shady backgrounds who are capable of causing mayhem once they become ‘one of us.’

In my experience in Canada, the citizenship pathway is as good as it can be. The necessary agencies, including intelligence and law enforcement, are part of the decision-making process, ensuring to the greatest degree possible that we prevent ‘undesirables’ from making their new home in our nation. Is the system perfect? No, but it is very robust.

Under what conditions, then, should citizenship be revoked? We should assume here that the only type that can be removed is that which has been granted by the state: ordinarily those born in a country automatically receive it at birth (children of foreign diplomats may be an exception), and it far from clear whether there is anything that could – or should – lead a state to rescind birth citizenship (NB Canada is currently dealing with the phenomenon of ‘birth tourism’ whereby pregnant women, often from Asia, travel to give birth in Canadian hospitals. Where all this goes is under debate now.)

Modern terrorism has thrown a wrench into all this. In hundreds of countries citizens have radicalized to violence in accordance with an ideology, left the confines of their homeland, joined a group abroad and become part of it, committed atrocities in the group’s name on occasion and eventually seek to come home. Not surprisingly, few states want these individuals back as they could very well organize or commit acts of terrorism in their backyards. What can we do to prevent their return?

Under these circumstances, is citizenship revocation OK? Normally, no. Our governments take away what they have granted only if it can be demonstrated the process in place at the time of application was fraudulent. In other words, if so-and-so lied on a form and tried to hide certain facts from those investigating the claim, that application can be subsequently voided. This should not be controversial as all the relevant facts were not made available when needed and as a result the individual does not deserve to become one of us.

What, then, do we do in cases of terrorists, some of whom were born in our countries, some of whom got citizenship after having moved, but became terrorists later (sometime much, much later)? After all, the vast majority of terrorists are made not born. Can we take away their birthright/gift?

In the former case, no. Few if any countries have tried to do this and where they have they have tied themselves in legal knots. The UK has taken away the citizenship of ISIS member Shamima Begum despite the inconvenient fact that she was born in England. The government has tried to argue that she is ‘entitled’ to Bangladeshi citizenship as her ancestry lies in that country; hence, she has not been rendered stateless. Bangladesh sees the matter quite differently.

Then we have the case of Iyman Faris, an al-Qaeda terrorist who was found guilty and sentenced in 2003 for his role in a plot to cut the cables on the Brooklyn Bridge. A federal judge in Columbus, Ohio, stripped him of his naturalized U.S. citizenship after ruling that he had lied on immigration papers before becoming a citizen in 1999 (he entered the U.S. using the passport and visa of someone he’d met in Bosnia). The official also ruled that Faris’ terrorist affiliations demonstrated a lack of commitment to the U.S. Constitution.

Two years earlier another judge had rejected a similar request by the government, saying at the time there wasn’t enough evidence to prove Mr. Faris’ misrepresentations influenced the decision to grant him citizenship.

Where does this leave us? In a legal quandary, that’s where. The UK handling of Ms. Begum beggars disbelief as she is the citizen of one and only one country. The U.S. strategy in the case of Faris suggests that anyone who does anything illegal at any point in their life is at risk of having their citizenship clawed back. Neither case is ideal.

The bottom line is that Ms. Begum, and perhaps Mr. Faris, were radicalized where they lived and worked. They are a product of a part of our society – not a proud part, but a part nonetheless. Recalling citizenship merely displaces the problem: it does not solve it.

Source: https://www.hstoday.us/subject-matter-areas/counterterrorism/perspective-taking-away-citizenship-as-a-counterterrorism-tool-is-fraught-with-challenges/

The women of Islamic State are not demons and must be brought home

Not as clear cut as that and a bit naive given reports from some refugee camps (At a sprawling tent camp in Syria, ISIS women impose a brutal rule):

When three 15-year-old English girls from London’s Bethnal Green ran away to join Islamic State, it was front-page news. The British tabloid press had a field day, as did the more moderate papers. “It became a kind of national trauma I think because it was so shocking. They were good students and they were popular,” says Azadeh Moaveni, author of a new book about the women of IS.

Called Guest House for Young Widows, the book is a ripping yarn and has been named one of The New York Times’ top 100 books of 2019. It provides a fascinating insight into the complex realities at play for those drawn to the fight.

Bewildered by the contempt for the Bethnal Green girls – referred to as whores for the Caliphate and concubines for IS – she was inspired to cover the story when one columnist argued British police should stop looking for the girls. “Because these weren’t our girls.”

In her quest to find them, the London-based journalist headed to southern Turkey, where she met three Syrian women. “They were incredible to me, because I thought they were the last kind of women that could be drawn into this. I thought wow, these are ordinary young women who live approximate lives to me … they’re not unknowables.”

Moaveni interviewed many women about their experiences. Some wanted to support fellow Muslims; others dreamt of travel, freedom and adventure. Many living in the region had little choice but to join, to guarantee their safety, protect their families or ensure an income. Many were actively lured.

Men in IS (referred to as ISIS in the book) were promoted and paid to recruit women; Moaveni argues the organisation’s gender strategy was crucial to its success. “It recruited young women and it used those recruitment circles to get more and more young women who weren’t married and could come over and marry the fighters, and slightly older women, saying ‘Come and you can have a role in the Caliphate, whatever you’re good at, come and do it’.

“It tapped in to all of this female energy that was not being addressed. All of these female anxieties country to country,” she says. In Saudi Arabia and Iraq, women are not allowed any involvement in politics.

When their husbands were killed, the women were forced to marry another fighter, housed in the guesthouse of the book’s title until ‘‘matched’’.

In the west, Moaveni says, we tend to view everything through the lens of terrorism, which  “obscures what we’re really dealing with”. “It’s great to tackle English language as a pathway to assimilation, really good to look at institutional racism as it targets Muslims, but [looking] through an extremist lens is not helpful.”

The Syrian revolution and the invasion of Iraq, which gave rise to IS, reflect a broken architecture in the Middle East that will lead to generation after generation of chaos that groups like IS can exploit. She argues western countries are invested in long-term political instability in the Middle East. “They’re unstable, no one gets the upper hand, every 10 years the state implodes, you have to send all of your contractors and aid workers in to help rebuild.

Guest House for Young Widows by Azadeh Moaveni.
Guest House for Young Widows by Azadeh Moaveni.

“Exclusion from politics, country to country … was a big part of the draw for IS. All these terrible states that are dictatorial and terrible and they don’t govern well and whole swathes of people are excluded from politics and it impacts women in particular because if you’re a woman you really suffer doubly under a bad government because it’s a bad government and it’s patriarchal.

“This broken political map, at the level of the citizen – especially the woman citizen – is suffocating people.”

Many countries are trying to work out how to deal with the men and women – and their children – coming back from this kind of conflict. The challenges of rehabilitation are stark but there is a strong security argument for countries bringing back their own, she says. “At least you can watch them and have them under strict surveillance and you don’t have 1000 floating westerners moving between this unstable crescent … waiting to join the next generation of IS or whatever emerges.”

Many politicians around the world are against repatriation. “Who wants to be the government who brought back the jihadi people from Syria?”

For her, it’s the only course of action. “People need to know that these people who went have gone through some sort of justice process … Some sort of prosecution and public accounting of what happened would then make their return feel more acceptable.”

Moaveni says many of the IS marriages became protection marriages. “In the middle of a war zone you could get out of a guest house that was really horrible, you had someone who could protect you. The women started to see that, too. That’s something that we don’t recognise about IS – you couldn’t get out of IS.”

Source: The women of Islamic State are not demons and must be brought home

Facebook auto-generating pages for Islamic State, al-Qaida

Sigh….

In the face of criticism that Facebook is not doing enough to combat extremist messaging, the company likes to say that its automated systems remove the vast majority of prohibited content glorifying the Islamic State group and al-Qaida before it’s reported.

But a whistleblower’s complaint shows that Facebook itself has inadvertently provided the two extremist groups with a networking and recruitment tool by producing dozens of pages in their names.

The social networking company appears to have made little progress on the issue in the four months since The Associated Press detailed how pages that Facebook auto-generates for businesses are aiding Middle East extremists and white supremacists in the United States.

On Wednesday, U.S. senators on the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation will be questioning representatives from social media companies, including Monika Bickert, who heads Facebooks efforts to stem extremist messaging.

The new details come from an update of a complaint to the Securities and Exchange Commission that the National Whistleblower Center plans to file this week. The filing obtained by the AP identifies almost 200 auto-generated pages — some for businesses, others for schools or other categories — that directly reference the Islamic State group and dozens more representing al-Qaida and other known groups. One page listed as a “political ideology” is titled “I love Islamic state.” It features an IS logo inside the outlines of Facebook’s famous thumbs-up icon.

In response to a request for comment, a Facebook spokesperson told the AP: “Our priority is detecting and removing content posted by people that violates our policy against dangerous individuals and organizations to stay ahead of bad actors. Auto-generated pages are not like normal Facebook pages as people can’t comment or post on them and we remove any that violate our policies. While we cannot catch every one, we remain vigilant in this effort.”

Facebook has a number of functions that auto-generate pages from content posted by users. The updated complaint scrutinizes one function that is meant to help business networking. It scrapes employment information from users’ pages to create pages for businesses. In this case, it may be helping the extremist groups because it allows users to like the pages, potentially providing a list of sympathizers for recruiters.

The new filing also found that users’ pages promoting extremist groups remain easy to find with simple searches using their names. They uncovered one page for “Mohammed Atta” with an iconic photo of one of the al-Qaida adherents, who was a hijacker in the Sept. 11 attacks. The page lists the user’s work as “Al Qaidah” and education as “University Master Bin Laden” and “School Terrorist Afghanistan.”

Facebook has been working to limit the spread of extremist material on its service, so far with mixed success. In March, it expanded its definition of prohibited content to include U.S. white nationalist and white separatist material as well as that from international extremist groups. It says it has banned 200 white supremacist organizations and 26 million pieces of content related to global extremist groups like IS and al-Qaida.

It also expanded its definition of terrorism to include not just acts of violence attended to achieve a political or ideological aim, but also attempts at violence, especially when aimed at civilians with the intent to coerce and intimidate. It’s unclear, though, how well enforcement works if the company is still having trouble ridding its platform of well-known extremist organizations’ supporters.

But as the report shows, plenty of material gets through the cracks — and gets auto-generated.

The AP story in May highlighted the auto-generation problem, but the new content identified in the report suggests that Facebook has not solved it.

The report also says that researchers found that many of the pages referenced in the AP report were removed more than six weeks later on June 25, the day before Bickert was questioned for another congressional hearing.

The issue was flagged in the initial SEC complaint filed by the center’s executive director, John Kostyack, that alleges the social media company has exaggerated its success combatting extremist messaging.

“Facebook would like us to believe that its magical algorithms are somehow scrubbing its website of extremist content,” Kostyack said. “Yet those very same algorithms are auto-generating pages with titles like ‘I Love Islamic State,’ which are ideal for terrorists to use for networking and recruiting.”

Source: Facebook auto-generating pages for Islamic State, al-Qaida