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Kahina Bouagache

EU: if you want to defeat terrorism, stop pandering to dictators

A woman stands in front of a memorial at the site of the attack at the Cafe Belle Equipe on rue de Charonne in the 11th district of Paris on 18 November 2015. (AFP/Bertrand Guay)

Another bloody month in the modern history of France, as the city of love and fashion is hit once again by terror attacks killing 129 innocent civilians and injuring hundreds. These terrible events transpired despite France’s national security alert system being renovated and, for a time, elevated to ‘Attack’ following the Charlie Hebdo atrocity in January.  
 
President Hollande called a state of emergency, and on Saturday vowed that France would ”lead a war which will be pitiless.” Airstrikes against ISIS were conducted in northern Syria the next day.
 
Isn’t that a bit of a naïve and premature reaction form a world leader? Without going into the complexity of the war in Syria, let’s assume that France indeed has the full capacity to lead a war in Syria: would it be more successful than the US leading a war in Iraq that left over 200,000 people dead, most of them civilians? Not to mention hundreds of thousands displaced, and worse; an entire generation of embittered youths who will remain vulnerable to recruitment by terrorist groups seeking revenge. And what about Afghanistan? Have any of the wars or coalitions there helped restore peace or stability or democracy?
 
Are world leaders incapable of learning from prior mistakes or do they just prefer to ignore issues that require difficult decisions and alternate solutions?
 
The European Union finds itself locked in a confrontation with ‘radical Islam’ when ISIS and Al-Qaeda are just two facets of a much deeper problem: tacit Western support for regimes such as Bashar Assad’s, Saddam Hussein’s, Hosni Mubarak’s, Ayatollah Khamenei’s and many others across the Muslim world, from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia. For decades, an enormous citizenry has been persecuted for being secular, for being female, for being gay or for being activists, dissidents and journalists.
 
Beyond the persecution, totalitarianism and corruption of these dictators, they have turned a blind eye to and even promoted Salafism and Wahhabism in their countries for over three decades, allowing, if not encouraging, the implementation of the harshest Sharia principals, which distinctly contradict secularism and the advancement of women. 
 
Across these three decades, countless activists have been imprisoned, if not killed — the luckiest among them have been forced to flee their homelands. Three decades of youth growing up in a corrupt environment, without freedom, where the only mercy they’ve known has come from mosques and madrassas full of radical, anti-humanist discourse. Across these three decades, the EU has been more interested in maintaining close relations with these dictators and has not had the courage of Margot Wallström’s rationality.
 
Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs Margot Wallström stood up earlier this year and described the Saudi judicial system and its methods as “medieval” when Saudi courts sentenced Raef Badawi to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for “insulting Islam.” She also denounced the subjugation of women — the kingdom doesn’t allow women to travel or marry without the consent of a male guardian, or to conduct official business, and girls are often forced into child marriages.
 
Saudi Arabia’s reaction to Wallström was immediate: it withdrew its ambassador and ceased issuing visas to Swedish businessmen. The United Arab Emirates joined the Saudis. The GCC condemned Wallström for “interfering in the internal affairs of the Kingdom.” I notice that the GCC didn’t condemn Wallström for interfering in Israeli internal affairs when she recognized Palestine last year. In March, when Wallström was to address the Arab League on women’s rights, Saudi Arabia blocked her from doing so.
 
These events were barely reported in the Western press, however, and while the Swedish foreign minister wasn’t criticized by her EU colleagues, neither did she receive any support among her European colleagues in Brussels.  
 
This lack of solidarity among EU leaders laid bare a repugnant reality: the EU has a two weights, two measures policy when human rights issues interfere with its economic interests.
 
This was, of course, not a singular event — a brief perusal of any Human Rights Watch country report will cause you to despair over the situation in this part of the world. A horrifying list of human rights abuses has gone unnoticed for the sake of vested interests.
 
While the Western world decries terrorism and expresses its solidarity with France, three decades of perpetual abuses and concurrent silence of European and world leaders has given us to understand that the EU’s main concerns are far from being the protection of human rights, transparency and good governance. People argue that these are the pillars upon which modern Europe is built, and that they must remain the core of its policies and politics, yet various circumstances and situations have taught us otherwise and today the world of secular democracy is paying for these terrible mistakes.
 
Today more than ever the United States and Europe should stop overlooking government abuses, including a lack of accountability for many killings of protesters by security forces, mass detentions of human rights activists, military trials of civilians, the murder of atheists and persecution of secularists, hundreds of death sentences, and threats to women’s rights and freedom of expression — all these pillars that are essential to our own peace and stability.
 
Today more than ever the world needs to promote figures like Margot Wallström — leaders who can stand up to injustice and give priority to human rights and women’s rights — and ensure that only such outspoken leaders make it into office.
 
Until citizens of democracies put the right people into positions of power, who will apply real pressure on these regimes to uphold human rights, we will read again and again about terror attacks on the streets, in theaters and on planes, and we should expect to see terrorism continue to flourish in our miserable world, and terrorist organizations reaping the benefits of fields ripe for recruitment.
 
Kahina Bouagache is a lawyer and women’s rights activist based in Morocco. She tweets @ckahinab.

 

A woman stands in front of a memorial at the site of the attack at the Cafe Belle Equipe on rue de Charonne in the 11th district of Paris on 18 November 2015. (AFP/Bertrand Guay)

Three decades of youth growing up in a corrupt environment, without freedom, where the only mercy they’ve known has come from mosques and madrassas full of radical, anti-humanist discourse. Across these three decades, the EU has been more interested in maintaining close relations with these dictators and has not had the courage of Margot Wallström’s rationality."