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Europe’s Proactive Efforts to Reach Out to Youth at Risk of Joining Jihadist Movements

Courtesy of AP/Archives and Mitteldeutsche Zeitung

 In my previous blog, I mentioned examples of interfaith and intercultural dialogue going on in Europe and emphasized the need for expansion of such efforts and the need for the world public to be more informed about them. In this blog, I will focus on intervention for youth considered to be greatly at risk of going to the religious extreme.

Bishop Michel Dubost (Head of French Bishops Council for Interfaith Relations), says that lots of immigrants, especially teenagers, don’t feel connected with society in France. This is partly because they don’t have roots in French society and don’t have an elder to talk to about their heritage, and this makes them easily influenced by extremists. This is true in Germany as well, where many people (both Muslim and non-Muslim alike) believe that one can’t be German and Muslim at the same time. Environments like these create the conditions for extremist yearning among youth to fester in a cycle of hostility between those who perceive other groups as being different.

The place where disaffected youth tend to become influenced by extremists is usually over the internet via social media sites, not in a mosque. In Europe, certain nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) seek to intervene when they notice young people accessing extremist websites.

The Syrian Refugee Crisis Demands Our Attention

Thousands of Syrians stream across the border into Iraq in search of shelter. Photo: UNHCR/G. Gubaeva

This March marks four years since the beginning of the Syrian civil war.

In these four years, over 210,000 human beings have lost their lives. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees is aware of over 3.9 million people who have fled Syria for other countries. Most of those refugees have ended up in neighboring countries, putting massive strain on already weak economies. At least 7.6 million people are internally displaced within Syria; that is, they’ve fled their homes but stayed within the nominal borders of Syria. 2.6 million children are out of school, and 5.6 million children are at high risk for violence, poverty, trauma, and exploitation. Children born to Syrian mothers outside of Syria may well end up stateless: with no documentation of their birth or no citizenship in their host countries, they have little or no access to basic services and schooling.

Tuned out yet?

The Human Side of Agro-Forestry

HTRIP: 1.6 million trees and counting...

This blog was authored by Edward Rawson, Executive Director of Haiti Friends (not to be confused with Ed Rawson, founding member of CGS).

By the turn of the 21st century, 98% of Haiti had been deforested due to logging for timber, slash-and-burn agriculture, and the great demand for cooking fuel. Most of the land’s rich topsoil has washed into the sea, where it chokes the reefs and marine life.

Haiti’s mountains have eroded to bedrock and its aquifers are drying up. The habitat loss for wildlife is staggering, with many native plants and animals on international registries of endangered species. The deforestation and the resulting desertification is Haiti’s single largest ecological problem, which has had a negative ripple effect on the overall ecology of Haiti and its surrounding waters.

In response, the Haiti Timber Re-Introduction Program (HTRIP) began in 2008 as a grassroots movement that applies a scientific and education-based approach to support communities in the mountain regions. HTRIP seeks to transform the mountains with three approaches:

The Other Reason to Educate Girls

Malala Yousafzai, education advocate and Co-founder of the Malala Fund, speaks during an event to mark 500 Days of Action for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). UN Photo/Mark Garten

Programs seeking to improve girls’ education around the world have a laundry list of critical justifications supporting them. In particular, girls’ education is seen as an important development tool. This World Bank report shows how uneducated women directly affect countries’ Gross Domestic Product; this infographic from USAID makes explicit how more girls in school improves GDP, increases agricultural output, and creates an investment in future generations because women are more likely to spend their money on their families than men are.

Simply put, educating girls is awesome for pretty much everybody.

But here's what's barely mentioned in too many of these reports: these education programs are educating girls. Their chief importance isn’t in economic benefits or the return on investment donors see in financial reports or improvements in the global economy. Educating girls matters because women matter.

Europe Needs to Expand Interfaith Dialogue

The attacks on the French Satirical Newspaper Charlie Hebdo show the need for more interfaith dialogue in Europe, both in the expansion of already existing efforts and the creation of new programs. Sadly, interfaith and multicultural dialogue in Europe, like everywhere else, does not receive much attention in the media.

Even countries like Holland, which has seen a rise in Islamophobic attitudes, have been engaging in dialogue via community programs, such as those in the Slotervaart neighborhood in Amsterdam.

Muslim-Jewish dialogue and cooperation have even been going on in several European countries, particularly Norway. For instance, after an attack on a synagogue in Denmark this February, Muslims in Norway gathered around a synagogue to protect its parishioners from acts of extremism.

Even in France, there has been a history of Muslim-Jewish dialogue. During the attack on Kosher marketplaces shortly after the Charlie Hebdo attack, a Muslim citizen from Mali saved the lives of some of the hostages.

The Cultural Heritage of Iraq and Syria: "Destroyed by human ignorance − rebuilt by human hope"

Destruction of Iraq's historical treasures by ISIS members

On Friday, 27 February 2015, the United Nations Security Council condemned "the deliberate destruction of irreplaceable religious and cultural artifacts housed in the Mosul Museum and burning of thousands of books and rare manuscripts from the Mosul Library." 

The Mosul Museum, which was not yet open to the public, had a large number of statues from the pre-Islamic Mesopotamian civilizations as well as statues from the Greek Hellenistic period. The spokesman for the Islamic State faction that carried out the destruction—and filmed and posted it on the internet—maintained that the statues represented gods which had been worshiped while only the true god should receive worship.

This approach to pre-Islamic faiths and their material culture is the same one that led to the destruction of the large Buddha statues in Afghanistan—monuments that attested to the rich culture along the Silk Road.

There have been iconoclastic movements in the past, especially among Muslims and early Protestants holding that the spiritual world cannot (and should not) be represented in forms; all forms lead to confusing the specific form with the formless spiritual energy behind it. The iconoclastic reasoning can be defended, but the destruction of objects that represented other philosophies, cultures and levels of understanding cannot.

Revisiting "The Grand Bargain of the NPT"

President Lyndon Johnson looking on as Secretary of State Dean Rusk prepares to sign the NPT, 1 July 1968.

On March 5, humanity celebrated the 45th anniversary of the coming into force of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). We also celebrated one more day of dodging the nuclear bullet, sitting in the chamber of the gun in our own hands. Along with my colleagues at CGS, I am convinced that we will not dodge this bullet indefinitely—unless someday the nations of the world comply with all the terms of the NPT and abolish nuclear weapons forever from the face of the earth.

So as a relatively new CGS guest blogger, I offer you a piece I published on the Huffington Post five years ago, excerpted from my book Apocalypse Never, to commemorate the NPT's 40th anniversary and to explain what the treaty is fundamentally about.

You might want to read it quickly.

Because that bullet, aimed at each and every one of the 7.2 billion human souls alive today—not to mention the infinite number of our future descendants who have not yet even had the chance to be born —is not staying in that chamber forever.


The UN: From Idealism to Reality

On February 23rd, the United Nations Security Council held a debate on the Purposes and Principles of the UN Charter. There, US Ambassador Samantha Power made a plea for the Council, and the UN, to reaffirm its commitment to the principles laid out in the Charter. Most importantly, she urged the council to "recommit ourselves to these people – individuals in every one of our states whose basic dignity the Charter is meant to defend and uphold.”

It’s no secret that the UN isn’t the world’s best problem-solver. Even the body itself has admitted a failure to limit or stop certain events, such as the atrocities in Syria or rape in Darfur. Part of this is from inaction: many argue that it is too hard to pass a resolution, especially on the Security Council where each member’s veto power leaves propositions dead in their tracks. Power puts it best when she says, “divisions among Member States continue to prevent the Council from taking action…or even speaking in one voice to condemn the violence and call for meaningful accountability.”

Finding the Path Toward World Law

We recently celebrated the birthday of Louis Sohn (born 1 March 1914), who played a key role in the development of world law. His Cases and Other Materials on World Law stressed the difference between "international law," which is born of treaties between two or more States, and "world law," which is the composition, functions, powers and procedures of organs of the world society. 

World Law consists of norms and values which are binding on all States and individuals, regardless of whether a State has ratified a specific treaty. The 1948 Convention against Genocide, for example, is world law even if a State has not ratified it.

Additionally, when a State joins the United Nations, it pledges to follow the norms set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, the Declaration as world law is binding on individuals and the administration of States which are not UN members, such as Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistria, Nagorno-Karabakh, Kosovo, and what may become States in eastern Ukraine.

Louis Sohn, who died in 2006, would no doubt be following current events in Ukraine with passion. He was born in Lviv, then part of the Austria-Hungarian Empire; the city became part of Poland during his youth and university studies, then part of the Soviet Union and now Ukraine − a testimony to the changing nature of States and nationality.

The Deterrent Effect of the International Criminal Court

Fatou Bensouda, ICC Prosecutor at the first appearance hearing of Dominic Ongwen on 26 January 2015 at the International Criminal Court in The Hague ©ICC-CPI

In a time where horrible atrocities continue seemingly unabated in Nigeria, Syria, South Sudan, and beyond, we find ourselves wondering whether our global institutions could be doing more to prevent them. Take, for instance, the International Criminal Court. In the preamble to the Rome Statute in which it was founded, it is said to be both “[d]etermined to put an end to impunity for the perpetrators of these crimes and…to contribute to the prevention of such crimes.” Over ten years after its founding, is the ICC actually deterring crime? Or do these atrocities prove the ICC is failing?

The logic of the international criminal justice system preventing crime works on two prongs. First, there’s prosecutorial deterrence. As the likelihood of prosecution and the associated punishments (e.g., fines, prison sentences, etc.) goes up, crime goes down. The second form of deterrence is social. Those who violate the law may face stigmas associated with their crimes whether they are prosecuted or not; they may be shamed or shunned, and they may be excluded from profitable relationships domestically or internationally.

Is the International Criminal Court actually deterring crime on either of these models? Yes, with some caveats.