Trump’s Rhetoric on Immigration Hurts US, Helps ISIL

A K-1 (Fiancee) Visa

A K-1 (Fiancee) Visa

It is a rare day when Dick Cheney and Lindsay Graham are in agreement with Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, but Donald Trump’s calls to ban Muslim entry into the U.S. are so absurd and outrageous that he has people on both sides of the aisle railing against him.

In Trump’s simplistic, uninformed world view, the constitutional questions of a religious test to enter the U.S. are of no concern. Neither are details of how one would determine who is a Muslim. Would Trump call for Caucasian or Christian males like himself be barred from theaters, schools, or political gatherings since the majority of mass shooters share his ethnicity or religion?

Ignorant of the thousands of applicants whose visas are denied, revoked, cancelled, or stuck in interminable security checks every day, Trump’s proposed solution accepts the radical’s narrative of religion, exposes his ignorance on the laws and processes of this country, and poses an even greater threat to national security than the national security problems they purport to solve. This latest proposal is much the same as his “solution” for immigration reform in general: build a wall.

The reality is comprehensive inter-agency counter-terrorism screening has been a part of the process for admission of foreign nationals since before 9/11. Since then, the visa issuance process has become vastly more complex. Applicants are screened regardless of the type of visa they apply for, be it as a student, tourist, worker, artist, or under the Visa Waiver Program, or as a permanent resident.

If a case is flagged for review based on law enforcement or intelligence, State Department regulations require a Security Advisory Opinion, or SAO, to be obtained before the foreign national can receive a visa to enter the U.S. The foreign national is run through as many as seven different interconnected government databases. Other federal agencies, including the FBI, CIA, and the NSA are constantly consulted to update visa issuance procedures. The data in these databases is also dynamic, and can be updated quickly in response to new intelligence.

Counter-terrorism screening works, and it happens every day for every type of visa. The refugee screening process is even more exhaustive. It can take between 18 and 24 months and it takes longer to screen refugees because they usually do not have documents with them.

A “security check” is not some pro-forma review done for appearance’s sake, but is instead a thorough screening to determine whether this person will be allowed into the U.S. They are performed by government agents who take their job very seriously. Trump’s rhetoric is a slap in the face of these dedicated public servants.

Many politicians are questioning “fiancee” (K-1) visa procedures. This is also a misguided inquiry. The issue is counter-terrorism screening, not the particular visa process. And counter-terrorism screening already happens for all visas. While no system is perfect, shutting the whole thing down actually enhances the threat to America. Do Trump & Co. really think the complex security check process run and maintained by experienced officials would have been established if it would have been easier to just stop immigration?

Perhaps more importantly is the fact that Trump’s proposal only feeds into the problem that he is trying to address. National security specialist Benjamin Wittes noted that rejecting refugees, particularly on the basis of their religion or national origin, actually presents ISIL and other extremist groups fodder for their narrative of an apocalyptic clash of civilizations between Islam and the West. ISIL profits from Trump rhetoric. Moreover, such a call would break up families, hinder business and effectively build a wall from the rest of the world.

Terrorism has multiple causes. Pretending it can be stopped by banning Muslim entry is a fantasy soundbite made to get ratings. But real lives are at stake here. This is not the time for a knee-jerk reaction.

A robust background check system — which we already have — must be considered as one part of a broader national security strategy. Rejecting xenophobia in favor of actually countering ISIL is not just the right thing to do — it is also the safer one.

Expressing Solidarity With Paris

Deborah Willig, Esq., Bonnie Squires, and Helen Loeb.

Left to right: Deborah Willig, Esq., Bonnie Squires and Helen Loeb.

The French International School of Philadelphia, located in Bala Cynwyd Pennsylvania, held a solidarity rally for students, alumni, parents, teachers, and members of the community in order to express solidarity with France and the victims of ISIL terrorism.

Deborah Willig, Esq., chair of the school’s board of directors, along with the school’s co-principals, organized the rally. Votive candles in the shape of the Eiffel Tower and the peace symbol were on a table, and attendees were encouraged to light candles in sympathy with the victims of the Friday the Thirteenth attacks in Paris.

Honorary Consul Michael Scullin, Esq. and Rabbi Albert Gabbai.

Helen Loeb, a native of Toulouse, France, now living in suburban Philadelphia, told the people gathered that her niece who lives and works in Paris had called to tell her that she had lost two friends who were at the concert at the Bataclan venue where the American rock group Eagles of Death Metal were performing.

Michael Scullin, Esq., Honorary Consul of France in Philadelphia and Wilmington, and Rabbi Albert Gabbai, of The Congregation Mikveh Israel, spoke briefly, along with the co-principals of the school, expressing condolences for the victims of the terrorist atacks in Paris. Scullin had arranged a rally the night before in front of the LOVE statue in center city Philadelphia. Votive candles arranged in the shape of the Eiffel Tower and the symbol for peace were available for lighting at the school.

What the West Should Learn From ISIL Palmyra Destruction

palmyraAll of us are sickened by the horrible barbaric acts of ISIL and rightly so. Their vision incorporates an intolerant hateful extreme interpretation of Islam, destroying and creating terror wherever they are, in the name of a new triumphant Caliphate.

We have watched helplessly while ISIL destroys Palmyra, an extraordinary archaeological remnant. I find this somehow ironic, for Palmyra is nothing more than remnants. The remains of Palmyra are ruins precisely because of a history where the next invader destroyed what preceded. So ISIL continues to do what has done for millennia.

I certainly do not suggest that ISIL is either civilized or legitimate, anything but. However, human beings have a past where we often find a need to conquer and destroy rather than honor and build upon what came before. These ancient ruins are sites of destruction and murder from history. They are tied to cycles of building and prosperity punctuated by war, overthrow and occupation. Possibly we can learn more in this moment beyond how to preserve ancient monuments.

Perhaps if we are to truly honor Palmyra, saving the inhabitants of the land should be the priority. ISIL is partially a reaction to a failed nation-state, which we, the “civilized” West, had supported. The developed countries helped to create a festering problem by permitting strongmen to ruthlessly rule because it was in our political interests to do so, rather than create an organic sustainable government whose legitimacy is derived from the people governed. ISIL is attempting to fill a void created when the dictatorship is finally overthrown and no institutions or even a history of governance are there to take its place.

The “civilized” world must accept its responsibility in creating the situation that now exists and therefore engage in nation building to create a place where the native peoples can live in peace. In the interim, it is our responsibility to provide safe haven for the refugees and victims of war by providing shelter, food and clothing through temporary facilities as well as through immigration. Only when the civilized world does these things can we say we truly honor our past and that humanity is indeed progressing forward.

US, Israel Must Assure Iran Agreement Is Implemented

What Position Should We Take On The Iran Nuclear Deal?

I received the above question from The Peace Team along with a retelling of why Alan Grayson, described as a bona fide progressive (His recent failure to back higher taxes on the top 0.01% not withstanding.), is strongly against the talks that led to the agreement. I have respected Grayson’s outspokenness in the past, but very much disagree with him on the Iran Nuclear Deal.

As an American Jew with relatives in Israel, I support the agreement as by far the best alternative. Absent implementation of this agreement would have two likely outcomes: war or a nuclear armed Iran. I am not the least bit interested in either.

A Military Solution?

Legions of the same people who cheer-lead the disastrous invasion of Iraq have for years been touting military action as the “best option” but they fail, as they did before, to take into account any of the likely corollary ramifications. In a Washington Post Op-ed, Hans Binnendijk ably relayed that it would be no easy task to degrade Iran’s nuclear capabilities via air strikes, and the prospect of hostilities expanding beyond “surgical” strikes looms large.

Binnendijk also pointed out the fact that Iran is effectively our ally in the fight against ISIL, and has a close relationship with Russia: one of our negotiating partners, with whom we have a host of significant diplomatic challenges.

Meanwhile, what will our “solid” allies do? Will Britain join with the U.S. as it did in Iraq? How about Germany? Or France? Or, will we be on an island with Israel, who would be targeted by Iran’s ballistic missiles? Iran is far from a toothless enemy, with clear capacity to create havoc in the Strait of Hormuz and the potential to cause significant damage to U.S. Naval forces.

Renewed Sanctions?

If Congress upends the agreement and we do not go to war, then what? The sanctions regime that brought Iran to the table will dissolve, Russia will move forward with providing Iran with more advanced weapons and we will have no leverage, no inspections, and almost certainly drive to nuclear weapons capability on Iran’s side. Meanwhile, the already badly strained U.S. relationship with Russia over the Ukraine, a powder keg of international disaster should it blow, would worsen, and the very same people arguing vociferously against this agreement will be agitating for tougher action against Russia. The level of risk of a widening conflict in the region and direct conflict with Russia is already far too great.

Courtesy of Mike Stanfill.

Courtesy of Mike Stanfill.


Trust Iran?

With the agreement in place it is possible Iran will try to take steps toward a nuclear weapon. But it will also be far more likely that they will get caught with inspectors actively working to detect cheating, even if they cannot get into each and every possible facility (and really, what government would permit unfettered access to all of their military installations?).

A perfect deal was never going to be struck with Iran. The reality of what has been agreed to is probably better than could be realistically expected. It should be supported.

In the end, it is in the best interest of the U.S. and Israel to implement the negotiated agreement and work vigorously to ensure that its implementation is as effective as possible.

Can Tunisia Remain a Tourist Haven After ISIL Attack?

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The Bardo National Museum. Photo by Alexandre Moreau.

I take the terrorist attack on tourists outside the Bardo Museum in Tunis personally. Very personally.

My husband, a Tunisian national, who has been an American citizen since 1999, happened to be in Tunisia, visiting his parents, when the gun-toting attackers started mowing down day-tourists as they exited their bus in front of the world-famous museum.

When I finally got through to my husband to find out where he was, in relation to the attack, he was shocked to hear the news. He knew nothing about it until I shared the information.

My sister-in-law Diane had called early in the morning, after watching CNN, to find out if my husband was safe. It was a frantic morning till I was able to get through to him.

Since tourism is the main component of Tunisia’s economy, ISIL, or whoever is responsible for the murderous attack, surely hit their mark. The tourist trade was finally coming back after the “revolution” that set Tunisia on the path to democracy, but created a lot of questions and challenges and slowed down tourism for several years.

My first trip to Tunisia was in 1995 with a delegation of twelve national leaders of American Jewish Congress. In fact, The Philadelphia Jewish Voice’s vice president, Ken Myers, his wife Susan and I represented the Pennsylvania region on that trip, which had us meeting with leadership in Tunisia, then Jordan, and finally in Israel.

I always have a distinct advantage in visiting Tunisia, the former French colony, as I speak French fluently. And although in recent years, English classes have been included in Tunisia’s education system, back in 1995, very few of the leaders, most of whom had attended university in France, spoke English. So I was usually the interpreter.

Who would ever have suspected that violence of this level, the attack on people simply getting out of a tourist bus and entering the Bardo to admire the world’s greatest collection of Greek and Roman mosaics? Oh, yes, the head of an opposition party had been gunned down in front of his home about a year ago, which was shocking enough. But 19 or 20 victims at one time? And dozens more wounded? Tourists from a dozen countries? Spreading fear across all of Europe — and America? This was some vicious act out of a “B” movie.

The Charlie Hebdo and Cacher Hyper Marche murders in Paris had just about faded when Tunis was moved to front and center of the international attention. Because things had settled down in Tunisia in the past couple of years, even with a revolving door of government officials, the security detail for the museum, which is next door to the Parliament building, was relaxed. There were still guards for the Parliament, but the museum was not seen as a “target.”

My visits to Tunisia subsequent to the AJC delegation included five more trips, two of them as a guest of the government’s tourism agency, designed for journalists. But I must confess that I have declined my husband’s invitations to accompany him to visit his parents, ever since the revolution in 2011. Yes, the Tunisian Arab Spring is referred to as the model for Muslim countries, throwing off dictatorships and opting for democracy. But you cannot just paste a layer of “democracy” over centuries of non-participation in government decisions.

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El Ghriba synagogue. Photo by Chapultepec.

The reaction of the president and prime minister of Tunisia was instant and strong, vowing to fight against terrorism and terrorists in their country and elsewhere. The U.S., England and France joined in their support for Tunisia’s official reaction to the horror.

Only about 1100 Jews are left in the Tunisia, but many of them, like some of our Tunisian friends, also own homes in Paris and spend half the year there. Others travel to the U.S., Israel, England and France on business. Basically, the Jews in Tunisia are located in two main areas: Tunis, the capital, and the island of Djerba, with one of the world’s oldest synagogues.

Djerban Jews are quite insular, and Orthodox, with schools for girls and schools for boys. I have visited these and admired them, although the girls are not encouraged to pursue higher education. Most of the Djerban Jews are shopkeepers, craftsmen, jewelers, and leather goods impresarios.

However, the dozens of wounded tourists from many countries, those who survived the Bardo assault, will probably serve as a warning to lots of others who wanted to go to Tunisia, either for a day-trip off their cruise ship, or for a week or two at a lovely, and very reasonable hotel, with everything included.

We have to wait and see what the ramifications are for the U.S. and European countries, now that ISIL has decided that killing sprees spread their message and attract new killers. But the instant demonstration by thousands of Tunisians who spilled into the streets of the capital to tell the world that they will not tolerate ISIL in their country, and will hunt them down and punish them, was a heartening scene. I hope to be able to return to Tunisia in the near future.

Obama: Combat Islamic Extremism with “Tolerance and Inclusion”

President Obama spoke at the first day of the White House three-day summit on combating violent extremism.

The United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.... May the children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig-tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.  - Pres. George Washington (1790)

The United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support…. May the children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig-tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid. – Pres. George Washington (1790)

For more than 238 years, the United States of America has not just endured, but we have thrived and surmounted challenges that might have broken a lesser nation. After a terrible civil war, we repaired our union. We weathered a Great Depression, became the world’s most dynamic economy. We fought fascism, liberated Europe. We faced down communism — and won. American communities have been destroyed by earthquakes and tornadoes and fires and floods — and each time we rebuild.

The bombing that killed 168 people could not break Oklahoma City. On 9/11, terrorists tried to bring us to our knees; today a new tower soars above New York City, and America continues to lead throughout the world. After Americans were killed at Fort Hood and the Boston Marathon, it didn’t divide us; we came together as one American family.

In the face of horrific acts of violence — at a Sikh temple near Milwaukee, or at a Jewish community center outside Kansas City — we reaffirmed our commitment to pluralism and to freedom, repulsed by the notion that anyone should ever be targeted because of who they are, or what they look like, or how they worship.

Most recently, with the brutal murders in Chapel Hill of three young Muslim Americans, many Muslim Americans are worried and afraid. And I want to be as clear as I can be: As Americans, all faiths and backgrounds, we stand with you in your grief and we offer our love and we offer our support.

My point is this: As Americans, we are strong and we are resilient. And when tragedy strikes, when we take a hit, we pull together, and we draw on what’s best in our character — our optimism, our commitment to each other, our commitment to our values, our respect for one another. We stand up, and we rebuild, and we recover, and we emerge stronger than before. That’s who we are.

And I say all this because we face genuine challenges to our security today, just as we have throughout our history. Challenges to our security are not new. They didn’t happen yesterday or a week ago or a year ago. We’ve always faced challenges. One of those challenges is the terrorist threat from groups like al Qaeda and ISIL. But this isn’t our challenge alone. It’s a challenge for the world. ISIL is terrorizing the people of Syria and Iraq, beheads and burns human beings in unfathomable acts of cruelty. We’ve seen deadly attacks in Ottawa and Sydney and, Paris, and now Copenhagen.

So, in the face of this challenge, we have marshalled the full force of the United States government, and we’re working with allies and partners to dismantle terrorist organizations and protect the American people. Given the complexities of the challenge and the nature of the enemy — which is not a traditional army — this work takes time, and will require vigilance and resilience and perspective. But I’m confident that, just as we have for more than two centuries, we will ultimately prevail.

And part of what gives me that confidence is the overwhelming response of the world community to the savagery of these terrorists — not just revulsion, but a concrete commitment to work together to vanquish these organizations.

At the United Nations in September, I called on the international community to come together and eradicate this scourge of violent extremism. And I want to thank all of you — from across America and around the world — for answering this call. Tomorrow at the State Department, governments and civil society groups from more than 60 countries will focus on the steps that we can take as governments. And I’ll also speak about how our nations have to remain relentless in our fight — our counterterrorism efforts — against groups that are plotting against our counties.

But we are here today because of a very specific challenge — and that’s countering violent extremism, something that is not just a matter of military affairs. By “violent extremism,” we don’t just mean the terrorists who are killing innocent people. We also mean the ideologies, the infrastructure of extremists — the propagandists, the recruiters, the funders who radicalize and recruit or incite people to violence. We all know there is no one profile of a violent extremist or terrorist, so there’s no way to predict who will become radicalized. Around the world, and here in the United States, inexcusable acts of violence have been committed against people of different faiths, by people of different faiths — which is, of course, a betrayal of all our faiths. It’s not unique to one group, or to one geography, or one period of time.

But we are here at this summit because of the urgent threat from groups like al Qaeda and ISIL. And this week we are focused on prevention — preventing these groups from radicalizing, recruiting or inspiring others to violence in the first place. I’ve called upon governments to come to the United Nations this fall with concrete steps that we can take together. And today, what I want to do is suggest several areas where I believe we can concentrate our efforts.

First, we have to confront squarely and honestly the twisted ideologies that these terrorist groups use to incite people to violence. Leading up to this summit, there’s been a fair amount of debate in the press and among pundits about the words we use to describe and frame this challenge. So I want to be very clear about how I see it.

Al Qaeda and ISIL and groups like it are desperate for legitimacy. They try to portray themselves as religious leaders — holy warriors in defense of Islam. That’s why ISIL presumes to declare itself the “Islamic State.” And they propagate the notion that America — and the West, generally — is at war with Islam. That’s how they recruit. That’s how they try to radicalize young people. We must never accept the premise that they put forward, because it is a lie. Nor should we grant these terrorists the religious legitimacy that they seek. They are not religious leaders — they’re terrorists. And we are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.

Now, just as those of us outside Muslim communities need to reject the terrorist narrative that the West and Islam are in conflict, or modern life and Islam are in conflict, I also believe that Muslim communities have a responsibility as well. Al Qaeda and ISIL do draw, selectively, from the Islamic texts. They do depend upon the misperception around the world that they speak in some fashion for people of the Muslim faith, that Islam is somehow inherently violent, that there is some sort of clash of civilizations.

Of course, the terrorists do not speak for over a billion Muslims who reject their hateful ideology. They no more represent Islam than any madman who kills innocents in the name of God represents Christianity or Judaism or Buddhism or Hinduism. No religion is responsible for terrorism. People are responsible for violence and terrorism.

And to their credit, there are respected Muslim clerics and scholars not just here in the United States but around the world who push back on this twisted interpretation of their faith. They want to make very clear what Islam stands for. And we’re joined by some of these leaders today. These religious leaders and scholars preach that Islam calls for peace and for justice, and tolerance toward others; that terrorism is prohibited; that the Koran says whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind. Those are the voices that represent over a billion people around the world.

But if we are going to effectively isolate terrorists, if we’re going to address the challenge of their efforts to recruit our young people, if we’re going to lift up the voices of tolerance and pluralism within the Muslim community, then we’ve got to acknowledge that their job is made harder by a broader narrative that does exist in many Muslim communities around the world that suggests the West is at odds with Islam in some fashion.

The reality — which, again, many Muslim leaders have spoken to — is that there’s a strain of thought that doesn’t embrace ISIL’s tactics, doesn’t embrace violence, but does buy into the notion that the Muslim world has suffered historical grievances — sometimes that’s accurate — does buy into the belief that so many of the ills in the Middle East flow from a history of colonialism or conspiracy; does buy into the idea that Islam is incompatible with modernity or tolerance, or that it’s been polluted by Western values.

So those beliefs exist. In some communities around the world they are widespread. And so it makes individuals — especially young people who already may be disaffected or alienated — more ripe for radicalization. And so we’ve got to be able to talk honestly about those issues. We’ve got to be much more clear about how we’re rejecting certain ideas.

So just as leaders like myself reject the notion that terrorists like ISIL genuinely represent Islam, Muslim leaders need to do more to discredit the notion that our nations are determined to suppress Islam, that there’s an inherent clash in civilizations. Everybody has to speak up very clearly that no matter what the grievance, violence against innocents doesn’t defend Islam or Muslims, it damages Islam and Muslims.

And when all of us, together, are doing our part to reject the narratives of violent extremists, when all of us are doing our part to be very clear about the fact that there are certain universal precepts and values that need to be respected in this interconnected world, that’s the beginnings of a partnership.

As we go forward, we need to find new ways to amplify the voices of peace and tolerance and inclusion — and we especially need to do it online. We also need to lift up the voices of those who know the hypocrisy of groups like ISIL firsthand, including former extremists. Their words speak to us today. And I know in some of the discussions these voices have been raised:

  • “I witnessed horrible crimes committed by ISIS.”
  • “It’s not a revolution or jihad…it’s a slaughter…I was shocked by what I did.”
  • “This isn’t what we came for, to kill other Muslims.”
  • “I’m 28 — is this the only future I’m able to imagine?”

That’s the voice of so many who were temporarily radicalized and then saw the truth. And they’ve warned other young people not to make the same mistakes as they did.

  • “Do not run after illusions.”
  • “Do not be deceived.”
  • “Do not give up your life for nothing.”

We need to lift up those voices.

And in all this work, the greatest resource are communities themselves, especially like those young people who are here today. We are joined by talented young men and women who are pioneering new innovations, and new social media tools, and new ways to reach young people. We’re joined by leaders from the private sector, including high-tech companies, who want to support your efforts. And I want to challenge all of us to build new partnerships that unleash the talents and creativity of young people — young Muslims — not just to expose the lies of extremists but to empower youth to service, and to lift up people’s lives here in America and around the world. And that can be a calling for your generation.

So that’s the first challenge — we’ve got to discredit these ideologies. We have to tackle them head on. And we can’t shy away from these discussions. And too often, folks are, understandably, sensitive about addressing some of these root issues, but we have to talk about them, honestly and clearly. And the reason I believe we have to do so is because I’m so confident that when the truth is out we’ll be successful. Now, a second challenge is we do have to address the grievances that terrorists exploit, including economic grievances. Poverty alone does not cause a person to become a terrorist, any more than poverty alone causes somebody to become a criminal. There are millions of people — billions of people — in the world who live in abject poverty and are focused on what they can do to build up their own lives, and never embrace violent ideologies.

Conversely, there are terrorists who’ve come from extraordinarily wealthy backgrounds, like Osama bin Laden. What’s true, though, is that when millions of people — especially youth — are impoverished and have no hope for the future, when corruption inflicts daily humiliations on people, when there are no outlets by which people can express their concerns, resentments fester. The risk of instability and extremism grow. Where young people have no education, they are more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and radical ideas, because it’s not tested against anything else, they’ve got nothing to weigh. And we’ve seen this across the Middle East and North Africa.

And terrorist groups are all too happy to step into a void. They offer salaries to their foot soldiers so they can support their families. Sometimes they offer social services — schools, health clinics — to do what local governments cannot or will not do. They try to justify their violence in the name of fighting the injustice of corruption that steals from the people — even while those terrorist groups end up committing even worse abuses, like kidnapping and human trafficking.

So if we’re going to prevent people from being susceptible to the false promises of extremism, then the international community has to offer something better. And the United States intends to do its part. We will keep promoting development and growth that is broadly shared, so more people can provide for their families. We’ll keep leading a global effort against corruption, because the culture of the bribe has to be replaced by good governance that doesn’t favor certain groups over others.
Countries have to truly invest in the education and skills and job training that our extraordinary young people need. And by the way, that’s boys and girls, and men and women, because countries will not be truly successful if half their populations — if their girls and their women are denied opportunity. And America will continue to forge new partnerships in entrepreneurship and innovation, and science and technology, so young people from Morocco to Malaysia can start new businesses and create more prosperity.

Just as we address economic grievances, we need to face a third challenge — and that’s addressing the political grievances that are exploited by terrorists. When governments oppress their people, deny human rights, stifle dissent, or marginalize ethnic and religious groups, or favor certain religious groups over others, it sows the seeds of extremism and violence. It makes those communities more vulnerable to recruitment. Terrorist groups claim that change can only come through violence. And if peaceful change is impossible, that plays into extremist propaganda.

So the essential ingredient to real and lasting stability and progress is not less democracy; it’s more democracy. It’s institutions that uphold the rule of law and apply justice equally. It’s security forces and police that respect human rights and treat people with dignity. It’s free speech and strong civil societies where people can organize and assemble and advocate for peaceful change. It’s freedom of religion where all people can practice their faith without fear and intimidation. All of this is part of countering violent extremism.

Fourth, we have to recognize that our best partners in all these efforts, the best people to help protect individuals from falling victim to extremist ideologies are their own communities, their own family members. We have to be honest with ourselves. Terrorist groups like al Qaeda and ISIL deliberately target their propaganda in the hopes of reaching and brainwashing young Muslims, especially those who may be disillusioned or wrestling with their identity. That’s the truth. The high-quality videos, the online magazines, the use of social media, terrorist Twitter accounts — it’s all designed to target today’s young people online, in cyberspace.

And by the way, the older people here, as wise and respected as you may be, your stuff is often boring compared to what they’re doing. You’re not connected. And as a consequence, you are not connecting.

So these terrorists are a threat, first and foremost, to the communities that they target, which means communities have to take the lead in protecting themselves. And that is true here in America, as it’s true anywhere else. When someone starts getting radicalized, family and friends are often the first to see that something has changed in their personality. Teachers may notice a student becoming withdrawn or struggling with his or her identity, and if they intervene at that moment and offer support, that may make a difference.

Faith leaders may notice that someone is beginning to espouse violent interpretations of religion, and that’s a moment for possible intervention that allows them to think about their actions and reflect on the meaning of their faith in a way that’s more consistent with peace and justice. Families and friends, coworkers, neighbors, faith leaders — they want to reach out; they want to help save their loved ones and friends, and prevent them from taking a wrong turn.

But communities don’t always know the signs to look for, or have the tools to intervene, or know what works best. And that’s where government can play a role — if government is serving as a trusted partner. And that’s where we also need to be honest. I know some Muslim Americans have concerns about working with government, particularly law enforcement. And their reluctance is rooted in the objection to certain practices where Muslim Americans feel they’ve been unfairly targeted.

So, in our work, we have to make sure that abuses stop, are not repeated, that we do not stigmatize entire communities. Nobody should be profiled or put under a cloud of suspicion simply because of their faith. Engagement with communities can’t be a cover for surveillance. We can’t “securitize” our relationship with Muslim Americans dealing with them solely through the prism of law enforcement. Because when we do, that only reinforces suspicions, makes it harder for us to build the trust that we need to work together.

As part of this summit, we’re announcing that we’re going to increase our outreach to communities, including Muslim Americans. We’re going to step up our efforts to engage with partners and raise awareness so more communities understand how to protect their loved ones from becoming radicalized. We’ve got to devote more resources to these efforts.

And as government does more, communities are going to have to step up as well. We need to build on the pilot programs that have been discussed at this summit already — in Los Angeles, in Minneapolis, in Boston. These are partnerships that bring people together in a spirit of mutual respect and create more dialogue and more trust and more cooperation. If we’re going to solve these issues, then the people who are most targeted and potentially most affected — Muslim Americans — have to have a seat at the table where they can help shape and strengthen these partnerships so that we’re all working together to help communities stay safe and strong and resilient.

And finally, we need to do what extremists and terrorists hope we will not do, and that is stay true to the values that define us as free and diverse societies. If extremists are peddling the notion that Western countries are hostile to Muslims, then we need to show that we welcome people of all faiths.

Here in America, Islam has been woven into the fabric of our country since its founding. Generations of Muslim immigrants came here and went to work as farmers and merchants and factory workers, helped to lay railroads and build up America. The first Islamic center in New York City was founded in the 1890s. America’s first mosque — this was an interesting fact — was in North Dakota.

Muslim Americans protect our communities as police officers and firefighters and first responders, and protect our nation by serving in uniform, and in our intelligence communities, and in homeland security. And in cemeteries across our country, including at Arlington, Muslim American heroes rest in peace having given their lives in defense of all of us.

And of course that’s the story extremists and terrorists don’t want the world to know — Muslims succeeding and thriving in America. Because when that truth is known, it exposes their propaganda as the lie that it is. It’s also a story that every American must never forget, because it reminds us all that hatred and bigotry and prejudice have no place in our country. It’s not just counterproductive; it doesn’t just aid terrorists; it’s wrong. It’s contrary to who we are.

I’m thinking of a little girl named Sabrina who last month sent me a Valentine’s Day card in the shape of a heart. It was the first Valentine I got. I got it from Sabrina before Malia and Sasha and Michelle gave me one. So she’s 11 years old. She’s in the 5th grade. She’s a young Muslim American. And she said in her Valentine, “I enjoy being an American.” And when she grows up, she wants to be an engineer — or a basketball player. Which are good choices. But she wrote, “I am worried about people hating Muslims…If some Muslims do bad things, that doesn’t mean all of them do.” And she asked, “Please tell everyone that we are good people and we’re just like everyone else.” Now, those are the words — and the wisdom — of a little girl growing up here in America, just like my daughters are growing up here in America. “We’re just like everybody else.” And everybody needs to remember that during the course of this debate.

As we move forward with these challenges, we all have responsibilities, we all have hard work ahead of us on this issue. We can’t paper over problems, and we’re not going to solve this if we’re always just trying to be politically correct. But we do have to remember that 11-year-old girl. That’s our hope. That’s our future. That’s how we discredit violent ideologies, by making sure her voice is lifted up; making sure she’s nurtured; making sure that she’s supported — and then, recognizing there are little girls and boys like that all around the world, and us helping to address economic and political grievances that can be exploited by extremists, and empowering local communities, and us staying true to our values as a diverse and tolerant society even when we’re threatened — especially when we’re threatened.

There will be a military component to this. There are savage cruelties going on out there that have to be stopped. ISIL is killing Muslims at a rate that is many multiples the rate that they’re killing non-Muslims. Everybody has a stake in stopping them, and there will be an element of us just stopping them in their tracks with force. But to eliminate the soil out of which they grew, to make sure that we are giving a brighter future to everyone and a lasting sense of security, then we’re going to have to make it clear to all of our children — including that little girl in 5th grade — that you have a place. You have a place here in America. You have a place in those countries where you live. You have a future.

Ultimately, those are the antidotes to violent extremism. And that’s work that we’re going to have to do together. It will take time. This is a generational challenge. But after 238 years, it should be obvious — America has overcome much bigger challenges, and we’ll overcome the ones that we face today. We will stay united and committed to the ideals that have shaped us for more than two centuries, including the opportunity and justice and dignity of every single human being.

Thank you very much, everybody.

Does Obama Really Doubt Kosher Market Attackers’ Anti-Semitism?

paris62047[1]President Obama and other members of his administration have repeatedly condemned the January 9 Paris kosher market attack as anti-Semitic.

Anti-Semitic attacks like the recent terrorist attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris pose a threat that extends beyond the Jewish community. (Barack Obama, January 22)

The violent assault on the Jewish community in France that took place on Friday afternoon – as the Jewish community in Paris was in the final hours of preparing for the restfulness and peace of the Sabbath – was the latest in a series of troubling incidents in Europe and around the world that reflect a rising tide of anti-Semitism. (Denis McDonough, White House Chief of Staff, January 13)

All four [victims] were casualties of violent anti-Semitism–targets because they were Jews. All were killed playing some role in preparation for the celebration of Shabbat – a core practice of their faith. (Samantha Power, US Ambassador to the UN, January 22,

But in a Feb. 9 interview with Vox’s Matthew Yglesias, the President was not as clear as he could have been, and his critics ignored all of his previous statements and leapt to the most implausible interpretation, as if this was the first time the President spoke about it.

Yglesis: Do you think the media sometimes overstates the level of alarm people should have about terrorism and this kind of chaos, as opposed to a longer-term problem of climate change and epidemic disease?

Obama: Absolutely. And I don’t blame the media for that. What’s the famous saying about local newscasts, right? If it bleeds, it leads, right? You show crime stories and you show fires, because that’s what folks watch, and it’s all about ratings. And, you know, the problems of terrorism and dysfunction and chaos, along with plane crashes and a few other things, that’s the equivalent when it comes to covering international affairs. There’s just not going to be a lot of interest in a headline story that we have cut infant mortality by really significant amounts over the last 20 years or that extreme poverty has been slashed or that there’s been enormous progress with a program we set up when I first came into office to help poor farmers increase productivity and yields. 7 It’s not a sexy story. And climate change is one that is happening at such a broad scale and at such a complex system, it’s a hard story for the media to tell on a day-to-day basis.

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Cartoon courtesy of Yaakov “Dry Bones” Kirschen: http://drybonesblog.blogspot.co.il/

Look, the point is this: my first job is to protect the American people. It is entirely legitimate for the American people to be deeply concerned when you’ve got a bunch of violent, vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris. We devote enormous resources to that, and it is right and appropriate for us to be vigilant and aggressive in trying to deal with that

Compounding matters, two White House spokespeople did a terrible job responding to questions, although they did get it right later that same day.

Our view has not changed. Terror attack at Paris Kosher market was motivated by anti-Semitism. POTUS didn’t intend to suggest otherwise. (John Earnest, White House Press Secretary, February 10)

We have always been clear that the attack on the kosher grocery store was an anti-semitic attack that took the lives of innocent people. (Jen Psaki, Department of State Press Secretary, February 10)

Yair Rosenberg spells it all out:

One of the downsides of Obama’s carefully cultivated intellectual persona is that onlookers often mistake his errors for intended actions, not realizing that this president makes miscues like any other. What critics would’ve written off as a gaffe if it came from George W. Bush, they instead see as part of deliberate plan when it comes from Obama. But those who would read a malevolent worldview–rather than mere mangled messaging–into this episode should remember that the Obama administration has in fact been a stalwart critic of rising European anti-Semitism. The president even dispatched his confidant Samantha Power to Berlin to hector European nations about not doing enough to fight it. It is exceedingly unlikely that the administration has suddenly decided that Jew hatred on the continent is no longer a problem.

Hopefully, the next time the president errs, his team will simply correct the record the first time, rather than awkwardly attempt to spin his mistake into something more sensible.

Jordan Had No Choice But to Execute Islamic Terrorist Prisoners

Jordanian pilot Muadh al-Kasasbeh captured and killed by ISIL.

Jordanian pilot Muadh al-Kasasbeh captured and killed by ISIL.

Ordinarily, I oppose the death penalty and I certainly oppose revenge killings, but ISIL left the Kingdom of Jordon no choice but to do exactly that.

Jordan was in negotiations with ISIL to exchange unsuccessful 2012 suicide bomber Sajida al-Rishawi and two other terrorists for Jordanian pilot Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh. Jordan was willing to agree to free terrorists from death row, but required proof of that the captured coalition pilot was still alive. They demanded the proof because there had been unsubstantiated rumors that Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh had been burnt alive shortly after being captured on January 3.

In fact, ISIL had been negotiating in bad faith. These terrible rumors were confirmed yesterday as ISIL released an extremely disturbing video showing the Jordanian pilot slowly burning to death while in a cage.

Now, ISIL knows that Jordan is willing to negotiate with terrorists and that they will free killers in exchange for soldiers. Having made the mistake of negotiating with this group, the terrorists on death row in Jordanian prisons became an enormous liability for the kingdom. ISIL had a great incentive to take an additional prisoner and simply by refraining from killing him so quickly, they would expect to free their comrades from Jordanian prisons and secure a major coup for their efforts to create a new Islamic State.

The only path forward for Jordan now was to expedite the execution of these terrorists. Fox news reported that today, just after the morning prayers, “prisoners Sajida al-Rishawi and Ziad al-Karbouli were executed”:

Al-Rishawi has been on death row for her role in a triple hotel bombing in the Jordanian capital Amman in 2005 that killed dozens…. Ziad Al-Karbuli was a former aide to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian Al Qaeda operative who was killed in 2006.

Obama: ‘I Will Veto Any New Sanctions’ on Iran

In his State of the Union address (Video and transcript below.), President Obama said that he will veto any new sanctions on Iran passed by Congress before the end of March — the U.S. deadline for reaching an agreement on a framework to eliminate Iran’s nuclear program:

Between now and this spring, we have a chance to negotiate a comprehensive agreement that prevents a nuclear-armed Iran, secures America and our allies — including Israel, while avoiding yet another Middle East conflict.  There are no guarantees that negotiations will succeed, and I keep all options on the table to prevent a nuclear Iran.

But new sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails — alienating America from its allies; making it harder to maintain sanctions; and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again.  It doesn’t make sense. And that’s why I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress.

flotus_sotu_suite_roc_AlanGross[1]Alan Gross, who was released last month from Cuban prison after five years, was among the audience.
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