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U.K. government and community groups struggle to stop Islamic radicalization spike

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JUDY WOODRUFF: We return again to Islamic extremism in the United Kingdom.

Last night, chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner reported from London about what’s driving so many British and European Muslims to travel to Syria to fight with the Islamic State group.

Tonight, she reports on what the British government and community leaders are trying to do to stop that trend.

MARGARET WARNER: Imran Khawaja was supposed to be a dead man. The Londoner went to Syria last January to join a radical group affiliated with Islamic State. He was a star of its online recruitment videos, usually masked, brandishing weapons.

Then, last June, the group announced on social media that he’d been killed in battle. But it was all a ruse. That same day, the 27-year-old was arrested trying to sneak back through the British port of Dover. Last week, he pled guilty to four terrorism-related crimes, which could carry life in prison.

Just days ago, Scotland Yard announced it had made 165 Syria-related terrorist arrests in 2014, including Khawaja’s, a six-fold increase over the 25 arrested the previous year.

MARK ROWLEY, Assistant Commissioner for Specialist Crime and Operations, Metropolitan Police Department, London: The surge of work we have seen over the last year is stretching us.

MARGARET WARNER: Britain’s counterterrorism chief, Mark Rowley, says not even the U.K.’s 40 years of dealing with Irish Republican-inspired terrorism prepared them for the scope of the new threat from Islamic extremists going to and returning from Syria and Iraq.

MARK ROWLEY: Half of the people who we are concerned about who traveled to Syria weren’t previously on our radar, so new people are being drawn into this. This isn’t the usual suspects, to use an old phrase. Some of this is new people coming into the terrorist cause.

MARGARET WARNER: To date, authorities estimate 600 U.K. Muslims have gone to join jihadi groups in Syria, and nearly half may have returned.

None of these returnees has pulled off an attack in the U.K., but authorities say they foiled five major plots last year that would have lost many lives. This month’s attacks in Paris also highlighted the threat posed throughout Western Europe by under-the-radar jihadis trained abroad.

Rowley said authorities are trying to stem the surge of these fighters at every point in the pipeline, depending on tips from the Muslim community, which have surged in the past year.

MOHAMMED KOZBAR, Chairman, Finsbury Park Mosque: “You scum — you scum should be killed. Muslim, rot in hell.”

MARGARET WARNER: Mohammed Kozbar, chairman of the Finsbury Park Mosque, who is trying to help, read us anonymous hate mail received after Paris.

His London mosque was once a hotbed of extremist preaching, under Imam Abu Hamza al-Masri, convicted in New York this month for instigating terrorist attacks. Shoe bomber Richard Reid was among the radicals who prayed there. In 2005, Kozbar and others wrested control of the mosque away from its radical leaders.

Now, he says, they work with members, starting at the youngest age, warning about the dangers of extremism.

MOHAMMED KOZBAR: We look to people who are vulnerable, especially young people, who we see that they might be in a way driven away from the mosque to extremism. So we try to engage with these people in advance.

 

MARGARET WARNER: That’s the idea behind the Active Change Foundation in East London’s Leyton neighborhood. It’s the brainchild of Hanif Qadir, who went to Afghanistan to fight against the U.S. after 9/11, but left when he saw cruelty being committed by both sides.

HANIF QADIR, CEO, Active Change Foundation: I got caught up in a network of individuals afterwards known to be from al-Qaida. It’s a classic case of being recruited into a network and being radicalized.

MARGARET WARNER: Qadir returned to London on a mission to prevent violent extremism among its Muslims. At first, his message fell on deaf ears.

HANIF QADIR: Nobody was appreciating the fact that, you know, we have got problems in our community. And then we had 7/7. At that point, it was like, well, we told you so, but now we hope that you can understand and help us to get on with the work that needs to be done.

MARGARET WARNER: The London transport suicide bombings of July 2005, which killed more than 50 civilians, were the work of four British-born young Muslims.

The attacks sparked new laws and programs to combat extremist terrorism; 18-year-old Javid Khan, who moved to London from Afghanistan with his family in 2010, said Qadir’s program helped him as a teenager resist radicalizing influences.

JAVID KHAN, United Kingdom: This is the only place that you can find out about what’s going on in the world and how we can avoid recruiters of ISIS and other extremist groups. I don’t want that name on me or on my family.

HAMZA ABDULWAHI, United Kingdom: This is a highly-populated area full of Muslims, so there was a high chance of me meeting the wrong type of people.

MARGARET WARNER: Twenty-two-year old university student Hamza Abdulwahi, who moved to the neighborhood at 13, says the program helped him understand that the way of Allah doesn’t include violence.

HAMZA ABDULWAHI: If the person went there to fight, you have to be concerned, because, clearly, he’s not of the right mind. If he went for other motives, to go kill people, and that person comes back, he could clearly do the same thing here.

MARGARET WARNER: But there is a fierce debate here about the effectiveness of these programs, whether it’s intervening before someone goes to fight or trying to rehabilitate them afterwards, concedes the minister in charge for the U.K. Home Office, James Brokenshire.

Britain does have one of the highest percentages of Muslims youth going to fight. What is your evidence that your programs are successful?

JAMES BROKENSHIRE, Minister for Security and Immigration, Home Office, United Kingdom: We have had around 2,000 referrals, and several hundred people are receiving direct support, in other, words to challenge the ideology. But I think it’s — there’s no one size fits all. So, it is a complex picture, one that we are vigilant on and are constantly challenging ourselves as to what more that we can do.

MARGARET WARNER: But there is criticism from the Muslim community that these programs target only Muslims.

MOAZZAM BEGG, Outreach Director, CAGE: The basic programs like Prevent, for example, Preventing Violent Extremism, as it was called in the beginning, wanted communities literally to spy on one another.

MARGARET WARNER: Moazzam Begg, detained at Guantanamo for nearly three years on charges of attending al-Qaida training camps in Afghanistan, returned to London in 2005 to found the group CAGE. It opposes what it sees as draconian anti-terrorism measures.

Last year, Begg was arrested for going to Syria in 2012 and 2013 to train rebels fighting President Bashar Assad’s forces. Western governments were supporting some anti-Assad fighters then too. The charges were later dropped.

So what does happen when they come home?

MOAZZAM BEGG: I was imprisoned with many of these young men who have returned. People don’t know whether they have committed a crime or not. They went for benign reasons. They thought they were helping the Syrians, and they found out something else was going on.

MARGARET WARNER: But counterterrorism chief Rowley is skeptical of such claims.

MARK ROWLEY: Some of it sounds a bit incredible to me, because they will say, well, my son’s been out there, he regrets what he’s done, he wants to come back, he’s sorry.

If someone has traveled and not got involved with anything, then we can — we can help them. But people who are going out there, they are planning to join a terrorist group, you can’t possibly not realize how awful the activities out there and that ISIS are all regarded by all the Western world as a terrorist group. If you are going to take part in that, then we are going to investigate you and we’re going to throw the book at you.

THERESA MAY, Home Secretary, United Kingdom: Quite simply, Mr. Speaker, if we want the police and the security services to protect the public and save lives, they need this capability.

MARGARET WARNER: Britain is looking to add pages to that book. A controversial new anti-terror bill is working its way through Parliament. Critics dub it the snoopers bill. It would increase government’s powers to monitor suspected extremists and expand the universe of people asked to report suspected cases to authorities.

All this, says Finsbury Park Mosque chairman Kozbar, will put British Muslims even more in the crosshairs.

MOHAMMED KOZBAR: To tell the Muslim community that you have to spy on your children, to tell them that when you see something wrong or you think that there is something wrong, you have to report it and all of this, this is not helpful. We want, as British people, to be safe and to be secure, but we want to do it the right way.

MARGARET WARNER: For now, though, the right way to counter the threat remains in dispute.

I’m Margaret Warner in London for the NewsHour.

The post U.K. government and community groups struggle to stop Islamic radicalization spike appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Obama avoids criticizing treatment of Saudi blogger during visit

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JUDY WOODRUFF: The death of a monarch highlights the complicated relationship between two strong allies. But behind praise from the U.S. lie some serious questions about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.

The president stepped off Air Force One on a mission to pay respects to the late King Abdullah, who died Thursday at the age of 90, and to meet with the new Saudi king, Salman bin Abdulaziz. White House officials said they discussed the Islamic State threat, the chaos in Yemen just to the Saudis’ south, and the ongoing dispute over Iran’s nuclear program.

At the same time, President Obama walked a fine line on the issue of the Saudi human rights record. An aide said he didn’t ask King Salman about a Saudi blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam.

Instead, the president argued in general for tolerance and free speech, as he told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria before arriving in Riyadh:

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: What I have found effective is to apply steady, consistent pressure, even as we are getting business done that needs to get done.

And, oftentimes, that makes some of our allies uncomfortable. It makes them frustrated. Sometimes, we have to balance our need to speak to them about human rights issues with immediate concerns that we have in terms of countering terrorism or dealing with regional stability.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The full interview will air on “Fareed Zakaria GPS” this weekend.

On the Saudi side, there are indications that Salman wants stepped-up cooperation with the West, especially on fighting Islamist extremism. An early sign came when he chose 55-year-old Mohammed bin Nayef, a Western-educated minister focused on counterterrorism, to be second in line to the throne.

But the king and his advisers face a balancing act between working with the West and accommodating the country’s ultra-conservative brand of Islam. Recent reforms have allowed women into political life, but they are still not permitted to drive cars. And just this week, the Saudis carried out another public beheading, the first under King Salman’s rule.

It’s notable that later today, a U.S. official said that the new Saudi king didn’t raise any objections over American efforts to reach a nuclear deal with the kingdom’s regional rival, Iran.

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Is the U.S. pushing Saudi Arabia enough on human rights?

Saudi Arabia's King Salman gestures to the media as he sits with U.S. President Obama at Erga Palace
         in Riyadh

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, for more on whether the U.S. has struck the right balance between its interests and concerns over Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, I’m joined by Gary Sick. He’s a veteran of the White House National Security Council staff during the Ford, Carter and Reagan administrations. He’s now at Columbia university. And Tom Porteous, he’s deputy program director of the advocacy group Human Rights Watch.

And we welcome you both to the program.

Gary Sick, to you first. How would you assess Saudi Arabia’s human rights record compared to other countries around the world and in the region?

GARY SICK, Columbia University: Well, it often isn’t a — it isn’t very helpful to do a comparison and saying one is better than the other in this.

But I must say that, you know, Saudi Arabia has one of the worst records in the region, for all the reasons that you just enumerated, but, you know, they have been cracking down hard on their internal dissent. You know, the poor fellow who is being flogged in public is guilty of doing nothing more than practically, you know, hundreds of thousands of Americans do on Facebook every day.

And the other thing is that the Saudis are facing a series of challenges, which actually we can come back to that, if you like, but which, actually, some of them are their own making. And some of those have to do with human rights in terms of their ability to export their own ideas and that those ideas in many cases are coming back to bite them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we will come back to those challenges.

But to you, Tom Porteous, how do you size up Saudi Arabia’s human rights record?

TOM PORTEOUS, Human Rights Watch: Well, I think Gary Sick has put it very well.

It is one of the worst in the region, if not in the entire world. On women’s rights, for example, the male guardianship system requires that women get permission from their nearest male relative to do just about any business with the government, to do just about any kind of transaction in public life.

There’s the issue of freedom of expression and association, which Gary just touched upon there. And there’s actually been an increase since 2011 in the crackdown on freedom of expression and association, particularly directed at those who are expressing concern about extremism in the kingdom. Political participation is practically minimal.

There’s religious persecution. Muslim minority sects in Saudi Arabia, like the Ismailis and the Shia, are persecuted, and non-Muslim religions, if you belong to a non-Muslim religion, you are not allowed to practice your religion at all.

And then there’s the whole issue of the justice system, which is based on a very strict and extreme interpretation of Islamic law. And, as Gary Sick just mentioned as well, the — Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy is — is to support abusers of human rights around the region.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let me ask both of you, starting with you, Gary Sick, what do you make of the fact that we’re told that what President Obama did in his conversation — granted, it was a short one — with the new king today was to raise broadly the issue of human rights, but not to bring up any specific instances, like this blogger?

GARY SICK: You know, if it’s a short — I wish they had had more time to talk, because I think there’s a lot of things that they really need to talk about very much.

I can understand the president’s interest in dealing with the issues of, what do we do about the Iranian negotiations? How do we work out our differences over Syria? What about our differences of opinion with regard to Egypt? All of those are very serious issues.

But, you know, I think, for all of us who really care about this, it really is important, especially with the blogger case. I mean, this is so public and so obvious. And it’s such a complete travesty of justice, that you wish that U.S. officials would in fact put that higher up on their priority list.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Tom Porteous, should the president have made more of a specific issue of that today?

TOM PORTEOUS: Yes, of course he should have. There are plenty of other issues and individual issues that he could have raised.

I mean, the president said in that clip just now that he found that steady, consistent pressure was effective. Well, I mean, there’s very little to show for any steady, consistent pressure, even if there has been from the United States. The fact is that the United States has never really pushed Saudi Arabia, except in a very sort of broad rhetorical or cosmetic way.

And that’s mainly for commercial reasons. The stakes are enormous for, you know, various sectors of the defense and security and energy industries in the United States. But when it comes to security, it’s — you know, the United States really does need to ask whether its current relationship with Saudi Arabia is well-served, whether its interests are well-served by its current relationship with Saudi Arabia.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean despite — you mean despite the human rights record?

TOM PORTEOUS: Well, I mean, that the human rights record and the security record are extremely linked. I don’t think that you can disassociate the two, and I think for two reasons. One is that…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let me — I just want to go back to Gary, Gary Sick, at this point.

Is it possible for the administration to put more pressure, to bring this issue up more frequently and to get something positive to get movement in return?

GARY SICK: Well, first, to be fair, it’s simply a fact that we have very, very limited pressure, leverage that we can bring to bear to really change Saudi behavior.

And the one thing that I’m looking at that I think is really most significant is that — that Saudi Arabia is facing an almost perfect storm of international problems right now, with the drop in oil prices, with their relations with Bahrain and with Iraq, which are bad, and the Syrian thing, which has gone very badly for them, the need to keep pumping money into Egypt to keep them alive, and then, on their southern border, they have got the near failed state collapse of Yemen.

And these are major issues, many of which are actually — and especially the ISIS threat, which is pointed directly at their legitimacy and at their heart — that is their own ideology coming back to them. And they simply cannot hide from that.

And so they’re going to have to face the fact that their own ideology, their own religious beliefs are in fact being repackaged abroad and brought back to strike right at their very heart. And that’s something which I think has got to impress them, and which, if you’re going to try to change their point of view, that’s one place where you should start.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Tom Porteous, do you think there’s any reason to believe the Saudis will pull back on some of these drastic human rights abuses that they have been accused of?

TOM PORTEOUS: I think they’re going to have to in the long run if they’re going to survive.

Saudi Arabia faces a choice between political reform and greater respect for human rights, or being overwhelmed by the sort of militancy and intolerance and extremism that it has largely helped to create, as Gary Sick pointed out.

And from the United States’ point of view, it does need to convince the Saudi Arabians of that. And, certainly, I don’t think that an effective way of countering extremism and terrorism in the region is to be so closely aligned with an authoritarian government which has in the past and continues to promote an ideology of sectarianism and intolerance in the region.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we do hear you both.

Tom Porteous with Human Rights Watch, Gary Sick at Columbia University, gentlemen, we thank you both.

GARY SICK: Thank you, Judy.

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What does the world lose when a language dies?

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JUDY WOODRUFF: And finally tonight: to languages around the world at risk of being lost.

That’s the subject of a new documentary premiering on some PBS stations this week and now streaming online.

Jeffrey Brown has our look.

NARRATOR: You are listening to a song sung in a language called Amurdak, a language spoken in northern Australia. There is virtually only one person left on our planet who speaks Amurdak.

His name is Charlie Mangulda.

JEFFREY BROWN: A language nearly gone from an aboriginal community on Australia’s Goulburn Islands.

The new PBS documentary “Language Matters” explore tongues around the globe at risk of being lost forever and what is lost with them.

GWYNETH LEWIS, National Poet of Wales: We are being narrowed and homogenized by the loss of languages that we’re not even aware of.

JEFFREY BROWN: Predictions are dire that, by the end of this century, more than half of the world’s 6,000 languages will be gone.

BOB HOLMAN, Host, “Language Matters”: Every language has poetry, although it’s very different from culture to culture. And as I began to learn about how these languages are disappearing, that kind of poetry is also going. The entire inner life of a people is disappearing when their language vanishes.

Is that your language?

JEFFREY BROWN: Bob Holman, in fact, came to this project as a poet, one long interested in oral traditions, including contemporary hip-hop. He and filmmaker David Grubin traveled from Australia to Wales to Hawaii looking at languages on the brink and how some people are fighting to bring them back.

I talked with Holman recently at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington.

BOB HOLMAN: Each of these languages holds a little piece of information or a lot of information, can hold information about medicines and health, can hold information about the constellations in the sky.

And that’s information that, if you lose the language, you lose that connection with that place, with that way of thinking, with tens of thousands of years of that language’s lineage.

JEFFREY BROWN: One cause of the loss of languages, of course, lives around the globe increasingly interconnected through technology, the economy, and the dominance of a few languages, including online.

BOB HOLMAN: Everybody wants to join in on the conversation in the bully languages, but there’s no reason why you…

JEFFREY BROWN: The bully languages? Is that what you call it?

BOB HOLMAN: Well, it seems these — English and Mandarin and Spanish are gobbling up languages, as people decide they need to have this in order to assimilate into a culture.

But if you — instead of feeling awkward about speaking another language, if you were respected for who you are, and if that became part of the fabric — we talk about a multicultural fabric, but it seems that we have to have our multi cultures in English. And it just sounds so much more delightful, offers so many more opportunities if you begin to hear the real deal.

JUDY WOODRUFF: At the same time, according to anthropologist Joshua Bell of the Natural History Museum’s Recovering Voices Project, technology has opened up new ways to preserve new languages.

JOSHUA BELL, Curator, Recovering Voices Project, Smithsonian Natural History Museum: A lot of people talk about how the Internet, cell phones are reducing people’s linguistics range, et cetera.

The flip side of that is actually communities are increasingly using these tools to create spaces for themselves. So you will see specific Cherokee language, for example, Facebook, apps for smartphones where actually communities are engaging in linguistic revitalization.

JEFFREY BROWN: In the film, Holman shows how even languages seemingly vulnerable can continue to exist in the right conditions.

BOB HOLMAN: It’s extraordinary. We were on Goulburn Islands in Australia, an island that has 400 people and 10 different languages. How did this happen?

JEFFREY BROWN: Four hundred people and 10 languages?

BOB HOLMAN: Exactly.

And, in Australia, there are languages that are quite stable with only 70 speakers or 500 speakers, you know. How does this happen? This happens because it’s not a big deal for these people to learn these languages. It’s what their parents did and their parents’ parents did.

And for them, to learn the language of another people is a sign of respect. And that’s exactly what the movement now, the language movement, is trying to say. To respect the mother tongues of each other is the way that we can keep languages alive.

JEFFREY BROWN: A large-scale example of this has unfolded in Wales. Holman visited an annual Welsh language festival to see how the small country, part of the United Kingdom, has managed to create equal footing for its native language alongside English, giving it a place in schools, in bars, even in hip-hop.

Holman attempted to learn enough Welsh to recite his own people in a live competition.

What’s the key to a language surviving?

BOB HOLMAN: A language survives if you have the choice to learn it, if it’s available for you to live your life in some way with your language as part of you. In Wales, you have a choice of whether to go to an English medium school or to a Welsh medium school. And in this way, children can learn in the language that they are speaking at home.

JEFFREY BROWN: But couldn’t you make the argument that it would be better if we all spoke the same language, that we all understood each other? There would be — well, there would be more understanding in the world.

BOB HOLMAN: Well, I love that argument, and it makes so much sense, until you understand what understanding is.

You know, language is much more than communication. When we talk about it on the surface, that’s what it is. But language is the way we think. And it’s the way it’s been handed down through generations. If you begin to think in another language, that’s fine.

But if you have to lose the way that your family has been speaking, that’s not so fine. That’s losing who you are. And when we lose who we are, that’s when we become this homogenized consumer of life, rather than a citizen who comes from a place and knows who you are.

JEFFREY BROWN: And that’s a conversation this documentary wants to facilitate in any language.

I’m Jeffrey Brown for the PBS NewsHour.

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