Wednesday 14 January 2015

Nothing can justify Paris killings: Shanmugam

By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 13 Jan 2015

THE "barbaric" terrorist attacks in Paris last week were the acts of "sick and mad people" and had nothing to do with issues of religion, race or nationality, Foreign and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

"Nothing can justify the killings," he told reporters. "It's been done in the name of religion (but) no religion will have any truck with these actions."

Speaking at the French embassy in Singapore after signing a condolence book for the victims of the terrorist killings, Mr Shanmugam said the Republic stands in solidarity with France as it mourns the victims of the attacks.

"We have no doubt the resilience of the French people will come through once again," he added. "And this challenge will be faced with determination, like France has faced so many other challenges."

France's ambassador to Singapore Benjamin Dubertret thanked Mr Shanmugam for his gesture of support and "solidarity in the fight against terrorism".

"It's an exceptional gesture and we value it as such," he said.

Seventeen lives were lost last week in three terror incidents in the French capital, including 12 casualties during an assault on Paris-based magazine Charlie Hebdo.

On Sunday, nearly four million people marched in France to demonstrate unity in response to the attacks. Mr Shanmugam said he had instructed Singapore's ambassador in Paris, Mr Tan York Chor, to join the unity march there.

At home, the Paris incidents have led to a "growing realisation" among Singaporeans used to peace and security that terrorism is a serious threat, he added.

Asked about ramping up security in Singapore, Mr Shanmugam said a balance must be struck between a free society and security.

"You can't turn every place into a prison or a fortress," he said. Rather, Singapore should use intelligence networks and share information with foreign agencies to pick up leads.

As to whether the killings in Paris represented an attack on freedom of expression, Mr Shanmugam said that while freedom of expression is a universal value, each country practises it differently depending on its experiences.

"Given our own background in racial and religious sensitivities, we have taken a fairly tough line and we draw the line on freedom of expression which crosses over into insulting another religion," he said.

"But you know these are based on historical experiences, and the French historical experience has led to their structure of freedom of expression which now has to face up to this reality, and I'm sure the French people will identify a line that they can draw."

Thousands to guard vulnerable sites across France
10,000 troops mobilised in country's largest operation
The Straits Times, 13 Jan 2015

PARIS - France announced an unprecedented deployment of thousands of troops and police to bolster security at "sensitive" sites including Jewish schools from today, following weekend marches that drew nearly four million people across the country.

"We have decided... to mobilise 10,000 men to protect sensitive sites in the whole country from tomorrow evening," Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said after an emergency security meeting yesterday.

"This is the first time that our troops have been mobilised to such an extent on our own soil."

Ahead of the meeting, Prime Minister Manuel Valls said one of the attackers, Amedy Coulibaly, who gunned down a policewoman and four Jewish shoppers at a kosher supermarket, likely received help from others.

"I don't want to say more, but investigations are continuing into these attacks... We think there are in fact probably accomplices," he told French radio. The hunt will go on, he pledged.

Seventeen people, including journalists and police, lost their lives in three days of violence that began last Wednesday with a shooting attack on the political weekly Charlie Hebdo.

The alert level in shell-shocked France remained at its highest possible, as Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve announced the deployment of nearly 5,000 police officers to guard Jewish schools and places of worship. He said he was putting in place a "powerful and durable" system of protection for France's Jewish community, the largest in Europe. But fears of possible terror attacks are spreading globally, putting more nations on guard.

Malaysia has stepped up security at checkpoints and plans to deepen exchange of intelligence with foreign counterparts. Prime Minister Najib Razak said over the weekend that Malaysia will introduce a new anti-terror law to arm officials with wider preventive powers to "incapacitate and convict terrorists before they strike".

The attacks on France have drawn a massive outpouring of unity and solidarity with those murdered. On Sunday, more than 1.5 million people in Paris marched to make common cause with the victims. Dozens of world leaders, including from Israel and the Palestinian Authority, linked arms at the march that was spearheaded by victims' families.

Marches were also held in Berlin, Brussels, Istanbul and Madrid as well as in the US and Canada.

In his first remarks since the attacks, Indonesia's President Joko Widodo said his country condemned threats of any kind and called for mutual respect and consideration.

In Singapore, Foreign Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam signed a condolence book for the victims of the terrorist killings at the French embassy yesterday. He said the "barbaric" attacks were the acts of "sick and mad people" and had nothing to do with issues of religion, race or nationality.

"Nothing can justify the killings," he told reporters. "It's been done in the name of religion (but) no religion will have any truck with these actions."

Malaysia moves to pre-empt possible terror strikes
New law to confer wider preventive powers; security efforts stepped up
By Shannon Teoh,  Malaysia Correspondent, The Straits Times, 13 Jan 2015

MALAYSIA is accelerating security efforts to combat growing Islamic militancy at home, in the wake of last Wednesday's deadly attack on a French satirical magazine that some accuse of blaspheming Islam.

This comes as Malaysian leaders warned that the country could find itself facing a terror incident such as the one in Paris where gunmen killed 12 people.

As police stepped up security at major checkpoints, Prime Minister Najib Razak said at the weekend that enforcement agencies would share intelligence with foreign counterparts and a new anti- terror law with wider preventive powers would be introduced in March.

"The point here is to take action before an attack can happen," Datuk Seri Najib was quoted as saying by The Sunday Star.

A crackdown on suspected extremists last year nabbed nearly 50 Malaysians with alleged links to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant network.

At least 39 Malaysians were confirmed to have travelled to the Middle East to join ISIS fighters and at least five have returned.

There are fears that returning fighters could pose a security threat.

The tentatively titled Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota) will give counter-terror agents power to "incapacitate and convict terrorists before they strike", according to the New Straits Times.

Under the proposed legislation, trials can be held in a closed court to allow intelligence to be disclosed without compromising field secrets. A suspect's remand period is expected to be lengthened from 28 to 60 days - or even up to two years, the same length of time that is provided for under the former Internal Security Act.

The government last November also said Pota could allow for preventive detention and the revoking of passports of those involved in militant activities.

Police have complained that the burden of proof was currently too high to convict many suspects, who operate largely through digital media, making it difficult to pin them to evidence.

"It would be naive to discount the possibility of an attack since actors are increasingly autonomous and disparate. We are in the age of DIY terrorism," said Ms Elina Noor, assistant director for foreign policy and security studies at Malaysia's Institute of Strategic and International Studies.

Already, fears of follow-up attacks or an anti-Muslim backlash have prompted France to deploy 10,000 security personnel around the country from today.

New York City police were on alert yesterday after someone re-released a message from last September urging ISIS followers to "rise up and kill intelligence officers, police officers, soldiers, and civilians", naming the US, France, Australia and Canada.

As for the Malaysians returning from Syria, Ms Elina said they could spur recruitment and attacks on Malaysian soil, but could also provide the authorities with valuable intelligence.

EU's patchwork of anti-terror laws leaves it vulnerable
By Jonathan Eyal, Europe Correspondent In LondonThe Straits Times, 13 Jan 2015

GOVERNMENTS across Europe are rushing to draw lessons from the terrorist attacks in France, but although anti-terrorism cooperation between European states has never been better, there is still no political consensus on how to improve security on the continent.

The first priority is to prevent any copycat attacks which either try to emulate the murders in Paris or "avenge" the perpetrators.

Security chiefs in Britain have raised the threat level from "substantial" to "severe", meaning an attack is "highly likely". Protection has been tightened considerably around French embassies and community centres, particularly in London, home to about 250,000 people of French origin or nationality.

Large police forces have also been deployed around synagogues and Jewish schools in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, and a special meeting of European Union (EU) interior ministers will take place later this week to coordinate further measures.

Meanwhile, commanders of anti-terrorist units and special forces in Europe are poring over the details of the French security operation last week.

There is widespread admiration for the way French uniformed personnel acted, especially since not one but two different French special forces were involved: the "Intervention Group" which belongs to the paramilitary Gendarmerie and is responsible only for security outside main towns, and the elite Raid (Research, Assistance, Intervention and Dissuasion) police unit, which works in big cities.

This division of responsibilities was often criticised by France's allies as superfluous and potentially dangerous. However, when the crisis struck last week, it did not prove a hindrance, and the political leadership provided by President Francois Hollande and his Cabinet was firm.

Still, what happened in France amounts to the worst nightmare for special forces: the need not only to act simultaneously against multiple terrorist threats, but also to storm multiple terrorist hideouts at the same time, as the French had to do last Friday.

British and German military commanders are now revamping their own contingency training to make sure they have the necessary resources for similar eventualities. The numbers involved are huge: At the height of last week's crisis, some 85,000 French police officers and soldiers were engaged.

Yet beyond the confines of the intelligence and military communities, Europe's political class is already bickering over the longer- term strategy of dealing with such challenges.

The British government has responded to an appeal from MI-5, the country's domestic security agency, for more funding with an extra £100 million (S$202 million) to track down returning volunteers from the fighting in the Middle East, now assessed to represent the most immediate threat.

Similar moves are taking place in other European countries.

But a call from Mr Malcolm Rifkind, the chairman of the British Parliament's intelligence committee, to provide the country's spies with "the legal powers to intercept particularly international communications that might be relevant to preventing terrorist attacks" has already been rebuffed by the opposition Labour party.

Nor are matters any clearer at the EU level. Its executive body, the European Commission, has announced it will "put all its weight" behind a new counter-terrorism plan, as part of a larger continent-wide security strategy.

But a proposal to adopt a new law, allowing the EU as a whole to widen the collection, storage and exchange of personal information about air passengers with the United States, remains stuck in the European Parliament, where MPs fear that it may violate human rights standards.

Individual European governments are now bypassing the EU Parliament by implementing their own data collection systems on air passengers.

However, that risks embroiling them in disputes with the European Court of Justice, which in a ruling last year struck down a separate EU measure to collect data on ordinary Europeans, on the grounds that it violated human rights.

EU president Donald Tusk has announced that the next summit of European heads of states and governments will "discuss more broadly the response the EU can bring to terrorist challenges" and the "vulnerability of nations".

But the summit is scheduled for Feb 12 and by then, most of the urgency generated by the shock of the events in France would have worn off. Europe will, therefore, retain its patchwork of anti-terrorism legislation, providing the men of violence with plenty of loophole opportunities.

Fallout from Paris shootings: Asian views
The Straits Times, 13 Jan 2015

ON JAN 7, two terrorists stormed the Paris office of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, killing 12. They were reportedly incensed over the magazine's repeated caricatures of Prophet Muhammad. Police later shot dead the gunmen.

Below are excerpts from newspaper editorials and columnists in the region on the Paris shootings.

Let Sedition Act stand

THESE terrorists have done nothing to help non-Muslims have a better understanding and appreciation of Islam, which promotes peace and tolerance.

They have, in fact, caused serious damage and have given those who push the Islamophobia agenda an excuse to take their plans a step further.

It is important to note that Muslim leaders including Prime Minister Najib Razak have come out quickly to condemn this horrendous act.

But even as we condemn the killings, there is an important lesson for the world, especially the Western world, to learn from this tragedy.

There may be no sacred cows for the Western media because of their fervent belief in the freedom of expression. But the reality is that not everyone accepts or appreciates such a principle.

And because we are so globally connected, it is no longer possible to operate just within a particular society that embraces such an approach. The media's work, from whichever part of the world, has basically become freely available to everyone...

Certainly, the right of expression does not include the right to insult what is regarded as sacred and important to any religion and, by extension, the millions of its faithful.

The Prophet, Jesus, Buddha and the Hindu gods cannot be likened to politicians who are merely human beings who can be subjected to scrutiny, which satirical magazines can target regularly.

When it comes to matters of faith, so-called rationality is not something that can be applied or used as argument for freedom of expression...

In every religion, there will always be extremists who interpret their holy books to suit their personal or political agendas. There will be people who want to act and sound like religious figures and, likewise, there will be religious figures who want to be political figures. When the line between religion and politics becomes blurred, it becomes dangerous.

Religion can be so easily manipulated because the ordinary adherents of the faith are, by nature, fearful of challenging any religious authority, especially those who dress up to look religiously pious.

I remain a believer that the Sedition Act should be kept intact simply because there should be zero tolerance for anyone whose actions or words can lead to security concerns.

But there should be a golden rule - please exercise the powers fairly. We cannot scream for certain individuals to be hauled up for sedition charges and in the same breath call for its abolition. We need to be consistent.

Let no Malaysian have the perception that some individuals or organisations have special protection that allows them to get away with offensive remarks or actions. Nor should the Sedition Act be used to shut up a political opponent or, worse, an academic who cites a case study in an article or gives a view to a newspaper.

Bad taste is not a crime

REGARDLESS of a magazine's editorial line, there is no justification for killing the writers and the artists. The killers called themselves Muslims but had no qualms about the fact that the vast majority of Muslims around the world did not agree with their methodology and politics or their warped version of Islam...

In Thailand, where the very concept of freedom of expression has often taken a beating because of interference by state officials and societal indifference, it's not hard for people to relate to the incident.

In fact, any society that is serious about liberty must do its best to defend such a freedom, no matter how rude or provocative these words may be. Bad taste does not constitute a crime...

The best way to counter extremism is to not let these acts get the better of us. We must hold true to our values and virtues. Straying from these principles is akin to admitting defeat.

As expected, Muslims in France and Europe are afraid of a possible backlash. But for freedom of expression to endure, it is important that this outrage and anger do not become an excuse to condemn the Muslim community because of the actions of a handful of people.

The West should review its own bans on free speech

THERE can be no qualifications in the condemnation of this kind of assault on freedom of expression. The cartoonists put their lives on the line for over a decade to put substance to the freedom to criticise and offend, the lifeblood of a free society.

Some of the cartoons by Charlie Hebdo smacked of provocative humour that, in the context of tensions with a minority that is discriminated against, may be very hurtful...

Whether Charlie Hebdo harboured ill intent, its "Islamophobia" is questionable. The publication also lampoons politicians and other religions with equal intensity...

It is also time for people in the West to re-examine some of the practices that inhibit free speech at home - it's only fair.

Issues of restrictions on freedom of speech include the ban on Holocaust denial in countries like Germany, the place of perpetration, as well as France. Of course, there are serious problems with the existence of ugly caricatures of Jews.

The centuries-old world domination libel, called the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, has been conclusively proven false and yet continues to be used by ignorant leaders in the 20th century.

Countering these will require the efforts of groups such as the Anti-Defamation League. But a ban needs to be reconsidered, because it may reinforce the festering undercurrent rather than cleanse it.

Tolerance has to evolve

TOLERANCE for forms of belief and behaviour different from our own is an evolutionary achievement of society.

It grows alongside increasing social diversity and complexity, finding expression in liberal laws and communication practices. Indeed, cultural progress may be measured by the extent to which societies are able to surpass the repressive intolerance of previous epochs. Not surprisingly, as in most other areas of life, such progress has been uneven.

Modern social institutions, particularly the law, prompt individuals to keep their multiple identities apart, instead of allowing any of these to determine all their interactions in everyday life. Yet, in many societies today, including those that are modern in all other respects, people continue to subject others to discrimination based on race or ethnicity, caste or class, religion, and gender, etc.

This unevenness is likewise evident in the varying degrees to which people use the primordial strands supplied by race and religion to weave their personal identities.

The freedom of expression and of the press is a highly protected right in modern democratic legal systems because of its essential vulnerability to attack by various forms of fascism.

In an earlier time, when state-sponsored dominant religions were the norm, that privileged space was given to the right to freely choose and profess one's own religion and to be entitled to respect for one's religious feelings.

The world has moved on, and while much of Europe has outgrown its religious past, the rest of humanity holds on to its religions. The two sides are trapped in their respective metaphysics, from which they cannot hope to be bailed out by a higher reason. There is no way to begin to bridge that gap except by building a culture of tolerance and respect for the other.

Merkel joining Muslim rally to promote tolerance
German Chancellor speaks out against anti-Islamic movement
The Straits Times, 14 Jan 2015

BERLIN - German Chancellor Angela Merkel was to join a Muslim community rally yesterday to promote tolerance, condemn the extremist attacks in Paris and send a rebuke to Germany's growing anti-Islamic movement.

Ahead of the vigil, seven victims of the Paris attacks were buried yesterday. French President Francois Hollande paid tribute to three police officers killed in separate incidents during the three days of violence. The four Jewish hostages who died during the siege of a kosher supermarket last Friday were buried in Jerusalem.

German President Joachim Gauck was set to address the vigil starting at 5pm GMT (1am today Singapore time) at Berlin's iconic Brandenburg Gate, organised by the Central Council of Muslims in Germany under the banner: "Let's be there for each other. Terror: not in our name!"

Dr Merkel, to be joined by most of her Cabinet ministers at the event, has spoken out against the right-wing populist Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident (Pegida) and stressed on Monday that "Islam belongs to Germany". Pegida on Monday drew a record 25,000 marchers to its 12th weekly rally in Dresden, its flag-waving members holding a minute's silence for the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris last week.

Their latest protest was met by about 100,000 counter-demonstrators nationwide, who accused Pegida of exploiting the French attacks by Islamist gunmen. The protesters voiced support for a multicultural Germany.

Dr Merkel on Monday thanked leaders of Germany's Muslim community for quickly and clearly condemning last week's violence.

"Germany wants peaceful co-existence of Muslims and members of other religions" and yesterday's vigil would send a very strong message, she said at a joint press conference with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. The majority of the four million Muslims in Germany are of Turkish origin. Roughly half are German citizens.

Dr Merkel acknowledged the need for better dialogue between religions. She called Turkey an ally in the fight against terrorism.

Announcing yesterday's vigil, the Muslim Council and the Turkish Community of Berlin said: "We Muslims in Germany condemn the despicable terror attacks in France in the strongest terms. We want to express our solidarity with the French victims."

"There is no justification in Islam for such acts," the council said in a statement.

Germany last year received over 180,000 asylum applications, a 57 per cent rise from 2013, mostly from war-torn Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea and Somalia but also from Balkan countries.

Hardline Islamic groups have denounced France, Germany, the US and other allies for military operations against Al-Qaeda and militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian yesterday indicated Paris would not pull back from military operations overseas despite the Islamist violence on home soil, telling Europe 1 radio that ISIS "is an international army that has to be wiped out".


Charlie Hebdo to print special issue with Prophet cover
The Straits Times, 14 Jan 2015

PARIS - Charlie Hebdo will print three million copies of a special issue of the satirical magazine, depicting Prophet Muhammad on the cover, a week after an attack at its headquarters left a third of its journalists dead.

News agents reported that large numbers of customers around the country were placing orders for the magazine's first post-attack edition. Publishers of the weekly will put copies on news-stands worldwide in 16 languages today.

The issue will feature a cartoon of Prophet Muhammad crying, on a green background, and holding a board saying "Je suis Charlie", or "I am Charlie." Above his image is written "All is forgiven".

Last Wednesday's attack by two gunmen at the magazine left 12 people dead. Another gunman linked to the attackers killed a policewoman and four shoppers in a kosher food store in separate attacks in the following two days. The three gunmen were killed by police last Friday.

This week's magazine will have six or eight pages instead of the usual 16. "This won't be a tribute issue of some sort," Mr Richard Malka, Charlie Hebdo's lawyer and spokesman, told France Info radio. "We will be faithful to the spirit of the newspaper: making people laugh."

After the attack, French Culture Minister Fleur Pellerin pledged €1 million (S$1.6 million) of state money to help the publication. Google promised to give €250,000, and British daily The Guardian, €125,000. The French press association opened a bank account which is attracting donations from the public.

Charlie Hebdo has been published every Wednesday for the past 22 years. Religion, sex, death, politicians - nothing and no one has been off-limits.

Five of its best known cartoonists - who went by the pen names Charb, Honore, Cabu, Wolinski and Tignous - were among those killed in the shootings. Four members of the magazine's newsroom are still in hospital.


Jittery French Jews mull over moving to Israel
The Straits Times, 14 Jan 2015

PARIS - French Jews, already feeling under siege by anti-Semitism, say the trauma of the terrorist attacks last week has left them scared, angry, unsure of their future in France and increasingly willing to consider conflict-torn Israel as a safer refuge.

"It is a war here," said Ms Jacqueline Cohen, owner of an art store on Rue des Rosiers in a Jewish neighbourhood lined with falafel and Judaica shops where many businesses were closed on Monday morning.

"After what happened, we feel safer in the centre of Tel Aviv than we do here in the heart of Paris."

Residents said their worry intensified after last Friday's terrorist attack, when a heavily armed Frenchman, Amedy Coulibaly, stormed a kosher supermarket in eastern Paris, killing four hostages and holding others captive.

So acute is the sense of insecurity among Jews that the four supermarket victims were buried in Jerusalem yesterday, partly because of fears that their graves would be desecrated in France, said Mr Serge Cwajgenbaum, secretary- general of the European Jewish Congress.

Mr Cwajgenbaum said the attack at the supermarket was a tipping point for French Jews after a recent spate of anti-Semitic attacks, including the tossing of firebombs and attacks on synagogues and shops in Jewish neighbourhoods in Paris that coincided with Israel's incursion in Gaza last summer. A French-born man was accused of gunning down four people at the Jewish museum in Brussels in May.

France was the largest source of Jews moving to Israel last year, according to the Jewish Agency for Israel, which coordinates migration to Israel.

Its director, Mr Natan Sharansky, predicted that up to 15,000 French Jews would emigrate this year, and that more than 50,000 French Jews would leave in the next few years.

There are roughly 500,000 Jews in France, which has Europe's largest Jewish population.

"There is enormous anxiety, a lot of anger and bitterness and a feeling that the Jewish community in France is under siege," Mr Cwajgenbaum said.

The French authorities said on Monday that thousands of police officers and soldiers would be deployed to protect Jewish schools and other "sensitive sites", in one of the country's biggest peacetime security operations.

But Jewish residents said the new security measures were not enough to restore frayed nerves.

Some said they were already planning to pack their bags for Israel, urged on by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who told French Jews on Sunday that they would be welcomed with open arms.


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