Saturday 10 January 2015

Charlie Hebdo shooting: Singapore condemns Paris attack and beefs up patrols, surveillance

By Lim Yan Liang And Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 9 Jan 2015

SINGAPORE has stepped up security patrols and surveillance in relevant areas in the light of the terror attack in Paris, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said yesterday.

President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong have also written to French President Francois Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls to convey their condolences over the attack on the offices of satirical weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo, which killed 12 people.

"Singapore strongly condemns this savage act of terror," Mr Lee wrote. "It reminds us that terrorism and extremism pose a serious threat to all civilised societies, and that it is totally wrong, and contrary to the values of all religious faiths, to invoke religion to justify such savagery," he added.

Said Dr Tan: "As France mourns the victims, may the perpetrators be brought to justice swiftly, and may the wounded have a speedy recovery."

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs also issued a statement condemning the "heinous attack".

Muslim leaders condemned the attack, but also criticised the magazine's provocative tone.

Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Home Affairs Masagos Zulkifli told The Straits Times that distrust between communities in France had spiked.

"We're looking at a tragic conflict in a society where one part values absolute freedom of speech and has licence to be irreverent and even insulting to all religions and another that believes it has a divine licence to reply by spilling blood," he said.

"I'm glad our society values religious and racial harmony, and collectively does not tolerate anything that threatens this peace."

Said Ustaz Khair Rahmat of the Religious Rehabilitation Group: "History has shown us that one small mistake can easily get out of hand and escalate into a riot. We are very lucky communities in Singapore are very respectful and tolerant of each other's religion, and it takes work to keep it that way."

* Nothing can justify Paris killings: Shanmugam
* Paris shootings: Lessons from France for Singapore

Satirical drawings of Prophet seen as an insult to the faith
The Straits Times, 9 Jan 2015

PARIS - For many Muslims, satirical depictions of Prophet Muhammad, revered not only as a prophet but also as a moral exemplar, are no laughing matter.

Islamic scholar Moataz al-Khateeb explains that all the prophets - Muhammad, Jesus, Moses and others (of the Abrahamic religions) - are highly respected figures in the Islamic faith. One cannot differentiate between them in terms of the reverence that should be given to each.

"Therefore, Muslims believe that the prophets have a higher status than other people. To ridicule them or their lives is an insult to the origin of their faith, and therefore any abuse to them is abuse of Muslims in general," he told the Al Jazeera website.

Mr Mohamed Magid, an imam and former head of the Islamic Society of North America, told CNN the Muslim prohibition on depicting prophets extends to Jesus and Moses, whom Islam treats as prophets. Some Muslim countries banned the films Noah and Exodus: Gods And Kings because their leading characters were Hebrew prophets.

Scholars of religion said Muslim opposition to portraying Prophet Muhammad was not generally violated in earlier centuries because of a gulf between much of the Muslim world and the West, reported CNN in a piece titled "Why Islam forbids images of Muhammad". In the age of globalisation, non-Muslims and critics of Islam have felt free to depict Prophet Muhammad, including in offensive ways, but publication in Europe of these cartoons has triggered protests worldwide.

Commentators and Islamic scholars said the prohibition against any depiction of Prophet Muhammad is an attempt to ward off idol worship, which used to be widespread in Islam's Arabian birthplace.

A central tenet of Islam is that Prophet Muhammad was a man, not God, and that portraying him could lead to revering a human in lieu of Allah.

"It's all rooted in the notion of idol worship," said Mr Akbar Ahmed, who chairs the Islamic Studies department at American University. "In Islam, the notion of God versus any depiction of God or any sacred figure is very strong," he told CNN.

"The Prophet himself was aware that if people saw his face portrayed by people, they would soon start worshipping him," said Mr Ahmed.

"So he himself spoke against such images, saying, 'I'm just a man'."

The most common visual representation of Prophet Muhammad in Islamic art is by elaborate, swirling Arabic calligraphy, wrote The Guardian's Middle East editor Ian Black.

Cartoonists raise nibs in salute to Charlie Hebdo, press freedom
The Straits Times, 9 Jan 2015

PARIS - Cartoonists around the world, including The Straits Times' Prudencio Dengcoy Miel and Adam Lee, did what they do best as they expressed anguished solidarity with their French counterparts who were gunned down on Wednesday.

The attack at the office of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo left 12 dead, including some of France's best-known cartoonists: Stephane "Charb" Charbonnier, 47; Jean "Cabu" Cabut, 76; Georges Wolinski, 80; Bernard "Tignous" Verlhac, 57; and Philippe Honore, 73.

One cartoon that quickly went viral online, by Dutch artist Ruben L. Oppenheimer, showed a plane flying into two pencils standing erect, reminiscent of the former World Trade Center in New York.

Another cartoon, by Australia's David Pope, showed a gunman with a smoking rifle standing over a body, bearing the caption "He drew first".

"Ultimately, people who carry out these attacks can't defeat ideas through these means, and they won't succeed," Pope wrote, adding that he once met a cartoonist involved in the shooting and that the attack "hit a nerve".

"Our task is to keep doing what we do... Focus our satire on those in power and those who seek to wield power in ugly ways like these gunmen, and be part of a movement that promotes social solidarity, and a free and open and tolerant society."

Unbowed, European news organisations challenged the attackers by publishing controversial cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad across their front pages yesterday.

The Danish newspaper that sparked global controversy by publishing cartoons of the Prophet in 2005 was the country's only major daily that did not carry illustrations from Charlie Hebdo, out of concern for its staff's security.

Otherwise, from Britain's The Guardian and Germany's Tages- spiegel, to best-selling Czech daily Blesk and Spain's El Pais, news groups honoured their slain colleagues by republishing the cartoons central to the assault.

But in North America, some media outlets decided against publishing the cartoons, including Associated Press, CBC News and CNN.

"We publish the satire of Charlie Hebdo out of respect for the murder victims, who were defending the freedom of opinion," Berliner Zeitung said. "We do it for freedom of the press and of expression, for freedom of the arts and freedom of religion."

The Financial Times published several Charlie Hebdo cartoons on its website, including one of the Prophet holding up his hand and warning: "100 lashes if you don't die of laughter."

Other cartoons published show the Prophet crying, with the headline "Muhammad overwhelmed by fundamentalism".

El Mundo in Madrid ran a black strip at the top of its front page that read "Je suis Charlie", meaning "I am Charlie".

Mr Flemming Rose, editor at Denmark's Jyllands-Posten who commissioned the cartoons in 2005, said Charlie Hebdo was defending press freedom.

"Charlie Hebdo didn't shut up... and they have now paid the highest price for that," he said.

Many editorial pages were outraged, insisting the killings should not undermine press freedom.

France's media erupted in fury, with the daily Liberation running the headline "We are all Charlie" - a line repeated in many other papers and echoed online with the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie.

The attack "targeted the heart of democracy - the freedom of the press", wrote German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, adding in an opinion piece that the gunmen must not be allowed to win.

The Financial Times was one of the few to criticise Charlie Hebdo, and faced a backlash after publishing an opinion piece by its European editor. In an online article, Mr Tony Barber condemned the attack, but accused the weekly of "editorial foolishness" and said it had "just been stupid" to provoke Muslims with the cartoons.

"Some common sense would be useful at publications such as Charlie Hebdo, and Jyllands-Posten, which purport to strike a blow for freedom when they provoke Muslims," he wrote.

Associated Press spokesman Paul Colford said: "It's been our policy for years that we refrain from moving deliberately provocative images." Since much of the agency's content is distributed to newspapers and websites, he said, "we will err on the side of caution for some instances".

For CBC News, Canada's national public broadcaster, it was a continuation of existing policies put in place to respect "the mass of Muslim believers", said spokesman Chuck Thompson.


When Paris shootings strike close to the heart in S-E Asia
By Farish A. Noor, Published The Straits Times, 9 Jan 2015

THE murders that took place at the office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris have sent shock waves across the globe, and the immediate concerns that have been raised by analysts are whether French society will have the resilience that is required to cope with this national event and whether the centre of French political society will move further to the right as a result.

Doubtless, many are worried that the killings will be exploited by right-wing nationalist elements in the country who may seize the moment and use it as an argument for more immigration control, the demonisation of minority communities and a more visible police presence all over the country. Should such a widespread moral panic occur, it would signal instead a victory for the terrorists who would probably be happy to see French society in a state of crisis and panic, as it would also polarise that society further.

We in South-east Asia have never been immune to such threats as well. It ought to be remembered that the region is home to almost all the major religious communities of the world: Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and Confucianists live side by side in communities that have been ethnically, culturally and linguistically diverse for centuries.

However, we also live in a world that has grown increasingly globalised and where the global communicative infrastructure that has been put in place connects us with developments in other parts of the world. Today, the conflicts in places like Iraq and Syria are relayed to us instantaneously, on a real-time basis. In some cases, these external variable factors have also impacted upon some groups and societies in a manner that fuels the centrifugal tendencies that already exist within them: Marginalised individuals from the region have fled their comfort zones to take part in wars that have nothing to do with them directly, but which affect them on a more personal emotional level.

Additionally, globalisation means that our diverse societies are now forced to confront diversity on a daily basis, smack in the faces of some who may object to opinions and world views that they find contrary to their own.

The concern of security analysts and academics lies in the manner in which societies react to such diversity, and to what extent societies can cope with difference: The scientist who teaches the theory of evolution, for instance, does so in the name of scientific research and certainly does not seek to offend. But in real-life situations, such ideas may be offensive to others who regard such theories as antithetical to their religious beliefs.

Likewise, while we defend the right of all citizens to hold onto their personal beliefs or cultural practices, there are no laws that can prevent disagreement of opinion or to compel everyone to be accepting of every theory or belief system that exists.

Here lies the predicament of the security analyst: How do we manage differences and diversity, and how can plural, complex societies live at ease with themselves?

Globalisation and the communicative infrastructure that connects the world today did not invent pluralism and diversity; they have merely made them more real to us on an everyday basis.

A lesson that can be learnt from the Paris tragedy is this: Living as we do in a plural and complex South-east Asia, it is crucial that societies and governments alike appreciate that diversity is a reality that we cannot ever hope to escape from, and that there is no isolated space where any community can live in a state of blissful ignorance of the other.

It is also important to realise that wherever there is pluralism, there is bound to be diversity - in beliefs, world views and opinions - and what is important to some may be less so for others.

How we are to live and deal with this is going to be the challenge for South-east Asia in the years ahead, but it is a challenge we are going to have to face together.

The first condition to be met when dealing with this challenge, to quote the philosopher Michel Foucault, is to deal with it with intelligence, and not with hate.

The writer is associate professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University.

Cartoonists - the 'mad men' of journalism
By Tom Plate, Published The Straits Times, 10 Jan 2015

AS THE editor in charge of the opinion pages of newspapers in New York and Los Angeles, what was the hardest part of my job? Dealing with annoying, demanding bosses? Calming down angry readers? Smoothing the enormous egos of neurotic writers? No, that was the easy part.

The hard part was supervising the truly creative artist - the crazy mind that could twist a lance into your brain to make a point that you knew in your heart was true, but mere writers somehow found impossible to capture quite so deftly.

Yes, I am talking about newspaper and magazine editorial cartoonists - truly the "mad men" of journalism.

In various positions at different United States newspapers, I had the job of "supervising" them, an almost impossible task.

Make no mistake about it: At their lampooning best, which is when they are at their meanest, they hardly ever show any mercy - only respect for the truth… even if it is the truth as they see it. They don't care how you see it. There are no soft edges to their work. And they know how to hurt. Sorry to say, but most of them enjoy it - at least the good ones with whom I worked.

Not everyone sees the issues of the world as they do, of course. And the number of angry phone calls I took from readers who were outraged by an editorial cartoon in the newspaper is testament to that. The list includes mayors, governors, university presidents, religious leaders - sometimes, it felt like it would never stop.

And I also got many angry, worried calls from my bosses, especially newspaper publishers. American publishers like to make all their readers happy. But the editorial cartoonist views his work not as happy-making or newspaper marketing, but as newspaper truth-finding. Their view is that if everyone is happy, they are doing something wrong.

There's really not much the "supervisor" can do. On very rare occasions, it's possible to simply not publish the cartoon - I remember once spiking a tasteless drawing of Saddam Hussein "mooning" to the world. But if you do that too often, you break the spirit of the artist (and of largely admiring employees), and hate yourself later for not having had more editorial courage.

You then risk defeating the whole purpose of the newspaper: to fervently engage readers in the news, issues and controversies of the day, whether through the relatively civilised rationalities of expression in prose or through the relatively barbaric "emotional drone attacks" of the editorial cartoonist.

Some of the esteemed cartoonists with whom I worked have received Pulitzer Prizes - and many other top awards. However, in recent years, at US newspapers at least, the edgiest of them have retired, or been quietly retired.

The new crop seems, to me at least, tamer, even worryingly polite - more like genteel illustrators than the noisy but brilliant drunk at the family dinner table. The passion somehow seems to have diminished.

But not in Paris: Tame was not the word to describe the caustic cartoons of Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine targeted in an attack by gunmen that killed 12 people, including journalists, cartoonists and police officers.

We should understand that the range of its cartooning was hardly confined to Islamic targets; its people skewered just about every imaginable sacred cow under the sun. Charlie Hebdo was, in effect, an equal-opportunity insulter.

The gunmen might have killed the magazine's staff, but they have rekindled the spirit and reason of the satirical magazine in general.

They did not realise it, but these Islamist assassins met an enemy that, over time, will defeat them. They met the truth.

American author and professor Tom Plate was an editorial page editor, at various times, at the Los Angeles Times, New York Newsday, the Los Angeles Herald Examiner and Long Island Newsday. His published memoir on these experiences is titled Confessions Of An American Media Man.

France sitting on a social and political volcano
By Jonathan Eyal, Europe Correspondent In London, The Straits Times, 10 Jan 2015

THE mass murder of journalists at the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine in Paris, the most devastating terrorist attack on French soil since the end of the Algerian war of independence in 1961, has stunned the nation.

But it has not surprised France's intelligence chiefs, who knew all along that it was only a matter of time before such outrages occurred. For France is sitting on a social and political volcano which virtually guarantees trouble of this kind over years to come.

Up to a decade ago, France was still viewed as Europe's most resilient nation in the fight against global terrorism.

The French exercised tougher immigration controls than the British or the Germans who, in the name of human rights, seemed ready to grant asylum to a variety of men of violence from around the world.

The British capital was derided as "Londonistan" due to its alleged tolerance of various extremist Islamist groups.

Add to this a centralised government system where French citizens are often required to show their identity cards so they can be easily tracked, and a robust judiciary meting out swift punishment against "enemies of the republic", and it is obvious why the domestic intelligence agency was considered second to none.

But the French gradually lost that lead, mainly because combating terrorism is not just a matter of effective law enforcement.

While terrorism in France was historically unrelated to Muslims or immigrants - it was largely perpetrated by white settlers in Africa who wanted to keep the French empire going, or by separatists in the Mediterranean island of Corsica - the waves of political violence over the past few decades are associated with immigrants of Muslim faith, and France is home to their largest number.

About 10 per cent of France's total population, or about 6.4 million people, are estimated to be of Muslim faith or origin, double the figures for Britain or Germany.

The share of those known to have volunteered for terrorism in France is tiny, not more than 0.05 per cent of all Muslim residents. But the sheer number of Muslims in France makes it the epicentre of potential terrorist networks.

Over the past five years, about 550 to 600 people were arrested in Europe for terrorist offences yearly. But the share of French citizens in the group rose from about 10 per cent of the yearly total at the start of the decade to about a third of all those arrested in 2013.

More importantly, the government estimates as many as 1,000 Frenchmen have left to fight for the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

All in all, about 5,000 terrorist suspects require some surveillance, not an easy task for the General Directorate for Internal Security, the recently reformed French intelligence agency which has around 3,500 staff.

There are specific reasons for this worrying spike in France. One may be that global attention has shifted from violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan to wars in the Middle East and North Africa, where France's Muslims originate from, so current conflicts resonate more with them.

France's prominent role in military interventions in Libya, Mali and the Middle East may also encourage disenchanted French Muslims to join terrorist organisations.

But the biggest problem is the deep sense of alienation and social marginalisation suffered by large parts of France's Muslim community. They are confined to miserable, decaying housing estates on the edges of French towns, areas that become hotbeds of criminality.

Cherif and Said Kouachi, the brothers alleged to have committed the Charlie Hebdo murders, are perfect examples of this: no education and no prospects - the only paid job one brother had was selling fish in a market.

Of course, nothing justifies violence, but it is easy to see how marginalised, poorly educated people are sucked into this world of criminality.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls has reaffirmed his objective of "mobilising society and families" to "mend the social fabric of some neighbourhoods" in order to combat the "causes and consequences of Islamic extremism".

But in a country which, in the name of political correctness, still refuses to collect statistics on the race and religion of its people, such a process of social healing may take decades. And meanwhile, the security services are left to deal with the consequences rather than causes of the troubles.

Muslim protests erupt over cartoon of Prophet
Fury and violence around the world over magazine Charlie Hebdo's cover
The Straits Times, 18 Jan 2015

Paris - Thousands of Muslims demonstrated across the world, and violent clashes erupted in Niger and Pakistan, as fury builds up over the Prophet Muhammad cartoon published on the cover of satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo.

In Niger, at least seven churches were torched yesterday in anti-Charlie Hebdo riots, Agence France-Presse reported, even as France's President stressed his commitment to "freedom of expression".

Around 1,000 youngsters wielding iron bars, clubs and axes rampaged through the city, hurling rocks at police who responded with tear gas in a second day of violent demonstrations.

The French Embassy in Niamey urged its citizens to stay at home, the day after a rally against Charlie Hebdo in the country's second city of Zinder left four dead and 45 injured. "Be very cautious, avoid going out," the embassy said on its website as rioters also ransacked several French-linked businesses, including telephone kiosks run by Orange.

The latest issue of Charlie Hebdo features a cartoon of the Prophet on its cover holding a "Je Suis Charlie" (I am Charlie) sign under the headline "All is forgiven". Distributor MLP said the weekly had sold 1.9 million copies so far, with five million to be printed, compared with its usual sales of about 60,000.

It was the first edition since brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi gunned down 12 people in an attack on the magazine's Paris offices on Jan 7 over such cartoons. The image has angered many Muslims as depictions of the Prophet are considered forbidden in Islam.

Last Friday, thousands flooded the streets of Bamako, Mali, in response to calls by leading clerics and the country's main Islamic body, chanting "Hands off my prophet" and "I am Muslim and I love my prophet".

In the capital cities of Senegal, Mauritania and Algeria, which are all also former French colonies, peaceful marches took place after the Friday prayers. In Algiers, several police were injured in clashes.

In Pakistan's city of Karachi, a policeman, an AFP photographer and a local TV cameraman were injured when clashes broke out between police and protesters. A police official said the violence began when the authorities prevented some 350 protesters from approaching the French consulate. Elsewhere in Pakistan, protesters in Peshawar and Multan burnt French flags on the streets, while rallies were held in Islamabad and Lahore.

In Gaza, protest graffiti was sprayed outside the French cultural centre. "You will go to hell, French journalists," read one of the slogans daubed on the walls of the cultural centre compound. "Anything but the prophet," read another.

Some 15,000 also rallied in Russia's Muslim North Caucasus region of Ingushetia. The crowd gathered for the officially sanctioned meeting in the regional capital Magas to protest "against cartoons of the Prophet, Islamaphobia and insulting the beliefs of Muslims", the local government said.

In his first reaction to the violence, French President Francois Hollande stressed yesterday that France was committed to "freedom of expression".

Asked about protesters who burned the French flag, he said: "They have to be punished because when it happens in France, it's intolerable... I'm thinking of countries where sometimes they don't understand what freedom of expression is because they have been deprived of it. But also, we have supported these countries in their fight against terrorism."

European nations stepped up security in the wake of the attacks in France two weeks ago that claimed 17 lives.

Belgium began deploying hundreds of armed troops to patrol the streets after security forces smashed a suspected terrorist cell planning to kill police officers.

In London, the authorities are mulling "further measures" to protect police, "given some deliberate targeting of the police we have seen in a number of countries", said Mr Mark Rowley, head of counter-terrorism for the British police.

British police officers, for the most part unarmed, might be equipped with taser guns as part of reinforced security measures.

Traffic was suspended in the Channel Tunnel between France and Britain after smoke was spotted, but there was no indication of a link to recent attacks. The authorities said a truck fire was to blame.

French and Belgian authorities are grilling suspected accomplices of both the Paris gunmen and the alleged terrorist cell in Belgium.

Belgian police are hunting for the suspected mastermind of the cell, a notorious 27-year-old hardliner who spent time in Syria and who may have prepared the foiled attack from bases in Greece and Turkey, according to local media.

Meanwhile, it emerged that Said Kouachi, one of the brothers who shot 12 people at Charlie Hebdo's offices before being cut down by security forces, had been buried in secret last Friday in the eastern city of Reims, according to a well-informed source.

His grave was unmarked and the name of the cemetery not divulged. His brother Cherif will be buried in Gennevilliers, a suburb of Paris.


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