Macron steps up fight against radical Islam (and his critics)

“Macron announced the Cabinet will on Wednesday dissolve a pro-Hamas organization known as Cheikh Yassine, which he said was “directly involved” in the gruesome assassination of Samuel Paty, the eighth-grade teacher who was killed after he showed caricatures of the Prophet Muhammed during a class discussion on freedom of speech.

The teacher reportedly tried to be mindful of the sensitivity of the subject for some of his pupils by asking those who might be offended to either leave the class or look away, sparking the ire of one pupil’s father, among others.

After the disgruntled parent and several others posted a video on social media denouncing the teacher, calling for mobilization against him and mentioning the address of the school, an 18-year-old man, without apparent ties to the school, waited for Paty and beheaded him. On Tuesday, French media reported the investigation into the beheading revealed the assailant had been in touch with the father prior to the killing.

The assailant was of Chechen origin, and Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke Tuesday evening, according to the Elysée, which said Macron “wants to reinforce Franco-Russian cooperation in the fight against terrorism and illegal immigration.”

The attack is not the first beheading or the bloodiest terror attack France has suffered in recent years, but it has struck a nerve. Schools and teachers, though underpaid and under-equipped, hold a unique place in the collective imagination of the French, who see themselves as the torchbearers of enlightenment. It also goes to the heart of the unique French conception of freedom of speech — one that prides itself on offending and tackling all sacred cows.”

“France has had a homegrown radical Islam problem for decades. It has caused problems for successive presidents and governments, which have struggled to reconcile the repression necessary to stamp it out with French laws, due process and freedom of speech. It culminated in 2015 with the bloodiest string of terror attacks in Europe: In January, assailants attacked satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and then in November, the Bataclan concert hall as well as cafés and restaurants in Paris.

The place of Islam in French society has been a lightning rod issue since former President Jacques Chirac passed a law banning French public service employees from wearing “ostentatious” religious symbols, widely interpreted as a roundabout way of banning the Muslim headscarf.”

“Macron will award Paty the Legion of Honor, France’s highest civilian honor, and will lead a national tribute to him. It will take place at the Sorbonne University, a location chosen by Paty’s family.

“The Sorbonne is the symbolic monument of the spirit of enlightenment and of French cultural, literary and educational influence,” according to an Elysée official.”

A terror attack in Nice threatens to turbocharge France’s debate on free speech and Islam

“The killing of three people in southern France on Thursday has been deemed a terrorist attack by French officials — and it looks to be related to the country’s ongoing controversy over the public display of cartoons depicting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad and the government’s general approach toward Islam.

Around 9 am local time Thursday in Nice, an assailant used a knife to kill three people, two women and a man, at the Notre-Dame Basilica. One of the women died inside the church, as did the man; the second woman “fled to a nearby bar but was mortally wounded,” according to the AP.

Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi told reporters he believes the attack was perpetrated by an Islamist extremist. “He cried ‘Allah Akbar!’ over and over, even after he was injured” by police, Estrosi said. (“Allahu akbar,” Arabic for “God is great,” is a common expression used by Muslims, especially during prayers.) “The meaning of his gesture left no doubt,” Estrosi added.

The suspect is now in custody and has been hospitalized.

Two other incidents occurred on Thursday, the same day some Muslims observe Mawlid, a celebration of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday. In Montfavet, also in southern France, a man was shot dead after threatening police with a handgun; in Saudi Arabia, a guard outside the French consulate in Jeddah was stabbed. The guard was hospitalized but his condition remains stable, the French embassy in Riyadh said in a statement, and the suspect has been arrested.”

“Earlier this month, a suspected Islamist extremist beheaded Samuel Paty, a 47-year-old secondary-school teacher, as he walked home from school. Days earlier, as part of a class discussion on freedom of speech, Paty had showed his 12- to 14-year-old students two caricatures of Muhammad that had been published by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo — the same images that inspired jihadists to kill 11 staff members at the magazine and six others in Paris in 2015.

Police found a Twitter account suspected of belonging to Paty’s attacker that featured a picture of the severed head along with a message: “I have executed one of the dogs from hell who dared to put Muhammad down.”

Macron’s government turned Paty into a freedom-of-expression hero. At a national memorial for the slain teacher last week, Macron said France “will continue the fight for freedom” and “intensify” efforts to end Islamist extremism in the country.”

“French police raided numerous homes across the country as part of its probe into Paty’s killing. About 15 people have been taken into custody, and 51 Islamic organizations are under investigation.

The aftermath of Paty’s killing has rekindled a contentious debate in France about how to balance freedom of expression with respect for a religion.”

Why Iran is still attacking American troops during the pandemic

“So why, in the midst of grappling with an out-of-control pandemic and an economy in free fall, would Tehran devote time and money to fighting the US? The answer, at least in part, is that the Iranian government believes the United States is particularly weak right now, too.
With Washington’s ineptitude on full display in its domestic response to the coronavirus, few people outside of a select group of Iran hawks — which includes Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — have much of an appetite for continued clashes with Iranian proxies in Iraq or incidents with the IRGC in the Persian Gulf right now.

The United States is also a convenient scapegoat and distraction that the Iranian regime regularly uses to deflect attention from its own failures.

Facing growing criticism at home and abroad for their abysmal response to the Covid-19 outbreak, Iranian leaders have tried to shift the blame to the US — particularly the stringent economic sanctions Washington has placed on the country, which Iranian leaders say (not entirely unfairly) are hampering the country’s ability to respond to the pandemic.”

“The US assassination of Qassem Soleimani on January 3, 2020, was intended to not only take Iran’s most capable military figure off the battlefield but also to “reestablish deterrence” — that is, to raise the stakes so that Iranian-backed militias in Iraq would think twice about attacking US forces in the country going forward.

However, a series of recent attacks shows that far from being cowed, these militias appear to have been emboldened. In all likelihood, Iran is only in the nascent stages of responding to the death of Soleimani.”

“The coronavirus pandemic sweeping throughout the world has led the United States to draw down its forces, repositioning soldiers within Iraq and consolidating troops to fewer bases. US special forces soldiers have been withdrawn from some of the world’s most dangerous active conflict zones, leaving local host-nation forces to contend with an array of well-equipped and battle-hardened terrorists, insurgents, and militias.

This has presented Iran with a unique opportunity to expand and consolidate its control in Iraq and push the US entirely out. And the country’s leaders aren’t going to squander their chance.”

” From Tehran, the United States looks at its weakest in years. The country is struggling to formulate a coherent and effective response to Covid-19. The divisions between the United States and its traditional allies are glaring. In terms of US-Iran tensions, US allies in Europe place much of the blame on America, not the Islamic Republic.”

The Feds’ Bulk Collection of Our Data Records Has Been Expensive and Useless. But That Doesn’t Mean It’s Going to Stop.

“This new report shows that the mass collection of Americans’ phone records turned out not to be a particularly good tool for tracking down terrorism. Its authors determined that the NSA wrote only 15 intelligence reports based on information from call records accessed through the law. Of those, 11 duplicated information that was already in FBI records. Two contained information that the FBI had received through other means. One led the FBI to vet an individual, but it ultimately decided not to open an investigation. So that just leaves just one case where the bureau received unique info that it decided to use to open a foreign intelligence investigation.

All that for $100 million!”

America’s weak gun laws enable shootings by terrorists and extremists

“America’s weak gun laws make it much easier to commit shootings like these. This is a widely known fact, including among terrorist groups. Back in 2011, a now-dead American al-Qaeda operative, Adam Gadahn, said as much in a video to supporters”

“Every country is home to extremists and other hateful individuals. People of every country get into arguments and fights with friends, family, and peers. But in the US, it’s much more likely that someone who’s extreme, hateful, or otherwise angry is able to pull out a gun and kill someone — there are so many guns around and few barriers to obtaining the weapons.”

“The research, compiled by the Harvard School of Public Health’s Injury Control Research Center, is also pretty clear: After controlling for variables such as socioeconomic factors and other crime, places with more guns have more gun deaths. Researchers have found this to be true not only with homicides but also with suicides”

“the US is not an outlier when it comes to overall crime”

“Instead, the US appears to have more lethal violence specifically, driven in large part by the prevalence of guns.”

“Researchers have found that stricter gun laws could help. A 2016 review of 130 studies in 10 countries, published in Epidemiologic Reviews, found that new legal restrictions on owning and purchasing guns tend to be followed by a drop in gun violence, a strong indicator that restricting access to guns can save lives. A review of the US evidence by RAND also linked some gun control measures, including background checks, to lower rates of injuries and deaths. A growing body of evidence from Johns Hopkins researchers further supports the efficacy of laws that require a license to buy and own guns.

That doesn’t mean bigots and extremists will never be able to carry out shootings in places with stricter gun laws. Even the strictest gun laws can’t prevent every shooting.

Guns are not the only contributor to violence, either. Other factors include, for example, poverty, urbanization, alcohol consumption, and the strength of criminal justice systems.”