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Fear of Terror raises Tensions among French-ruled island of Corsica’s Muslims

Muslims and non-Muslims attacked each other with fists and weapons that reports said included machetes and a harpoon

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Terrorism. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

AJACCIO, CORSICA, September 03, 2016: Some referred to the attacks in France as the summer of terror. Communities all over the country these days are working to heal the wounds and avert what many French Muslims think could be a backlash against them by politicians and citizens angry over extremists’ attacks.

Inter-communal tensions have boiled over on the French-ruled island of Corsica. Muslims and non-Muslims clashed on a beach in August, after reports that a tourist had taken a photo of a Muslim woman bathing on a beach in the town of Sisco touched off a riot.

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Muslims and non-Muslims attacked each other with fists and weapons that reports said included machetes and a harpoon.

Fear has risen further after the island’s militant separatists, in defiance of the Paris government, said they are ready to take matters into their own hands if the Islamic State group carries out an attack on the island.

There have been no specific terrorism warnings on Corsica, but, as summer winds down, the island’s beaches became a focal point in France’s battle of cultures – marked by attacks on the French mainland, such as the truck attack in Nice that killed 86 people in July and the murder, also in July, of an elderly Catholic priest during Mass in Normandy. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for both attacks.
Dolls and teddy bears are placed at a memorial in a gazebo on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, southern France on July 20, 2016.

Who defends Corsica?

Corsica’s isolation and its fierce separatist drive have many feeling like Paris is not doing enough to protect them. After the bloodshed in France, the Corsican National Liberation Front warned the Islamic State that any attack against the Corsican people would precipitate a “determined response,” without hesitation or guilt.

“Beyond that statement, I think Corsica’s entire population is asking, ‘who is going to defend us. Are we obliged to defend ourselves? And by what means?’” asked Francis Nadizi, regional secretary of the far-right National Front party headed by Marine Le Pen.

Corsica has one of France’s highest ratio of firearms per capita – one more reason why officials are taking the separatists’ statement seriously. They also are not ignoring the possibility of a terrorist attack on their soil.

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“There is real concern because unfortunately the events of recent months have shown that no one is safe, and there are elements specific to Corsica that make us fear a rising risk,” said Gilles Simeoni, the island’s top elected official, told VOA.

In remarks published recently, Simeoni warned there has been a breakdown of the “integration machine” – a reference to questions about the local Muslim population’s willingness to integrate into Corsican society.

Mosques hit by arson

Even before this summer’s beach riot, there have been confrontations. Attacks have included arson fires at Muslim places of prayer.

Signs of the tensions are less than subtle. In public restrooms and fences, graffiti demand: “Arabi Fora,” Corsican for “Arabs Out.”

Dolls and teddy bears are placed at a memorial in a gazebo on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, southern France on July 20, 2016. Image source: VOA
Dolls and teddy bears are placed at a memorial in a gazebo on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, southern France on July 20, 2016. Image source: VOA

In December, a mob smashed windows and ransacked a prayer hall in the island’s main city, Ajaccio. The incident happened after Muslim youths ambushed firefighters and police who were responding to reports of illegal bonfires.

The prayer hall’s director, Abdel-Mounim el Khalfioui, said the tensions – including those surrounding the controversy over burkinis – have intensified the conversation about what it means to be Muslim in Corsica.

“Integrating into a society does not mean rejecting one’s culture of origin in order to adopt another. That for me is not integration,” el Khalfioui said. “Integration is respecting the laws, respecting the land that welcomes you, respecting its traditions, respecting people, but at the same time holding on to your culture of origin.”’

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Islamic garments an issue

But some Corsicans disagree. Like many people on the French mainland, they say Islamic vestments drive a wedge between Muslims and the rest of the population.

“I think, quite sincerely, that it is a provocation,” said the National Front’s Nadizi. “They will begin by the visual aspect of their vestments, before staking their communitarian claims.”

“It could be that people will see it as a provocation, like if a man sees a naked woman walking on the street. She is going to tell him, ‘I am free,’ but he sees it as a provocation,” said Sabri Merdaci, a 24-year-old building maintenance worker born on Corsica to Algerian and Tunisian parents. Merdaci wears a beard and sometimes a galabiyya, or tunic. “We see it as a choice that one makes in regard to religion, to identity, as it relates to Islam,” he said.

Merdaci said he avoids beaches where French women often sunbathe topless.

Given the hostility already shown to their community, some of Corsica’s Muslims worry any retaliation against Islamic State could spill into retaliation against them.

In a meeting last week, a group gathered to vent their concerns about the Corsican separatists’ warning to the Islamic State. “We took this as a provocation for those who may want to carry out an attack in Corsica, and so it is us who would have to pay,” said Mohamed Jouablia, head of an association of Tunisian immigrants.

“It means someone does something wrong and the group reacts, goes after the other. It is collective punishment, and that is disgusting. It is unacceptable. It is that which worries us,” said another member, Zerdalia Dahoun, a native of Algeria. “The concept of justice is dangerous. Inciting people to do justice themselves has roused the extreme on both sides,” she said. (VOA)

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“Legalize Torture? It’s Tortured Logic”

Though, The torture could not proceed without medical supervision

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Torture
Torture is admittedly an extremely difficult issue to confront. It is so morally reprehensible that we are understandably reluctant to even consider the possibility that it could ever be justified, under any circumstances. Pixabay

By Sam Ben-Meir 

Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty (2013) starred Jessica Chastain as Maya, a tough, brilliant and single-minded CIA agent who is prepared to use Torture in the interrogation of suspected terrorists. There was nothing sadistic about her character, and she comes to doubt the efficacy of torture – though in the end she is able to learn the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, which she could not have done, the film suggests, had she been unwilling to employ “enhanced interrogation techniques.” This assertion, that the use of torture did in fact produce useful intelligence that helped lead the U.S. to bin Laden, sparked debate as well as outrage.

The Report (2019) is, among other things, writer-director Scott Z Burns’ answer to Zero Dark Thirty. It is largely about another single-minded individual, Daniel J. Jones (Adam Driver), lead investigator of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who spent five arduous years doggedly uncovering the CIA’s suspect detention and interrogation program following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. His investigation eventually culminated in a 6,700-page report, a damning exposé of the CIA’s methods of “enhanced interrogation” and the psychologists who helped design them – methods which included walling, cramped confinement, stress positions, waterboarding, the use of insects, and mock burial – despite having no interrogation experience. Like Jones, the film is unwavering not only in its moral condemnation of torture, but in its claim that torture is not effective and never produces real, actionable intelligence.

Torture is admittedly an extremely difficult issue to confront. It is so morally reprehensible that we are understandably reluctant to even consider the possibility that it could ever be justified, under any circumstances. The problem is that the world is a messy place – it isn’t morally tidy – and sometimes the right thing to do is not available to us. According to the American Field Manual, rulebook of military interrogators, “The use of force is a poor technique, as it yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts and can induce the source to say whatever he thinks the interrogator wants to hear.” However, if we are to deal honestly with this issue, we must recognize the fact that there is substantial evidence that sometimes torture is effective in eliciting information and, indeed, it has been known to save innocent lives.

In Why Terrorism Works (2002), Alan Dershowitz writes, “There can be no doubt that torture sometimes works. Jordan apparently broke the notorious terrorist of the 1980s, Abu Nidal, by threatening his mother. Philippine police reportedly help crack the 1993 World Trade Center bombings by torturing a suspect.” If, in certain dire situations, something like nonlethal torture may be justifiable then it appears we should at least consider Dershowitz’s suggestion that if and when torture is practiced, that it is done in accordance with law and with some kind of warrant issued by a judge.

“I’m not in favor of torture,” Dershowitz writes, “but if you’re going to have it, it should damn well have court approval.” His claim is that if we are, in fact, going to torture then it ought to be done in accordance with law: for tolerating torture while pronouncing it illegal is hypocritical. In other words, democratic liberalism ought to own up to its own activities, according to Dershowitz. If torture is, indeed, a reality then it should be done with accountability.

There are, however, significant problems with the reasoning behind torture-warrants. For one, the legalization of torture would significantly distort our moral experience of the world, corroding the very notion of law itself, which does not rule through abject terror: law is, after all, meant to replace sheer brutality as a way of getting people to do things. Indeed, the rule against torture is paradigmatic of what we mean by law itself. In short, to have torture as law is undermining of what we take the very rule of law to signify.

Torture
When Torture is practiced, one should ensure that it is done in accordance with law and with some kind of warrant issued by a judge. Pixabay

Such considerations are closely connected with the following concern which is addressed in The Report: namely, what are the consequences of institutionalizing torture? That is clearly what the introduction of torture-warrants would imply – and once you institutionalize torture you then have to elaborate on all aspects, including the training not only of would-be torturers but also medical personnel. In other words, the legalization of interrogational torture would apparently require the professionalization of torture; that is, the acceptance of torture as a profession.

This normalization is especially disquieting when we stop to consider in particular the role of doctors and medical professionals in torture: for nothing is more antagonistic to what we mean by medicine then its utilization in the prolongation of a person’s agony and brutalization. Sadly, the participation of medical practitioners in torture is nothing new; and we would do well to remind ourselves of that history, for we are now most certainly part of it.

In his book Torture, Edward Peters observes that it was under the Third Reich that torture was “transformed into a medical specialty, a transformation which was to have great consequences in the second half of the twentieth century.” Medical involvement in torture first came to world attention with the disclosure of practices in Nazi concentration camps. The Nuremberg trials revealed that physicians had, for example, placed prisoners in low-pressure tanks simulating high altitude, immersed them in near-freezing water, and had them injected with live typhus organisms.

It is likely that hundreds of doctors and nurses participated in these experiments, although only twenty-one German physicians were charged with medical crimes. What needs to be emphasized is a point that Robert Jay Lifton, M.D. makes with what he calls an “atrocity-producing situation” – by which he refers to an environment “so structured, psychologically and militarily, that ordinary people can readily engage in atrocities.” As Lifton observes, many Nazi doctors were engaged not in cruel medical experiments, but directly involved in killing. To get to that point, however, they had to undergo a process of socialization; first to the medical profession, then to the military, and finally to the concentration camps: “The great majority of these doctors were ordinary people who had killed no one before joining murderous Nazi institutions. They were corruptible and certainly responsible for what they did, but they became murderers mainly in atrocity-producing settings.”

Referring to the CIA program, Atul Gawande, a surgeon and author, observed that “The torture could not proceed without medical supervision. The medical profession was deeply embedded in this inhumanity.” In fact, the program was developed by two psychologists, Jim Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who – as the film relates – based their recommendations on the theory of “learned helplessness,” which essentially describes a condition in which an individual, repeatedly subjected to negative, painful stimuli, comes to view their situation as beyond their control and themselves as powerless to effect any change. The crucial point is that medical professionals were an integral part of the program. Referring to American doctors that were involved in the torture at Abu Ghraib, Robert Lifton points out, “Even without directly participating in the abuse, doctors may have become socialized to an environment of torture and by virtue of their medical authority helped sustain it.”

We can hardly underestimate the significance of the process of socialization in facilitating participation in torture. Certain factors are decisive in terms of weakening the moral restraints against performing acts that individuals would normally find unacceptable. Following Harvard University professor of social ethics, Herbert Kelman, we can identify three forces that are particularly important. Kelman was particularly interested in what he described as “sanctioned massacres” – such as occurred at My Lai during the Vietnam War – but his observations are relevant to the torture setting as well.

The first factor is authorization: rather than recognizing oneself as an independent moral agent, the individual feels that they are participating in a mission that relinquishes them of the responsibility to make their own moral choices. The presence of medical professionals helps to lend a sense of legitimacy to the enterprise.

Routinizaton is another factor, which speaks directly to the establishment of torture as a profession – so that the torturer perceives the process not as the brutal treatment of another human being but simply as the routine application of a set of specialized skills; or as Kelman puts it, “a series of discrete steps most of them carried out in automatic, regularized fashion.”

Finally, dehumanization, whereby the victim is deprived of identity and systematically excluded from the moral community to which the torturer belongs: it becomes unnecessary for the agents to regard their relationship to the victim as ethically significant – in short the victim is denied any inherent worth and therefore any moral consideration.

Torture
For one, the legalization of Torture would significantly distort our moral experience of the world, corroding the very notion of law itself, which does not rule through abject terror. Pixabay

Medical personnel who act as advisors, as it were, on torture techniques are directly implicated in the practice of torture. But if we were to follow Dershowitz’s suggestion and effectively institutionalize torture, this medical involvement would be an inevitable result – for it was present already when torture was being practiced clandestinely. It seems strange that Dershowitz, who finds the current hypocrisy so outrageous, would attempt to remedy the situation not by eliminating the hypocrisy but rather legitimizing it. For what could be more hypocritical than doctors, sworn to do no harm, taking a more or less active role in the systematic and scientific brutalization of another human being? But such would be the unavoidable outcome of legalizing torture through “torture-warrants.”

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In closing, institutionalizing torture would have very bad consequences – far worse than the hypocrisy that so troubles Dershowitz. Not only would the practice of torture likely metastasize – instead of being limited to one-off cases – its professionalization would contribute to the formation of “atrocity-producing situations,” and we have seen how this relates in particular to the complicity of doctors in the torture situation. Physicians, nurses and the medical establishment itself would be severely ethically compromised by the institutionalization of torture. All of which is to say that the legalization of torture should be avoided. Best to then uphold the absolute ban on torture, even if that ban will be subject to violation under extraordinary circumstances.

Sam Ben-Meir is a professor of philosophy and world religions at Mercy College in New York City.