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Should We Fight a War on White Terrorism?

Wed, 08/21/2019 - 2:56pm

Klansmen rally on the National Mall, 1926. (Shutterstock)

Although its precise scale is hard to measure, violent white supremacy is clearly a problem in the United States. 

From El Paso to Pittsburgh, the fears and fantasies of an immigrant invasion, a liberal Jewish betrayal, and a righteous race war have motivated surgically targeted slaughter. With law enforcement — especially the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) — seemingly more concerned with “black identity” and “animal rights/environment extremists,” our so-called “War on Terrorism” looks more distorted than ever. 

Should we be trying to even the score? 

Although it is tempting to embrace Senator Elizabeth Warren’s call for white supremacy to be treated as domestic terrorism, any widening of the current, more narrow “war” should be approached with caution. History suggests that repression of these movements may well succeed, but also bring a troubling mix of unintended consequences. 

The Old Wars on White Terrorism 

The obvious analogue to today is the 1960s. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover long held that national security was under attack not from the architects of near-daily atrocities in “Bombingham,” Alabama, or from a resurgent Ku Klux Klan, but instead the Black Panther Party and the unruly, allegedly Communist-sponsored “agitators” of the Civil Rights movement. 

Hoover had to be cajoled, belatedly, by President Johnson before the FBI promised, in September 1964, to “expose, disrupt, and otherwise neutralize the activities of the various Klans and hate organizations” across the country. 

By 1970, 17 field offices were participating in this “counter-intelligence program” (COINTELPRO), which included tried-and-tested methods like the “manipulation of informants, anonymous letters, and friendly press services” to foment conflicts among the leaders of white supremacist organizations. The Bureau even exposed the Jewish descent of the Nazi Party’s Midwest Coordinator. 

By most accounts, these typically dirty tricks — honed by their deployment against civil rights leaders — were effective in undermining groups like the Klan. 

The story was different when the federal government was confronted with its first bout of “White Terror” after the Civil War. Initially disorganized violence against newly emancipated African Americans solidified quickly into a politically inspired assault on Reconstruction: The Civil War-era Republican Party’s attempt to build something like a biracial democracy in the South. 

Although our received image of Southern racism is the grinning, poor, illiterate white man ogling at a burning black body, the original Ku Klux Klan was more country club than trailer park — formed and sustained by prominent politicians, decorated Confederate veterans, and former slaveholders.

This embedding of the Klan in respectable society ensured its expansion throughout the late 1860s. Only in 1870, with Ulysses Grant in the White House, and after the harrowing Ku Klux Klan Congressional hearings, did a counter-terrorism plan develop. 

By our standards, the Enforcement Acts — passed by Congress in 1870 and 1871 — were relatively tame, focusing, for the most part, on beefing up the newly created federal Department of Justice

But the third of these acts provided for a true emergency power: The president could suspend the writ of habeas corpus in pursuit of white terror organizations. 

Grant, it seems, was genuinely appalled by Klan violence, and did not hesitate to act on his new authority in response to rampant terrorism in South Carolina. Yet resistance to “Bayonet Rule” — including from within his own party — combined with a devastating economic crisis and deepening Republican divisions to leave most of the former Confederacy to the mercy of well-armed “Redeemers” intent on restoring the Old South. 

In this, the first American war on white terrorism, the terrorists unquestionably won.  

What Can We Learn? 

These historical episodes could be interpreted simply: If Ulysses Grant had a J. Edgar Hoover and a COINTELPRO instead of an overstretched army and a reticent Congress, Reconstruction might have had a fighting chance of success. The civil libertarians may not like it, but the only remedy for white supremacy is our strongest possible repressive medicine. 

Today, however, this argument raises two difficult questions. 

First, would repression actually work? It is not hard to identify people who march around with bedsheets on their heads or swastikas on their sleeves. Navigating the largely online network of the “alt-right” movement is less straightforward: leaderless, dispersed, and rarely traceable to a specific organization. 

Second — and much more difficult — could repression backfire? 

A combination of old-school and modern methods — infiltration, surveillance, hacking, propaganda — is surely at least capable of disrupting the activities of white terrorist groups. But here the civil libertarians do have a point: Extreme powers used for one purpose can easily be recycled for something else. 

Britain passed a Public Order Act to restrict fascist demonstrations, and the government deployed it against communists; the US Congress established a House Un-American Activities Committee with the goal of exposing Nazis, only to turn it overwhelmingly against the left; and France’s Lellouche Law — aimed at hate speech — has more recently targeted pro-Palestinian activists

Even in supposedly strong democracies, checks and balances have struggled to reverse these repressive cycles. We could boot President Trump out of office and craft a new counter-terrorism law carefully directed at white supremacists, but it will still be interpreted and enforced by Trump-packed courts, an unaccountable national security bureaucracy, and more than a few rogue local law enforcement agencies. The end result is unlikely to be pretty. 

The Real Risk of Overreaction

After the El Paso shooting on August 3, the FBI called for a law much like this

Apparently rooted in common sense, these proposals should be viewed skeptically. The alternative is not necessarily to do nothing, or, as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez suggested, to offer an olive branch to young men “in the grips of hatred.” 

There is a strong argument for reallocating the resources of law enforcement away from mosques, Muslim Student Associations, and games of cricket, and toward the real threats posed by white supremacists. But the last thing we should encourage is an expanded “War on Terror.” 

The post Should We Fight a War on White Terrorism? appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Harry Blain is a PhD student in political science at the Graduate Center, CUNY (City University of New York).

Indonesia’s Journalists Grapple With Islamism

Wed, 08/21/2019 - 2:39pm

Police and demonstrators, Bandung, Indonesia (Shutterstock)

In early January 2016, journalists in the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta chatted about a doctor who had left her husband, moving to Kalimantan Island and joining a back-to-the-land movement called Gafatar.

Journalists working for various Indonesian media outlets reported that her husband had filed a “missing person” report with the Yogyakarta police, saying she’d been “abducted.” They darkly portrayed Gafatar as having “deviant teachings” against Islam, suggesting the movement tricked her into joining. Some journalists even looked for other “disappearance” cases.

These journalists predictably helped to generate public hysteria around Gafatar.

On January 15, 2016, mobs armed with sticks, clubs, and machetes threatened Gafatar farming communities with violence if they did not leave Kalimantan. Government officials and police officers visited their communities to pressure them to comply. Three days later, Malay militias attacked the Gafatar farms. A cell phone video shows police officers and military personnel standing by as a mob damages property and burns down eight communal houses. 

Those violent mobs and government officials finally evicted 2,422 families — 7,916 people, including many children — between January and mid-February. At the peak of the crackdown, Indonesian authorities were detaining more than 6,000 Gafatar members who’d been forcibly evicted from Kalimantan.

On February 3, the Indonesian Ulama Council (MUI), a powerful Muslim body, issued a fatwa against Gafatar, declaring it a heretical organization. It wasn’t long before the police began to arrest Gafatar leaders.

A Decline in Journalism — and Democracy

Religious intolerance plagues post-Suharto Indonesia. Minorities including Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Ahmadiyah, and Shia Muslims, as well as native faith believers and followers of new religions like Gafatar, face discrimination, intimidation, and violence. There is also widespread discrimination against women and LGBT people.

On occasion, journalists have borne witness to large-scale sectarian and communal violence in which a total of about 90,000 people have been killed, ranging from sectarian violence in the Moluccas islands to the turmoil in East Timor after the United Nations-organized referendum.

But there are moments when journalists are confronted by a sensitive subject, like the Gafatar back-to-the-land movement, that test their notion of professionalism. 

In May 2016, a Jakarta court sentenced a former Jakarta governor, Basuki “Ahok” Purnama, a Christian, to two years in prison for blasphemy against Islam. More than 150 people have been sent to prison for blasphemy in post-Suharto Indonesia, a huge increase from only 10 cases previously. The 1965 blasphemy law punishes deviations from the central tenets of Indonesia’s six officially recognised religions — Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism — with up to five years in prison.

The rise of conservative Islamism poses an increasingly significant challenge for journalists in the world’s largest predominantly Muslim country. Harassment, discrimination, and violence directed at religious minorities are facilitated by a legal architecture, established in 2006, that purports to maintain “religious harmony.” In practice, it undermines religious freedom. And some Indonesian journalists find it difficult to separate their religion and their profession.

“Fundamentalism grows in silence, but it can grow quickly in many sectors, including journalism,” said the Muslim scholar Rumadi Ahmad.

The trend has also proved problematic for women’s rights. Since 2007, the National Commission on Violence against Women has listed more than 420 local regulations that discriminate against women. And that’s similarly reflected in the country’s media landscape.

Two Instagram accounts, “Lawan Patriaki” (Smash Patriarchy) and “Magdalene Indonesia,” screen Indonesian media’s misogynist reporting. They often use the hashtag #wtfmedia. And a 2016 analysis of Indonesian media by Partnership for Governance Reform, Arus Pelangi, and OutRight Action International found that Indonesian mainstream media is generally “hostile” toward LGBT communities. 

Another problem is the dwindling popularity of traditional media due to the arrival of the internet: Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, etc. These companies have changed how Indonesians follow the news. Indonesian consumers are still learning the difference between reporting from a credible source and propaganda from an interested party, and how solid journalism is really made. 

Journalists are no longer gatekeepers who decide what the public should and should not know. The individual is now his or her own circulation manager and editor. Indonesia’s Press Council calculated that Indonesia has now 47,000 media organizations. 

The growth of “fake news” has created social, economic, and political problems. “Media consultants” are always available to serve their clients — and these days, that might even involve creating fake accounts and spreading propaganda. 

Internet companies, especially Google and Facebook, have also redirected advertising away from traditional media, depleting the limited budgets of mainstream media and pressing their reporters to survive with smaller salaries. Taking bribes, a practice since the Suharto era, remains common among Indonesian journalists.

These are all powerful ingredients contributing to a serious decline of quality journalism, and thus democracy, in Indonesia. 

Guideposts for Better Journalism

In December 2003, journalism guru Bill Kovach visited five cities on Sumatra, Java, and Bali islands, launching the Indonesian translation of The Elements of Journalism, which he co-wrote with Tom Rosenstiel. 

Kovach and Rosenstiel identified the 10 essential principles and practices of journalism: 

  • Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth;
  • Its first loyalty is to citizens;
  • Its essence is a discipline of verification;
  • Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover;
  • It must serve as an independent monitor of power;
  • It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise;
  • It must strive to keep the significant interesting and relevant;
  • It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional;
  • Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience;
  • Citizens, too, have rights and responsibilities when it comes to the news.

Kovach was often told that those 10 principles are extremely difficult to implement. He acknowledged the difficulties, stressing that those principles are like “stars in the sky… to help sailors navigating.” Kovach and Rosenstiel wrote that what journalists should pursue is “journalistic truth” to help people and society to operate on a day-to-day basis — obviously not “Islamic truth” or other religious interpretations.

What Indonesian journalists should use as their guiding reference is the Indonesian legal system — most importantly the 1945 Constitution, which explicitly guarantees religious freedom and the rights of assembly, association, and expression of opinion. 

Sadly, it also gives too much space for lower jurisdictions to abridge those rights. Now there are hundreds, if not thousands, of problematic laws, regulations, and local ordinances — including those 420 ordinances — made in the name of Islamic sharia, ranging from discriminating against non-Muslim minorities to making mandatory hijab rules. 

Indonesia has also ratified eight core international conventions on human rights. These provide even stronger standards that Indonesian journalists should follow in pursuing the functional truth in their reporting. 

A soul-searching review of where Indonesian journalists have failed in reporting on religious intolerance leads us back to equipping journalists with better training on the 1945 Constitution and many human rights conventions. Such training would hopefully avoid the problems of journalists stirring up religious tensions as they did against Gafatar members. 

The post Indonesia’s Journalists Grapple With Islamism appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Andreas Harsono is a senior Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, based in Jakarta. 

Brazil: From Global Leader to U.S. Follower

Tue, 08/20/2019 - 4:25pm

Supporters of far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro wave Brazilian, U.S., and Israeli flags. (Shutterstock)

Brazil recently gained the vaunted status of “Major Non-NATO Ally.” 

This title symbolizes the new, preferential relationship that Brazil has been pursuing with the U.S. as a result of the continued efforts by far-right President Jair Bolsonaro to inaugurate a new phase in Brazil’s global role.

Bolsonaro’s presidency has initiated deep changes in Brazilian foreign policy, which was traditionally based on multilateralism, non-interventionism, and a commitment to universal human rights. Bolsonaro’s abandonment of that traditional foreign policy is driven by his belief that despite changes in the world order, the future will remain U.S.-led — and, as such, a partnership with Washington is essential. 

With this partnership, however, Brazil is relinquishing its position as a global leader to become a junior follower of Donald Trump’s foreign policy.

Ideological affinity is a major component of Bolsonaro’s foreign policy, which has had practical and immediate consequences for Brazil. For example, due to Trump’s trade war with China, Beijing has been downgraded in the priorities of Bolsonaro’s government despite being Brazil’s main trading partner, and opportunities to increase trade in Asia are now willfully overlooked. 

Brazil’s prominent leadership role in Latin America is also being sacrificed as a result of its enthusiastic promotion of U.S. interests in the region.

Ideological Crusade and the U.S.

The new vision guiding Brazilian foreign policy is centered around anti-globalism and presumptions of Western cultural superiority. 

According to this worldview, Bolsonaro’s rise to power represents a unique opportunity to restore traditional moral values that will somehow help Brazil in its mission to save “Western Civilization” from decline. As such, a partnership with the like-minded Trump is imagined as a means by which to reaffirm the supremacy of the West.

These ideas form part of the broader ideological agenda which the current Brazilian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ernesto Araújo, has put forward in various articles. In one of his most notorious pieces, a journal article entitled “Trump and the West,” Araújo lays bare the version of Brazilian nationalism he aims to pursue: a national mission to, in essence, recover Brazil’s “Western soul.” 

The traditional nuclear family and Christian values — perceived as the hallmarks of “Western civilization” — are the central pillars of Araújo’s moral nationalism and, as such, should be seen as the foundation of Brazil’s new foreign policy orientation.

Consequences of Brazil’s Foreign Policy Shift

If Brazil’s new ideological position represents a stark renunciation of its previously active role in the building of a liberal world order, it is also becoming increasingly clear that the country will now abandon its previoously progressive contributions to solving major global problems. 

As a consequence, Brazil will no longer be seen as a leader among developing countries — a widely-respected role that the country has played since 2003, when Brazilian governments prioritized South-South cooperation. 

Brazil’s radical shift in foreign policy orientation is already causing shockwaves at home and abroad. Bolsonaro often flirts with the idea of potentially withdrawing from the Paris Environmental Accord, having already abandoned the Marrakesh Migration Pact. Additional uproar emerged in Brazil due to Bolsonaro’s close ties to Israel and his promise to recognize Jerusalem as its capital and to close Brazil’s embassy in Palestine. In the past, Brazil has systematically defended the creation of a Palestinian state, and was among the first countries to open an embassy in Palestine. 

Being averse to both multilateralism and cooperation with developing countries, Bolsonaro seeks to keep his distance from the United Nations and the BRICS. More concretely, Bolsonaro considers the deepening or even the maintenance of established diplomatic ties with the BRICS group as detrimental to the new Brazil’s alliance with the U.S. Indeed, under Brazil’s new foreign policy priorities, China and Russia are now perceived as potential adversaries

In attempting to recover Brazil’s “Western soul,” Bolsonaro’s government hopes to receive U.S. support in its efforts to become a permanent member of the OECD. The Trump administration has indicated that the U.S. will support Brazil’s bid to gain admission to the OECD.

In Bolsonaro’s evolving geopolitical map, Brazil is slowly abandoning its regional leadership to align with the U.S.’s interests in Latin America. In this context, Brazil’s engagement with other Latin American countries is mainly based on ideological affinity. Hence Brazil is showing interest in strengthening bilateral relations with Chile, a country that Bolsonaro admires principally due to his admiration for Pinochet’s brutal dictatorship (1973-1989), and with Argentina, with which bilateral relations remain warm as long as the conservative-minded President Macri remains in power

Venezuela is, for quite different reasons, another important country for Bolsonaro. He uses Venezuela’s unrest to escalate the intensity of his rhetorical confrontation against the Venezuelan regime, which resonates powerfully with Bolsonaro’s supporters at home and abroad.

Opposition from within

The rationale for and discourse surrounding Brazil’s blind alignment to the U.S. is facing heavy criticism from parts of Bolsonaro’s own government. These dissident voices can be heard in the agribusiness sector, the military, and the Brazilian diplomatic corps.

Operating as they do within a clear set of international interests, agribusiness is a pragmatic group of actors who understand that Bolsonaro’s rhetorical tactics are harming their international interests. Those who consider China a pivotal player in the expansion of Brazilian agricultural exports are understandably disturbed by Brazil’s increasing distance from the BRICS. 

Parts of the Brazilian military also appear skeptical about Brazil actively positioning itself within the U.S. sphere of influence, believing this to be a blind alignment that could easily compromise the image of Brazil as a strong, autonomous country. 

Bolsonaro’s foreign policy also faces opposition from within Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where career diplomats are increasingly voicing their concerns over the president’s wanton abandonment of the multilateralism that Brazil has historically and effectively used to engage with the rest of the world.

In an increasingly dog-eat-dog world, Bolsonaro hopes that Brazil can establish itself as a privileged U.S. partner. However, given the waning support for Bolsonaro’s foreign policy at home, as well as its fundamental lack of pragmatism, these radical shifts in Brazil’s international affairs may ultimately prove to be ephemeral.

The post Brazil: From Global Leader to U.S. Follower appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Helder F. do Vale is an Associate Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in South Korea. 

Digital Authoritarianism Is Rising in the Middle East

Tue, 08/20/2019 - 3:39pm


Months ago, despite clear evidence to the contrary, President Donald Trump claimed that “nobody has directly pointed a finger” at Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the murder of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. 

When pressed by journalists on findings provided by the CIA and United Nations that bin Salman may have, in all likelihood, directly authorized the extrajudicial killing, Trump parried the question and reaffirmed the strength of his relationship with the crown prince, saying: “I get along with Mohammed.”

The flagrant disregard of international human rights violations from a U.S. president is far from new, particularly when they are committed by an ally. However, this dynamic appears to be sinking to new lows under Trump, who has bolstered undemocratic regimes in the MENA region by giving autocratic leaders his vocal support and continuing the supply of vital military resources. 

Reflecting on the current period of global democratic backsliding, Larry Diamond, a Stanford University Fellow, has argued that “the decline of democracy will be reversed only if the United States again takes up the mantle of democracy promotion.” 

One important, though often overlooked, aspect of this process is how the proliferation of surveillance and censorship technology has helped bolster authoritarian regimes and provided them with the capability to stifle dissent through monitoring their populations online, controlling what information is available, and tracking dissidents across the globe. 

In the 100-page report on the murder of Khashoggi published by the U.N., for example, it is claimed “the Saudi authorities had access to Mr. Khashoggi’s communications with [fellow Saudi dissident] Mr. Abdulaziz by infecting Mr. Abdulaziz’s phone with Pegasus spyware.” Saudi Arabia denies these allegations. 

The spyware is thought to have originated from Israel’s infamous NSO Group, a technology company that has been found to sell invasive surveillance technology to a range of actors across the MENA region. The group was, until earlier this year, owned by the U.S. private equity firm Francisco Partners. 

For the protection and promotion of global democracy and to safeguard individual freedoms in the region, it is vital that the U.S. government condemns in the strongest possible terms these digital rights abuses. 

The use of Israeli-made surveillance technology is just one in a long list of digital rights abuses that has occured in Saudi Arabia over recent years. In Freedom House’s most recent Freedom on the Net report, they note: “Internet freedom in Saudi Arabia declined in 2018 amid an escalating intolerance for all forms of political, social, and religious dissent.” 

The reaction has been stark. According to a report by the Northwestern University in Qatar, 54 percent of people now use a VPN or similar service in Saudi Arabia in an attempt to hide their internet traffic from government surveillance and circumvent the vast content blocks. 

Similarly, in Egypt — where U.S. security assistance remains at $1.3 billion a year — there has been a violent crackdown on all potential spaces for dissent, including online. 

Egypt’s dictatorial president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has been called “a great person” by Donald Trump, and yet is responsible for the incarceration of around 60,000 political prisoners according to Human Rights Watch. There has also been a bout of arrests due to what citizens have posted online and, according to Adel Iskandar, there have even been cases of individuals being sent to prison for sharing an image of the president with Mickey Mouse ears drawn on. 

As governments across the region increasingly look to maintain control through stifling freedom of speech online, integral democratic freedoms have been undermined. However, censorship has not just been inspired by suppressing domestic dissent. Increasingly, intraregional conflicts have also influenced content control. 

As Berkman Klein Research Center’s Helmi Norman has found: “State censors block access to views and reporting on the bilateral and intraregional conflicts that dispute or contradict their own narratives, demonstrating limited tolerance to debate or coverage unaligned with the state viewpoint.” 

Preventing the spread of alternative views may only protract and heighten conflicts in the region, as citizens are unable to view a variety of perspectives. 

Not only has Trump remained silent on the issue, there is also mounting evidence that U.S. companies have worked directly with the producers of authoritarian technology. As a recent investigative report in The Intercept has shown, IBM and microchip manufacturer Xilinx have worked with Semptian — a Chinese company known for creating surveillance technology that has been used throughout the region. 

As tensions grow over the opacity in which surveillance technology is sold, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, David Kaye, submitted recommendations to the U.N. for a global moratorium on the sale of spyware. 

In his statement, he wrote: “Surveillance of specific individuals — often journalists, activists, opposition figures, critics, and others exercising their right to freedom of expression — has been shown to lead to arbitrary detention, sometimes to torture, and possibly to extrajudicial killings,” he wrote.

Alongside the moratorium, governments around the world must also begin to publicly condemn the use of such oppressive technology. As Hilary Matfess and Jeffrey Smith have argued, “leaders who are actively disinterested in being held accountable by their citizens do not see the Trump administration as just tolerating their destructive impulses but as affirming them.” 

For the sake of global democracy and international human rights, it is therefore vital that the administration takes into account digital rights abuses and how new technology has been used, shared and sold by its allies. If this is not achieved, egregious human rights violations may only continue to flourish. 

To end, it is worth remembering some of the final published words of Jamal Khashoggi: 

“There was a time when journalists believed the Internet would liberate information from the censorship and control associated with print media. But these governments, whose very existence relies on the control of information, have aggressively blocked the Internet.”

The potential for the internet to be a liberating force remains. However, that requires, at the bare minimum, openly criticizing states when they abuse integral digital rights.

The post Digital Authoritarianism Is Rising in the Middle East appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Samuel Woodhams is a writer and researcher at the digital privacy group Top10VPN.