Combating terrorism must include religious reform, which cannot take place in the abscene of comprehensive political reform

In Statements and Position Papers by CIHRS

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) condemns the terrorist acts that shook the French capital city, Paris last week, and which took the lives of 12 people at the Charlie Hebdo newspaper, and four others in a hostage incident at a Kosher supermarket. While the Cairo Institute offers its sincere condolences and expresses solidarity with the families of the victims of those terrorist acts, it also calls upon Arab governments and the international community to develop a long-term strategy, which takes into consideration the factors that foster terrorism in the Arab region. Specifically, it calls for a consideration of the systematic oppression of authoritarian regimes, which pushes both secular and Islamist youth towards political extremism, and the extremist religious discourse that in turn religious educational curricula and official religious institutions adopt. A consideration of the failure to execute the United Nations resolutions on the Palestinian cause is also a key factor that creates a fertile environment for the rise of extremism.

The ongoing and decades-long failure to fight religious-based terrorism is, therefore, a result of the current strategy, which has done nothing but increase terrorism around the world.

Last Wednesday, January 7, 2015, an unprecedented terrorist attack took place against the French press, when gunmen attacked the Charlie Hebdo offices and killed twelve journalists and two police officers, including the Editor in Chief and four senior caricaturists. It is suspected that the attack was executed by Islamist extremists, who were politically and militarily trained in Arab countries, in response to a caricature published by the magazine, which they considered as blasphemous.

The Cairo Institute condemns this unjustifiable criminal act, and considers it a crime against freedom of opinion, expression and the press in France and worldwide. In this sense, it denounces the attempts of some Egyptian media outlets to justify the incident under the pretext that Charlie Hebdo offended religions and the Prophet.

These media outlets, whether publicly or privately owned, follow the same apologist approach of blindly supporting the Egyptian government. They attack opinions that criticize human rights violations committed by the Egyptian security apparatus in its fight against terrorism or in its suppression of any Islamist or secular critical voices.

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies urges the international community to view the Paris attacks not within a vacuum, but within the broader historical context of the emergence and development of Islamist-based terrorist movements. Religious extremism thrives only in atmospheres of oppression, lack of democracy, and repression of the right to express political, economic and social disappointments, It also thrives within contexts in which there is a dominant extremist religious discourse, supported and propagated by governmental religious educational curricula and by official religious institutions.

The oppressive atmospheres of many Arab countries is sustained with the backing of world powers, who believe that authoritarian regimes can promote stability and counter terrorism. This much sort-after stabiliy, however, will be, like in the past, short-lived. Rather, the support of authoritarian regimes is a long-term investment in encouraging the growth of terrorism.

In the 14 years of the war against terror in the wake of the September 11 attacks, it is clear that terrorism cannot be combated without a radical and comprehensive process of religious reform. Decades of authoritarianism and autocracy has showed, however, that the process of religious reform cannot be initiated unless there is comprehensive political reform first[1]. We have indeed seen that extremist religious discourse is a source of legitimacy for many of these regimes.

[1] This was the main conclusion arrived at during a consultative meeting convened by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies in 2003 in Paris to examine practical means of renewing religious discourse. The meeting included 30 participants amongst them rights workers, researchers, and Islamic and secular thinkers, and was publicized at the time as the “Paris Declaration for the Renewal of Religious Discourse.”

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