The CSS Blog Network

Ethics on Film: Discussion of “Timbuktu”

Jihadists of the group “Ansar Dine” near Timbuktu, Mali. Image: Magharebia/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs on 25 February, 2015.

2014, 97 minutes. Nominated for Oscar for best Foreign Language Film.

For an American audience used to war movies with explosions, good guys and bad guys, and finite conclusions, the Oscar-nominated, Mauritanian film Timbuktu is a departure. The violence is never gratuitous, most of the jihadists seem like normal (albeit dangerously misguided) people, and, at the end, the fates of the eponymous city and several main characters are left hazy. The people who would most likely choose to see Timbuktu are already numbed by the constant stream of horrific news out of Syria, Nigeria, Pakistan, etc., so this low-key approach is the perfect strategy. We know about the executions, suicide bombings, and coalition airstrikes. But what we don’t realize is, perhaps, the main takeaway from the film: This type of militant extremism, more than anything else, is soul-crushingly boring for the occupied populations. » More

Bad Theatre

French soldier guarding the Eiffel Tower. Image: DerekKey/Flickr

This article was originally published by European Geostrategy on 26 February, 2015. Republished with permission.

Pairs of Belgian soldiers have been standing guard at the entrance of NATO headquarters and other sensitive locations in Brussels since the Belgian security services successfully raided a terrorist cell in the Belgian city of Verviers on 15 January, just days after the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris. One rather hopes that NATO especially was already somewhat protected before; two foot soldiers will hardly make much difference in any case.

Indeed, why deploy the army in the streets of Brussels at all? What one seems to forget is that no terrorist attack took place. Unlike in May of last year, when a returned French ‘foreign fighter’ murdered four people in the Jewish Museum in Brussels, this time an attack was prevented, thanks to excellent police and intelligence work – and yet now the army was deployed whereas last year it was not. That does not mean that there is no more remaining threat, quite the contrary, but it does more than nuance the causal link between troops in the street and security at home. Khaki in the streets is mostly bad theatre, a feeble attempt to signal resolve in the face of a threat that can never be entirely prevented (although in this particular instance it actually was). » More

Mediation Perspectives: the Need for a New Syrian Narrative

A Syrian man runs for cover during heavy fighting between Free Syrian Army fighters and government forces in Aleppo, on December 3, 2012. Image: Freedom House/Flickr

The conflict in Syria is entering its fifth year, and the Syrian suffering continues. In the last week it was reported that the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) had attacked the Khabur region in the northeast of the country, kidnapped more than two hundred Assyrian Christians, including women and children, destroyed churches and provoked a mass exodus from these communities.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres,  the Syrian situation is “the most dramatic humanitarian crisis the world has faced in a very long time.” Syrians are now the largest refugee population under UNHCR’s mandate. Further, more than 6.5 million Syrians are internally displaced persons (IDPs). Together, refugees and IDPs account for 40 per cent of the country’s pre-conflict population, and at least half of that number is children.

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Jack Goldstone: “Migration, Islam and Security”

Refugees at Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea, 2006. Image: Vito Manzari/Wikimedia

How secure is Europe? What is the future of the Muslim community in the West? What should be the nature of Europe’s relationship with the Islamic world? In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, these were some of the questions addressed by Dr. Jack Goldstone at a recent ISN-CIS roundtable held on 20 January 2015 at ETH Zurich.

After diagnosing Europe’s demographic situation, Dr. Goldstone’s message was a straightforward one: without continuing large-scale immigration, Europe will soon begin a rapid economic decline.  The continent therefore does not have an ‘immigration problem.’  It has an integration problem. » More

On Religion and Violence

Jihadists carrying rockets.

Masked Palestinian militants with homemade rockets in the outskirts of Gaza City. Image: Amir Farshad Ebrahimi/Flickr

This article was originally published by Contending Modernities, a blog hosted by the University of Notre Dame, on 25 November, 2014. It is part of Contending Modernities’ “Deadly Violence and Conflict Transformation” series.

The rise of ISIL and the so-called Islamic State in 2014 has given prominence to discussions of religious violence in the media, with much emphasis placed on questions of the relationship between Islam and violence. In his speech to the nation on 10 September 2014, President Obama restated his longstanding view that no one who commits violent atrocities in the name of religion can be considered an authentic believer. Similarly, Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium affirms that in the face of “disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalizations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence.” Others, however, have responded negatively to such statements, citing, violence in the Qur’an, religious leaders who have promoted violence, and contemporary and historical cases of religious violence linked to Islam. » More

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