New book puts France at center of anti-Muslim backlash

Women hold signs reading ‘Is it not a provocation, just my freedom of conscience’ during a ‘headscarf march’ organized by the Collective against Islamophobia ‘Respect Equality Dignity’ on Sept. 3, 2016, in Avignon, southern France. (AFP)
Updated 14 February 2018
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New book puts France at center of anti-Muslim backlash

LONDON: Islamophobia in France is being fueled by state-backed efforts to encourage secularism, according to a new book that puts the country at the heart of a growing intolerance toward Muslims in Western societies.
In “Republic of Islamophobia: The Rise of Respectable Racism in France,” Jim Wolfreys, a British academic and author, argues that French politicians have given discrimination and racism a veneer of respectability in their response to a wave of Daesh attacks that hit French towns and cities in the last three years.
The bloodshed has left innocent Muslims facing unprecedented scrutiny of what they wear, eat and say in a society polarized by inequality, he claims.
Wolfreys, a senior lecturer in French and European Politics at King’s College London, told Arab News there is a “danger of confusing understandable fear of terrorism with fear of Muslims.”
France is home to Europe’s largest Muslim community, with estimates of its size ranging from 2.1 million to about 6 million, out of a total population of 66.9 million. Many of these Muslims can trace their roots back to the country’s colonial rule in North and sub-saharan Africa during the 19th and 20th centuries.
Secularism is one of the guiding principles of the French political and legal systems and questions around immigration and integration have long been a subject of debate in the country. But rhetoric once considered taboo has entered mainstream political discourse in recent years, according to Wolfreys.
In 2011, even before the recent wave of militant attacks, France became the first European nation to ban women from wearing full-face veils in public.
Then, as gun battles and suicide bombings rocked the country in a series of attacks claimed by Daesh, local authorities in several towns outlawed women from wearing burkini swimwear. Officials said the clothing, which covers the female head and body in keeping with conservative Islamic custom, was a security threat and flouted the nation’s secular principles.
France’s highest administrative court subsequently overturned the restriction imposed by one resort, with three judges ruling that it was “clearly illegal” and in violation of “fundamental liberties,” but the ban heightened concerns among many Muslims that they were being made scapegoats for the Daesh-inspired violence.
Islam and immigration went on to become two of the central issues in the 2017 presidential election, when Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front party, won almost 11 million votes in the second round of polling.
Le Pen campaigned on an openly Islamophobic ticket, denouncing mosques for allowing worshippers to pray in the streets and warning of the danger of living “under the yoke of the threat of Islamic fundamentalism.”
She lost convincingly to her liberal rival, Emmanuel Macron, but mainstream political concerns about Islam have not gone away.
On Sunday, President Macron told the French weekly newspaper “Le Journal du Dimanche” that he planned to reorganize the structure of Islam in France to help “preserve national cohesion.” He provided no details about how he hoped to do this.
Wolfreys’ book, “Republic of Islamophobia: The Rise of Respectable Racism in France,” looks in detail at the causes and consequences of state-fueled discrimination.
He reports the results of an opinion poll conducted by a French human rights institute that found 45 percent of National Front supporters do not consider “dirty Arab” a reprehensible phrase. In the same survey, nearly three-quarters of respondents said they do not regard Muslims as fully French.
However, Wolfreys accuses mainstream parties from both the right and left of the political spectrum of adopting increasingly intolerant interpretations of secularism.
He writes that the problem became particularly acute after two masked gunmen attacked the Paris offices of the satirical magazine “Charlie Hebdo” on Jan. 7, 2015, in retaliation for a series of cartoons defaming the Prophet Muhammad. Twelve people were killed, with Al-Qaeda in Yemen and Daesh issuing contrasting claims of responsibility for the carnage.
On Nov. 13 that year, Daesh militants also carried out a coordinated assault across the French capital, with three suicide bombers blowing themselves up outside the Stade de France and gunmen killing 89 people attending a rock concert at the Bataclan theatre.
This was followed in July 2016 by an attack in the southern city of Nice, in which a cargo truck was driven into a crowd of revelers celebrating Bastille Day, killing more than 80 people.
Wolfreys’ book warns that the French government’s response to the bloodshed has been disproportionate and risks further marginalizing innocent Muslims, pushing them into the arms of extremists.
“The renewed emphasis since the 2015 Paris attacks on inculcating respect for ‘republican values’ in schools, punishing those alleged to defy them, fast-tracking those accused of ‘apology for terrorism’ through the courts, and increasing surveillance and ‘vigilance’ is unlikely to prevent such atrocities from happening again,” he writes.


Cyber firms, Ukraine warn of planned Russian attack

Updated 26 min 48 sec ago
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Cyber firms, Ukraine warn of planned Russian attack

  • Cisco warns 500,000 routers have been hacked in suspected Russian plan to attack Ukraine
  • The hacking software shares code with malware used in previous cyber attacks that the U.S. government has attributed to Moscow

TORONTO/KIEV: Cisco Systems Inc. warned on Wednesday that hackers have infected at least 500,000 routers and storage devices in dozens of countries with sophisticated malicious software — activity Ukraine said was preparation for a future Russian cyberattack.
Cisco’s Talos cyber intelligence unit has high confidence that the Russian government is behind the campaign, according to Cisco researcher Craig Williams, because the hacking software shares code with malware used in previous cyberattacks that the US government has attributed to Moscow.
Ukraine’s SBU state security service said the activity showed Russia was readying a large-scale cyberattack against Ukraine ahead of the Champions League soccer final, due to be held in Kiev on Saturday.
“Security Service experts believe the infection of hardware on the territory of Ukraine is preparation for another act of cyber-aggression by the Russian Federation aimed at destabilising the situation during the Champions League final,” it said in a statement after Cisco’s findings were released.
Russia has previously denied assertions by Ukraine, the United States, other nations and Western cyber-security firms that it is behind a massive global hacking program, which has included attempts to harm Ukraine’s economy and interfering in the 2016 US presidential election.
The Kremlin did not immediately respond to a request for comment submitted by Reuters on Wednesday.
Cisco said the new malware, dubbed VPNFilter, could be used for espionage, to interfere with Internet communications or launch destructive attacks on Ukraine, which has previously blamed Russia for massive hacks that took out parts of its energy grid and shuttered factories.
“With a network like this you could do anything,” Williams told Reuters.
CONSTITUTION DAY ATTACK
The warning about the malware — which includes a module that targets industrial networks like ones that operate the electric grid — will be amplified by alerts from members of the Cyber Threat Alliance (CTA), a nonprofit group that promotes the fast exchange of data on new threats between rivals in the cybersecurity industry.
Members include Cisco, Check Point Software Technologies Ltd. , Fortinet Inc. Palo Alto Networks Inc, Sophos Group Plc and Symantec Corp.
“We should be taking this pretty seriously,” CTA Chief Executive Officer Michael Daniel said in an interview.
The devices infected with VPNFilter are scattered across at least 54 countries, but Cisco determined the hackers are targeting Ukraine following a surge in infections in that country on May 8, Williams told Reuters.
Researchers decided to go public with what they know about the campaign because they feared the surge in Ukraine, which has the largest number of infections, meant Moscow is poised to launch an attack there next month, possibly around the time the country celebrates Constitution Day on June 28, Williams said.
Some of the biggest cyberattacks on Ukraine have been launched on holidays or the days leading up to them.
They include the June 2017 “NotPetya” attack that disabled computer systems in Ukraine before spreading around the globe, as well as hacks on the nation’s power grid in 2015 and 2016 that hit shortly before Christmas.
VPNFilter gives hackers remote access to infected machines, which they can use for spying, launching attacks on other computers or downloading additional types of malware, Williams said.
The researchers discovered one malware module that targets industrial computers, such as ones used in electric grids, other infrastructure and in factories. It infects and monitors network traffic, looking for login credentials that a hacker can use to seize control of industrial processes, Williams said.
The malware also includes an auto-destruct feature that hackers can use to delete the malware and other software on infected devices, making them inoperable, he said.