Check out the humanitarian topics on IRIN’s radar and trawl through our curation of the best reports, opinion, and journalism you may have missed:
The Manchester and London attacks have triggered the now common response that we must combat the “ideology” of violent extremism. That usually means tackling the belief systems of extremists and their distribution through social media. But, researcher JM Berger argues, that would be the least effective approach. He points out that Facebook and Twitter have already been successfully squeezed. As of March, the median Arabic-language account openly supporting so-called Islamic State on Twitter had about 14 followers and could only stay online for about a day before being suspended.
The key, overlooked element of ideology is identity. Extremist ideology describes an in-group based on race, religion, or nationality. “Extremists create a narrative justification for their beliefs by linking the out-group to a crisis afflicting the in-group, and linking the in-group to a violent solution against the out-group,” explains Berger, whose work we’ve quoted in our deep-dive on whether “countering violent extremism” works.
The greater the perceived crisis, the more violent and extreme the solution. “These linkages are the substance of an extremist ideology, and, as such, they are vulnerable to counter-programming,” says Berger. To begin this process, policymakers and practitioners “must first exchange their romanticised notions of ideology for a more grounded definition.” But there is no silver bullet. Extremist movements such as the Ku Klux Klan, for example, have endured for generations.
Cholera defies control in Yemen
When we reported on Yemen’s cholera outbreak mid-May, 17,200 people were suspected of having the disease and 206 had died. Aid workers were worried but working to bring the situation under control. On Thursday, the UN announced the number of suspected cases had passed 100,000, with 791 dead. Oxfam sad the runaway epidemic was killing one person every hour and could become the worst this century. Haiti’s post-2010 outbreak killed nearly 10,000, so that’s a terrifying prospect. Why haven’t humanitarians been able to get a hold on a disease that should be easy to treat? It’s complicated, and next week, when the numbers will surely be even worse, we’ll do our best to break it down for you, plus we’ll explain what aid-speaky statements about the need for a “coordinated”, “scaled-up” response actually mean. Here’s a preview: while at first cholera seemed to be an urban problem, with most cases in Sana’a’s garbage-filled streets, it turns out rural Yemenis were drinking contaminated water and getting sick at a rate almost no one realised.
Macron wants you
The night US President Donald Trump announced he was pulling of the Paris Agreement on climate change, his newly elected French counterpart very publicly thumbed his nose across the Atlantic with a speech in English posted on Facebook that mockingly echoed Trump’s jingoism with the imprecation: “Let’s make our planet great again.” In his address, Emmanuel Macron told “all scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs and responsible citizens” who disagreed with the US withdrawal “they would find in France a second homeland.” Yesterday, Macron announced on Twitter he was “delivering” on his promise with the launch of a web platform, makeourplanetgreatagain.fr, aimed at people wanting to move to France or seek French funding so as to tackle climate change. Visitors to the site are taken through a short questionnaire to establish their occupation (researcher, in business, with an NGO, student), their country of origin (all the world’s nations are listed), why they want to tackle climate change, what they are currently working on, and what their dream is. There follows an assurance that: “Whoever you are or represent… France will welcome your entrepreneurship, your commitment and your willingness to succeed together” with a button marked “I’m coming to France!” What pages appear next depend on answers to the questionnaire. They include tailored summaries of the Paris Agreement and overviews of the business environment in France with guidance about how to move there and a range of links to relevant ministries and diplomatic missions. Those who supply their own contact info are promised a reply within three working days.
In the wake of the biggest suicide bombing in Afghanistan since the war began, where is the country headed? More than 150 people were killed when a truck exploded in the capital, Kabul, on 31 May. The bombing set off a string of violent incidents, and the reverberations are likely to be felt in the weeks and months to come. New York Times correspondent Mujib Mashal explains in this podcast how a demonstration that followed the attack, calling for increased security, turned ugly when police fired on protestors. Then a bomb exploded, killing scores of people at a funeral for one of the protestors killed during the demonstration.
The Afghan government, already riven by divisions, faces a crisis of confidence and it’s hard to see a way out of the political meltdown. The situation poses a big problem for the United States too. After pulling almost all its troops out, the military now wants to send back a few thousand more to pressure the Taliban to negotiate, explains Pentagon correspondent Helene Cooper. But Trump’s decision remains a mystery. “I do not begin to know what President Trump thinks about Afghanistan and if he’s even thought about Afghanistan,” says Cooper. One thing is certain though: The golden age Mashal’s parents experienced in the 1960s and ‘70s – when Kabul was a cosmopolitan city of concerts, café, and rooftop bars – will not return anytime soon. Mashal explains the disconnect best: “They have a nostalgia for the past that increasingly seems imaginary to me, because I just cannot connect that nostalgia for the past to the current reality.”
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Turkish asylum seekers pushed back by Greece
This week, several human rights groups have alleged that Greek security forces have been intercepting Turkish asylum seekers attempting to cross into Greece and forcibly returning them to Turkey, where some have since been imprisoned. The Stockholm Centre for Freedom documented at least five incidents of “refoulement” – the forced return of asylum seekers that contravenes the 1951 Refugee Convention – involving groups of Turkish nationals that included a prominent journalist, several teachers, a professor, and a non-commissioned officer. The journalist, Murat Çapan, had reportedly been sentenced to 22.5 years in prison after writing articles critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government. The Hellenic League for Human Rights is gathering evidence of similar pushbacks, and plans to bring the matter to the attention of the Greek courts.
In a statement on his Facebook page, Nils Muižnieks, the EU’s Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed concern about the reported expulsions and urged the Greek authorities to immediately cease the pushback operations “and uphold their human rights obligation to ensure that all people reaching Greece can effectively seek and enjoy asylum”.
IRIN launches new militancy project
In April, we launched a new project with the Open Society Institute of West Africa exploring jihadi violence in Nigeria and the Sahel. The first article took a deep dive into whether communities in northeast Nigeria are ready to accept the reintegration of repentant ex-combatant Boko Haram (the answer is no). That was followed by a commentary from Idayat Hassan of Abuja’s Centre for Democracy and Development. Hassan, who works with the Nigerian military on its deradicalisation strategy, warned that Boko Haram is down, but far from out.
Meanwhile, regular IRIN contributors Ashley Hamer and Amanda Sperber travelled to Timbuktu to assess the extent to which Mali’s militants have expanded their reach into the centre of the country. In What can save Mali?, they concluded that what is needed is dialogue rather than more foreign troops. Also under our microscope: the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where President Joseph Kabila refuses to step down; the simmering “anglophone problem” in largely French-speaking Cameroon; a huge debt scandal that has deepened poverty in once-booming Mozambique; the enormous risks local aid workers face in South Sudan; and the clamour for justice in The Gambia after president Yahya Jammeh’s ouster.
(TOP IMAGE: A drawing of Timbuktu's Djinguereber mosque by IRIN contributor Ashley Hamer during her recent reporting trip to Mali with writer Amanda Sperber)