Focal Points Blog

Boko Haram Makes Al Qaeda Look Benign in Comparison

Boko Haram

Not many in the West are aware of just how frequently Nigeria’s Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram commits mass acts of violence. In the last two months, they not only kidnapped 234 schoolgirls, but, three weeks later, attacked a town on Nigeria’s border with Cameroon and massacred 336 people. Apparently it was short on security because the military was concentrating on the rescue the kidnapped girls.

But it’s not just the West which is either ill-informed or ignores Boko Haram’s crimes (see sidebar of its Wikipedia page for a timeline since 2010), it’s Nigeria, too. In February, at GQ, Alex Preston wrote that, because they attack the government, attacks are un- or under-reported.
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Don’t Blame Shariah for Honor Killing

Afghanistan Court

In the New York Times, Rob Nordlund has been covering the story of young Afghan couple Zakia and Mohammad Ali, who, after eloping in March, have been on the run from her family. Since Zakia refused her father’s first choice for a husband, they fear her family will make her the victim of an “honor” killing. On May 3, in a piece about them and a young woman who was the apparent victim of an honor killing, he wrote:

Neither Amina nor Zakia and Mohammad Ali did anything against the law — or, more specifically, against two of the legal systems in effect in Afghanistan: the body of civil law enacted over the past decade with Western assistance, or the classic Islamic code of Shariah that is also enshrined in law. Both protect the rights of women not to be forced into marriage against their will.
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Unbroken Chain of Repression: From Mubarak to Morsi to the Military

Egyptian military

The Egyptian military preparing to confront demonstrators

For Dr. Mohamed Mukhtar Gomaa, the Egyptian Minister of Islamic Religious Trusts, religious affairs, Islam and politics should not mix. Dr. Gomaa who was attending the Conference on the Dialogue Between Civilizations and Cultures in Bahrain this week told me during my interview with him that “Islam should not be part of politics because the role of religion should only be about preaching a moral public life and for the betterment of society. We should advocate a centrist form of Islam especially that of Al Azahr, which is the center of Islamic learning in Egypt and across the Islamic world.”

Mr. Gomaa argued that  politics and power are corrupting therefore religion should stay away from politics and power. The frame of reference of Mr. Gomaa here is the political crises that are currently dividing Egypt between those who support the Muslim Brotherhood and president Mohamad Morsi ― who was deposed from power on June 30th 2013 by the Egyptian military after a mass protests broke out against it ― and those who support the military takeover of power in a coup that took place few days later.
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The Climate Change Fight Might Be Better Off Without Joe Q. Public

Global warming

In an opinion piece at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Dawn Stover recently wrote:

Apparently most Americans have not only lost interest in learning about what’s happening to our world, but are actively repelled by the very mention of this world.

Take a moment to let that sink in before we proceed. Ms. Stover again:

In a recent interview published by, marketing expert David Fenton of Fenton Communications said he tells environmental groups not to use words such as “planet,” “Earth,” or “environment.” … Even “sustainability” has become a dirty word in many circles. As the Southern Poverty Law Center explains in a new report, conspiracy theorists have “poisoned rational discussion” by spreading falsehoods about the United Nations’ innocuous (not to mention nonbinding) Agenda 21 global sustainability program.
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Toward a Roma Cosmopolitanism

Nicolae Gheorghe

Nicolae Gheorghe

Cross-posted from

Last August 8, the great Romanian sociologist Nicolae Gheorghe passed away. He was only 66. I first met him in 1990, when he was just embarking on his project of elevating Roma issues to the highest level of European politics. Because he spoke English and had an academic background, he was often the lone Roma representative in European human rights meetings or on TV panel discussions. He worked on Roma issues at the Council of Europe, at the EU, at the UN, and for many years at the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe.

I saw him again, and for the last time, in Budapest last May. He was very sick, in the late stages of colon cancer, and he moved with great difficulty. And yet he had pushed himself to travel from Italy to Hungary to be part of a seminar and book launch with his comrade-in-arms Andras Biro at the Central European University. The book, From Victimhood to Citizenship, is a dialogue among several people in or knowledgeable about the Roma community, and it provides an opportunity for Gheorghe to reflect on his own work and the contrasting views of others. He used his trip to Budapest to speak with a wide variety of people, including Roma students at Central European University. I managed to interview him in the lobby of his hotel on the morning before he was to return to Italy where he was staying with his sister. His day was scheduled with back-to-back meetings, and even his trip out to the airport was an opportunity for a conversation. He seemed to know that he did not have much time left, and he was determined to squeeze as many interactions as possible into his day – with old friends, new faces, and even just passing acquaintances like me.
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Can Bahrain Lead the Arab World in Religious Tolerance and Democratic Reform?

Bahraini Minister of Justice and Islamic affairs Khalid Bin Ali Bin Abdulla Al Khalifa

Bahraini Minister of Justice and Islamic affairs Khalid Bin Ali Bin Abdulla Al Khalifa

Speaking with the Bahraini Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs His Excellency Sheikh  Khalid Bin Ali Bin Abdulla Al Khalifa in Manama recently during the conference on “Dialogue between Civilizations and Cultures” was to say the least full of surprises.

For one thing, one would not expect a high-level Arab official to be so candid and vibrantly open-minded to discuss his country’s problems, the future of freedom and democracy in his country, and to address charges of  human rights abuses without reservation or verbal gymnastics typical of Arab politicians.

This was in itself a major development and a breath of fresh air in the region and indeed for the future of freedom of press. According to Mr. Al Khalifa, a forty-four-year-old British educated former prosecutor and judge, Bahrain already has an open and vibrant society and it is working to develop system of government accountability which would eventually evolve to an open democracy.
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South Sudan Has Failed to Justify Its Existence

Rebel leader Riek Machar

Rebel leader Riek Machar

Earlier in May, the South Sudanese government resumed its negotiations with the rebels. That very week, The Sudan Tribune reported that numerous civilians, who had sought shelter at a United Nations base in Bor, were killed by an unknown mob. Also, trainee soldiers were shot in Mapel, and several other civilians were killed in Bentiu, allegedly by the rebels.

The international media, on the other hand, either refused to cover the crisis in South Sudan, or simply chose to highlight the fact that both sides are now negotiating with each other. Sadly, the negotiations seem to be headed nowhere, and chances of peace in South Sudan do not look good.
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Don’t Count Out the ANC

South African polling station

South African polling station

South Africa’s next elections are scheduled for today, the fifth general elections to take place since the end of apartheid and the beginning of majority rule. Since 1994, the African National Congress has won handily each general election, giving it uncontested control of the country’s presidency. During the last general poll in 2009, the ANC garnered almost 66 percent of the vote, less than it had received in 2004 yet significantly more than winners of many competitive elections around the world. Even after this lopsided victory, some were quick to declare the ANC’s dominance to be fadingwondering how long South Africans would be able to support a party unable or unwilling to respond to citizens’ needs. This theme of decline continued after the ANC again won big in the 2011 municipal elections, securing 62 percent of the overall vote, well ahead of the runner-up Democratic Alliance’s 24 percent. For comparison, the Nelson Mandela-led ANC won under 63 percent of the vote in 1994, the first post-Apartheid general elections.
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Will Nuclear Cuts Fall Victim to Tensions Over Ukraine?


At Global Security Newswire, Diane Barnes writes:

“The current political environment is anything but conducive” to achieving significant nuclear-arms curbs, according to the … “Deep Cuts Commission” … composed of 21 experts from Russia, the United States and Germany.

In fact

… the group of independent analysts and former officials asserted that mistrust between Russia and the United States over military maneuvers in Ukraine underscores a need for the two governments to jointly consider how they can reduce the risk of a nuclear exchange.
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U.S. and Russia Testing Each Other’s Commitments in Eastern Europe

Ukraine Protests

NATO military exercises have begun in Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia as a response to the 40,000 troops Russia has amassed near Ukraine’s eastern border. The sequential deployments of the American 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team in these Eastern European countries, totaling around 600 U.S. troops, illustrate President Obama’s attempt to reassure NATO allies against possible threats.

The exercises suggest a skepticism among Russia’s rivals that economic sanctions and diplomatic talks will be sufficient to halt the Russian-driven unrest in Ukrainian cities like Donestk, Kramatorsk, Slaviansk, and Luhansk. Government buildings in numerous Eastern Ukraine cities have been taken over by pro-Russian separatist forces and still “unrecognized” army officials, strongly resembling what Crimea went through before breaking off from Ukraine. 
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