Saturday, July 9, 2011

NY Times Likens Violent 'Fly-in' Agitators to Christian Pilgrims in Bethlehem

by Leo Rennert

Pro-Palestinian provocateurs throughout Europe planned a massive ''fly-in'' to Ben-Gurion Airport this week to engage in anti-Israel demonstrations upon arrival at the airport and thence to the West Bank to rally with Palestinian demonstrators.

But instead of hundreds of agitators managing to carry out these plans, only a handful made it through Israeli security. Most were barred from boarding their flights in Europe as a result of a blacklist of suspected rabble-rousers Israel sent to airlines with a request to deny them passage, while others were arrested at Ben-Gurion and now await deportation back to Europe.

A few, however, trickled through Israeli security and promptly hooked up with violent Palestinian demonstrators who clashed Saturday with Israeli security forces at two West Bank checkpoints. According to Israeli media, one of the clashes that involved the hurling of stones at IDF troops included "fly-in" participants, thus justifying earlier warnings by Prime Minister Netanyahu and other Israeli officials that Israel would not tolerate foreign "provocateurs" and "hoodlums" bent on entering the country to engage in public disorder.

Leftists in Israel and elsewhere, however, denounced Israel's security precautions as excessive and draconian -- a view also espoused by Jerusalem correspondent Isabel Kershner in a Saturday dispatch in the New York Times, "Israel Blocks Air Travelers to Palestinian Conference," July 9).

Determined to depict intruding agitators as peaceful visitors, Kershner stationed herself in Bethlehem (her dateline reads "Bethlehem, West Bank"), where she awaited the arrival of these supposedly harmless air travelers for a week-long program of "fellowship."

To underscore their supposedly peaceful bona fides, Kershner wrote in the second paragraph of her piece that, after all, "Israel has traditionally been welcoming of foreign tourists, including more than a million Christian pilgrims who visited this Palestinian city of the Nativity last year."

Imagine her disappointment that Israel didn't put out the welcome mat to these Gandhiesque "fly-in" pilgrims.

"There were persistent reports," Kershner informed Times readers," that the foreign visitors would try to create chaos and paralyze the airport, despite strenuous denials from the organizers of the campaign, who advocate nonviolence." Kershner thus was confident enough to give these agitators and their hosts a kosher, non-violent stamp of approval.

But no sooner did her dispatch make it into the New York Times than Israeli media reported Palestinian clashes with IDF units at West Bank protests, including one demonstration where some of these allegedly non-violent guests participated in stone-hurling attacks on IDF troops.

And here was Kershner stranded in Bethlehem where she placed a journalistic bet that the "fly-in" would proceed in a hallowed place guaranteed to assure that "all is calm, all is bright."

Leo Rennert


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

US Congress Opposes PA Statehood Bid

by Gavriel Queenann

The US House of Representatives voted 407-6 to pass a non-binding resolution backing the suspension of funds to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority should it pursue its bid for a unilateral declaration of statehood by the United Nations in September.

The resolution comes a week after the US Senate unanimously approved a similar resolution.

The House resolution also calls for the Obama administration to consider suspending aid the the PA in light of its unity deal with Hamas terror organization. The resolution is non-binding because, constitutionally, foreign policy is the purview of the President of the United States.

The House initially debated the resolution on Wednesday, but postponed the vote to ensure lawmakers had a chance to vote. Republicans and Democrats signaled their strong support for Israel and a resumption of direct negotiations that collapsed last fall.

"We stand by Israel as our most valued ally. It is time for the Palestinian Authority to accept a peaceful solution to this conflict," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.

Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, said he strongly believed that to ensure "the long-term viability of the Jewish democratic state, peace must be negotiated. It cannot and will not be imposed from outside."

The administration has said the PA push for a UN vote on its statehood this fall has not helped the peace process, a point echoed by lawmakers. The US has signaled to the PA it will exercise its security council veto at the UN should the matter be brought to a vote.

That renders the PA move in the General Assembly largely symbolic and led Israeli officials to seek a "moral minority" of sixty key states to oppose the move as a means of negating the propaganda effect of the PA receiving the support of its traditional 'automatic majority' in the General Assembly.

"What, exactly, would UN General Assembly recognition of a Palestinian state do for the Palestinians? Absolutely nothing," said Rep. Howard Berman of California, the top Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee. "It would be seen by Israel and many others as an act of bad faith, creating yet another obstacle to successful talks."

The House resolution says the goal is two states "a democratic, Jewish state of Israel and a viable, democratic Palestinian state, living side-by-side in peace, security and mutual recognition."

But many question the viability of a PA state when the organization, riddled with corruption, cannot make ends meet and survives solely at the charitable largesse of donor nations.

Gavriel Queenann


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124 Refused Entrance to Israel, Jailed

by Maayana Miskin

Hundreds of anti-Israel activists arrived at Ben Gurion International Airport on Friday as part of a “fly in flotilla.” Border officials refused to grant 124 of them entrance, and they were brought to Givon and Ela prisons to await deportation.

Those refused entrance – citizens of Belgium, Germany, Spain, France, Holland, and the United States – were on a list sent out to airports in advance of the planned fly-in. Another 200 of those whose names were on the list were prevented from boarding planes to Israel.

Many others successfully entered Israel. From there, some continued to a Palestinian Authority-controlled region of Samaria, where they joined a riot in the village of Nabi Salah during which they clashed with Israeli troops.

Others are believed to have taken part in a second riot, near the Kalandia checkpoint outside Jerusalem.

The “fly in” and Nabi Salah demonstration were both meant to protest in favor of the PA demand that millions of descendants of Arabs who fled pre-state Israel in the 1940s be offered Israeli citizenship.

The Interior Ministry decided Saturday to allow the entry to Israel of four of the 124 people who were detained, according to Kol Yisrael government radio. The two German men and two citizens of Holland were determined to have come to Israel with no intention of breaking the law.

Maayana Miskin


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

The Palestinian Muslim Money Hole

by Daniel Greenfield

The Palestinian Authority is facing a budget crisis. It has reached its borrowing limit and has a 585 million dollar deficit. So naturally its leaders are asking the West for another handout.

Back in 2007, 7.4 billion dollars was pledged to keep the terrorist edifice of the Authority running. The PA claimed that it needed 3.9 billion for budgetary shortfalls alone. And after pissing away far more than that, the men who give the suicide bombers their marching orders are back passing around the plate.

Even as the Palestinian Authority pushes forward on a statehood bid at the UN, not only is it unable to pay its own bills, but its only real revenue stream is foreign aid. Few states can claim to have failed, before they are even declared– but the PA is on its way there.

But do “Palestinian People” really need billions more in aid? The World Bank report for 2011 found that only 16 percent of the West Bank under PA control was living below the poverty line.

How serious is a 16 percent poverty rate? It’s better than the poverty rate in Washington D.C. which hit 18.9 percent. That means that politicians in Washington D.C. are diverting money that could have been used to help needy Americans a few miles from their offices, to help the comparatively better off terrorist populations in the West Bank.

Contrary to the barrage of news stories on the suffering of the Palestinians, the poverty rate for America and the West Bank aren’t that far apart. The California poverty rate is at 15.3 percent. And the national average at 14.3 percent is hardly that much better.

If a 16 percent poverty rate requires billions in international aid– then where is Washington D.C.’s international aid. Why isn’t there a UN aid facility distributing food near Foggy Bottom? And if being a failed state with no budget discipline requires international aid, then where are California’s aid pledges?

Many of the PA’s chief donors have poverty rates in the same range. Some are even worse off. Greece’s poverty rate is at 20 percent. Spain’s is nearly as high. And 17 percent of the EU population is considered to be at risk of poverty. Even Germany’s strong economy still has a 15.5 percent poverty rate. A few percentage points away from the West Bank.

But most damningly Israel’s poverty rate is nearly 24 percent. Worse than in the Palestinian Authority. About half those numbers come from its Arab population, which unlike their cousins in the Palestinian Authority, aren’t the beneficiaries of vast amounts of aid.

What’s the West Bank’s economic secret? 16.9 percent unemployment, a better number than among many of its international donors, funded by those same donor countries.

The dirty secret of the Palestinian Authority is that it is a wholly subsidized enterprise paid for by American and European taxpayers. And most of the money goes to the same place that it does in California– to the local government and its vast army of employees and their pockets.

The Palestinian Authority payroll stands at over 150,000 people. That’s in an area with only 840,000 adult males and 1.5 million adult males and females. That’s one government worker for every 10 adults in the West Bank. 1 government worker for every 5 males.

In July, the PA announced that it could only afford to issue half its payroll for the month. The terrorists on its payroll would have to make do with 115 million, instead of 225 million. This stunt is meant to bully international donors into kicking in more money so the Fatah employment agency stays open.

Why the sudden payroll crisis? Last month the PA passed a law putting all imprisoned terrorists, even members of Hamas, on its payroll. Now the Palestinian Authority is having payroll problems and expects foreign donors to bail it out– so it can continue paying money to convicted murderers.

And what else is all that money paying for? 1.3 million to computerize the records of the PA’s Religious Courts. So no offenders against Sharia law can hope to dodge the Islamic justice system. Plus another 29 million to construct “model buildings” for religious courts.

8 million to identify and survey Waqf land for Muslim religious authorities. 32 million to construct “National Security Training Camps”. 15 million to computerize the “National Security Agencies”.

A giant chunk of the aid goes to creating and funding Palestinian “security agencies”. That currently includes three intelligence agencies, the General Intelligence Service, the Preventive Security Organization and Military Intelligence. Why does an autonomous territory that can’t pay its bills or cover its own payroll need three intelligence agencies?

Military Intelligence is responsible, in the official GAO description, for “arresting and interrogating opposition activists”. This does not tend to fall under the purview of what is considered “military intelligence” even in Zimbabwe.

The General Intelligence Service is there “conducting counterespionage”, which is apparently a euphemism for hunting down and executing “collaborators” who tip off Israel about terrorist plots and attacks. But calling it “counterespionage” sounds so much more like a John le Carre novel.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have noted that the General Intelligence Service has tortured and disappeared people, but this hasn’t stopped the US and other foreign donors from continuing to fund it. Neither does the fact that one of its former leaders is serving a life sentence in an Israeli prison for plotting terrorist attacks.

The combined official security forces rolls peg the ratio at 65 security officers to a thousand Palestinians. Compare that to 2.3 officers per a 1000 people in California. Which is curious because there are fairly few offenses reported or prosecuted. But that’s not what the security forces are really for.

The National Security Force, which is being trained by the United States, has a role as;

“A lightly armed and equipped gendarmerie style force charged with supporting the civil police; delivering law and order; and combating terrorism, short of acting as a true military force.”

Except they look exactly like a military force, complete with camo gear, red berets and AK-47′s. A FOX News report described it as what “amounts to a light army now springing up in the West Bank.‘Light’ because all the Israeli’s have allowed them to pack are AK-47 rifles, at least so far.”

The United States is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to create an army for a terrorist organization. And is providing the training too. The odds of American soldiers encountering some of the men being trained here on the battlefield in the near future are very good.

Then there’s the Presidential Guard, which reports directly to the PA President. The Guard is another armed force, whose official task is protecting “important PA officials”. That 10 percent of the Palestinian Authority security forces are dedicated to this task says more about the real nature of the authorities in the West Bank than anything else could.

And after investing all this money into gangs of armed thugs and its religious courts, into construction projects funded by Western aid and given to well connected figures, and discreetly siphoned off, the Palestinian Authority is once again short of money and in need of donations.

The unelected PA Prime Minister, working for an unelected PA government, has declared that the authority’s insolvency doesn’t mean that it’s not ready for statehood. The fault according to him lies with international donors for not shoveling enough money into the Palestinian Muslim Money Hole. The bottomless pit which swallows billions and always needs more. But that’s exactly what it means.

The Palestinian Authority can’t pay its own bills. It can’t even fund its own army, yet insists on having one. It can’t generate its own electricity, provide its own water or even hold elections. If that’s not the definition of being unready for statehood– what is?

Daniel Greenfield


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Multicultural Discontent in Toronto

by Stephen Brown

Forty years ago, Canadian Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau made multiculturalism Canada’s official policy with the Canadian Multicultural Act. To many Canadians, no government policy in their country’s history has had a more profound and irrevocable effect on their society and way of life than this un-voted on Liberal initiative. Trudeau was the most leftist prime minister in Canadian history and, due to his far left leanings, was once blacklisted from entering the United States.

While there were already many cultures in Canada in 1971, those of the country’s two founding peoples, English and French, were foremost. But that was to end with the Multicultural Act, which radically changed Canadian society (mainly the dominant English part) from being primarily an assimilative one to a mosaic, in which immigrants could now retain the cultures they brought with them. According to the policy’s socialist originators in the Liberal Party, Canada was to become a brilliant rainbow of peoples and cultures who would be naturally tolerant of one another (not like those racist white people who pioneered the country) and who would also enrich society with their diversity. And perhaps of equal importance to the Liberals’ leftist and anti-American social engineers, Canada would not be like America’s melting pot.

But forty years after multiculturalism’s adoption, its success remains debatable. The supposed intolerance existing in pre-multicultural Canada, which multiculturalism would eliminate, seems to have been replaced by other hatreds and prejudices the new ethnic groups have brought with them from around the world.

The latest multicultural collision concerns a confrontation between Hindu and Muslim communities in Toronto, Canada’s largest city. The Canadian Hindu Advocacy, a multicultural group, is upset that Muslim students at a public school are allowed to hold a prayer service, led by an imam from a local mosque, every Friday afternoon in the school’s cafeteria from November to March. During the service, it is reported male students sit in front of the female students.

The imam was selected by the parents, and the school pays no money for the service but does supervise the event, which about 400 students attend. The school, Valley Park Middle School, is about 80 percent Muslim and is the only public school in Toronto with such an event.

Canadian courts banned religious practices from the public school systems in the 1980s. The 1980s was also the decade that saw the saying of the Lord’s Prayer prohibited in public school classrooms. It was viewed as too indoctrinating as well a stigmatization of those who did not take part. From that time on, legally, education was to be secular. But University of Toronto law professor Ed Morgan believes the Valley Park situation may exceed legal boundaries.

“I think this looks like a school practising religion,” Morgan said. “The school may be conveying a message that they endorse religion and that’s not what the school is allowed to do.”

Besides the appearance one religion is receiving preferential treatment over another, the Hindus are also concerned that the Muslim students may be subjected to “inflammatory preaching against their faith.” A Canadian Hindu Advocacy director, Ron Banerjee, said Hindu parents had complained about this, although “there has been no evidence this has occurred.” Nevertheless, the Hindu organization is planning protests at the school until the prayer service is ended.

“This is alarming and unacceptable,” said Banerjee. “We respect the separation of church and state.”

To their credit, not all Muslims agree with holding an Islamic religious service in a public school. The Muslim Canadian Congress, a large Canadian Muslim group, has joined the Canadian Hindu Advocacy in calling for its end. Besides a concern it could foster hard feelings with other religious groups, the Muslim Canadian Congress also believes some Muslims, such as Ismailis and Ahmadiyyas, would face discrimination and not be allowed to take part. The Jewish Defense League is also supporting the Canadian Hindu Advocacy’s efforts to end the prayer service.

A school board official said it was decided to hold a prayer service in the school, because students were slow coming back to class Friday afternoons, the Muslim holy day, from a nearby mosque. Which makes one wonder why the truancy laws simply are not enforced or why parents were not escorting them if the problem was so severe.

“There were concerns about safety, even though their parents allowed it, and there was concern about instructional time,” the official said.

Besides the points of legality and resentment from other religions, other fundamental reasons exist why such exclusive events favouring one religion or ethnic group, like the Muslim prayer service, should not be allowed. In a school where a sense of community and equality should be developed among the students, favouring one group over the other would establish instead a sense separation or even superiority. A dangerous barrier would then be erected between students so favoured and those who weren’t that could also be continued outside the school. Even inside the prayer service itself, a sense of separation and superiority may have existed in the seating arrangements, if they were deliberate.

This sense of separation, established at such a young age in such an important life- developing institution, would also be an obstacle to immigrant children’s successful integration into the host society. And according to Danish psychologist Dr. Nicolai Sennels, it is already difficult enough to integrate Muslim immigrants, since Islamic culture has “proved impossible to sufficiently integrate” despite “success stories and role models.

“Muslim culture and religion have demonstrated some inherent self-protective mechanisms which make Muslim immigrants resistant to external influences from the host culture,” Sennels said, adding in Europe multiculturalism has already been declared a failure in France, Germany and Great Britain.

The policy of multiculturalism itself is also to blame for Muslim communities’ failure to integrate and for their establishing their own “parallel societies,” especially in Europe. Under multiculturalism, a sense of national community is difficult, if not impossible, to develop. Multiculturalism divides and ghettoises people who then often have little contact with other ethnic groups. Sennel says they then go off in their own direction rather than in a common one, since there are no “core values” and “national identity” they can rally around.

But multiculturalism will also fail because, at its core, it is a policy of hatred. It was also a cynical policy to garner votes for the Liberal Party from grateful immigrants. Multiculturalism in Canada was never meant to raise the immigrants’ cultures up and celebrate them, but rather to bring Canada’s English-Canadian culture, the country’s most dominant one at the time, down. In 1971, it was really a case, like in European countries, of a leftist elite turning its back on and despising its own culture.

What Canada actually experienced with the Multicultural Act was a cultural levelling like the class levelling the Soviet Union underwent under the communists, where society was purged through violence to only the working class, and the race-levelling under the Nazis where all races where physically eliminated except for the alleged Aryan one. All these false ideologies were based on hatred, and anything based on hatred always fails. The only saving grace for Canada is that its levelling experience has occurred without bloodshed – so far.

Since it is human nature, however, to seek advantage for oneself or one’s group, to rise above the level playing field, then one can expect in a levelled multicultural society like Canada’s endless cultural confrontations and squabbles like the one witnessed this week in Toronto. So instead of the 1971 promised multicultural bliss, Canada will, like Eastern Europe, eventually become the place of another disastrous, failed socialist experiment.

Stephen Brown


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

House Hearing: Hizballah Threat Looms in U.S. Backyard

by IPT News

Hizballah has established a vast network of operatives throughout Latin America, and even in North America, which could be used to wage terrorist attacks against American interests if the group or its Iranian patrons see fit, witnesses told a House Homeland Security subcommittee on Thursday.

The threat is not imminent, panelists said, as the Lebanese-based Shiite group focuses on money-making criminal enterprises like narco-trafficking.

More than 80 Hizballah operatives have been identified in at least a dozen South American countries, said Roger Noriega, former assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs.

"If our government and responsible partners in Latin America fail to act, I believe there will be an attack on U.S. personnel, installations or interests in the Americas as soon as Hizballah operatives believe that they are capable of such an operation without implicating their Iranian sponsors in the crime," Noriega told the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Hochul, D-N.Y., said the testimony was unnerving. "I am getting the sense that we are sitting ducks here," she said.

It would take significant developments, like an attack on Iran by the United States or Israel, to prompt Hizballah operatives to forfeit their business interests and start waging attacks on American interests, said Doug Farah, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center. Hizballah is currently in a defensive mode, he testified, but could switch to an offensive mode if provoked.

"Hizballah can be described as a potential insurance policy of sorts for the Iranian regime," explained Ilan Berman, Vice President of the American Foreign Policy Council, in written testimony.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., considered the indictment of several Hizballah members for their roles in the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and the outcome of the collapsing regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as other factors that could escalate Hizballah tensions in the near future and put the United States at risk.

Assad's Syrian regime is known to have provided financial and logistical support to Hizballah. Syria is one of Hizballah's biggest state sponsors, second only to Iran. Compounding the threat, Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has formed alliances with Latin American government leaders, including Venezuela's Hugo Chávez.

"They [Hizballah] have the motivation," said Noriega, "and they have been steadily increasing their capacity to act."

Even if Hizballah operatives in South America don't directly attack the United States, the money they send abroad could strengthen the group, and by extension, Iran. During questioning, Hochul asked the witnesses where the estimated $20 million per year raised by Hizballah in Latin America ends up.

"I'm sure the bulk of the money if I could just guess, goes to weapons and military related activities, but also social programs in Lebanon," said Dr. Melani Cammett, a hearing witness and Brown University political scientist.

The other witnesses agreed. "The bulk of the proceeds end up being funneled back to the Middle East," said Berman.

Cammett, who has interviewed Hizballah leaders in Lebanon, disagreed with the three other witnesses in her assessment of the threat from the terrorist group. The idea that Hizballah would launch attacks against the United States at this time from Latin America, she said, "is not based on firm evidence."

She emphasized that Hizballah is mostly concerned with launching violent attacks against Israel. Hizballah has not attacked an American target since the 1980s, she said, and has not called on its members to target the United States.

In response to Cammett's argument, other witnesses and committee members questioned why Hizballah would chose to grow support in another hemisphere.

"You don't infiltrate an area unless you have an intent," said Rep. Brian Higgins, D.-N.Y. And Hizballah's intent is "not benevolent," he said. Farah suggested that law enforcement and law makers spend more time asking, "What are they doing here?" Hizballah's resources are squeezed, he said, but the group is spending a large percentage of those resources on positioning itself in South America.

Some Hizballah infiltration south of the border is already reaching the United States and its southern border, witnesses and committee members said.

"In July of last year, we had the first IED explode in this hemisphere," Rep. Jeff Duncan, R.-S.C., said, referring to a sophisticated car bomb that exploded in the U.S.-Mexico border town of Ciudad Juarez.

In written testimony, Farah cited an increase of tattoos with Hizballah symbols and Farsi phrases among prison inmates. Tucson, Ariz.'s police department released last fall a security memo which featured pictures of U.S. prison inmates' tattoos indicating Hizballah support or membership. A Hizballah flag, two crossed AK-47's (a Hizballah symbol) and the word "Hizballah" in Arabic were among the tattoos pictured.

The hearing isn't the first time government officials have asked whether pockets of Hizballah members operating in South America threaten U.S. security. In June 2010, Rep. Sue Myrick, R.-NC, asked Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to investigate Hizballah's presence operating in Mexico and along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Hizballah continues to concern American policy makers, but witnesses argued the current approach, which treats the Hizballah in South America as a drug problem, rather than a terrorism problem, must change.

The U.S. needs to develop a more comprehensive plan to tackle the Hizballah threat in the Western Hemisphere, Berman recommended.

"Such attention is long overdue," he said, "and the most immediate way the United States can begin to address the danger posed by Hizballah is by acknowledging that the organization uses our Hemisphere as a significant staging ground, fundraising hub and operational base."

IPT News (The Investigative Project on Terrorism)


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Gender Equality in Sharia Courts?

by Deborah Weiss

The treatment of women under Islamic Sharia law is inherently discriminatory against women. Alarmed by the suffering of Muslim women at the hands of Sharia Courts in Britain, Baroness Cox recently introduced legislation into parliament which would ensure gender equality in Britain’s Sharia Courts.

Pursuant to the Arbitration Act of 1996, litigating parties are permitted to forgo the British court system and have their cases heard in an arbitral tribunal if both parties agree on the tribunal, are willing to relinquish their rights to a judge and jury, and voluntarily consent to the arbitration. Sharia Courts have operated informally in Britain for quite some time. However, in 2007 Sheik Faiz-ul-Aqtab Siddiqi discovered a clause in the Arbitration Act which rightly made him realize Sharia Courts could be classified as arbitration tribunals. Subsequently, he began heading up the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal to oversee the Sharia Courts. Once classified as arbitration tribunals, the British government began enforcing Sharia judgments with the full force of law.

According to a report by the Civitas think tank in England, as of two years ago there were approximately 85 Sharia Courts operating in Britain. The Arbitration Act of 1996 permits tribunals to rule on financial and property issues. However, the report asserted that many of the Sharia Courts exceeded permissible jurisdictional boundaries by advising on matters of marriage, divorce, child custody and domestic violence. By law, family and criminal matters are not arbitrable. This illegal expansion of jurisdiction has been dubbed “jurisdiction creep.”

The arbitral rulings and advisory opinions issued by Sharia Courts mandate the disparate treatment of women. Under Sharia law, a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man’s, she is awarded half the inheritance of her male counterparts, custody laws grossly shortshrift women, and property laws provide unequal rights based on gender.

In terms of mediation efforts, Sharia Courts often merely hand the parties pre-determined outcomes that comport with the laws of Sharia and request both parties to sign consent forms. Then, the forms are submitted to the Family Court on the false premise that the terms were truly negotiated by the parties involved.

To make matters worse, many Muslim marriages take place solely under religious ceremonies and are not registered with the state as required by the Marriage Act of 1949. Thus, these “marriages” are not civilly recognized and the “wives” are not afforded any legal protections. Interestingly, the problem of non-registration appears only in the Muslim community. Jews and Christians always register their marriages civilly even when the wedding ceremony is religious in nature.

Unfortunately, there are Muslim women who fled their homelands to escape the oppression of Sharia law, only to find they are facing a similar situation in the UK. Because many Muslim immigrants are illiterate, the women are unaware of their rights under British law. It is legal to consent to arbitration if the acquiescence is voluntary. However, often in Muslim communities women are threatened, intimidated or otherwise coerced into submitting to Sharia Courts. Thus, it is not truly voluntary.

Baroness Cox finds the injustice to Muslim women and the discriminatory judgments being handed down by Sharia Courts to be disconcerting. In addition, many British judges have begun questioning whether Sharia rulings comply with the UK’s obligations to ensure gender equality under the Human Rights Act.

Accordingly, Baroness Cox’s bill, titled “The Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill,” if passed into law, makes it clear that sex discrimination laws apply to arbitration tribunals as well as civil courts. It would prohibit unequal treatment of testimony, uneven-handedness of property, inheritance distribution, and financial rulings. It would also make it a crime punishable by up to five years in jail to falsely assert jurisdiction over family and criminal matters. Finally, the bill mandates that in unregistered marriages, public authorities must inform the parties that they are required to register their marriages in order to secure legal rights.

In other words, the bill requires Sharia Courts to acknowledge the priority of British law over Sharia law when the two conflict, and to preserve the British values of human rights and equality for women.

The bill does not mention Islam or Sharia by name. However, both the Baroness’ comments, as well as the Explanatory Note attached to the bill, make it clear that the legislation was prompted by concerns of the inequality executed in Sharia Courts and the fact that Sharia Courts have regularly, gradually, and illegally expanded their jurisdiction.

Various secular, Christian and Iranian-Kurdish women’s rights groups support the Baroness’ bill.

It comes on the foot-heels of the Home Secretary’s admission that Britain’s anti-terrorism program failed to recognize the extent of radical Islamist ideology and its influence in Britain, and an acknowledgment of Britain’s continuing problems of lack of integration and assimilation by the Islamic community. It is therefore no surprise that some Muslims are complaining about this legislation.

Turning a blind eye to the lack of consent, their ignorance of the law, the cries of suffering women, and the failure of Sharia Courts to inform Muslim women of their rights, Khurshid Drabu, constitutional adviser to the Muslim Council of Britain argued, “[B]ills of this kind don’t help anybody.” He accused lawmakers of failing to understand the “freedom” that Britain ensures whereby Muslim women should be permitted to submit to Sharia rulings.

Deborah Weiss


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Israel 1, Flotilla 0

by P. David Hornik

On Thursday a possibly last, straggling member of the abortive flotilla, a French yacht called the Dignity, set sail—against all odds—for Gaza. Its dignity was soon compromised when, trying to refuel in Crete, the Greek coast guard detained it. The yacht had all of eight passengers on board.

For Israelis the flotilla’s failure has been an encouraging spectacle. On the diplomatic front, Israel successfully got the points across that: there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza; anyone who wants to provide supplies to it can do so through Israeli and Egyptian land routes; and the “second flotilla” was simply a malign provocation. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called it “neither necessary or useful”; Britain, France, and the Netherlands issued travel advisories against it; Greece, Cyprus, and even Turkey worked to restrain it.

Regarding Israel’s naval arms embargo of Gaza, the Middle East Quartet—consisting of the U.S., the EU, the UN, and Russia and by no means necessarily understanding of Israel’s challenges—went so far as to cite Israel’s “legitimate security concerns that must continue to be safeguarded.” The Quartet also called for an end to the “deplorable five-year detention of Gilad Shalit,” whose terrible plight is not exactly high on the list of the purportedly humanitarian flotillistas.

And on the legal front, Israel’s independent Shurat Hadin legal center waged a valiant and successful campaign, deterring insurance companies from underwriting what was clearly a leftist-jihadist, Hamas-supporting venture.

Lest there be any doubt, pertinacious bloggers have exposed the flotillistas’ real aims “straight from the horse’s mouth,” as one of the bloggers, the British author and columnist Melanie Phillips, put it. In a June 29 post she revealed that “Adam Shapiro, co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement and a board member of the Free Gaza Movement (which is behind the flotilla)” had spilled the beans in a meeting last November at Rutgers University, stating (the blog post includes the video) that:

Free Gaza is but one tactic of a larger strategy, to transform this conflict from one between Israel and the Palestinians, or Israel and the Arab world…to one between the rest of the world and Israel…. [applause]

Free Gaza is a tactic…all of it is part of a strategy now to transform the conflict and internationalize it and really undermine Israel where it gets its most support….

Free Gaza’s chairman for the Netherlands, Rob Groenhuizen, was even more forthright. As reported by Yochanan Visser, “the Dutch blog KeesjeMaduraatje…revealed that…Groenhuizen…was a convicted communist extremist who used to be a member of Dutch groups affiliated with the German terrorist [Red Army Faction].” Fittingly enough, Groenhuizen wrote in an email about the second flotilla:

This game about humanitarian aid is part of a tremendous plot—something that Israel tries to postpone as long as possible—but with every uprising in the Arab world and each mistake Israel makes, the end is coming nearer.… Everybody knows Israel is not sustainable.

The “plot” is set to continue on Friday with a mass “fly-in” of pro-Palestinian, pro-terror, kill-Israel activists to Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport. Their movement—the only one in the world dedicated to destroying a country—appears still to be coasting on the “success” of last year’s flotilla, which indeed ignited world condemnation of Israel when some of its soldiers fought back against a brutal mob on the Mavi Marmara.

This despite the fact that the more recent staged spectacles have been less successful. The May 15 Nakba Day march to Israel’s borders generated some bad publicity for Israel; the June 4 Naksa Day march, for which Israel was much better prepared, considerably less. Israel’s head of military intelligence revealed this week that Iran was active in planning both events—and disappointed with the results. As for the second flotilla, it can already be dubbed a flop.

The lesson for Israel is that some of the same governments and world bodies that rushed to lambast it over the Mavi Marmara a year ago can take more reasonable positions if Israel works hard in advance to impress on them the truth. That approach is also working, to some extent, regarding the Palestinians’ planned statehood declaration in September. The Netanyahu government—slurred by many in the world and by the left in Israel as “extremist” and “hard-line”—deserves much credit.

P. David Hornik


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Rival Hegemons in Syria

by Caroline Glick

Last Saturday, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah gave Hezbollah-backed Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati the political equivalent of a public thrashing. Last Thursday, Mikati gave a speech in which he tried to project an image of a leader of a government that has not abandoned the Western world completely. Mikati gave the impression that his Hezbollah-controlled government is not averse to cooperating with the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon. The Special Tribunal just indicted four Hezbollah operatives for their role in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.

But on Saturday night, Nasrallah gave a speech in which he made clear that he has no intention whatsoever of cooperating with the Special Tribunal and that since he runs the show in Lebanon, Lebanon will not cooperate in any way with the UN judicial body. As an editorial at the NOW Lebanon website run by the anti- Hezbollah March 14 movement wrote, last Saturday night Nasrallah "demolished Mikati's authority and the office from whence it comes, and used it as a rag to mop up what is left of Lebanese dignity."

The March 14 movement has tried to make the Special Tribunal the litmus test for Mikati's legitimacy, demanding that his government either cooperate with the UN Special Tribunal, or resign. But the fact is that the March 14 movement is no match for Hezbollah. Its protests are not capable of dislodging the Iranian-controlled jihadist movement from power.

Just as it always has, the fate of Lebanon today lies in the hands of outside powers. Hezbollah rules the roost in Lebanon because it is backed by Syria and Iran. Unlike the US and France, Iran and Syria are willing to fight for their proxy's control over Lebanon. And so their proxy controls Lebanon. It follows then that assuming the US and France will continue to betray their allies in the March 14 democracy movement, Hezbollah will be removed from power in Lebanon only if its outside sponsors are unseated.

And it is this prospect, more than the UN Special Tribunal, that is keeping Nasrallah up at nights.

Last month, France's Le Figaro reported that Hezbollah has moved hundreds of long-range Iranian-built Zilzal and Fajr 3 and Fajr 4 missiles from its missile depots in Syria to Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. The missile transfer was due to Hezbollah's fear that Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime is on the verge of being toppled.

And there is good reason for Hezbollah's concern. The breadth and depth of the anti-regime protests in Syria far overshadow the anti-regime protests in Egypt and Tunisia. As Victor Kotsev noted this week in the Asia Times, something like half a million people participated in the anti-regime demonstrations in Hama last Friday. Since, according to Syria's 2009 census, Hama has just over 700,000 residents, the rate of public participation in the anti-regime protests dwarfs anything seen in any other Arab state since the anti-regime protests began last December.

According to Tariq Alhomayed, the editor in chief of Asharq Al-Awsat in English, Assad fired his provincial governor of Hama following last Friday's demonstration for not shooting the demonstrators.

Assad's move is yet another clear sign that he has no intention of compromising with his opponents. He will sooner destroy his country then let anyone else rule it.

And this makes sense. A son of the Alawite sect that makes up just 12 percent of Syria's population, Assad has no serious support base in Syrian society outside his family-controlled military. He has repressed every group in his society including much of his own Alawite sect. As Syria expert Gary Gambill noted in Foreign Policy on Thursday, Assad has no post-regime prospects.

And so he can entertain no notion of compromise with his people.

Like Hezbollah, Assad's ability to survive is also going to be determined elsewhere. To date, the US has backed Assad against the Syrian people and Europe has gone along.

For their part, the Iranians and their Hezbollah proxies are actively working to ensure their favored outcome in Syria. In testimony before the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday, IDF Intelligence chief Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi repeated his claim that Iran and Hezbollah are actively assisting Assad's forces in killing and repressing the Syrian people.

Kochavi explained, "The great motivation Iran and Hezbollah have to assist [Assad] comes from their deep worry regarding the implications these events might have, particularly losing control of their cooperation with the Syrians and having such events slide onto their own territories."

From Iran's perspective, the prospect of a renewal of the Green Movement anti-regime protests is the gravest threat facing the regime today as it reaches the nuclear threshold. As Iran expert Michael Ledeen wrote this week at Pajamas Media, the Iranian regime itself is plagued by internal fissures due to escalating estrangement and rivalry between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and supreme dictator Ali Khamenei.

Their infighting can be compared to pirates arguing over the division of their stolen loot as their ship sinks to the bottom of the ocean. Iran's economy is failing. Its inflation rate is around 50%. Its people hate the regime. Lacking the ability to win the public over through politics, since the Green Movement protests in 2009 the regime has simply terrorized the Iranian people into submission.

Their fear of their people has only grown since the anti-regime protests in the Arab world began last December. And in line with this heightened fear, the regime has tripled its rate of public executions since the start of the year.

The Iranian regime understands that if Syria falls, it is liable to lose its ability keep its people down. The Alawite-dominated Syrian military is far more loyal to the Assad regime than the Iranian army is to the Iranian regime. And there have already been defections from the Syrian army among the junior officer corps.

Fearing insubordination in the ranks of its military and Revolutionary Guards, in 2009 the regime reportedly brought Hezbollah operatives to Iran to kill anti-regime demonstrators.

If Assad falls, Hezbollah will lose its logistical supply line from Iran. Moreover, Hezbollah will be so busy fending off challenges from no-longer-daunted Lebanese Sunnis empowered by their Syrian brethren, that its operatives will be less available to kill Iranian protesters.

With the US compliant with Assad and maintaining its policy of appeasing the Iranian regime, the only outside government currently making an attempt to influence events in Syria is Turkey. Although it is being careful to couch its anti-Assad policy in the rhetoric of compromise, given Assad's inability to make any deal with his opponents, simply by calling for him to compromise, the Turkish government is making it clear that it seeks Assad's overthrow. Turkey's talk of sending troops into Syria to protect civilians and its willingness to set up refugee camps for the Syrians from border towns fleeing the Assad regime's goons, make clear that Ankara is vying to expand its sphere of influence to Damascus in a post-Assad Syria.

Ankara's plans are all the more apparent when seen in the context of Turkish Prime Minister Recip Erdogan's moves to reinstate Turkey as a regional hegemon along the lines of the Ottoman Empire. To this end, according to a report this week in The Hindu, since Erdogan's Islamist AK Party formed its first government in 2003, it has been actively cultivating ties with Muslim Brotherhood movements throughout the region. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has deep ties to the Turkish government and the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood branch Hamas has been publicly supported by Erdogan's government since 2006.

In the event that Turkey plays a significant role in a post-Assad Syria, it can be expected that the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood would fairly rapidly take control of the country.

Many commentators have argued that Turkey's anti-Assad stance indicates that the recent warming of ties between Tehran and Ankara, (which among other things saw Erdogan siding with Iran against the US at the UN Security Council), is over.

But things in the Middle East are never cut and dried. While it is true that Turkey and Iran are rival hegemons, it is also true that they're also allied hegemons. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Syria and Gaza have close ties to Hezbollah and Iran as well as to Turkey. Al-Qaida in Lebanon has close ties to Syria and working relationships with Hezbollah.

Then again, if Assad is overthrown, and his overthrow reinvigorates the Iranian Green revolution, given the pro-Western orientation of much of Iranian society, it is likely that at a minimum, Iran would drastically scale back its sponsorship of Hezbollah and other terror groups.

For Israel, Assad's overthrow will be clear strategic gain in the short-and medium-term, even if a post-Assad Syrian government exchanges Syria's Iranian overlords with Turkish overlords. Syria's main threats to Israel stem from Assad's support for Palestinian terrorists and Hezbollah, and from his ballistic missile and nuclear programs. While Turkey would perhaps maintain support for Palestinian terrorists and perhaps for Lebanese terrorists, it does not share Syria's attraction to missiles and nuclear weapons as Iran does. Moreover, Ankara would not have a strong commitment to Hezbollah and so the major threat to Israel in Lebanon would be severely weakened.

Moreover, if Assad's potential overthrow leads to increased revolutionary activities in Iran, the regime will have less time to devote to its nuclear program, and its nuclear installations will become more vulnerable to penetration and sabotage. A successor regime in Iran, seeking close ties with the West and be willing to pay for those ties by setting aside Iran's nuclear program.

In the long-term, the reestablishment of a Turkish sphere of influence in the Arab world in Syria, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority and Egypt through the Muslim Brotherhood will be extremely dangerous for Israel. With its jihadist ideology, its powerful conventional military forces, its strong economy and its strategic ties to the US and Europe, Turkey's rise as a regional hegemon would present Israel with a difficult challenge.

Despite the massive dimensions of the anti-regime protests, it is still impossible to know how the situation in Syria will pan out. This uncertainty is heightened by the US's passivity in the face of the uprising against its worst foe in the Arab world.

Given the strategic opportunities and dangers the situation in Syria presents to it, Israel cannot be a bystander in the drama unfolding to its north. True, Israel does not have the power the US has to dictate the outcome. But to the extent it is able to influence events, Israel should actively assist the non-Islamist regime opponents in Syria. This includes first and foremost the Syrian Kurds, but also the non-Islamist Sunni business class, the Druse and the Christians who are all participating the anti-regime protests. Israel should also oppose Turkish military intervention in Syria and openly advocate the establishment of a democratic, federal government in Syria to replace Assad's dictatorship.

It might not work. But if it does, the payoff will be extraordinary.

Caroline Glick
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Where Is Promised Arab Funding for the Palestinians?

by Khaled Abu Toameh

The Palestinian Authority has announced that it is facing a severe financial crisis, largely due to the failure of Arab countries to fulfill their promises to help the Palestinians.

Because of the failure of the Arab countries to provide financial aid to the Palestinians, the Palestinian Authority is almost entirely dependent on US and EU contributions.

The financial crisis in the Palestinian Authority raises doubts as to whether the Palestinians are indeed ready for statehood. If the Palestinian Authority has to ask Americans and Europeans to pay salaries to its civil servants, how can it demand an independent and sovereign state from the United Nations in September?

What other country in the world depends on foreign aid to support its civil servants and employees?

In addition, the Palestinian Authority should launch a real and serious investigation to find out what happened to hundreds of millions of dollars that went missing under Yasser Arafat. Many Palestinians believe that the stolen money could resolve the current crisis and improve their living conditions.

The Palestinian Authority should at least show the US and the EU countries that it is making an effort to restore the money and punish those responsible for embezzlement. Future aid to the Palestinians should be contingent on the Palestinian Authority leaders' proving that they have done their utmost to get the money back.

If the Palestinian leadership does not comply and continues to ignore the issue, as it has done for the past few years, then the US and the EU should reconsider their policy of funding the Palestinian Authority without holding it accountable.

The US and the EU also have every right to demand that the Palestinian Authority stop inciting against Israel and the West: this incitement has only radicalized many Palestinians. There is no reason why Western donors should be funding the same propaganda machine that is calling for their death.

So far, however, the Palestinian Authority does not seem to be serious about tracing the missing funds or softening its tone. Even worse, some of the Palestinian officials who were involved in financial corruption are continuing to serve in the Palestinian Authority as if nothing has happened.

And they are at the same time continuing to incite their people against Israel, the US and other Western countries.

The Palestinian Authority will not meet any of these demands unless it comes under pressure from the US and the EU.

Prime Minister Salam Fayyad announced that, because of the crisis, his government would pay only half-salaries to employees and civil servants. His aides say they do not know when the crisis will end.

Palestinian officials in Ramallah point out that with the exception of three countries – the United Arab Emirates, Algiers and Qatar – the rest of the Arab world has failed to meet its financial obligations to the Palestinian Authority.

"We have received less than 10% of what the Arab world has promised us over the past 15 years," the officials say.

The Arab world's attitude toward the Palestinian Authority in particular, and the Palestinians in general. should not surprise anyone who has been following Palestinian-Arab relations.

Most of the Arab countries, especially the oil-rich Gulf states, stopped giving the Palestinians money after the PLO supported Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in the early 1990s.

Until then, the Arabs, including Kuwait, used to give the PLO billions of dollars a year. The Palestinians have since been paying the price of the mistake the PLO made when it embraced Saddam Hussein and congratulated him on the "liberation" of Kuwait.

After the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, many Arab countries promised to resume financial aid to the Palestinians at the request of the Americans and Europeans.

Almost every Arab summit that has been held since then has approved hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians. But the Arabs have since failed to fulfill their promises, leaving the Palestinians entirely dependent on American and European donations.

If the Egyptians were able to lay their hands on huge sums that were deposited in Western banks by Hosni Mubarak and his sons and top aides, there is no reason why the Palestinian Authority should not follow suit and try to retrieve the missing funds.

And the US and EU should exert pressure on the Arab countries to help their Palestinian brothers: there is no reason why wealthy Arab countries should not be helping the Palestinians as they pledged to do.

Khaled Abu Toameh


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Prince Goes from 'Darling Nikki' to 'Darling Niqab'

by David J. Rusin

Prince, the purple-clad rocker, caused many a jaw to drop last month over his laughably sanguine view of life in the Muslim world:

It's fun being in Islamic countries, to know there's only one religion. There's order. You wear a burqa. There's no choice. People are happy with that.

As a piece in the Guardian notes, "The singer who once sang of '23 positions in a one-night stand' praises Islamic countries for offering 'no choice.'" Indeed, this writer of "Darling Nikki," a song celebrating a rendezvous with a "sex fiend" who likes to "grind," appears to have switched loyalties to the "darling niqab," symbol of a freedom-crushing system that persecutes women for doing far less than "Nikki" would.

Though the words of an eccentric musician might seem irrelevant, they highlight a trend of prominent Americans whitewashing the plight of women under Shari'a:

  • Dalia Mogahed, Obama appointee and Gallup Center for Muslim Studies executive director, declared in a 2009 TV interview: "We found that the majority of women around the world associate gender justice, or justice for women, with Shari'a compliance, whereas only a small fraction associated oppression of women with compliance with the Shari'a." According to Cinnamon Stillwell, Mogahed works to "portray Shari'a law as what Muslim women want."

  • Naomi Wolf, a leftist author, penned a valentine to Islamic garments in 2008, characterizing them as the regalia of female liberation. After walking through a Moroccan bazaar in some concealing attire, she gushed over "the curve of my breasts covered, the shape of my legs obscured, my long hair not flying about me — I felt a novel sense of calm and serenity." Phyllis Chesler savaged Wolf, reminding her that in many Islamic nations, uncovered women risk being "beaten, threatened with death, arrested, caned or lashed, jailed, or honor murdered."

  • Miriam Cooke, a professor at Duke and reputed expert on Middle Eastern women, has argued that Islamic "polygamy can be liberating and empowering." As the linked 2003 article explains, Cooke holds that "some women … are relieved when their husbands take a new wife: they won't have to service him so often," perhaps even freeing them to find a lover. Asked if this is likely given the punishments for adultery, Cooke claimed not to know. "I'm interested in discourse," she added.

Whether ideology or ignorance drives high-profile Westerners to becloud the hardships of women in Shari'a-heavy nations, their words promote blindness just the same. Only by recognizing the realities that female Muslims face from Saudi Arabia to Afghanistan can we effectively support women's rights there, while countering emergent Islamist threats — including polygamy, honor crime, and Shari'a tribunals — to women's rights here.

David J. Rusin


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

The Hard Man of Damascus

by Gary Gambill

With Syrian troops encircling the city of Hama, Barack Obama's administration and its European counterparts continue to hold out hope that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad can be coaxed into accepting a peaceful transition to democracy. Instead of joining the protesters in demanding Assad's resignation, the U.S. envoy to Damascus, Robert Ford, is encouraging prominent dissidents to hold a dialogue with the regime.

Unfortunately, there are no plausible circumstances under which a democratic transition would constitute a rational choice for the embattled dictator, and it appears exceedingly unlikely that the Syrian people will peacefully accept anything less. The Syrian people's fight for freedom promises to be long, uncertain, and violent.

The crux of the problem is Syria's unique minority-dominated power structure, which is most closely comparable to Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Alawites, a heterodox Islamic sect comprising roughly 12 percent of Syria's population, may not be the privileged minority suggested by some Western media reports, but they provide both the brains and the muscle for a secular authoritarian political order that would otherwise be untenable.

Alawite solidarity renders the loyalty of the internal military-security apparatus nearly inviolable, enabling Assad to mete out a level of repression far beyond the capacity of most autocrats. The bloodiest government reprisal during Poland's long struggle for democracy -- the killing of nine Solidarity strikers in December 1981 -- would make for a very placid Friday afternoon in today's Syria, where over 1,400 have been gunned down in less than four months. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's police quickly disintegrated under comparable strains, while his army engineered his downfall in less than three weeks.

The powerful stigma associated with Alawite hegemony over a majority Sunni population both necessitates and enables this police state. While the sectarian identity of Assad and his chief lieutenants is not the primary grievance of most Syrians, a substantial minority -- perhaps 10 to 20 percent, mostly religious Sunnis -- loathe the regime so deeply that they cannot be co-opted and will exploit any respite from repression to mobilize against it. This feeds into the existential insecurities felt by most Alawites and makes it nearly impossible for the regime to safely liberalize.

A straight-up transition to democracy under these circumstances is difficult to fathom. A freely elected Syrian government would surely be dominated by Sunnis, responsive to their demands, and therefore strongly disposed to mete out harsh justice for the preceding decades of brutal tyranny. Assad could never rationally accept such a transition unless his regime was on the verge of collapse, by which time a peaceful transfer of power would be exceedingly unlikely.

Other countries have solved this conundrum by negotiating an agreement whereby an autocratic regime consents to free and fair elections, in exchange for the opposition's acceptance of limitations on the new government's authority to punish or dispossess existing stakeholders. By drawing into the process those who have the power to disrupt a peaceful transition, extrication pacts have propelled robust democratic breakthroughs in such thorny political climates as apartheid South Africa and Gen. Augusto Pinochet's Chile.

A "pacted" transition requires that a critical mass of the ruling elite come to prefer "democracy with guarantees" over the costs of continuing to forcibly monopolize power. Elite beneficiaries of authoritarian rule range from soft-liners, who have the fungible assets and limited criminal liability to make it in the "real" world of democracy, to hard-liners, who don't. When there is a decline in the regime's ability to forcibly ensure continued public quiescence, soft-liners have growing incentives to hedge their bets by seeking a political accommodation with the opposition.

Unfortunately, Assad is a hard-liner. Under the present circumstances, he can count on solid Alawite backing, strong support from other religious minorities, and the acquiescence of many Sunnis who are prosperous, staunchly secular, or militantly anti-Zionist. These allegiances, however, would quickly evaporate in a democratic Syria. Absent the looming threat of catastrophic domestic upheaval, a regime-less Assad family may not even command majority support among Alawites.

In contrast, the livelihoods of most Syrian civil servants, businessmen, military officers, and others who benefit inordinately from the current order -- a broadly multi-confessional elite -- would not necessarily be threatened by a negotiated transition to more representative government. In contrast with Mubarak's Egypt, however, soft-liners have not been allowed to gain autonomous power within the state -- their ability to comfortably inhabit a post-authoritarian Syria puts them squarely outside the Assad family's circle of trust.

The president's extraordinarily thin base of popular support and uncertain relations with soft-liners militate against a pacted transition. Whatever formal guarantees of immunity and institutional prerogatives Assad might eke out of the process, his acute political vulnerability will make it very risky for him to linger very long in a free Syria. Even Pinochet, whose sympathizers captured 40 to 50 percent of the national vote for many years after his departure, found that democratic republics eventually tire of honoring their prenatal promises to powerless ex-tyrants.

Even if Assad were amenable to a deal, a pacted transition also requires that the regime and the opposition be capable of making credible commitments to each other. Outgoing autocrats must have faith that their erstwhile adversaries will hold up their end of the bargain after the tables have turned, while opposition leaders must have reason to trust that the regime will not renege on its commitments once the threat of mass popular mobilization has receded.

Neither condition exists in Syria. Years of state repression have left the country with no organized opposition of sufficient stature to credibly promise anything to the regime, while Assad's failure to honor past reform pledges makes most Syrians very skeptical that he can take bold action.

There is no easy fix to this impasse. Transition experts ordinarily prescribe an extended period of negotiated liberalization to cultivate credible opposition interlocutors and restore a measure of public trust in the government. For Assad, however, such an opening would not be sustainable unless radical opponents of the regime refrain from exploiting it to mobilize in pursuit of revolutionary change. So long as the regime is shooting people, no one in the opposition has enough clout to clear the streets.

Although the credibility gap between Assad and his adversaries can be narrowed by negotiating under the auspices of an outside arbiter (Turkey is now angling for the role), the Syrian president would still have to take radical and irreversible steps to signal his commitment to change. At a minimum, this would include negotiating under international auspices, releasing all political prisoners, and expelling notorious human rights offenders from government -- starting with his brother, Maher, the feared commander of the Republican Guards and the Syrian Army's 4th Division.

Attempting such a break with members of his family, clan, and sect would be an act of political hara-kiri for Assad, leading at best to a dignified exile (and considerably worse if his plan should go awry). Thus far, he has displayed little predilection for self-sacrifice. Assad's recent efforts to organize a "national dialogue" underscore that he isn't seeking credible commitments from his opponents. The select group of dissidents allowed to attend a conference in Damascus last week conspicuously excluded figures with significant influence over the protesters. The Syrian president isn't trying to negotiate with his opponents -- he's trying to divide and defeat them.

Gary Gambill is a political analyst who has published widely on Syrian and Lebanese affairs and is general editor of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum.


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

The Iraqi Government: Iranian Satrap or American Puppet?

by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi

When it comes to internal Iraqi politics, there is an alluring tendency to analyze events in terms of foreign forces at work in the country. For example, the Independent's Beirut-based columnist Robert Fisk disparages the Iraqi government as a "satrap of Iran," while on the other side, Daniel Pipes refers to officials like Jalal Talabani and Hoshyar Zebari as "America's kept politicians." Is either of these views correct? It can be tempting -- and in some ways useful -- to explain political turmoil within Iraq in terms of interference by neighboring countries and other foreign powers, and I admit to having done just that in "Iraq and the Middle Eastern Cold War," which examined how Iran and Saudi Arabia have been increasingly jostling for influence in Iraq since the beginning of the drawdown of U.S. troops in August of last year.

The hypotheses of both Fisk and Pipes, however, present problems. The Supreme Islamic Council – probably Iran's staunchest ally in Iraq -- only won 20 seats out of 325 in Iraq's parliament during the elections of March 2010. This result represents a significant drop in power and influence since the 2005 elections, when it emerged as the largest single political bloc. A key factor behind this development has been a perception among the Iraqi people -- including substantial parts of the Shi'a community -- that it is an agent working for Tehran, an allegation exploited by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in the 2008 provincial elections. Back then, al-Maliki urged Iraqis to vote only for candidates "who are loyal to Iraq" (al-Zaman, January 25, 2009). Such a tactic worked successfully in securing far more votes for his State of Law bloc than for the Supreme Islamic Council.

More recently, Iraqi security forces have commenced a military offensive with 2000 soldiers and police officers to launch a crackdown -- primarily in the southern province of Maysan -- on Iranian-backed Shi'i militias such as the "Hezbollah Brigades," which have been responsible for an ongoing surge in attacks on U.S. troops. With fourteen American soldiers killed in June, the U.S. armed forces have witnessed their bloodiest month in Iraq in three years. It would appear that the Iranian-backed militias are trying to claim credit for an impending pullout of U.S. troops as the Iraqi government continues to debate whether it should extend the 31 December 2011 withdrawal deadline stipulated by the Status of Forces Agreement.

Besides the offensive in Maysan -- soon to be extended to Basra -- the Iraqi security forces have increased their efforts to arrest militants and carry out patrols to prevent rocket and mortar attacks on American bases. This initiative has helped allay fears that al-Maliki would not act against the pro-Iranian militants, as some have ties with the Sadrists who run certain government ministries. The Sadrist governor of Maysan, Hakim al-Zamili, has criticized the administration in Baghdad for the offensive in Baghdad, arguing that the focus should be on Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn (al-Qa'ida in Iraq). If the Iraqi government were really a satrap of Iran, it would surely be trying to devise excuses for not acting against the Hezbollah Brigades, and urging the Americans to hasten their withdrawal of troops from the country.

Some prefer to point to the actions of the Iraqi security forces against the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK—an Iranian exile group opposed to the Islamic Republic and based at Camp Ashraf, which is around 120 km west of the Iranian border) as evidence for strong Iranian influence on the Iraqi government, but in reality, the picture is much more complex. Undoubtedly, Iran desires a crackdown on the MEK, yet if Iran's grip were as powerful as Fisk claims, the MEK would have been completely removed from Camp Ashraf years ago. Yet the MEK still has its base there: Iraq's politicians are divided as to what should be the Iraqi government's stance towards the MEK. Although many Shi'a and Kurdish politicians want to remove the MEK, their reason for doing so is not to placate Iran. Rather, the desire to get rid of the MEK is rooted in the fact that the group is strongly disliked by many Iraqis for its alleged role in the Baathist suppression of the Shi'i and Kurdish uprisings during and after the First Gulf War. Other Iraqi political elites are either apathetic or prefer to leave the MEK alone. Figures in Ayad Allawi's opposition bloc, for instance, have asked the UN Security Council to protect the Iranian exiles in Camp Ashraf.

Also, trying to understand Iraq's internal dynamics in terms of the division between the "resistance" bloc led by Iran and Turkey and the "status-quo" bloc led by Saudi Arabia ultimately does not work. In particular, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Syria have always backed Ayad Allawi for the position of Prime Minister, whereas Iran and the United States supported al-Maliki in his eventually successful efforts to run for a second term as PM. Turkey's main concern has been to assert its own interests in Iraq, rather than accomplish shared objectives with Iran. Most notably, Turkey has constructed many dams along the Euphrates, reducing the river's water level in Iraq, thereby causing great problems for Iraqis dwelling near this vital water source. By building these dams, Turkey unfortunately has the potential to create future "oil-for-water" trade schemes with Iraq.

In a similar vein, while it is true that some Iraqi political figures such as Jalal Talabani have welcomed the pointlessly gargantuan U.S. embassy complex in Baghdad, there is no good evidence to support the accusation that Iraq's politicians are on Washington's payroll. Although the American embassy creates an unnecessary impression of a raw assertion of U.S. power, how does one explain why there has not yet been an agreement to extend the U.S. troop-presence as senior American military officials would like to see, assuming that Iraq's government consists of kept politicians? Further, it should be noted how the present Iraqi government has been formed. It has not been forged on Washington's terms. Instead, the compromise was settled by Massoud Barazani, who convened a meeting in Arbil last December of the factions that had hitherto been unable to reach an agreement since the March elections. Above all, the compromise has stressed notions of "national partnership" or "power sharing," such that political positions have been awarded on a strictly personal basis: Jalal Talabani is to remain president of Iraq for a second term; Nouri al-Maliki secured a place as prime minister, also for a second term. In the meantime, ministerial portfolios were given to respective partners of the two men -- but an office known as the "Supreme Council for Strategic Policies" was created, designed to placate Ayad Allawi and the al-Iraqiya bloc.

Make no mistake: the emphasis is on the personal level, as analysts such as Joel Wing of the blog Musings on Iraq* have pointed out. Political developments need to be understood in light of the personal power struggles and rivalries -- some of which go back decades -- within the ruling elite. This tendency explains why problems such as corruption and poor provision of public services have become so deeply entrenched within Iraqi society. Preoccupied with their own desires for political power, government officials have been reluctant to tackle the broader socio-economic challenges facing the nation. This indifference has, in turn, sparked off the protests that began at the very end of January and have generally received a lack of coverage in the Western media.

The Iraqi government is, therefore, neither a satrap of Iran nor a puppet for the United States, despite significant diplomatic and economic ties to Tehran and Washington. In short, it is evident that Baghdad is now doing whatever it wants, and we should not expect foreign pressures to change this course anytime soon.

* For the record, Joel Wing is one of the most informed commentators on developments in Iraq. His indefatigable ability to gather reports and news sources on the latest happenings -- as well as his willingness to answer queries -- has been of great value in pieces I have written here and here. Check out his blog.

Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

"War on Islam" Fuels Plots on Military Recruiting Center

by IPT News

Newly unsealed court documents reveal new details about a plot to attack a military recruiting center in Seattle. Items seized by federal investigators from the home of accused lead conspirator Abu Khalid Abdul-Latif include plans to attack a U.S. military facility and motivational materials related to alleged atrocities committed by American soldiers overseas.

The attack on the Seattle military installation is yet another example of a terrorist plot in which American military personnel in the United States have been targeted by Islamist radicals opposed to U.S. military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. In each case, the perceived oppression of Muslims by U.S. forces overseas and the belief that Islam is under attack from the West has been the primary motivation behind the plots.

Among the recent cases is the 2009 Fort Hood massacre carried out by Army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan, the killing of an Army recruiter in Little Rock, Ark earlier that year by a convert to Islam who described his actions as "a jihadi attack on infidel forces," and a Maryland man who hoped to attack a recruiting office.

Last month, Abdul-Latif (a.k.a. Joseph Anthony Davis) of Seattle and coconspirator Walli Mujahidh (a.k.a. Fredrick Domigue Jr.) of Los Angeles were arrested and charged with planning to use grenades and machine guns in an assault on the Seattle Military Entrance Processing Center (MEPS). The center recruits prospective candidates to the U.S. military, some of whom are subsequently deployed overseas.

Another person recruited by Abdul-Latif to join the conspiracy reported the plot to the FBI and became a paid informant. The informant promised to help obtain weapons for the attack. What he supplied had been rendered inert by federal investigators.

In secretly-recorded conversations, Abdul-Latif said that their attack would "deter" individuals from joining the military and inspire other Muslims to carry out similar attacks.

"Imagine how many young Muslims, if we're successful, will try to hit these kinds of centers. Imagine how fearful America will be and they'll know they can't push Muslims around," Abdul-Latif said.

The conspirators were upset about American military actions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Yemen. Abdul-Latif criticized the U.S. military for "invading our lands…stealing our resources…locking up our brothers and sisters, you're raping our sisters in Guantanamo Bay…you're in Islamic countries and even when you're asked to leave, you won't leave…"

Abdul-Latif also confided in the government informant that he wanted to die a martyr in the attack. If that happened, his son would be proud he died fighting the "non-believers." He said he admired Osama bin Laden and argued that jihad in America should not just be a "media jihad" but also a "physical jihad."

The initial target for the attack was the Joint Base Lewis-McChord ("Fort Lewis") in Tacoma, Wash. Abdul-Latif talked to the informant about ongoing military proceedings for suspected crimes in Afghanistan by soldiers posted at Fort Lewis. He said he did not trust the legal system with providing justice for the alleged crimes.

Prosecutors say the defendants wanted to drive a "truck that looks like the Titanic" through the base's "front gate." The truck was described as a 'battering ram' that would "guard" the plotters while they carried out their "duties" (a reference to the attack). Abdul-Latif declared the "objective" of the attack was to "take out anybody wearing green or a badge."

But then the group switched plans, forgoing attacking Fort Lewis and targeting the MEPS facility in Seattle, the complaint says. Abdul-Latif served briefly with the U.S. Navy in the mid-1990s and explained to the government informant the strategic advantages of attacking MEPS: "It's a confined space, not a lot of people carrying weapons and we'd have an advantage." He also said soldiers were deployed from the MEPS facility to Iraq or Afghanistan.

The inspiration for the planned attack came from the November 2009 Fort Hood shootings by Army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan that left 13 people dead. Abdul-Latif reasoned that if a single gunman could kill 13 people, the complaint says, then three attackers could kill many more.

Like Abdul-Latif, Hasan viewed the U.S.-led war against terror as being a war against Islam. "It is getting harder and harder for Muslims in the service to morally justify being in a military that seems constantly engaged against fellow Muslims," Hasan said at a June 2007 presentation at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Following the Fort Hood massacre, al-Qaida ideologue Anwar al-Awlaki hailed Hasan as "a hero."

"The US is leading the war against terrorism which in reality is a war against Islam," Awlaki said in an online posting. "Its army is directly invading two Muslim countries and indirectly occupying the rest through its stooges." Hasan has been alleged to have been radicalized by Awlaki's teachings.

Last December, 21-year-old Antonio Martinez (a.k.a Muhammad Hussain) was arrested and charged with scheming to attack a military recruiting station in Catonsville, Md., and kill as many Americans as possible.

Martinez, a U.S. national from Nicaragua and convert to Islam, was inspired by extremist Internet postings of Awlaki and radical Muslim Brotherhood cleric Omar Bakri Muhammad that justified violence against the United States in retaliation for its presence in Muslim lands.

"When American bombs Sudan, Somalia, and Iraq, and sows destruction, the Muslims have the right to retaliate." Muhammad said.

Martinez posted a statement on his Facebook account calling for violence to end the oppression of Muslims. He also publicly posted a message expressing his dislike for anyone who opposed Allah and his prophet.

Lacking the funds to travel overseas to fight jihad, Martinez confided to an FBI informant that he would "make a mujahideen here, Insha' Allah, and we gonna fight against them…until they stop the oppression…fight the disbelievers until there is no more oppression and the religion is only for Allah…"

In April 2009, four men were sentenced to life in prison and one man to 33 years for plotting to use assault rifles to kill American soldiers at the Fort Dix Army base in New Jersey. Evidence presented at the trial included secretly recorded videotapes of the defendants undergoing small-arms training at a shooting range in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania.

As part of their training, the defendants also watched videos of American soldiers being killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and listened to Islamic radicals calling for jihad against the United States.

Abdul Hakim Mujahid Muhammad (a.k.a. Carlos Bledsoe), an American Muslim convert, was charged with shooting two soldiers outside a military recruiting center at Little Rock, Ark., killing one and wounding another.

In a letter to the judge, Muhammad justified the shooting as a "Jihadi attack on infidel forces."

He also declared he was affiliated with Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and claimed that Islamic law justifies fighting "those who wage war on Islam and Muslims."

Muhammad subsequently pleaded not guilty but has not yet been tried.

Seven individuals led by Daniel Patrick Boyd were accused of plotting an attack on a Marine Corps Base located in Quantico, Va., among other charges. Boyd also claimed to have fought in the war in Afghanistan. The indictment alleged the defendants were "prepared to become 'mujahideen' and die 'shahid'—that is, as martyrs in furtherance of violent jihad."

Other cases have seen Americans leave the country in hopes of fighting American troops in Afghanistan. Five young men from suburban Washington, D.C. are serving 10 years in prison after Pakistani authorities arrested them as they tried to join the jihad.

Law enforcement officials consider the portrayal of the war on terror as an attack on Islam to be one of the most effective messages in radicalizing young Muslims. These cases reinforce that theory, although it is not a phenomenon restricted to Islamist radicals plotting violent attacks on American military bases as retaliation for U.S. counterterrorism policies. American Islamist organizations led by the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) that claim to be mainstream civil rights groups have routinely described the U.S. as being engaged in a war with Islam. For other examples, see here and here.

IPT News


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