by Caroline Glick
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.
Some analysts have expressed doubt that the Iranian government was involved in a recently uncovered plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Skeptics have questioned whether the Iranian regime would participate in such a scheme carried out by non-intelligence professionals and have even suggested that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was "set up" and knew nothing about the conspiracy.
But Roya Hakakian, author of a book about Tehran's transnational terror campaign against dissidents, wrote in the Wall Street Journal that the alleged plot bears striking parallels to an earlier crime committed by the Islamist regime: the September 1992 massacre of four Kurdish dissidents at Mykonos restaurant in Berlin.
One of the Mykonos shooters was Abdulrahman Bani-Hashemi, an Iranian hit man. Hashemi (who flew to Turkey later that night before boarding a bus and escaping into Iran) had assassinated an Iranian exile in Switzerland in 1989. The following year, he was arrested and briefly held by Swedish authorities after attempting to kill the Saudi ambassador there.
Several weeks after the Mykonos slayings, German authorities arrested one Iranian and "a ring of small time Lebanese crooks" in connection with the attack, Hakakian wrote. Iranian Minister of Intelligence Ali Fallahian tried unsuccessfully to persuade German authorities to derail the legal proceedings in the Mykonos case.
During the trial, which lasted nearly four years, an Iranian intelligence official defected. He testified that Tehran had a list containing 500 "enemies of Islam" who were targeted for death. In 1997, five men - four Lebanese and an Iranian - were convicted of the Mykonos murders. The trial judge found that Khamenei and Fallahian were among those who ordered the killings.
Interpol has issued a warrant for Fallahian's arrest in connection with the Mykonos case and several other assassinations ordered by the Iranian government.
Writing in the Weekly Standard, Stephen Schwartz notes that Iran has an extensive history of carrying out political murders in the West dating back to the 1979 revolution. These include the 1980 killing of Ali Akbar Tabatabai, who had been an Iranian Embassy press attaché under the Shah. As in the alleged plot to kill the Saudi ambassador, the man who gunned down Tabatabai at his Bethesda, Md. home on July 22, 1980 was no intelligence professional. David Belfield, a security guard at an Iranian diplomatic facility in Washington, carried out the hit and successfully fled to Iran, where he currently lives.IPT News (The Investigative Project on Terrorism)
Josh Rogin at FP's The Cable blog reminds us that despite the president's claim that we are leaving Iraq "as promised," there were elements in the administration who wanted several thousand soldiers to remain in Iraq past the December 31, 2011 deadline for withdrawal.
The problem, as described by most media sources, was Prime Minister Maliki's inability to convince his government to allow American forces to remain and receive immunity from the capriciousness of Iraqi justice.
Rogin has a different story:
Sullivan was one of 40 conservative foreign policy professionals who wrote to Obama in September to warn that even a residual force of 4,000 troops would "leave the country more vulnerable to internal and external threats, thus imperiling the hard-fought gains in security and governance made in recent years at significant cost to the United States."
She said that the administration's negotiating strategy was flawed for a number of reasons: it failed to take into account Iraqi politics, failed to reach out to a broad enough group of Iraqi political leaders, and sent contradictory messages on the troop extension throughout the process.
"From the beginning, the talks unfolded in a way where they largely driven by domestic political concerns, both in Washington and Baghdad. Both sides let politics drive the process, rather than security concerns," said Sullivan.
As recently as August, Maliki's office was discussing allowing 8,000 to 20,000 U.S. troops to remain until next year, Iraqi Ambassador Samir Sumaida'ie said in an interview with The Cable. He told us that there was widespread support in Iraq for such an extension, but the Obama administration was demanding that immunity for U.S. troops be endorsed by the Iraqi Council of Representatives, which was never really possible.
Administration sources and Hill staffers also tell The Cable that the demand that the troop immunity go through the Council of Representatives was a decision made by the State Department lawyers and there were other options available to the administration, such as putting the remaining troops on the embassy's diplomatic rolls, which would automatically give them immunity.
"An obvious fix for troop immunity is to put them all on the diplomatic list; that's done by notification to the Iraqi foreign ministry," said one former senior Hill staffer. "If State says that this requires a treaty or a specific agreement by the Iraqi parliament as opposed to a statement by the Iraqi foreign ministry, it has its head up its ass."
Which seems to be a failing of most of the Obama administration.
"It was clear from the beginning that Maliki wasn't going to make a move without the support of the other parties behind him," Sullivan explained, adding that the Obama administration focused on Maliki and neglected other actors, such as Allawi. "There was a misunderstanding of how negotiations were unfolding in Iraq. The negotiations got started in earnest far too late."
"The actions don't match the words here," said Sullivan. "It's in the administration's interest to make this look not like they failed to reach an agreement and that they fulfilled a campaign promise. But it was very clear that Panetta and [former Defense Secretary Robert] Gates wanted an agreement."
Rogin points out the probable beneficiary of this failure; Iran. Already hip deep in Iraqi politics, exerting influence on several Shia parties who belong to Maliki's coalition, Iran seems well positioned to do just about anything they wish in Iraq.
House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon:
"Multiple experts have testified before my committee that the Iraqis still lack important capacities in their ability to maintain their internal stability and territorial integrity," McKeon said. "These shortcomings could reverse the decade of hard work and sacrifice both countries have endured to build a free Iraq."
And if it all goes south? If sectarian violence, egged on by Iran, flares up again, do we send the troops back? Or if Turkey decides to punish Iraq for Kurdish terrorism, is there anything we can do to stop it?
The answer is no to both questions. And Maliki, who has proved himself a weak and ineffective prime minister, doesn't appear to have what it takes to hold it all together.
Prime Minister Maliki gives Obama the boot as White House spin meisters gin up face-saving rhetoric for Obama to recite. Obama then peddles their pablum about achieving "normalcy" in relations with Iraq, "The Untied States and Iraq will have a normal relationship between sovereign nations, an equal partnership based on mutual interests and mutual respect."
John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, jumps in with more of the same snake oil about two great nations resuming diplomatic ties. According to Kerry, the US is "fulfilling our agreement with an Iraqi government that wants to shape its own future" and creating a new partnership that "shifts from a clear military focus to a new relationship that is more expansive, hinging on increased diplomatic, economic and cultural relations."
The fact is that the US plan was to keep ~20k troops Iraq to support and train Iraqi forces and counter Iranian influence. But Maliki and his Shia crypto-sponsor Ahmadinejad forced the US hand by refusing to grant US troops immunity from Iraqi law. Check the video of the Obama announcement. Does he look like he is announcing a victory for the foreign policy of his administration or a jilted courtier?
In a recent column for Canada’s National Post, the invaluable Barbara Kay writes about one Ingrid Mattson, a Catholic who was raised in Kitchener, Ontario, converted to Islam, and went on to become a major figure in the North American Islamic establishment. Until recently she taught Islamic Studies at Hartford Seminary, where, as Kay puts it, citing an account by Andrew Bieszad of his experiences as a student there, “Islam and other faiths were held to very different standards in classroom discussions.”
In one “interfaith dialogue” class, for example, Bieszad said, “I am Catholic and I do not believe in Islam.” Following this, according to Bieszad’s account, “one of the Muslim students spoke. She said that she was Muslim, and then she addressed me directly. In a soft, Arabic accented voice, she told me, ‘You are an infidel because you do not accept Islam’ and that ‘according to Islam you do not deserve to live.’ A second Muslim student heartily agreed.’ ”
Bieszad reports that when he brought such incidents to the attention of the administration, he was told that he was “intolerant of Muslims,” and that the best solution was a better “understanding of Islam.”
“Not a single classmate, Muslim or non-Muslim, ever spoke up in support of my opinion, even on the principle that different views should be respected,” Bieszad writes.
Mattson was not just a teacher at Hartford Seminary. Until last year she was also head of the Islamic Society of North America, a leading national organization which, at the 2007 trial in Dallas of a now-defunct Islamic charity, the Holy Land Foundation, was named an unindicted co-conspirator on charges of aiding Hamas. The trial proved to be an explosive event, uncovering a great deal of vital information about the unsavory connections of supposedly innocuous Muslim organizations in the United States. Yet it was almost entirely ignored – and, when not ignored, whitewashed – by the mainstream American media.
In a sane world, one would expect that revelations of links to terrorist groups would have something of a negative impact on an organization’s or individual’s reputation. But that is not the way things work nowadays when it comes to Islam. Writing about the ISNA in the New York Times shortly after the Holy Land trial, Neil MacFarquhar, as I noted in my 2009 book Surrender: Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom, “completely ignore[d] damning information about ISNA that came out during the trial, including such things as its foundations in the Muslim Brotherhood, and its multiple financial contributions to Hamas through its subsidiary, the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT).” As I pointed out, “MacFarquhar didn’t settle for just whitewashing the ISNA”; he also went on the attack against two members of Congress who had been critical of the ISNA, Pete Hoekstra and Sue Myrick. Gretel C. Kovach, writing about the trial in Newsweek, seemed determined to dismiss the whole thing as an exercise in Islamophobia.
Only days after the Holy Land trial, USA Today ran a profile of Mattson by Cathy Lynn Grossman that was nothing less than glowing. Amazingly – or not – Grossman didn’t even mention the trial. Gushing over Mattson as the “face of Islam in America,” Grossman poured out the kind of prose that is to be found in American newspapers these days only when the subject is Islam. Mattson, we learned, was a convert who had “found her spiritual home in Islam,” a “faith she chose at age 23, drawn in, she says, by Islam’s beauty, its ethos of service and its synthesis of life and faith in which every act relates to God.” (When was the last time you read anything like that in a major American newspaper about Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, or any other religion?)
The profile was a classic puff piece, and then some. Every charming detail was in place (the “tiny, bookstuffed office” and “snug black headscarf”). Grossman took at face value Mattson’s determination to build “a strong religious and civic institutional life for Muslims in America.” And Grossman was careful not to include any details of Mattson’s theology that might ruin the perfect picture, simply saying (in a formula that has become de rigueur in such profiles) that Mattson was “too liberal for some, too conservative for others.”That was four years ago. Last year, Mattson stepped down from her post at the ISNA. Now, reports Kay, Mattson has been appointed to an endowed chair in a new Islamic Studies Program at Huron College, “a faculty of theology affiliated with the University of Western Ontario.” The chair Mattson will occupy was endowed, according to Kay, mostly by “two organizations — the Muslim Association of Canada (MAC) and the Virginia-based International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) — both of which are alleged to be influenced by Islamist ideology.”
Kay points out that Mattson “has been disturbingly equivocal about Wahhabism, the repressive and backward strain of Sunni Islam that is the state creed in Saudi Arabia,” describing it as “a reform movement” and comparing it – incredibly – to “the European protestant reformation.” Mattson has also said, according to Kay, that “the best English-language Koranic commentary for Muslim youth is by Maulana Abul A’la Maududi, an Islamist author who wrote that ‘Islam wishes to destroy all States and Governments anywhere on the face of the earth which are opposed to the ideology and programme of Islam.’”
But is Huron College worried about its new hire? No more than the New York Times or USA Today. “In a press release about Mattson’s appointment,” writes Kay, “Huron’s Principal, Stephen McClatchie, spoke glowingly of her academic record and ‘impeccable credentials’ for the job.” Kay notes that when she interviewed McClatchie’s predecessor a few months ago “and asked for her thoughts on accepting money from dubious organizations, she said, “We don’t probe too deeply into values held by donors.’” Nor, observes Kay, does Huron seem to probe very deeply into the values held by newly employed faculty.
We are told repeatedly that the Western world is suffused with Islamophobia – that Muslims endure unbearable prejudice and unjust criticism. On the contrary, what has happened in the West is precisely the opposite: the fundamental institutions of our society, from presumably reputable media organs to supposedly respectable colleges and universities, have decided that when it comes to Islam – and only Islam – the rules are different. Even the most disturbing, detestable, and undemocratic views are overlooked, so long as they can be excused as part of Islamic dogma. The same goes for connections with terrorist groups.
What is striking is that this see-no-evil policy would appear to have taken shape at thousands of places around the Western world relatively independently, without any large-scale coordination or conspiracy. Editors and reporters, provosts and deans, government and military officials, you name it – all of them, more or less on their own, apparently, decided at some point that Islam should be treated with kid gloves. Whether out of sheer cowardice or out of a misguided sense of tolerance, or both, they determined that when the subject is Islam, it is simply not appropriate to ask certain ticklish questions or acknowledge certain harsh realities, but rather to embrace patently partial truths and pretty lies. As a result of this terribly ill-conceived policy, more and more people like Ingrid Mattson are gliding smoothly into positions of power and authority from one end of the continent to the other. Where is all this leading? You can answer that question as well as I can.
The Stuxnet cyber attack on Iran’s nuclear program was a defining moment in the history of war, and now, the “Son of Stuxnet” has been discovered. Cyber security experts say the creator of the original worm, widely believed to be Israel and probably the U.S., also designed this one and “there is nothing out there available to stop it.”
The Stuxnet cyber attack rendered thousands of Iran’s centrifuges, around a fifth of all of them, useless. Over 1,000 damaged units were replaced at the Natanz centrifuge farm, and damaged the steam turbine at the Bushehr nuclear reactor. In 2009, only half of Iran’s centrifuges were being used and some of those operating were only enriching half as much uranium as they should. The Iranians have to replace all of the computers at Natanz, and it may take up to two years. It was later found out that Israel tested Stuxnet on centrifuges identical to those used by Iran at its nuclear site in Dimona.
The Iranians later announced in April 2011 that a second cyber attack was discovered, which they called “Stars.” All that the regime said was that it was found on government computers and caused little damage. Iran soon replaced its centrifuges at Natanz and began manufacturing more sophisticated centrifuges that can significantly speed up the nuclear program. The centrifuges were moved to an underground site in the mountains near Qom. In February, experts determined that Iran had recovered from the damage wrought by Stuxnet. And now, the “Son of Stuxnet” has emerged.
The new virus, also called Stuxnet 2.0 and Duqu, is broader in scope. It opens up a back door in the compromised computer systems for 36 days, and then disappears. It has been doing this as far back as last December, though the victims have not been publicly identified. The virus allows the creator to hijack the controlling computer systems, permitting the attacker to direct their operations or to even self-destruct. It also records keystrokes and sends back critical information about system vulnerabilities. The back doors have not been exploited, leading experts to conclude that a cyber attack is on its way.
“The attackers are looking for information such as design documents that could help them mount a future attack on an industrial control facility,” Symanetec said in its announcement of the discovery. It called it a “precursor to a future Stuxnet-like attack.”
“It’s my personal belief that the guys who wrote Stuxnet knew exactly what they were doing, and if you thought they were good guys then, you probably don’t have anything more to worry about now. But if you didn’t, you probably have a lot to worry about,” said Vikrum Thakur of Symantec.At the same time, sanctions and other likely covert operations are taking a heavy toll on the Iranian nuclear program. One issue still confronting Iran is faulty equipment. This may be connected to CIA-Mossad operations that began as early as 1998 to sell Iran booby-trapped equipment. Nuclear-related tools that the Iranians admitted were “manipulated” caused the destruction of 50 centrifuges in 2006, and the director of the Atomic Energy Organization was sacked in 2009 after a similar explosion happened at Natanz.
The creation of enriched uranium is still decreasing despite Iran’s use of newly-made centrifuges to replace the old and damaged ones. This is being attributed to the type of metal used in them, but covert operations cannot be ruled out given the history. The Institute for Science and International Security and U.N. inspectors say that Iran is producing more uranium than it did before the Stuxnet attack, but U.N. inspectors say this amount is declining as centrifuges break.
Iran must also overcome a critical shortage of raw uranium, a problem that has forced it to look to foreign suppliers such as Venezuela, Zimbabwe and North Korea. The black market equipment at the Isfahan uranium conversion site, which turns the raw uranium into gas so it can go into the centrifuges, has also suffered from technical errors. The facility must remove impurities from the uranium before it can be safely inserted into the units without damaging them. In a problem possibly related to covert operations, the equipment failed to do so.
There are a number of other mysterious incidents that have undermined Iran’s nuclear efforts. In the past two years, four Iranian nuclear scientists have been assassinated. In October 2010, a Revolutionary Guards base that housed Shahab-3 missiles suffered a massive explosion at an ammunition depot. There have been repeated explosions at important gas pipelines over the past year.
The problems that Iran is encountering are encouraging, but there is still not much room for comfort. It is still believed that Iran could make a nuclear weapon within 6 months if it tried. The scale of the Iranian nuclear program shows that the regime wants the ability to quickly produce multiple nuclear weapons, and does not want to build one and call it quits.
The “Son of Stuxnet” is almost certainly Israel’s answer to this continued threat. For once, it is Iran that is sitting, feeling helpless as it awaits the next attack.
From day one, the joy that accompanied the election of Patriarch Rai was mixed with apprehension. Many regretted the retirement of Patriarch Sfeir, a historical figure associated in their memory with Lebanon's finest hours. Sfeir was an outspoken critic of Syrian hegemony. The famous communiqué of Maronite bishops in September 2000 had given a strong impulse to the dynamics leading up five years later to Lebanon's Cedar Revolution.
The first alarming act of the new Patriarch was his announcement, hours after taking office, that he intended to visit Syria, allegedly on a pastoral trip. That was a departure from his predecessor who consistently refused to concede a visit to Syria. Luckily, the eruption of the Syrian uprising deferred the ill-advised visit.
Another conspicuous departure was Rai's expansive style contrasting with a patriarchal tradition of sobriety and verbal parsimony. Past patriarchs had made pokitical declarations only in times of crises and on high-level national issues. The Lebanese could compare the dignified countenance of Sfeir with the demonstrative and media-hungry Rai. They also suspected that behind some of Rai's initiatives—a ceremonial reunion of Christian leaders and a no less futile spiritual summit—and his perpetual movement, not to mention the ubiquitous scarlet soutane, is a desire for showing off and self-promotion. Comparing Sfeir and Rai, Maronites would say jokingly: our permanent patriarch and our roving patriarch.
The malaise persisted during the past months until Rai's recent declarations during his official visit to France; they were the last straw. The Patriarch had exceeded the worst expectations. Criticism unleashed, profusely. Never had a religious dignitary fallen from grace as quickly.
Rai's declarations seemed surreal, repeating almost word for word the tenets of official Syrian propaganda. Distressed by the outcry he had provoked, and anxious no doubt to stifle the matter, Rai added insult to injury by protesting that his declarations were misinterpreted and taken out of context, and by accusing the media of "lacking objectivity." Subsequent verification found no possible ambiguity. On the contrary, there was a remarkable systematic unity. Analytically, his remarks articulated five recurring themes that can be paraphrased as follows:
Apocalypse Now Theme: The fall of the Syrian regime will be followed by a Sunni-Alawite civil war or a partition of Syria into sectarian mini-states.
Christians-are-in-Danger Theme: The Muslim Brotherhood will take over, and Christians will pay the price, as they did in Iraq.
Give-Assad-a-Chance Theme: The first two points lead to the necessary conclusion that the international community must give Assad more chances to implement the reforms he already announced. And the icing on the cake: "Assad is an open-minded person who studied in Europe, but he cannot make miracles."
Hezbollah's-Arms-are-Forever Theme: Hezbollah cannot be asked to disarm until the international community exerts pressure on Israel to withdraw from a parcel of Lebanese territory it still occupies (even though a border was mutually agreed to years ago) and allow Palestinians in Lebanon to return to their lands.
The-Sunni-Scare Theme: When the Sunnis come to power in Syria, they will galvanize their counterparts in Lebanon and form an alliance with them, leading to an escalation of Sunni-Shiite tension in Lebanon that could become seriously violent.
As a side note, Rai did not miss the opportunity to cast doubt, in passing, on the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL, the UN-backed tribunal set up to try those behind the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri), saying that he supported it "on condition that it is not politicized".
These are not passing remarks. Nor are they just a slip of the tongue. The proof is that the Maronite Patriarch reaffirmed his positions a few days later during a trip to Baalbek, a Hezbollah stronghold, contrary to wishful expectations that he intended to clarify his remarks as a prelude to retracting them. Rai was responding to an invitation to dinner held in his honor by Hezbollah senior official Sheikh Mohammad Yazbeck. The trip to Baalbek was followed by a three-day visit to south Lebanon where Rai reiterated his positions, in a slightly attenuated form.
Rai's remarks are highly controversial.
Rai had not been charitable to the Arab Spring. In the homily he delivered on the day of his inauguration, he said he was "worriedly following the events in the Arab world". A bishops' communiqué later described the revolutionary events in the Arab region as "regrettable disorder". In Paris, Rai apparently decided to go into high gear.
The scare tactics are blatant. Civil war and partition are unlikely, or temporary at best, as happened in Libya; the revolutionaries would certainly love to rule the whole of Syria. Overestimating the Muslim Brotherhood does not do justice to the diversity of the Syrian opposition and to all those brave people who have nothing to do with the Muslim Brotherhood and whose craving for liberty impels them every day to defy the most dreadful repression.
Moreover, one does not serve the Christians by frightening them and committing them to the defense of a crumbling despotic regime.
Forty years after this regime has been in power, should it be really given another chance? Ironically, on the very day the Patriarch was urging that Assad be given a chance, a YouTube video was released showing a Syrian Army officer executing a wounded demonstrator in the middle of the street. The additional time requested had cost 35 additional victims in just one day.
On the most divisive issue in Lebanese politics today, the arms of Hezbollah, Rai ran counter to the position of the March 14 opposition parties, supported by many Lebanese, calling on Hezbollah to hand over its arms to Lebanese authorities. Rather, Rai gave his blessing to the maintenance of Hezbollah's arsenal by linking it to the termination of Israeli occupation of Lebanese territory and the return of Palestinian refugees, a process that may well go on for a long time. Rai was thereby undermining the role of the state, ignoring that it is the business of the state, and not any Lebanese party, to defend Lebanon and force Israel to leave Lebanese territory, and by the same token, justifying the presence of illegitimate arms in the hands of a particular Lebanese community running its own mini-state at the expense of state authority. Further, Rai seemed to have overlooked the fact that Hezbollah's project has a supranational dimension, and that Hezbollah is part of a regional axis linked to Iran and Syria.
Rai has also gratuitously antagonized an entire Lebanese community by expressing apprehension about the Lebanese Sunnis, a blunder no Maronite Patriarch has ever before made, even at the height of the Civil War (1975-1990). Nor was he fair to the Sunnis who ruled Syria before 1970 and who never persecuted Syrian Christians or even posed a threat to then Maronite-led Lebanon.
Rai received a quick rebuff from the French. President Sarkozy reportedly told Rai that "the regime in Syria is over", adding: "this is a certainty, and not an expectation". Sarkozy also told Rai that the Christians had to prepare for such an outcome and work toward the establishment of a civil state.
The U.S. reaction was more vehement. Rai's statements were deemed unjustified, reckless and damaging to his reputation and position. Moreover, he was informed that it was not "appropriate to arrange a meeting with the U.S. president" during his visit to the U.S. in October. As a result, Rai had to skip Washington and confine himself to visiting Maronite parishes.
Locally, while the March 8 politicians naturally heaped praise on the Patriarch, the reaction of the March 14 opposition was critical yet measured. The most striking response came from Samir Geagea, head of the Lebanese Forces party. In a fiery speech made at the commemoration of the martyrs of the Lebanese Forces, in the significant presence of the former patriarch Sfeir, Geagea took the opposite course to Rai, and reaffirmed his faith in the Arab Spring. Similarly, hundreds of Lebanese Christian intellectuals and opinion leaders are preparing to hold a spectacular conference to confirm the commitment of the Christians to the promise of democracy and modernization carried by the Arab Spring.
The most passionate reactions, however, came from the Christian public at large. Many dissenting voices could be heard, especially on the social media. The positions of the Patriarch were denounced, mostly on moral grounds. Rai, they said in substance, has become the accomplice of tyrants; he has trampled the dignity of the victims and brought shame to the population he is supposed to represent; his statements have nothing to do with Christian doctrine; they are the statements of a politician, and a bad one at that.
This raises the question of the political ambitions of the patriarch. One likely explanation for his frequent incursions into day-to-day politics is that he aspires, beyond his ecclesiastical role, to become the political spokesperson of the Christian community. With the exception of the Christians, who are politically divided half-and-half between the Aounists, allies of Syria and Hizbollah, and the March 14 Independence Movement, the other Lebanese communities have a dominant political leadership that monopolizes their political representation (Hariri for the Sunnis; Nasrallah, and to a lesser extent Berry, for the Shiites, and Jumblat for the Druze). In his initial momentum, Rai may have cherished the hope of supplanting the existing Christian leaders and unifying the Christians under his own authority. Should this happen, each community becomes a political unit that speaks with one voice and communicates its decisions to the other communities, with the government becoming a sort of record-keeper. Lebanese society would be transformed into a confederation of religious communities. Political life would be considerably debilitated, and any political initiative conducted independently of the religious communities would be seriously hampered. This would obviously destroy all political life for indivuals and transform it into a bargaining between "committees" – destroying Lebanon's formula for "living together." Under his leadership, Rai hopes that the Christian community will adapt itself to the returning Syrian hegemony, and even make the best of it, in the same way as the pro-Syria Christians did for years during the previous era of Syrian hegemony (1990-2005), collaborating with the Syrians, and condoning their violations of Lebanese sovereignty, in exchange for narrow sectarian benefits and for a better bargaining position in relation to the other communities.
As a conclusion, one should not be surprised by the positions of the Church. Apart from rare exceptions, such as the controversial Liberation Theology movement in Latin America in the 1960s, and the role played by the Church in Eastern Europe in the 1980s, the Church has always been a conservative force, and has at all times sided with Power, and with the oppressors against the oppressed.
Perhaps the only positive result produced by the contemptible positions of the Maronite Patriarch, and the Orthodox Patriarch before him, is that they liberate the believers from the undue respect they had for their religious dignitaries. One more effort like that and the believers might even be pushed into freethinking.
 Bechara Rai was elected as Maronite Patriarch of Antioch and the Levant at Bkerki, north of Beirut. Even though the Maronites are mostly Lebanese, or of Lebanese origin, the Maronite patriarch is still called the Patriarch of Antioch and of the Levant in reference to the ancient Patriarchate of Antioch (now in Turkey) which was founded by the Apostle Peter. Today five churches use the title of Patriarch of Antioch: the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Syriac Catholic Church, the Chalcedonian Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch, the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, and the Maronite Church. Historically, there has also been a Latin Patriarch of Antioch.Kamal Yazigi
The prisoner exchange in Israel has increased the prospects of another round of violence between Israel and the Palestinians. The deal has sent a message to Palestinians that if you kidnap a soldier you get much more than if you sit at the negotiating table with Israel.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is now expected to toughen even more his position regarding the resumption of the peace talks with Israel. The prisoner swap has made it almost impossible for him to return to the negotiating table with Israel, at least not in the near future.
The deal is a severe blow to Abbas who, at least in public, says he remains committed to a non-violent and peaceful solution with Israel. In light of Hamas's success to force Israel to free a large number of prisoners, Abbas and his team in Ramallah now look like incompetent and weak leaders who have failed to extract significant concessions from Israel at the negotiating table.
Like the withdrawals from the Gaza Strip and Lebanon, the prisoner swap has sent the same message not only to the Palestinians, but to the rest of the Arab world: that violence and kidnappings are the only language that Israel understands, and that the violent struggle against Israel must continue because negotiations do not lead to anything.
Sadly, it is hard to find anyone on the Palestinian side who sees the exchange deal as a sign of Israeli flexibility. On the contrary - Israel's concessions are almost always interpreted as a sign of weakness that eventually leads to more violence. The withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005 was seen as a sign of Israeli weakness in the face of increased rocket and suicide attacks. The withdrawal from southern Lebanon before that was also viewed as a sign of weakness in the face of Hizbollah's attacks on Israel.
Statements made by many of the released prisoners and several Hamas leaders don't bode well for the future. They view the deal as an Israeli capitulation to their demands and are now calling for the kidnapping of more Israeli soldiers to trade them for the remaining Palestinians in Israeli prisons.
Chanting "We want more Shalits!," thousands of Palestinians took to the streets in the Gaza Strip to greet the released prisoners and call on Hamas and other armed Palestinian groups to hurry up and launch more operations to kidnap Israeli soldiers.
Some of the released prisoners have even announced their intention to pursue the "struggle" against Israel until all the Palestinians' demands are met. One of them, Wafa al-Biss, has even told Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip that she wished they would become "martyrs" in the fight against Israel. Al-Biss had been sentenced to 12 years in prison for planning to blow herself up outside an Israeli hospital in 2005.
Some Western leaders and governments had expressed hope that the prisoner exchange agreement between Israel and Hamas would pave the way for a "new era" in relations between Israelis and Palestinians. Some Israelis have even expressed hope that the deal would lead to peace talks between Israel and Hamas.
In reality, the prisoner swap has achieved the exact opposite. It has once again created the impression understands. Those who see the deal as a sign of Hamas's "moderation" and "pragmatism" are deluding themselves. And those who think that the release of more than 1,000 Palestinians from Israeli prisons would have a moderating effect on the Palestinians are also living under an illusion.
Those who argue that the prisoner exchange is an indication that Hamas wants to negotiate with Israel are obviously living on a different planet. It is clear by now that it is only a matter of time before Hamas or any other Palestinian group try to kidnap another soldier or Israeli civilian in order to copy the Shalit example. The deal has given them a strong incentive to try once again to snatch a soldier or civilian to achieve that goal.
The deal will only strengthen Hamas's resolve to stick to its radical ideology and continue the fight "until the liberation of all of Palestine." If Hamas is going to change as a result of the deal, it will only be for the worse.
The Washington Post, in its Oct. 20 edition, runs an article by correspondent Ernesto Londono about Hamas pressing for an end to Israel's blockade of Gaza after its success in gaining the freedom of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit ("Amid celebrations, Hamas hopes for lifting of Gaza bloackade," page A8/
Londono's article goes to great lengths to erase any tinge of terrorism from Hamas's identity and record. It distorts recent history by making it appear that Hamas seized control of Gaza by legitimate, democratic means. And it provides a false rationale for Israel's 22-day counter-terrorism offensive in Gaza at the end of 2008, completely ignoring the thousands of rockets and mortar shells fired from Gaza at civilian populations in southern Israel.
Here's how Londono transmutes Hamas from a terrorist subsidiary of Iran into a scrubbed-clean political outfit:
Londono begins by telling Post readers that Hamas is merely a "militant" group that "assumed power in Gaza in 2007, following its victory in parliamentary elections in 2007." No mention that Hamas is designated by the United States and the European Union as a terrorist organization committed to the total destruction of Israel. No mention that, far from having assumed power in Gaza because of its electoral victory, Hamas dislodged Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party from Gaza by launching a brutal civil war, killing, injuring and torturing many Fatah members and throwing some of them to their deaths from rooftops.
Having cleansed Hamas from any terrorism taint and justified its assumption of power in Gaza, Londono then writes that Israel's 22-day Gaza war was intended "to make it harder for Hamas to stockpile long-range rockets and build bunkers." Wrong again. Israel's 22-day military incursion into Gaza wasn't just aimed at halting Hamas's stockpiling of rockets and building bunkers. Its real objective was to halt the firing of thousands of rockets against Sderot and other Israeli communities. Londono makes absolutely no mention of the incessant rocket barrages that terrorized hundreds of thousands of Israelis. This is why Israel's military entered Gaza. While Operation Cast Lead didn't entirely halt cross-border rocket and mortar attacks, it greatly reduced this threat. Londono needs a quick remedial course in recent history.
Completing his fanciful account of Israel's actions vis a vis Hamas, Londono tells Post readers that Isrel's blockade of Gaza "was widely seen as a punitive measure driven in large part by the outrage that Shalit's abduction in 2006 generated in Israel." Wrong again. The main reason for the blockade was and remains Israel's way of isolating a deadly enemy who not only has been warring against the Jewish state with lethal rocket barrages but also was and is posing a strategic threat by amassing an arsenal of tens of thousands of missiles. Shalit's abduction was a minor reason for the blockade -- at most.
And thus, do Londono and the Washington Post manage to turn history upside down so that Israel emerges as a blockading villain, while Hamas is painted as pure as the driven snow.
Last week, “Saudi Arabia’s religious police arrested an Indonesian housemaid for casting a magic spell on a local family and ‘turning its life upside down.’” The maid “confessed” to using sorcery, and “commission experts took the magic items to their office and managed to dismantle and stop the spell.”
Far from being absurd aberrations to be dismissed, such accounts, which are becoming better known thanks to the Internet, are stark reminders of the incompatibility between the Western and Muslim worldviews, or, more to the point, the difficulty Western peoples have transcending their own paradigms and understanding the Muslim worldview in its own right—above and beyond the issue of sorcery.
In his 2010 book, The Closing of the Muslim Mind, Robert Reilly, a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, helps explain the Muslim worldview by thoroughly documenting the historic and doctrinal roots behind it; by refreshingly bypassing the overly dramatized question of “what went wrong,” he explains the more pressing “why it went wrong.”
The book is a reminder of the importance of epistemology: before understanding Muslim acts, one must understand the Muslim mind that initiates them. We discover that Shakespeare’s dictum “Nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so,” in Islam becomes “nothing good or evil but Allah says so.”
The author sheds light on the struggles of the different schools of Islam, showing how by the 10th century, the fatalistic, deterministic schools triumphed, delivering the death blow, not only to the notion of free will, but natural law as well: “a theological deformation … produced a dysfunctional culture.” From here one can understand the full impact of the popular assertion “the doors of ijtihad [intellectualizing] closed in the 10th century.”
Reilly chronicles how the giants of Muslim philosophy, such as Ghazali and Ashari, concluded that knowledge was unknowable, that moral truths can only be ascertained through revelation. Accordingly, all knowledge—the very bounds of reality—came to be limited to the words of the Quran and its pronouncer, Islam’s prophet Muhammad.
The ramifications of such intellectual calcification are immense: “All acts are in themselves morally neutral”; “Allah does not command certain behavior because it is good; it is good because he commands it. Likewise, he does not forbid murder because it is bad; it is bad because he forbids it.”
Equivocations, such as the following by Ashari, become commonplace: “Lying is evil only because Allah has declared it to be evil…. And if he declared it to be good it would be good; and if he commanded it, no one could gainsay him.” Of course and as Ashari knew, the Islamic deity and his prophet are on record permitting and even encouraging Muslims to deceive.
Similarly, the spirit of inquiry perishes: “the only thing worth knowing is whether a specific action is, according to Shari ‘a: obligatory, recommended, permitted, discouraged, or forbidden. The rest is irrelevant.” It is precisely for this reason that in Islam, the law—what is right or wrong, how one should live—trumps “theology,” the latter designated as kalam, that is, mere “words.” This is also why in the last millennium Spain alone has produced more books than the Arab world in its entirety.
Likewise in the realm of science: Reilly cites a Pakistani physicist—not an uneducated, impoverished “radical”—saying it is un-Islamic to believe that combining hydrogen and water makes water; rather, Muslims are “supposed to say that when you bring hydrogen and oxygen together then by the will of Allah [which need not always be consistent] water was created.”
The Closing of the Muslim Mind explains the singularity of Muslim epistemology and its antithesis to Western sensibilities: it explains why a maid is arrested and charged with sorcery and the dread of bewitched animals; explains why adult “breastfeeding” and habitual lying pose no moral problems; explains why top Muslim clerics insist the world is flat and ingesting the feces and urine of Muhammad is salutary; explains why jihadists believe their terror is pious and a libidinous paradise awaits them.
All these “alternate” ways of thinking make sense when one accepts that, in the purely Muslim mind, intuitive reasoning, the human conscience, and even common sense take a backseat to the literal words of Allah and his prophet, seen as the founts of all truth and reality—or, inevitably from a non-Muslim perspective, the words of a deluded or deceiving 7th century Arab.
At around 1:30 a.m. on Wednesday, October 19, five foreign Muslims were arrested at a historic courthouse in San Antonio. They were found with pictures of “infrastructure” around the country including malls, government buildings and water systems. After the media reported on the bomb scare, officials reacted quickly to downplay a possible link to terrorism and the media followed suit. Now, the group of five is being depicted as a harmless group of pranksters.
Law enforcement arrived at the Bexar County Courthouse after an alarm went off. The police found that two individuals had entered the 120-year-old facility through a fire escape, while three others were inside a rented RV in front of the building. The five suspects are French-Moroccans, all in their early 20s. Their names are being withheld. The group’s photographs showed they had traveled around the country, snapping photos of sites including shopping malls and public buildings, as well as water systems, which are not exactly a typical tourist attraction.
The group had legal 90-day visas and told the authorities they arrived in New York on September 11 from London. At least three of the suspects are on an FBI watch list. The four that arrived in New York then went to New Jersey and rented an RV. They then met with the other that flew into Miami. The RV had plates from California at the time of the incident.
Another fact that is being treated as a coincidence is that the GEOINT Symposium, the “nation’s largest intelligence event of the year,” was behind held only blocks away. Dozens of intelligence officials, including the chief of the U.S. Strategic Command and undersecretary of defense for intelligence, attend and speak.
The suspects’ explanation for their illegal entry into the Bexar County Courthouse is that they wanted “to get a better view of the city”—at 1:30 in the morning. Deputy Chief Dale Bennett confirmed that they had beer bottles in their possession and two of the men acted intoxicated. He also confirmed that three of the men’s names showed up on the watch list and that their names are uncommon, making it unlikely that all three are cases of mistaken identities.
They were interviewed by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security. Bexar County Sheriff’s Deputy Louis Antu tried to calm the media storm about the suspects being terrorists, saying, “We don’t have any indication that’s what they were.” The five are being prosecuted on charges of burglary.Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said they appeared to “just be some guys on a prank.” The surveillance video from inside the courthouse showed them wearing sombreros and dancing with a judge’s gavel. Laura Jesse, spokeswoman for Bexar County, brushed off the possibility of a terrorism connection in remarks to the media.
“It’s pretty entertaining at least,” she said. “Usually when you think of someone trying to commit a terrorist attack it’s not with a sombrero and waving a gavel.”
“There was some alcohol involved, so that leads us to believe they might not have known what they were doing, what building they were breaking into,” said Deputy Chief Dale Bennett.
The videotape does provide reason to believe that the five Moroccans were just a bunch of drunken misfits, but the disturbing coincidences should not be dismissed. The media’s quick changing of its coverage to calm public nerves was not warranted. At the least, the facts pointing towards more insidious motives should be a part of the story.
When Robert Spencer of JihadWatch.org was on the KSAT website reading about the story, he noticed that its content changed. The shocking headline changed to, “5 Arrested in Break-in at Bexar County Courthouse.” The lead changed from saying, “Three men described by law enforcement officials as Muslims” to “Five men of foreign descent.” Readers were left ignorant of why the story was important and even of the fact that the five arrested were Muslims.
The Associated Press, likewise, said they were “five foreign nationals with French visas” that were “later described as harmless bar hoppers just goofing around.” No explanation was given as to why the FBI initially handled it as a “high priority” situation. Instead, the article’s readers were left with the impression that the authorities had an almost comical overreaction.
It may be true that the group of five French-Moroccans, three of whom have names on the FBI’s watch list, are not connected to terrorism and just made a very big mistake. However, there is more than enough reason to suspect that this isn’t the case, and the media and government officials have a duty to recognize that. There may be a bigger story here, but in part due to political correctness, it will fade away and be forgotten.
As Robert Spencer wrote, “the Hamas-linked CAIR [Council on American-Islamic Relations] will be so pleased.”
Like you, I came to this conference, The Perils of Global Intolerance to protest this third Durban conference which is an effort based on a set of lies, and organized by nations who are themselves are guilty of the worst kinds of oppression.
Durban III will not help the victims of racism. It will only isolate and target the Jewish state. It is a tool of the enemies of Israel. The UN has lost its way. Its obsession with the Jewish obvious: . For over 50 years, 82% of the UN General Assembly emergency meetings have been about condemning one state - Israel. Hitler could not have been made happier.
Given all the good Israel does in the world, given its democracy and its striving to follow the highest standards of human rights, even in the face of the most brutal, the most fanatic enemies, the Durban Conference is an outrage. All decent people know that.
But friends, I come here today to make a different case. I come with what you might at first think is a radical proposition: I come to tell you that there are peoples who suffer from the UN's anti-Israelism even more than the Israelis. I belong to one of those people.
By exaggerating Palestinian suffering, and by blaming the Jews for it, the UN has muffled the cries of those who suffer on a far larger scale.
For over fifty years the indigenous black African population of Sudan -- Christians and Muslims alike --- have been the victims of the brutal, racist Arab Muslim regimes in Khartoum.
In South Sudan, my homeland, Sudan, about four million innocent men, women and children were slaughtered from 1955 to 2005. Seven million were ethnically cleansed, and they became the largest refugee group since World War II.
Everybody at the United Nations is concerned about the so-called Palestinian refugees. They dedicated a separate agency to provide for them; this agency, UNWRA, treats them with a special privilege.
Meanwhile, my people, ethnically cleansed, murdered and enslaved, are relatively ignored. The UN even resisted using the word "slavery" to describe the enslavement of tens of thousands of my people. Why? Because slavery is a crime against humanity, apparently no one committing it wanted to end up before an international court. When Khartoum insisted that the term "abducted people" be substituted for the word "slaves," the UN, caved to Arab pressure and agreed. Try that in America. Try calling Frederick Douglas an "abducted person." It is outrageous.
The UN refuses to tell the world the truth about the root causes of Sudan's conflicts. Take Darfur, for example. Who knows really what is happening in Darfur? It is not a "tribal conflict." It is a conflict rooted in Arab colonialism, as it has typically been practiced in Africa. In Darfur, a region in the Western Sudan everybody is Muslim. Everybody is Muslim because the Arabs invaded the North of Africa and converted the indigenous people to Islam In the eyes of the Islamists in Khartoum, the Darfuris are not Muslim enough. And they also do not want to be Arabized. They like their own African languages and dress and customs. They resist Arabization. The Arab response is genocide. But nobody tells the truth about Darfur.
In the Nuba Mountains, another region of Sudan, genocide is taking place as I speak. The regime is targeting the black Africans -- Muslims and Christians. This happened to the Nuba people before. In the 1990's hundreds of thousands were murdered; a large number of women were raped; children were abducted and forcibly converted to Islam. Nobody at the UN told the truth about the Nuba Mountains.
Do you see a massive amount of outrage and reports and protests about this coming out of the UN or Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International? Do you hear them condemn Arab anti-black racism?
Look at the pages of the New York Times, or the record of the UN condemnations, What you will find is "Israeli crimes" and Palestinian suffering. My people have been driven off the front pages by the exaggerations of Palestinian suffering. Why? Because what Israel does is portrayed as a Western sin that we are all supposed to address.
The truth is that the West commits a real sin when it abandons us: the actual victims of non-Westerns. Our suffering has become almost taboo.
Let me return to the topic of slavery: while there are issues that divide public opinion, we can all agree that for one man to own another is a sin, and it should be stopped. The Americans tore themselves apart over the issue of slavery.
Chattel slavery, a centuries-long practice in Sudan, was revived as a tool of war in the early '90s. The Islamist regime in Khartoum declared jihad, or holy war, and thereby legitimized taking slaves as war booty. Arab militias were sent to destroy Southern villages and were encouraged to take African women and children as slaves. We believe that up to 200,000 were kidnapped, brought to the North and sold into slavery.
I am a living proof of this crime against humanity.
I do not like talking about my experience as a slave, but I do it because it is important for the world to know that slavery exists even today.
I was only nine years old when I was made a slave. An Arab neighbor named Abdullahi tricked me into following him to a boat destined to Northern Sudan where he gave me as a gift to his family. For three and a half years I was their slave going through something that no child should ever go through: brutal beatings and humiliations; working around the clock; sleeping on the ground with animals; eating the family's left-overs. During those three years I was unable to say the word "no." All I could say was "yes," "yes," "yes."
The United Nations knew about the brutal enslavement of South Sudanese by the Arabs from the early days of the conflict. Human Right Watch issued extensive reports about the issue. These reports gathered dust on UN shelves. It took UNICEF – under pressure from the Jewish –led American Anti-Slavery Group -- sixteen years to acknowledge what was happening.
As soon as the Sudanese government and the Arab League pressured UNICEF, the UN agency backtracked, and proceeded to criticize the Non-Governmental Organizations that worked to liberate Sudanese slaves. In 1998, Dr. Gaspar Biro, the courageous UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Sudan who reported on slavery, resigned in protest of the UN's actions.
My friends, today, tens of thousands of black South Sudanese still serve their masters in the North and the UN is silent about that. It would offend the OIC and the Arab League. So much for "human rights for everybody".
As a former slave and a victim of the worst sort of racism, allow me to explain why I think calling Israel a racist state is absolutely absurd and immoral.
I have been to Israel five times visiting the Sudanese refugees. Let me tell you how they ended up there. These are Sudanese who fled Arab racism, hoping to find shelter in Egypt. They were wrong. In 2005, the refugees camped outside the offices of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Cairo looking for mercy. Instead, the United Nations closed its doors and left the helpless women and children at the mercy of the ruthless Egyptian security forces who brutally slaughtered at least 26 of them.
After this event the Sudanese realized that Arab racism is the same, whether it is in Khartoum or in Cairo. So they continued looking for a shelter and they found it in Israel. Dodging the bullets of the Egyptian border patrols and walking for punishingly long distances, the refugees' only hope was to reach Israel's side of the fence, where they knew they would be safe.
The fact that even Darfuris, who are Muslims, chose Israel above all the other Arab-Muslim states of the area, speaks volumes.. Israel is racist? Israel is against the Muslim world? Ask the thousands of black Muslim Darfuris who found shelter inside the Jewish state.
When I asked the refugees about the treatment they receive in Israel, their response is absolutely the opposite of what the United Nations alleges. They were welcomed and treated like human beings. Compared to the situation in Egypt, they described their lives in Israel as "heaven." No-one called them "abid" – an Arabic word for slaves often used in Sudan, Egypt and other Arab nations.
Is Israel a racist state? To my people, the people who know racism – the answer is absolutely not. It is a state of people of the colors of the rainbow. Jews themselves come in all colors, even black. I met with beautiful black Ethiopian Jews in Israel. Israel is a state that has taken my own black people in, rescued them, and helped them.
So, yes … my claim may be a radical claim: I claim that the victims who suffer most from the UN's anti-Israel policy are not just the Israelis but all those people who have to be ignored in order for the UN to tell its big lie against Israel: all those victims of non Western abuse, especially all those victims of Arab and Muslim abuse: women, ethnic minorities, religious minorities, homosexuals, in the Arab and Muslim world. These are the biggest victims of UN Israel hatred.
So far, the Israelis have only been cursed by the UN. But look at the situation of the Copts, the Christians in Iraq, and Nigeria, and Iran, the Hindus and Bahais and Sikhs who suffer from Islamic oppression. We all suffer. We are ignored, we are abandoned so that the big lie against the Jews can go forward.
Before I conclude let me tell you a story that reflects a special connection that the people of South Sudan feel toward Israel. In 2005, I visited one of the refugee camps in South Sudan. I met a twelve year old girl who told me about her dream. In a dream she wanted to go to school to become a doctor, and then, she wanted to visit Israel. I was shocked and numb. How could this refugee girl who spent most of her life in the North know about Israel? When I asked why she wanted to visit Israel, she said: "This is our people." I was never able to find an answer to my question.
On July 9 of 2011 South Sudan became an independent state. We achieved freedom despite the opposition from the Arab world and despite the United Nations, whose General Secretary, Bi Ki Moon, lobbied for the unity of Sudan. For the South Sudanese, that would mean continuation of oppression, brutalization, demonization, Islamization, Arabization and enslavement.
In a similar manner, the Arabs continue denying Jews their right for sovereignty in their homeland; and the Durban III conference continues denying Israel's legitimacy.
As a friend of Israel, I salute the President of the Republic of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, who had the courage to state publicly that South Sudan embassy in Israel will be built--- not in Tel Aviv, but in Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people.
I also want to assure you that my own new nation, and all of its people, will oppose racist forums like the Durban III. We will oppose it by simply telling the truth.This originally appeared in a a slightly different form as an address at a conference titled "The Perils of Global Intolerance", in New York City, September 22, 2011.
Saudi Arabia is spearheading the establishment of a controversial new "interreligious and intercultural dialogue center" in the Austrian capital Vienna.
The King Abdullah Center for Inter-Religious and Inter-Cultural Dialogue (here, here and here) was inaugurated at the Albertina Museum in downtown Vienna on October 13. The foreign ministers of the three founding states -- Austria, Spain and Saudi Arabia -- were in attendance. The institution will be located at the Palais Sturany on the Schottenring in the heart of Vienna.
The Saudis say the purpose of the multi-million-dollar initiative is to "foster dialogue" between the world's major religions in order to "prevent conflict."
But critics say the center is an attempt by Saudi Arabia to establish a permanent "propaganda center" in central Europe from which to spread the conservative Wahhabi sect of Islam.
Austrian politicians on all sides of the political aisle have criticized the initiative.
The Green Party, which governs Vienna in a coalition, said the center glorified a country "where freedom of religion and opinion are foreign words."
"Austria should not allow itself to be misused in this way, to allow itself to be involved in whitewash by a repressive Saudi regime which is using this center as a fig leaf for its dishonorable human rights situation," the party said in a statement.
The only Muslim member of the Austrian Parliament, the Turkish-born Alev Korun, branded the project as "highly absurd." She said Spindelegger "must be either incredibly naïve or only interested in business relations with Saudi Arabia." She also accused the foreign minister of "closing both eyes" to breaches of human rights in Saudi Arabia.
The center-right Die Presse newspaper said in an editorial titled "Islamic Center in Vienna: Austria-Aid for Propagandists of Intolerance?" that: "The Austrian government needs to ask itself whether it knows what it is doing: Is it not known that as the state religion of Saudi Arabia Wahhabism is fiercely opposed to other religions and uses 'intercultural dialogue' as a means for aggressive proselytizing?"
"To clarify: Wahhabism is the only officially recognized and allowed religion in Saudi Arabia. Other forms of Islam and other religions are banned and persecuted by the state. Saudi Arabia is the only Islamic state in which there is no church, no synagogue and no other place of worship of any other religion. Shiite Muslims have been systematically discriminated against for decades. Jews are even forbidden to enter the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia practices a form of Sharia law that is one of the most brutal systems in the world. Saudi Arabia has at all times rejected the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. Women may not drive a car and can be punished by flogging. Corporal punishment, including amputations and executions, are part of everyday life in the country. Just two weeks ago a Sudanese immigrant in Saudi Arabia was publicly beheaded for 'sorcery.' Saudi Arabia is one of the few countries in the world in which the death penalty is enforced even on teenagers," the paper said.
The paper concludes: "Does the Austrian Foreign Ministry really want to give such a state the opportunity to build an international propaganda center in Austria?"
Critics also say the Saudis deliberately chose Vienna to serve as the headquarters for the new organization because of the city's historic role in preventing Islam from overrunning Christian Europe during the Siege of Vienna in 1529 and the Battle of Vienna in 1683. The Saudis, they say, are simply fighting a new phase of a very old conflict.
"The thesis is valid that world peace cannot exist without peace between the world's major religions," Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said during a news conference in Vienna. "Our paying for the operation is to create a fund that makes the center independent from any sort of political interference," he added.
The King Abdullah Center -- which will host seminars, conferences, dialogues and other events bringing together individuals of different backgrounds and faiths -- will have a governing body composed of 12 representatives from the world's five largest religions.
The governing body is to be staffed by two Muslims (Sunni and Shiite), three Christians (Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox), a Buddhist, a Hindu and a Jew. The organization will also have a consulting body with 100 representatives from the five world religions plus other faiths as well as academics and members of civil society.
Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said the initiative "proved the readiness to start a real dialogue." He also said "all kinds of discrimination and stereotyping based on religion or belief must be tackled."
Spanish Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez said the organization's structures are designed to ensure that none of the represented religions dominates the organization. She also said the three founding states are open to the membership of other countries.
Saudi King Abdullah came up with the idea for the center after visiting Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican in 2007. Shortly thereafter, Abdullah stated that Christians and Muslims should offer a "common message of peace" to humanity.
Abdullah then initiated an interfaith dialogue in Mecca in 2008 followed by the "Interfaith Dialogue Conference" in Madrid. A third meeting took place in Vienna in 2009, where the concept of the organization was agreed upon.
In 2006, the kingdom attempted to cast itself as a vanguard for religious dialogue by awarding $20 million grants to Harvard and Georgetown Universities for similar initiatives.
The Austrian Initiative of Liberal Muslims (ILMÖ) said it feared integration would become more difficult for Muslims in Austria as the center would strengthen the role of "fundamentalist-conservative Islam" in the country.
In case there was any doubt, the official Saudi Press Agency confirms that dialogue is not a two-way street. The most important goal of dialogue, the agency says, is "to introduce Islam" and to "correct the erroneous slanders raised against Islam."Soeren Kern is Senior Fellow for Transatlantic Relations at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group.