Saturday, August 31, 2013

Islamist Watch News Brief:

by David J. Rusin

Islamist Watch (IW) maintains an extensive archive of news items on nonviolent Islamism in the Western world. The complete collection can be found here; lists organized by topic are accessible on the right side of the IW homepage.

The following are some of the recent developments covered in the IW database:
American Brotherhood mobilizes for Morsi

Ever since the military deposed Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood president, Mohamed Morsi, U.S. Brotherhood-linked groups have been working to resurrect the ousted regime. Beyond statements from the likes of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) urging President Obama to condemn the army's crackdown and stop aid, U.S. Brotherhood entities have launched pro-Morsi demonstrations disguised as nothing more than apolitical calls for democracy and human rights. Multiple Islamist-run rallies have taken place in Washington. At a news conference preceding one on August 10, a receptionist even admitted to an Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) researcher that it was a Brotherhood gathering. On August 16, CAIR-Connecticut held events to "restore democracy and the rule of law in Egypt," and Houston branches of the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) and Muslim American Society (MAS) descended on Egypt's consulate.

The IPT's John Rossomando exposes their hypocrisy: American Islamists now decry "the undermining of democracy and the suppression of freedom of expression in Egypt," to quote ICNA, but they "failed to express similar concern when Morsi's regime engaged in its own violence and repression against dissidents." CAIR leaders defended Morsi's dictatorial power grab last year and reflexively backed his government when popular resistance erupted in June. Rossomando concludes that such groups' "loyalty to their Islamist ideology and to their Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood compatriots comes ahead of an even-handed approach to human rights."

Left: Islamists and fellow travelers protested in Washington, D.C., on August 10. Right: During Ramadan, the Muslim prayer call by muezzin Hassen Rasool was heard daily on Britain's Channel 4.

Ramadan recap: Deference and accommodation

The Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, which ended in early August, sparked controversies that highlight Islam's growing footprint in the West. Two memorable items emerged from Britain: Channel 4 became the first mainstream TV station to broadcast the call to prayer each morning, a move that it described as an act of "provocation" meant to reshape views of Islam. Further, in a case of forcing observance on others, a non-Muslim student at Portsmouth's Charles Dickens Primary School accused a teacher of denying him water because it would be "unfair" to drink in front of fasting Muslim pupils unable to do so. The school's deputy head later apologized.

Many familiar Ramadan themes reappeared in 2013: Per recent tradition, some non-Muslims voluntarily fasted in solidarity. Officials and academics legitimized Islamists by attending iftars (fast-breaking meals) hosted by them. Institutions from the German army to a Finnish refugee center adjusted menus and schedules. Pope Francis led the annual interfaith outreach by issuing "heartfelt greetings to dear Muslim immigrants" now overrunning Italy's island of Lampedusa, and a Virginia church reportedly invited Muslims to pray there, even removing the pews from its chapel. For more, see Soeren Kern's Ramadan wrap-up or browse the holiday section of the IW archive.

English soccer team stands firm in uniform dispute

Newcastle United, an English Premier League soccer club, refreshingly did not cave when one of its star Muslim players, Papiss Cissé, objected to a new uniform carrying the logo of Wonga, a payday loan company. Shari'a, he said, would forbid him from advertising a business that profits from lending money. With support from the players association, Cissé requested that he be permitted to don a special shirt without the branding, but United refused to budge. After Cissé was forced to train on his own and did not join teammates on a preseason tour, he finally gave in. The lesson: when faced with excessive demands for religious accommodation, try saying no.

More often than not, however, the world's most popular sport bends to Muslim sensibilities. Indeed, Newcastle United itself created a prayer room for Muslim players earlier this year. Germany's FC Bayern Munich also agreed to build a "mosque" at its stadium. Furthermore, soccer's international governing body recently dropped its headscarf ban. For additional examples of Islam's advances on the pitch, see Soeren Kern's overview from 2012.

Left: Papiss Cissé wears the jersey that he avoided for weeks. Right: Food worker Alison Waldock has paid the price for serving pork — accidentally, she says — to a Muslim girl.

English dinner lady gives pork dish to Muslim pupil, gets axed

A cafeteria worker at Queen Edith Primary School in Cambridge, England, was fired after serving pork to a Muslim. Alison Waldock claims that she asked seven-year-old Khadija Darr if she wanted gammon (cured meat from a pig's hind legs). Darr accepted, but the headteacher, who insists that it was "not a one-off" act of cultural negligence by Waldock, managed to intervene before the child could eat it. "I feel the school and catering company made me a scapegoat so they can't be seen as politically incorrect," Waldock explained. Even Muslim spokesmen criticized the "overreaction."

Feeding kids in multicultural Britain is no picnic. Another dinner lady got the sack this year for providing "non-halal meat" at Birmingham's "halal-only" Moseley School. Also, a Muslim father threatened to sue the Strong Close Day Nursery in Keighley because his son had eaten ham and "non-halal chicken." As a result, many schools in Englandand elsewhere — are nixing pork entirely. Needless to say, suspicions were raised when Sunset Elementary School in Brentwood, Tennessee, recently warned that "no meats containing pork" would be allowed as snacks. After complaints and speculation about motives, parents were told to ignore the memo.

David J. Rusin


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

Bombing Into Unintended Consequences in Syria

by Abigail R. Esman

In the Netherlands these days, politicians discuss revoking the passports of citizens who join the opposition to Bashar al-Assad's government in Syria. In Belgium, the government threatens to revoke benefits for Belgian nationals who do the same. And in America, the New York Times reported only a month ago on the growing threat to the West as Western Muslims rush into the fight against Assad. In fact, only this past August 20, the Washington Free Beacon reported that "[s]ignificant numbers of American and European jihadists are traveling to Syria to join Islamist rebels, prompting new fears of a future wave of al Qaeda terror attacks in the United States and Europe, according to U.S. officials."

Among those known to U.S. counterterrorism forces and the FBI: Eric Harroun, 30, a former Army soldier from Phoenix, who was indicted this past June on charges of conspiring to assist a terrorist organization fighting alongside al Nusrah, described by the government as "an al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group in Syria"; and Nicole Lynn Mansfield, 33, a Muslim convert from Flint, Mich., reportedly "slain by Syrian government forces while fighting alongside rebels" in July.

Now, in response to the alleged chemical weapon attacks by Assad's government on Syrian civilians, American and European governments have begun strategizing for likely retaliatory strikes. The problem is that anything that hurts Assad, however inadvertently, benefits those same Islamist radicals we've all been worried about. It is tantamount to defending the very same forces that French Interior Minister Manuel Valls describes as "a ticking time bomb" for the launching of terrorist attacks in Europe and the United States.

Equally incredible is the fact that, in taking military action in Syria, America would effectively be standing on the same side as al-Qaeda affiliate groups who also support them. As counterterrorism consultants Flashpoint Partners recently reported, "the lion's share of foreign fighters who are dying in Syria are fighting with the most hardline organization involved in the uprising: Jabhat al-Nusra. The leader of Jabhat al-Nusra, Abu Mohammed al-Joulani, has recently publicly sworn allegiance to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and the group has been blacklisted as a branch of Al Qaeda in Iraq by the United States Government."

Even worse, just days ago, Al Nusra announced its own plans to "dispatch up to 1,000 rockets against Alawite villages in Syria," according to the Free Beacon. Would involving ourselves in Syria mean calling them our allies? Or would America find itself taking on a third position in what is already an impossible and unresolvable conflict? And if so, what position could that possibly be?

True, it is a proud and longstanding facet of the American psyche to intervene in the face of human suffering, to protect the citizens of the world from the abuses of their leaders. But the question Washington needs to consider as well is not just whether we can afford another war with a still-struggling economy and a military exhausted by two others. Nor is it simply whether we should be involving ourselves in a war against a country that has brought no direct threat to the U.S. The bigger question is whether, in Syria, we are ultimately aiding those who seek our destruction. Speaking to reporters for The Hill recently, former Congressman Dennis Kucinich put it in the clearest possible terms: "So what," he asked rhetorically, "we're about to become Al-Qaeda's air force now?"

U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., has also expressed reservations, based in large part on his own visit to Syria in February. "There were a number of people who came out of Damascus to meet with me," he told me, "and conditions have only gotten worse since then. You have brutal people involved – and what if they got our weapons? How would we control it all?"

The window of opportunity for safe involvement in Syria, he feels, closed about a year ago. "Maybe two years ago we knew who the Free Syrian Army was," he noted, "but now we don't. Maybe the CIA does, but I certainly don't." That uncertainty, for Wolf, is just a part of what makes the stakes so high. "It takes just two hours to drive from Jerusalem to Damascus," he said. "Now Jordan is in trouble. There are bombings in Lebanon. Egypt is in crisis. Syria is falling apart. What a war we'd be facing."

Abigail R. Esman, the author, most recently, of Radical State: How Jihad Is Winning Over Democracy in the West (Praeger, 2010), is a freelance writer based in New York and the Netherlands.


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

Dore Gold: Assad's Standing in Syria on the Eve of US Action

by Dore Gold

There is a fundamental question concerning President Bashar Assad's decision to launch the devastating chemical attack on the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta on August 21, that led to as many as 1,300 fatalities, according to opposition sources. What was his motivation? The New York Times ran a headline this week saying "Confident Syria Used Chemicals," indicating that the attack showed that Assad was sure of his own standing.

But there could be another interpretation of his decision to resort to chemical weapons on such a scale. Lt. Col. Jonathan Halevi has written that contrary to the conventional wisdom, after his successful operations against Sunni rebels in Qusair and Homs, Assad did not feel he was on the verge of winning the Syrian civil war.

Qusair, after all, was a Shiite village inside of Syria so that it is no wonder Assad's Hezbollah allies were successful in taking it. Moreover, Assad's Sunni opponents moved the battle shortly thereafter to the countryside of Latakia, the port city which is in the heart of the Alawite area of Syria. 

According to this view, Assad's decision to use chemical weapons last week was because, to a large extent, he is already feeling that his back is against the wall. After all, he used his chemical arsenal against a rebel stronghold not in some remote region but right outside of Damascus, that could have become the springboard for a final offensive against the regime.

An important indicator of Assad's situation is his dependence on foreign fighters from Shiite communities in neighboring countries, beyond the Lebanese Shiites of Hezbollah. The Assad regime has been using Iranian security forces for some time, and has employed pro-Iranian Iraqi Shiites as well. But all these forces have not been sufficient for providing Assad with a decisive outcome. Presently, Tehran appears to be spreading its search for Shiite allies to more distant areas, like Pakistan.

There are Shiite communities in the Gulf, in places like Bahrain and eastern Saudi Arabia, that have been backed by Iran as well. The Shiite insurgency in Yemen, known as the Houthi rebellion, has been supplied by Iranian weapons ships. The fact that Assad and his Iranian allies have not been able to win the war, despite all the assistance they have received to date, indicates that Assad's situation must be much worse than it seems on the outside.

As the U.S. considers the scale of its intervention in Syria, it needs to consider the impact of any action it takes on the future course of the Syrian Civil War. Up until now, by not using force of any kind, the West has paid a price that it will likely feel in the years ahead.

While Iran pours Shiite militias into Syria, rival Sunni jihadist forces have built up their military capacity,as well. After 9/11, the financial backers of the Sunni terrorist networks in the Gulf reconsidered their partnerships with groups like al-Qaida and its affiliates. Walter Russell Mead correctly observed in The Wall Street Journal last week that the recent revival of al-Qaida, due to the Syrian Civil War, has led to the oil-producers in the Gulf reconnecting with the jihadists fighting Iran's allies.

Moreover, in the years ahead, Syria could well become a far more dangerous sanctuary for jihadist organizations than Afghanistan, ever was. Syria, after all is situated on the Mediterranean, right across from Europe, while the bases of bin Laden in the Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan or the tribal regions of Pakistan were far more remote. Failure to take any action would probably deepen these trends creating a far more dangerous Middle East in the future.

The real danger from doing nothing about Assad's chemical attack is that it signals that there are no boundaries in modern war that the Great Powers insist on. Because the international community places chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons into one category -- namely, that they all belong to the family of weapons of mass destruction -- any tolerance of a Syrian chemical strike also lowers the international barriers against the use of biological and nuclear weapons. 

This will have enormous significance for the future strategies adopted by the affiliates of al-Qaida and especially by Iran. 

Going back to Syria specifically, why is the question over whether Assad used chemical weapons because he felt strong or because he is really weak still important? If Assad is indeed weaker than anyone thought and his chemical attack was more an act of desperation rather than a statement about his self-confidence, then U.S. military action, depending on its scale, could potentially accelerate the end of his regime. 

For example, if Assad is stripped of his air force, then the dynamics of the civil war will undoubtedly change. Moreover, if Assad feels his regime is nearing its end, then his propensity to continue to use chemical weapons will increase.

Clearly, before the U.S. and its allies decide what course of action to adopt, what is needed is an accurate picture of Assad's situation on the ground, for in many respects that will dictate the political impact within Syria of any military option.

Dore Gold


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

The Chaos Theory

by Dr. Reuven Berko

The sages of Islamic religious law believe in the ancient tradition that teaches that "60 years of rule by an imam [an Islamic community leader] who exploits his people are preferable to one day without leadership." These sages cite ancient excerpts on the terrible meaning of anarchy as a result of mutiny against the Islamic rule. The only objective of these ancient traditions is to bolster the status of the central leadership. 

This Islamic approach stems from the fact that by the nature of its conquests and absorption of peoples and leaders who joined Islam, the ever-growing Islamic rule is constantly under threat of splintering. Therefore, the directive is to comply with the rule of the Islamic ruler, appointed from within the Islamic nation, and never to defy him under any circumstances, unless, of course, the ruler is corrupt and leads the nation to heresy. That is precisely what the Islamist rebels are claiming against Syrian President Bashar Assad. 

But in light of the presence of foreign rulers in Islamic countries, Muslim philosophers, the most prominent of whom is Ibn Taymiyyah, have, over the last 100 years, developed a different approach than the one that grants total control to the Islamic ruler. They define and list a set of circumstances and instances under which it is permissible to rebel against an Islamic ruler. These thinkers concluded that when a leader exploits his people, and thereby violates the Islamic code and corrupts the believers, he must be removed. Today, the people who abide by this doctrine are, generally speaking, the Muslim Brotherhood, and more specifically, their people in Egypt and in Syria. 

The religious aspect as justification for legitimate power is a pawn in the hands of regional leaders, who make sure to surround themselves with religious figures, to have their pictures taken while praying in mosques and to have the constant support of the religious school of thought while eliciting favorable fatwas that bolster the moral status of their rule. Even Assad, who claims to stand at the helm of a modern, secular, pluralistic country that represents Alawites, Christians, Druze, Kurds and Sunni Muslims, regularly raises his hands to his ears, extends his arms forward and kneels down on the mosque floor like everyone else. 

In Syria's case, it simply doesn't work. Syria is a multi-ethnic country that is not monolithic. Assad's fellow Alawites are seen by Sunni Muslims (the majority of the population in Syria) as the worst of the infidels. The Druze as well. Assad's Islamic backing comes from Shiite Tehran -- Sunni Islam's main rival. Therefore, this backing has very little significance in terms of bolstering Assad's leadership, and is even irksome. 

The problem of legitimacy of rule in Syria stems from the fact that Assad's fall, with or without Shiite backing, represents an existential threat to the Alawite sect as a whole. Therefore, the sect's continued rule, regardless of the identity of the actual president, will automatically be defined by Sunnis as "exploitative" rule. Such leadership will always face a fighting opposition, hostility and eternal Sunni resistance. That is why any leader hailing from the Alawite sect will have to make constant use of force to preserve his power and the continued existence of the Alawite sect within Syria.

Other minority ethnicities in Syria will also forever be at odds with the Sunnis, and that is why they prefer maintaining an alliance of minorities with the Alawites. The Sunni Muslims, on the other hand, mainly the ones belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, are convinced that they should be the ones in power. They will not rest until they achieve power, at the expense of the other ethnic minorities, and the rights and property of others. In light of the West's past experience with this bunch, it is not clear that the coalition forces will help realize this goal, shared by the Muslim Brotherhood and their Turkish and Qatari sponsors. Obviously, this makes the question of what will happen on the day after the attack in Syria that much more complicated. 

Syria is currently on the operating table, and the question is whether, due to its lack of morals (the mass murder of civilians and use of chemical weapons), it will be allowed to die, permanently clipped by the knife of the coalition. It is not a question of leadership but rather an ethno-religious question. The Syrian leadership is trapped in the dying body of an artificially established nation that is in constant conflict with itself. Instead of resuscitating the dying country, a clumsy Western assault could actually accelerate its demise. 

An artificial army

Unfortunately, the assessment is that despite the vast differences between the interests of the U.S., the West, the Arab nations and Russia, they all surprisingly share one common objective, which can be gleaned from the list of the operation's targets: To punish and deter Assad and his regime. However, the very definition of these targets suggests that the mission at hand is to preserve the existing Syrian regime, not to topple it.
All the powers in the burgeoning coalition against the tyrant know that to depose Assad would be rather simple. But it turns out that none of the countries currently closing in on Syria's borders, awaiting the results of the investigation into whether or not chemical weapons were actually used, ever really considered deposing Assad as a potential course of action, at this stage. In light of Syria's conflicted state, no one knows for sure what the leadership will look like after Assad falls. It is clear to the members of the coalition that the use of force will only intensify Assad's audacity rather than deterring him from continuing his criminal actions. Such a calamity will even cause further damage by prompting Russia and Iran -- next in line on the West's hit list -- and their belligerent proxy Hezbollah, to raise their heads. This will diminish the U.S.'s power of deterrence, already at an all-time low, even further, while eroding further U.S. President Barack Obama's image as a leader. All these factors require a very calculated decision regarding the direction of the attack, its intensity and its targets.
Overuse of power against Syria will destroy the little that is left of Assad's regime, indiscriminately scatter the remnants of his institutions and army in every direction and generate anarchy while dividing the nation, which was artificially bound together to begin with. The current framework will splinter into armed, hostile, religious and ethnic cantons that will be at war with one another -- Kurds, Alawites, Druze, Muslims -- leaving the Christians as the permanent victims of all the sides.
The collapse of Syria's patchwork nationality and leadership could intensify the activity of uncontrollable Islamist terror organizations, which are currently aiming their fire at the regime, and even at each other, but, after the Western assault, could potentially aim their guns outside the torn Syrian tent toward their neighbors.
Indeed, alongside the Free Syrian Army, the Syrian opposition now includes a good number of extreme Islamist terror organizations and powers, such as the Nusra Front, which, like al-Qaida, are a viral organism manufactured by the Muslim Brotherhood. No one, except perhaps megalomaniacal Turkey or treacherous Qatar, would be willing to tolerate their leadership over the country.
Refusing every proposed arrangementIrrational use of force could turn destroyed Syria into an arena for Islamist terror activity, like Afghanistan or Iraq, or place Sunni Islamists in power, which would be even worse option than the current Alawite-Shiite terrorists. Therefore, the dilemma facing the budding Western-Arab-Turkish coalition is a situation where they can't swallow, but they can't spit. This situation is a result of the fact that there is no real alternative to Assad's regime. More accurately, there is no one who can replace the existing regime, but perhaps there is someone who can replace Assad until a modern, alternative government is established by way of a temporary government and democratic elections. 

A well-calculated use of force will force Assad's regime into dialogue with the West, in meetings like Geneva II, that will bring about Assad's resignation and the establishment of a temporary government ahead of national elections under international supervision. Such a process could, perhaps, usher in a consensual Islamic but secular majority rule over a well packaged Syria. 

A well-calculated use of force would pound Iran, Syria and China and restore the U.S.'s long lost power of deterrence. A well-calculated use of force would force Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to become more civilized, while simultaneously shutting down the Iran-Hezbollah-Hamas axis, ensuring the safety of the Gulf states, Israel and the world from the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon. In the meantime, the mess will continue to get messier.

What kind of force can restore order in the Syrian chaos? Will the Islamist rebel forces permit such a process in the wake of a military assault directed at Assad's regime? The main concern is that the Western assault will actually make the Syrian opposition believe that it can usurp power in the aftermath, prompting the rebels to refuse every proposed arrangement. History teaches us that the current convergence of problems is naturally leading down a path to the old solutions, which were already raised and rejected in the past by the participants of the first Geneva conference. Ultimately, everyone will arrive at the same agreements they could have reached in the first place, before violence was employed, but now, they will be broken and tattered.
Sometimes you wake up on the morning after an adventure and wring your hands in regret of the previous night. There is no doubt that Assad is in need of a blow that will eliminate his chemical weapons reserves and generate regional and global deterrence regarding the West's ability to combat the growing evil in Iran, Russia, China and North Korea. But a person who slaps a scumbag is bound to get scum on his hands, and this won't necessarily change the scumbag's ways. Sometimes, when faced with the results of an operation, it turns out that the entire thing was not a good idea.
In light of the coalition's plans, the expectations might be too high because, in effect, on the morning after the operation, nothing will have changed in the Syrian arena or among the Iranians or Russians, who stand behind the butcher from Damascus. For now, it appears that the massacre will continue, even if it is without weapons of mass destruction, because none of the members of the coalition wants to intervene on the ground in the killing fields, except, perhaps Turkey, with its imperialistic, Ottoman agenda. The Iranian and Soviet influences in Syria and in Lebanon will continue, and possibly even intensify once the Americans' rage subsides.
Fulfilling the moral obligation
Until now, it hasn't been clear at all how using chemical weapons was in any way useful to Assad. What did he intend to achieve? Who did he want to kill and frighten? What was going through his and his commanders' minds when they ordered the launch of chemical weapons despite Obama's explicit warnings on the matter? Was this criminal use of forbidden weapons the result of an argument or an accident in the highest levels of government or the military? Assad is viewed as quite evil, but not that dumb. The very use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime against its own citizens and their children, particularly at the timing that it happened, remains an unsolved mystery.
Just like it was throughout history, so it is now: The anti-Semites' favorite hobby is to blame the Jews and threaten Israel. That's how it is with the ayatollahs in Iran, Hassan Nasrallah of Hezbollah, Erdogan in Turkey and ultimately Assad in Syria. One can venture a guess, especially with the coalition in the picture but even without it, that Assad is not stupid enough to launch a military strike against Israel. Perhaps, if he is desperate enough and has little enough to lose, he may want to go down in history as a fighter of Jews rather than the butcher of his own people, and then he will take action against us. But according to the outline of the coalition's planned operation, Assad is supposed to be spared. In any case, hopefully, knowing the painful death he faces personally if he attacks Israel and the irreversible damage that Israel will leave behind in Syria, he understands that such a move will not expunge the mass murderer of civilians from his legacy, and will refrain from doing anything rash. Nasrallah also knows what Assad knows.
In light of the limited and well-defined objectives of the coalition's operation, Assad's regime will remain intact. The Russians will resume their support of Assad, possibly even more than before, just to prove their military might within the framework of their escalating cold war with the West. However, the damage caused by the assault, the weakening of the Syrian army and the determination of the rebels, whose spirit and capabilities are only growing stronger, may ultimately lead Assad to engage in dialogue, making things easier for all sides. This is undoubtedly also in the best interest of the Alawites, who are losing their sons in the bloody battle. World leaders can say they fulfilled their moral obligation, checking off another box on the list of their twisted conscience, leaving the real burning problems entirely unsolved.
An old Bedouin man explained the issue of deterrence between the coalition and the criminal Syria and Iran with an old story. A Bedouin man who lived with his wives and daughters in the dessert was fattening a chicken ahead of the big holiday feast. On the eve of the holiday, the chicken was stolen. The old man summoned his sons and demanded that they catch the thieves and restore the chicken to him. His sons giggled and put a different chicken in his hand. 

The following day, the man's sheep was stolen. He again summoned his sons, and demanded that they bring back his chicken, but they giggled and compensated him with two sheep.
The following day, the horse was stolen, and the old man continued with his mantra, demanding that his sons bring him back his chicken.
At the end of the week, the man's daughter was kidnapped and raped. He summoned his sons and demanded again that they find the chicken. "Our sister was raped, and all you care about is your chicken?" they asked, shocked.
"If you had caught the thieves and brought me back my chicken when I asked, your sister would not have been raped," the old man replied.
Just like Cato the Elder, who insisted that "Carthage must be destroyed" over and over again, we must remind ourselves again and again: Syria is not the problem. The problem is the Iranian nuclear program, the source of Syria's and Hezbollah's power and the mother of all evils in the region. That is the real target that the coalition should have in its sights.

Dr. Reuven Berko


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

Obama's Bread and Circuses

by Caroline Glick

Obama and ship of fools.jpg
Over the past week, President Barack Obama and his senior advisers have told us that the US is poised to go to war against Syria. In the next few days, the US intends to use its air power and guided missiles to attack Syria in response to the regime's use of chemical weapons in the outskirts of Damascus last week.

The questions that ought to have been answered before any statements were made by the likes of Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel have barely been raised in the public arena. The most important of those questions are: What US interests are at stake in Syria? How should the US go about advancing them? What does Syria's use of chemical weapons means for the US's position in the region? How would the planned US military action in Syria impact US deterrent strength, national interests and credibility regionally and worldwide? Syria is not an easy case. Thirty months into the war there, it is clear that the good guys, such as they are, are not in a position to win.

Syria is controlled by Iran and its war is being directed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and by Hezbollah. And arrayed against them are rebel forces dominated by al-Qaida.

As US Sen. Ted Cruz explained this week, "Of nine rebel groups [fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad], seven of them may well have some significant ties to al-Qaida."

With no good horse to bet on, the US and its allies have three core interests relating to the war. First, they have an interest in preventing Syria's chemical, biological and ballistic missile arsenals from being used against them either directly by the regime, through its terror proxies or by a successor regime.

Second, the US and its allies have an interest in containing the war as much as possible to Syria itself.

Finally, the US and its allies share an interest in preventing Iran, Moscow or al-Qaida from winning the war or making any strategic gains from their involvement in the war.

For the past two-and-a-half years, Israel has been doing an exemplary job of securing the first interest. According to media reports, the IDF has conducted numerous strikes inside Syria to prevent the transfer of advanced weaponry, including missiles from Syria to Hezbollah.

Rather than assist Israel in its efforts that are also vital to US strategic interests, the US has been endangering these Israeli operations. US officials have repeatedly leaked details of Israel's operations to the media. These leaks have provoked several senior Israeli officials to express acute concern that in providing the media with information regarding these Israeli strikes, the Obama administration is behaving as if it is interested in provoking a war between Israel and Syria. The concerns are rooted in a profound distrust of US intentions, unprecedented in the 50-year history of US-Israeli strategic relations.

The second US interest threatened by the war in Syria is the prospect that the war will not be contained in Syria. Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan specifically are threatened by the carnage. To date, this threat has been checked in Jordan and Lebanon. In Jordan, US forces along the border have doubtlessly had a deterrent impact in preventing the infiltration of the kingdom by Syrian forces.

In Lebanon, given the huge potential for spillover, the consequences of the war in Syria have been much smaller than could have been reasonably expected. Hezbollah has taken a significant political hit for its involvement in the war in Syria. On the ground, the spillover violence has mainly involved Shi'ite and Shi'ite jihadists targeting one another.

Iraq is the main regional victim of the war in Syria. The war there reignited the war between Sunnis and Shi'ites in Iraq. Violence has reached levels unseen since the US force surge in 2007. The renewed internecine warfare in Iraq redounds directly to President Barack Obama's decision not to leave a residual US force in the country. In the absence US forces, there is no actor on the ground capable of strengthening the Iraqi government's ability to withstand Iranian penetration or the resurgence of al-Qaida.

The third interest of the US and its allies that is threatened by the war in Syria is to prevent Iran, Russia or al-Qaida from securing a victory or a tangible benefit from their involvement in the war.

It is important to note that despite the moral depravity of the regime's use of chemical weapons, none of America's vital interests is impacted by their use within Syria. Obama's pledge last year to view the use of chemical weapons as a tripwire that would automatically cause the US to intervene militarily in the war in Syria was made without relation to any specific US interest.

But once Obama made his pledge, other US interests became inextricably linked to US retaliation for such a strike. The interests now on the line are America's deterrent power and strategic credibility. If Obama responds in a credible way to Syria's use of chemical weapons, those interests will be advanced. If he does not, US deterrent power will become a laughing stock and US credibility will be destroyed.

Unfortunately, the US doesn't have many options for responding to Assad's use of chemical weapons. If it targets the regime in a serious way, Assad could fall, and al-Qaida would then win the war. Conversely, if the US strike is sufficient to cause strategic harm to the regime's survivability, Iran could order the Syrians or Hezbollah or Hamas, or all of them, to attack Israel. Such an attack would raise the prospect of regional war significantly.

A reasonable response would be for the US to target Syria's ballistic missile sites. And that could happen. Although the US doesn't have to get involved in order to produce such an outcome. Israel could destroy Syria's ballistic missiles without any US involvement while minimizing the risk of a regional conflagration.

There are regime centers and military command and control bases and other strategic sites that it might make sense for the US to target.

Unfortunately, the number of regime and military targets the US has available for targeting has been significantly reduced in recent days. Administration leaks of the US target bank gave the Syrians ample time to move their personnel and equipment.

This brings us to the purpose the Obama administration has assigned to a potential retaliatory strike against the Syrian regime following its use of chemical weapons.

Obama told PBS on Wednesday that US strikes on Syria would be "a shot across the bow."

But as Charles Krauthammer noted, such a warning is worthless. In the same interview Obama also promised that the attack would be a nonrecurring event. When there are no consequences to ignoring a warning, then the warning will be ignored.

This is a very big problem. Obama's obvious reluctance to follow through on his pledge to retaliate if Syria used chemical weapons may stem from a belated recognition that he has tethered the US's strategic credibility to the quality of its response to an action that in itself has little significance to US interests in Syria.

And this brings us to the third vital US interest threatened by the war in Syria - preventing Iran, al-Qaida or Russia from scoring a victory.

Whereas the war going on in Syria pits jihadists against jihadists, the war that concerns the US and its allies is the war the jihadists wage against everyone else. And Iran is the epicenter of that war.

Like US deterrent power and strategic credibility, the US's interest in preventing Iran from scoring a victory in Damascus is harmed by the obvious unseriousness of the "signal" Obama said he wishes to send Assad through US air strikes.

Speaking on Sunday of the chemical strike in Syria, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warned, "Syria has become Iran's testing ground.... Iran is watching and it wants to see what would be the reaction on the use of chemical weapons."

The tepid, symbolic response that the US is poised to adopt in response to Syria's use of chemical weapons represents a clear signal to Iran. Both the planned strikes and the growing possibility that the US will scrap even a symbolic military strike in Syria tell Iran it has nothing to fear from Obama.

Iran achieved a strategic achievement by exposing the US as a paper tiger in Syria. With this accomplishment in hand, the Iranians will feel free to call Obama's bluff on their nuclear weapons project. Obama's "shot across the bow" response to Syria's use of chemical weapons in a mass casualty attack signaled the Iranians that the US will not stop them from developing and deploying a nuclear arsenal.

Policy-makers and commentators who have insisted that we can trust Obama to keep his pledge to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons have based their view on an argument that now lies in tatters. They insisted that by pledging to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power, Obama staked his reputation on acting competently to prevent Iran from getting the bomb. To avoid losing face, they said, Obama will keep his pledge.

Obama's behavior on Syria has rendered this position indefensible. Obama is perfectly content with shooting a couple of pot shots at empty government installations. As far as he is concerned, the conduct of air strikes in Syria is not about Syria, or Iran. They are not the target audience of the strikes. The target audience for US air strikes in Syria is the disengaged, uninformed American public.

Obama believes he can prove his moral and strategic bonafides to the public by declaring his outrage at Syrian barbarism and then launching a few cruise missiles from an aircraft carrier. The computer graphics on the television news will complete the task for him.

The New York Times claimed on Thursday that the administration's case for striking Syria would not be the "political theater" that characterized the Bush administration's case for waging war in Iraq. But at least the Bush administration's political theater ended with the invasion. In Obama's case, the case for war and the war itself are all political theater.

While for a few days the bread and circuses of the planned strategically useless raid will increase newspaper circulation and raise viewer ratings of network news, it will cause grievous harm to US national interests. As far as US enemies are concerned, the US is an empty suit.

And as far as America's allies are concerned, the only way to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power is to operate without the knowledge of the United States.


Caroline Glick


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

France: A "Secularism Charter" in Every School

by Soeren Kern

"Nothing could be worse than posting a secularism charter on the wall and then the students see around them that what actually happens in school life is the exact opposite of what we tell them." — Philippe Tournier, Secretary General, French Teachers Union
The French government has announced a plan to post a "secularism charter" in all public schools in France by the end of September.

The document -- which is to appear in a prominent location in all of the 55,000 public schools in France -- would serve to remind students and teachers of a list of secular principles underpinning the separation of mosque and state.

Although the initiative has enjoyed a generally positive reception, many observers are saying they doubt the Socialist government of French President François Hollande will have the political willpower actually to enforce secular principles in French schools -- with or without a charter.
This skepticism stems from the fact that Muslim children constitute an increasingly large proportion of the 10 million students in the French public school system -- and because Muslim parents make up an increasingly important voting bloc in French politics. Muslims, in fact, cast the deciding vote that thrust Hollande into the Elysée Palace in May 2012.

French Education Minister Vincent Peillon, who announced the plan in an interview with the French daily newspaper L'Est Républicain on August 26, said, "Everyone is entitled to his opinion, but not to dispute lessons or to skip classes [for religious reasons]. The charter will be a reminder of [secular] principles. It will be posted in all schools in late September. The law provides for a moral and civic education that promotes freedom from judgment, the capacity to emancipate, and rights and duties. I want to see the return of those values of the [French] Republic in schools in 2013."

Although the final content of the charter will not be made public until the middle of September, a draft of the list which contains a total of 17 paragraphs has been circulating since July 11.

The first section of the draft list is entitled "The Republic is Secular," and consists of six rather straightforward paragraphs that mostly echo the French Constitution. Paragraph 2 of the draft, for example, states that, "France is a republic that is indivisible, secular, democratic and social. It ensures equality before the law, on the whole of its territory, for all citizens. It respects all creeds."

According to Paragraph 3, "The secular Republic is based upon the separation of religion and state. The state is neutral with regard to religious or spiritual beliefs. There is no state religion." Paragraph 4 states that "Secularism guarantees freedom of conscience for all. Everyone is free to believe or not to believe. It allows the free expression of his beliefs, respecting those of others within the limits of public order." And so on.

The second section of the list, entitled "The School is Secular," changes tack by directly confronting Muslim students who take to disrupting classes whenever they do not agree with their teachers on certain subjects.

Paragraph 14 states: "Lessons are secular. To ensure that students are as objectively open as possible to the diversity of worldviews as well as to the extent and accuracy of knowledge, no subject is a priori excluded from scientific and educational inquiry."

According to Paragraph 15, "No student may invoke religious or political convictions to challenge and/or to prevent a teacher from teaching certain parts of the curriculum." Paragraph 16 states that "the wearing of conspicuous symbols or dress by pupils as relates to their religious affiliation is prohibited in public schools."

The draft charter also states that "the secular school offers students the conditions to forge their own personality, exercise their free will and learn about citizenship. It protects them from proselytizing and from any pressure that prevents them from making their own choices."

Reactions to the announcement have been mixed, with some questioning if or how the measure will be enforced.

The Secretary General of the French Teachers Union, Philippe Tournier, told Radio Europe 1 that while he welcomed the secularism charter in principle, he worried about its implementation. "The intentions are quite positive, but the essential thing still remains: putting into force what [the charter] affirms," he said. "Nothing could be worse than posting a secularism charter on the wall, and then the students see around them that what actually happens in school life is the exact opposite of what we tell them."

A teacher named Yvon from the town of Les Mureaux in north-central France, who was also interviewed by Radio Europe 1 , said he hoped the measure was not just a political gimmick. "If it is a charter posted on the wall, teachers must be encouraged to enforce it in their daily classes," he said.
Peillon's predecessor as Education Minister, Luc-Marie Chatel , from the main opposition party in France, the center-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), expressed his tentative support for the charter: "I think it is a good idea. Any time we can give children a point of reference as to what the French Republic is, and what our values are, that is a good thing."

But UMP Chairwoman Michèle Tabarot accused the Hollande government of "lacking determination" when it comes to enforcing the separation of mosque and state.

In a statement, Tabarot said the "the reality is that in recent years, the Left has singularly lacked courage in the difficult fight to defend secularism. This is demonstrated by the fact that the current majority [in parliament] refused to pass the law banning the wearing of full face veils in public places when it was in opposition."

A woman in a headscarf and full-face covering at a demonstration in Paris, March 29, 2008. (Photo credit: Ernest Morales)

Tabarot was referring to the burqa ban, which was approved by the French Parliament in July 2010, even though most members of the opposition (Socialists, Communists and Greens) voted against the measure.

According to Tabarot, "Recently, the government has also refused to legislate a ban on wearing conspicuous signs in private nurseries. Once again, the French can therefore only see the intolerable gap between the words and deeds of the governing majority."

This is the second time in recent months that Peillon has courted controversy with a plan to reinforce secular values in French schools.

In April, Peillon announced a project for students in primary and secondary schools to debate "secular morality" [morale laïque] for one hour every week beginning in September 2015.
Peillon's original plan was for the subject to be taught as a separate subject with dedicated teachers. But after a wave of opposition from teachers, the plan was watered down, and discussion of secular values will now take the form of debates rather than formal teaching. Teachers will be given special training on how to lead debates on issues in which Islam takes a different position, and students will be evaluated individually based on their knowledge and behavior.

The debate over secularism in France has continued throughout 2013:

In August, the High Council of Integration [HCI], a government-funded research institute, recommended that the wearing of religious symbols -- such as crucifixes, Jewish skullcaps and Muslim headscarves -- should be banned in French universities to ease the "escalating religious tensions in all areas of university life."

In a 54-page report (PDF here), HCI says its research has shown that some universities have experienced problems from demands to be "excused from attendance for religious reasons... for separation of the sexes in lectures and seminars, instances of proselytizing, disagreements over the curriculum, and the wearing of religious clothes and symbols."

A law passed in 2004 prohibits the wearing or open display of religious symbols in all French schools and colleges, but does not apply to universities.

In January, a 24-year-old Tunisian student at the University of Nantes in western France was asked by her professor to remove her hijab when she arrived for class. After she refused, the professor asked her to leave the lecture. The student went immediately to complain to officials in the Faculty of Sciences; the professor was forced to apologize to the student.

In July, hundreds of Muslims in Paris went on a rioting spree to protest the enforcement of the burqa ban after police checked the identity of a Muslim woman who was illegally wearing a full-face Islamic veil in public. A similar outbreak of unrest occurred in June, when police stopped a 25-year-old woman for wearing a veil in Argenteuil, a suburb 12 kilometers (8 miles) northwest of Paris.

In March, a school in the town of Arveyres in south-western France said it would no longer offer a meat alternative to students who do not eat pork. According to French television TF1, 28 of the 180 children attending the school used to be offered a substitute meat when pork was on the menu.
The mayor of Arveyres, Benoît Gheysens, said the move was taken because of the cost of providing alternative meals, many of which went to waste. "Often children who did not take the substitute dinner complained and did not eat the pork. It distressed the staff to see how much food was wasted," Gheysens said. Muslim parents were enraged by the decision, and some responded by vandalizing Gheysens' car and harassing him after hours at his home.

Also in March, an appeals court in Paris overturned the sacking of a nursery school teacher for refusing to take off her Muslim headscarf at work. The landmark ruling involved Fatima Afif, a nursery assistant who was fired in 2008 by Baby Loup, a privately-run daycare center in Yvelines, a suburb of Paris.

Baby Loup has rules requiring its staff to maintain "philosophical, political and denominational neutrality" at work. But the court ruled that because the nursery is a private establishment, and it was not an "urgent professional necessity" that Afif remove her veil, the French "principle of secularism does not apply." According to the court, the principle cannot be invoked to deny "employees of private companies that do not perform a public service...the protections guaranteed them under the work code."

According to Eric Rocheblave, an employment lawyer interviewed by the weekly magazine L'Express on March 19, "This ruling is unheard of. It is the first time that the Court de cassation [the highest appeals court in France] has made a judgment on wearing the veil in a company. Therefore, it is a major decision in the context of French legal precedent and jurisprudence. The decision means that now, an employer can only restrict an employee's religious freedom if the practical functions of the job make it necessary."

French Interior Minister Manuel Valls condemned the court's decision, saying, "this puts secularism in France in doubt." UMP Deputy Eric Ciotti told French Television TF1 that the court's decision was "a severe blow against secularism" and a victory for "the claims of ethnic groups, to the detriment of republican values."

The former head of the official Equal Opportunities and Anti-Discrimination Commission, Jeanette Bougrab, told Radio Europe 1 that "This is a dark day for secularism in France…It is like a feeling of mourning. My republic is dying."

Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook.

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Helter Shelter

by Ruthie Blum

As of late Thursday night, the British House of Commons voted against participating in a military strike on Syria. Meanwhile, U.S. President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and National Security Adviser Susan Rice are presenting evidence to Congress that chemical weapons were, in fact, used against civilians in Syria -- and that it was President Bashar Assad's henchmen behind them.

It has been reported that whether or not Obama receives congressional or U.N. Security Council approval, he intends to go ahead with his plan to teach Assad a lesson. Yes, the worst president in American history, who bragged about leading the multinational 2011 attack on Libya "from behind," is now boasting about going it alone in Syria. 

Simultaneously, however, he says he has yet to make up his mind about actually going through with it. He has clarified, as well, that the goal of such an operation, if it takes place at all, is neither to topple Assad nor to drag the U.S. into a "quagmire" with American troops on the ground. No, assures Obama, at most, a few cruise missiles will be launched from the naval destroyers parked in the Mediterranean, awaiting orders.

With all this distraction and diversion created by Assad and Obama, Syria's patron saint Iran is on its merry, unfettered way to nuclearization. And to keep the international community from interfering with this process, both Syria and Iran have threatened to pummel Israel if the United States makes a military move.

Israelis have thus been storming gas mask distribution centers and cleaning out bomb shelters, waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop. Or not. 

On one hand, Israeli government and IDF Homefront Command officials keep telling the public to go about its business as usual. On the other, IDF actions -- such as calling up a number of reserve units and moving Iron Dome batteries into position -- seem to contradict the soothing words.

Due to this inherent paradox, Israeli supermarkets have been even busier than they normally are at this time of year, on the eve of the High Holidays. Though equally concerned about food preparation for the in-laws and Syrian bombs, shoppers are stocking up on extra supplies -- just in case there aren't enough leftovers after Rosh Hashana to last through a war. 

This kind of confusion would be comical if lives were not on the line. Still, Israelis have been seeing the humor in Obama's "Keystone Kop" behavior, making fun of his statement that a potential U.S. military strike should wait until after Labor Day. 

"What's that about?" some have asked. "Is he worried about missing the sales at Walmart?" Others have suggested that the U.S. president might want to consult with Assad on the time-table for an American sortie over Damascus. You know, as a goodwill gesture ahead of a "negotiated diplomatic resolution" to the Syrian civil war.

Had former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert given Assad the heads-up about Operation Orchard -- the Israel Air Force raid six years ago that wiped out Syria's nuclear reactor -- the whole mission would have been compromised. If it had failed, we Israelis would not be able to rely on simple gas masks to protect ourselves from today's wrath of the devil in Damascus.

This and other security-related differences between Israel and the United States struck a chord this week with an American delegation of law enforcement and firefighting personnel, on a fact-finding tour of the country.

This delegation -- led by U.S. Congressman Dave Reichart (R-Wash.), a former sheriff, SWAT team commander, hostage-negotiations commander and bomb disposal unit chief -- met with a group of Israeli journalists in Jerusalem on Thursday.

Though Reichart did not specify his stance on an American strike against Syria, he did note that his delegation's trip to the Israel-Syria border made a profound impression on all of them. 

"The experience here has given us a great understanding of how small Israel is," he said. "Americans don't understand this. We are surrounded by two oceans and friends. We don't have to deal with the kinds of threats that you Israelis live with every day."

Indeed. And those threats have Iran's signature all over them.

It is this harsh reality that Obama should be presenting to Congress and that British Prime Minister David Cameron should have been stressing in his appeal to Parliament. But confronting the head of the snake would require far greater resolve than sending a few cruise missiles to whistle by Assad's presidential palace. 

If this is Obama's exercise in muscle-flexing, it will be an exercise in futility.

Ruthie Blum is the author of "To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the 'Arab Spring.'"

Ruthie Blum


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