Saturday, October 18, 2014

"Boxed and Packaged Islam" Trying to Pass Itself Off as Mainstream Islam - Raheel Raza

by Raheel Raza

In one short interview, the two Muslim speakers had ensured that: a Zionist conspiracy is in place; ISIS is not really dangerous; the West is at war with Muslims, and the killing must continue; Muslims must not speak out on Western media about violence within the faith, and those who do are liars desperately seeking the limelight. So most Muslims stay silent.
This brand of boxed and packaged Islam, started by Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini, has been so cleverly marketed that most Muslims do not even know what hit them.
Then there are those have moved outside the box -- scholars, reformers and academics, who, like me, are considered heretics but are still part of the faith. We do not accept the branded, "boxed" version of Islam -- exported largely from Saudi Arabia on the wings of billions of petro-dollars in unobtrusive packaging -- that is trying to pass itself off as mainstream Islam.

The debate about "Moderate Muslims" has gone viral. From Bill Maher to Ali Rizvi in his Huffington Post article, it is trending.

As someone who used to call herself a moderate, I am now moving away from that terminology. One reason is a recent interview a cable TV talk show called Bilatakalluf.

On the program were two members of The North American Muslim Foundation (NAMF) -- Imam Shehryar and Farooq Khan -- and the discussion was about ISIS and being a Canadian Muslim. Below is a translation of some of the "quotable quotes":
  • "I honestly think the news about ISIS is extremely exaggerated – there are other interests fanning the flames -- we do not know if ISIS is Muslim or not, could be anyone."
  • "When we look at history and the way the West has lied, it is obvious... I refer to Iraq -- this drama has been done before, so the reports we are getting are not credible as they are coming from Western media, which has a track record of being No. # 1 liars -- once you tell a lie over and over again it becomes credible -- look at the Jihad/Sharia hype?"
  • "We must establish authenticity of the [beheading] TV clips -- it is a man wearing a niqab so how do we know whether he is a Mossad guy or ISIS?"
  • "I have heard reports that some people living under ISIS are peaceful -- at least the Sunni areas are better patrolled."
  • "Having a Caliphate is an integral part of faith. Every believing Muslim prays for a true Khalifah."
And on the topic of Canadians going for Jihad?
  • "There are one million Muslims in Canada... only 0.13% have "allegedly" joined ISIS, and they have gone for many reasons -- it is a hot issue with media -- 150 Jewish Zionists have gone to Gaza for a one-sided slaughter."
  • "Mossad had an integral part in creating Hamas. The PLO Al-Fatah meetings in 1960's were held in the house of a guy who was an Israeli agent -- a Jewish Zionist Israeli agent."
  • "There are vested interests -- 1.8 million Muslims cannot be digested by the powerbrokers so they aim to keep the area troubled -- the grand policy of the West is to have rivers of blood flowing -- they don't say it, but they are at war with the Muslims. The West will keep propping up proxy groups so that the violence does not end."
There is more, but suffice it to say that this was enough. Today, that is the voice of so-called moderate Islam. This cable program reaches over 100,000 homes across North America. These are the voices heard in Muslim homes, where they have credibility because they come from an Imam and his sidekick who are well dressed, well-spoken and articulate. In one short interview, the two speakers had ensured that: a Zionist conspiracy is in place; Western media are liars and cannot be trusted; ISIS is not really dangerous; the West is at war with Muslims, and that the killing must continue to adjust the world population.

Is there concern that most Muslims will believe what was said on this show? Yes. They live within the "Box of Islam," where the majority of Muslims hide today, to avoid facing reality. They are not interested in discussion or debate; they look upon the best years of Islam as during the early Caliphates. This boxed and packaged version of Islam was first branded by Iran's then Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who wanted to export his revolution in the late 1970s. At that time, the branding was that of a fiery bearded Mullah with an extreme message.

Since then this brand of Islam has taken on a modern, moderate look; it is "the new normal." Today, it is being exported largely from Saudi Arabia on the wings of billions of petro-dollars in an unobtrusive packaging. Case in point: There is a version of the Quran that is given away free at Dundas Square in Toronto, where the opening prayer has been tampered with. The original ends with the words "keep us on the straight path and not the path of those who have gone astray." To the "Dundas" version have been added the words "like the Jews and Christians."

This brand of boxed and packaged Islam has been so cleverly and cunningly marketed through the mosque pulpits, print media and electronic media that most Muslims do not even know what has hit them. It is beamed directly into their homes and hearts; they are not encouraged to dissent. This point was made by the Imam on the Bilatakalluf talk show: he said that Muslims should not speak out on Western media about sectarian issues or about violence within the faith. He went on to say that those Muslims who do speak out are liars desperately seeking the limelight. So most Muslims either stay silent or deflect the problems into conspiracy theories.

"Boxed" Muslims therefore now believe (among other issues) that anyone who does not toe their line of Islamist thinking is an infidel and will go to hell; anyone who leaves the faith by choice is an apostate (the punishment for which is death); homosexuals should be thrown off the highest cliff; Sharia law and jihad are benign; an authentic Muslim woman must wear a niqab or at least a hijab; every problem across the Muslim world is due to outside influences; adultery should be punished by 100 lashes, and that hanging and amputation of hands is justified.

Then there are those who have moved outside the box -- scholars, reformers and academics who, like me, are considered heretics but are still part of the faith. We do not accept the branded, "boxed" version of Islam that is trying to pass itself off as mainstream Islam. We believe that there are many paths one can follow and that there really is "no compulsion in religion" (from the Quran); that all believers are equal; we accept that there is special mention of "people of the book" in the Quran that includes Zoroastrians, Jews and Christians, whom we must respect. Sharia law needs to be reformed and brought into the 21st century; we cannot live with archaic laws any longer. Armed jihad is no longer valid. The Quran asks women only for modesty, but the hijab has become a political symbol. The Quran does not speak about killing homosexuals but prohibits lust; and beheading, hanging and cutting off hands should be abolished along with slavery.

The author Ibn Warraq says that "moderate Muslims" do exist, but that he does not believe "Islam is moderate." He is also not optimistic about how quickly moderate Muslim theologians will be able to bring about a religious reformation that will be acceptable.

What does this make us who are genuinely moderate: progressive, liberal or heretics? Whatever we are "branded," we will continue to speak out and light a fire under the feet of all of us: the reform needs to begin.

Raheel Raza is the President of the Council of Muslims Facing Tomorrow.

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

Turkey's Boomerang War in Syria - Burak Bekdil

by Burak Bekdil

Bashar al-Assad's departure from power would illustrate to all countries in the world that that a regime unwanted by Turkey would not survive.
Both of Prime Minister Davutoglu's references to Muslim prayers seem to symbolize his strong, inner desire for "conquest:" the "conquest" of Jerusalem by the Palestinians, and the downfall of al-Assad and the establishment of a Sunni, pro-Turkey regime there.
The Turkish interior minister was right when he said that legitimate states have a right to use proportionate violence when they face violence. But he is wrong to think that this right can only be enjoyed by his own country.

At the end of 1998, Turkey threatened to take military action against President Hafez al-Assad's regime in Syria unless Damascus immediately stopped harboring Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the violent Kurdish separatist group, PKK. Al-Assad decided not to take the risk. And the Turks, in cooperation with the U.S., finally captured their public enemy No. #1 in Kenya, brought him to court and sentenced him to life. In a war-torn region, a war had been averted.

A decade or so later, the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (now president) and his foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu (now prime minister), declared al-Assad Jr., Bashar, and heir to the elder al-Assad's throne, their country's best regional ally.

Erdogan once said al-Assad was more than an ally: he and his wife, Asmaa, were the Erdogans' family friends. Visa restrictions between the two countries were removed; bilateral trade boomed; joint cabinet meetings were held; and Turkey became the first NATO member to have joint military exercises with Syria.

Best friends no more. The Erdogans and al-Assads sharing a moment in better times.
After the Arab Spring spread to Syria, Erdogan and Davutoglu changed their rhetoric and started to call al-Assad a dictator -- as if a year earlier the man had been the elected prime minister of Sweden. Once again, Syria was the foe -- not because its regime had changed, but primarily because Erdogan and Davutoglu thought that the downfall of the Alawite al-Assad, under the powerful winds of change during the days of Arab Spring, could help create a Sunni belt of states subservient to a rising Turkish empire.

Davutoglu, who boasted that he had been to Damascus 62 times and knows the city "street by street," a reference to his self-declared knowledge into Syrian affairs, claimed more than three years ago that "al-Assad's days in power are numbered... perhaps a few weeks."

Erdogan and, to a lesser degree, Davutoglu, made al-Assad's downfall a personal ambition, presumably to send a message that al-Assad's departure from power would illustrate to all countries in the world that a regime unwanted by Turkey could not survive.

By 2012, al-Assad had become such an obsession that Ankara was prepared to make the strangest of all bedfellows to get rid of him. It supported all (Sunni) opposition groups, including radicals; funded them, and sent them arms and logistical equipment. That support, together with other regional factors, created Turkey's own Frankenstein Monster: The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria [ISIS].

Just when optimists started to think that the most important men in Ankara finally understood that a one-dimensional regional policy in the Middle East -- one that prioritizes only the downfall of a former ally -- would not work, the Turks show that they do not learn lessons.

"We will do everything possible to help people of Kobani because they are our brothers and sisters. We don't see them as Kurds or Turkmen or Arabs. If there is a need of intervention to Kobani, we are saying that there is a need of intervention to all Syria, all of our border." This statement of Prime Minister Davutoglu to CNN needs to be decrypted into plain language: "Kobani may be a critical Kurdish town bordering Turkey. It may be facing the danger of falling to ISIS. Kurds may be facing ethnic cleansing. We understand all that. But if our Western allies and Kurds want us to engage ISIS militarily, we want guarantees that al-Assad must go." So, it is the same obsession again.

Naturally, only one day after Davutoglu spoke of Turkey's "Kurdish sisters and brothers," Turkey's own Kurds put parts of Turkey into flames. On Tuesday and Wednesday (Oct. 6 and 7), riots started in Istanbul, home to millions of Kurds, then spread to Turkey's overwhelmingly Kurdish southeast. Within a day, fourteen people were killed in anti-government demonstrations and clashes with security forces. The death toll would later reach more than 40.

Davutoglu's government had to declare a curfew in six Kurdish cities and 22 towns, while in France, Austria and Switzerland, Turkish consulates were attacked by angry Kurdish demonstrators. The security situation in Kurdish cities reached its worst in 22 years. Interior Minister Efkan Ala warned: "We will respond to violence with violence."

Do the scenes look familiar to another, nearby place? Absolutely. The Turkish interior minister was right when he said that legitimate states have a right to use proportionate violence when they face violence. But he is wrong to think that this right can only be enjoyed by his own country. He belongs, after all, to a government and ideology which seem to hold that Israel should not respond at all, in any way, to the killings of its citizens, bombs or to rockets sent into its cities.

Davutoglu is a man who once said that, "hopefully one day we all will be praying at the al-Aqsa mosque in the 'Palestinian capital al-Quds [Jerusalem].'" He also said he hopes one day he will pray in Damascus. Both references to Muslim prayers symbolize his strong inner desire for "conquest:" the "conquest" of Jerusalem by the Palestinians, and the downfall of al-Assad and the establishment of a Sunni, pro-Turkey regime there. His references do not necessarily have a military connotation but most likely would not rule it out either.

Davutoglu's CNN interview is an indirect expression that he would be willing to risk the lives of Turkish soldiers on Syrian territory if he is given assurances that his dream about ousting al-Assad would come true. To which a prominent Turkish columnist, Ertugrul Ozkok, replied in the daily, Hurriyet: "Stop there a minute! So you [Davutoglu] think Turkish mothers and fathers will send their young sons into Syria so that you can say your collapsed Syria policy has proven right?"

Ankara never seems to learn from its mistakes.

Burak Bekdil, based in Ankara, is a Turkish columnist for the Hürriyet Daily and a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.

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

If Ayatollah Khamenei Dies, What Next? - Majid Rafizadeh

by Majid Rafizadeh


The news regarding the health of the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has become unprecedented in the last few months. Several other indications suggest that Khamenei’s health is not only deteriorating but it is cause for a security concern. For example, following Khamenei’s recent surgery on his prostate, high level officials such as Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Hassan Rouhani, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made an unprecedented visit to the ailing leader.

This issue raises the question of what will happen if Iran’s current Supreme Leader, who has the final say in the Islamic Republic’s domestic and foreign policy affairs, dies. Who would be the successor? Will the Islamic Republic refashion its foreign policy towards the West, particularly the United States and Israel?

First of all, we have to understand Iran’s political structure and power relations in order to develop possible projections. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Velayateh Faqhih, is chosen by the Assembly of Experts, which has 86 members. According to Iran’s revised constitution, “In the event of the death, resignation, or dismissal of the leader, the (Assembly of Experts) shall take steps within the shortest possible time for the appointment of the new leader. Until the appointment of the new leader, a council consisting of the president, head of the judiciary, and a jurist from the Guardian Council, upon the decision of the nation’s Expediency Council, shall temporarily take over all the duties of the Leader.”

Although Iranian people elect the members of the Assembly of Experts, it is crucial to point out that the Guardian Council, another crucial political power, vets the candidates beforehand. Only the previously selected members can run for the Assembly of Experts. In other words, the election is just a façade and purely ceremonial. In addition, the turnout for the elections for the members of the Assembly of Experts has always been very low. This is due to the fact that many Iranian people question the legitimacy of these candidates or do not believe that their votes can bring fundamental change.

The members of the Guardian Council, on the other hand, are either directly selected by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (six members), or by the Judiciary and Majlis, Iran’s parliament (the other six members).
The other key player in making decisions in selecting the next Supreme Leader is the Expediency Council, which oversees disputes over legislation between the Guardian Council and the Islamic Republic’s parliament. It is worth noting that the members of the Expediency Council are also selected by the Supreme Leader. In other words, the aforementioned political bodies have never questioned the decisions, the power, or the political and divine authority of the Supreme Leader.

The Most Crucial Player in Post-Khamenei Era

Without a doubt, when it come to choosing the next Supreme Leader and making a decision on the nation’s post-Khamenei era, the most powerful political organization is Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). First of all, the IRGC not only militarily and politically controls the domestic and foreign affairs of the Islamic Republic, but it also owns main economic sectors of the country. Under the rule of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps gained more power to suppress domestic oppositions and intervene in domestic affairs of other countries in the Middle East. In addition, the senior cadre of IRGC has control over Iran’s nuclear program.
As a result, having control over the economy, military, politics, and nuclear program, the IRGC will wield the most influence in choosing the next Supreme Leader. Although the Assembly of Experts might ceremonially elect another Ayatollah, the future Supreme Leader will have been chosen by the high officials of IRGC in advance. This suggests that it is likely that the IRGC leaders already have an option or list of names in their agenda.

Nevertheless, the key question is what kind of cleric or political figure will the IRGC be looking for as the next Supreme Leader. Although some scholars have put out some names of influential Ayatollahs and clerics as potential and prospective Supreme Leaders for the Islamic Republic, it is less likely that the senior cadre of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps will desire to choose a powerful Supreme Leader who would fully control their activities. In other words, a charismatic, powerful and influential Ayatollah and political figure will be considered a threat to the rule of the senior cadre of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. The best option for the IRGC is a weak figure whom they can control.

Even when Khamenei was selected, he was considered a weak candidate in comparison to more powerful figures such as Ayatollah Montazeri or Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani at that time. At the time, Khamenei was not even a Mujtahed, a senior jurist who can issue fatwas. As time passed, Khamenei consolidated his power by marginalizing powerful opposition clerics and giving more power to the senior cadre of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.

In addition, the IRGC will attempt to choose an individual who serves the IRGC’s objectives: obtaining nuclear capabilities, having a monopoly over economic and political affairs, having power in foreign policy and having the capability to intervene in other countries’ affairs without hurdles from any political figures including the Supreme Leader.

In other words, the senior cadre of the IRGC will attempt to further consolidate its political and economic power by selecting a weak candidate. It follows that one should not expect any fundamental changes in the Islamic Republic’s domestic or foreign policies even if Supreme Leader Khamenei dies. In fact, the power of the elite of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps will increase, and their pursuit for regional hegemonic ambitions will intensify.

Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist and scholar, is president of the International American Council and serves on the board of the Harvard International Review at Harvard University. Rafizadeh is also a senior fellow at the Nonviolence International Organization based in Washington, DC and is a member of the Gulf project at Columbia University. He can be reached at Follow Rafizadeh at @majidrafizadeh.


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Kerry Links ISIS Recruiting Success to Israel - IPT News

by IPT News

Israeli government officials are fuming over remarks made by Secretary of State John Kerry Thursday which connected the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict to waves of international recruits flocking to the terrorist group ISIS.

"As I went around and met with people in the course of our discussions about the ISIL coalition," Kerry said, "the truth is we – there wasn't a leader I met with in the region who didn't raise with me spontaneously the need to try to get peace between Israel and the Palestinians, because it was a cause of recruitment and of street anger and agitation that they felt – and I see a lot of heads nodding – they had to respond to."

In a Facebook post written in Hebrew, Israeli Communications Minister Gilad Erdan wrote, "I actually respect Kerry and his efforts, but every time he breaks new records of showing a lack of understanding of our region and the essence of the conflict in the Middle East I have trouble respecting what he says."

Naftali Bennett, the Israeli economy minister, blasted Kerry for linking ISIS, which seeks an Islamic caliphate in Syria, Iraq and beyond, to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying it "gives a boost to global terrorism."

"It turns out that even when a British Muslim beheads a British Christian, there will always be those who blame the Jews," Bennett said, alluding to the beheading earlier this month of British aid worker Alan Henning. The killer, believed to be the same man who beheaded American journalists James Foley and Steven Satloff, speaks with a British accent.

Kerry's statement, made at a State Department reception celebrating the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday, is a bit of a contradiction to President Obama's statement during a speech to the United Nations last month. While also calling for peace talks to resume, Obama acknowledged that "the situation in Iraq and Syria and Libya should cure anybody of the illusion that the Arab-Israeli conflict is the main source of problems in the region."

And there's another obvious point Kerry doesn't seem to understand. The radical Islamists in ISIS, like radical Islamists in Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hizballah and others, absolutely reject any peaceful settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. It is codified in their founding charters and repeated statements. Their only acceptable outcome is Israel's destruction. Given that, it's difficult to understand how a peaceful resolution guaranteeing and Jewish homeland in Israel and a Palestinian state, would do anything but ignite new fury and spike the number of recruits seeking to join the jihad.

IPT News


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Coalition Air Strikes may be helping to turn the Tide in Kobani - Rick Moran

by Rick Moran

Thanks to the Kurds spirited defense of their town, and more intense air strikes being delivered by coalition forces, the battle for Kobani has slowly turned in favor of the defenders.

Islamic State forces still surround the Syrian border town, but they have been pushed back in some areas, and have failed to deliver a decisive blow that would allow them to take control of the city.

Adam Chandler writing in The Atlantic:
Less than two weeks ago, the newly announced American-led airstrikes against ISIS already appeared destined to fail. ​An Islamic State siege of the Syrian town of Kobani was about to give way to a massacre of Syrian Kurds providing early and salient proof of the airstrikes' fruitlessness. Then, something strange happened, the massacre never came.
The month-long battle for Kobani is by no means over and the death toll is by no means small, but for those administration officials beseeching the American public for both faith and patience, the past few days have given some provided some breathing room. As Reuters notes, coalition airstrikes surged on Wednesday and Thursday to the tune of 14 raids, which are said to have halted the Islamic State advance. Meanwhile, Kurdish forces have turned back some ISIS gains in the town.
On Friday, Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, who heads the Central Command, told the press that "the campaign is on the right track" and reiterated the need for "strategic patience." He also admitted that it still remains "highly possible that Kobani may fall" to the Islamic State militants.
As Helene Cooper noted, the efficacy and new intensity of the strikes may have been helped by "a little-known new system where Syrian Kurdish fighters fed target information to allied war planners." As we noted on Thursday, the State Department announced that the United States held its first direct talks with a Syrian Kurdish party in Paris last week. While the State Department played the meeting down, perhaps we now have a better idea about what they were discussing.
IS is unable to mass its forces for an attack that would overwhelm the Kurdish defenders thanks to some well coordinated strikes by US planes. But Islamic State is not likely to give up on taking the town, considering how much in men and material they have invested in its capture. It would be a huge propaganda loss for them if they were forced to withdraw. It would also raise the morale of Iraqi troops who are being squeezed in Anbar province and outside of Baghdad.

But IS is still making gains in both Iraq and Syria. The coalition planes can't strike everywhere Islamic State is on the move which is why, as long as there are no supporting infantry to push back against IS, our air campaign will be ineffective in stopping the terrorists.

Rick Moran


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Beyond the lines: New opponents, new challenges in the Middle East - Jonathan Spyer

by Jonathan Spyer

Hezbollah is under pressure as the consequences of its ongoing intervention in Syria have come back to bite the terrorist organization.

There are increasing indications that the sectarian war raging in Iraq and Syria is now moving irrevocably into Lebanon.

The Shi’ite group is currently seeking to shore up its legitimacy by reminding its constituents, and other Lebanese citizens, of the role that gains it the most domestic sympathy – resistance against Israel. It is likely the strike at Mount Dov last week was part of this effort.

It is also, in its propaganda, somewhat oddly trying to assert that Israel and the Sunni jihadis of the Nusra Front and Islamic State are allies.

All this activity comes as the Nusra Front is demonstrating its ability to hit at Hezbollah across the border with increasing impunity.

Attacks by Sunnis in Lebanon are not new, and similar incidents have taken place throughout the Syrian civil war.

The longstanding tension in the Tripoli area between the mainly Alawi, pro-regime inhabitants of the Jebel Mohsen neighborhood and the mainly Sunni, pro-rebel Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhood is continuing.

Hezbollah, in cooperation with the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), managed to stem a bombing campaign by the Sunnis in the Shi’ites’ heartland of southern Beirut in the middle of 2013.

And tensions between Hezbollah supporters and the local Salafi leader Sheikh Ahmed al-Assir in June 2013 ended in pitched battles and the destruction of Assir’s local power.

The current tension, however, differs from previous episodes.

It does not involve Hezbollah fighting much weaker local Sunni forces. This time, the movement is clashing directly with Syrian Sunnis.

The current phase began with the seizure of the Lebanese border town of Arsal in August by members of both the Nusra Front and Islamic State. They left with a number of captured Lebanese soldiers, some of whom have since been executed.

The LAF then tried to crack down on local support for the jihadis in Arsal, carrying out a large raid on the town in September, arresting hundreds accused of being Nusra Front members or for supporting the movement.

More importantly, most of the individuals in the crackdown were not Lebanese Sunnis but rather members of the 1.5 million Syrian Sunni refugees, now in Lebanon.

The Nusra Front then struck back hard in an operation whose stated goal was to “avenge Syrian refugees whose tents were burned” during the crackdown on Arsal.

Hundreds of fighters of the organization attacked from across the Syrian border, forming a line from Baalbek up to Arsal itself.

The attack wasn’t directed against the LAF, but against Hezbollah’s positions.

The attackers were eventually defeated (or the battle was intended to be a hit-and-run attack, depending on who one chooses to believe). But the jihadis fought a two-hour pitched battle with Hezbollah fighters near the village of Britel.

The Nusra Front overran a Hezbollah position, killing at least 11 of the movement’s fighters.

The Sunnis filmed the attack, as well as its aftermath. The jihadis can be seen moving backwards through the Hezbollah position, removing equipment, nonchalantly ignoring the corpses of dead defenders.

The Britel battle represents an eruption into Lebanon of a wider campaign, in which Hezbollah and other pro-Assad forces have been desperately trying to clear out the Sunni jihadis from the Qalamun mountain range along the border and seal the line between Syria and Lebanon.

The Nusra Front and its allies are trying to establish a connecting route between Arsal and al-Zabadani, west of Damascus, long held by the rebels.

The fight for Qalamun has turned into a grinding affair for Hezbollah, costing the lives of many of its fighters, while it never quite seems to end. The Britel losses indicate the failure of the pro-Iranian bloc’s efforts to finish this fight, and show that the direction of events, for now, at least, are in the Nusra Front’s favor.

But the wider implications and challenges of the intensification of cross-border Sunni activity are political.

As its casualties in the seemingly unending Syrian war continue to mount, Hezbollah needs to redouble efforts to explain to its constituency why this sacrifice makes sense and how it fits into the movement’s more familiar justifications for its existence.

Hence the increase in public statements by top officials, including leader Hassan Nasrallah.

Nasrallah paid a rare visit to Bekaa this week. In his speech, he sought to link the fight with the Sunni jihadis to Hezbollah’s war with Israel.

“Victory will be the ally of the mujahideens in their fight against takfiri [apostate Muslims] and terrorist groups, the same way it was their ally in the confrontation against the Israeli enemy,” Nasrallah said.

Interestingly, the Hezbollah leader didn’t stress the military campaign in Bekaa, but rather boasted of the attack in the Mount Dov area, which he said showed “the resistance, which is always vigilant, will protect any attempt to attack Lebanon or its people.”

Pro-Hezbollah publicists, meanwhile, are seeking to color in this picture with claims that Israel and the Nusra Front have reached an understanding with one another and are cooperating against Hezbollah, as Jean Aziz, a columnist at the pro-Hezbollah al-Akhbar wrote in a recent article.

These statements and claims notwithstanding, the main concern for Hezbollah and its supporters is the effect that the Nusra Front’s offensive into Lebanon is having on the delicate balance between the Sunnis and Shi’ites in the country.

Since the internal political and military conflict in 2008, with the humiliation of the mainly Sunni March 14 Alliance by Hezbollah and its associates, it looked like the Lebanese Sunnis were finished.

The Shi’ites, because of their political and demographic strength, achieved a clear dominance. The underlying concern of recent events is that this balance may be shifting.

There are 1.5 million new Sunnis in the country. For a country with a population of less than five million, this is a major shift.

A number of articles in the Lebanese media this week have reflected the widespread sympathy felt among many Sunnis for the Nusra Front, which is widely felt in both Lebanon and Syria to be less extreme and more local in its orientation than Islamic State.

It is noteworthy that the Nusra Front mentioned the desire to avenge an affront against the refugees as the main goal of its Bekaa offensive.

All these topics point to a possibly emergent, new strategic challenge for Hezbollah – namely the emergence of a new, powerful, Sunni Islamist opponent, one possessing some popular legitimacy, considerable military ability and a capacity to operate across borders.

Hezbollah appears to be aware of this threat and is currently attempting to formulate its response to it. This is a new and emerging front in the sectarian war that has already consumed Syria and Iraq. It remains to be seen if the Shi’ite Islamists of Lebanon will succeed in resisting the challenge from their Sunni opponents.

Jonathan Spyer


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Obama to Allow 100,000 Haitians into America without a Visa - Rick Moran

by Rick Moran

Calling it "“an irresponsible overreach of the executive branch’s authority.," Senator Charles Grassley, ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, is criticizing an executive order issued by the president that would allow at least 100,000 Haitian nationals into the United States to be "reunited with their families."

Washington Times:
“Which countries are next on President Obama’s list?” Mr. Grassley said. “Will there by medical screenings before entry? Will work permits be granted automatically? How will this affect American workers?”
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the branch of the Department of Homeland Security that handles immigration benefits cases, announced Friday the program to unite Haitians already living in the U.S. with family members abroad will ramp up in 2015.
At that time the State Department’s National Visa Center will begin notifying families who may be eligible to take part in the program. Those immigrants will allowed to apply for work permits while waiting for issuance of their permanent visas.
The agency said the program will expedite “safe, legal and orderly migration.”
A similar program that reunited Central American children with their parents had a fraud rate of about 70%.
“The rebuilding and development of a safe and economically strong Haiti is a priority for the United States. The Haitian Family Reunification Parole program promotes a fundamental underlying goal of our immigration system — family reunification,” said Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas. “It also supports broader U.S. goals for Haiti’s reconstruction and development by providing the opportunity for certain eligible Haitians to safely and legally immigrate sooner to the United States.”
Roughly 100,000 Haitians already approved to come to the U.S. are currently awaiting visas, The Associated Press reported.
Mr. Grassley, whose Senate committee has jurisdiction over immigration policy, predicted the number of Haitians who would come to the U.S. under the program would likely exceed that estimate, calling it “likely just the beginning of the president’s unilateral and executive actions on immigration.”
“Parole is meant for humanitarian assistance on a case-by-case basis,” he said. “The president’s continued push to circumvent Congressional authority and ignore the rule of law sets a bad precedent for the future.”
Question: How do we "rebuild" the Haitian economy by bringing 100,000 of their citizens here? 

Grassley is right. This is just the tip of the iceberg.While our attention is focused elsewhere on Ebola and ISIS, the president will bring hundreds of thousands of immigrants through the back door. Without congressional authorization, without congressional hearings on the impact on jobs for citizens, and announced on a Friday afternoon to insure minimal news coverage, the president has once again demonstrated his intention to rule by decree.

Rick Moran


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Obama’s Deadly Ebola Lies - Matthew Vadum

by Matthew Vadum

President Obama’s lies about the communicability of the truly terrifying Ebola virus are recklessly putting American lives at risk.

And yesterday Obama did the unthinkable: he cancelled a precious campaign fundraiser to address an issue of intense interest to the American people. At a photo-opportunity disguised as an emergency cabinet meeting the president did what he always does: he lied and lied and lied.

“Here’s what we know about Ebola: That it is not like the flu,” Obama told his groupies in government and the media in reassuring tones.

“It is not airborne. The only way that a person can contract Ebola is by coming into direct contact with the bodily fluids of somebody who is showing symptoms. In other words, if they don’t have symptoms, they’re not contagious.”

To demonstrate his fearlessness, Obama bragged about canoodling with health care professionals:
I want to use myself as an example just so that people have a sense of the science here. I shook hands with, hugged, and kissed not the doctors, but a couple of the nurses at Emory [University Hospital, where Ebola patients are treated] because of the valiant work that they did in treating one of the patients. They followed the protocols, they knew what they were doing, and I felt perfectly safe doing so. And so this is not a situation in which, like a flu, the risks of a rapid spread of the disease are imminent. If we do these protocols properly, if we follow the steps, if we get the information out, then the likelihood of widespread Ebola outbreaks in this country are very, very low.
The White House website repeats Obama’s lies: “You can only get the Ebola virus by direct contact with: Body fluids of a person who is sick with or has died from Ebola; Objects contaminated with the virus; Infected animals.”

My Capital Research Center co-worker, Dr. Steven J. Allen, happens to be an expert on the Ebola virus and he says Obama is not telling the truth. Allen earned his Ph.D. in biodefense from George Mason University’s College of Science in 2007.

Although Ebola is indeed spread by means of body fluids there’s a catch.

“We don’t how long it can last on surfaces or as droplets in the air so when President Obama said earlier this month you can’t get it from sitting beside someone on a bus that was a total lie,” Allen said. “You can get the disease from such a small number of viral particles that logic says you can get it from someone coughing in your vicinity.”

In other words, Ebola can spread through the air, contrary to Obama’s remarks. This helps to explain why health care professionals who value their lives wear hazmat suits that look like astronaut gear when dealing with Ebola-infected patients.

Allen offered a brief primer on Ebola. He explained that currently there are five main varieties of the Ebola virus, but not all five can infect humans. “What used to be called ‘Ebola Zaire’ is now just called Ebola,” he said. “When Ebola is unqualified it means Ebola Zaire.”
Ebola causes patients to bleed throughout their bodies, particularly as it attacks organs such as the liver and spleen and causes them to fail. Even if you survive an encounter with Ebola you can still end up with infertility, arthritis, and other problems related to organ failure.
Some Obama critics like Allen characterize the president’s behavior as examples of incompetence.

“It is Obama’s ideology that makes him incompetent,” Allen said. “Public health is supposed to be about fighting infectious disease and protecting people from environmental dangers. We have the Environmental Protection Agency to cover the environment and the Centers for Disease Control is supposed to be for infectious disease.”

“The Obama people, continuing a long-developing trend, have reinvented public health to mean control over personal behavior such as what you eat, whether you have guns in the house, whether you drive drunk,” Allen explained.

“Some of these concerns may be legitimate but the CDC is supposed to be dealing with infectious disease, not personal behavior. Anything else is mission creep and getting away from protecting us as was intended when the CDC was created.”

Truth-averse left-wingers have been shrieking for days that Republican lawmakers in Congress are somehow to blame for Obama’s Ebola outbreak because they supposedly cut its budget. It’s another lie.

“At $7 billion, the Centers for Disease Control 2014 budget is nearly 200 percent bigger now than it was in 2000,” according to investigative journalist Michelle Malkin. “Those evil, stingy Republicans actually approved CDC funding increases in January larger than what President Obama requested.”

Despite its massive budget, the CDC is barely responding to Ebola and the polio-like enterovirus D68 that was likely brought into the U.S. by the illegal Central American immigrants who have been fast-tracked across the southern border under the administration’s Democratic voter importation program. An aggressive response to these lethal viruses is out of the question because it might stigmatize or offend members of certain ethnic groups, after all.

Malkin aptly dubs the worse-than-useless CDC as “The Centers for Everything But Disease Control.” In her words the CDC is a “power-hungry busybody brigade of politicized blame-mongers.” She’s right.

In the Obama era the CDC has pushed a dizzying array of social-engineering proposals that have nothing to do with disease. These nanny state initiatives include a federal universal motorcycle helmet law, a study of video games and television violence, a “national action plan” to prevent accidents in children’s playgrounds, and studies and campaigns “promoting positive community norms” and “safe, stable, nurturing relationships (SSNRs)” in homes and schools.

But actual success in the real world is of secondary importance to leftists. Only intentions count.

Obama praised several officials including Homeland Security adviser Lisa Monaco and his perpetually bungling CDC Director Tom Frieden, who has been busy more or less full-time in recent weeks issuing clarifications of his infelicitous, inaccurate statements from the previous day.

Obama said the officials have done an “outstanding job” so far, but that with flu season upon us and Department of Homeland Security officials also working on combatting ISIS, “they also are responsible for a whole bunch of other stuff.”

Despite all the fabulous work Frieden, who used to labor for then-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on vital projects like limiting the size of soda pop servings, Obama is warming to the idea of appointing an “Ebola czar” to coordinate the government’s response to the crisis that his boneheaded policies have created.

Frieden has been coming under increasingly heavy political fire in recent days. It doesn’t help that he has no idea what he’s doing, Allen said.
“The problem with Frieden is he is a prohibitionist zealot who is clueless about the threat we are currently facing. He has no expertise in public health as properly understood.”
Obama may jettison Frieden to reduce the growing political heat he has been feeling as result of the Ebola crisis he has caused.

“It may make sense for us to have one person … so that after this initial surge of activity, we can have a more regular process just to make sure that we’re crossing all the T’s and dotting all the I’s going forward,” Obama said.

Although quarantining infectious patients has been practiced with impressive results ever since the invention of medical science, Obama refuses to halt travel to the U.S. from Ebola-afflicted parts of the world, even from Ebola-devastated Liberia, home of the patient who recently succumbed to the disease at a Texas hospital.

Defying common sense, Obama says a “flat-out travel ban is not the way to go.”

Critics point to Obama’s stubborn refusal to stop residents of Liberia and other affected countries from visiting the U.S. as incompetence or a lack of leadership.

This criticism may be unfair. Obama is more likely acting out of principle.

Obama’s neo-Marxist, identity politics-infused worldview holds that America is an imperial power that has victimized other nations merely by being wealthy and powerful. Meanwhile, Obama romanticizes backward countries like those former colonies in Ebola-rich West Africa and views imposing a travel ban on their citizens as adding insult to the grievous injuries that the perpetually guilty United States has inflicted on them.

The president has no compunction putting American lives at risk and subordinating their interests to those of West Africans.
Obama seems to forget that his chief duty under the Constitution is to protect the American people.

Matthew Vadum is an award-winning investigative reporter and the author of the book, "Subversion Inc.: How Obama’s ACORN Red Shirts Are Still Terrorizing and Ripping Off American Taxpayers."


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Abbas Calls to Stop Jews Visiting Temple Mount Using 'All Means' - Ari Soffer

by Ari Soffer

Palestinian Authority leader encourages continued violence at Judaism's holiest site, calls Jewish visitors 'settlers'.

Arab rioters on the Temple Mount
Arab rioters on the Temple Mount
Flash 90
Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas on Friday encouraged Islamists to continue efforts aimed at preventing Jews from visiting the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, calling on Palestinian Arabs to prevent "settlers" from entering the site using "all means" necessary.

His comments came days after Israeli police once again clashed with Muslim extremists protesters violently demonstrating against Jews visiting the Temple Mount, which is Judaism's holiest site and also the location of the Islamic Al Aqsa complex.

"It is not enough to say the settlers came, but they must be barred from entering the compound by any means. This is our Aqsa... and they have no right to enter it and desecrate it," Abbas said.

The PA president was speaking at a conference in Ramallah after a spate of clashes this week since a Monday confrontation between Palestinian youths and Israeli police.

Abbas insisted that "defending Al-Aqsa" was tantamount to defending Jerusalem, which the Palestinians are demanding as the capital of a future state.  

"Jerusalem is the jewel in the crown and it is the eternal capital of the Palestinian state. Without it, there will not be a state," he said.

"It is important for the Palestinians to be united in order to protect Jerusalem," he added.

Earlier on Friday, hundreds of Palestinians took to the streets of Gaza in a rally protesting the presence of Jews on the Temple Mount, organized by the Islamist Hamas movement. Hamas, along with the Muslim Brotherhood-aligned Israeli Islamic Movement, are believed to be the main forces behind the regular violence at the holy site, with some reports suggesting Islamist activists are being paid to maintain a constant presence there and perpetuate the unrest.

In Jerusalem, the weekly Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa mosque passed without incident after Israeli police barred entry to Palestinian men under the age of 50 to prevent disturbances.

The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism and the location of the ruins of the two Temples of Jerusalem. The Al Aqsa Mosque and complex are built atop the ruins, and the site is administered by the Islamic Waqf trust. Jews - as well as other non-Muslims, are forbidden from praying or carrying out any religious rituals there, despite numerous court rulings calling for equal prayer rights to be implemented, in a controversial arrangement which Jewish groups have decried as blatantly discriminatory and a capitulation to Islamist threats.

Non-Muslim visits to Al-Aqsa complex are severely restricted and regulated by police; those Jews who are suspected of praying are often arrested and expelled from the site.

On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reiterated that "Israel is committed to maintaining the status quo" there, but several legislators from the Likud and Jewish Home parties have been attempting to push legislation aimed at enshrining Jewish prayer rights there.

Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority officially reject the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount - as well as the Western Wall (Kotel) - despite the historic evidence.

AFP contributed to this report.

Ari Soffer


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