This is an amazing story of DIALOGUE IN ACTION which took place in Victoria, Texas this month. Christians and Jews gave a generous response to a community in need against a backdrop of President Trump’s efforts to seriously limit immigration of refugees from seven designated countries to protect America from terrorist threats of “radical Islam.” What an amazing contrast…

Will the “true America” please stand up? I believe we have!

Tom

 

Victoria Texas mosqueHow Jews and Christians in This Texas Town Are Helping Muslims Whose Mosque Burned Down

Madeline Farber, Time Magazine

Feb 02, 2017

After a mosque in the small town of Victoria, Texasburned to the ground last weekend, the local Jewish and Christian communities there have come together to help those affected.

Members of the B’Nai Israel temple gave the keys to their synagogue to the Muslim community so they would have a place to worship, USA Today reports, and four churches in the town also offered space for the mosque’s Muslim congregation to hold services, according to NPR.

“Jewish community members walked into my home and gave me a key to the synagogue,” Dr. Shahid Hashmi, a co-founder of the Victoria Islamic Center, told the New York Times.

“We were very happy to do this,” Melvin Lack, treasurer of Congregation B’Nai Israel told USA Today. “You feel what’s happening in the community and everyone reacts.”

The fire occurred just hours after President Donald Trump announced the controversial executive order that bans immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries, according to USA Today. However, the cause of the incident hasn’t been determined yet, and authorities there are still investigating.

“We are praying that it is an accident because the thought of actually somebody doing something terrible like that is beyond imagination,” said Abe Ajrami, a member of the mosque, according to the Advocate.

Children from the local Catholic school in Victoria also visited the mosque on Wednesday, forming what the Islamic Center called a “human chain of love and peace,” according to a Facebook post. The students also presented the Muslim community with a tree.

“The tree will be planted in the grounds of our new mosque & prominently displayed to remind us of this beautiful moment,” the post reads. “This is the spirit of love where the cross hugs the crescent.”

In addition, the Islamic Center also received financial support: a GoFundMe page has raised more than $1 million for reconstruction, according to USA Today. By Monday, the day after the page was created, the campaign was already close to hitting its target of $850,000.

DiNardoGomez

President And Vice President Of The U.S. Conference Of Catholic Bishops

Stand In Defense Of All Faiths In Response To Executive Order On Refugees

 

 

 

Archbishop Gomez  Cardinal Dinardo

January 30, 2017

 “When did we see you a stranger and welcome you?”

Matthew 25:38

WASHINGTON— Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, vice president of the USCCB, have issued the following joint statement regarding the recent executive order on the new refugee policy announced by President Trump this past Friday. President Trump’s executive order suspends the entry of refugees into the United States for 120 days. The order also indefinitely stops the admission of Syrian refugees and for 90 days, bars individuals from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

Full joint statement as follows:

Over the past several days, many brother bishops have spoken out in defense of God’s people. We are grateful for their witness. Now, we call upon all the Catholic faithful to join us as we unite our voices with all who speak in defense of human dignity.

The bond between Christians and Muslims is founded on the unbreakable strength of charity and justice. The Second Vatican Council in Nostra Aetate urged us to sincerely work toward a mutual understanding that would “promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.” The Church will not waver in her defense of our sisters and brothers of all faiths who suffer at the hands of merciless persecutors.

The refugees fleeing from ISIS and other extremists are sacrificing all they have in the name of peace and freedom. Often, they could be spared if only they surrendered to the violent vision of their tormentors. They stand firm in their faith. Many are families, no different from yours or mine, seeking safety and security for their children. Our nation should welcome them as allies in a common fight against evil.  We must screen vigilantly for infiltrators who would do us harm, but we must always be equally vigilant in our welcome of friends.

The Lord Jesus fled the tyranny of Herod, was falsely accused and then deserted by his friends. He had nowhere to lay His head (Lk. 9:58). Welcoming the stranger and those in flight is not one option among many in the Christian life. It is the very form of Christianity itself.  Our actions must remind people of Jesus. The actions of our government must remind people of basic humanity.  Where our brothers and sisters suffer rejection and abandonment we will lift our voice on their behalf. We will welcome them and receive them. They are Jesus and the Church will not turn away from Him.

Our desire is not to enter the political arena, but rather to proclaim Christ alive in the world today. In the very moment a family abandons their home under threat of death, Jesus is present.  And He says to each of us, “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (MT 25:40).

—–

 

 

 

 

Germany-Christmas-Mar_Horo-e1482180999681-635x357Imam Feisal Rauf: Moderates Must Step Up After Trio of Terror Attacks

 

BERLIN, GERMANY – DECEMBER 21: People left flowers and candles to honor the victims of the terrorist attack on a Christmas market.

We grieve once again for horrific murders committed in the name of Islam, now
in Ankara and Berlin. And we feel sorrow, again, for attacks on Muslims, this time at a mosque in Zurich, perpetrated by a gunman with unknown motives. All the attacks occurred on Monday, December 19, within hours of each other.
The nearness in time of the attacks, all on the same day, tempts us to connect them. In Ankara, a Turkish assassin, likely affiliated with terrorist groups, shot the Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrey Karlov, from what appear to be crazed motives of revenge for Russian destruction in Aleppo. For the 12 murdered and 48 wounded at the Christmas market in Berlin, ISIS claims responsibility. The Zurich attacker, who it appears later committed suicide, seems unrelated to any terrorist groups.

Religion is not the problem. Rather, extremist political forces, most especially in the Middle East, are pushing the world towards Armageddon.

But investigators have discovered no connection between these three tragedies. And if a lesson can be excavated from the proximity in time of the three of them, it is simple: that the association events have forged in many minds between violence and Islam must be broken. Otherwise the violence will never end.

Religion is not the problem. Rather, extremist political forces, most especially in the Middle East, are pushing the world towards Armageddon. The tit-for-tat of murderous extremism sustains itself in cycles of violence. The horrific murder of the Russian ambassador comes in response to the countless deaths of innocent civilians victimized by Russia’s ruthless policies in Syria. The hope is here: there are voices of moderation, both political and religious, on both sides of the warring enmity that can break the cycle of violence. They must unite forcefully to combat the extremists. They must find a way to disarm the Middle East, to end the proliferation of weapons there, otherwise the destruction of lives, homes, and livelihoods there and around the world will not end.

Especially at this Christmas season, in which Muslims also joyfully participate from our reverence for the prophet Jesus Christ, let us remember that Islam itself means peace and that God did not send his prophet Muhammad except as a mercy to the worlds (Quran 21:107). Muhammad’s call to humanity is the same as Jesus’, that mercy and justice reign. May the message of peace they share bring comfort—especially to the people of Syria, a quarter of whom are Christian. And may all of us know peace. Anti-Muslim violence and policy make an unholy alliance with terrorism committed in the name of Islam. They feed off each other. Neither kind of violence takes its warrant from religion of any kind.

The New York Times reports that a handmade sign appeared next to the door of the Zurich mosque, saying in German, “Love is the answer to hate.” With that hopeful sentiment in mind, we pray for the victims in Berlin, Ankara, and Zurich, and their families. We pray for the innocents of all faith traditions who have lost their lives to violence in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, andall war-torn regions. We pray for the wisdom in our leaders to pacify violence without harming the innocent. And we pray for peace of soul to stay violence in those unquiet souls tempted to commit it.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is the Founder and President, Cordoba House, which has a purpose to establish a compassionate forward thinking and pluralistic American Muslim identity. Through many initiatives he and Cordoba House have been dedicated to improving Muslim- West relations. Imam Feisal has engaged in outreach to moderates of all faith traditions, engaging in interfaith dialogue and forging connections of trust and mutual support. He is also the author of several books.

Rumi Book Debut at Cathedral of Saint John the Divine NYC (2-1-2017)

Rumi

What's Right With Islam

 

Gooch:Faisal

 

Brad Gooch     Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf    Tom McCloskey

 

It was my great pleasure to take part in the presentation of Brad’s latest book on Rumi, a Persian poet of the 13 century from the Middle East. Brad is a professor of the English Department at William Paterson University in Wayne NJ where I teach as well. He is a wonderful writer who has spent the last eight years learning Persian and traveling 2500 miles throughout the Middle East to explore the life and times of this Muslim poet and Sufi mystic. These travels in Syria, Iraq, Iran, Turkey and the southwestern republics of Russia have been both enlightening and dangerous because of the civil wars that continue in that region. The evening included an introduction by the Rector of the Cathedral as well as some music and dance based on the period of his writings. I am struck by the Sufi mystical tradition with its awareness of the presence of God in all of creation as expressed in poetry, music and literature. There is a kinship for me between this tradition and the construction of the Gothic cathedrals in Europe at the same time with the development of music and the prayer of the monks in their monasteries at all hours of the day. They were on a journey in a search for the presence of God in nature as well as in painting and art which touches our soul as well. Brad and Feisal conducted a conversation on the details of this journey in the life of Rumi and its impact on his readers today. Feisal is a gifted speaker who was particularly vocal after 9-11 in explaining the religion of Islam and Muslim people to Americans throughout the northeast and across the country. The US State Department sponsored him on speaking tours of Muslim countries at that time as well. He has impacted me very deeply as I have developed an online course in Abrahamic Religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) which I currently teach at Bloomfield College NJ. Rumi’s Secret promises to be a great introduction of his life and work to many readers of today, and his writings are on a par with Shakespeare in the literature of ancient Persia and modern day Iran. Brad’s beautiful writing style gives us a taste and appreciation for the history and culture of the Middle East which are quite unknown to most Americans. Imam Feisal continues his writing and teaching through the vehicle of Cordoba House which is centered near Columbia University on New York’s upper west side.  http://cordobahouse.com/

From Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan

Luke 1:37

Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.  And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren.

For nothing will be impossible with God.’

angels

 

Salaam and grace to you from Jerusalem, in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

As we celebrate Christmas, the feast of the incarnation of the Word of God, we put all the troubles of the world behind us. For just a day or two, we become immersed in the story of Mary and Joseph, the angels and the shepherds, the star and the Wise Men who followed it. For one holy night, the miraculous story of Jesus fills our hearts and minds, drowning out the struggles of daily life.

All too soon, however, the gifts have been opened, the tree is gone, and the lights have been turned off. All too soon, Christmas is over, and the world is back to business as usual, war as usual, injustice as usual, extremism as usual—and shocking acts of terror, which are becoming far too usual.

It is a blessed and joyous thing to celebrate the birth of Our Lord, to gather with family and friends, and to sing God’s praises in our church communities. At the same time, we must really ask ourselves: “Is Christmas only a diversion or an escape from reality? Is it just a grand party? Or does it bring a more important message to our lives and to the world?”

This past year has been marked by impossibly bad acts of extremism, violence, terrorism, and war. As I have been preparing to send this message to you, nearly every day has brought news of another horrendous event: the attack on our sisters and brothers of the Coptic Church in Cairo, terror in Istanbul and Karak, the ongoing horror in Aleppo, and just in the last few hours, an attack on a Christmas market in Berlin, among others. Even in this season of joyful expectation, such horrors can make us doubt the possibility of peace, of justice, of reconciliation, and of a world which values diversity and living together.

It is for this reason that I have chosen to focus this Christmas message on Luke 1:37, which says “Nothing will be impossible with God.” This remarkable statement from an angel of the Lord reveals that the message of Christmas is not a diversion or an escape, but is really the foundation of our hope in this broken world.

When the angel came to Mary and announced that soon she would be the mother of a baby, a holy child called “Son of God”, at first, she could not believe it. She could not imagine that a simple young woman would become “theotokos”, the bearer of God. “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” she asked the angel. And the angel said to her, “Nothing will be impossible with God.”

This simple but powerful statement is often overshadowed by other familiar parts of the Christmas story, and yet it perfectly sums up the theme of every Christmas carol, every Christmas play, and every Christmas tradition. If the Son of God could be born to a virgin in Bethlehem, laid in a manger, worshipped by shepherds and foreign travelers from the East, sought by a ruthless king and chased out of the country—all before saving the world through a sacrifice of love on the cross—then truly, nothing is impossible with God.

A few days ago, I was with the King of Jordan, who had invited all the Heads of Churches to the palace to wish us a Merry Christmas. This was a moment of joy, of friendship, and of interfaith understanding. As we left the palace, however, we received the news that a terror attack in the Christian village of Karak had taken several lives. Frankly, this news spoiled our Christmas joy. It made us angry! We were asking ourselves, “How could this possibly happen? Where is the God of peace, justice, and mercy?”

This was the same anger we felt one week earlier, when the 3rd Sunday of Advent (which many honor as “Gaudete” or “Joy” Sunday) was darkened by a terror attack on St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo. Of course, we feel such attacks deeply when they strike at our Christian brothers and sisters. However, this attack was not only targeting Christians, but was against all of Egyptian society. It was even an attack on God, and on humanity itself. Although such attackers may claim to be lovers of God, truly they have sinned against God and against all of humanity.

When I visited Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Cairo, along with a delegation including the Mufti of Jerusalem, my message to him was this: “Your church is an example of the church of martyria. We honor you, for you are witnessing to the Lord not only through words, but through your bodies and your blood.” Although we do not seek martyrdom in this way, truly these innocents who were killed while praying on a Sunday morning are our modern-day saints and martyrs.

Do such events frighten the Christians of the Middle East? I cannot say that it does not affect us. At the same time, as Christians in this region we are called to reflect, “What is our call as a community? What is our role in bringing peace to this region?”

I believe the answers are clear: Arab Christians are called—as are Christians in every place—to boldly carry the Gospel of love wherever we are. In the face of oppression, violence, terrorism, and occupation, our role is not to escape. We must be like the Virgin Mary, who, although she faced an impossible situation, chose to listen to the words of God’s messenger. Like Mary, when we feel the whole world is against us, we must hear the words of the angel who said, “Nothing will be impossible with God.”

There is not much evidence for optimism today, either in the world at large or here in the Middle East. The voices of exclusivity, division, intolerance, and selfishness are overpowering voices of justice, peace, and living together. People are asking: “What will happen with the peace process? Will the French initiative succeed? What will happen to Jerusalem?” Politicians, professors, and preachers love to speak about peace, but justice is missing from the conversation. Christmas comes, and the world sings “Peace on earth”, but no one is willing to take the risk to make the song a reality.

To be honest, I do not see much evidence that peace is on the horizon. It seems peace is much further away today than it ever used to be—a depressing reality as we approach the 50th anniversary of the occupation of the Palestinian territories, and the 100th anniversary of Sykes-Picot and the Balfour Declaration. I do not wish to be a prophet of doom, but if I look just at the situation today, it appears we are locked in a game of powers—and we are powerless. Often it seems we are even powerless to speak openly about peace.

No, I do not see much evidence of peace. I am not optimistic. But Christmas gives me hope. The Christmas season comes, and we do not escape from reality, but we are given the space to remember how God makes the impossible possible. In a time of hopelessness, the Prince of Peace was born. In a time in history when everything seemed to be going wrong, the hand of God proved to be stronger than the hand of the politicians. The world may be impossibly dark today, but my hope is in the one called Emmanuel, God with Us, the light of the world. What is impossible for human beings is quite possible for God—in God’s way, not in ours.

For this reason, the church should not give up its prophetic role in preaching peace, justice, and reconciliation. We will continue to proclaim the that the impossible is possible, for just as the babe in the manger surprised Mary and Joseph, so God will surprise us with a peace that passes all understanding in this land—a peace based on justice, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Not so many years ago, it would have seemed impossible that a Lutheran bishop and the Pope would ever meet to pray together and sign a document of historic reconciliation on Reformation Day. And yet, on 31 October 2016 it was my honor, as President of the Lutheran World Federation, to join Pope Francis and the General Secretary of the LWF, the Rev. Martin Junge, for a joint prayer service in Lund and Malmö, Sweden.

This even, co-hosted by the Vatican and the LWF, was truly an historic reconciliation between the Catholic and Lutheran churches, one which has turned a new page in our relationship and dialogue. What once seemed impossible now has become possible, after 500 years. Perhaps it should have—and could have—happened sooner. But in this moment, we take the opportunity to see that this is not our work. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. The one who loves us so much that the Word became flesh and lived among us, also loves our churches, and desires our unity. For this reason, we embrace and celebrate this historic moment of unity—not uniformity, but unity of witness as one holy and apostolic church.

Nothing will be impossible with the Triune God! This is the message of Christmas, and this is the message the church of Jesus Christ is called to carry into the world after Christmas is over. When we think of the things the world says are impossible, we must know that God says they are possible: Peace is possible. Justice is possible. Reconciliation between churches and between countries is possible. Equality is possible. Diversity and living together are possible. We only need to look as far as Bethlehem and the manger to see how the things that seem impossible for us have already been made possible through the love of God in Christ Jesus.

It is with this hope that we celebrate Christmas and look to the New Year—a very special year for Lutherans, as we celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. With great joy, and with great hope, and with great faith in the impossible love of God for the world, let us join the shepherds at the manger. Let us pour out our love for the one who has come so near to us—Our Lord in the manger, the Light of the World. And let us share the light of His love with the world.

Merry Christmas! Frohe Weihnachten! God Jul! Hyvää Joulua! Feliz Navidad!

Kul sane wa intou salmeen!

May God bless you at Christmas and in the New Year to come.

Trump:Clinton

Since the year 2004, the following have been key social issues in our presidential elections:

  1. Right to Life Amendment to Constitution to repeal legalized abortion
  2. Prevention of legality of gay marriage across the country
  3. Comprehensive immigration reform
  4. Ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
  5. In 2016 a new issue has been added of severely restricting Muslim immigration to the USA

As of September 1st, the focus of the Right to Life groups has turned away from a Constitutional Amendment and has focused on a more liberal nominee to the Supreme Court who might eventually help to overturn  the Rowe vs Wade ruling of 1973 legalizing abortion. The US Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in all states in a ruling in June of 2015, so that appears to be a dead issue. Comprehensive immigration reform has been debated by Congress with no meaningful resolution. Mr. Trump has raised the ante in this area by promising to “build a wall” along our southern border to take care of it and have the Mexican government pay for it. His proposal on “getting tough” on illegal immigration has evolved since his initial positions, so we still await his latest proposals in this area. The #4 issue has been greatly complicated by the entry of Russia, United States, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the Kurdish community and Turkey into a civil war over the retention in office of a dictator/president. ISIS (Islamic State in Syria) is an especially ugly and brutal force which takes on the world in that area with its own agenda of a “resurrection” of the old Muslim caliphate in the Middle East. The final issue raised by Mr. Trump has appealed to a core group of Americans who believe that the United States is at war in a death struggle with the religion of Islam in particular and the Muslim people in general. For the purpose of this website, I would like to focus on these last two issues.

As a background to ending wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Israeli/Palestinian continued civil war shows no signs of ending and is possibly getting worse. On a religious level, there have been strong efforts by Pope Francis and others to discover some common ground between Arabs and Israelis to develop a peace process for the creation of a viable Palestinian state. From the hopeful creation of a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel in 1978, it has been a long road to any kind of lasting peace. Many Israelis who are committed to the process are drowned out by extremist elements within the populace and the government in power who do not really want to see a change in the status quo.

With the defeat of Donald Trump, there seems to be no consensus among Republican leaders to accept “severe vetting” of future Muslim immigrants to this country. While the increase in terrorist actions is very real around the globe and in the US, the elimination of ISIS is not as simple as some would project to solve the problem.

There will continue to be a push for economic development of countries who are living on the margins as well as a strong concern for human rights and religious liberty around the world in an atmosphere of dialogue and cooperation. Religion involves hope for a better life, education is a path forward for a younger generation and the advantages of a free economy can help provide jobs and a platform for the future.

The United States cannot afford to be so deeply divided by partisan approaches where “compromise” is a dirty word and working together is “collaboration with the enemy.” Our global problems are too deep and critical to continue to engage in the pettiness and triviliaties which many of our leaders exhibit today. History shows that as a country we are capable of rising to new challenges as they present themselves. Hopefully, our new president and congressional leaders can commit themselves to charting a new path as we have done in the past. Challenge 1 is who we are going to elect as our new President. Challenge 2 is whether or not the deadlock  between the White House and Congress will continue in our increasingly dysfunctional government. Stay tuned, as Paul Harvey used to say, “for the rest of the story.”

The Opinion Pages | OP-ED COLUMNIST NY TIMES

140617171808-cnnx-isis-control-iraq-lead-tablet-large

JULY 29, 2015

Thomas L. Friedman

I started my career as a foreign correspondent in Beirut in 1979. I didn’t know it at the time, but 1979 turned out to be one of the great vintage years for foreign news — particularly from the Middle East. It set in motion the most important dynamics still shaping that region today. In fact, it’s been 1979 for 36 years. And the big question about the Iran nuclear deal reached this month is, Will it ultimately be a break on the history set in motion in 1979, and put the region on a new path, or will it turbocharge 1979 in ways that could shake the whole world?

What happened in 1979? For starters, there was the takeover of the Grand Mosque in Mecca by Islamist extremists who challenged the religious credentials of the Saudi ruling family, accusing them of impiety. The al-Sauds responded by forging a new bargain with their religious conservatives: Let us stay in power and we’ll give you a freer hand in setting social norms, relations between the sexes and religious education inside Saudi Arabia — and vast resources to spread the puritanical, anti-women, anti-Shiite, anti-pluralistic Sunni Wahhabi fundamentalism to mosques and schools around the world.

This Saudi lurch backward coincided with Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979, which brought Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to power. That revolution set up a global competition between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia for leadership of the Muslim world, and it also led to a big surge in oil prices that gave both regimes more money than ever to export Shiite and Sunni fundamentalism. That is why the Egyptian scholar Mamoun Fandy liked to say, “Islam lost its brakes in 1979.”

That competition was further fueled by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 — which spawned the Sunni jihadist movement and eventually Al Qaeda — and by the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, also in 1979, which basically ended all new building of nuclear power plants in America, making us more dependent on fossil fuels. Of course, the Islamic Revolution in Iran also led to a break in relations with the U.S. — and shifted Iran from a tacit ally of Israel’s to a country wishing “death to Israel.”

So the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal marks a big change — but because it will lead to an end to economic sanctions on Iran, it could turbocharge 1979 as easily as end it. That depends on a lot of factors: Will the nuclear deal empower the more moderate/pragmatic majority inside Iran rather than the hard-line Revolutionary Guards Corps? The reason to be worried is that the moderates don’t control Iran’s nuclear program or its military/intelligence complex; the hard-line minority does. The reason to be hopeful is the majority’s aspiration to reintegrate with the world forced the hard-liners to grudgingly accept this deal.

A lot will depend also on Saudi Arabia moderating the anti-modernist trend it imposed on Sunni Islam. On Tuesday the Middle East Media Research Institute released a translation of a TV interview by the Saudi author Turki al-Hamad about the extremist discourse prevalent in Saudi Arabia. “Who serves as fuel for ISIS?” he asked. “Our own youth. What drives our youth to join ISIS? The prevailing culture, the culture that is planted in people’s minds. It is our youth who carry out bombings. … You can see (in ISIS videos) the volunteers in Syria ripping up their Saudi passports.”

That’s why another factor determining if 2015 is a break with 1979 or a multiplier of it will be the energy revolution in America — efficiency, renewables and fracking — and whether it keeps putting downward pressure on oil prices. Give me five years of $25-a-barrel oil and you’ll see reformers strengthened in Iran and Saudi Arabia; they’ll both have to tap their people instead of oil.

But while that oil price decline is necessary, it is not sufficient. Both regimes also have to stop looking for dignity and legitimacy in combating the other — and Israel — and find it, instead, in elevating their own people. Saudi Arabia’s attempt to bomb Iranian influence out of Yemen is sheer madness; the Saudis are bombing rubble into rubble. Will Iran spend its windfall from this nuclear deal trying to dominate the Arab world? Maybe. But Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen today are like a giant Superfund toxic cleanup site. Iran wants to own that? It will sap more of its strength than strengthen it. We know.

On July 9, Agence France-Presse reported that the International Monetary Fund estimated Saudi Arabia, whose population tripled since 1975, would run a budget deficit this year exceeding “$130 billion, the largest in the kingdom’s history,” and “to finance spending Riyadh has already withdrawn $52.3 billion from its fiscal reserves in the first five months of the year.” Iran’s population has doubled since 1979, and 60 percent of its residents are under 30 and it has 20 percent unemployment. Last April, Issa Kalantari, a former Iranian agriculture minister, warned that because of dwindling water resources, and over-exploitation, if Iran doesn’t radically change its water usage “50 million people — 70 percent of Iranians — will have no choice but to leave the country,” Al-Monitor reported.

 

Nukes are hardly the only threats for this region. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia desperately need to make 2015 the end of the 1979 era. It would be fanciful to predict that they will — and utterly realistic to predict the destruction that will visit both if they don’t.

Three Waves of Geopolitics and the Middle East

July 7, 2015

Originally published in The Cairo Review of Global Affairs

By Dr. Hooshang Amirahmadi

AIC Founder and President (American Iranian Council)

Amirahmadi

A third wave of geopolitics has been making its way into Middle East political geography since the end of the Cold War. The first wave began with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. The second wave followed World War II, when the European colonial order crumbled. The third wave will reach its apex with the demise of the American order in the region and the spread of political disarray. The contemporary Middle East is the product of these three geopolitical waves. Among the consequences is the rise of the extremist group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Geopolitics is the intersection of geography, power, and foreign policy, and it often focuses on the states, peoples, borders, resources, environments, trade routes, and human traffic. In the transition to a new geopolitics, these factors become gradually reconfigured and they assume floating realities, differing directions, and varying significance. The key features of the emergent third wave of Middle East geopolitics are failed states, humiliated peoples, crippled economies, extreme inequality and poverty, devastated environments, plundered resources, conflicted geographies, foreign intrusions, and violent radicalism.

The Middle East is where ancient civilizations and three major religions developed, making it a crossroads of Europe, Africa, and Asia for many centuries. The region has been an intersection of people, trade, and ideas. It has been the locale of numerous progressive developments such as scientific discoveries, giving rise to the Persian, Arab, and Ottoman empires. During Islam’s Golden Age, scholars from around the world would gather in the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, the capital of the Abbasid caliphate, to exchange knowledge and translate the known sciences into Arabic.

The resource-rich Middle East proved an attractive prize for outside powers, including Europeans, Russians, and Americans, particularly since the discovery of oil in the Persian Gulf at the beginning of the twentieth century. Colonial Europe, imperial Russia, and capitalist America have at various times and with varying degrees of success dominated the region. Their rivalries, an iteration of the Great Game, left a lasting and, more often than not, devastating impact on Middle East states and politics, peoples, environments, resources, and economies. The region’s authoritarian rulers, often the stooges of foreign powers, share responsibility for the plight of the Middle Eastern peoples.

Ottomans and Colonialists

The first wave of Middle East geopolitics was triggered a century ago with the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, the last Islamic global power, in World War I by European powers including Britain, France and Italy. A new dispensation arrived for Arabs, who had been a marginal population within the empire. While accepting the Ottoman Turks as fellow Muslims, Arabs had little interaction with them and intermarriage was rare. The empire was a multiethnic state based on loyalty to the ruling dynasty, not on a shared national identity. Even before the Ottoman collapse, Arabs had started identifying themselves as a distinct national group rather than as subjects of the empire. In Egypt, Arabic displaced Turkish as the language of the local government and the governing elite. When the nationalistic ideas of the Turks arose in the final years of the empire, Arabs likewise developed their thinking about national identity and independence.

Embracing Arab nationalism, and with the support of Britain, Arabs thus revolted against the Ottomans in the midst of World War I. They did not care to defend the Ottomans against the “infidel” European forces, who meanwhile claimed to support Arab independence and bring justice to their homelands. In 1914, the Ottomans declared jihad, or holy war, against Britain and France, yet the Arab Muslims, eager for independence, were not swayed.

However, the Europeans did not keep their promises. They redrew the Middle East map based on the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, which did not fulfill the plan for Arab independence. Instead, Britain and France colonized the Arabs as well as the Kurds, and mistreated them worse than their Ottoman overlords had ever done. Arab Muslims were left humiliated by non-Muslims. They became the subjects of domineering European powers. The region was chopped up into small states with unnatural borders and heterogeneous geographies and cultures. These new states would isolate families, divide ethnic groups and religious sects, and redraw the map of natural resources such as important waterways. Local orders were dismantled, traditional economies destroyed, cultures demonized, resources plundered, and politics corrupted.

In time, World War II led to the collapse of the European colonial order in the Middle East. Europeans had transformed their colonies into artificial and conflicting nation states to be ruled by local dictators whom the Europeans had nurtured. The invented border configurations, largely straight lines, had no historical basis or even geographical logic. The only logic was political: plant the seeds of future conflicts and thereby divide and rule. The nation-state concept was a European one hardly applicable to the Arab lands of the Ottoman Empire. The groups or tribal leaders who won control from the Europeans made sure that they would hold on to power as long as they could.

This transition from colonialism to neocolonialism and dictatorship would serve both local rulers and foreign powers. The European approach to forming new nations all but guaranteed that the Middle East and North Africa region would become and remain a conflict-ridden territory. The inter-state, inter-ethnic, and inter-sectarian fights today are direct products of the European policy of divide and rule as well as a top-down nation‑building strategy that crippled citizenship and civil society development.

However, in the years following World War II the region became increasingly unmanageable for the weakened colonial powers. Liberation movements sprung up in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Iran. Pan-Arabism became a major political force, culminating in the union of Egypt and Syria in the United Arab Republic from 1958 to 1961. This anti-colonialist Arabism, along with the revolutionary populism of Nasserism and Baathism, contributed to the Suez Crisis, which would come to symbolize the end of Britain’s role as a world power.

Post World War II

 The second wave of geopolitics, in the context of the Cold War, then emerged. As Europeans gradually withdrew from the region, the United States and the Soviet Union filled the vacuum. The struggle between the two emergent superpowers of the capitalist and socialist blocs took form in Iran immediately after the end of World War II. In 1945, while British troops withdrew from the country, there were signs that Moscow would not comply with a March 1946 deadline to also withdraw its troops from Iran. The Soviets finally complied after an American ultimatum and lengthy negotiations with the Iranian government. In a dramatic manifestation of Cold War maneuvering, in 1953 the United States and Britain organized a coup against Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in response to his government’s nationalization of the Iranian oil sector.

The Arab Cold War of the 1950s and 1960s divided the Arab World between pro-Western Arab monarchies including Jordan, Saudi Arabia, pre-1958 Iraq, and non-Arab Iran, and the pan-Arab and Islamic socialist states such as Egypt, Syria, Algeria, Libya, North Yemen, and post‑1958 Iraq. As the Cold War split the Middle East along an East-West line, oil was emerging as the most significant global energy resource, and the local economies gradually became dependent on oil rent. The most significant regional development was the formation of the State of Israel and the resulting first major Arab-Israeli war. The United States then assumed the custody of oil, Israel, and the moderate Arab states, as the Soviet Union buttressed the populist and nationalist forces in the region. This was the beginning of ideology‑centered geopolitics in the Middle East.

In this bipolar world, oil rent became a curse, as it led to extreme class divides between a minority super-rich and a majority super-poor, with a small but growing middle class besieged in between. Oil also led to large military and luxury purchases, uneven urbanization and environmental wastes, and growing dictatorship and corruption of the dependent and largely weak states. The Arab‑Israeli conflict exacerbated external interventions and local distresses caused by war and human displacement.

Under these conditions, Arab and Muslim reassertion took the form of several nationalist and populist coups, and a struggle against Israel. However, these movements failed to evict the imperial powers, defeat Israel, or deliver the promise of justice, freedom, and independence sought by the growing middle and working classes. The military defeats and loss of lands to the Jewish state became a source of frustration, anger, and ultimately humiliation. In the face of defeat and despair, a culture of victimization emerged in the Arab World.

Contributing to the humiliation, Orientalism was promoted in Western policy circles, academia, and media, exaggerating and distorting the differences between Arab peoples and cultures and those of the West. Arabs and Muslims were viewed as exotic, backward, uncivilized, and at times dangerous. For many years the thinking of Western scholars was dominated by the idea that Arabs are not ready for democracy, and are indeed even incapable of living under democratic rule. The racism and stereotyping went so far as to claim that there was an “Arab mind” bent on rejectionism, fundamentalism, and terrorism. Cultural demonization complemented the Western economic domination and murderous political humiliation; while Britain was seizing control of Arab oil resources, for example, France was killing a million Algerians.

Worse, Arabs and Muslims were also humiliated by their own corrupt, inept, or ignorant rulers—dictators and populists alike. These rulers, many of whom had been nurtured and supported by outside powers, made the national state their private property, extended their rule to lifelong terms, and limited elite circulation to their immediate families, allies, and stooges. They created oligarchic economies, mismanaged the country, and misappropriated the public budget and wealth.

Middle Eastern rulers, aided by foreign powers, destroyed all nationalist, reformist, and socialist opposition. In Iran, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, supported by the United States and Britain, crippled the nationalist and leftist movements. In the Arab World, the Six-Day War of 1967 ended with Israel’s military defeat of the anti-West camp, including Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, leading to the humiliation of Arab nationalists and the death of pan-Arabism. The U.S. invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 2003 destroyed the last vestiges of Arab nationalism.

Islamist movements, however, survived the efforts of Middle Eastern rulers and their foreign allies to eliminate opposition. In Syria, while then-President Hafez Al-Assad dismantled the Syrian Cultural and Social Forum, which sought a secular, socialist, democratic state, he failed to annihilate the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and its various youth organizations. In 1979, the Muslim Brotherhood’s military wing massacred several hundred Syrian officers near Aleppo, most of whom were members of the minority Alawite religious sect of the Al-Assad family. When cracks began developing in the dictatorships in the late 1970s, only Islamists could quickly emerge and assume leadership. In the Arab World, as well as in Iran and Afghanistan, Islamist forces became radicalized and set the stage for the third wave of Middle East geopolitics.

Refuge in Religion

Across the Islamic World the radicalization of Islamists occurred quite unevenly. Generally speaking, where pre-Islamic civilizations existed, such as in Iran, Turkey, and Egypt, extremism was contained as the humiliated Muslims sought glory in their distant pasts. This was not the case for most Arab Muslims who lacked pre-Islamic civilization. To counter humiliation they took refuge in Islamic teachings and culture. Islamic fundamentalism is perhaps best defined as a desire to return to Islam’s Golden Age, when most other regions of the world, including Europe, were in decline.

During the Golden Age, the Islamic World was ruled by a caliphate, enjoyed political superiority, and made important advances in science and philosophy. Jihadist groups such as ISIS seek a unified Islamic state, a restoration of the caliphate. They view the Western powers and Arab dictators as obstacles to this objective, and are prepared to use violence against them. In a suffocating political environment, and feeling culturally demonized by the West, their quest to return to Islam’s past glory led to a politics of reaction and extremism. Jihadist groups have primarily targeted local authorities and Western powers, whom they see as the perpetrators of their humiliation.

ISIS is inspired by religion, finding an ideological foundation in principles derived from Salafism (a return to original Islam) and Wahhabism (the unity of God). Muhammad Bin Abdul Wahhab was a scholar of the conservative Hanbali school of Islam. He believed that only the Qur’an and the Sunna are the true sources of Islamic law, unlike other schools that accept collective scholarly reasoning (ijma) or individual analogical reasoning (qiyas). While ISIS justifies violence on the basis of narrow religious doctrine, its prime motivation seems essentially political—a drive for territory, resources, trade routes, and human traffic, as well as dignity, identity, independence, and self-preservation. It uses religion to advance a political cause, aimed at reversing humiliation and regaining an idealized past, rather than the other way around.

The conflict with Islamic extremism has no military solution. ISIS is a movement with the political goal of overcoming the humiliation that Muslims have suffered at the hands of foreign powers and local dictators. ISIS draws on religious ideology, nostalgia for a glorious past, deep-rooted societal impairments and psychological outrage against violations of sacred or moral values. As long as the root causes remain, movements like ISIS will feed on them. A case in point is that America’s self-congratulatory killing of Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden did nothing to prevent the rise of ISIS, an Al-Qaeda offshoot, from the ashes.

The challenge posed by Islamic extremism is likely to be complicated by any number of other factors as the Middle East grapples with the third wave of geopolitics. ISIS and other groups will benefit from the coming demise of American global power and the diminishing interest of the United States in the Middle East. The surge in U.S. domestic oil production through shale extraction and other technological means makes the United States less dependent on Persian Gulf oil—a dependency that for decades has been a vital U.S. national interest that justified the projection of military power in the region. America’s bitter and costly experiences in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya make Washington reluctant to remain directly involved in the region. Instead, the Obama doctrine uses drone attacks and airstrikes to fight terrorists, and sells arms to regional states to balance one against the other. American policy also calls for a so-called pivot to Asia, whose growing economies offer opportunities for huge trade deals.

No other major power, whether it be Russia, China, the European Union, or even the United Nations, is willing or able to fill the gap that will be left by America’s retreat. Russia is already involved in supporting the Al-Assad regime in Syria, and seeks to become a bigger player in the Middle East. But neither other Arab states nor Washington welcomes an expanded Russian role.

Perhaps equally disturbing is the fact that no foreign power is willing to acknowledge the causes of rising extremism and embark on a workable solution. Domestic and foreign powers continue with authoritarian and militaristic policies, as witnessed in the violent suppression of the Arab Spring and the purely military approach to dealing with the challenge from ISIS. Military sales and regime security were the main items on the agenda when President Barack Obama hosted leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries at a Camp David summit meeting in May. Rather than more arms sales, the Middle East needs benevolent foreign powers, patriotic leaders, democratic politics, and balanced economic development.

Another complicating factor is the likely emergence of a tripartite struggle for the region as Iranians, Turks, and Arabs seek to revive past glories. Iranians will increasingly turn to chauvinistic Persianism, Turks to jingoistic Ottomanism, and Arabs to intemperate Islamism. Before the Arab uprisings in 2011, Iran and Saudi Arabia were already engaged in a new regional Cold War, with the Saudis aligned with Egypt, Jordan, and the Arab Gulf states, and Iran with Syria as well as with the Palestinian and Lebanese Shia factions, Hamas and Hezbollah. Saudi-Iranian relations further deteriorated into proxy wars amid evolving political crises in Bahrain, Syria, Iraq, and eventually Yemen.

Turkey’s intervention in Syria against the Al-Assad government, in turn, has worsened its already strained relations with Iran. The biggest danger is that their geopolitical rivalry will erupt into a struggle over competing versions of Islam. Turkey’s Sunni government wishes to be a key player in the Islamic World, while the Shia government in Iran is opposed to such a role for Turkey or other Sunni states. Kurdish nationalists may seek to exploit the rivalry in their quest for independence, which in turn would threaten the territorial integrity of both Turkey and Iran. The tripartite struggle poses a greater risk of chaos in the region than the existing Sunni-Shia split, with its potential to fuel discord among Sunnis and widen the gulf between extremist and moderate Muslims.

As old conflicts continue and new ones emerge, they may assume troubling new dimensions. Domestic turmoil will increasingly pit the younger generation of the educated middle class against the authoritarian state, relations between the poor and the rich will become more antagonistic, and secular and religious forces will become estranged. As states begin to fail, regimes will call foreign powers to the rescue, a move that will further complicate domestic politics in the region. A new era of foreign intervention carries the risk of greater destabilization, as the crisis in Syria illustrates.

The Way Forward

The new geopolitics of the Middle East will be characterized by failed states, political chaos, popular revolt, religious extremism, inter-state conflict, foreign rivalries, and military interventions. Countries of the region will be left plundered, their social systems twisted and dehumanized, their environments ruined, their cities and towns vacated by citizens migrating to safer places. In such a dark scenario, a condition of despair will prevail and extremist groups and their rivals, struggling for self-preservation, will scar the Middle Eastern landscape.

The trajectory of these disastrous developments can and must change. The causes of the Middle East catastrophe must be fully understood and addressed. Autocratic rulers and foreign powers must bear responsibility. For too long they have worked, whether together or in opposition, to suppress popular demands for political reform, ruin economies, provoke regional conflict, and humiliate beleaguered populations. Ideologies, religion in particular, have promoted obliviousness and intolerance; they and their institutions must be reformed or else replaced by new drivers of change, namely the young generations.

At the global level, the international community must come together in supporting the end of dictatorship, corruption, and monopolistic practices in favor of democratic rule, transparency, and a free market system. Foreign powers must reduce their negative interference, including arming dictatorial regimes, in favor of positive mediation and coalition building. They must openly advocate political and economic reforms and provide practical and peaceful support, logistical and financial, for nationalist and democratic forces.

They must also refrain from coercive diplomacy in favor of engagement, advancing economic cooperation, protecting regional environments, and promoting sustainable democratic development.  A strengthened UN role in democratic change and economic development à la the Marshall Plan, focused on the middle class and the working people, may be required. Other international organizations should also become involved in the promotion of democracy in the region. Connecting economies of these countries to the global economy will diminish Islamic extremism. International NGOs can play a more active part in strengthening democratic institutions.

At the regional level, there must be concrete attempts to reform failed regimes or force them into retirement in favor of new democratic leaderships. The Arab Spring and the earlier Green Movement in Iran failed because democratic and nationalist forces are too weak to stand on their own. Such movements need unconditional outside support and the development of domestic fronts. All states in the region must be encouraged to become legitimate, sovereign, and cooperative.

At the national level, multiple reforms must be instituted from the top and secured by public participation at the bottom. These should include democratizing local politics, developing the economy, leveling income distribution, mitigating poverty, eliminating repressive social restrictions on youth and women, and protecting religious and ethnic minorities. Without courageous steps, the future is bleak for the peoples of the Middle East.

Finally, while authorities at the international, regional and national levels have a responsibility to effect significant positive changes in the objective (economic and political) conditions of the Muslim and Arab masses, the scholarly and journalistic communities must also help alter their subjective (identity and culture) conditions that are so badly demonized and damaged by Orientalism and racism. These terrible ideologies must be dispelled if Muslims and Arabs are to regain dignity. Unless dignity is returned to these communities, there will be no way forward to a better Middle East.

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Pope Francis and President Abbas (Palestine)

Pope Francis and President Abbas (Palestine)

I am grateful for the many responses which I have begun to receive. I appreciate your interest in this website and I will do my best to furnish you with some background on the news of what is happening  in Dialogue among Jews, Christians and Muslims. My purpose again has been to try and identify some “common ground” for dialogue across the spectrum of religion, philosophy, politics, economics, globalization and statecraft in the Middle East. I am just finishing a fascinating book by Henry Kissinger, World Order, on the state of world conflicts today. Since I posted a UN report last month on countries which recognize Palestine, Pope Francis and the Vatican has just joined that list of countries. Today’s news reports indicate that Tony Blair (former Prime Minister of England) has resigned his position as special deputy of the “Quartet” of major nations (United Nations, US, European Union and Russia) which has been trying to move along a peace process between Israelis and Palestinians without much success for the past eight years. There has been a lot that has been happening (most of it bad) in Israel and the Middle East in recent weeks with the growing victories of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The columnist and author Tom Friedman has been helpful to me in understanding the interplay between Palestinians, Jews and the Arab world – especially in the past twenty five years. I offer his most recent column as his summary of how he currently views current events in Israel and the Middle East. A realist would say that things are going from bad to worse. A believer holds that “with God, all things are possible” and that out of our current storms will come a new day of light and peace. We carry on in the hope that reason will triumph and that religion may be used, not as a weapon of war, but as a vision of peace and unity of the children of Abraham.

Tony Blair and Benjamin Netanyahu (PM of Israel)

Tony Blair and Benjamin Netanyahu (PM of Israel)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contain and Amplify

MAY 27, 2015

Thomas L. Friedman

(NY Times)

The Arab world is a pluralistic region that lacks pluralism — the ability to manage and embrace differences peacefully. As such, the Middle East’s pluralistic character — Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds, Christians, Druze, Alawites, Jews, Copts, Yazidis, Turkmen and an array of tribes — has long been managed by iron fists from above. But after we removed the fists in Iraq and Libya, without putting a new bottom-up order in place, and the people themselves tried to remove the fists in Syria and Yemen, without putting a new live-and-let-live order in place, a horrifying war of all against all has exploded.

The fighting has laid bare just how much the last 60 years of predatory leadership in that region failed at human development and citizenship building. The whole Arab world package, with its artificially straight-line borders, was held together by oil and brute force. In the wreckage, people are falling back on the only identities they think might keep them safe: tribe and sect. It is a measure of how far things have unraveled that many Iraqi Sunnis prefer the lunatic Islamic State, or ISIS, than to fight and die for a pro-Iranian Shiite-led government in Baghdad. I have never seen it this bad. The Middle East analyst Simon Henderson captured the disintegration well in an essay in The Wall Street Journal in March, writing, “The violent chaos in Yemen isn’t orderly enough to merit being called a civil war.”

The fundamentalist mind-set seems to be taking hold everywhere. The Middle East Media Research Institute recently posted a video from last month of Sheikh Dr. Ahmad Al-Naqib, a lecturer on education at Mansoura University north of Cairo, criticizing ISIS, but he added, “There is no doubt that they are much better than the criminal Rafidites [Shiites], who kill the Sunnis because of their Sunni identity.”

Otto Scharmer, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who works with communities trapped in perpetual conflicts, defines the main features of the fundamentalist mind-set by its opposites: What is the opposite of an open mind? he asks. “You are stuck in one truth.” What is the opposite of an open heart? “You are stuck in one collective skin; everything is us-versus-them and, therefore, empathy for the other is impossible.” And what is the opposite of an open will? “You are enslaved to old intentions that originate in the past and not from the present, and so you cannot open up to any emerging new opportunities.”

If that zero-sum mind-set continues to prevail, you can only weep for the future of this region when there is much less oil, many more kids, and much less water. It will be a freak show.

For now, I see only two ways coherent self-government can re-emerge in Libya, Iraq, Yemen and Syria: If an outside power totally occupies them, snuffs out their sectarian wars, suppresses the extremists and spends the next 50 years trying to get Iraqis, Syrians, Yemenis and Libyans to share power as equal citizens. Even that might not work. Anyway, it’s not going to happen. The other is just wait for the fires to burn themselves out. The Lebanese civil war ended after 14 years by reconciliation-through-exhaustion. All sides accepted the principle of “no victor/no vanquished,” and everyone got a piece of the pie. That’s how Tunisia’s factions managed to find stability: no victor/no vanquished.

We cannot effectively intervene in a region where so few share our goals. For instance, in Iraq and Syria, both Iran and Saudi Arabia have acted as “arsonists” and “firefighters.” First, Iran pushed the Iraqi Shiite government to crush the Sunnis. When that produced ISIS, they sent pro-Iranian militias to put out the fire. Thanks a lot. And Saudi Arabia’s long promotion of the puritanical, anti-pluralistic, anti-women, Wahhabi brand of Islam helped to shape the thinking of ISIS and the Sunni fundamentalists who joined them. The Saudis, too, are arsonists and firefighters. Indeed, ISIS is like a missile that got its guidance system from Saudi Arabia and its fuel from Iran.

U.S. policy now should be “containment, plus amplification.” Let’s help those who manifest the will to contain ISIS, like Jordan, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates and the Kurds in Iraq, and amplify any constructive things that groups in Yemen, Iraq, Libya, or Syria are ready to do with their power, but we must not substitute our power for theirs. This has to be their fight for their future. If the fight against ISIS is not worth it to them, it surely can’t be for us.

I was behind a car this weekend that had a Virginia license plate bearing the motto “Fight Terrorism.” Sorry, but I don’t think that should be on any state’s license plate. We’ve spent more than a decade of lives and treasure trying to “fight terrorism” to fix a part of the world that can’t be fixed from the outside. It has been a waste. I wish it had worked. The world would be better for it. But it didn’t. And the beginning of wisdom is admitting that and stopping throwing good money after bad. We need to stop being the “United States of Fighting Terrorism.” If Virginians need a license plate motto, how about: “Contain and Amplify Abroad. Build Virginia at Home.”

ISIS IN IRAQ

Isis in Iraq

Has the World’s Rush to Recognize Palestine come too Late?

 Apr. 10, 2015 |

By Joseph Chamie

UNITED NATIONS (IPS) – The large majority of countries, and most of the people in the world, already recognise Palestine as an independent state.

Among the member states of the United Nations, for example, 135 countries – representing about 82 percent of world population – officially recognise Palestine as an independent state versus 50 countries that do not recognise the Palestinian state.

Large majorities of countries throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America recognise the state of Palestine, including Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan and South Africa.In addition, the European nations that have officially given diplomatic recognition to the Palestinian state include Albania, Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Georgia, Hungary, Iceland, Malta, Poland, Romania, Russia Federation, Slovakia, Sweden and Ukraine.

Palestine-Overtime-Figure-1-1 In addition to Israel, key countries that do not recognise Palestine as an independent nation include France, United Kingdom, the United States – each with a veto in the U.N. Security Council – as well as Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Republic of Korea, Spain and Switzerland. Even with the international community’s considerable resources, numerous pronouncements and stated desires to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, few are optimistic that the two-state solution is achievable in the near term.

 

Source: Author’s calculations based on official data

 

The general position of these countries is that the recognition of an independent Palestinian state can only be achieved from direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. However, due to frustration over stalled peace talks many of the countries whose governments do not currently recognise the Palestinian state are encountering initiatives and pressures from parliaments and the general public to modify their policies.

In Europe, for example, the parliaments of Belgium, Britain, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spain have passed non-binding advisory resolutions recommending their respective governments recognise the state of Palestine. Also, the European Parliament adopted a resolution supporting Palestinian statehood in principle. A recent German survey has also reported that a broad majority of German citizens are in favour of their governments’ recognition of a Palestinian state. The study found that 71 percent supported the German government’s recognition of a Palestinian state, with 15 percent rejecting it, and 14 percent abstaining.

Also, a multi-country survey done several years ago found that more people backed recognition of Palestine as an independent state than opposed it. Across the 19 countries survey, 49 percent supported the proposal while 21 percent said their government should oppose recognition of a Palestinian state.

In the United States public opinion regarding Palestinian statehood has fluctuated considerably over time. As recently as 2012, a majority of the American public, 51 percent, supported the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with 37 opposing it and 12 percent having no opinion.

A survey of Americans in March 2015 reported that 39 percent are in support, 36 percent in opposition and 25 percent with no opinion concerning the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Among both Israelis and Palestinians views on Palestinian statehood vary depending on the specifics of the survey question and when it was posed. Less than two years ago, the majority of both Israelis and Palestinians, 63 and 53 percent, respectively, supported a peace agreement based on the general notion of a two-state solution.

However, when details of the two-state solution are spelled out regarding such contentious issues as territorial compromise, settlement evacuation and dividing Jerusalem, support collapses. Approximately three-quarters of Jewish Israelis recently polled, for example, opposed the establishment of a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 borders.

Similarly, following the disappointing failure of recent U.S.-mediated peace talks, a poll of Palestinians found about one-third expressed support for a two-state solution.

In addition to the collapse of the U.S.-mediated Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, an important element influencing this possible shift in the policies of countries that do not recognise Palestine is the election campaign statement made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that caused an international uproar. Although he subsequently toned down his remark, the Israeli prime minister pledged prior to the Israeli election that a Palestinian state would not be established on his watch.

Awaiting the formation of the next Israeli government, the United States, key members of the European Union and several other countries have stated that they are reassessing aspects of their relations with Israel. For some of those governments, those reassessments could include recognition of Palestinian statehood. Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg indicated, for example, that in the wake of Netanyahu’s apparent refusal to back a two-state solution, the world, including the British Parliament, would have no option, inevitably, but to recognise a Palestinian state.

While the Obama administration continues to believe that the two-state solution is the best way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is unlikely to recognise a Palestinian state any time soon. The U.S. administration may not object, however, to a draft resolution on an Israeli-Palestinian peace framework that has been informally circulated in the U.N. Security Council. France’s foreign minister Laurent Fabius indicated recently that his country along with its allies intend to propose a U.N. Security Council resolution in the coming weeks that could present a framework for negotiations toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The proposal is expected to stress the right of both peoples to live in their respective nation-states and declare that the conflict must end through negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.

An earlier informal draft resolution, which was circulated in late 2014 and penned by France, pushes for a lasting, comprehensive peaceful two-state solution. Essentially it aims to achieve two independent, democratic and prosperous states, Israel and a sovereign, contiguous and viable State of Palestine living side by side in peace and security within mutually and internationally recognised borders, no later than 24 months after the resolution’s adoption.

The key elements of the draft framework for the negotiated two-state solution are to be based on: (a) the borders on 4 June 1967 with mutually agreed limited land swaps: (b) security agreements that respect sovereignty of a non-militarized Palestinian state, with a full phased withdrawal of Israeli forces; (c) an agreed, just and realistic solution to the refugee question; (d) Jerusalem as the shared capital of the Israel and Palestine; and (e) agreed settlement of other outstanding issues, including water.

If the U.N. Security Council adopts the French draft resolution, which will require the U.S. not to exercise its veto, an international peace conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to be convened. This event is then to be followed with France and its other European allies recognising an independent Palestinian state built principally on the 1967 borders.

Achieving a two-state solution today has become considerably more complicated logistically than when originally proposed by the U.N. in 1947 due to changing demographics.

For example, when U.N. Resolution 181 divided Mandatory Palestine into two states, one Jewish and other Arab, their respective populations were approximately one-tenth their current sizes, each less than 0.9 million. Today the Israeli population has grown to 8.3 million and the Palestinian population in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip stands at about 4.5 million, with more than 5 million additional Palestinians residing in neighbouring countries.

Even with the international community’s considerable resources, numerous pronouncements and stated desires to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, few are optimistic that the two-state solution is achievable in the near term.

Many, especially Israelis and Palestinians, have concluded that the two-state solution is no longer practical, with the chances of achieving a two-state solution in the next five years being slim or non-existent and the one-state solution becoming increasingly the de facto reality.

It seems abundantly clear that the various peace initiatives to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the past 40 years have not achieved the desired goal. With most of the world now recognising the state of Palestine, the world’s major powers need to resolve this nearly 70-year conflict and bring about a lasting peace for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Joseph Chamie is a former Director of the United Nations Population Division.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

 

I include this article on my website because in the wake of the terrorist killings in France and its aftermath, there has been talk of many French Jews moving to Israel. The authors explore Jewish identity, its relationship to nationality and the process of Israel recognizing Jews for the Law of Return. The graph at the end of the article also demonstrates the rising population of Jews in the US (almost equal to Israel) and the declining rate in Europe.

Jewishness

Who is a Jew?

 Competing answers to an increasingly pressing question

Jan 11th 2014 | JERUSALEM, LONDON AND NEW YORK | The Economist

ItamarSLIGHT, bespectacled and friendly, Rabbi Itamar Tubul makes an unlikely frontiersman. But his colleague Ziv Maor, a spokesman for Israel’s chief rabbinate, argues that as head of the department of personal status and conversions, Rabbi Tubul plays as big a role in protecting the state as the Israel Defence Forces. On his desk in Jerusalem lie the testimony of a rabbi in Finland and a ketubah (marriage certificate) from Germany. Rabbi Tubul’s job is to determine whether the subjects of these documents, and many others, are Jewish.

Who is a Jew? This question is becoming ever more pressing for Jews around the world. It looks like a religious issue, but is bound up with history, Israeli politics and the rhythms of the diaspora. Addressing it means deciding whether assimilation is a mortal threat, as many Jews think, or a phenomenon to be accommodated. The struggle over the answer will shape Israel’s society, its relations with Jews elsewhere, and the size and complexion of the global Jewish community.

For Orthodox Jews like Rabbi Tubul, the solution is simple and ancient: you are a Jew if your mother is Jewish, or if your conversion to Judaism accorded with the Halacha, Jewish religious law. Gentiles might be surprised that for Jews by birth this traditional test makes no reference to faith or behaviour. Jews may be atheist (many are: apostasy is a venerable Jewish tradition) and still Jews. Joel Roth, a Conservative rabbi at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, likens this nativist criterion to that for American citizenship: Americans retain it regardless of their views on democracy or the constitution. Some strict rabbis even think that a child is not Jewish if born to a devout mother but from a donated gentile egg.

As some Jewish leaders privately acknowledge, this formula has uncomfortable racial undertones. Their response is that it causes no harm to others. Perhaps, but in the secular world it can be awkward. A few years ago, for example, state-funded Jewish schools in Britain were obliged to change their admissions codes after they were judged to have violated the Race Relations Act. And the halachic rules are increasingly troubling to Jews themselves.

For many Israelis, the rabbis are the problem. In a concession designed to widen support for the new state, when Israel was founded its secular rulers left matters of marriage, divorce and burial in the rabbinate’s hands. It decides who is eligible for these rites, as well as carrying them out—so would-be brides and grooms must demonstrate their Jewish credentials. Supplying the necessary documents and witnesses can be inconvenient and galling: people resent having to prove what they know to be true. Immigration has made the system seem not just irksome but unsustainable.

For example, the Ethiopian Jews who migrated to Israel in the 1980s-90s, risking their lives and losing relatives along the way, have faced persistent doubts as to whether they are properly Jewish in doctrine and descent. “I feel that I’m the Jew I want to be,” protests Fentahun Assefa-Dawit of Tebeka, an advocacy group for the 130,000-strong community. “I don’t want anyone to tell me how to be Jewish.” Western migrants, too, are sometimes doubted. The rabbinate considers some American rabbis too lax to vouch for their congregants and rejects their testimonies; it deems many overseas conversions inadequate. Many Israelis worry about the impact of such disdain on the diaspora’s political and financial backing for their state.

Israel’s time bomb

The biggest problem comes from the clashing consequences of two great ruptures in 20th-century history: the Holocaust and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Under Israel’s Law of Return, anyone who has, or whose spouse has, at least one Jewish grandparent can claim citizenship—a standard expressly modelled on the criteria for persecution under the Nazis’ Nuremberg laws of 1935. The Law of Return also recognises conversions that the rabbinate rejects. The wave of immigration from Russia in the past two decades means the discrepancy between these two standards has become glaring.

There are now several hundred thousand ex-Soviet Israelis who were Jewish enough to get in, but are not Jewish enough for the rabbis. Most are put off by the length and intellectual demands of the halachic conversion process (it doesn’t help that finished conversions are sometimes annulled for violations of Sabbath or other religious rules). Since Israel offers them no civil marriage ceremony, these Israelis and their partners go abroad to marry (as do some couples who prefer to avoid the synagogues). The population is beginning to divide into three parts: halachic Jews and Arabs, but also “others”. This tripartite split, says Yedidia Stern, a jurist at the Israel Democracy Institute, a think-tank, “is a time bomb”.

Some Israelis want to keep immigrants in the fold by making conversion easier. The response of liberals such as Ruth Calderon, a member of the Knesset for the centrist Yesh Atid party, is to try to pry apart synagogue and state. As a first step she has co-sponsored a bill that would make civil union an alternative to religious marriage. Ms Calderon, who has a PhD in the Talmud (a central Jewish text), wants to reclaim the oversight of Jewishness from the rabbis. Politicians like her, she says, are no longer willing to trade the right to pronounce on it for the votes of right-wingers in Israel’s fractured parliament.

The long-term choice for Israelis appears stark: between a different model of Jewishness or a different kind of Jewish state—in which intermarriage, hitherto regarded by Israelis as a diaspora woe, becomes, in a peculiar and unexpected way, a worry for them as well.

The fraying diaspora

In the diaspora, too, history has reframed the question of who counts as a Jew. In much of eastern Europe, communist strictures made worship perilous and observance lapsed. Even circumcision was discouraged. By the time the system imploded, lots of Jews had forgotten much of their heritage. Yet they still think of themselves as Jews.

In the West, freedom has opened its own gap between history and Halacha. The Pew Research Centre recently surveyed American Jews, who account for almost half the global total (see chart). The responses confirm that Jewishness is not thought to consist mostly in belief: 22% of American Jews described themselves as having no religion (swap “Christians” for “Jews” and the statistic becomes nonsensical). Even among the avowedly religious, two-thirds did not think it necessary to believe in God to qualify. To widespread communal alarm, Pew also found that intermarriage has rocketed and now predominates among the young. Excluding the Orthodox (about a tenth of the American total), 72% of Jews who wed since 2000 married “out”.

Hardly surprising, then, that some American rabbis are rethinking their definitions. Since 1983 the Reform movement has recognised the children of Jewish fathers—but, as for other progressive movements, blood is not enough. “Jewishness can’t only be an accident [of birth],” says Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism. For some, the extra ingredient is faith: ironically, whereas Orthodox notions of Jewishness ignore belief, more liberal denominations include it. For others, Jewishness is broader than either faith or lineage.

Rabbi Andy Bachman of Congregation Beth Elohim, a lively and ecumenical synagogue in Brooklyn, New York, argues that “an exclusive definition of Jews as a faith is a goyishe [gentile] construct”—an effort to fit the Jewish people into a recognisable gentile category. Attachment to Jewish history and culture also suffice, he thinks. In this dispensation, gentile spouses and converts are welcomed. The biblical story of Ruth, a gentile who took on her Israelite in-laws’ religion, is a favourite parable.

Rising intermarriage is also a fact of Jewish life in Australia, Canada, France and Britain, hosts of four of the world’s other main Jewish populations. Historically the British community has been smaller, quieter and more ossified than America’s; it has shrunk since the 1950s because of ageing and integration. But its mood is changing. Take JW3, a stylish new community centre in north London. For a Jewish institution in Britain, the building is “out, loud and proud”, as Raymond Simonson, its boss, puts it, with the word “Jewish” unusually conspicuous on the façade.

Mr Simonson eschews doctrinal disputes. JW3’s aim, he says, is to let visitors feel as Jewish as they want to be, regardless of their background: “We’re not asking you to unzip your flies or show us your mother’s ketubah.” One of its adult-education courses, designed in part for gentile spouses, is called “The Accidental Jew”. Cooking and the arts feature prominently. “I’m not saying you can sustain a whole Jewish identity by listening to Amy Winehouse or Neil Diamond,” Mr Simonson says, but they are one possible “entry point” to Jewishness, along with the Talmud, Israel and Jewish history.

 Two futures, two more questions

Opposed though the innovators and hardliners seem, they share a basic aim: to ensure Jewish continuity. Mr Maor, of the rabbinate, says: “Our job is to fight assimilation, which has been the great enemy of Judaism for 2,000 years.” For liberals, the fraying of diaspora communities makes the old strictures anachronistic. For halachic sticklers, it shows that the liberal approach has already failed.

ketubah

The ketubah: beautiful and powerful

These two attitudes imply very different futures. In one the Orthodox, with their strong retention and very high birth rates, will represent a rising share of the Jewish population (in Britain the haredim, or ultra-Orthodox, are thought to account for 40% of Jewish births). They will be increasingly segregated from the less observant, who will gradually drift away, meaning total numbers will stagnate or fall. The bonds between Israel and the diaspora could weaken. In the other scenario, Jews become more pluralistic and mutually tolerant, finding room for those whose Jewish identity wavers over the course of their lives, as these days identities tend to.

Thus following from “Who is a Jew?” is a second, equally charged question: in the future, how many Jews will there be? And a third: what is a Jew? For some, Jews are adherents of an ancient faith, with a quirky biological qualification. For others, they are something less formal: members of a dispersed civilisation distinguished by an ethical tradition and interrogatory cast of mind; by a legacy of persecution and tragic worldview (and the sense of humour that is its inverse); by certain tastes in food and culture.

For Yossie Beilin, a former Israeli minister, Jews are an extended family. He would like membership to depend on neither blood nor belief, but desire to belong. “It’s a sad joke”, he says, “that after the Holocaust we are telling people who feel Jewish that they are not.” He thinks this family should offer a purely secular conversion ceremony (“I do not want to disturb God, She has so many other things to do”). Many Jews don’t believe, he reasons, so why must converts? Mr Beilin is an outlier, but perhaps not forever.

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