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.”



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)


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.


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

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.


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.


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.







Tariq Ramadan – Essays on Society 3/5, December 30, 2014


Having raised these initial philosophical questions (about being), we come to the second circle on the paradoxical road that leads to freedom. What can thinking about freedom and society mean, if society does not guarantee me the preconditions for my humanity?





freedom:powerAt the halfway point between a sociological approach and a philosophical study, we must begin by formulating these simple but essential truths: there can be no freedom and no power unless the human need for basic necessities has been satisfied. Like the projections inspired by Montaigne’s myth of the ‘noble savage’, the stories of Hayy and Robinson Crusoe abound in implicit a prioris about the status of man. In his state of nature, man eats, drinks and satisfies his elementary needs, and that allows him to move to the higher stage of asking philosophical questions. By satisfying his physical needs, the environment frees the individual from the first objective causalities that inevitably determine human behaviour. Now what seems to be taken for granted in the state of nature (and it is clearly absent from the reflections of too many philosophers) has never been a day-to-day, objective reality for millions of people throughout history and all over the contemporary world. Poverty, want and injustice in societies sometimes force human beings to regress to a status that is even lower than that of the noble ‘savage’.

freedom:povertyBefore looking into our freedom to act and think, we should therefore look at the world and respond to the priorities of our times. At the human and physiological level, the first freedom is the freedom we acquire once we have satisfied our elementary natural needs: being able to eat and drink, having the wherewithal to protect ourselves against the threats posed by the environment, and sexual fulfilment are sine qua non preconditions for access to even the idea of freedom. Depriving human beings of their elementary rights and powers actually means leaving them to the mercies of the things that will determine them, take over their entire being and imprison them before they have even achieved human status: they are individuals without any real freedom, and the ‘freedoms’ their thoughts and imaginations may enjoy make no difference. A human society that does not provide its members with that minimum deprives them of their rights, their dignity and their humanity. Billions of individuals are now in that position.

As we start off down our circular path in search of ‘freedom’, it is here that we encounter the first stumbling block, the first real, palpable and crude obstacle that stands is our way: to speak of freedom in the midst of poverty is like philosophizing about humanity in the midst of the inhuman. And here, the social sciences call philosophy to order, and that is how we should read and understand the philosophico-political, economic and sociological reflections that punctuated the nineteenth century in the West: frenzied industrialization, growing poverty, a deepening gulf between classes, and a feeling that systems of production and society in general were being dehumanized. The utopian socialism of Fourier, Owen and Proudhon, the scientific socialism of Marx and Engels and even the thought of the anarchist Bakunin were primarily responses to these brute and brutal social and economic realities. The preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights alludes to these realities because they influence all our attempts to promote rights, freedoms and peace.

When human reason has at last been freed from the constraints of instincts, bodily needs and its own survival, it discovers the world, discovers itself and seeks to understand. The natural aspiration, desire and need to learn and understand are some of the most immediate attributes of the human consciousness. Interacting with the environment and other humans, discussing and pondering the self and others, and mastering the elementary principles of natural causality are the first spheres of the education that, once the need for prime necessities has been met, develop and complete man’s humanity. educationWhilst the first precondition for freedom has to do with guaranteeing men the right to satisfy their vital needs, the second is education, which determines the very essence of that freedom at the intellectual and psychological level. Education means giving individuals the tools they need if their minds, being and individuality are to be autonomous; this is not simply a matter of acknowledging the power of their will, but of becoming its agent. Education is what allows human beings to become the true ‘subject’ of freedom. It is a necessity, and it is a right. Extending and going beyond his reflections on the state of nature, Rousseau is inspired, in the idealist project of Emile, or, On Education, by this basic intuition: education is the essence of social man’s humanity and a precondition for his autonomy and freedom among his fellow men.

human rightsWe then have to introduce the notion of inalienable rights. As we have said, a society that denies the elementary needs of human beings and that does not guarantee them a minimal education dehumanizes them. And if, incidentally, it does not allow them to make use of their freedom of conscience, thought, expression and action, it imprisons them. Common laws and an acceptance – willing or not – of the constraints that are needed if we are to live in a society nevertheless presuppose the establishment of principles that ensure that no individual – man or woman – can be deprived of his or her status as a rational and autonomous subject. At this point, and as we noted at the beginning of this chapter, laws allow us, conversely, to determine the extent of the freedoms that are granted to the individual and the community. Individual and civil freedoms are so many rights that human communities must defend: by allowing individuals to fulfil all the potential of their being, they grant them powers relating to their humanity and their status as subjects, or as human beings who know that they exist, that they are free and that they are not alone. That is the meaning of Rousseau’s formula: ‘One person’s freedom ends where another’s begins.’ Its spirit is already present in the oldest philosophies of law, from the Twelve Tables of Roman law (inspired by Greek practice), which recognize the rights of plebs, to medieval Jewish juridical traditions (and especially Maimonides) and medieval Islamic traditions (which made a distinction between the rights of God and the rights of men towards each other as early as the eighth century). Despite their differences of opinion about God, reason and faith, Thomas Aquinas and the medieval philosopher Duns Scotus extend and elaborate this line of thinking in the Christian world, with particular reference to the rationality and meaning of the contractual relationship.

lawEven before we turn to philosophies of being, freedom and responsibility, the equation is very clear: any society that does not guarantee the conditions for the survival and life of all, education for all and the rule of law to defend individual freedoms (in the handling of interpersonal relationships) is a society that fails to respect basic human rights. It deprives its members of their potential and their powers, and, at best, encourages their illusions as to the immensity of the power offered by the virtuality of their will, their dreams and their imagination.

Tariq Ramadan is a Swiss academic and writer of Egyptian origin. He is also a Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies in the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Oxford University. He also teaches at the Oxford Faculty of Theology.

The Paris attackers hijacked Islam but there is no war between Islam and the west

Tariq Ramadan

The Guardian UK          January 9, 2015

France faces difficult days ahead, but let’s not hand the extremists a victory they could not achieve for themselves

The attack on Charlie Hebdo compels us to be clear and to be consistent. We have to condemn what happened in Paris absolutely. I said the same after 7/7 and after 9/11. And after Jordan and Bali and Mali.

It is particularly important to be clear about where we stand, for the attackers said things that cannot be allowed to go unchallenged. They said they were avenging the prophet. That was wrong. In fact, it is the message of Islam, our principles and values, that have been betrayed and tainted. They refer to Islam to justify what they did. From a religious viewpoint, I feel it is my responsibility to say that this has nothing to do with the message of our religion. I would expect anyone, if something was happening in the name of their country or in the name of their religion, to take a stand. As a Muslim scholar I have to take that stand.

That said, there is also a wider political side to this equation. We condemn what happened in France. We condemn the violent extremism that is targeting westerners. But it is not only westerners. We are reacting emotionally because 12 people were killed in Paris, but there are hundreds being killed day in, day out in Syria and Iraq, and still we send more bombs. We have to look at the big picture. Lives matter, but it is important to be clear that the lives of Muslims in Muslim majority countries have as much value as our own lives in the west.

What happened this week is a tragedy heightened by familiarity, for I met the cartoonist Charb (Stéphane Charbonnier), the editor of Charlie Hebdo, who was among those killed on Wednesday. We had a debate in which I told him that I respected his freedom to say whatever he wanted to say, and that there was no justification for any kind of censorship.

But I also told him that he had to be clear about the way he was using that right. In 2008 his magazine fired a cartoonist who made a joke about a Jewish link to President Sarkozy’s son. Where was the freedom of expression there, I asked the satirical magazine. I was told that when it comes to freedom of expression that there are limits, not everything can be said. The double standard is troubling, to say the least.

I am shocked that something as terrible as this has happened to Charb and his colleagues, but less surprised that there was a backlash against them. There had been controversy concerning Charlie Hebdo on an almost six-monthly basis, and lots of threats. To have a sense of humour is fine, I told them, but to target an already stigmatised people in France is not really showing much courage.

The shootings have been described as an act of war. I can understand why some might characterise it that way. But they are wrong to do so, for isn’t this exactly what the violent extremists such as Da’esh, so-called Islamic State, want? They want to say the west is at war with Islam, but if we are to take the action of marginal groups and use that as evidence that there is a war between Islam and the west, aren’t we merely falling into a trap?

George Bush fell into that very trap immediately after 9/11 by calling it the war on terror, but actually he promoted it with his rhetoric. The most we can reasonably say now is that we are at war with violent extremists, wherever they are coming from. But why play that game at all? Let’s be specific: these are criminals exploiting Islam. The great majority of the victims are actually Muslim.

There are tensions in many countries, but things have been very difficult of late in France. Two recently published books reflect the atmosphere: very negative and very demoralising. The French Suicide by Eric Zemmour expresses the fear that millions of Muslims might be colonising and transforming the country (he is hoping they will be helped to leave), and Michel Houellebecq’s novel Submission, which predicts that in 2022 an Islamic party will take over France. Three years ago, Houellebecq said Islam was the most stupid religion in the world.

In the UK, in terms of daily life, the situation is better. There isn’t that feeling of permanent stigmatisation in the discourse as happens in France. But even so, things feel as if they are changing for the worse. It is no accident that Ukip has been on the rise, and in such a climate one feels the public discourse changing. There are parties happy to target migrants and to target Muslims. It’s a drift we have to stop, for in my view we actually have a shared responsibility. Politicians, intellectuals, journalists, Muslims and people of other faiths (or none) must be clear and united about our common principles. We need politicians with more on their minds than winning the next election.

One sees difficult days ahead as yesterday’s dramatic events in France showed; and there is the issue of media organisations intent on publishing the most offensive Charlie Hebdo cartoons, claiming that it would strike a blow for free speech. I support free speech, but I would urge them to desist, for what they plan to do is not courageous and will do nothing to afford people dignity. It will be another example of targeting all Muslims. It would say that if our fellow Muslim citizens are not part of the equation, we will target not the extremists – but Islam itself. It would hand the extremists a victory they could scarcely have achieved for themselves.


Pope Francis, President Recep Erdogan

Pope Francis, President Recep Erdogan

Istanbul, dubbed “The City” for centuries by many civilizations, one of the capitals of Christianity and the last capital of Islam, and the blessed home of many holy relics of the Prophet Mohammad, will be hosting this weekend the leader of the Catholic Church.

As a Turk, I am delighted that Pope Francis is visiting my country. I don’t think I am alone in this feeling: most Turks and Muslims feel deeply honored to receive the leader of the world’s billion Catholics. Why? Turkey is an ancient civilization, a pluralist society and a modern, Muslim-majority country that will treasure this public dialogue with the pope. This, we hope, is only the beginning.

We hope that the visit marks the beginning of deeper ties between Turkey, which has been at the heart of Islam for centuries, with the Holy Roman Catholic Church.

There is much more work to be done. We hope that the visit marks the beginning of deeper ties between Turkey, which has been at the heart of Islam for centuries, with the Holy Roman Catholic Church. Together, we can drive forward an agenda of change and progress between Christians and Muslims at a global level. There are areas that require our urgent attention and we would ignore these at our peril.

Religious rethink

First, centuries of corrosive human thought have crept into the theology and observation of both our religious traditions. The Catholic Church is in need of re-evaluation, as is contemporary Muslim discourse. From gender equality to secularism to re-interpreting scripture free of bigoted approaches to eradicating terrorism, there is a raft of issues on which we need to co-operate much more closely through high-level meetings, but the implementation of change would be through our respective global networks.

Atheist extremism

Second, religion and religious communities face a renewed onslaught from a new, militant atheism and Darwinism. From Dawkins to Sam Harris to even populist American comedians such as Bill Maher now have a free license to attack and denigrate the most sacred elements of what is most cherished to us: our faith. It is rightly unacceptable to insult black people for their skin color, but we believers and our way of life is open season for extremist atheists. As Catholics and Muslims, we need to respond intelligently and compassionately to this new line of atheist extremism.

Christians of the Near East

Pope Francis, Patriarch Bartholomew

Pope Francis, Patriarch Bartholomew

Third, the plight of Christians in the Middle East is lamentable. The pope sought to draw attention to Turkey as a country, home to 120,000 Christians (not counting the thousands of Christian refugees), and the headquarters of the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople by visiting Istanbul. The AKP government of then Prime Minister Erdoğan passed laws to return previously confiscated state property to Christians and allow Christians religious classes in schools. In the history of the Turkish republic, churches and synagogues were only repaired during the center-right AKP government. Our Arab and Iranian neighbors must learn from this example. But we need to highlight this and other examples of religious freedom for Muslim-majority countries so that Christians can live freely in the lands of the prophets.


Fourth, rising levels of anti-Muslim sentiment across Europe are deep causes for concern. Is Islamophobia the new anti-Semitism? Europe has a dark history of persecution and intolerance of religious communities. Together with Turkey, and its pluralist form of Islam, we can help steer Europe’s Muslims away from more hard-line interpretations that are currently popular, which in turn feed the frenzy of far-right groups that mobilize against banning veils and mosque minarets. The model of Islam practiced in Turkey is in majority compatible with European values, modern, and authentic. We have something that is desperately needed in Europe.

EU membership

Fifth, the strongest message that Europe can send to its 30 million Muslims that the continent is a home to pluralism, and not an exclusively Christian club, is to stop the obstruction and admit Turkey into the European Union without further delays. The pope is unrivalled in his position to call on Catholics and fellow Christians to end the centuries-old European hostilities toward Turkey, admit Turkey to the EU, and send a message to the world that Islam and the West are not at war. Islam and Europe are one and the same – this would be a powerful message to the Muslim world, and further undermine the ideology and narrative of Al-Qaeda and ISIS.

Fifth, the strongest message that Europe can send to its 30 million Muslims that the continent is a home to pluralism, and not an exclusively Christian club, is to stop the obstruction and admit Turkey into the European Union without further delays.

Finally, the above levels of deeper coordination and cooperation at a level of scripture, theology, common defense of our faiths, and recognizing Turkey as fully fledged member of the European collective of nations would allow us to lean more effectively and credibly on the Arab-Israeli conflict. For how much longer will we see our shared capital of Abrahamic faiths held hostage by extremists? We must assist our brothers, both the Jewish people, who believe in the oneness of God and Muslims, to live in peace and security in the Holy Land. Achieving a lasting peace between this Abrahamic family of faiths is the jewel in our crown and religious leaders are most suited to carry their constituencies to a place of peace, co-existence, and respect. Politicians alone cannot do this work. They have been failing, not least because they do not understand the power and depth of reconciliation that exists in our channels of communication. We need to marshal these strengths – and soon.

The Papal visit can create a momentum for this global agenda of change, renewal and modernization. I know that my people, my government and faith leaders are willing to work with the pope to create the changes I listed above. If we can respond to the challenges of our time, future generations will look at this weekend’s visit as a moment when history changed.


Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. As a representative of Harun Yahya organization, she frequently cites quotations from the author in her writings. She can be followed on Twitter via @ceylanozbudak





In the past few weeks I have been growing more impatient with the public dialogue on Islam in the United States. It appears to me that huge numbers of Americans have given up trying to make any real sense of what is going on in the Middle East. Most recently with the emergence of ISIS (Islamic State in Syria), the United States has been forced to “re-engage” in a war in Iraq at the same time that we are getting close to a final drawdown of American troops in that country. Will it ever end?

Somehow this triangle came to my mind in trying to see the “lens” which Americans use in seeing Muslims in general and the Middle East in particular. The common perception in the news media and with large numbers of Americans is that if you start at the base of the triangle, it appears that many Muslims view the Q’uran as a document of hate and punishment to attack their enemies and gather support from their friends. Since that Holy Book shows a strong bias against the non-Muslim world, an honest dialogue and search for a common ground is impossible and unrealistic. Since the base of its teachings seems to be narrow, militant and anti-western, these are dangerous people who are out to destroy us in what Samuel Huntington described in his book of the 1980’s as The Clash of Civilizations. The religion and the culture that has grown up around it are hopelessly out of date and evil. Since the west is obviously on a collision course with this group who are out to destroy us, the only solution is to destroy them first. As Bill O’Reilly commented recently – “We need a General Patton to go in and clean up this mess!” The religion has grown into a culture where women are not accorded their dignity or human rights, corrupt Kings and dictators are the most frequent leaders of their countries and the rule of law is coming to an end. “The west” is trying to help bring peace to the area but we are powerless in an area that we cannot control. A recent poll reflects these findings.

“The survey also shows American attitudes toward Arab-Americans and Muslim-Americans have turned  for  the          worse since the Arab American Institute first began polling on the subject in 2010. The new poll found favorability toward Arab-Americans at 36 percent, down from 43 percent in 2010. For Muslim-Americans, favorability was just 27 percent, compared with 36 percent in 2010.” (Zogby Analytics – Huffington Post, July 29, 2014)

Another way of saying that is that 73% of Americans are suspicious of Muslims

In the next level of the triangle, very few Americans are aware that the majority of countries in the Middle East did not receive their independence until after WW I and WW II. Prior to that they were dominated by colonial powers that were seeking their own interests. Secular and socialist rule starting in the 1950’s did not bring the advancement of a better standard of living that people were longing for. Religious extremists of the past forty years have not been a good representation of Islam on the religious side and they have made matters worse in the poverty and lack of education of their people. The majority of experts in the fields of education, economics and government contend that the major problems of the area lie in development and dealing with the pervasive poverty and lack of opportunities for young people.

As a result, when the news reports recent incidents (top of triangle) regarding beheadings, kidnappings and brutal deaths of innocent civilians, Americans view the situation with horror and a sense of powerlessness. We don’t take the time to view a thoughtful analysis and history of the current reality from a wider lens of religion and history since it is “too complicated.” Such a view was presented on October 28, 2014 with this edition of Frontline. (

Finally I would like to mention two groups that are almost invisible in the news world but continue to work for mediation and peace building in the Middle East. It is no accident in my mind that Spain plays a key role in both of these efforts. Spain is a good example of peaceful relations among Jews, Muslims and Christians in what they refer to as a “Golden Age” in the twelfth century. Recently I attended a presentation by Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Florham Park NJ. He is the head of the Alliance of Civilizations of the United Nations and he gave an overview of some of its efforts at conflict resolution in the Middle East since the creation of this group in 2005 at the request of Turkey and Spain. He is a native of Qatar and served as the head of the UN General Assembly in 2011 and 2012. More information is available from:


HE Al-Nasser and host Jason Scorza of FDU


The other peace building group is KAICIID – International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue in Vienna. Its founding partners are the Kingdom of Spain, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Republic of Austria. (

Central African Republic Public Panel
More on these groups at a later time…
Thanks for listening!

The current wars in the Middle East have economic, historical, political and religious components – to name a few. Although this website focuses on religious dialogue, this particular insight of history and politics has special value to me for today.



Ready, Aim, Fire.

Not Fire, Ready, Aim.

SEPT. 2, 2014  NY Times

Thomas L. Friedman

President Obama has been excoriated for declaring that “we don’t have a strategy yet” for effectively confronting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. In criticizing Obama for taking too much time, Representative Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told “Fox News Sunday” that “this ‘don’t-do-stupid-stuff’ policy isn’t working.” That sounded odd to my ear — like we should just bomb somebody, even if it is stupid. If Obama did that, what would he be ignoring?

First, experience. After 9/11 that sort of “fire, ready, aim” approach led George W. Bush to order a ground war in Iraq without sufficient troops to control the country, without a true grasp of Iraq’s Shiite-Sunni sectarian dynamics, and without any realization that, in destroying the Sunni Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the Sunni Baathist regime in Iraq, we were destroying both of Iran’s mortal enemies and thereby opening the way for a vast expansion of Iran’s regional influence. We were in a hurry, myself included, to change things after 9/11, and when you’re in a hurry you ignore complexities that come back to haunt you later.

There are no words to describe the vileness of the video beheadings of two American journalists by ISIS, but I have no doubt that they’re meant to get us to overreact, à la 9/11, and rush off again without a strategy. ISIS is awful, but it is not a threat to America’s homeland.

Second, the context. To defeat ISIS you have to address the context out of which it emerged. And that is the three civil wars raging in the Arab world today: the civil war within Sunni Islam between radical jihadists and moderate mainstream Sunni Muslims and regimes; the civil war across the region between Sunnis funded by Saudi Arabia and Shiites funded by Iran; and the civil war between Sunni jihadists and all other minorities in the region — Yazidis, Turkmen, Kurds, Christians, Jews and Alawites.

When you have a region beset by that many civil wars at once, it means there is no center, only sides. And when you intervene in the middle of a region with no center, you very quickly become a side.

ISIS emerged as an extreme expression of resentment by one side: Iraqi and Syrian Sunnis who felt cut out of power and resources by the pro-Iranian Shiite regime in Baghdad and the pro-Iranian Alawite/Shiite regime in Damascus. That is why Obama keeps insisting that America’s military intervention must be accompanied, for starters, by Iraqis producing a national unity government — of mainstream Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds — so our use of force supports pluralism and power-sharing, not just Shiite power.

But power-sharing doesn’t come easy in a region where kinship and sectarian loyalties overwhelm any sense of shared citizenship. Without it, though, the dominant philosophy is either: “I am strong, why should I compromise?” or “I am weak, how can I compromise?” So any onslaught we make on ISIS, absent national unity governments, will have Shiites saying the former and Sunnis saying the latter. That’s why this is complicated.

And this is a sectarian power struggle. Consider a Times article last week about how ISIS is actually being led by a combination of jihadists and disgruntled Sunni Iraqi Baathist Army officers, who were shoved aside either by us or Iraq’s Shiite-dominated governments.

The Times article noted: “After ISIS stormed into Mosul, one [Shiite] Iraqi official recalled a startling phone call from a [Sunni] former major general in one of [Saddam] Hussein’s elite forces. The former general had appealed months earlier to rejoin the Iraqi Army, but the official had refused. Now the [Sunni] general was fighting for ISIS and threatened revenge. ‘We will reach you soon, and I will chop you into pieces,’ he said, according to the official, Bikhtiyar al-Qadi, of the commission that bars some former members of Mr. Hussein’s Baath Party from government posts.”

Repeat after me: “We will reach you soon, and I will chop you into pieces.” That is what we are dealing with here — multiple, venomous civil wars that are the breeding ground of the ISIS cancer.

Third, our allies are not fully allies: While the Saudi, Qatari and Kuwaiti governments are pro-American, wealthy Sunni individuals, mosques and charities in these countries are huge sources of funds, and fighters, for ISIS.

As for Iran, if we defeat ISIS, it would be the third time since 2001 that we’ve defeated a key Sunni counterbalance to Iran — first the Taliban, then Saddam, now ISIS. That is not a reason not to do it, but it is reason to do it in a way that does not distract us from the fact that Iran’s nuclear program also needs to be defused, otherwise it could undermine the whole global nonproliferation regime. Tricky.

I’m all-in on destroying ISIS. It is a sick, destabilizing movement. I support using U.S. air power and special forces to root it out, but only as part of a coalition, where everybody who has a stake in stability there pays their share and where mainstream Sunnis and Shiites take the lead by demonstrating that they hate ISIS more than they hate each other. Otherwise, we’ll end up in the middle of a God-awful mess of duplicitous allies and sectarian passions, and nothing good we do will last.

A version of this op-ed appears in print on September 3, 2014, on page A23 of the New York edition with the headline: Ready, Aim, Fire. Not Fire, Ready, Aim

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