Tag Archives: Mideast

What’s Wrong with Islam?

Flashback: Wednesday, August 23, 2006

by Viz
 

The simple answer is that nothing is wrong with the way in which most people today practise Islam, one of the three best known of the “monotheistic” faiths.

Islam at once appears to be both the youngest and oldest child of the Abrahamic tradition. Ishmael was the elder son of Abraham, Isaac being the younger, but Islam (as defined by Mohammed) developed after the movement that many would describe as the first significant descendant of Judaism, Christianity.

Before I proceed, let me undermine that basic premise by pointing out that the Brahmin tradition of Hinduism and the Taoist tradition of Buddhism can both trace their roots to the influx of Jews into Asia after the Babylonian exile period. In that sense, both Christianity and Islam would be relative late-comers to the Ibrahimin fold. Likewise, the primary faith of the Persians, Zoroastrianism, would also take a sharp turn in a more monotheistic direction with the arrival of the enslaved Israelite tribes following the assumption of Darius’ Median empire by the Persians. Darius had taken up the reins from the Babylonians who had conquered Jerusalem under Nebuchadnezzar a little earlier in that same 6th century BCE and carted off all those slaves.

There are more examples, but here we can see that the vast majority of the world’s population (Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims) have had their cultures shaped by their interaction with the family of Abraham, with about 50% of the world still openly tracing its heritage to that lineage: Christianity (2.2B), Islam (1.4B) and Jews (12-18M).

The problem seems not to be that we don’t have enough in common, but in the interpretation of that common heritage.

When the hadiths talk of the end times and speak of the trees and rocks saying: “Muslim, behind me is a Jew. Come and kill him.”…that is not to say that Muslims are bound to such terrible actions as a matter of faith. Quite the opposite. The hadith is saying that in the time of judgment there will be a persecution of Jews, such that they will have nowhere to hide. We saw this in the last century with the persecution and attempted anihilation of the Jews by the Nazis, as they could find no place to hide. And yet we hear some imams calling for the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews every Friday, citing these hadiths as if they were a licence to kill. Ironically, the Qur’an makes it quite clear that a prerequisite for the fulfillment of its scripture is that the Jews will be returned to the land noted in the Qur’an itself.

Islam is, in many ways, the religion most closely resembling Judaism. The Qur’an features a line-up of prophets that are exclusively Jewish, including Mohammed, who traced his own lineage from Ishmael, son of Abraham, who was circumcised in the skin at Moriah; hence, a Jew.

Like Judaism, Islam is intensely monotheistic, rejecting Jesus as a deity, though, unlike Judaism, it welcomes him as a prophet…and anticipates his return at the end of days, or Qiyaama. All three religions agree that Jesus was a Jew, and Islam and Christianity both agree that he’ll still be a Jew when he returns. Even the Mahdi, it is said, will be a Jew.

So, how is it that radical Islamic preachers can advocate the killing of Jews? What’s wrong with this picture?

Religion has been used for millennia as an actuator for social change. We are seeing the negative side of this in radical Islam today. We saw it, albeit in a more positive light, in Poland when the Roman Church was instrumental in the downfall of the Communist movement in Eastern Europe. We saw it in the spread of Christian “Liberation Theology” in Central America, the correctness of which is still debated within the church. We saw it in the time of Mohammed, and in the time of Jesus. We saw it in every revolt against the Greek and Roman empires in the Middle East.

That religion can be a motivating force in people’s lives should not be an indictment against religion lest we are prepared to also throw away the ancient knowledge that is encoded in those traditions.

It is the interpretation of these ideas, these concepts, these traditions, that needs to be discussed. For it is only in their mutual examination that we can bring about peace without the need for the precursor of looming total destruction.

The trick is not to convert people between faiths, but to help them become better role models within their individual faiths. Just as the rainforests are a seminal trust of biodiversity for this planet, so are the various faiths of man a reservoir for all the aspects of his divine nature.

 
 
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A Presidential Farewell in the Knesset (full text)

Farewell speech by Israeli President Shimon Peres

24 Jul 2014

 

I came to thank you for the privilege you granted me to serve our country and its people for the past seven years. There is no greater privilege. Thank you.

Israel, this small country, became a truly great state.

I know of no other country on the face of the earth or throughout history, which amazed and surprised so much.

Gathering in its people. Making its wilderness bloom. Resurrected from the ruins, surviving a terrible Holocaust. Fighting back in seven wars. Bringing a language back to life. Respecting its traditions and adopting modernity.

And at the same building a country which continues to develop. A country which carries values and practices democracy. A country without natural resources, which utilized instead the resourcefulness of its people. Our human resource is far more precious than wells of oil or mines of gold. A country which was established upon a historical core and became an outstanding state in the new scientific world. A country of song. A country of literature. A country which seeks peace day and night.

I leave the presidency without parting from my faith. I will continue to serve my country as a deep believer that Israel is an exemplary state.

We are a people that experienced unimaginable agony. And we are a people that reached the lofty heights of human achievement. We made great efforts. We paid a heavy price.

We will never forget our brothers and sisters who perished in the Holocaust. We will remember those who fell in battle, who brought new life to a redeemed people.

It is a great privilege to be a citizen among citizens who know toil and struggle. Who made a supreme effort and carried determined hope until the first dew of our dawn.

We returned. We built. We fought. We prayed. Until we began to see contours that even surprised us. We are an ancient people who are getting older. We are a people, first and foremost, that rebuilds itself time and again.

Israel was born as a precedent and created precedents. Despite being small in number among the nations, our people carried a faith as great as any. The first to rebel against prejudice was Moses. A nation that rebelled against Pharaoh. That smashed idols. That shattered illusions. A nation that walked through the desert to reach its home, its destiny.

We climbed the mountains and came down with the tablets, with the Ten Commandments which became the foundations upon which our nation was built and which were adopted by Western civilization.

We continue and will continue with this great legacy. There are still idols to be smashed, slaves to free, lives to save and justice to uphold. There is still a world to fix. Even if we remain the minority among the nations. Even if we serve as a target for evil – we will not deviate from our moral heritage.

Challenges are not invited. They occur spontaneously. That is how the current challenge occurred. I did not imagine that in the last days of my presidency I would be called upon, once more, to comfort bereaved families. Tears in their eyes. And faith in their hearts.

I did not imagine that it would happen again, after we were hit with rockets which were intended to harm innocent civilians. And after we uncovered tunnels meant to kill, intended to penetrate into the heart of civilian communities and fire at mothers and children. We must alert the world to the madness of the terrorist threat.

Terrorism aims to spill our blood. And leads to blood being spilled among its people. Never has such a minority torn apart the fabric of whole societies. So cruelly sent children to serve as shields for its crimes.

Hamas has once again put hundreds of thousands of the citizens of Gaza in harm’s way, into a field of fire. The terrorists have transformed Gaza, which is over 3000 years old, into a man-made tragedy.

We left Gaza of our own free will and even helped to rebuild it. Unfortunately, it was taken over by fanatical terrorists, who uprooted the structures for rehabilitation and wasted them on a machinery of terror and murder.

Israel is not the enemy of the people of Gaza. The opposite is true, Israel built the Erez Crossing to open a gateway to Gaza. We did not open fire. We returned fire when fired upon. We fought the terrorists to bring peace to our people. They were also cruel to their own people, taking food away from babies to fund terror. They sowed death and they reaped death.

They forced their children to serve as human shields, and sent them into the fire. I say it again, I say it clearly, the Arabs are not our enemies. The policy of murder is the enemy. It is also the greatest danger to the Arab World.

Hamas fired but it cannot answer two simple questions.

What is the reason for the fire? Gaza is not occupied, and when they don’t fire it is open.

Secondly, what do they want to achieve? You can accomplish things without fire and you lose them when you open fire.

For 68 years terror has been harming its people. It has never been victorious. It brought only darkness to its people and destruction to its land.

Terror has no answers and does not draw the right conclusions. Israel will be victorious over terrorism because we search for peace and we are just in defense of our home.

Israel will win because of the IDF. Because of its excellent commanders and dedicated soldiers. There is no other army like the IDF. Its power is great. Its equipment is advanced. Its values are clear.

The country is proud of its army. The people love the army. The nation trusts it.

When I came to comfort, these past days, those who had lost that which is dearest to them, I feel a sadness that has no comfort, but I also learn again the magnitude of our fallen. The fire cut short their lives and revealed their greatness. It lit up the depths of their personalities alongside the courage of their hearts.

Nobody had to explain a thing to them. They knew the reality. By themselves. They moved towards battle even before the call to the front lines came. They volunteered for dangerous missions and fought like lions. Fast but not reckless. They carried the legacy of our forefathers and the bravery of youth.

Their hearts were filled with love for their families, for their country, for their people. The parents educated and the boys exceeded the expectations of the country.

I visited communities which had been bombed. Communities which created wonderful societies and plowed new fields. I met the founders surrounded by fruit trees. And children who advocate for freedom and brotherhood. They are all aware of the danger. But convinced of our ability to overcome it.

Members of Knesset,

Allow me to say from upon this stage – there are none like them.

I will add, Israel’s strength is drawn from its unity. A unity of a nation which fights and builds. A nation of good citizens, who enlist when they are young and volunteer for reserve duty long after.

Israel is a nation that dwells alone. But we have friends. In America and in Europe, in Asia, in Australia and in Africa. I am grateful to them.

It is difficult to understand how across the world in the streets and the squares protesters come out in support of terrorists and condemn those who defend themselves. They hold signs aloft without providing an answer to terror. They encourage and incite violence.

It is also hard to fathom how a council which bears the words “human rights” in its name, decided to establish a committee to investigate who is right. Is it the murderers or those who refuse to be murdered?

If the right to life is not the first right among human rights, what is the value of other rights? The terrorists try to restrict the freedom of air traffic. We must not submit to them. Governments must paralyze the terror and not suspend the flights. In countries governed by law, the sky should be open and the terrorists stopped.

Members of Knesset,

There is no place to doubt our victory. We know that no military victory will be enough. There is no permanent security without permanent peace. Just as there is no real peace without real security.

There is no chronological order when it comes to our founding principles. In our search for peace, we must not forsake security. In our efforts to ensure our safety, we must not forgo the prospects for peace. A people which can win wars can also bring peace to its children. Even when peace seems to elude us, our reach is determined enough to grasp it. We have witnessed it in the past.

I remember when experts used to say that Egypt will never sign a peace treaty with us. That Jordan will never agree to peace with Israel before Syria does so. That there will never rise a camp against terror among the Palestinians. That never will Arab leaders raise their voices for peace and against terror, in their own language and not just in English, in Arab countries and not just in Europe. Arab leaders that condemn kidnappings and are open to land swaps. Arab leaders that are for two states while one of them is clearly the State of Israel which is a Jewish homeland in its nature and in its constitution.

There was never an expert that could have predicted that one day the Arab League which engraved upon its flag the three “No’s” of Khartoum, would publish an initiative which refutes them all, and would instead suggest a proposal of its own for a path towards peace, not only between Israelis and Palestinians but with all Arab countries. Even if we cannot accept this proposal in its entirety, we cannot ignore its value.

As Ben Gurion said: “There are no experts for the future, only experts for the past.” Indeed, the future requires believers, not necessarily experts. The future is built. Not inherited from prophets. In order to secure the future of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, Israel adopted the solution based on two states for two peoples. A Jewish state – Israel. And an Arab state for the Palestinians.

This solution is accepted by a majority of the peoples of the world and by a majority of the Arab world.

Members of Knesset,

I have come to bid you farewell as a citizen, as a man whose dream is still alive. As a man who has learned from experience that the greatness of Israel’s reality is greater than the dream which begot it at its dawn.

I am taking leave of my position as President, but not from my duty as a citizen. I was a President who loved his people. As of now, I am a citizen in love with my people. I will not give up my right to serve my people and my country. And I will continue to help build my country, with a deep belief that one day it will know peace.

That Israel will uphold social justice and will raise its eyes to the realized dream of its prophets. That Israel will continue to be Jewish in its legacy and democratic in its practices. That it will safeguard freedom of speech and freedom of research. That it will continue to excel in its scientific level on a global scale. That it will be a moral country. A country which will practice equality for all its citizens – Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze, Bedouins, and Circassians. So we promised in our Declaration of Independence. So we proclaimed in our book of laws. So we practiced upon the commands of our authorities.

The social vision of the prophet Amos, as the political vision of the prophet Isaiah, are our guiding lights. They commanded us to take social justice and world peace as guiding principles for our actions. Israel was born on the foundations of its principles. Today it grows on the shoulders of science. There is no contradiction between the two and there shouldn’t be.

During my visits to the many unique and diverse corners of Israel, I entered each place with an explorer’s curiosity and returned with a heart full of pride. I discovered everywhere, and every time, hardworking people, endless talent, wonderful children and surprises which cannot be described.

Therefore, as I leave my official position I will remain a citizen filled with hope. Hope for a better future. Hope for peace. Hope that the dream of today will create an exemplary reality. When I return and meet the beauty and strength of the State of Israel, I find myself shedding a tear. Maybe excited slightly more than my younger friends. Because throughout my years I witnessed the entire incredible journey, and the miracles of Israel.

Alongside David Ben Gurion I saw it fighting for its life. With few resources but endless dangers. And today, I see her standing strong. Secure. Flourishing. Successful in every field. I see my country promising an exciting future for our sons and daughters.

Friends, Reuven Rivlin, the next elected President of Israel,

I wish you success, that you should serve the nation in your positive way, as you already do. With your great heart. With your face full of light. You already have what is expected from a president. I am sure you will succeed in our way and strengthen the future of the State of Israel

Members of Knesset,

The nature of parliamentary democracy is ongoing, passionate debate. This is democracy. This is how it should be. If I may, particularly in these days when we must stand united, in these difficult days in which they eyes of the nation are on its leaders, on you. Please – do not lessen the debate. It is the essence of democracy. And it must remain. But do it with mutual respect, with a sense of shared destiny and with great respect for the Israeli public, like which there is no other. They are worth of nothing less from their representatives.

Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.
 
 
(source: http://mfa.gov.il/MFA/PressRoom/2014/Pages/Farewell-speech-by-President-Shimon-Peres-24-Jul-2014.aspx)

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Stratfor: Worsening Violence in Iraq Threatens Regional Security

JUNE 11, 2014 | 1615

Courtesy, Stratfor Global Intelligence

Summary

Battles continue to rage across northern Iraq, pitting jihadist group the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant against Iraqi security forces and their allies. The growing reach of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant has escalated an already brutal campaign in Iraq. Alarmingly quick advances by the militants across an important region of the Middle East could draw in regional powers as well as the United States.

Analysis

Using hit-and-run tactics, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, also known as ISIL, has sought to keep Iraqi security forces dispersed and under pressure. ISIL has achieved this by striking at areas where security forces are weak and withdrawing from areas where Baghdad has concentrated its combat power. The jihadists have been working hard to improve their tradecraft by developing skill sets ranging from staging complex ambushes to using Iraqi army equipment effectively in surprise raids. ISIL has also sought to better develop its ties with local Sunni communities.

As far back as the days of al Qaeda in Iraq and its predecessor, Jamaat al-Tawhid and Jihad, founded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, militancy has had a presence in Anbar province — and indeed in Mosul. During the Iraq War, the U.S. military considered Mosul one of the key gateways for foreign al Qaeda in Iraq fighters to enter the country. ISIL operations in Mosul and the wider Nineveh province are unsurprising. What is surprising is the degree of success that ISIL has managed to achieve in its latest offensive in the region.

ISIL Activity

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This success undoubtedly has much to do with local forces and tribes who have either facilitated ISIL or elected not to fight the group’s incursion into Mosul. In a city of almost 2 million, had ISIL received no local sympathy, it would have been unable to rout the Iraqi forces in the area with only 1,000 to 2,000 fighters. Social media contains several reports of local Sunnis welcoming ISIL forces, and even of local fighters supporting ISIL in attacks against government positions.

Furthermore, Iraqi security forces reportedly had around 10,000 personnel in and around Mosul. Despite the ferociousness of the ISIL attack, the fact that a significant portion of these forces fled — abandoning their uniforms, equipment and vehicles — indicates serious structural and morale issues within the force, which could be attributed in part to a high number of Sunni soldiers in the ranks who are unwilling to stand up to ISIL for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Having succeeded in its Mosul operations, ISIL will continue to take advantage of its momentum and push its gains at a time when the Iraqi government is scrambling to recover from significant losses. As well as taking large portions of the city, ISIL militants seized many weapons and military vehicles as well as the contents of Mosul’s central bank. They also freed several thousand prisoners from a local prison, potentially adding more fighters to their cause.

Stretching from the north of Mosul through Tikrit to the south and toward Baghdad along the Tigris River Valley, ISIL is striving to maintain a continuous line of pressure running through what is practically the northern spine of populated Iraq. The Tigris River Valley contains a number of key strategic energy areas, including the oil refinery near Baiji. Although the refinery is still under state control at this time, the areas where ISIL is operating largely match areas where al Qaeda in Iraq was active during the height of the Sunni insurrection in Iraq from 2004-2006. As opposed to a first-time assault or new offensive, ISIL’s actions speak more of a resurgence into historical areas of operations.

As well as continuing to push forward, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant will largely seek to avoid stand-up fights against well-equipped and determined Iraqi army units, though they have held their ground against such forces in Al Fallujah and Ar Ramadi. The wide-ranging, mobile and rapidly dispersed ISIL forces have a key advantage when it comes to maneuvering in battle over the slower, mechanized units of the Iraqi army. While ISIL maximizes its impact against a disorganized Baghdad, the jihadist group seeks to consolidate its control over territory in heavily Sunni areas, where it has already made significant inroads with the local population. Ambitiously, these areas of control could include large portions of the north as well as Anbar Province. More realistically, it would mean greater ISIL presence in the longer term and, in some cases, direct control in Anbar and possibly other provinces such as Nineveh and Salah ad Din. Working toward this goal, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant will continue to focus on its revitalized effort to dismantle the Awakening movement, a coalition of tribal elements that was instrumental in pushing al Qaeda in Iraq out of Anbar the first time, drawing Sunni tribes back into its fold in the process.

The Iraqi army is attempting to contain the ISIL threat that is rapidly spreading into Salah ad Din and Kirkuk provinces. Iraqi forces, supported by allied tribal elements, have reportedly struck back against ISIL outside As Samarra and in Tikrit. A number of Iraqi army units are also supposedly withdrawing from Anbar province, which will further reduce pressure on ISIL-held cities there. These forces are reportedly focusing on the northern approaches to Baghdad, while the Iraqi government is attempting to pull together all reserve units capable of quickly moving to the fight. For all intents and purposes the Iraqi army is overstretched, the geographic dispersion of threats outmatching its resources. This means that Baghdad must prioritize its goals in the fight against ISIL.

Protect the Core

The most important priority for Baghdad right now is to secure its capital and oil infrastructure and begin pushing north to meet ISIL units approaching from Mosul down the Tigris River Valley. This does not mean that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant can be eradicated from these areas: Small ISIL cells will continue to operate across the region, and indeed in Baghdad itself. It does mean, however, that the Iraqi army will try to disrupt large mobile ISIL columns seeking to raid and to establish control over towns and cities. By concentrating its forces, the Iraqi army campaign in Anbar, especially around Ar Ramadi and Al Fallujah, will inevitably be at a disadvantage as it falls to a level of secondary importance. The campaign to rid Iraq of ISIL, which was never realistic so long as the jihadists held a virtual sanctuary in eastern Syria, becomes even more tenuous over the long term.

Members of the Kurdish Peshmerga force secure an area west of the northern city of Kirkuk, on June 11.

Click to Enlarge

In the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, Baghdad holds a potential advantage, but one which the al-Maliki government has been loath to use so far. This advantage is a greater reliance and cooperation with the Peshmerga (Kurdish security forces) in a combined fight against the jihadists. For political reasons ranging from disputes over territory to energy resources distribution, the central government in Baghdad had sought to maximize its direct control over the north, while minimizing the Kurdish security presence beyond Kurdistan Regional Government-administered areas. With ISIL making alarming gains in the north, it is now far more possible that the central government in Iraq would seek to cooperate with the Peshmerga in a combined push on ISIL in Kirkuk and Mosul. To that end, the Iraqi parliamentary speaker reportedly mentioned the possibility of coordinating with Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani. Kurdish Peshmerga forces are reportedly mobilizing in preparation for defensive as well as offensive operations against ISIL.
 

The Bigger Picture

Beyond Iraq, a number of countries are immediately affected by ISIL. The Syrian battle space bleeds heavily into Iraq due to a porous border, accelerated by the almost total collapse of Syrian army border crossing posts. Since January, ISIL has been heavily involved in fighting with more moderate Syrian rebel factions, as well as with Jabhat al Nusra, the official al Qaeda franchise in Syria. As the fighting has worn on, ISIL has gradually released its hold in western Syria and turned its attention to the Raqqah and Deir el-Zour governorates. Deir el-Zour was particularly important for ISIL as it allowed it to maintain a direct supply link with its established presence in western and northern Iraq, especially in Anbar province. Through this supply link, ISIL has been able to transfer experienced foreign fighters and captured Syrian army equipment to Iraq, including vehicles and anti-tank guided munitions. It has also replenished its stock of ammunition and explosives, greatly aiding operations in Iraq.

The Syrian conflict is affected by the ISIL push in Iraq in two ways. The first is that the jihadists may divert large numbers of fighters from Syria to its Iraq push, which would open ISIL to more pressure in Syria. The second impact is the withdrawal of large numbers of Iraqi Shiite militants — men that have been fighting alongside the Syrian army — leaving to concentrate their efforts back home against ISIL. Such a withdrawal would be unpopular in the Syrian regime because it would take away an important source of manpower.

Regional Interest

Ankara is also watching the events in Iraq with considerable attention. Not only are Turkish citizens directly implicated in the conflict, with a number of Turks reportedly seized by ISIL militants, but the Turkish government also maintains an important stake in energy development in northern Iraq. Ankara has long been involved in politics between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government on issues surrounding the delivery of energy. Turkey is also increasingly concerned about the growing reach of ISIL and has already clashed with militants on its border with Syria. Turkey is especially wary of the potential for attacks by ISIL — attacks that would exploit the long border that runs from the Mediterranean to Iran. While Turkey has been hesitant to directly send forces against ISIL in Syria, the fact that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant has seized large numbers of Turks — including the consulate staff from Mosul — may push Ankara to become more directly involved in the crisis.

Iran has long sustained the regime in Syria, as well as indirectly supporting al-Maliki’s government in its fight against Sunni jihadists in Syria and Iraq. The growing reach of ISIL, and its ever-closer presence to Iran, is sure to raise considerable anxiety in Tehran. Iran can therefore be expected to further bolster its support for al-Maliki as well as for Shiite proxies across Iraq. In supporting al Maliki’s fight, Tehran finds itself very much aligned with Washington.

The United States will avoid sending significant forces back into Iraq, but Washington will ramp up its efforts to contain the ISIL threat by delivering vital equipment such as helicopter gunships, Hellfire missiles, communications equipment, large volumes of small arms and ammunition. This assistance, coupled with a common regional interest to contain the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, will likely contain the threat to northern and western Iraq. Though Iraq’s southern energy corridor will probably be spared, the Sunni belt in central Iraq and the territories disputed between the central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government will face rising sectarian stress, in line with ISIL’s designs for the region.

 

Worsening Violence in Iraq Threatens Regional Security is republished with permission of Stratfor.

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