Posts Tagged ‘Middle east’

Very early in the Koran, in verse 62 of the second book, it says this:

Those who believe, and those who are Jewish, and the Christians, and the Sabeans—any who believe in God and the Last Day, and act righteously—will have their reward with their Lord; they have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.

In the Koran, Christians are often referred to as among the “People of the Book,” that is to say people who have received and believed in previous revelation from God’s prophets. There are verses that highlight the commonalities between Christians and Muslims, as well as other verses that warn Christians against sliding towards polytheism in their worship of Jesus Christ, in that the Muslims believe Christ to be a Messenger (a prophet) and not a part of the indivisible Divinity.

Despite this disagreement, a number of verses stress the commonality between Muslims and Christians.

“…and nearest among them in love to the believers will you find those who say, ‘We are Christians,’ because amongst these are men devoted to learning and men who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant” (5:82).

“O you who believe! Be helpers of God – as Jesus the son of Mary said to the Disciples, ‘Who will be my helpers in (the work of) God?’ Said the disciples, ‘We are God’s helpers!’ Then a portion of the Children of Israel believed, and a portion disbelieved. But We gave power to those who believed, against their enemies, and they became the ones that prevailed” (61:14).

In addition, during his lifetime, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) sent a message to the monks of Saint Catherine in Mount Sinai. It is worth quoting at length:

This is a message written by Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, far and near, we are behind them. Verily, I defend them by myself, the servants, the helpers, and my followers, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them. No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be changed from their jobs, nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they (Christians) are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate. No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, this is not to take place without her own wish. She is not to be prevented from going to her church to pray. Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants. No one of the nation is to disobey this covenant till the Day of Judgment and the end of the world.

Indeed, Jesus is mentioned with the deepest respect 70 times in the Koran.

So why do we turn to these matters today? Simply because of the brutal attack, claimed by Daesh, on Coptic Churches in Egypt. 44 are dead and 100 or more inured. Daesh claimed responsibility for deadly bombings at two churches in on Palm Sunday targeting a vulnerable religious minority on one of the most important days on the Christian calendar.

When it is so obviously not any part of a valid Muslim tradition, why would Daesh perform such an horrendous act? Why, indeed, did they previous stage a mass beheading of Coptic Christians in Egypt?

The answer is, of course, that Daesh are committed to bringing others into the Mid-East conflict, in order to radicalise Muslims with the oppression of their efforts which that would entail. The Sunni resistance in Iraq and Syria (for that is really what Daesh really is) is, in the simplest armed conflict terms, losing. That is why they are prepared to ignore the teachings of their own religion, and commit atrocities.

(The instant response of the Egyptian Government – to slap on a three month State of Emergency which allows the military to arrest whomever they like without warrant on suspicion – will also delight Daesh – nothing like provoking an extreme reaction from the governing elite to radicalise a new generation of footsoldiers.)

It is very important that worldwide we do not confuse or conflate the Muslim religion with the political actions of those who are prepared to perpetrate horror to advance their cause, whether they are the main Daesh actors in the Middle East, or their “lone wolf” followers in Bali, France, Britain, Germany, Australia and Sweden.

A generalised fear of the Muslim world by Christians is simply an over-reaction born of ignorance. As we have said many times in various social media, “There are 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide. If they really wished us dead, we probably would be by now.”

We remember as a young child growing up in an era when there was still awkwardness, if not outright hostility, between Christian sects. Driving home in the trusty Triumph Herald from our Anglican (Episcopalian) Church, we would point out the local Methodists leaving their much more boring-looking Church, to be met with “Yes, well, they’re quite like us, but not really. Not bad people though.” This was oddly faint praise, given that much of the rest of the family were non-conformist Chapel people in South Wales. Round the corner, we would pass the Roman Catholics tipping out. The response to them was more purse-lipped. “They don’t really believe what we do. They’re not like us.” To the best of our ability, we cannot recall ever even speaking to a Roman Catholic when we were growing up. We were in Belfast? Glasgow? The East End? No: we were growing up in an impeccably peaceful and strife-free middle class seaside resort. Nevertheless …

It seems hard to fathom such attitudes just 50 or so years later, yet they were a subtle hangover from religious conflicts that had raged for centuries. The conflict between Shia and Sunni has similar rolled on for hundreds of years – but we should not be bamboozled into thinking that it is a natural state of affairs from which the world has no escape.

‘The situation between the Shiites and the Sunnis varied a good deal over time and place. There was often a good deal of cooperation and coexistence between the two,’ said Professor Juan Cole, Professor of Middle East history at Michigan University and the author of Sacred Space and Holy War. ‘For instance, in the 9th and 10th centuries you had the rise of the Buyid dynasty in Iraq and Iran, which had apparently a Shiite tendency in the ruling family but employed many Sunnis and seems to have gotten along fairly well with Sunnis. So it hasn’t always been the case that the two have had rancorous relations.’

During the Ottoman Empire’s four-century rule over Iraq, Sunni religious leaders were favoured over the Shiites. Despite this, though, both the Sunnis and the Shiites in Iraq united in their opposition to the Ottomans during World War I.

One of the key historical differences between the Shiites and the Sunnis has been their attitude towards government. The Shiites have always rejected earthly authority, whereas the Sunnis have had a much closer relationship with those in power. In the aftermath of the two world wars, Shiites once more found themselves on the outer.

‘The Shiites of southern Lebanon, the Shiites of Iraq, Bahrain, of what became Saudi Arabia, all faced a new situation in which they were being incorporated into modern nation states, most of which were dominated by Sunni politicians and in which the Shiites were often very poor and marginalised,’ says Professor Cole. ‘So the history of modern Lebanon or modern Iraq has in some sense been a history of Shiites struggling back against this marginalisation and seeking greater political participation.’

In the 20th century, Shiites were increasingly drawn to leftist and communist parties across the region. In Iraq, the mainly Shiite Communist Party backed the government of Abd al-Karim Qasim, which was overthrown by the Sunni-dominated pan-Arabist Ba’ath Party in 1963. While the Ba’ath government, first under Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr and then Saddam Hussein, was secular and included representatives from various religious backgrounds, there was often tension between religious Shiites and the government.

Repression under Hussein ensured that religious tension never boiled over in Iraq, but the US-led invasion in 2003 opened the door to, and some say actively encouraged, sectarian conflict once more. According to Sami Ramadani, an Iraqi writer and academic, widespread opposition to the occupation was a situation US forces were unwilling to tolerate:

‘The United States quickly realised that this situation would defeat them in an even bigger way than in Vietnam, so they instantly resorted to violent type divide and rule tactics,’ he says. ‘They inflamed the situation, and unfortunately they did succeed in gaining political forces in Iraq, organised political forces, which were based on religion, on sects, on ethnicity, to divide new institutions set up by the United States along sectarian lines.’

The US withdrawal from Iraq left the country under the control of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who was criticised for his increasing authoritarianism and his exclusion of Sunnis from political life. Critics of al-Maliki say that the government’s policies have sown the seeds of the Sunni insurgency, now known as Daesh or IS, just as Assad’s Shia dictatorship (although Assad is technically an Alawite) in Syria provoked a Sunni resistance there, too.

If history shows anything, it’s that there are long standing issues between the two denominations, but that their working together is not an impossibility. And a healing of the Shia-Sunni divide is the last thing Daesh want, which is why they continually employ “spectacular” terror attacks to keep the pot bubbling. This is a political struggle, under the cloak of religion.

We should not be fooled by their tactics, either into condemning or fearing Muslims generally, or, for that matter, of being dragged into a centuries old conflict that the protagonists really have to end for themselves.

Daesh

 

What you find below is an expanded version of a comment we made elsewhere, Dear Reader, and we’d be really interested to know what you think.

Our "Collateral Damage Is People" t shirt is consistently one of our most popular.

Our “Collateral Damage Is People” t shirt is consistently one of our most popular.

As you know, we are profoundly against the current bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria, believing that the cost in innocent civilian casualties will be too high. We have long raged against the sanitisation of civilian casualties being sanitised as “Collateral Damage”. Collateral Damage is people, as the t-shirt says.

But everyone with half a brain supports preventing Daesh from behaving as they do. And people often ask, quite reasonably, “What else can be done besides bombing them?”

Well, there are no neat solutions, but here are some we should surely consider:

Stop selling arms and ammunition to Daesh – and to those who on-supply them to them. If we starve the group of armaments then they will find it harder to terrify their local population, and eventually become much easier to defeat with local forces.

The problem with this solution is we are not entirely sure who IS arming Daesh. Certainly they have some heritage armaments supplied to them by the West when they were fighting Assad and before they morphed into what they are now. These may have been supplied to them directly, or to other rebel groups that they have since defeated or subsumed. They may have been supplied through Saudi Arabia.

The study by the London-based small-arms research organisation Conflict Armament Research documented weapons seized by Kurdish forces from militants in Iraq and Syria over a 10-day period in July. The report said the militants disposed of “significant quantities” of US-made small arms including M16 assault rifles. It also included photos showing the markings “Property of US Govt.”

The report further found that anti-tank rockets used by Daesh in Syria were “identical to M79 rockets transferred by Saudi Arabia to forces operating under the so-called “Free Syrian Army” umbrella in 2013.

Iraqi Army soldiers fleeing Daesh attacks literally dropped most of their weapons. These weapons have now become part of the Daesh arsenal. The largely Shia soldiers were not well trained by US, and this duly led to their wholesale retreat from the rampant Sunni Daesh. Clearly, local forces need to be better trained, and above all armaments must not be allowed to fall into Daesh hands.

Lastly, criminal gangs of armament suppliers are illegally supplying Daesh with weaponry. A much more concerted effort needs to be made to cut off this supply chain and prosecute those involved.

Cut off their financial support.

Daesh receives money from a variety of sources in the Arab world, even from Western allies such as Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. This is because these countries see them as a bulwark against Shia influence in the region, specifically Iran. This financial support is not official, but nor is it officially interdicted effectively. Heavily leaning on our “allies” to stop having a bet each way as far as Daesh is concerned is long overdue.

There have been continual allegations that countries such as Turkey are profiting from an illegal trade in Daesh-controlled oil. (Which is why the first UK bombing attack was on an oil field.) It should also be noted Turkey denies these criticisms. But Daesh is selling their oil to someone … and that trade needs to be interdicted urgently.

But the simple fact is that many of the things we find so objectionable about Daesh – the subjugation of women, cruel executions for things we do not consider crimes, and a badly organised and chaotic legal system – are also features of much of the rest of the Arab world. Little wonder they do not seem as distressed about those matters as the West is.

Make the price of our trade and engagement with the Arab world that they take concrete and meaningful steps to sort out their own differences.

The Sunni v Shia conflict is a very old one. It flares up, it flares down. Yet Sunni and Shia Muslims have lived peacefully together for centuries. In many countries it has become common for members of the two sects to intermarry and pray at the same mosques. They share faith in the Quran and the Prophet Mohammed’s sayings and perform similar prayers, although they differ in rituals and interpretation of Islamic law.

As the Council on Foreign relations said:

Islam’s schism, simmering for fourteen centuries, doesn’t explain all the political, economic, and geostrategic factors involved in these conflicts, but it has become one prism through which to understand the underlying tensions. Two countries that compete for the leadership of Islam, Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran, have used the sectarian divide to further their ambitions. How their rivalry is settled will likely shape the political balance between Sunnis and Shias and the future of the region, especially in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain, and Yemen.

The dispute is currently in a “hot” phase, largely driven by the Wahabist philosophy that has held sway in certain parts of the Sunni Middle East since the 19th century, exported by Saudi Arabia.

We need to make it clear that we expect the Aran world to sort it’s own troubles out. That will not happen while we are always half-pregnant as regards military involvement in the region, veering from full-blown invasions to dropping a few bombs from on high.

We also need to make it clear that we will not engage, as if they are the same as our estimation of a state, with any state that places religious belief or theocracy above basic civil rights.

So, for example, we would maintain cool but not aggressive relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia and so on until they internally reform and cease their mutual jaw-boning.

If the Arab world wants to live in a medieval manner and a semi-permanent state of conflict then that’s their business. We will simply wait it out as best we can. Eventually, all conflicts exhaust themselves.

Developing our own energy independence – as the USA has now done – and improving our investment in non-fossil-fuel technologies would be a good start.

What is certain as of today is that Daesh wishes us to bomb them, know that we will slaughter civilians – gay and straight – in the process, and that we could do nothing better to help them recruit and maintain control in their areas. There are other courses of action, even though they might be more complex, more difficult to organise, and slower to take effect.

Nevertheless, they deserve serious consideration.

Please consider these arguments as you see Western bombs raining down on innocent civilians, or witness the next terrorist outrage on Western soil. We are being conned. By Daesh, by the countries of the region, and by our own short-sighted and incompetent political leadership.

‘Heat dome’ covers the Middle East to bring temperatures up to bring ‘feels like’ temperatures up to 74 degrees.

An “heat dome” has fallen on the Middle East to create “feels-like” temperatures as high as 74 degrees. The people of Iraq were given a four-day holiday last week after the government declared soaring temperatures too much to deal with. Authorities in the Middle East cautioned residents to drink plenty of water and stay out of the sun.

earth on fire
The Iranian port city of Bandar-e Mahshahr recorded an extreme feels-like temperature of 74 degrees on Friday based on a calculated heat index. The formula combined the actual air temperature that peaked at 46 degrees with the highest humidity – or dew point – temperature reading that topped 32 degrees. A dew point exceeding 26 degrees is said to be oppressive on the human body as it struggles to deal with the heat through perspiration.

“That was one of the most incredible temperature observations I have ever seen, and it is one of the most extreme readings ever in the world,” said AccuWeather meteorologist Anthony Sagliani in a statement. Sagaliani pointed to a high-pressure system that has cloaked the region since July for the heat surge, making one of the world’s hottest places even hotter.

The heat dome is a high pressure ridge over the region which makes normal hot temperatures seem even hotter.

The UK’s Telegraph newspaper reported that the “heat index” – a measurement of what weather feels like – is the highest ever recorded. The scientists monitoring the heat index say Iran are probably enduring among the hottest temperatures ever experienced by humans.

Meanwhile it has been warm across the globe with the north-west US and eastern Pacific starting to feel the effects of El Nino in recent weeks following the deaths of hundreds in May’s heat wave across South Asia.

climate-change-denial-350x242And Australia has since an unusually early start to bushfire season with one blaze in the Blue Mountains being fought into its forth day only two weeks after the mountains were blanketed in snow. Northern Australia also had record-breaking July with Gympie noting its hottest July day since records began in 1908 with the temperature reaching 29.4 degrees, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

It’s happening.

And it may already be too late to prevent the low end of temperature rise predictions, let alone the high end. Tell someone.

Fast.

This is a photo of a young Syrian girl, taken by Arab photojournalist Nadia AbuShaban.

The child was terrified that the camera was a weapon, and “surrendered” by pushing her little hands to the sky, in a heart-rending exposition of what life is really like for so many children, throughout the Middle East.

Young Syrian girl

As of March 30, AbuShaban’s message had been re-tweeted almost 9,000 times and favourited another 4,000 times. Her Twitter profile has also been flooded with messages.

It has since also been shared to other social media platforms, attracting millions of views and thousands of comments on Tumblr, Reddit and other popular sites. And now this blog.

vietnamWe are reminded of the famous photo from the Vietnam conflict of the girl running down the track, naked from a napalm attack. and we suspect that AbuShaban has taken another of those impromptu, heart-rending photos that can change attitudes and opinions.

If the look in that child’s eyes, and the quivering terror of her clenched lips, do not melt some hearts on all sides of the various conflicts raging in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Israel and elsewhere, well, then we have no hope.

(Partly sourced from Reuters)

Security forces arrests pro-Mursi female protesters during clashes in Alexandria November 1, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer

Security forces arrests pro-Mursi female protesters during clashes in Alexandria November 1, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer

Two high-profile Egyptian trials, both arising from years of turbulent protests, have delivered sharply contrasting sentences in the space of just a few months.

In March, a policeman was convicted of shooting at protesters, deliberately aiming at their eyes, during demonstrations in November 2011.

The man dubbed the ‘eye sniper’ was sentenced to three years in prison.

This week, 21 women and teenage girls were found guilty of obstructing traffic during a pro-Islamist protest last month. The 14 women were imprisoned for 11 years, while the seven under the age of 18 were sent to juvenile prison.

You read that right. 11 years in an Egyptian jail for peaceful protest. So much for the democracy of the “Arab Spring”. Yet despite this palpable injustice, the West, and other power blocks, have remained very cautious about criticising the Egyptian military too strongly, obsessed with the fear of another fundamentalist Islamic state being established on the broken bones of what has been in recent years both a key Western ally and in earlier decades a co-operative partner to countries like Russia and China. Everyone seems to prefer a military crackdown to another Islamist Government to deal with.

The verdicts stunned local opposition and rights campaigners, even by the standards of a crackdown in which security forces have killed hundreds of Islamists and arrested thousands since the army overthrew President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in July.

“The ruling was shocking. We could not believe that Egypt would lock up its girls with the excuse that they are a threat to security,” said Ramadan Abdel Hamid, whose 15-year-old daughter Rawda and wife Salwa were among those sentenced. One can only imagine his anguish.

“Is this what is going to calm Egypt?” he asked. The answer is surely “no”.

As army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi implements a promised roadmap towards elections, the United States and other countries are watching closely and has repeatedly urged the interim government to treat its opponents with restraint.

Since Mursi’s fall, the US has frozen some military aid to Cairo. The European Union has been encouraging political reconciliation in a bid to stabilise Egypt, which has a peace treaty with Israel and controls the strategic Suez Canal.

PARDON SOUGHT

The security forces have been lionised by state and private media which denounce the Brotherhood as terrorists. But convicting women and girls who peacefully back Mursi has raised the campaign to a new level that could risk provoking a backlash.

So far there have been no street protests against the sentences, but criticism has appeared on social media.

Even leftist leader Hamdeen Sabahi called for a presidential pardon, even though he is a fierce opponent of the Brotherhood.

The sentences could give the unpopular Brotherhood some political ammunition as it tries to recover from the crackdown that has all but decimated the movement.

In a statement, an alliance of pro-Brotherhood parties said: “The judiciary rules against the girls of Alexandria within days and goes at the speed of a tortoise in the trial of Mubarak and his gang.”

It said the verdict “proved that the independence of the judiciary has passed away”.

In the picture above, An anti-government protester waves a flag with a picture of youth activist Gaber Salah, during a rally against a new law restricting demonstrations, in front of Egypt’s Parliament in Cairo. Photo: Reuters.

DELICATE ISSUE

women protestingStreet protests are a highly sensitive issue in a country where people power has led to the downfall of two presidents in less than three years, beginning with veteran autocrat – perhaps kleptocrat would be a better phrase – Hosni Mubarak in 2011. The sentencing of the women and girls coincided with tensions over a law passed on Sunday that tightly restricts demonstrations.

While many Egyptians support Sisi and his roadmap, and while Mursi could never be considered to have ruled with any great skill nor restraint himself, even non-Islamists are becoming more critical of the military, suggesting the authorities may have to tread more cautiously.

“I was surprised by how quickly this case was decided,” said Anwar El Sadat, a former member of the People’s Assembly and chairman of its Human Rights Committee. “I was hoping they would show some mercy, especially because it’s women and girls.”

Tamara Alrifai of U.S.-based Human Rights Watch described the case as “shocking”.

“The seven girls are underage and considered children,” she said. “It is part of a wider campaign to put a halt to protests. People seized the right to protest in 2011 and they are trying to take it away from them.”

Relatives of the women and girls have condemned the court ruling, but said it would strengthen their resolve against what they call the military coup to remove Mursi.

womenSohanda Abdel Rahman, 13, said she could not believe her mother was sentenced to 11 years in jail.

“This is an oppressive and political sentencing,” she said after visiting her in prison. “But we began the path and know what will happen to us and we will not retreat.”

Those words should cast a chill through the collective consciousness of the Egyptian military. Here at the Wellthisiswhatithink desk, we would simply like to advance some arguments that invariably seem to be ignored time and again by politicians and military men the world over, with the same inevitable effect, and the same inevitable suffering for innocent people. As sure as night follows day:

  • History shows that the will of a people cannot be overcome forever.
  • People who disagree must eventually be brought to peaceably agree, no matter how far apart their opinions seem to be.
  • Peaceful protest can never be wrong.
  • Jailing innocents solves nothing.
  • Persecution is sooner or later served back ten-fold to the persecutors.
  • Local conflicts become civil wars in the blink of an eye.
  • Civil conflicts spill beyond a country’s borders like water finding its own level.

 

As many warned with Iraq, as we warned on this very blog with Syria – a conflict that we said was about to hurtle utterly out of control when the dead still numbered in the dozens not in the hundreds of thousands – Egypt is a live powder-keg and the fuse is lit. Anyone who thinks that moderately advanced countries with modern cities cannot stumble into chaos is ignoring Greece after the Second World War, they’re ignoring the Balkans, they’re ignoring Lebanon. Hell, they’re ignoring Europe in 1939.

And if a major conflict breaks out in Eqypt, one can see an Al Qaeda (and fellow travellers) fuelled insurrection right across the top of northern Africa, and spilling down into countries like Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Central Africa Republic, Chad, Sudan … essentially a brushfire that could rapidly become uncontainable, setting Africa back a hundred years, destroying the trade its people need to live, with potentially millions of casualties, and cruelling fledgling moves to democracy. Meanwhile the Syria, Iraq, Iran situation continues to destabilise that region – with Israel uncomfortably co-existing between warring Sunni and Shia tribes, then Afghanistan without a sufficient American and Allied presence descends into turmoil, then Pakistan, then India …

Welcome to World War 3.

Over alarmist? We suggest you Google “Gavrilo Princep”.

Gestures can change perceptions. They can affect the public mood. Dramatically.

So: time to release those women? Well, that’s what we think. And fast.

syria refugee mapI am on record as often re-posting Emily Hauser’s columns from her excellent blog “In my head”.

She generally tackles issues of social justice, democracy, and the difference between right and wrong, and especially as regards Israel, from a Jewish perspective.

As, in Australia, we seem to be roiled up in an endless debate about immigration and what to do with the tens of thousands of refugees that we accommodate every year.

Tens of thousands sounds a lot, but it’s worth remembering that other countries, much poorer than ours, deal with millions of refugees.

And that these vast movements of people de-stabilise whole regions, and that none of us are immune from those impacts, especially the countries in the immediate proximity of conflict.

I warmly commend Emily’s comments to you. They bear deep consideration.

Syrian refugees – actually a lot more than two million.

Like the shirt? Buy the shirt. Change the world. http://www.cafepress.com/yolly.561612586

Like the shirt? Buy the shirt. Change the world. http://www.cafepress.com/yolly.561612586

And if you’re in Australia, you might like to purchase this t-shirt, to remind our new Dear Leader, Dear Reader, that we can afford to be a bit more generous with the world.

We can easily manage to up our refugee intake.

As one of the richest nations on the planet, we should.

Not to mention the fact that we are a nation of immigrants, and many of our finest Australians came here as refugees.

Not to mention that research shows that immigration is a net contributor to the Australian economy.

Immigration = economic growth. No, immigrants don’t “take” our jobs, fool. They make our jobs.

Buy the shirt, start the conversation with a friend.

 

WellthisiswhatIthink says: This is a brutally frank and important commentary from a Jewish Zionist on everything that is wrong – and morally wrong – with the current Israeli government’s position on the Palestinian question. It deserves to be read by anyone – anyone – who genuinely wants peace in the Middle East.

Emily L. Hauser - In My Head

Israeli_and_Palestinian_FlagsLast week, Daniel Gordis ran an opinion piece in the Jerusalem Post entitled “We Gave Peace a Chance,” consisting largely of a lengthy and pretty accurate list of the many and various ways in which Palestinians have been a disappointment to Israelis.

I cannot and will not argue that the Palestinian leadership has been a paragon of virtue, either in leading its own people or in dealing with mine, nor will I argue that the Palestinian people have taken many steps to reassure my people that they don’t actively despise us. It’s my impression, based in a quarter of a century of observation, that a lot of Palestinians do, in fact, despise Israel. Where Gordis and I differ, I think, is our starting point for dealing with Palestinians in the first place.

In his piece, Gordis relies on and advances the same kind of bush-league dehumanization of the Palestinian people 

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At Wellthisiswhatithink we have a long and honourable tradition of supporting a free press.

Mother Jones has done the world a huge service with the Romney hidden video.

Julian Assange and Wikileaks have opened a window into the hidden, murky depths of world politics.

Today, we defy the naysayers, and publish two new topless photographs of Catherine Middleton, aka Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.

We may be criticised for this. We may be told we are being irresponsible.

But we believe in a higher purpose. We believe the public has a right to know.

Yes, of course, there are serious matters to be considered. World hunger. Nuclear weapons. The Middle East. Wars and rumours of wars. But a chance to see a celebrity’s tits surely trumps those. Do people not deserve a little light relief? A glimpse of a better life?

So here, without fear or favour, are the photographs.

kate middleton topless

Guys, seriously. Get … a … life.

PS I am reliably informed by an old mate that to commemorate the release of our topless photos of Kate Middleton, Royal Doulton will be releasing a Collector’s Edition of two small jugs. *Titter* would seem an appropriate response.

I warmly applaud this article by Emily, which I consider to be both timely and wise. The prospect of another war with Israel in the south for tragic little Lebanon, already so pressed by the situation in Syria on their border, is simply too horrible.

We must learn Emily’s core understanding – violence begets violence. When will the leaders in the Mid East remember Churchill’s famous adage “Jaw-jaw is always better than war-war”? We are talking about violence, which could, if it embroils Israel, Iran, Syria and Lebanon – a true regional conflict – cause not just hundreds or thousands of casualties, but cost hundreds of thousands and possibly millions of innocent lives. And as Emily so presciently points out, we seem to be sleep-walking into it.

War will continue until men refuse to fight

I know some will accuse me of being naive, but it’s what I believe. http://www.cafepress.com/yolly.431431252

Emily L. Hauser - In My Head

We learned on Friday that America and Israel have concluded that the bomber in last week’s bloody attack in the Bulgarian city of Burgas was an operative working with the Lebanon-based Hezbollah, under orders from Iran “to avenge assassinations targeting its nuclear scientists” (such as Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan, killed in January when an assassin bombed his car in Tehran).

In the meantime, we’ve also learned that the New York police have found evidence linking Iran or its proxies to nine other plots against Israeli or Jewish targets around the world. According to former Israeli National Security Adviser Uzi Arad, this should not surprise us – and Israel is “to a large extent, the initiators.”

We hit [senior Hezbollah leader] Imad Mughniye [in 2008], and, mainly, we’re leading a struggle against Iran. We’re not a passive side. And the other side is the defending, deterring, and attacking one.

…If Israel will…

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Rona Shafia, 52, left and Sahar Shafia, 17, in a photo recovered from Sahar's cellphone, taken June 26, 2009 while the Shafia family was in Niagara Falls. This photo is a released exhibit from trial of Mohammad Shafia, 56, his second wife Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 39, and their son Hamed Shafia, 18 who were convicted of four counts of first degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the deaths of Rona and Sahar, and also Zainab Shafia, 19, and Geeti Shafia, who was just 13 years old.

A recent case in Canada when a father, his wife and their son were convicted of the so-called “Honour” killing of his other (childless) wife (in a polygamous marriage) and three of the convicted couple’s daughters has galvanised the blogosphere and news outlets with the unimaginable, surreal horror of the event. The murderers have each been jailed for 25 years, the maximum available under Canadian law.

Despite many arguments to the contrary, (and they are easy enough to find on the internet), it would therefore be timely to note, as blogger “Morale Outrage” points out in the article “Honor killings are murder not an Islamic teaching” – which I reproduce below – that this is a cultural phenomenon, and not a religious one.

Zainab

Zainab

This is not to excuse such appalling behaviour, merely to ensure that it does not fuel any further the already poisonous atmosphere between Islam and the “West”, whether by that we mean Christian opinion or secular.

What is most worrying to me is that, in the West at least, we are clearly failing to protect women from this miserable, cowardly violence.

As this story shows, the future murders of the wife and children concerned were well-flagged during an appeal to police for help.

http://www.canada.com/life/Shafia+trial+hears+call+about+threats+beatings/5750419/story.html

The court also heard that Geeti tried to seek help from teachers and child protection authorities, complaining of verbal, emotional and physical abuse at home.

In addition, child protection agencies now admit they failed the children and their mother. TV coverage and commentary here: http://www.sunnewsnetwork.ca/sunnews/canada/archives/2012/02/20120201-150647.html

This is an increasing problem in the West as we welcome some highly traditional migrant families from these areas. At the very least, we need to provide safe refuge for these innocents and ruthlessly prosecute those within their families who threaten them. We also need to understand that it can take incredible courage for young, vulnerable people to make a complaint, and that they may well recant their stories under pressure or out of simple fear, and that once they have raised the issue of in-family violence they must be taken seriously.

Needless to say, the case, and others like it, has provoked an outpouring of opinion.

Language obscures core issue, says expert

Alia Hogben of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women said the language around the Shafia verdict is distracting from the basic fact that four women were murdered.

Instead, she prefers the idea that the deaths were “femicide”.

“Femicide just simply means the killing of women and girls just because they’re women and girls,” she told CTV News Channel on Monday. The term stems from the patriarchal idea that men are the guardians of women and can “do with them as they see fit”, Hogben said.

She said Canadians should stop focusing on the deaths as honour killings “because that makes it kind of exotic and different and therefore does not include them with all of us as Canadian women.”

By viewing the deaths as a female issue, not only that implies ties to any specific cultural group, Hogben said Canadians can focus on how to protect women in the future.

The Government reaction

But Rona Ambrose, Minister for Status of Women, told CTV’s Power Play on Monday that honour killings are real and society needed to “wake up” to the threat.

“I think (the Shafia) trial in particular was a wake-up call to a lot of people who thought honour-motivated violence doesn’t exist in Canada,” she said. “It sends a message that this is real. We need to educate prosecutors, we need to educate police officers, social workers so they understand what this is about.”

Ambrose said that’s already happening in some Toronto women’s shelters, where staff are learning about the phenomenon. Other programs for women and girls, such as those offered through the Indo-Canadian Women’s Association, can also help, she said.

While honour killings are rare in Canada, indeed, in most Western countries including the UK, Australia and the USA, they occur with worrying frequency, and “honour-motivated non-lethal violence against women is prevalent”, Ambrose said.

“Girls are being subjected to violence or intimidation because they wore jeans. This is the kind of thing that’s difficult for Canadians to understand,” she said.

(For many of us, not just Canadians, Ms Ambrose.)

She continued:

“This is an issue – and there’ve been a lot of very brave women in certain cultural communities who’ve come forward to say this is a problem – honour-motivated violence does exist and we have to address it,” Ambrose said, noting that Indo-Canadian and Muslim communities are working with the government to do just that.

The bigger picture
That is all only the beginning of the solution for Western countries, of course. A much longer and more intractable problem is to turn around the attitudes to women throughout much of the Middle East, Asia and Africa that permit such atrocities anywhere. As we shake our heads over the news coverage, we are left, ultimately, with the same, persistent, terrifying question. How can a father or brother look in the eyes of his daughter or sister and murderously wield a cudgel, a knife, or fire a gun? What is it that could conquer any normal paternal or filial duty of care? That such behaviour seems simply incomprehensible to us in the West should merely spur us on to greater efforts to understand, and counter, the cultural beliefs that permit such sociopathic attitudes. In short, not all cultural beliefs are equal. Some are just plain wrong. We need the courage to say this, unflinchingly. And also to remind ourselves that it has nothing to do with religion, which is merely used as a cover for such behaviour.
honor killing victims

All victims of "honour murders". How many more?

The eyes of those thousands of girls and women murdered every year throughout the world on the flimsiest of excuse stare back at us from our computer screens and the pages of our newspapers. They demand that we do more to help them, and to prevent others joining their tragic ranks.

And as we contemplate the mysteries of cultures other than our own, let us also not forget: women are terrified, injured or die every single day in Western countries at the hands of men who are supposed to love them. And that therefore, all over the world, only a fundamental alteration in men can finally, and irrevocably, change the future of all women for the better.

As John Lennon so pointedly remarked, “Woman is the nigger of the world. Think about it. Do something about it.”

The Moral Outrage blog follows:

Honor killings are murder not an Islamic teaching

Leading Muslim thinkers wholeheartedly insist that “honor murders” have no place and no support in Islam.

“There is nothing in the Quran that justifies honor killings. There is nothing that says you should kill for the honor of the family,” said Taj Hargey, director of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford in England.

“This idea that ‘somehow a girl has besmirched our honor and therefore the thing to do is kill her’ is bizarre, and Muslims should

Geeti

Geeti

stop using this defense,” he said, arguing that the practice is cultural, not religious in origin.

“You cannot say this is what Islam approves of. You can [only] say this is what their culture approves of,” he said.

Yet several Arab countries and territories, including Iraq, Kuwait, Syria, Yemen and the Palestinian territories, do have laws providing lesser sentences for honor murders than for other murders, Human Rights Watch says. Egypt and Jordan also have laws that have been interpreted to allow reduced sentences for honor crimes, the group says.

Nadya Khalife, a researcher on women’s rights in the Arab world for Human Rights Watch, agrees that the practice should not be blamed on Islam. “It’s not linked to religion; it’s more cultural,” she said. “There have been several Islamic scholars who have issued fatwas against honor killing.”

Irshad Manji, the author of “Allah, Liberty and Love: Courage to Reconcile Faith and Freedom,” said there was another conflict at work in “honor murders”, a term that broadcaster CNN uses in preference to “honor killings” because the latter phrase does not properly describe the crime.

It is “a tribal tradition that emphasizes the family or the tribe or the community over the individual.” Although the practice may not be Islamic, she said, not all Muslims understand the distinction.

“It is a problem within Islam because of how Muslims often confuse culture and religion,” she said. “It’s Muslims who have to learn to separate culture and religion. If we don’t, Islam will continue to get the bad name that it gets.”

On the other hand, honor murders are not a problem in Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population. “No such a practice can be found among Indonesian Muslims,” said Azyumardi Azra, the director of the graduate school at the State Islamic University in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Taj Hargey, the director of the Muslim Educational Centre, said violence was sometimes the result of painful transition. “Muslims are in a state of flux,” he said. “They are between two worlds: the ancient world and the new technological age,” he said. “Women are getting rights and the ability to choose their own spouses. [Especially Muslim families living in the West don’t] know how to respond to this: the conflict between the discipline of children and the new reality.”

Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service has an expert devoted to prosecuting honor-based violence, Nazir Afzal. Convicting perpetrators can be difficult, he said. “There is a wall of silence around this, and people are not prepared to talk,” he said.

And along with the Islamic scholars and human rights advocates, he rejected out of hand the idea that religion justified it. “At the end of the day, murder is murder. There is no faith on Earth, no community on Earth that justifies this,” he said.

“Abrahamic faiths say ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ ” he pointed out. “At the end of the day, nobody should die for this.”

Nadya Khalife of Human Rights Watch says reliable figures of the number of honor murders are hard to come by, but she pointed to a United Nations Population Fund estimate of 5,000 per year.

Varying Canadian media comments on the case can be found here: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Americas/2012/0130/Honor-killings-in-Canada-5-responses-to-the-Shafia-verdict/Honor-killings-deserve-harsher-penalty-than-first-degree-murder

Innumerable blogs on the topic are also available. Sadly, I can hardly wish you “happy reading”.