Friday, May 23, 2014

Connecting the dots: How We Stop the Next Boko Haram... Attacks on dissenting journalists show how scared Hezbollah really is... Maronite patriarch's Israel trip raises Hezbollah ire... Experts Outline Challenges, Propose Solutions for Gaza at ATFP-UNRWA Briefing


How We Stop the Next Boko Haram

To prevent future Boko Harams, American Muslims must speak out forcefully against their radical coreligionists—and the media must cover it.
It’s time we had an honest discussion about groups like Boko Haram and how we can prevent the rise of similar ones in the future.  And, yes, this conversation must include addressing the role Islam plays—even at the risk of upsetting some of my fellow Muslims.

I’m not saying Boko Haram’s actions are based on Islamic principles. I believe the opposite, and in fact, I made that very point in my article last week. Of course, the anti-Muslim crowd denounced my article as inaccurate. Having those people explain Islam is like having Mel Gibson explain Judaism.

But when I say Islam plays a role, I mean that there’s no doubt that Boko Haram and their followers identify as Muslims. And I’m sure some if not most of those in that terrorist group believe they are doing God’s work by engaging in violent attacks.

Here’s the bottom line: Preventing new Boko Harams requires a multifaceted approach, and Muslims need to be one part of it. And I say this as a Muslim who for years had bristled at the idea of being called on to denounce terrorists who commit violence in the name of Islam because I didn’t feel I was in any way connected to these despicable murderers.

I would often scoff at people when they would say: “Muslims need to stop these terrorists.” My typical response was: Do you want me to fly to over there and speak to them?! I have no more to do with those extremists than the typical Christian has with those who attack abortion clinics.

But my views have evolved. No, I’m not boarding a jet to Nigeria to have a sit down with Boko Haram. I have however come to believe—as have many other American-Muslims I have spoken with—that we can and must play a role in combatting Muslim extremism outside of our borders. (Muslims have already been doing that for years in the United States, even though the media rarely report it.)

Shamsi Ali, a well-known New York City-based Imam who does extensive interfaith work with Rabbi Marc Schneier and Russell Simmons, stated emphatically, “It is paramount important for the Muslims worldwide to speak out against any criminal tendencies within the community without any reservation.”

Arsalan Iftikhar, senior editor of The Islamic Monthly and adjunct professor of religious studies at DePaul University, and Qasim Rashid, a Muslim-American lawyer and author of the soon to be released book Extremist, also emphasized the need for Muslims to publicly denounce terrorists who invoke Islam.  “Muslim leaders need to condemn all terrorist attacks made in the name of Islam because we are called to do so by the Koran,” noted Rashid.

The rationale for this is twofold.  One, it unequivocally lets non-Muslims know that these terrorists don’t accurately represent Islam. And secondly, this message will hopefully “marginalize these groups” from mainstream Muslims as they are made aware that these terrorists’ actions are un-Islamic, hence making it more difficult for them to attract support of Muslims, noted Imam Ali. Iftikhar added that these denunciations should be made “in Islamic religious terms which will resonate” within the Muslim community.

Imam Ali also urged two other specific measures. First, the need to increase literacy among Muslims in developing nations. Why does this matter? As Imam Ali explained, a political or terrorist leader can literally make things up and claim they are in the Koran, and those unable to read will not be able to check if that is accurate. Keep in mind that in Nigeria, 51 percent of the 170 million people are illiterate.

Second, Imam Ali raised an issue that few have publicly discussed. He explained the importance of Muslims actually understanding the true meaning of certain passages of the Koran, calling for them to “broaden their horizons” and view the scripture “within proper context and not literally.”

Ali gave as an example the current controversy in Sudan over a judge sentencing a woman to death for leaving Islam under that country’s version of sharia law. (Sudanese officials recently noted that the verdict was not final.)

Ali explained that to understand the true meaning of the passage of the Koran that addresses the punishment for renouncing Islam, it must be viewed in its historical context.  That part of the Koran addresses a time of war in 625 AD and was intended to punish those who renounced their faith in an effort to desert the military, making it in essence punishment for “treason.” As Ali noted, it was not intended to be applied outside of war because that would be completely inconsistent with one of the main tenets of Islam: “Let there be no compulsion in religion.”

However, Muslims alone can’t prevent all radicals in their faith. In Nigeria, there are other factors that led to Boko Haram’s formation and success in recruiting, namely injustice, government corruption, and especially poverty. In Nigeria, 61 percent of the people live on less than a dollar a day. Consequently, it’s easy to recruit people by the promise of food and even small amounts of money.

As a local governor in Nigeria recently declared, the way to prevent future Boko Harams is a “three-pronged strategy of military, socio-political and economic solutions. What needs to be added to that list is that Muslims must vigilantly denounce the actions of groups claiming to act in the name of Islam, and just as importantly, the media need to cover these condemnations with the same gusto as they cover the terrorists.

Dean Obeidallah


Comedian/writer/speaker trying to change world for better. Columnist Co-Director comedy documentary now on iTunes/Amazon/Netflx
Dean Obeidallah is a former lawyer turned political comedian and writer.  He is a frequent commentator on various cable-news networks. He has also appeared on Comedy Central’s “Axis of Evil” Special, ABC’s “The View” and he co-directed the comedy documentary, “The Muslims Are Coming!”  His blog is The Dean’s Report.

Attacks on dissenting journalists show how scared Hezbollah really is
The vicious lies about NOW editor Hanin Ghaddar are a symptom of Hezbollah's panic

I suppose it's completely pointless to expect gangsters to have any regard for free speech, or, for that matter, the truth. After all, their stock in trade is brute force. It's always set up on a sliding scale: first comes "friendly advice," then a "word to the wise" warning. Then the bullying. Then blatant threats. And the logical culmination is some sort of physical attack. Nowhere has this progressive logic of the political hoodlum been in greater evidence than in Lebanon in recent decades.

So when a nationally- and internationally-noted Lebanese journalist has clearly been dragged into the bullying and borderline blatant threat stage of attack by thugs and their henchmen in the public press, it's essential to raise the loudest possible outcry. The only reasonable collective response is: back off and don't you dare think about going a step further.

As it happens, Hanin Ghaddar, managing editor of this website, is facing precisely such a campaign of threats and intimidation by Hezbollah, its Lebanese allies, and the hacks and propagandists they employ. Hezbollah front or fellow traveler publications like Al-Akhbar, Al-Manar, and Tayyar all piled onto the lies that she had broken Lebanese law by appearing with Israeli officials at a conference in Washington.

The record is clear: she did no such thing. On the contrary, she stipulated that the conference she attended was structured to enable her to scrupulously abide by Lebanese law. This is confirmed by the hosting organization, all attendees, and the published schedule.

So Hanin is completely innocent of the charges leveled against her. But let's imagine, counter-factually, that she had actually shared a stage with an Israeli. That might've been a violation of Lebanese law. But how would it have compared to the grossly unlawful conduct, on the daily basis, by Hezbollah and its allies?

What would that have been compared to blowing up former prime ministers in the middle of crowded streets? Assassinating journalists or rival politicians on a routine basis? Maintaining a large, well-supplied, and foreign-funded and -dominated private army? Dragging Lebanon into a devastating and pointless war with Israel in 2006?

Or how about Hezbollah's unilateral intervention in the Syrian conflict, in direct contravention of the Baabda Declaration? And what have they done in Syria except, in effect, help 'Amo Bashar wipe out scores of thousands of his own people, and drop sarin gas, barrel bombs, and, most recently, chlorine weapons on innocent Syrians?

The idea of such people and their propagandists concocting a campaign of vitriol and hatred against someone based on false accusations of having spoken on a stage with an Israeli, given their own conduct, is the height of effrontery. They even sank to the level of having some of her relatives issue public "denunciations" of her, a familiar tactic Hezbollah has used in the past to try to intimidate Lebanese Shiites who don't toe the party line.

There's no doubt why Ghaddar is being targeted so viciously. Hezbollah is sinking into a profound crisis in Lebanon generally, and within the Shiite community in particular, because of its disastrous intervention in Syria. The organization is finding it very difficult to explain to ordinary Lebanese Shiites why their sons should be dying for towns they've never heard of, and for a vicious dictator who has nothing to do with their daily lives.

Everything Hezbollah ever claimed about why other Lebanese, including Shiites, should find it somehow acceptable that the organization maintains a huge private army and a foreign policy that has allowed them to drag the country into calamitous conflicts with both of its immediate neighbors has been totally exposed in recent years for the lies they are. Ostensibly Hezbollah's state-within-a-state is for "resistance" and to protect Lebanon from Israel. In reality, of course, its weapons are used mainly to enforce its domestic political agenda on other Lebanese, and in the service of its Iranian and Syrian patrons, most notably through the intervention in the Syrian conflict.

This is becoming increasingly obvious to even the most credulous of Lebanese. Hezbollah therefore feels particularly vulnerable. Cue the attack on Ghaddar, along with other vicious efforts to fend off its critics, particularly within the Shiite community. There has been a significant push-back in Lebanon against the attacks on her, but so far it's insufficient.

And what of the media organizations that have led the charge against her? Well, the odious Ibrahim al-Amin, editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar, has been accused of obstruction of justice for refusing to appear at a hearing of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon investigating the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. Amin is the same charmer who recently opined that the suffering of the Palestinian refugees in the Yarmouk refugee camp outside Damascus was entirely the fault of the refugees themselves.

Al-Akhbar also regularly features the gurglings of one Assad AbuKhalil, who "teaches" unfortunate students at a school called California State University, Stanislaus (no, I've never heard of it either). AbuKhalil is quick to condemn anyone and everyone of being a traitor, Zionist, imperialist stooge, or lackey, and every other epithet imaginable.

Yet it was recently revealed that, some years ago, the US Central Intelligence Agency paid him to do something. He issued a denial, in which he asserted that he had never been an employee of the CIA. One plausible explanation, given what's known and what can be inferred from his own statements, is that some while back the CIA may have paid him to give one or two unclassified briefings. There is no reason to be embarrassed about that, except given what he and his newspaper would have said about anybody else who had done that makes admitting a simple and otherwise banal and straightforward truth quite impossible.

AbuKhalil threatened to sue everyone in sight, but of course he didn't. And he won't. Because he would have to submit to discovery and there may be something there, even though no one thinks he was a staff employee of the CIA. But given the attitudes he and Al-Akhbar peddle, is this not the very height of hypocrisy? These are the people who put themselves in the vanguard of the attack on Hanin Ghaddar for giving a public talk at an established Washington think tank on a serious topic, and carefully arranging things to remain within the confines of Lebanese law?

So everybody involved in this campaign of bullying and intimidation against Ghaddar should be on notice. First, she has an extensive national and international base of support. The world is watching. Second, she has bravely vowed to continue her journalism and commentary undaunted by these outrageous scare tactics and abuses. Third, those who are attacking Ghaddar – who did not in fact violate any laws or norms – are shills for mobsters and murderers of the first order, who are guilty of some of the worst crimes imaginable.

And fourth, and most importantly, it's obvious that this entire outrageous attack on Ghaddar is prompted by a sense of desperation  on the part of Hezbollah and its lackeys, and an intensified impulse to try to squash any dissent within the Shiite community. That's because such dissent is growing, and the reputation of the organization, even in its main constituency, is rocked to the core for dragging the Lebanese Shiites, and the rest of the country, into by its reckless intervention in Syria.

Hezbollah is clearly scared, and with good reason. The cowardly bullying of an independent-minded and serious journalist – who, thankfully, refuses to be intimidated – could not provide a clearer sign of incipient panic in the self-appointed "Party of God." So, back off and don't you dare think about going a step further.

Hussein Ibish, PhD
Senior Fellow
American Task Force on Palestine

Twitter: @ibishblog

Lebanon's Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai speaks to an AFP journalist on May 13, 2014 at the See of the Maronite Catholic Patriarchate in Bkerke (AFP Photo/Anwar Amro)

Maronite patriarch's Israel trip raises Hezbollah ire

Bkerke (Lebanon) (AFP) - An unprecedented visit by Lebanon's Maronite Patriarch to the Holy Land has angered the powerful Shia Muslim movement Hezbollah, a sworn enemy of Israel, technically still at war with Lebanon.

Patriarch Beshara Rai's planned visit is highly sensitive in a country where power is shared between Christians and Muslims, and where political divisions carved out during the 1975-1990 civil war have never quite healed.

Though an erstwhile Christian political domination has faded, tiny Lebanon is the only country in the Arab world with a Christian president under a complex, informal power-sharing arrangement.

Rai's visit is the first by a Lebanese religious official to the Holy Land since the state of Israel was established in 1948 and is intended to fit in with Pope Francis's three-day pilgrimage to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories that begins Saturday.

Rai has come under intense fire from media outlets that support Hezbollah, which dominates Lebanon's political life and advocates armed struggle against Israel. 

But he has insisted "it's not a political visit, it's a religious one."

"The pope is going to the Holy Land and Jerusalem. He is going to the diocese of the patriarch, so it's normal that the patriarch should welcome him," he told AFP.

"It's also normal that the patriarch goes to visit his diocese's parishes," said Rai, who is the Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, a Maronite community of some 10,000 in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

While Rai will not be a part of Pope Francis' official delegation, he will welcome the pontiff in Jordan, Bethlehem and Jerusalem, and then visit the Maronite community in the Galilee, in Israel, his deputy Boulos Sayyah said.

- 'Historic sin' -

Rai will not participate in any political meetings with Israeli officials, but he will meet Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

Lebanese law prohibits all contact with Israel, and any Lebanese who travel to the country can face charges of treason.

One exception is Lebanon's Maronite clergy, who are allowed to travel to the Holy Land to minister to the faithful there.

The spearhead of Lebanon's resistance until the end of Israel's occupation of the south in 2000, Hezbollah fought a war in 2006 against the Jewish state.

The Shiite movement recently warned that Rai's visit would have "negative repercussions".
Two pro-Hezbollah newspapers went further in their criticism, with Al-Safir describing the visit as a "historic sin" that sets a "dangerous precedent".

Al-Akhbar said the visit "would signify a normalisation with the occupier" Israel.

But Rai told reporters he was going to Jerusalem "to say Jerusalem is Arab, and I have authority over it."

"Jerusalem is our city, our city as Christians before anyone else."

"The Christians have been there for 2,000 years, while Israel was created in 1948."

- 'No one has the right to stop him' -

Rai also faces criticism for his plan to visit 2,500 Lebanese who fought in the Israeli-sponsored South Lebanon Army.

They moved to Israel when the Jewish state ended its occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000.

Many Lebanese regard them as traitors and want to see them punished.

But a writer and expert on religious minorities in the Middle East, Antoine Saad, believes Rai's visit will show Christians in the Holy Land -- many of whom are emigrating -- that "they have not been abandoned."

Rai will tell Christians "not to fear Israeli pressures" and encourage them "not to sell their land," Saad told AFP.

Christian politicians in Lebanon have expressed their support for the patriarch's trip, as have average citizens.

"The patriarch's visit will confirm the Christian identity of the Holy Land, and no one has the right to stop him," 32-year-old Fadi Abi-Lama told AFP.

"As a Christian, I dream of the day I will be able to visit the land where Christ was born, lived and died."


Experts Outline Challenges, Propose Solutions for Gaza at ATFP-UNRWA Briefing

A group of prominent experts identified a number of key challenges facing the Gaza Strip and its Palestinian residents, and ways to address them, at a briefing jointly hosted by the American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP) and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in Washington, DC on May 19. Robert Turner, Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, said he thought the most important agenda item for improving the prospects in Gaza is access to external markets. Mara Rudman, a former Obama and Clinton administration national security official, now at Quorum Strategies, LLC, proposed that water resource management -- which she said could include regional partners as well as public-private initiatives -- might be best placed at the top of the agenda for improving the lives and prospects for Gaza residents.

The briefing, entitled "The Future of Gaza: Trajectories, Trends, Challenges and Opportunities," at the National Press Club looked at numerous aspects of the challenges facing Gaza, including scarce resources, overpopulation, lack of access and ability, and growing despair. However, Turner and Rudman, and panel moderator ATFP Executive Director Ghaith Al-Omari, also examined numerous ways in which the prospects and outcome for Gaza can be improved. Turner warned that Gaza's aquifer would be all but useless by 2020, and noted that there has been a huge spike in unemployment since the closing of the Rafah crossing for most of the past year. He also emphasized that moving goods out of Gaza was virtually impossible, especially when compared to the limited but steady flow of goods into the territory. He noted that the United States was the key aid donor to UNRWA, but expressed surprise that Israel was still enforcing a policy of separation between the West Bank and Gaza even though its technical and security requirements had already been met.

Rudman noted that pilot projects for exports from Gaza had existed in the past and may still be ongoing, but emphasized the need for a political track as well as an economic and development one. She stated that the United States has been a major beneficiary of aid to the Palestinian Authority, and that Americans, as well as Israelis and Palestinians, would feel the consequences of any cut off in aid to the PA. She therefore urged maximal caution in dealing with that question.

A video of the ATFP/UNRWA event can be viewed by clicking here.


So that they may be one: In this Monday, May 12, 2014 photo, a welcome poster with a picture of Pope Francis is posted at a street near the Church of the Nativity, one of the stops of Pope Francis during his upcoming visit in the Holy Land at the end of this month, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. Israel's internal security agency said it fears there could be more anti-Christian vandalism attacks, and local Vatican officials have urged Israel to safeguard Christian holy sites ahead of the pope's visit at the end of the month. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
In this March 20, 2013, file photo provided by the Vatican paper L' Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis, right, meets Bartholomew I, the first ecumenical patriarch to attend the installation of a Pope since the Catholic and Orthodox church split nearly 1,000 years ago, at the Vatican. Pope Francis insists his weekend pilgrimage to the Middle East is a “strictly religious” commemoration of a key turning point in Catholic-Orthodox relations. But the three-day visit is the most delicate mission of his papacy and will test his diplomatic chops as he negotiates Israeli-Palestinian tensions and fallout from Syria's civil war. (AP Photo/Osservatore Romano, File)

Christians, Muslims and Jews take part in a protest in Jerusalem, against attacks by suspected far-right Israelis, dubbed "price tagging", May 11, 2014. The top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land said on Sunday a spate of attacks he described as acts of terror against the church were poisoning the atmosphere ahead of this month's visit by Pope Francis, and urged Israel to arrest more perpetrators. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun (JERUSALEM - Tags: POLITICS RELIGION CIVIL UNREST)
Israeli Arab Christians take part in a procession in the northern city of Haifa May 11, 2014. The top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land said on Sunday a spate of attacks he described as acts of terror against the church were poisoning the atmosphere ahead of this month's visit by Pope Francis, and urged Israel to arrest more perpetrators. REUTERS/Ammar Awad (ISRAEL - Tags: POLITICS RELIGION)
Shadows of people praying are cast against a stone wall in the crypt of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected, in Jerusalem's Old City May 16, 2014. For as long as Christians have been coming to the Holy City, they have retraced the final steps of Jesus during his Passion. Fourteen stations of the cross are marked along a meandering pathway through bustling markets, streets crowded with praying pilgrims and shoppers, as well as residents, and devotees of the world's major religions. Pope Francis will pray at the church during his visit to Jordan, the Palestinian Territories and Israel between May 24 to May 26, on his first trip as pope to the region. Picture taken May 16, 2014. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly (JERUSALEM - Tags: RELIGION SOCIETY)

Pope's Mideast trip will test diplomatic skills

Associated Press

For a pope who embraces spontaneity and shuns papal protocol and security, the potential pitfalls are obvious. Not to mention the fact that Francis' stated purpose for traveling to Jordan, Israel and the West Bank has little to do with the geopolitical headlines of the day.

Francis has said his pilgrimage is designed to mark the 50th anniversary of the historic meeting in Jerusalem between Pope Paul VI and the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, Patriarch Athenagoras.

Their iconic 1964 embrace — with the diminutive Paul almost dwarfed by the bearded, 6-foot, 4-inch (1.9-meter) Patriarch of Constantinople — ended 900 years of mutual excommunications and divisions between Catholic and Orthodox stemming from the Great Schism of 1054, which split Christianity. It was the first meeting of a pope and ecumenical patriarch since 1437, when Patriarch Joseph II was forced to kiss the feet of Pope Eugene IV in a sign of subservience.

"This meeting just opened the way ... for reconciliation," the Greek-Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, told The Associated Press in a recent interview in his offices in Jerusalem's Old City.

The highlight of the trip that begins Saturday will be a prayer service led by Francis and Athengoras' successor, Bartholomew I, inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where the faithful believe Jesus was crucified and resurrected. The service itself will be historic given that the three main Christian communities that share the church — Greek-Orthodox, Armenian and Roman Catholic — will pray together at the same time...READ MORE

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