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(By Aboud Dandachi)
Pamela Geller. Bill Maher. Daniel Pipes. Sam Harris. Richard Dawkins. Proof that Islamophobia can be a very profitable and rewarding line of work. But for all their blustering, even the combined whining of the entire Islamophobia industry can scarcely hope to inflict long term damage on a religion with 1.5 billion adherents. Hersi Ali once dreamed of and pined for the day when the West would “crush Islam”, and had to reluctantly scale back her ambitions to merely “reforming Islam” when the world showed scant interest in waging an apocalyptic world war on the Islamic faith.
True, Muslims in Myanmar face genocidal persecution at the hands of state backed Buddhist extremists. To follow the thinking of the Pamela Gellers, Bill Mahers and Daniel Pipes of this world to its logical conclusion is to see Myanmar replicated in the West. It would require state sponsored genocide on several continents to even begin to put a dent in growth of the Islamic religion. Islamophobia can be very nasty, but even the most committed group of sit-in-a-think-tank-and-babble-on-about-taqiya Islamophobes cannot possibly pose an existential threat to the Islamic faith.
Unfortunately, the situation regarding Jewish communities around the world is much more precarious. Today, as Israel observes Yom Hashoah in remembrance of the more than six million Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust, rampant antisemitism has seen a resurgence around the world. While Islamophobia can never hope to do away with its intended target, modern antisemitism in its new, updated guises poses a very real existential danger to Jewish communities. Contrary to the disingenuous made-for-late-night-comedy blathering of Bill Maher, Islamophobia is a very real thing. But the danger and menace posed by antisemitism far outweighs anything Islamophobes can hope to achieve.
On January 27th 2015, commemorations were held world-wide in remembrance of the Holocaust. Seventy years after the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, these remembrances are as necessary as ever, as evidenced by the past year’s rising tide of antisemitic attacks the world over. And while it may be impossible to stop every terrorist attack everywhere in the world, the manner in which societies and individuals react to such atrocities is just as important as “killing the bad guys”.
A case in point would be the terrorist attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in early January. In the aftermath, a massive two million strong march was held in the heart of Paris in support of freedom of expression. The phrase #JeSuisCharlie became the most widely used hashtag in Twitter’s history. To meet the increased demand from multitudes of first-time readers seemingly eager on making a statement against extremism, the publication run for the magazine’s January 12th 2015 issue was increased from 60,000 copies to three million, and increased again to five million, and yet again to seven million copies.
Marches, Twitter campaigns, and a massive surge in readership. And yet largely relegated to the background was the fact that Jews were specifically targeted during those three terrible days in Paris. Indeed, for months before the Paris terrorist atrocities, Jews in much of Europe had been subjected to a relentless wave of vicious antisemitic attacks. An atmosphere of raw, unchallenged hatred for all things Jewish preceded the events in Paris, and the warning signs were there for anyone who cared to pay attention. When Jews in Denmark trying to hold an event calling for religious coexistence are chased off the streets by “Allahu Akbar” screaming-black-banner-waving thugs, then very soon someone will get it into their head to try to kill Jews in Paris.
Marches, Twitter campaigns, and millions of new readers. Momentary, short-term reactions to a very long term problem, one that has been building up for years. In the wake of such atrocities, it is natural for individuals to feel a strong need to act. And nothing repudiates terrorism as effectively as making a stand with its intended targets and victims. By making a stand with the Jewish communities of Europe and the world over.
And one effective, long term method of displaying solidarity with Jewish communities world wide is to show the same enthusiasm for their publications as the world has displayed for scooping up issues of Charlie Hebdo. To repudiate global extremism, one only needs to act on a very local level.
For many months you’ve been gracious enough to
endure follow my many blog posts and tweets on anything even remotely related to my home country of Syria. Indeed, you always had kind words about my book on the subject (yes people, there are some strong analogies between Doctor Who and the Syrian conflict), and you recently shared some of your own opinions, in the form of an open letter on your blog, on why Barack Obama waging war on any party in Syria would be a very very bad idea.
You articulated your views very well. As you mentioned, the defining political moment of your life was 2003, when George Bush junior disregarded American popular opinion (and international law), and set about trying to remake Iraq. Eleven years later, and Iraq is an epic mess. You expressed deep skepticism (to put it lightly) that any similar intervention by the USA in Syria would turn out differently.
Now, contrary to what may be widely believed in the West, there are scant few Syrians of any political persuasion who want America to execute an Iraq-style invasion of Syria, to do battle with either Assad or Da’esh (ISIS). And there are almost none who want the USA to stick around post-conflict and “rebuild” Syria the way Bush Jr. tried to rebuild Iraq.
And the reason is quite simple; just like you my friend, almost no one in the Middle East believes America is up to the job. Two wars have sapped America of the means and the will to fight wars in far off regions. Eliminating Da’esh will be one long struggle, and America no longer has the stamina for these kinds of open ended commitments.
So if I seem to be in agreement with Barack Obama on this point, you may rightly ask why is it that a day doesn’t go by when I don’t heap scorn on his policies/abilities/manhood. What is it about him that vexes me more than a so-called Whovian who can’t name a single Doctor before Ecceslton.
Let me be clear about what I and I’m sure a great many Syrians want from the USA at this point; there are fires raging in our country. Those fires need to be put out. We do not want Obama to give us water to douse the flames. We do not even want him to lend us a hose to put out the fires. But we would very much appreciate it if he would be so kind as to take his fucking foot off the hose to allow us to fight the fires that have by now spread to the entire region.
Barack Obama is a man who desperately wishes that foreign-policy wasn’t part of the job description that comes with being President of the United States. After six years of trying to “pivot” away from the Middle East, Obama is discovering that just because one doesn’t have an interest in the Middle East, is no immunity from the Middle East biting one in the ass.
With the terror group ISIS rampaging over much of the Levant and executing Western hostages, Obama has found himself forced to commit America to going to war again in the region. A broad regional coalition of (mainly) Sunni states is, according to Obama’s thinking, an essential ingredient to legitimizing America’s latest military foray in a region Obama would dearly love to be rid of.
Alas, Obama’s efforts at coalition-building have so far proven a dismal failure, with no country yet willing to openly commit to joining the USA in any military action against ISIS. But the reluctance of Middle Eastern governments to join an “anti-ISIS” coalition is not due to any imagined sympathies towards the group.
Simply put, countries in the region are understandably reluctant to commit themselves to a man who has himself not kept a single commitment to any of America’s allies. From Ukraine, to Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Turkey and the Gulf, America’s friends and opponents have noted what little value the Obama administration’s “commitments” are actually worth.
After six years of weaseling out of “red lines”, throwing Lebanese and Ukrainian allies under the bus, treating Turkey and Israel with open disdain, and going behind the Gulf’s back to sign an appeasement with the Iranian Ayatollocracy, the scale of which outdid even Chamberlain’s Munich agreement with Adolf Hitler, Obama comes as a supplicant to the Middle East; a supplicant with not even the credibility of a used-car salesman.
Join an Obama-led “anti-terror” coalition? Speaking as a Syrian refugee, I tend to regard Barack Obama as one would regard a neighbor who never lent much more than a glass of water while my house burned, but now expects me to join his vigilante neighborhood gang because someone broke his windows.
Recent calls by the likes of Fareed Zakaria and Ryan Crocker for the West to ally itself with the regime of Bashar Assad to fight the terror group ISIS, ignore some very practical reasons why such an alliance would do nothing to safeguard Western lives or rollback the Islamic State. Proponents of an alliance with Assad are acting less like hard-nosed realists, and more like daydreamers where cold-hard facts and realities must be ignored in order to sustain the fantasy.
If the threat of ISIS demands cold-hearted “realpolitik”, then “realpolitik” demands that we ask who has the best chance of defeating ISIS in Syria. Recent events have shown that the answer isn’t “Bashar Assad”, and for reasons that are both military and practical. The regime’s most recent defeat to ISIS at the Tabqa airbase was an even bigger political disaster than a military one, coming so soon after Bashar Assad had all but declared “victory” in the Syrian conflict.
Considering the abysmal performance of the regime’s forces against ISIS to date (even with massive Russian & regional assistance), the massive political ransom that will be extracted from the West (the lifting of economic, financial & military sanctions) in the event of such an alliance, and Assad’s utter inability to prevent a potential ISIS attack in Europe or North America, the inevitable conclusion must be that the regime brings precious little to an “alliance” with the West, when weighed against the price such an alliance would entail.
Simply put, it is more viable to light the beacons of Gondor and wait for the Riders of Rohan to come to the rescue against ISIS, then there is in relying on the Assad regime to rollback the Islamic State.
A year ago in September 2013, the teenage Pakistani education advocacy activist Malala Yousefzai opened a £188 million library in the British city of Birmingham.
Having spent the previous eleven months recovering from a shot in the head inflicted by Pakistani Taleban terrorists in retaliation for her activism, Malala had become the most commemorated teenage girl since Anne Frank. Honors from three continents were awarded to her, as were numerous media awards and distinctions.
By the time of her 16th birthday, a day the UN commemorated as “Malala Day”, Malala came to symbolize the struggle against Islamic militant extremism.
A struggle which her home country of Pakistan and much of the Islamic world today have clearly lost or are in advanced stages of losing. While Malala’s courage and resolve are without question, the dismal reality is that for all her activism and accolades abroad, her work has done next to nothing to challenge the trajectory and momentum of the Taleban in her home community.
Sadly, Malala epitomizes the dismal state of numerous Muslim activists, too many of whom eventually end up dead or pleading for asylum in the West. Prominent Muslim activists end up continuing their work from within the very societies that have none of the problems or issues those activists are seeking to fix.
Muslim communities themselves, the very places where the efforts of reformers are needed the most, are woefully incapable of providing the protection and space necessary for reformist activism in the face of religious extremism. The personal bravery of isolated individuals counts for little when society in general is too intimidated or cowed to stand up to the extremists.
In the face of the rise of savage extremist groups such as ISIS, Boko Haram and Al-Qaeda affiliates, the world has waited on the “moderate Muslim majority” to assert itself. And yet to date, most Muslim societies have proven utterly incapable of rallying around even their own social reformers and activists.
A multi-million pound library in Birmingham? It would have been better had the Pakistani state been strong enough to enable Malala to open a modest thousand pound library in her home town of Mingora.
I never thought the day would come when I’d be lecturing other people on the subject of failing societies. But when a Syrian tells you that you are in deep shit, you may rest assured that the shit you are in is deep indeed.
What in heaven’s name happened at Copenhagen? Last week’s disgraceful events in Calgary were bad enough, but Copenhagen was a hundred times worse.
A group of 250 Jewish and Iranian activists got together infront of the Danish Parliament for a rally, the agenda of which could not have been more laudable; peace for both Israel and Palestine, with both Israeli and Palestinian flags in evidence, and a keynote speech by Denmark’s former Chief Rabbi, Bent Melchior, one of Europe’s foremost figures in interfaith dialogue.
It was exactly the kind of commendable gathering needed for these troubled times.
And, apparently, exactly the kind of rally that is impossible to hold in Copenhagen in this day and age.
Within an hour, the police had to urge the participants to disband their event and flee into the Parliament’s courtyard, as intimidation from a growing horde of “pro-Gaza” Hamas-flag brandishing “kill the Jews Allahu Akbar” thugs grew to such horrendous proportions, that the police felt that they could no longer guarantee the safety of the Jewish and Iranian participants.
Europe, do you really need someone to tell you how so very, very bad it is when honest citizens can no longer express their opinion in Denmark, of all places?
Denmark is one of the least objectionable and inoffensive societies in the world. The last time anyone ever had cause to be offended by Denmark, the Danes were in longboats and wearing helmets with horns.
I really wish I could go back to using this blog to complain about Syria every week. Although the world has demonstrated that it can, for now at least, go about its business unaffected by a Levant intent on burning itself to the ground, Europe is another matter altogether.
Last Friday’s events didn’t just concern some Jews and Iranian dissidents. One of the fundamental pillars on which a civilized community is built on had been violated in the heart of one of Europe’s most civilized societies. The extremists won that day.
And the “pro-Gaza” thugs in Paris, Holland, Germany and London, already openly testing the limits of society’s tolerance for their thuggery, will be enormously emboldened by the precedent set by their reprehensible brethren in managing to disperse a rally by Jews. On the centenary of the First World War, Europe faces a crisis as challenging as any in 1914.
The Middle-East is a depressing place. Today the Levant serves as a cautionary tale in how quickly societies can tear themselves to pieces when the only dominant ideologies are extremist ones.
A lesson, apparently, which many Western societies seem to be losing sight of. Against the backdrop of the current conflict in Gaza, the past few weeks have seen synagogues attacked in Paris, and openly anti-Semitic demonstrations in Germany. And an attempted lynching of Jews in Calgary, Canada.
Yes, Canada. When Syrians went out to demonstrate for change in 2011, everyone had their own idea of the kind of society they wanted Syria to emulate. For me personally, that society was Canada.
But on Friday 18th of July, Canadian values were blatantly and contemptuously disregarded as a demonstration of a thousand “pro-Gaza” demonstrators turned into a brutal and vicious assault on a group of ten pro-Israel Calgarians, who at the time were holding a token counter-protest.
The account of the violence inflicted on the small group is sickening. A middle-aged woman who had been recovering from surgery was repeatedly punched.
A young man had the Israeli flag he was holding tied around his neck noose-like, and dragged along the streets.
A young woman was set upon by no less than six thugs and beaten unconscious. Another young man had the shirt ripped off his back, was bitten and beaten into a concussion.
All because the mob of “pro-Gaza” rioters found the open expression of an opposing view deeply offensive. And apparently, the only answer to such “offense” was to physically and barbarically assault those deemed to have inflicted the offense. To treat the Jews in Calgary like one would treat a Jew in Gaza.
ISIS may not be in Canada yet, but their mindset is very much alive there.
During my university studies in Jordan, I had the good fortune of studying under some superb Iraqi professors. Iraqi engineers and scientists were acknowledged as being the very best in the Arab world, and Jordan offered a rare outlet for the talents of the heavily sanctioned Iraqi people.
In the aftermath of the 2003 American invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam’s Baathist regime, there was widespread optimism that after decades of war and sanctions, Iraq could finally live up to its potential.
The only Arab country with oil, water and native talent in abundance, Iraq should have experienced a veritable renaissance in the years that followed, an economic boom to rival that of 1970s Gulf states.
Alas, today the country stands on the brink of disintegration, yet another Arab country on the road to failed statehood.
The mayhem and chaos prevalent in the region has caused nearby non-Arab societies to band together in an effort to keep the flames of failed statehood at bay, and the first fruits of that co-operation has been shipments of oil from Iraqi Kurdistan, to Israel via Turkey.