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A free floating commentary on culture, politics, economics, and religion based on a passionate commitment to the truth and a desire graciously to refute that which is contrary to it….
"He must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it."
--Titus 1:9, Revised Standard Version
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I was recently struck by some photos and reports I saw on the al-Arabiya network, the most respected news outlet in the Middle East. There was a starving child in Yemen, a burnt-out ancient souk in Aleppo, Syria, car bombs in Iraq and destroyed buildings in Libya.
What links all these images is that the destruction and the atrocities were not perpetrated by an outside enemy. The starvation, the killings and the destruction in these Arab countries were carried out by the same hands that are supposed to protect and build the unity of these countries and safeguard their people. Who, therefore, is the real enemy of the Arab world?
Many Arabs would say it is Israel — their sworn enemy, an enemy whose existence they have never recognised. From 1948 to today there have been three full-scale wars and many confrontations. But what was the real cost of these wars to the Arab world and its people? The harder question that no Arab wants to ask is: what was the real cost of not recognising Israel in 1948 and why didn’t the Arab states spend their assets on education, healthcare and infrastructure instead of wars? But the very hardest question of all is whether Israel is the real enemy of the Arab world and the Arab people.
Read it all (requires subscription).
Filed under: * Culture-Watch History Poverty Violence * Economics, Politics Politics in General * International News & Commentary Africa Libya Middle East Egypt Israel Jordan Lebanon Qatar Saudi Arabia Syria The Palestinian/Israeli Struggle UAE (United Arab Emirates)
The West often sees Islam as a monolith but in reality it is a patchwork of sects, schools and ways, not to mention some fully fledged religions wearing Islamic masks to avoid persecution. And as always in Islam, religious differences are a cover for political rivalries.
Involved in the schism are three camps. One consists of traditional Sunni Muslims who have just won a share of power in several countries, notably Egypt. The second camp is that of Salafis, Sunni Muslims who dream of reconquering “lost Islamic lands” such as Spain and parts of Russia and to revive the caliphate. In the third camp are Shia militants who hope to overthrow Sunni regimes and extend their influence in southern Asia, Africa and Latin America....
Iran, the leading Shia power, and Saudi Arabia, its Sunni rival, have been fighting sectarian proxy wars for years, notably in Pakistan, Iraq and Lebanon. Last year more than 5,000 people died in sectarian clashes in Pakistan. Under its neo-Ottoman leadership Turkey has abandoned the ringside to join the fray, notably in Libya and Syria. Now Egypt is also testing the waters....
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Filed under: * Culture-Watch History Religion & Culture Violence * Economics, Politics Foreign Relations Politics in General * International News & Commentary Asia Pakistan Middle East Egypt Iran Iraq Saudi Arabia Syria * Religion News & Commentary Other Faiths Islam
Saudi Arabia has raised the price of its flagship Arab Light crude oil for customers in Asia, who buy more than half its crude exports, by $1.25 a barrel for April....
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Thirty-five Ethiopian Christians, 29 of them women, face deportation from Saudi Arabia for "illicit mingling" after police raided a private prayer gathering, Human Rights Watch said on Monday.
The New York-based watchdog said the women were subjected to "unwarranted strip search," while the men were beaten and insulted as "unbelievers".
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Filed under: * Culture-Watch Law & Legal Issues Religion & Culture * Economics, Politics Foreign Relations Politics in General * International News & Commentary Africa Ethiopia Middle East Saudi Arabia
For five years, I became a fervent Islamist, moving up the ladder of increasingly radical organizations. All strands of this movement descend from the teachings of Banna. He fought against the British in Palestine, trained a paramilitary organization, and members of the movement killed Egypt’s prime minister in 1948. In response, the Egyptian state had Banna assassinated a few months later.
Yet I learned, through bitter experience, that Islamism is far from unitary or coherent. In the end, I quit what’s called “the Islamic movement” because I found it too controlling of my life — but also because I no longer wanted to be in a perpetual state of confrontation with the West. It took me several years of travel and study in the Middle East before my mind was free of Islamist influences. I remain a follower of Islam, the religion, but not of Islamism, the political ideology.
Because I was once a part of this movement — whose primary goal has been the creation of Islamic governments — and then established the world’s first counter-radical think tank, Quilliam, in London to oppose their ideology, I have been following the Arab uprisings with more than a passing interest.
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Filed under: * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture * Economics, Politics Foreign Relations Politics in General * International News & Commentary Africa Libya Tunisia Middle East Egypt Saudi Arabia * Religion News & Commentary Other Faiths Islam
The world's leading oil exporter Saudi Arabia faces rising tensions with regional rival Iran and turmoil in two neighbouring countries hit by the wave of Arab unrest this spring as it tackles changes at the top of its ruling family.
The death of Crown Prince Sultan in October led to conservative Interior Minister Prince Nayef's promotion to King Abdullah's heir only a week after the octogenarian monarch had his third back operation within a year.
The stability of Saudi Arabia is of global importance since the kingdom sits on more than a fifth of the world's oil reserves, is a significant owner of dollar assets and acts as Middle East lynchpin of U.S. security policy.
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U.S. officials on Tuesday said that they had foiled an elaborate terrorist plot backed by factions of the Iranian government aimed at assassinating the Saudi ambassador to Washington.
At a news conference, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said two Iranians have been charged with conspiracy to murder a foreign official and conspiracy to commit an act of international terrorism, among other charges. One of the suspects, an Iranian with U.S. citizenship, was arrested in New York last month; the other, an Iranian, remains at large.
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So Osama bin Laden was living in a specially built villa in Pakistan. I wonder where he got the money to buy it? Cashed in his Saudi 401(k)? A Pakistani subprime mortgage, perhaps? No. I suspect we will find that it all came from the same place most of Al Qaeda’s funds come from: some combination of private Saudi donations spent under the watchful eye of the Pakistani Army.
Why should we care? Because this is the heart of the matter; that’s why. It was both just and strategically vital that we killed Bin Laden, who inspired 9/11. I just wish it were as easy to eliminate the two bad bargains that really made that attack possible, funded it and provided the key plotters and foot soldiers who carried it out. We are talking about the ruling bargains in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, which are alive and well.
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Islam is bound to play a larger role in government in the Arab world than elsewhere. Most Muslims do not believe in the separation of religion and state, as America and France do, and have not lost their enthusiasm for religion, as many “Christian Democrats” in Europe have. Muslim democracies such as Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia all have big Islamic parties.
But Islamic does not mean Islamist. Al-Qaeda in the past few years has lost ground in Arab hearts and minds. The jihadists are a small minority, widely hated by their milder co-religionists, not least for giving Islam a bad name across the world. Ideological battles between moderates and extremists within Islam are just as fierce as the animosity pitting Muslim, Christian and Jewish fundamentalists against each other. Younger Arabs, largely responsible for the upheavals, are better connected and attuned to the rest of the modern world than their conservative predecessors were.
Moreover, some Muslim countries are on the road to democracy, or already there.
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Filed under: * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture * Economics, Politics Politics in General * International News & Commentary Africa Libya Tunisia Asia Bahrain Middle East Egypt Jordan Saudi Arabia Syria * Religion News & Commentary Other Faiths Islam
Saudi Arabia is printing 1.5m copies of an edict by religious scholars outlawing protests in the conservative kingdom as un-Islamic, the state news agency said.
Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter and a major US ally, is an absolute monarchy that does not tolerate any form of public dissent.
It managed to stifle an attempt to stage a mass protest on 11 March with a large security presence on the streets.
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Democracy is part of America's very identity, and thus we benefit in a world of more democracies. But this is no reason to delude ourselves about grand historical schemes or to forget our wider interests. Precisely because so much of the Middle East is in upheaval, we must avoid entanglements and stay out of the domestic affairs of the region. We must keep our powder dry for crises ahead that might matter much more than those of today.
Our most important national-security resource is the time that our top policy makers can devote to a problem, so it is crucial to avoid distractions. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the fragility of Pakistan, Iran's rush to nuclear power, a possible Israeli military response—these are all major challenges that have not gone away. This is to say nothing of rising Chinese naval power and Beijing's ongoing attempt to Finlandize much of East Asia.
We should not kid ourselves. In foreign policy, all moral questions are really questions of power. We intervened twice in the Balkans in the 1990s only because Yugoslav dictator Slobodan Milosevic had no nuclear weapons and could not retaliate against us, unlike the Russians, whose destruction of Chechnya prompted no thought of intervention on our part (nor did ethnic cleansing elsewhere in the Caucasus, because it was in Russia's sphere of influence). At present, helping the embattled Libyan rebels does not affect our interests, so we stand up for human rights there. But helping Bahrain's embattled Shia, or Yemen's antiregime protesters, would undermine key allies, so we do nothing as demonstrators are killed in the streets.
Of course, just because we can't help everywhere does not mean we can't help somewhere.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Economics, Politics Defense, National Security, Military Foreign Relations * International News & Commentary Africa Libya America/U.S.A. Middle East Egypt Iran Iraq Israel Jordan Saudi Arabia Syria
The tiny Island of Bahrain could become a battleground for regional influence between two historical rivals—with Saudi Arabia backing Bahrain's Sunni monarchy, and Iran supporting the Shiite opposition.
A coalition of about 2,000 soldiers deployed by Saudi Arabia and Persian Gulf states, part of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council, rolled into Bahrain's capital Monday to help restore order and save a government challenged by an opposition seeking an end to the monarchy. It was the first time Gulf countries deployed troops to an Arab nation to settle an internal dispute.
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Filed under: * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture * Economics, Politics Defense, National Security, Military Foreign Relations * International News & Commentary Asia Bahrain Middle East Iran Saudi Arabia
Future historians will long puzzle over how the self-immolation of a Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, in protest over the confiscation of his fruit stand, managed to trigger popular uprisings across the Arab/Muslim world. We know the big causes — tyranny, rising food prices, youth unemployment and social media. But since being in Egypt, I’ve been putting together my own back-of-the-envelope guess list of what I’d call the “not-so-obvious forces” that fed this mass revolt. Here it is....
THE BEIJING OLYMPICS China and Egypt were both great civilizations subjected to imperialism and were both dirt poor back in the 1950s, with China even poorer than Egypt, Edward Goldberg, who teaches business strategy, wrote in The Globalist. But, today, China has built the world’s second-largest economy, and Egypt is still living on foreign aid. What do you think young Egyptians thought when they watched the dazzling opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics? China’s Olympics were another wake-up call — “in a way that America or the West could never be” — telling young Egyptians that something was very wrong with their country, argued Goldberg....
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Filed under: * Culture-Watch Blogging & the Internet --Social Networking Science & Technology Sports * Economics, Politics Economy Corporations/Corporate Life Foreign Relations Politics in General * International News & Commentary Africa Libya Tunisia Asia Bahrain China Middle East Egypt Israel Saudi Arabia
The popular revolts shaking the Arab world have begun to shift the balance of power in the region, bolstering Iran’s position while weakening and unnerving its rival, Saudi Arabia, regional experts said.
While it is far too soon to write the final chapter on the uprisings’ impact, Iran has already benefited from the ouster or undermining of Arab leaders who were its strong adversaries and has begun to project its growing influence, the analysts said. This week Iran sent two warships through the Suez Canal for the first time since its revolution in 1979, and Egypt’s new military leaders allowed them to pass.
Saudi Arabia, an American ally and a Sunni nation that jousts with Shiite Iran for regional influence, has been shaken. King Abdullah on Wednesday signaled his concern by announcing a $10 billion increase in welfare spending to help young people marry, buy homes and open businesses, a gesture seen as trying to head off the kind of unrest that fueled protests around the region.
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Filed under: * Culture-Watch Blogging & the Internet --Social Networking Globalization Religion & Culture Science & Technology Violence * Economics, Politics Foreign Relations Politics in General * International News & Commentary Africa Libya Middle East Egypt Iran Saudi Arabia * Religion News & Commentary Other Faiths Islam Muslim-Christian relations
The other night I found myself dreaming, drifting simultaneously through two parallel worlds, 800 years apart.
In the first vision, I was on the ramparts of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in July 1187. News came in from Galilee that the Crusader Armies had been decimated by the overwhelming Muslim forces of the great Sultan Saladin at the Battle of Hattin. Jerusalem, already an island in an angry, surging Muslim sea, was about to be totally engulfed.
My second dream was in the same place, but I was witnessing a 21st-century Islamic encirclement of modern-day Israel. This second trance was apparently shared by some Israeli columnists who openly fear Egypt’s chaotic regime could be followed by an extremist Islamic government, reinforcing that nightmare Crusader scenario of encirclement.
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Filed under: * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture * Economics, Politics Politics in General * International News & Commentary Middle East Egypt Iran Iraq Israel Jordan Saudi Arabia Syria
It is an architectural absurdity. Just south of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the Muslim world’s holiest site, a kitsch rendition of London’s Big Ben is nearing completion. Called the Royal Mecca Clock Tower, it will be one of the tallest buildings in the world, the centerpiece of a complex that is housing a gargantuan shopping mall, an 800-room hotel and a prayer hall for several thousand people. Its muscular form, an unabashed knockoff of the original, blown up to a grotesque scale, will be decorated with Arabic inscriptions and topped by a crescent-shape spire in what feels like a cynical nod to Islam’s architectural past. To make room for it, the Saudi government bulldozed an 18th-century Ottoman fortress and the hill it stood on.
The tower is just one of many construction projects in the very center of Mecca, from train lines to numerous luxury high-rises and hotels and a huge expansion of the Grand Mosque. The historic core of Mecca is being reshaped in ways that many here find appalling, sparking unusually heated criticism of the authoritarian Saudi government.
“It is the commercialization of the house of God,” said Sami Angawi, a Saudi architect who founded a research center that studies urban planning issues surrounding the hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, and has been one of the development’s most vocal critics. “The closer to the mosque, the more expensive the apartments. In the most expensive towers, you can pay millions” for a 25-year leasing agreement, he said. “If you can see the mosque, you pay triple.”
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US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned last year in a leaked classified memo that donors in Saudi Arabia were the "most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide".
She said it was "an ongoing challenge" to persuade Saudi officials to treat such activity as a strategic priority.
The groups funded include al-Qaeda, the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba, she added.
Read it all.
Two packages containing explosive devices originating in Yemen and bound for two places of Jewish worship in Chicago set off a global terror alert on Friday. One package was found at a FedEx facility in Dubai, and another was found early Friday morning at an airport in Britain, sparking a day of dramatic precautionary activity in the United States.
Speaking at the White House Friday afternoon, President Obama called the packages a “credible terrorist threat against our country,” and confirmed that they “did apparently contain” explosives. Earlier reports had said that the device found in Britain did not.
The wide-scale alert spread to the United States on Friday morning, when officials isolated two cargo planes at airports in Newark and Philadelphia and searched them for packages originating in Yemen, and New York police searched a delivery truck in Brooklyn. None of the shipments reaching the United States from Yemen were found to contain explosives.
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Filed under: * Economics, Politics Defense, National Security, Military Politics in General Office of the President President Barack Obama Terrorism * International News & Commentary Asia Yemen England / UK Middle East Saudi Arabia
In a country that endorses Islam as the official religion, bans conversion to other religions, and punishes Christian proselytizing by death, Saudi Arabia's recent welcome of an American Christian scholar is a landmark.
Leonard Swidler, a professor of Roman Catholic thought and interreligious dialogue at Philadelphia's Temple University, is the first such scholar invited to exchange views with faculty at Al Imam Muhammed bin Saud Islamic University in Riyadh – the citadel of Saudi Arabia's ultraconservative brand of Islam.
Dr. Swidler's visit in late June underscores a shift toward greater openness in some official Saudi religious institutions, which previously had been leery of contact with outsiders of different faiths.
"Maybe it's not exciting for some people, but it's a very big change in Saudi Arabia," says Fahad al-Alhomoudi, a faculty member at Al Imam who helped arrange Swidler's visit.
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Filed under: * Culture-Watch Education Religion & Culture * International News & Commentary Middle East Saudi Arabia * Religion News & Commentary Other Faiths Islam Muslim-Christian relations
As Ahmad al-Shugairi took the stage, dressed in a flowing white gown and headdress, he clutched a microphone and told his audience that he had no religious training or titles: “I am not a sheik.”
But over the next two hours, he worked the crowd as masterfully as any preacher, drawing rounds of uproarious laughter and, as he recalled the Prophet Muhammad’s death, silent tears. He spoke against sectarianism. He made pleas for women to be treated as equals. He talked about his own life — his seven wild years in California, his divorce, his children — and gently satirized Arab mores.
When he finished, the packed concert hall erupted in a wild standing ovation. Members of his entourage soon bundled him through the thick crowd of admirers to a back door, where they rushed through the darkness to a waiting car.
“Elvis has left the building,” Mr. Shugairi joked, in English, as he relaxed into his seat.
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The British government was also investigating the deal. That probe had gotten so far as to gain access to Swiss bank accounts. But then the investigation was shut down. According to British court documents, Saudi Arabia threatened to kill another fighter plane deal with BAE that was being negotiated at the time. The Saudis also threatened to end their close intelligence and diplomatic relationship with the British government.
The Saudi threat to call off intelligence cooperation was taken very seriously. As the former director of Britain's Serious Fraud Office testified, the Saudi ambassador to the U.K. put it to him this way: "British lives on British streets were at risk."
My goodness. Listen to or read it all.
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