New Age Islam Edit Bureau
26 April 2017
How the Sectarian Far Right Controls Lebanon
By Radwan Al-Sayed
The Syrian Imbroglio
By Maria Dubovikova
The Aftermath of the Turkish Referendum
By Yasar Yakis
Islamophobia Can Make UKIP Relevant Again
By Alastair Sloan
Is Bashar Al-Assad Living On Borrowed Time?
By Hussein Shobokshi
Tackling the Threats Directly Emanating From Iran
By Sawsan Al Shaer
US against the Game of Axes
By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
25 April 2017
Recent talks in Lebanon are mainly about choosing a new electoral law as political elites have so far failed to reach a consensus. The interior minister has pushed for the electoral commission to convene and to form a supervision committee according to the current available law, i.e. the 1960 electoral law. However President Michel Aoun rejected the proposal and said he prefers vacuum - i.e. that the parliament’s term ends - over holding elections according to the 1960 law.
There are two more months before the parliament’s term ends. Since he feared the dissolution of the parliament, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri called for a session to extend the parliament’s term until they agree on a new law that the president approves of. Aoun however resorted to his constitutional jurisdictions, particularly Article 59, which allows him to suspend the parliament for a month.
Prime Minister Saad Hariri agreed with the president’s move, while Berri believed it represented the last chance to agree on a new law. Hariri and Berri thus submitted to the constitutionality of the decision, as they also want to avoid worsening sectarian tensions between Muslims and Christians. Major Christian political parties threatened to take to the streets if the parliament extended its term.
The reason I’ve mentioned all these details is to discuss the newly proposed electoral law, which the president and his son-in-law, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, are trying to impose. According to this law of theirs, the elections will be held in two phases. The first is a phase for sectarian and religious qualification, where each sect votes for its candidate, i.e. the Christian votes for the Christian and the Muslim votes for the Muslim. In the second phase, the general elections are held, based on a non-sectarian proportional representation system.
Those opposed to the proposed law said it was a recipe for discrimination and divisions among Christians and Muslims, as it violates the concept of co-existence, the national charter, the constitution and the Taif Agreement. Bassil does not deny this, but he justifies his proposal by citing the decreasing number of Christians. It’s said that they represent between 25 percent and 35 percent of the Lebanese people in the country. Bassil claims Christians cannot attain proper and fair representation unless they solely elect their representatives in parliament.
Christian and Muslim patriots however said such discrimination does not resolve the problem pertaining to the decrease of the number of Christians. They also said Muslims, whether Sunni, Shiite or Druze, have vowed to commit to the principles the Taif Agreement clearly noted: Lebanon is a homeland for all its people, the authority must be equally shared by Christians and Muslims, and the president must be a Maronite. Therefore nothing justifies Aoun’s and his supporters’ fears and worries. These worries were particularly clear in 2013 when Aoun and Lebanese Forces Samir Geagea voiced their support of the Orthodox Gathering’s proposal - a law under which every sect would elect its own MPs.
It’s well-known that ever prominent Maronite in the public field aspires to assume the post of the president. In recent decades, they aspired to be army commanders. Aoun displayed this in 1988 when then-president Amin Gemayel’s term was about to end. Back then and due to the ongoing wars, i.e. the elimination war and the liberation war, then-Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir feared the situation in Lebanon would worsen particularly among Maronites, so he worked with others to reach a consensus and the Taif Agreement was thus reached between 1989 and 1990.
Aoun was very upset that he was no longer in the limelight, so he incited his supporters who in turn insulted Sfeir. It all ended with the exiling of Aoun to France, and four presidents have assumed power since then. Later Aoun returned to Lebanon following an agreement with the Syrians, but even then he could not become president.
Investing in Aoun
Nasrallah and Iran invested a lot in Aoun after 2006 as they viewed him as their appropriate Christian cover to Hezbollah’s activity that aims to seize the state and its institutions. Aoun eventually became president after two and a half years of presidential vacuum and after Hariri endorsed him. Hariri had endorsed Geagea, Amin Gemayel and Sleiman Franjieh before that.
Hezbollah, the Amal Movement, Aoun and his supporters insisted only he was to become president. But although many Muslims were upset that Hariri endorsed Aoun, they also thought the country must have a president. Many also hoped that electing Aoun would decrease the latter’s hostility towards most Muslims. (He always called us ISIS) We also thought that Hariri and Aoun must have agreed on cabinet arrangements, the electoral law, top governmental posts, Arab and international relations and policies such as the dissociation policy towards the Syrian war, which Hezbollah participated in using its illegitimate arms.
However, apart from the presidential oath, in which Aoun vowed to abide by the constitution, we haven’t witnessed any solid actions as Aoun’s work remained distant from the spirit of the constitution. Before visiting Egypt, he said there was a need for Hezbollah’s weapons in South Lebanon to liberate the occupied territories, and he denied Hezbollah had any military or security activity inside Lebanon. He also said Hezbollah only intervened in Syria to combat terrorism, adding that Bashar al-Assad was “Syria’s legitimate president.”
In terms of a new electoral law, the Future Movement, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and the Lebanese Forces agreed on a hybrid electoral law based on both proportional and majority representation. This proposal is now out of the picture. Jumblatt and Geagea have complained about some of Bassil’s proposed law, while Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah wants a law entirely based on proportionality. Hariri considers himself the judge here. It’s said there are negotiations between Hariri and Aoun over the numbers of sectarian qualifications, without considering the principle of co-existence and the constitution.
The president insists on separating Christians from Muslims. Most Sunni and Shiite politicians seek to satisfy him. Meanwhile only few are thinking about the future of the state and the society while some are not thinking about it at all. Therefore, the political and sectarian far right is in control of Lebanon.
The coming three months will shape the world of tomorrow, and the starting point will be Syria. The recent US strike on a Syrian air base was not a game-changer, but it did contribute to increasing tensions among all parties involved in the conflict. The stakes are high, and future developments are more difficult to predict than ever.
The current situation is characterized by some major trends. First, there is an imbalance in Syria between the opposition and the regime, and between global powers. The US missile strike shook the status quo and showed that it is ready to act outside international law and institutions, and even beyond its domestic legal framework.
Another trend is the unpredictability of US moves, which makes it difficult for opponents to counter them. This breeds mutual distrust, which could cause a dramatic chain reaction at any time, possibly triggered by the tiniest movement by any side. Thus the proxy war will continue, creating fertile ground for further escalation.
Since the strike, Russia and the US have somewhat retreated to their old positions. This is the only more or less positive result, but it is unlikely to continue for long. As such, the imbalance and mistrust are likely to grow; this will determine further developments in Syria.
The cease-fire may collapse, burying hope for a political solution and leading to growing international confrontation over Syria, with pro-regime powers forming a losing minority that will face strong pressure from the opposite side and have little to respond with. Iran will most likely increase its sectarian games in Iraq and Syria, exacerbating sectarian tensions. The proxy war will involve more players on all sides.
There are several scenarios for Syria, determined more by global players than Syrian ones. Most likely, the moment of truth will come at the end of Ramadan. Before that, the players will try to distance themselves from dangerous red lines.
In about two weeks, a trilateral meeting between UN representatives, the US and Russia is expected to take place in an attempt to harmonize positions. Meanwhile, the new round of Geneva talks, planned for the start or middle of May, will most likely be postponed.
As long as the US and its Western allies are back to the mantra that Syrian President Bashar Assad should go, the efforts of UN envoy Staffan de Mistura and the whole Geneva format are significantly threatened. Most likely, the result will be an impasse.
One can expect to see the accomplishment of the previously announced plan to set up buffer zones in Syria, which are staunchly opposed by Russia and Iran. The US will likely proceed with the idea without listening to Damascus, Tehran and Moscow. US ground involvement, with support from regional allies, can develop either as a limited or full-scale operation. More panic and aggression from Damascus and its allies will lead to deeper US involvement.
Together with establishing buffer zones, there will be counter-terrorism interventions. The risks of direct involvement in Syria could include direct confrontation between Russian and US forces. This possibility is making US political and military circles expect Russia to show restraint and limit its reactions to appealing to the UN Security Council, along with possible military deliveries to Damascus that would hardly harm the US.
Buffer zones are supposed to create safe havens for refugees and civilians, but these zones could at any moment turn into a regime-change adventure. This is what Russia and Iran are concerned about. By intervening, the US and its allies will try to take Iran out of the equation and isolate it, but this is unlikely to work and may produce unwanted results.
All powers will try to minimize the humanitarian crisis and ensure the safety of civilians, while prolonging the conflict as much as possible, with fighting Daesh the main focus. The cynical thing about the Syrian conflict is that it has evolved to such an extent that peace in the country poses a bigger threat to regional powers than continuation of the conflict.
The core problem is a potential Kurdish state, which makes issues unsolvable and is likely to bring about the collapse of the Sykes-Picot agreement. This would lead to uncontrollable reshaping of national borders and bloodshed with deep regional and global shocks.
The problem regarding Syria now is not reaching a settlement, or even trying to avoid the collapse of the regional system and reshaping of borders; that is likely inevitable in the medium term. The possibility of World War III and a direct clash between two nuclear superpowers dwarfs the threat of global terrorism and any regional bloodshed.
The Aftermath Of The Turkish Referendum
The Turkish people went to the polls on April 16, with a relatively high turnout of 83.3 percent, to vote on a package of 18 amendments to the Turkish Constitution.
That is more than an ordinary constitutional amendment because it changes the way Turkey will be governed in the future.
Instead of the parliamentary republic, which is the present system of government in Turkey, a sui generis presidential government will be introduced.
The government campaigned hard to win the “yes” vote. The outcome was 51.5 percent in favor of “yes,” and 48.5 percent for “no.”
The main opposition party filed claims in the Supreme Elections Board (SEB) alleging irregularities, but the SEB rejected most of them.
According to the Turkish legislation, no appeal could be lodged against the SEB decisions.
A public opinion poll carried out by the French company IPSOS one day after the referendum revealed interesting findings:
• 58 percent of those who voted for the first time, namely the youth, were in favor of “no.” This is surprising, because the ruling party reduced to 18 the age of eligibility for a parliamentary mandate, yet the measure did not bring the expected result.
• The ruling party relies more on the lesser educated electorate; 70 percent of “yes” voters are primary school graduates, 57 percent secondary, 42 percent high school and 39 percent university graduates.
• The razor-thin success of “yes” was secured thanks to the support of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) of Devlet Bahceli, but this support seems to have alienated the MHP supporters from their leader: 73 percent of those who voted for MHP in the last elections voted “no” in this referendum despite their leader’s advice. Bahceli emerges as the biggest loser from this initiative.
• Most of the predominantly Kurdish constituencies voted “no” in very high proportions: Varto 87 percent, Lice 85 percent, Cizre 80 percent, Nusaybin 79 percent, Silvan 77 percent, Silopi 75 percent, Diyarbakir 70 percent. In the light of this outcome, no political party can turn a blind eye in the future to the Kurdish reality in Turkey.
• Five metropolitan cities, Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Adana and Antalya voted “no.”
Two-thirds of Turkey’s gross national product is produced in these five cities. The ruling party has done everything to win the “yes” votes in these cities, but to no avail.
A discussion is still going on in the Turkish media on whether the allegations of irregularities could be brought to the European Court of Human Rights.
Since all domestic recourse procedures are exhausted, some observers believe that it should be possible, because Turkey is a party to the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) and had recognized ECnHR’s jurisdiction. Others say that ECnHR does not cover irregularities during referenda.
Probably Turkey will have to live with these results and focus henceforth its efforts on what has to be done until the first presidential elections, which will be held in 2019.
An OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) team followed closely both the campaign and the referendum, and issued an interim report containing harsh criticism, which includes the following:
• Supporters of “yes” and “no” positions did not have equal opportunities during the campaign for the referendum.
• Restrictions on the media reduced the voters’ access to a plurality of views. During TV primetime, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan enjoyed 53 hours of coverage, AKP 83, the main opposition party CHP 17 hours and the pro-Kurdish party 33 minutes.
• The referendum is held as the state of emergency, enacted after the failed military coup nine months ago, was still in force. Government decrees that amended referendum-related legislation exceeded the exigencies of the state of emergency.
• Fundamental rights and freedoms were restricted by provincial governors’ decision to limit freedom of assembly and expression.
• The work of the electoral boards lacked transparency.
• The efforts of several parties and civil society organizations campaigning for “no” were obstructed.
• The campaign rhetoric was tarnished by a number of senior officials equating “no” supporters to terrorist sympathizers.
• Campaigners for “no” faced police interventions and violent scuffles during their events.
• The continued dismissal and suspension of judges and prosecutors in the referendum period affected the independence of the judiciary.
These and other observations of minor importance have no judicial effect, but they will become the basis for the political pressure that the international community, and especially the Western countries, will put on Turkey.
The opposition parties in Turkey will use these criticisms extensively in the run-up to the 2019 elections. The path ahead is full of hurdles.
The United Kingdom Independence Party, whose activism and electioneering just led Britain out of the European Union, is now lost without a cause. Close to four million Britons voted for UKIP at the last general election, for which the party returned only one Member of Parliament.
UKIP had two enormous boons for their cause: a hugely charismatic leader, probably the most capable and cynical politician of his generation, Nigel Farage; and a singular enemy, the European Union.
The party was therefore able to pull off the political coup of the century. UKIP brought the EU, an issue which was barely a priority to most UK households, to the fore. Then they up-ended the European status quo in place since the World War II, by leading Britain out of the Union.
Now, with their guru Farage busy photographing himself beside the crass Donald Trump, stubbornly low polling, and the EU already in the rear view mirror, UKIP is floating on the seas of political oblivion. It faces one question from the electorate - what is UKIP now for?
UKIP members were infamously derided by former Prime Minister David Cameron as "fruitcakes", yet it was these fruitcakes that forced No 10 into holding a referendum on Europe. UKIP's logo was and still is an outdated yellow pound sign against a purple backdrop - as if the battle for whether Britain should join the eurozone, which was launched in the late 1990s, was still being fought today. As many a bored political reporter can attest to, UKIP party conferences are famously attended almost exclusively by old-age pensioners. It was always easy to laugh at UKIP.
Nevertheless, the party is clearly the most impactful in Britain since the World War II. What other party can claim to have pulled off such a significant national change, with such profound international ramifications, as Brexit?
A week ago, Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap general election for June. In response, UKIP delivered a weekend policy salvo of blistering religious prejudice.
'Burqas And Sharia'
It has now become clear that UKIP is simply a party of rebels against any cause - so long as they regard it as foreign. They are now putting their heads together to vilify not just distant Eurocrats and a generalised conception of immigration, but a specific religious minority. In the 1930s, those kind of people would have targeted Jews. Now, they target Muslims.
UKIP wants to "pass a law against the wearing of face veils," ignoring that only a tiny minority of British Muslim women wear these and that, albeit anecdotally, as no official statistics are collected, this number appears to be low.
UKIP members also wants to "explicitly ban" what they call "sharia", which they have failed to define. Nevertheless the party claims sharia "undermines women's rights". UKIP undermines women's rights, too - the right of Muslim women to use their own divorce courts, a right that UKIP wants to strip.
UKIP was asked over the weekend whether it wants to ban Jewish courts as well. The party's leader, Paul Nuttall, replied that "The Orthodox Jewish population is falling, it's about a quarter of a million now. The issue surrounding sharia is that the Muslim population is doubling decade on decade." He then said that "this isn't an attack specifically on Muslims," claiming instead, "it's all about integration."
Nuttall also wants a "moratorium on new Islamic faith schools until substantial progress has been demonstrated in integrating Muslims into mainstream British society." UKIP ignores the fact that nearly 20 percent of the top performing 50 schools in the UK are Islamic faith schools.
Only in January, two Islamic faith schools came first and third for the best examination results in the country. Curiously, UKIP had no problem with the 48 Jewish faith schools in Britain, nearly twice as many as Muslim faith schools, nor the 11 Sikh schools nor the five Hindu schools. It was just the Muslim schools UKIP cared about - even if those schools appear rather good at what they do.
'The Integration Agenda'
Yet still, the party's new leader denies they have an anti-Muslim policy. A paper copy of his manifesto, handed out to political journalists with UKIP's still dated "pound-sign" branding, came with an Orwellian title. They called their anti-Muslim manifesto "The Integration Agenda".
What is happening here is clear. UKIP, the ultimate Brexit party of post-Brexit Britain, has lost its raison d'etre. Nobody knows what UKIP is for any more.
Now, UKIP does. Again, it is about populism - the potent mixture of popular but sometimes illogical policies.
Make no mistake - by a margin of two to one, the populace of Britain back a ban of the niqab, even if banning veils runs counter to the elected right-wing governments policy of "mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs".
Likewise, nearly half of Britons support a Donald-Trump-style Muslim ban, another policy a UKIP patron expressed support for over the weekend.
Perhaps the public fear it because, the latest available official statistics suggest, more than half of those charged with terrorist offences in Britain are self-identified Muslims, and because the British media seem obsessed with Muslim above far-right or Northern Irish killings.
The question is whether UKIP-style policies - telling Muslim women what to wear, shutting down high-performing schools, or focusing party strategy on "the other" - will really help.
The party's manifesto is not one that will ride UKIP into power and government, or perhaps even return them a single MP. The pressure that UKIP is about to place on British Muslims from the sidelines - in much the way they crowed from the sidelines to force through Brexit - is still worth taking very seriously indeed.
There are reports of a deal being cooked up for the “salvation” of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. Russia or rather Putin, the protector of Assad, wants an exceptional price in exchange for giving up and agreeing to his departure.
It is a political trade par excellence. Even Bashar Al-Assad himself cannot believe the hue and cry that is going on about his survival or departure.
As it is well known, Assad was not the first choice of his father to be the president of Syria. His brother, Basil, was the favorite for that position, and he was prepared and reformed politically and militarily in the media but died in mysterious circumstances, which was later described as death by car accident in the early hours of the morning.
Obviously, the second son, Bashar, was forced to cut short his study of medicine and was promoted militarily and the constitution was amended for him to take over after the death of his father.
Today, Bashar Al-Assad is on sale and Putin’s “price” is being discussed. The price will be for Putin alone because Iran is out of the equation. He is the only one who has the task of protecting the Assad regime, while Iran and its mercenaries such as Hezbollah are only dirty tools in the negotiations.
Putin finds in Syria an opportunity to restore the role and influence of Russia, which was absent in the Arab region in particular and the world in general, following its crucial role during the Cold War. Russia is not Iran or Hezbollah that defends Bashar Al-Assad for abhorrent sectarian reasons, which completely blind them from the crimes and the bloodshed by the regime.
Trump believes that he will not be allowed to repeat the mistakes of his predecessor by keeping a criminal in power, a criminal who destroys his people with chemical weapons. He also considers the use of the chemical weapon by Assad against his people as a powerful slap directed at him because Assad defies the international community and the American leadership as well.
Assad is of the belief that Trump has no red lines as far as his own regime is concerned and like Obama administration, he is “not interested in his departure.”
Supporting A Criminal
But that is not so. Trump is quite aware that Bashar Al-Assad is a criminal and knows he will not hesitate to do anything crazy. Trump does not want this to happen during his tenure, which will give an impression that he supported a criminal who destroys his people with all the arrogance.
Now he is piling up pressure on Putin, who has to choose between staying with the humanitarian community and civilized countries or support the scum of countries and militias and supply them with weapons.
Bashar Al-Assad is neither Abraham Lincoln nor Martin Luther or Gandhi. He is a criminal who inherited the rule from his father and destroyed his people and he is being “priced” in the market to complete the deal at the right price for the Russian to get rid of him. He has not learned his lessons from history and thus he is expected to a very humiliating retreat.
The last few days sale is on from the merchants of Damascus for their goods to be offered for a suitable price on Bashar Al-Assad, with his “mentor” Putin negotiating the final price for the deal! The wait is long and the price is expensive but Bashar Al-Assad has no place in a respectable or semi-respectable world.
Tackling The Threats Directly Emanating From Iran
Gulf Cooperation Council countries need to focus on the forms of Iranian threats against Gulf national security and figure out how they are linked to American interests. Are they threats linked to the Iranian nuclear agreement? Or to Iran’s support of its agents in the region? We must specify where the front that Iran launches its war from is, so our attack is focused!
On April 19, American President Donald Trump ordered agencies to review the nuclear agreement with Iran to figure out whether suspending sanctions is in America’s interest. It’s worth mentioning that Trump once wrote on Twitter: “Iran was on its last legs and ready to collapse until the US came along and gave it a life-line in the form of the Iran Deal: $150 billion.”
Also on April 19, US Secretary of Defense James Mattis said while in Riyadh that they’ve all seen Iran’s bad behavior and path in Lebanon, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen, adding that this must be dealt with at some point. On April 15, CIA chief Mike Pompeo warned that “rogue states such as Iran face tougher military action from America under Donald Trump.”
Let’s recall US Ambassador to Bahrain William Roebuck’s recent statements on Iran as he better understands our worries in the region. Last Thursday, he voiced fears due to Iran’s support of terrorism and agents that seek to destabilize countries, adding that they were worried of the Joint Comprehensive Action Plan and they still are.
Roebuck said there was a belief that if Iran attains nuclear weapons, confronting its malicious efforts to destabilize other countries and support terrorism will be more difficult.
According to Roebuck, during a conversation between Saudi King Salman and US President Donald Trump, the two men voiced the importance of strictly executing the joint comprehensive action program with Iran and addressing the latter’s activity that destabilizes regional countries.
Roebuck added that President Trump and his team clearly clarified where the US stands in terms of Iran’s behavior that upsets stability across the Middle East. Gulf work is thus important here as this is where our role in bringing American and Gulf points of view closer comes.
Of course, weakening Iran and pressuring it via sanctions can influence its support to its agents in the region. This is our next front but it may take a lot of time to see results especially that Iran has other resources to fund its agents.
These resources are the sums of money collected by Arab Shiites, estimated to be around $95 billion. This money is under Khamenei’s control. Therefore, the question is will economic sanctions effectively diminish the power of agents which pose the worst threats against us in the region?
What’s important is to be very clear and decisive, whether we have the US support of not. We must uproot the terrorism of ISIS, the Houthis and the Popular Mobilization. We must be clearer in terms of the idea that GCC countries will not be lenient towards those who support Iran’s agents regardless of the nature of their work, be it political, media-related or religious. These are the fronts from which Iran fights us and we must direct our efforts towards confronting this.
We must focus on these wings and follow their tracks all the way to the key Iranian agents that prepare them and support them to harm our countries’ stability and security. We will not rest until we eliminate Iran’s agents and deprive them of all their weapons, whether they’re civilian or military weapons, and hold them accountable after they betrayed their vows and sold their homeland.
The Arab Battle
We must make it clear that there’s no political wing and a military wing as they’re all the same. Take Hezbollah as an example. It considered itself a political wing and a partner in the Lebanese state but then it used its arms against it. The Houthis and the Popular Mobilization did the same.
Political organizations and licensed dailies that supported Al-Ashtar Brigades in Bahrain did the same. They had misled the public opinion, the international community, international organizations and the former American administration.
All these wings follow the Iranian religious reference. They pretended to be as innocent as lambs and claimed they were mere political parties or dailies or institutions that raise cultural and religious awareness. However, their malicious roles which are affiliated with the Iranian project were exposed. There’s no difference between those who carry arms and those who support men who take up arms.
This is what American officials must comprehend: We do not need to open a front with Iran. Imposing economic sanctions on Iran will not restrain Iran’s agents and their activity. The battle is right here, in our Arab countries and it’s against Iran’s agents. Replicating Hezbollah’s model in Iraq and Yemen and the attempts to replicate this model in Bahrain is what we must confront and uproot.
Reza Aslan Believes In Everything - Just A Little Bit
By Hamid Dabashi
My late teacher Philip Rieff, may he rest in peace, had a doctrine he called "the Monroe Doctrine". Whenever he shared this doctrine with a new group of colleagues or students he would immediately preface it by saying, "not the famous President Monroe Doctrine, but the Marilyn Monroe Doctrine."
The famous "Monroe Doctrine" spelled out by the US President James Monroe had declared the American continent as the domain of US influence in which no European interference would be tolerated. But Rieff's Monroe Doctrine had to do with something Marilyn Monroe had allegedly said - something to the effect of "I believe in everything - just a little bit."
Watching a couple of episodes of Reza Aslan's feature show Believer, you would be best reminded of Rieff's "Monroe Doctrine", for just like Marilyn Monroe, Reza Aslan believes in everything, "just a little bit".
In the age of fake news, alternative facts, and post-truth, we now have a fake believer too, a believer who just like Marilyn Monroe believes in everything, just a little bit.
The "Believer" is an obscene spectacle of a man going around the globe posing as a fake believer in everything making a mockery of people's most sacrosanct beliefs for the nightly entertainment of CNN viewers.
In their prophetic essay on The culture Industry (1944), Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer diagnosed a potent social ailment they pointedly termed "enlightenment as mass deception". The phenomenon of Reza Aslan as a fake believer is emblematic of a much more acute case of the phenomenon, an advanced stage from which Trump propagandist officers such as Kellyanne Conway are other manifestations.
Fake Believer versus New Atheist
Reza Aslan's "Believer" is the antipode to the Bill Maher and Co brand of New Atheists. While HBO promotes Bill Maher, CNN endorses Reza Aslan: two faces of the same coin of systemic denigration of people's faith into nightly spectacles of entertainment.
In Reza Aslan's show we now have a Fake Believer tackling the New Atheists. The yellow dog is the brother of jackal, as we say in Persian. Let me explain.
Reza Aslan's "Believer", a six-part television series on CNN is the counter-commercial to the spectacle of New Atheism - they corroborate and confirm each other's identically absurd and abusive caricaturing of people's sacrosanct moral imagination.
Those who have praised or criticised Aslan's series have done so from the perspective of the current American condition under Donald Trump's presidency. But something far more serious is being violated here. Both the Fake Believer and the New Atheist are identically trespassing on the intuition of the sacred and the moral imagination of communities constituted by that very imagination.
The Fake Believer is just like the New Atheist. They are made of the same cloth. They know very little and could not care any less about people's sacrosanct certainties - with the gap between their inner certitude and their private or public rituals covered by an intuition of the sacred never shared with strangers.
Everything for the Fake Believer and the New Atheist is a show, a spectacle, a cheaply decipherable riddle, a moment of celebrity, an oversized photo of themselves they see on Times Square and put on their Facebook - Bill Maher's on this side and Reza Aslan's right in front of it.
Reza Aslan ups the ante in hypocrisy and showmanship. He is born a Muslim and has made a lucrative career for himself by tackling Islamophobia in the United States in terms domestic to that Islamophobia. So if he is asked point blank if he is Jewish he of course has to say no, just before he turns to camera and says, "I feel Jewish today."
But the calamity of the Fake Believer is much more psychotic. Reza Aslan was recently asked, "What does your religious practice look like now?" To that he responded:
I have a Christian wife; I have twin sons, one of whom is convinced he's Jewish, and one of whom, after he read the Ramayana, was like, "That's it, I'm Hindu." I have a two-year-old boy that we just assume is a reincarnation of the Buddha in some way. So every Sunday, we get together and share one particular religious story, whether it's of the Buddha or Ganesha or from the Gospel, and then we pick some value to learn from it, and then we, as a family, put that value into practice in our home and in our lives.
Thus he lays a simultaneous, unabashed, claim on four other world religions - Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, while being a convenient Muslim. For a career opportunist making a living out of other people's sacred certitude, Reza Aslan will believe in anything and everything, "just a little bit".
Six millions Jews were slaughtered during the Nazi Holocaust because they were real Jews. Tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslims were killed or forced out of their homes in the 1990s because they were real Muslims, as indeed today Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar are being subjected to systemic ethnic cleansing for the same reason. As indeed Christians and their churches are being targeted in Egypt because they are real Christians. But for the commercial calamity of the culture industry to which CNN caters, Reza Aslan is now a yuppie celebrity because he is a Fake Believer in all of these religions at one and the same very convenient time.
The showmanship of Donald Trump as the very epitome of an unreality becoming dangerously real did not emerge out of nowhere, nor do purveyors of "alternative facts", "fake news" and "post-truth" grew like mushrooms randomly. There is a method to this madness, the method of staged charlatanism, of the suspension of the true and the beautiful, of the spectacle of vulgarity against the grain of what people in the privacy of their inner assurances hold sacred. Reza Aslan is only the latest case of cashing in on this neurotic exhibitionism.
US Against The Game Of Axes
Sometime before World War II, it was said that tensions and conflicts in the Middle East were due to colonizing over 60 percent of its areas. After WWII and after most colonization ended, the severity of conflicts worsened and most of the blame was cast on the struggle between the western and Soviet camp during the Cold War.
After the Soviet Union collapsed in the beginning of the 1990s and when only one superpower remained, new wars happened in Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq. Crises also surfaced in Egypt, Algeria, southern Yemen and Eritrea. Back then, it was said all this was due to political vacuum.
Later on, the vacuum ended with Moscow’s return to the arena. Wars expanded and became more dangerous than ever as borders and red lines were no longer respected. Many were killed, injured and displaced as a result. The civil wars’ destruction was worse than the destruction of all of the wars in the past 50 years.
The Region’s Crisis
We can therefore conclude that the region’s crises are not a result of one model of international conflicts and that the region itself has a high tendency for wars and crises. East Europe’s wars ended as a result of the two camps’ agreement during the Cold War. When the Soviet camp collapsed, the situation – via European cooperation – was rearranged with the dissolution of Czechoslovakia and the collapse of Yugoslavia.
Before that, there were also arrangements in Southeast Asia following the Americans’ defeat in Vietnam. The situation in the entire region, including in Indonesia and Malaysia, was rearranged. This is in addition to supporting South Korea. A unified Vietnam even returned to cooperating with the West.
What does the Middle East region need to become more stable? The region still poses a threat to itself and the world! Ever since the 1980s, there has been a belief that Iran is the primary source of regional tension and chaos while Saddam Hussein’s regime came second. The latter was toppled and Iraq was rid of the formula of regional evil. Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi was also toppled but Iran remained the number one source of chaos.
Consecutive American administrations sought to reassure the Iranian regime that despite the disagreements between them, they aim to contain its hostile activities and end its spread of extremism and terrorism, i.e. discipline its behavior and not alter its political regime like the case was in Iraq and Libya.
What if the world succeeds and the Iranian regime is forced to alter its behavior and end its hostility? In this case, there is no doubt that the region will have a better chance for comprehensive peace. The major source of chaos and terrorism which has funded organizations for decades will thus be eliminated.
For the first time in its modern history, the Middle East may have its first chance to live without disturbances. Most of the chaos today is directly or indirectly linked to Iran, like the case is with Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, Iraq’s extremist militias, Houthi militias in Yemen and other groups in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bahrain.
Can regional and international powers agree to confront the truth which is that Iran is the source of failure, chaos and wars in the region? Will they realize that it’s absurd to pursue Iran’s small agents and that it’s best to directly confront the machine of evil?
One of reasons the Tehran regime succeeded was playing on regional contradictions. It claimed to defend the region’s Islamic and humanitarian causes; however, it consumed them all and it’s now the most hated state popularly.
Tehran, in alliance with Russia and by blackmailing China, still plays the card of international conflict in the region. Fortunately, the region’s countries are aware of the problem. They don’t want to revive international camps and they’re trying to convince Moscow of not being dragged behind Tehran’s regime and of not getting engaged in the game of axes; the Washington axis and Gulf countries against the Moscow axis with Iran.
If countries in the region succeed in obstructing these axes currently being formed, they will finally defeat Iran and will thus lead Iran to the right path. Without alliances, Tehran’s absurd game which harmed the Iranian people as well as the region’s communities will end.