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Middle East Press (04 Oct 2016 NewAgeIslam.Com)

Just Not Surprised At Congress’ Act: New Age Islam's Selection, 04 October 2016

New Age Islam Edit Bureau

04 October 2016

Just Not Surprised At Congress’ Act

By Khaled Almaeena

No Consensus in Afghanistan on How to Deal With Taliban

By Massoumeh Torfeh

Is France Still A Secular State?

By Ali Saad

Shimon Peres: Loser, Schemer Or Romantic?

By Harry Hagopian

Security or Freedom?

By Turki Aldakhil

All the Way to American Courts

By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau


Just Not Surprised At Congress’ Act

By Khaled Almaeena

4 October 2016

September was a very eventful month for Saudi Arabia. The main news was the Justice against Sponsor of Terrorism Act (JASTA) bill approved overwhelmingly by both the US Senate and the Congress, following the override of President Barack Obama’s veto.

This caused alarm and consternation here in the Kingdom. The questions were many, but the primary one the made the rounds was why has there been such a setback?

Why did the lawmakers whose pictures appear on the front page of Saudi newspapers on their visits here and who are greeted by the naïve among us “our friends” suddenly abandon us! All kinds of “why” were used. All kinds of possible responses were bandied about.

Experts, both within and without, were united in their opinion that the US had just shot itself in the foot with JASTA. And the elected representatives suddenly had second thoughts of their overkill with the override of Obama’s veto.

However, we all forgot that this is an election year in America and we have no say. The voting pattern was fashioned to acquire votes. In addition, it was instigated by greed more by self-appointed lawyers for the victims of Sept. 11! In fact, some lawyers lobbied more than the families!

Experts, both within and without, were united in their opinion that the US had just shot itself in the foot with the Justice Against Sponsor of Terrorism Act

The vote also revealed the utter failure of our diplomacy in Washington. Capitol Hill does not care for us. And like most Arabs we believe in personal relations with those in power and are oblivious to the importance of the “power brokers”. And that was the flaw.

Hiring public relation firms and individuals that even by American standards are shady has been the policy. I have time and time again cautioned against it. What we needed to do was to go to the constituents of these lawmakers and explained our side ourselves.

Building Bridges

We needed to build bridges. Saudi Arabia has nothing to hide. And we also have good stories to tell. But who was there to relay all the positivity. People now are raising possible bogies that the JASTA law brings along with it. It could open a virtual Pandora’s box.

Especially when other nations claim reciprocity for America’s action during their days as a global policeman. Vietnam vets and the forces that committed atrocities in Iraq will have cause to fear. Yes, we have many problems and they could fill pages. But these are related to us and we all are taking care of them. This then makes me less surprised than many at the Congress action.

Greed by lawyers, naiveté on the part of the Americans, inaction, apathy and ineffectiveness on our part all contributed to this.

This should be an experience for us to be prepared with a counter measure for any eventuality in order to safeguard our interests while projecting a positive image globally.

Source: english.alarabiya.net/en/views/2016/10/04/Just-not-surprised-at-Congress-act.html


No Consensus in Afghanistan on How to Deal With Taliban

By Massoumeh Torfeh

03 Oct 2016

As the European Union and the government of Afghanistan co-host the Brussels conference on October 4-5, the issues of peace and security are likely to overshadow the agenda for talks on reform, development and continued international funding.

Despite the controversial new peace deal between Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani, and one of the country's most notorious warlords, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, there is no sign that this may lead to peace talks with the Taliban. Indeed, the Taliban has rejected the deal as "criminal". 

The representatives of 70 countries that will gather in Brussels know that the international forces have failed in the past 15 years to defeat the Taliban. They also know that the Taliban controls at least 10 percent of the population according to the top US military commander, General John Nicholson, with another 30 percent facing serious challenges.

Taliban Launches Attack On Afghanistan's Kunduz

They would have heard the news of the latest attack in the middle of the night on the northern city of Kunduz, which was briefly captured last September.

In southern Helmand province, militants have also taken a strategically important district to the south of Lashkar Gah, killing the local police chief. Their traditional seasonal attacks have now turned into regular onslaughts leaving the largest ever number of civilian casualties.

No Consensus

Yet there is no consensus among the people and politicians in Afghanistan on how to deal with the Taliban. Views range between the two extremes of calling the Taliban "brothers" to seeing them as "terrorists" and "Pakistani mercenaries".

A recent survey in 15 provinces by the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies (AISS) showed about 10 percent of the respondents wanted to call the Taliban "dissatisfied brothers" and 63 percent call them "the enemy".

Over 16 percent of the population wants no peace talks with the Taliban at all.

More than 16 percent of the population wants no peace talks with the Taliban at all. There are regional and ethnic variations but on the whole support in rural areas where the Taliban has influence is much higher.

In between those two main categories there are several layers of the population who hold differing degrees of distaste and suspicion about the Taliban, again with regional and ethnic variations, but are nevertheless willing to reach consensus if it means stopping the daily bloodshed.

According to the AISS, these groups form almost 70 percent of the population and they want to define the structure, the modalities and the boundaries of any such talks and they question the ability of the government to keep their demands on the agenda of the talks.

The reason is clear: heated verbal exchanges are reported on a daily basis among top officials and between officials in this and the previous regime of President Hamid Karzai.

There is disarray inside the two-tiered National Unity Government (NUG), between it and the High Peace Council (HPC), at the provincial, and municipal levels and between powerful provincial governors, former strongmen and the central government. The mere appointment of the HPC chief took more than a year and soon after he took on the post, six of the senior staff resigned in protest.

Lack of Transparency

These divisions are projected inside the society with similar inter-ethnic and regional dimensions.

It could therefore be argued that this overall confusion and lack of consensus on how to deal with the Taliban is one of the main causes of the failure of the attempted peace talks. It is in turn accentuated by government's lack of transparency and lack of consultation with the population at large.

When Ghani signed a peace deal with Hekmatyar, some welcomed it but it infuriated others, especially those who had suffered his relentless shelling of Kabul in 1993.

Many were enraged when the president used the term "excellency" to address a man labelled as a "global terrorist" by the United States and the United Nations.

"Hundreds of social media users in Afghanistan changed their profile pictures to black colour to protest the government deal with Hekmatyar," tweeted Ramin Anwari.

Kabul-e-Man tweeted: "Is there any survey that shows the percentage of the people supporting this deal" and received an answer "no sane citizen of Kabul supports this deal".

Another Twitter user, Madam Frogh, used a photograph of a preparatory meeting with Abdullah Abdullah to tweet "all-male face of Afghan politics. D reason conflict doesn't get resolved".

The responsibility to consult and be transparent has been part of the vocabulary of the Afghan president and the chief executive.

In the AISS survey, 86 percent stressed "the importance of people's role in creating peace in Afghanistan".

So why isn't the government consulting the population? Instead, groups and individuals connected to various NUG, HPC and other power sources loyal to this or that former Mujaheddin group, are acting arbitrarily, holding unofficial contacts, arranging their own secret or private meetings with this or that former member of the Taliban, often without a strategy or a plan usually based on inter-ethnic networks.

That annoys people because they know, for example, that Hekmatyar's Hezb-i-Islami has many officials in the NUG who must have helped bring about the recent deal. Their fear is that more deals conducted in such a manner would bring in even more unelected strongmen with their own entourages and power games.

The responsibility to consult and be transparent has been part of the vocabulary of the Afghan president and the chief executive. Yet the NUG has never had a comprehensive communication strategy in cooperation with the media in Afghanistan for that vital conversation with the people. Afghan TV ownership has more than doubled in the past eight years and almost everyone has a radio in their home.

So when channels of consultation are open and over 86 percent of the population is eager to discuss the structure and modalities of the talks with the Taliban there is no excuse for irresponsible governance.

Source: aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2016/10/consensus-afghanistan-deal-taliban-161003100623830.html


Is France Still A Secular State?

By Ali Saad

03 Oct 2016

"Being French means being European, white and Catholic." One could be forgiven for thinking that this phrase is attributed to a thinker from Europe's medieval period or even the time of the Crusades. However, this is 2016 and these are the words of Robert Menard, an elected French politician, mayor of the city of Beziers, one century after the 1905 law that enforced the separation of church and state and emphasized the state's neutrality towards all religions and citizens.

Menard's perception of what it means to be French reflects a growing pattern among French politicians and statesmen whose recent rhetoric places emphasis on the French identity's Christian roots.

France Tackles 'Radicalisation' With More Prison Cells

Recently, Nicolas Sarkozy, former president and presidential candidate for the 2017 election, portrayed France as "a country of churches, of cathedrals, monasteries and crosses, a Christian country in its culture and customs".

One might be tempted to believe that French politicians' rhetoric is merely for media consumption at a time of election fever, however, these political diatribes have occurred over many years at various occasions and not necessarily election-related.

Neutrality of the State

In 2012, a few months after Francois Hollande had been elected president, his interior minister at the time, Manuel Valls, affirmed, while wearing a Kippah yarmulke, that "France's Jews could wear with pride their kippa as does the interior minister".

A similar incident took place earlier this year when - in an unprecedented move - two French MPs wore Kippa inside the National Assembly in solidarity with a French Jewish teacher who was attacked a few days before.

Also, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks against Charlie Hebdo magazine, both Hollande and Valls wore Kippas during a memorial ceremony for the victims held at the Paris Great Synagogue.

Such examples call into question the neutrality of the state - and its representatives - vis a vis the different religious communities. Similar gestures of solidarity by French politicians towards French Muslim citizens, whose faith is constantly vilified, are non-existent.

It would be surprising - and surely anti-secular - to have a minister or an MP wearing a veil in a symbolic gesture to show solidarity with veiled women who frequently come under attack nationwide.

While the state's representatives can obviously express solidarity with citizens, and for the sake of consistency with the state's secular nature, this should neither be done through embracing any religious symbols nor in a selective manner, as has been the case with French politicians who show respect for one religion while demonising another religion and holding its symbols in contempt.

It would be surprising - and surely anti-secular - to have a minister or an MP wearing a veil in a symbolic gesture to show solidarity with veiled women who frequently come under attack nationwide.

This is not to mention regular tirades against Muslim women's veil such as the one made by Laurence Rossignol, France's minister for women's rights, who, in March 2016, compared "Muslim women who wear the veil with American Negroes who accepted slavery".

This problematic approach suggests that the state has failed to address such contrasting realities by not holding some of its officials, who fan the flames of Islamophobia, to account, particularly when considering that Article-1 of France's constitution states that: "France shall be an indivisible, secular, democratic and social Republic. It shall ensure the equality of all citizens before the law, without distinction of origin, race or religion. It shall respect all beliefs."

Symbol of the French Republic

This begs the question: how faithful are the state representatives and politicians to the state's secular principles? And are they upholding the constitution when they embrace religious symbols or engage in stigmatisation of one particular religion - Islam - and the French citizens who adhere to it?

The question is almost rhetorical. Recently Valls suggested that the symbol of the French republic, Marianne, "isn't wearing a veil because she is free", in a display that puts a religious practice - the wearing of the veil by Muslim women - in conflict with a founding principle of the republic which is liberty.

On another occasion, Valls strongly vilified Muslim women's veil, when in April 2016 he described Islamic veil as symbolising the "enslavement of women".

Such practices and discourses, that have helped frame Islam as a religion incompatible with the republic, are in complete contradiction with the French constitution’s secular spirit and can only reinforce the stigmatisation of Muslim citizens, thus reinforcing their isolation from the rest of society.

In the long term, such a stigma endured by Muslim citizens would force them into seclusion, which could entail grave consequences for France's social cohesion because isolation helps religious extremisms taking roots and develop.

In that sense, Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies Tariq Ramadan recently wrote: "Instead of defining an 'us' and a 'them' that distinguishes between Europeans and Muslims, we have to say 'us', together, and with conviction. [...] We urgently need to establish partnerships based on respect, trust and critical debate between political institutions, social organisations and citizens."

Therefore, there is an urgent need for a serious reflection on the part of the state to work on laying the foundation for a genuine social cohesion while respecting citizens' diversity and equality, therefore adhering to the principles that constitute the true essence of the secular state.

In view of the current socio-political setting, the answer to the question of whether France is still a secular state becomes more evident: The French Republic's secularism is a noble theoretical vision of the state's duties towards its citizens; however it remains just that; a theory that urgently needs to be implemented.

Source: aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2016/10/france-secular-state-161003061405621.html


Shimon Peres: Loser, Schemer or Romantic?

By Harry Hagopian

03 Oct 2016

The last of the founding fathers of Israel who was also its ninth president is dead. Just looking at the array of dignitaries attending the funeral of this nonagenarian laureate who held no public office when he passed away is telling not only of his international stature (which at times largely exceeded his popularity at home), but also of the thirst of the world to attach itself to a story of hope and optimism in relation to the resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

The behind-the-scenes manoeuvres to have President Mahmoud Abbas attend the funeral is testimony enough of the need to show a positive message despite the meltdown not only of Palestinian aspirations for sovereignty and statehood but also of a whole region going up in flames of different hues.

Inside Story - Shimon Peres: a man of peace or war criminal?

So who was Shimon Peres for me? He was a man who could recite the prophets of the Old Testament just as he could be at ease with French literature or Chinese philosophy.

As such, he was perhaps the counterculture of Miri Regev, minister of culture in the Netanyahu cabinet, known for her directness and populism.

'Eternal Loser'

But more critically, was he the "eternal loser", who never won public office in his own right as some pundits claimed, the "eternal romantic" in a cynical age as others countered too or perhaps the "eternal schemer" who was never short of a political sleight of hand?

Was he a wolf disguised as a lamb who thrived on chicanery, or a lamb surrounded by wolves who simply exuded an unquenchable optimism that fought against gloom?

Whether through his work or statements, was his lodestar that Israel should secure peace before it can enjoy security really credible? Or was he wrong, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claims, when he refuses "peace" so long as there is in his opinion no "security"?

Shimon Peres, alongside his lieutenants such as Yossi Beilin and Uri Savir, argued that peace is an Israeli need and not a favour to Arabs or Palestinians.

More ambitiously, Peres advocated publicly for a great journey towards a world built ostensibly on logic and intellect and not on land.

These are words that go against the grain of two robust nationalisms - Palestinian and Israeli - and undermines the very essence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is focused on the illegal occupation by one party - Israel - of disjointed territories that should in principle already constitute a future state of Palestine. After all, how can logic and intellect conquer land?

On the one hand, he battled for a strong, secure and nuclear Israel. On the other, he wanted peace with the Palestinians and the larger Arab neighbourhood...

Over the past few days, I have read many obituaries for the late Shimon Peres. Some were all sweetness and light in a way that reminded me of the Armenian popular adage that translates roughly as "go die and I'll love you forever".

Two Vignettes

Others, including those from Arab and even some Israeli commentators or social media activists, have reviled the legacy of this man by reminding us - and rightly so - that he was responsible for Operation Grapes of Wrath and the Qana massacre in Lebanon in 1996 and that he supported the Separation Wall as much as he did bypass roads and settlements well before the dawn of the Oslo years.

Following my years in second-track negotiations, I retain two vignettes of Shimon Peres.

The first is the signature of the Declaration of Principles on the south-side of the White House lawn in Washington DC in September 1993 when he nudged the late Yitzhak Rabin to shake hands with his arch-nemesis Yasser Arafat.

The other more recent photo is when he had assumed his grandfatherly phase and was being hosted alongside Mahmoud Abbas by Pope Francis in the gardens of the Vatican in June 2014 to plant trees of peace together.

As someone who has laboured in favour of justice and statehood for Palestinians, and as one who believes implicitly that the political shenanigans of successive Israeli governments have only made the two-state solution an even more remote target, I would sum up Shimon Peres as an Israeli Zionist whose character elicited two seeming contradictions.

On the one hand, he battled for a strong, secure and nuclear Israel. On the other, he wanted peace with the Palestinians and the larger Arab neighbourhood that was indeed forward-looking but was still skewed very patently in favour of Israel.

Are those paradoxes a case of ne'er the twain shall meet or are they an insight into Friedrich Nietzsche's belief that one is fruitful only at the cost of being rich in contradictions?

In a region replete with contradictory leaders, I would simply add that Shimon Peres is someone who tried to go a few steps farther than some of his Israeli contemporaries in righting a historical wrong suffered by Palestinians.

But is his demise the end of an era? I am not too sure since I have great difficulty in defining an era that had many permutations but ultimately remained incomplete and - possibly just like the man himself - unfulfilled.

Source: aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2016/10/shimon-peres-loser-schemer-romantic-161002093711969.html


Security Or Freedom?

By Turki Aldakhil

3 October 2016

A preacher recently asked his followers on social media if priority should be given to security or freedom.

The way he phrased the question was wrong because security and freedom are not two principles we choose from or which contradict each other. Security includes some sort of freedom within. It enables individuals to move from one place to another, to work, to speak, to get engaged in discussions and to express one’s mind.

There’s this passion to go back to the years of the Arab “revolutions” where the street was boiling with rage and where there was madness seeking political change and freedom from regimes. However, people have become more aware. The response to this preacher’s tweet is a proves this point.

The preacher submitted to the people’s voices as they expressed their desire for security and stability away from the mad dreams of change which have so far inflicted societies.

Security includes some sort of freedom within. It enables individuals to move from one place to another, to work, to speak, to get engaged in discussions and to express one’s mind

Ensuring Security

Considering how the question is phrased, I would say security is more important than freedom. Owing to security, one gets to follow their religion and one’s life is protected. It is the security that safeguards religious practices and protects our wealth and our children.

On the other hand, it is the calls for freedom during which dignity of people have been violated. People have been killed and there have been bloodshed and chaos in several countries in the region.

The concept of freedom itself varies depending on several factors. Some people, like the preacher, may believe freedom is achieved by restoring the Caliphate. Someone else may believe it is achieved by going back to the beliefs of al-Qaeda while some may see freedom in Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

If the preacher’s question requires a direct and decisive answer, then yes, security is more important than freedom.

Source: english.alarabiya.net/en/views/2016/10/03/Security-or-freedom-.html


All the Way to American Courts

By Abdulrahman al-Rashed

3 October 2016

These are people with good intentions who are urging Saudi Arabia to boycott United States over the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA). However, they are unaware of the country’s importance to us as it has the technology that allowed the production of the largest quantity of oil in the world.

They are calling on us to stop using the dollar but they are unaware that China – which is bigger and richer and which loves the US less – uses the dollar more than us. China also keeps and invests all its surplus funds in the United States.

Meanwhile those with ill intentions are inciting against the US as they think the Saudi government is naive enough to sacrifice its long history with it, just like Saddam Hussein, Moammar Qaddafi and Khomeini did. They became history due to this folly and for listening to such an advice.

I learnt the first lesson of this kind in the beginning of the 1980s when the Kuwaiti press condemned the American Congress. They were responding to its decision to annul the right of a Kuwaiti-owned firm from leasing federal land for energy exploration. Santa Fe was the American oil company which the Kuwaiti government had bought.

Around the time, I happened to meet Kuwaiti Emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad, during the UN General Assembly session. Sheikh Sabah was then the minister of foreign of affairs. I asked him: “Will you respond to the Americans?” He said: “We are negotiating with them.”

I was surprised and replied: “But won’t you respond to them based on the principle of an eye for an eye?” Sheikh Sabah smiled and said: “What eye and how when they have all our eyes?” Seven years passed by and the significance of international relations dawned on me when it was revealed that no matter what the disputes are, they must be put within the context and that one must not be dragged behind good people or behind those who spread rumors.

Switzerland has been involved in legal battles in the United States. In Germany, Volkswagen is arguing over a $9 billion settlement to compensate its US dealers for losses sustained due to the company’s emissions scandal. A more recent lawsuit is related to Deutsche Bank as the US authorities are demanding a fine of up to $14 billion.

We must put the Congress’ JASTA decision within the context of events and practices there and must tackle it accordingly

Saudi Aramco

Saudi Arabia has itself been involved in lawsuits in the US and it won most of them including lawsuits related to the September 11 twin attacks. Before that, the Saudi government had been involved in a major lawsuit – represented by the oil ministry and Saudi Aramco – and won it in the beginning of 2009.

Dr Anas al-Hajji who wrote an article about this that year brought our attention to this. According to the article, American oil companies have previously filed lawsuits demanding hundreds of billions of dollars from Aramco, the Saudi oil company, and the Saudi government itself and demanding to drop sovereign immunity from lawsuits.

This required gathering testimonies from 15 oil producers, all of OPEC’s member countries except for Iran, and three more countries including Russia. Perhaps what many people do not know is that the victims of September 11 attacks had previously filed lawsuits and there has been an agreement to establish a compensation fund that involves American airline companies which were used in the attacks. More than three years later, and following hundreds of US Congressional hearing sessions, $7 billion were paid to them and around $2 million to the family of each victim.

Therefore, we must put the Congress’ JASTA decision within the context of events and practices there and must tackle it accordingly. There is a long list of bad circumstances which have led to the current situation. Saudi Arabia is the victim of its negative image and is being targeted by its rivals. Local extremists have tarnished its reputation and, above all this, there is the greediness of lawyers who benefit the most from the funds collected.

Add to all that, there is the American government’s negative stance against Saudi Arabia as it did not care much about confronting the law from the very beginning. However, despite all these difficulties, which Saudi Arabia is confronting, it can legally and politically challenge these lawsuits thanks to its major relations and interests inside the US itself.

Source: english.alarabiya.net/en/views/2016/10/03/All-the-way-to-American-courts.html

URL: http://www.newageislam.com/middle-east-press/new-age-islam-edit-bureau/just-not-surprised-at-congress’-act--new-age-islam-s-selection,-04-october-2016/d/108750


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