Age Islam Edit Bureau
05 January 2017
Muslim Televangelist Takes On Chess After Sex
By Nazlan Ertan
Arab Action, Kerry’s Truths Mean Nothing
By Ray Hanania
High Expectations From Trump
By Murat Yetkin
World On The Brink Of An Abyss In 2017?
By Yossi Mekelberg
Attack Shows Terror Is Closer Than We Think
By Abdullah Hamidaddin
Crisis And The Youth Bulge In Middle East
By Ehtesham Shahid
By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
For many Turks, Ahmet Mahmut Ünlü - also
known as Cübbeli Ahmet Hoca, a Muslim televangelist with a big wardrobe of long
robes, matching hats and an untidy beard - is a figure of ridicule rather than
awe. A member of the Ismailaga order, Cübbeli has been sailing through
broadcast and social media for the last two decades, sprouting controversial
views that anger many, including fellow theologians. One fellow theologian has
described Ahmet Hoca as “a crazy man with an obsession to be in front of the
cameras at all times.”
Cübbeli’s most controversial remarks are,
naturally, on sex, but the last one drew an unlikely target: Chess. Cübbeli, as
he is known to the public, claimed that playing chess is “worse than gambling
and eating pork,” two clearly defined sins in Islamic scripture. Calling chess
players “sinners” and “likely liars,” he argued that they would be denied
salvation even if they declared their Islamic faith (shahada) in their last
His remarks were far from consistent, as
many Cübbeli-watchers pointed out. A few years ago, in a program with
journalist Fatih Altayli, he had said the shahada would purify anyone, “even
horrific 90-year-old horrific heathens.” He had also said in 2011 that while
Islam categorically banned gambling, there was a difference in how various
sects regarded chess, as it was a mind-developing exercise. But consistency has
never been one of his strong points - consider his remarks on oral sex: He had
first said “keep your mouth clean because you recite the Quran with it,” before
later announcing that oral sex was actually no sin at all.
Elsewhere, Cübbeli’s remarks on chess would
be laughed off and merely retweeted and re-posted on Facebook and Twitter,
along with a long chain of (mostly lewd) comments.
But this time, in the wake of the Reina
attack that came after a steady stream of criticism against people celebrating
the New Year, the remarks drew outrage as well as legal action. The Turkish
Chess Federation announced that it had started legal proceedings, saying
Cübbeli’s comments had an impact on thousands of chess players and families at
a critical time. “You are pointing the finger at a new target at a time when
there are internal and external groups who want to destabilize the country,”
wrote Hürriyet columnist Ahmet Hakan, who has long been a strong critic of
Since the Reina attack, Turkey - from its
coffee shops to its TV talk shows - has been engaged in a lively debate on the
role and the responsibility of anti-New Year statements in what happened. “You
showed the way to the terrorist with your endless condemnation of New Year
festivities,” is a shout heard long and clear, though “you” may vary according
to the speaker – from theologians to politicians to the Directorate of
Religious Affairs (Diyanet). One NGO even launched a court case against Diyanet
head Mehmet Görmez earlier this week. Many believe Görmez’s statement
condemning the attack was painfully short, coming after the Diyanet’s Friday
sermon on Dec. 30 that was harshly critical of New Year celebrations.
Still, the wording of the Diyanet’s sermon
pales in comparison to some of the “so-called pious” hate-speech on the
Internet, both before and after the Raina attack. “I’m not going to cry over
the death of those squirming under a different man every night at Raina,” read
one tweet, mixing religious radicalism with misogyny. The tweet was removed
after several people reported it, yet many others who target lifestyles, women,
transgender people or, as in this case, chess players, remain.
The Reina attack is the first reminder of
2017 that hate speech on the internet has become a major issue. It is no longer
a case of “sticks and stones can break our bones but words cannot hurt us,”
because those words do indeed now.
Turkey is not alone in this. It can learn
from the best practices, such as the understanding reached between Germany and
major social media outlets. What we need is stronger rules against hate speech,
particularly organized hate speech, and greater freedom of expression for
legitimate criticism. It should not be the other way around.
5 January 2017
Although you have to tip your hat to Barack
Obama for at least trying to expose the lies of Israel’s government, the real
hero in his fast-ending presidency is Secretary of State John Kerry, an
American hero in every sense of the word. He was a military hero whose record
was trashed by well-financed propaganda when he decided to run for president in
2004 against President George W. Bush.
The irony is that while Kerry risked his
life fighting on the frontlines to defend America during the Vietnam War, Bush
avoided active duty using his father’s clout. Instead, Bush was allowed to
“serve” in a military reserve unit stateside. The assignment was so cushy — his
father was both a former president and former senator — he did not even have to
show up for reserve duty.
CBS “60 Minutes” journalist Dan Rather
tried to expose this irony, but was tripped up because many of the original
documents were destroyed, and the veracity of some of those Rather used were in
question. However, protecting Bush was not enough for Kerry’s enemies. They
made vicious accusations that challenged his military service, claiming his
heroism was exaggerated.
That is when I recognized that politics in
America is not about truth, justice or honesty. It is about who spends the most
money to spin a good story, because the American people are the easiest on the
planet to manipulate. You can easily buy their minds. They see the world
through fictionalized TV and movie dramas scripted by well-financed political
propagandists in Washington D.C. and New York.
In other words, if you have the money you
can easily buy the morality of the American people. I am always amazed how this
reality does not benefit the Arab people, who are among the wealthiest in the
world. TV shows and Hollywood movies cast Israel as the victim and the
Palestinians as vicious terrorists. Production of these hate-driven shows and
films is non-stop.
Unlike the Arabs, Israel understands this
reality. It spends millions every year to influence the American news media and
produce via their surrogates TV shows and movies that portray Arabs as vicious
criminals and Israel as the innocent victim. So why do Arabs not invest their
money in trying to influence the American public to see the truth through
That is why I just shook my head when Kerry
did what a noble and righteous person would do when confronted with a
challenge. Last week, for the second time, he told the American people that the
real obstacle to peace in the Middle East is Israel, not the Palestinians.
His words were powerful, and this proven
military veteran did not shy away from taking on Israel’s right-wing
extremists. He called out both the government of Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel’s fanatic UN Ambassador Danny Danon, who openly
opposes peace and rejects the two-state solution.
“The two-state solution is the only way to
achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” Kerry
said. “It is the only way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic
state, living in peace and security with its neighbors. It is the only way to
ensure a future of freedom and dignity for the Palestinian people. And it is an
important way of advancing US interests in the region.” Kerry added: “That
future is now in jeopardy.”
He also explained why the US “could not, in
good conscience, stand in the way of a resolution at the UN that makes clear
that both sides must act now to preserve the possibility of peace.”
Kerry called for an “honest, clear-eyed
conversation about the uncomfortable truths and difficult choices, because the
alternative that is fast becoming the reality on the ground is in nobody’s
interest — not the Israelis, not the Palestinians, not the region — and not the
We are not going to get an “honest,
clear-eyed conversation” about the Middle East until Arabs step up to the plate
and invest money in re-educating the feeble-minded American public, which is
spoon-fed fantasies and lies by Israel every day.
Apparently money is more important than the
status of Jerusalem, the Holy Land, or the sanctity of our Arab heritage and
culture. Because so far the Arab people, one of the wealthiest in the world,
cannot seem to invest anything in the truth. So because we are cheap, the truth
is portrayed as terrorists and the lie is dressed up as heroic victims.
I do not care how many John Kerrys
courageously champion justice in this world, calling out Israel as the true
obstacle to Middle East peace. They will not be able to achieve anything as long
as the Arab world continues to sit back and do nothing.
Ray Hanania is an award-winning Palestinian-American
former journalist and political columnist.
On Jan. 3, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim
slammed U.S. President Barack Obama and called on incoming president Donald
Trump to “end this shame” in the U.S.’s Syria policy.
Yesterday, on Jan. 4, it was Deputy Prime
Minister and government spokesman Numan Kurtulmus who said Turkey was
“optimistic” that Ankara’s expectations would be satisfied during Trump’s term.
A call from Obama to President Tayyip
Erdogan to express condolences about the Jan. 1 Reina nightclub attack by an
ISIL militant, killing 39 and wounding 65, apparently did not change the
After all, ruling Justice and Development
Party (AK Parti) deputy Samil Tayyar wrote on Twitter on the same day that the
CIA was behind the Reina attack.
Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Isik also
said on Jan. 3 that the ongoing U.S. support for the Democratic Union Party
(PYD) - the Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which
Washington uses as a ground unit against ISIL, despite its NATO ally Turkey’s
protests – was prompting the government to “question” the use of the strategic
Incirlik base by U.S.-led anti-ISIL coalition planes. (The base was opened in
June 2015, and ISIL attacks in Turkey started in July 2015, followed by the
resumption of PKK attacks after three years of a fragile ceasefire during a
dialogue process with the government.)
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Mevlüt
Çavusoglu also strongly criticized the U.S. for not giving the air support that
Turkey has been demanding against ISIL positions near the Syrian town of
al-Bab. Instead, Turkey has opted to cooperate with Russia in airstrikes
against ISIL around the town for the last few days.
Following an earlier public complaint by
Çavusoglu last week, the Turkish General Staff announced that U.S.-led
coalition planes had joined Turkish operations against ISIL near al-Bab “for
the first time in a long time.”
That statement was perhaps a relief for
U.S. Ambassador to Ankara John Bass, who has been trying hard of late to
counter the attacks from the government, the opposition and the media that the
U.S.’s stance on Turkey has not been friendly.
The General Staff statement was most
probably also bad news for the PYD, and thus the PKK, since the taking of
al-Bab by Turkey-backed Syrian opposition forces would be a big blow to the
PKK’s target of establishing a continuum along the Syria-Turkey border under
its control, probably for use as the base for an autonomous or independent
However, a Pentagon statement late on Jan.
3 made it clear that U.S. planes were not carrying weapons, and only flew to
show a flag as the Turks wanted it much. Ankara read this as a declaration of
continued support for the PKK, which it sees as an existential threat for
That is the background of the harsh Jan. 4
statements by Kurtulmus, Çavusoglu and Isik.
It seems that Ankara has lost all hope that
there will be a change in favor of Turkish-American relations in the final days
of the Obama administration.
It is not only the PYD/PKK that is a
problem between Ankara and Washington. There is also the ISIL issue, and the
problem of Fethullah Gülen. Having once been a close ally of Erdogan’s AK
Parti, the U.S.-resident Islamist preacher Gülen is now accused of
masterminding the failed July 15 military coup and being the leader of a
terrorist network. Ankara wants Gülen’s extradition, if not at least his
temporary detention based on an exchange of criminals agreement between Turkey
and the U.S. The Obama administration has repeatedly said it cannot interfere
in the judiciary.
The Turkish government expects from the
Trump administration an end to support for the PYD, which is an extension of
the PKK (also designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S.), and some
kind of legal action against Gülen, if not his extradition. These demands may
be low in quantity but they are high in terms of content; indeed, they could be
critical to the future of close cooperation between the two NATO allies.
4 January 2017
A general feeling of good riddance 2016
unites most people around the globe, as the brand new year of 2017 is still in
its infant days. In a matter of 12 months most of last year’s predictions and
forecasts have evaporated into thin air.
The mood around the world is one of general
malaise, anxiety and uncertainty, leaving any optimism more wishful thinking
than a reality grounded in evidence. One of the first acts of this year was a
terrorist attack in a crowded Istanbul nightclub, killing dozens of revellers
celebrating the New Year; starting this year with violence, similar to the way
last year ended.
The year we have just left behind is one in
which discord between people and nations have deepened. It begs the question
whether the last year was just the precursor of what awaits us this year? Or in
2017 is a world on the brink of an abyss capable of reflecting and reforming
before it is too late?
A number of events in 2016 sent severe
shock waves across the globe because of their magnitude and because they left a
sense of helplessness. None did this more than the civil war in Syria, and
especially the unfolding tragedy in Aleppo towards the end of the year. When
the battle in Aleppo was approaching its final stages it was accompanied by an
influx of horrific images of the inhuman suffering of many thousands of
innocent people which were transmitted around world.
It exposed the international community in
its most extreme cruelty, ineptness, or even worse its indifference. It makes
it more horrific considering that the international community has been standing
on the side-lines doing absolutely nothing to save these lives. Some countries,
such as Russia and Iran, took an active role in helping the Assad regime to
commit these crimes against humanity. All of the above rendered commitments by
many countries to human rights as no more than an empty gesture, and revealed
the extent of our desensitisation in the face of others’ extreme suffering.
However, the inaction in Syria, and other
places, will remain in the collective memory for many years to come. It can
only result in undermining the trust of ordinary people around the world in
their leadership and in international institutions as the guardians of their
security and wellbeing. It was also a year that a wave of terrorist attacks,
carried out in places such as Nice, Orlando, Berlin and Istanbul, induced
insecurity. This will continue to also affect relations between communities,
attitudes toward migration in its different manifestations and may rapidly
change the political landscape.
Sadly last year was one of the worst for
social diversity. The notion of people of different ethnic backgrounds and
religious beliefs at least coexisting if not living in harmony, within the
confinement of the nation-state, suffered some major blows. Social, political,
ideological and economic polarisation are widening with grave consequences.
Religious fundamentalism and far-right nationalism are two sides of the same
They both feed on hatred of the other. Both
played a key role in two of the major upsets of 2016 – first Brexit and then
the victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential elections. These two
developments made a farce of the notion that elections and referenda are arenas
for civilised, intelligent and fact-based debate. Less than twelve months ago
the likelihood of Brexit or President Trump’s success sounded beyond the realm
of rational possibility, not to mention a collective nightmare. Now similar
developments are threatening to sweep Europe.
We find ourselves in a new era in which
insecurity enables the merchants of fear to gain power in the most cynical and
opportunistic manner. Brexit advocates and Trump employed what became known
this year as post-truth and fake news, two euphemisms for sheer lies and
half-truths, that serve both those who deliver them and those who choose to
believe in them. It provides an over simplistic, though effective platform, for
those on the campaign trail attempting to win votes, and short-term instant
gratification for voters.
Crucially in 2017 countries such as France,
Germany and Holland, which saw rise in far-right parties and their discourse,
face elections. There is a mixture of reactions to this rise ranging from
complete dismissiveness of the chances of radical right populist parties doing
well in elections, to dread of them succeeding in the ballot box. To be sure
this triggers an alarming thought that we might relive the 1930s all over
again, but in an environment of more diverse societies, hence possibly creating
a more inflammable situation.
Who is going to bet against Marine Le Pen
of the French National Front, Geert Wilders of the Dutch far-right Freedom
Party, or the anti-immigration AfD party in Germany increasing their power in
this year’s elections? If they succeed it is not only the democratic character
and rights of minorities which will be under immediate threat, but also the
entire European Union project faces the danger of collapsing with dire
Trump’s victory in the United States and
what it represents shuffled the cards domestically and internationally. Based
on the type of language and behavior we witnessed on Trump’s campaign trail and
the almost parity in the popular vote, the United States is dangerously
divided, and from the 20th of January will be led by the most discordant of
presidents in living memory.
The nature of his relations with the
Russian president Putin remain a disturbing mystery. His presidency may also
place one of Obama’s major achievements in office, the ratifying of the Paris
climate change agreement, in jeopardy. What are the chances of such an
agreement surviving the presidency of someone who believes that climate change
is a Chinese hoax?
Trump has assembled one of the most hawkish
administrations since the end of the Cold War and may end in increasing
friction with China, Latin America, and is at a complete loss in the handling
of relations with the Middle East.
The last year also left many despairing due
to the deaths of several significant cultural icons including David Bowie,
Prince, Leonard Cohen and Carrie Fisher. However, much of the damage inflicted
last year is carried through to this year. The unthinkable, Trump’s
inauguration, takes place later this month, and Prime Minister May is expected
to trigger article 50, starting the Brexit process for real, as of March.
Both are likely to result in a decrease in
economic growth and disparities that in turn are likely to be a source of
widening social and political discord. Even for the eternal optimist, a touch
of realism leaves considerable doubt as to whether the year that has just
started will be any better, if not even worse, than the one which we are all
too happy to bid farewell.
Yossi Mekelberg is an Associate Fellow at the Middle
East and North Africa Program at the Royal Institute of International Affairs,
Chatham House, where he is involved with projects and advisory work on conflict
resolution, including Track II negotiations. He is also the Director of the
International Relations and Social Sciences Program at Regent’s University in
London, where he has taught since 1996. Previously, he was teaching at King’s
College London and Tel Aviv University. Mekelberg’s fields of interest are
international relations theory, international politics of the Middle East,
human rights, and international relations and revolutions. He is a member of
the London Committee of Human Rights Watch, serving on the Advocacy and
Outreach committee. Mekelberg is a regular contributor to the international
media on a wide range of international .
For some of us the few hours before and
after a new year will always be associated with tragedy. Turkey, Iraq,
Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia were all targets of terror attacks claiming the
lives of many and turning the festivities and optimism of welcoming the new
year into tears and fear from the worse to come.
The attacks were local, but the reach of
the pain they caused were global. In Istanbul tourists from more than one
country were killed, and families around the world were mourning. The attacks
on the Reina nightclub claimed the lives of people from 14 countries. Many of
the victims were Saudis.
I personally do not know anyone of those
killed, but I know people who know some of them. They were not only saddened by
the deaths, or angered by its senselessness; they were also afraid for
themselves and their immediate loved ones.
As one put it: “No place is safe, no
country is safe, they can hurt us no matter how far we are.” This is what
globalized terrorism is. It is not merely having global networks with the
capacity to strike in different countries; rather it is the capacity to
generate fear in everyone around the world.
I am from Saudi Arabia, a country that had
been the target of many terrorist attacks in the past. But we’ve felt safe in
the past partly due to the remarkable efforts of the security apparatus, but
also partly due to a naivety that if we are safe from terrorists in our
countries then we have little or nothing to worry about. This is wrong. If
anyone, anywhere, is not safe, then we should worry.'
Of Striking Fear
Terrorism stems from socio-political
frustrations, but is guided by an idea that legitimizes killing innocent people
to further one’s cause, and as importantly an idea that convinces the would be
terrorist of the effectiveness of striking fear into the public.
We are constantly reminded of being
vigilant, and we keep hearing things like “if you see something say something”
but we are not encouraged enough to be vigilant about ideas, and many of us do
not feel an immediate responsibility to act against ideas.
Part of the problem is that we got
accustomed to certain ideas to the point where we aren’t provoked when hearing
them. We grew up attending mosque sermons that call for the destruction of
others and we listened through our lives to preachers cursing sinners. Many of
us do not agree with that, but having listened it so often we are no longer
aware of the gravity of such statements.
Sometimes we are not aware of such statements
being uttered. But while we are listening to a sermon unaware of what’s being
said, someone sitting near us may not be.
Ideas Aren’t Local
Another part of the problem is that we seem
to forget that ideas are rarely, if ever, local. We hear of radical ideas in
another country or region in the world, and say to ourselves this is not here.
But what is “here” in the world of the
Internet and social media? And what is “here” in a world of global movement of
people? If an idea starts spreading in an another country, we do not worry.
We say to ourselves its “here” and it’s not
our problem. But it is our problem, and its effect will hurt us. If not by
hurting us immediately in our own countries, then by hurting us or those we
love in other countries.
Globalized terrorism aims to strike terror
in everyone. We are all legitimate targets. Governments are responsible for the
security approach to fighting terrorism. We should take responsibility for the
We can do this, not just by deconstructing
the ideas that legitimize or encourage terrorism, but at least by standing out
and rejecting all utterances of hate toward anyone anywhere.
Abdullah Hamidaddin is a writer and commentator on
religion, Middle Eastern societies and politics with a focus on Saudi Arabia
and Yemen. He is currently a PhD candidate in King’s College London.
Arjimand Hussain Talib is more than just a
humanitarian and international development professional. An engineer by
training and a poet by temperament, he can easily don several hats at the same
time. Born and raised in India’s troubled zone of Kashmir, a quirk of fate has
brought this widely-travelled man to another conflict zone, the Middle East.
Based in Cairo, Arjimand has been working
on the Syrian Regional Refugee Response, which has undertaken refugee-related
projects from the war torn country in several parts of the region. Close
encounter with this conflict has made him a humanist to the core.
My chance encounter with Arjimand –
currently on a visit to Dubai – triggered several freewheeling conversations.
It started with our shared home turf of Kashmir, primarily because Arjimand’s
most recent book – Averting the Catastrophic India-Pakistan War: 11-Step
Framework Towards Kashmir Dispute Resolution and Peace in South Asia –
addresses the subject.
After trying to comprehend his
understanding of the future of Kashmir, especially in the increasingly complex
India-Pakistan context, and discussing the economic rise of China, where
Arjimand has spent several years working, we eventually veered toward his
current work station. After all, this is where he is literally in the eye of
Put simply, youth bulge is a measure of the
relative abundance of youth in a country. Syria’s conflict has left the youth
among the most affected. “With significant educational attainment in the
pre-war era, especially in Syria, they have found themselves in foreign lands
and in very difficult circumstances,” remarks Arjimand.
While the host countries, the UN system and
the international development/humanitarian community have largely taken care of
the basic educational needs of the displaced populations, access to affordable
higher education and jobs continue to be mired in deep difficulties.
“Host countries like Turkey, Jordan,
Lebanon and Egypt are already reeling under domestic challenges in providing
decent jobs to their young educated populations. The surge of Syrian and Iraqi
refugees into these countries has put them under additional stress,” says
A strong correlation has always existed
between countries prone to civil conflicts and those with burgeoning youth
populations. One such study suggests that countries with a youth bulge –
proportion of 15-29 population at 41 percent or greater – are at high risk of
With this age group comprising more than 30
percent of the Arab population, we are witnessing the highest proportion of
youth to adults in the region’s history. This isn’t a region-specific challenge
as more than half of the world population today is also under 30. However,
rampant conflict definitely adds fuel to fire in this part of the world.
So what could be done to tackle this
situation? While designing self-employment and wage employment interventions
for UNHCR in Egypt, Arjimand has come to realize that countries in the region
would need to radically restructure their education systems to make them more
market relevant. He stresses the need to encourage critical learning and
innovation to address the challenge posed by youth bulge.
However, all this must start with dialogue
and reconciliation and dignified return of refugee and displaced populations to
their homeland. After all, there is a limit to the tolerance levels of the
social and economic systems of the hosting countries.
“A solution has to be found before we reach
that threshold. We have the example of Pakistan’s transformation in the process
of hosting a large number of Afghan refugees. Pakistani society is still
grappling with the after effects of that phenomenon,” says Arjimand.
It was time for us to return to the
Indo-Pak conflict, over Arjimand’s birthplace of Kashmir.
Ehtesham Shahid is Managing Editor at Al Arabiya
English. For close to two decades he has worked as editor, correspondent, and
business writer for leading publications, news wires and research organizations
in India and the Gulf region. He loves to occasionally dabble with teaching and
is collecting material for a book on unique tales of rural conflict and
transformation from around the world. His twitter handle is @e2sham.