New Age Islam Edit Brureau
20 April 2017
War On Extremism Initiated From Malaysia
By Mashari Althaydi
Why Saying ‘I Know A Christian’ Only Furthers Extremist Rhetoric
By Mamdouh Almuhaini
Trump Has To Undo Obama’s Mideast Legacy
By Ahmad Al-Farraj
Post-Referendum Turkey: Renewed Conflicts, New Allies
By Metin Gurcan
Democratic Convictions And Its Disguises
By Essayid Weld Ebah
Pentagon Needs To Double Down In Battle For Syria’s Badia
By Oubai Shahbandar
Sanctions Against Hezbollah
By Diana Moukalled
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Brureau
19 April 2017
“Defeating the ideology of terrorism” is a phrase coined by Doctor Mohammed al-Issa, the secretary general of the Muslim World League and the director of the intellectual center to combat extremism and terrorism in the Saudi defense ministry.
Issa recently visited Malaysia, a Muslim Asian country which thanks to its rich experience is a basic pillar in the Saudi-led Islamic military alliance to fight extremism and terrorism.
The aim of the visit is cooperation. This is why King Salman Center for International Peace will be launched in Malaysia. The center’s goal is to work on strengthening peace and tolerance. This can be achieved through confronting extremist ideology. It attracted my attention that they focused on extremism more than terrorism. Another goal is to defend Islam and Muslims against hate speech and those who intimidate others from Islam.
Issa reiterated that King Salman Center for International Peace will contribute to solidifying values of peace and moderation and improve positive images about Islam. While speaking before a group of scholars, intellectuals and diplomats in Kuala Lumpur at the Wasatiyyah Institute Malaysia (Moderation Institute) affiliated with the Malaysian cabinet, Issa said: “Extremism will not be politically defeated before it’s ideologically defeated. It previously expanded in areas where there was vacuum in terms of confronting it.” Does Malaysia have something to offer to help accomplish this major mission and fight this intermittent, endless war?
Wasatiyyah Institute Malaysia director Mohammed Yusof said the major reason the Malaysian people are united despite their different races and cultures is the moderate approach. It’s actually interesting that, despite their diversity, the Malaysians are the least engaged in terrorist groups from among Muslim communities. Of course some have been engaged in terrorism but they are very few.
The World Muslim League, the Saudi intellectual center, King Salman’s peace center and the Malaysian government deserve to be encouraged and supported. I reiterate that focusing on fighting extremism first – before terrorism – is the right approach towards succeeding in this confrontation.
Sheikh Issa said it’s not possible to politically defeat extremism before ideologically defeating it, adding that sick extremism expanded amid vacuum in terms of confronting it.
Anticipations Are High
Truth is, a lot has been said in terms of confronting extremist ideology. However, it’s not fair to say there was “vacuum.” Thus the question is: Why have these efforts failed? Must we increase these efforts or improve them?
Honestly the answer is that Muslim countries did not frankly, decisively and continuously cooperate to launch war against extremists. They failed to do so due to political disputes or intellectual laziness or political negligence. The situation is now different considering the practices of ISIS, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and lone wolves as well as Khomeini and Houthi gangs and popular mobilization forces in Muslim countries.
The question is: How will the confrontation be different this time? We enthusiastically wait for this to unfold.
Saudi journalist Mashari Althaydi presents Al Arabiya News Channel’s “views on the news” daily show “Maraya.” He has previously held the position of a managing senior editor for Saudi Arabia & Gulf region at pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat. Althaydi has published several papers on political Islam and social history of Saudi Arabia. He appears as a guest on several radio and television programs to discuss the ideologies of extremist groups and terrorists. He tweets under @MAlthaydy.
By Mamdouh AlMuhaini
The blasts that hit churches in Tanta and Alexandria earlier this month left a trail of death and destruction and led to some painful scenes. Children breathed their last in the presence of their parents. A couple held each other with bleeding hands and a policewoman on duty was killed in a matter of seconds. Her family has now lost her forever.
Terrorism not only inflicts horrible pain on victims’ families but also on the society it targets. Most horrible moments are those that take away innocent lives as a result of evil acts of the most morally wicked.
The reason behind all this – despite attempts to confuse it – is extremism. Terrorists are born as a result of extremism. Unless this root cause is eliminated, and those promoting it dragged to courts, these demons hiding under the cover of piety will continue to sneak into mosques, churches, markets and airports and turn the happiest moments into the most miserable.
Unfortunately, despite all the statements condemning acts of terrorism, we easily fall into the traps laid down by ISIS. Most of the time, we don’t even realize this. One of these traps is a statement we often make in response to terror attacks. We sometimes casually say: “But I have a Christian friend who is very moral and polite.”
Although the response seems to reflect a defensive approach, it is actually rather ambiguous. It confirms the validity of extremist ideas, which deprive certain religions or sects of integrity.
Such a statement suggests that these good individuals are exceptions. If we maintain a solid conviction that Muslims and Christians are the same, then there is no need to argue that “I know some Christians who are kind” as this simply goes without saying.
Such a discourse also confirms that we remain stuck in the orbit of extremist rhetoric even if we criticize it. This rhetoric is based on looking at others through religious and sectarian eyes rather than as fellow humans.
We say this person is a Christian or a Jew or a Sunni or a Shiite is kind and gentle when in fact the real identity that unites us with him is that of humanity. This is his basic identity and we feel sad when he dies because he is first and foremost a human. The extremist rhetoric only sees the religious identity in others.
This highlights isolation and psychological and emotional fault lines within societies, which needs unity and solidarity in the most difficult times. One might say I know a kind and ethical Christian. Is there an iota of doubt about that? Even when a person dies in a terrorist attack, we categorize him as a Muslim, Christian or Jew. Truth remains though that a human lost his life.
We do not hear phrases such as “I know a Christian” in cultures that have overgrown narrowmindedness and base their thoughts on human values. When the truck attack happened in Sweden earlier this month, we were not informed about the victims’ religious beliefs because those killed were humans after all.
There are no religious or sectarian or blue bloods among us. Extremists drag us into their rhetoric and we don’t even realize it. In fact, we end up furthering their ideas. Even when we believe we are condemning their crimes we are rather strengthening and propagating them.
By Ahmad al-Farraj
Ever since Donald Trump became president, I have come to realize how bad the situation was during Barack Obama’s term. The latter served two terms which were mostly lean years on the level of America’s historical relations with the Saudi Kingdom.
I have repeatedly written that an intellectual is not fit to become a political leader as politics is the art of the possible and a mixture of innate guile, courage and resolution. Most politicians who changed the world did not belong to the category of intellectuals.
What is strange is that Obama’s role model was Abraham Lincoln who made one of the greatest decisions in history – the decision to end slavery. This decision led to a violent civil war in America resulting in many fatalities. It ended with the sweeping victory of America’s best presidents. A great leader is a man who bravely makes difficult decisions no matter how impossible they seem.
When Obama won the elections, it was a historical surprise. Muslims and Arabs rejoiced as they thought he will be the savoir faire to their causes. You probably remember the articles written about him in Arab dailies.
However, Obama later turned his back on everyone, including on the historical legacy of America’s relations with the Saudi Kingdom. He did so for ideological and personal reasons.
And why else would Obama turn his back on America’s historical allies in favor of a fascist Islamist regime that has always declared hostility against America, supported all terrorist activities in the Middle East and targeted American interests? According to some reports, statements and leaks, Obama is stubborn and he does not care about the opinions of his advisors.
This contradicts the “American decision making mechanism” which relies on an ancient institutional system and on studies carried out by respectable academic institutions.
Obama, as a well-informed intellectual, believed he could resolve the Middle East problems according to ideological theories and not realistic political ones.
I was asked a lot whether there was contradiction between the fact that some American presidents make decisions on their own and my statements that the American system is an ancient institutional system which formulates plans for decades. The answer is easy.
America’s foreign policies have clear objectives which all presidents abide by. However, a strong president can still make a decision that does not go against the grain.
For example, America’s general political line is that Iran, under the governance of mullahs, represents a threat that must be dealt with. However, dealing with Iran differs according to the president’s character and political ideology. America’s presidents have strictly dealt with Tehran since 1979 and they resorted to sanctions and siege.
However, Obama thought he could peacefully resolve this problem without resorting to military power or siege. He strongly followed this path and fulfilled his wish of making an achievement. However, he did this at the expense of America’s most important allies. He therefore reshuffled the cards in this disturbed area and then left office leaving a burdensome legacy for Trump.
President Trump launched a campaign to rectify all this since day one and he did so by restoring back America’s relations with Saudi Arabia on the right path. He then struck at the Assad regime.
Trump, however, still has a lot to do to correct Obama’s political legacy in the Middle East.
On Sunday, 58 million people in Turkey voted in a referendum that will change the way the country is governed.
According to official results, supporters of the constitutional changes that seek to extend the powers of Turkey's presidential office have won the historic vote with 51.3 percent to 48.7 percent. On Monday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had long been campaigning for a "Yes" vote, declared his victory in a passionate speech in Ankara.
But as much as this referendum will shape Turkey's domestic politics in the years to come, it will also have a significant effect on its foreign relations, as well. So what can we expect from Ankara's post-referendum foreign policies?
Persisting Tensions With Europe
Over the past year, Turkey's relations with the European Union have gradually worsened. The ongoing crisis in relations is a side effect of the Turkish government's tendency to use foreign policy as an instrument for success in domestic politics.
In his post-referendum speech, Erdogan mentioned that the "Yes" campaign won the referendum in spite of facing attacks from "the crusader mentality" in the West, and "the servants of this mentality within Turkey" - making it clear that he is not reluctant to use the escalation with the EU to garner domestic support for his policies in the future.
In his speech in Ankara on Monday, Erdogan once again said that Turkey will consider reinstating the death penalty - even though he knows that this move can potentially end the EU membership negotiations for good.
Under these circumstances, it is logical to expect Turkey to continue following an aggressive foreign policy towards its European NATO allies.
The crisis between the EU and Turkey has been limited to rhetoric up to this point, but after the referendum, we can expect deeper - legal and institutional - clashes between the two.
Following the referendum result, Turkey will work towards transforming its relationship with the EU, which was fully institutionalised as a result of Turkey's decades long EU candidacy, into a transactional one.
Turkey will stay in the European Customs Union for the foreseeable future and the trade between the two parties will continue, but their relationship will be limited to "business".
The crisis between the EU and Turkey will not affect NATO, at least for now, because the United States finally made it clear that it is not ready to discard this alliance just yet.
What's next for Turkey in the Middle East?
Prior to the referendum, projections for the future of Turkey's position in the Middle East were negative for the most part.
In Syria, Turkey is stuck between Russia and the US. It failed to form a strong alliance with the new US administration and convince Donald Trump to support Turkey's interests in the region. Also, the much-celebrated reconciliation between Turkey and Russia did not live up to Ankara's expectations. Moscow did not alter its strategy in Syria to accommodate Turkey's interests.
Both the US and Russia are still supporting PKK-affiliated Kurdish groups in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) in Syria, even though Turkey emphasised - time and time again - that it considers this issue to be a red line.
In Iraq, Turkey is also facing problems due to the confrontation between the Kurdistan Regional Government, a Turkish ally, and the Turkmen groups that have been under Turkish protection.
Now the question is whether the result of the referendum is going to help Turkey get out of this foreign policy quagmire.
The US, as usual, is sending mixed messages about Turkey's constitutional referendum. President Donald Trump congratulated Erdogan on his referendum victory in a phone call, but his press secretary, Sean Spicer, said the US will not be commenting on the referendum result "until an international commission publishes its report on the referendum process in the next 10 to 12 days".
The contradiction between Trump and Spicer's statements about Turkey's referendum result can be viewed as another indication of the lack of strategy plaguing the US administration at the moment. For now, in my opinion, Trump is eager to empower Erdogan and legitimise his new mandate, while the US establishment is sceptical and cautious about the changes taking place in Turkey. We don't know which side is going to be dominant in the end. So we still do not know what is in the cards for Turkey's relations with the US and whether the referendum result is going to have an impact on the US' view of Turkey.
On the other hand, it is possible that the referendum result is going to help strengthen Turkey's relations with Russia. Putin and Erdogan may form some sort of a "strongman brotherhood" and create a unified front against Western criticisms regarding their domestic and foreign policies.
Also, Trump's decision to bomb the Shayrat military base in Syria in reaction to the chemical attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun - and his recent about-face regarding Bashar al-Assad's future in Syria - undoubtedly got Russia worried and may push Moscow to seek a stronger relationship with Turkey in the region.
While it would be too optimistic to expect this referendum to end diplomatic scuffles between the two countries regarding Syria, it is possible to say that Putin is going to be more interested in having a stronger relationship with Ankara.
A New Turkish Military Intervention
On Monday, Erdogan signalled that Turkey may soon embark on a new cross-border operation by saying that the Euphrates Shield is not going to be Turkey's final operation in the region. The president did not give a timeframe or a location for the upcoming operation.
The public support for the Euphrates Shield Operation, which was launched in northern Syria on August 26, did not fall below 75 percent until the end of the operation last month. This means that the majority of the Turkish public would support another cross-border operation - especially if it is against the PKK or a PKK-affiliated Kurdish militia.
It is highly likely that Erdogan is planning another military operation given the domestic success of Euphrates Shield to rally up support for his domestic politics.
There are four potential targets for this operation: the area west of the Euphrates river, the area east of the Euphrates river, Sinjar or northern Iraq.
The area west of the Euphrates river is now under Russian control and Russia is not likely to allow Turkey to move in freely - even if these two countries decide to develop closer relations following the referendum result.
Thea area east of the Euphrates river, on the other hand, is under control of the US. At the moment, the US is preparing for the upcoming Raqqa operation and it is unlikely to allow Turkey to come in and disturb the balance in this area.
So the reality on the ground dictates that if Turkey is going to embark on a new cross-border operation in the near future, its target is going to be Iraq.
Iraq's Sinjar has an outstanding strategic importance and Turkey would love to take control over it. But a potential operation by Turkey targeting this region - which acts as a natural bridge between Iraq and Syria - would give it the opportunity to be influential in both the Raqqa and Mosul operations. The US wants to be in control of the outcome of both of these operations, so it is highly unlikely that it would give Erdogan its blessing for such an incursion.
But there is another area in Iraq where Turkey can operate without upsetting neither the US nor Russia: PKK-dominated areas in northern Iraq, like Metina, Avasin-Basyan and Hakurk near the Turkish border. If Turkey can quickly solve its problems with the Kurdish regional leader Massoud Barzani regarding Kirkuk, it can make an incursion in to northern Iraq strictly against PKK targets in the coming month.
But whether or not Turkey decides to embark on a new cross-border operation, we can be certain that it will continue to be an active player in the region in the post-referendum period.
One of the suggested scenarios in the French presidential elections next week is the possibility of the victory of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the radical leftist, or extreme right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen. It seems, major traditional parties, which have been sharing power and influence in France since the early 20th century, have simply collapsed.
This is not a special case for France. It is an observation in all western countries experiencing a democratic transition crisis at many levels, whether it is related to the nature of the electoral process, the structure of the political parties, or the relationship between political and social mobility.
“We live in democratic countries, but we do not live the democracy,” French intellectual and historian Pierre Rosanvallon once said. This means the increasing shift between the procedural forms of organization and election, and the pattern of practicing the actual politics, means that the regime is no longer applying the democratic principles.
The charm of democracy, in terms of being a symbol of freedom and equality, has always covered the serious problems it poses theoretically and practically. Thus, the reasons for the uniqueness of North American and Western European societies are rarely seen in this model in its completed version.
It is true that the classical liberal vision has always been accompanied by a strong belief that pluralistic democracy is the historical destiny of humanity. It expresses objectively the values of modernity, rationality and human liberation.
However, liberal vision itself is aware of the almost constant contradiction between the model of liberal democracy and its ability to incarnate in institutional structures that guarantee social equality, eliminating individual dominance and control. German sociologist “Max Weber” stated that democracy is both a free rational system and a system for legitimizing dominance at the same time.
Weber said: “Democracy is a two co-existent meanings, not necessarily correlated”: The meaning of participation, which is a political mechanism, and the meaning of freedom, which is not necessarily confined to political freedom in the sense of electoral representation. The merging of the liberal values and the system of pluralistic participation is the great specialty of the modern Western experience and the question raised about its continuity.
The Radius Of Democracy
In his important book “The Life and Death of Democracy”, Australian philosopher “John McCain” argues that democracy in terms of being a political system is neither new nor a Western production. It was originated within (The Deliberative Councils) in the Levant, represented in the Iberian Peninsula in the 12th century as “an Islamic gift to the modern world.”
What we are witnessing today is the end of the representative democracy that was associated with the age of the printed press, i.e. the book, the newspaper and the mail, the emergence of the “democracy of censorship,” which is appropriated within the media saturated societies, where all traditional political structures have been shaken. What McCain shows is that liberal democracy is not the only possible form of linking freedom to participation.
Today there are representative democracies in which political freedoms are denied (Russia and Turkey). There are democracies with the highest participation rates, without a pluralistic electoral system (China, for example), other liberal democracies in terms of the nature of the political system, although their social structures are hierarchical are without social equality (India).
The Current Paradox
What is special about the Western democracies is not the manner or the size of participation. All social studies have proved that the integrated competence in pluralistic democracy is not quantitatively or qualitatively different from other political systems. Although the rules and structures of the political and bureaucratic elites are different and the system of freedom is not unified and homogenous.
However, there is no direct link between individual freedom, which is only determined by negation, and the choice to participate in its positive institutional manner. Still, the specificity of the Western model lies in the experience of a stable civil peace that results from the efficiency of the mechanisms of public deliberation and the mechanisms of the peaceful transfer of power.
The great paradox we are currently experiencing is that the new information revolution, rather than fusing the free collective social drive, has undermined the transparency and objectivity of the public truth in a post-truth era. Instead of strengthening participation frameworks, all organizational media in the political field have been weakened.
Now, the whole fear revolves around the balance of civil peace threatened by populist, extreme right-wing tendencies and the threat of terrorism.
With Gen. James Mattis making his first official visit as secretary of defense to Saudi Arabia, one particular point of commonality is the matter of Arab tribal forces (many from the Shammar tribal confederation) fighting against Daesh in eastern Syria. These forces are increasingly under attack by the Syrian regime’s air force, yet they have made impressive battlefield gains that have rattled Daesh’s senior leadership.
A mere four days after US cruise missile strikes against the regime’s Shayrat air base, Daesh launched a surprise attack against a small military base in Syria. It fought a deadly and prolonged battle against US special forces and Sunni Arab rebels stationed at this strategic junction along Syria’s tri-border area with Jordan and Iraq. All the Daesh fighters were killed, but they were clearly trying to overrun the Tanf outpost.
Russia is also spooked by the presence of US special forces alongside Sunni Arab forces in Tanf. In 2016, Russia launched multiple airstrikes around Tanf, targeting the forces that the US had helped train and equip.
The Pentagon has an opportunity to work with its Arab allies in enhancing joint support to Sunni Arab forces fighting in eastern and northern Syria. The battlefield gains by groups such as the Syrian Elite Forces (SEF) and Usuud Al-Sharqiyah in eastern and north-eastern Syria, respectively, have been taking place along a front in the battle against Daesh that has not been so readily visible to the public.
The Badia, or deep desert countryside, has historically been a smuggling route, first leveraged by the regime in 2005 to move foreign fighters into Iraq to fight US and coalition forces. Years before the Arab Spring and Syrian civil war, Al-Qaeda in Iraq actively ran a supply route from Albu Kamal on the Syrian side to the Iraqi city of Al-Qaim, a route that was almost certainly overseen by elements of the Syrian regime’s security services.
Daesh eventually took over the area, and is using it as a staging ground to resupply and reinforce its forces in eastern Syria and northern Iraq. At this time, tribal forces led by Sheikh Ahmad Al-Assi Al-Jarba have captured strategic terrain a few kilometers east of Raqqa, and are slowly closing in on Daesh’s vital fighting positions around the city itself. Meanwhile, Usuud Al-Sharqiya has made impressive advances closer to the Jordanian and Iraqi borders.
In order to sustain battlefield gains against Daesh, an Arab force needs to be the one that enters Raqqa and Deir Ezzor. The current largest local force in eastern Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), is essentially a cut-out for the problematic Kurdish separatist People’s Defense Forces (PYD).
So the Pentagon should double down and help, in conjunction with Arab allies, local Arab fighters from the SEF and Usuud Al-Sharqiyah in a major offensive that advances from the south and northeast simultaneously. This is the formula to successfully encircle Daesh and leave the enemy no time or space to recuperate.
The long expanse of desert and villages that dot eastern Syria south of the Euphrates river valley to the Jordanian border is strategic terrain for Daesh. Regime forces in this area are mainly confined to eastern Homs province, Palmyra and Deir Ezzor city. In recent weeks, the regime has increased airstrikes against Arab tribal forces fighting Daesh in the Badia.
While regime forces are far away from the frontlines maintained by the SEF and Usuud Al-Sharqiyah, this will likely change as Daesh loses more and more ground. It is a matter of time before Iran-backed militias clash directly with Arab tribal fighters who are battling Daesh.
To prevent this outcome, the Pentagon must demonstrate a credible show of force as deterrence. It could position short-range air defense systems in the Tanf air base overseen by US special forces. This would send a powerful signal. Diplomatically, it can be couched as a defensive measure against Daesh drone attacks. After all, Russia has moved air defense systems into the bases it now occupies in Syria.
Defeating Daesh requires a bottom-up solution. Now is the time to significantly scale up support for these local Sunni Arab forces that have proven their will and ability to take the fight straight to Daesh. Doing so will require a new level of cooperation between the US Defense Department and regional Arab allies, and it will not be without some risk.
But consider the alternative: A short-term military campaign that dislodges Daesh, only to have extremism in eastern Syria continue to threaten regional and international security. The Pentagon needs to work with its Arab allies on a clear and bold plan for eastern Syria to ensure that the battle for Raqqa and the Euphrates river valley does not tragically end in a wasted pyrrhic victory.
Sanctions against Hezbollah
In its responses to questions regarding its sources of funding, Hezbollah has always said it does not deal with Lebanese banks. Its Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah once said the money comes directly from Iran. These statements contain some truth, as security agencies at the ports and airports are allied with Hezbollah and so may easily permit it to pass through weapons and funds via planes arriving from Tehran or elsewhere.
It is hard to erase from Lebanese memory scenes at the end of Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon, when Hezbollah began distributing funds directly to those whose homes had been damaged, rather than via banks.
This was accompanied by media coverage aimed at showing that Hezbollah is ready to directly and generously compensate its followers for war damages. This does not mean intended recipients received their compensation, but it was a significant opportunity for the party to show off its financial capabilities.
These scenes have not been repeated, especially as the party has been under international pressure for years to reveal its sources of funding. This pressure has been concentrated in the US, where Congress is expected to announce in the coming days additional measures to punish and hunt down the financiers of Hezbollah, which Washington considers a terrorist organization.
The new sanctions are tougher than previous ones, especially with the sanctions list expanding to include organizations assisting Hezbollah, such as the Amal movement and Hezbollah’s Al-Manar channel.
What worries many banks in Lebanon and the region is that leaked information about the sanctions suggests that unlike previous ones, Lebanon will not be able to take financial measures to avoid them.
Here we note the extent of secrecy and caution that governs the positions of Lebanese officials on the matter, in light of their effort to find an exit from the expected crisis. Even Hezbollah, which is directly involved, has limited its position to calling on the government, which it controls, not to comply.
Bankers, even those in a rivalry with Hezbollah in Lebanon, are coming together because the new US approach could harm Lebanon’s economy, which is largely based on the banking sector’s vitality. Classifying a bank as “uncooperative” in implementing US sanctions would be very damaging. Sanctioning Lebanese parties and individuals in Hezbollah’s orbit could widen partisan confrontation with a sector that is unable to withstand such shocks.
The US Treasury does not need more than a formal statement to bring down Lebanon’s economy. With the administration of President Donald Trump, all possibilities are open. Striking a balance between the need to dry out Hezbollah’s finances and the fragile situation in Lebanon is challenging but not impossible.