Photo credit: Reuters / Yannis Behrakis

A human, not Syrian, crisis

Photo credit: Reuters / Yannis Behrakis

Photo credit: Reuters / Yannis Behrakis

By Abdullah Budeir 

Nothing feels more painful than realizing that the world is content to watch you suffer. Nothing feels more unsettling than the apathy of the world as your baby daughter bleeds to death from a civilian airstrike. Nothing rips the heart more than knowing your suffering is just a statistic, a news report.

We live in a world where these horrors are realities. We live in a world that would rather watch the tears of Syrian mothers carve riverbeds into their cheeks than threaten its economic or political interests by intervening.

This incredibly selfish and short sighted view is grounded in a diseased ignorance, a primitive conception of the world where everyone focuses on their own good, and blinds themselves to the suffering of others. This line of thinking is not only flawed. It’s fatal.

Imagine for just a moment that it’s you waking up at three in the morning to the sound of roaring military jets. Imagine that it’s you having to comfort your little brother as his arms shake in terror. Imagine it’s you suffering.

With the ubiquity of social media, this suffering, this terror is better documented than anytime in history, and yet the cries of the helpless fall on increasingly deaf ears. Their pain is dismissed as a localized issue, a civil war, yet no one ever stops to question how maiming innocent civilians in their homes counts as part of a “civil” war. If the moral argument, the suffering of millions, isn’t enough, the recent flood of refugees across international borders should suffice to underscore the global nature of this crisis.

This isn’t simply a Syrian crisis, it’s a human crisis, and it has become a moral crisis because we’ve allowed our apathy and cowardice as a nation to stop us from acting decisively in the interests of justice.

Before the war, I visited my relatives in Syria and witnessed the indulgent hospitality of its people. Shopkeepers insisted that I “sample” their sweets time and time again, families never tired of serving elaborate dinners, and passersby greeted me in each alleyway.

Our selfish world, beyond any sense of morality, has now left these selfless people at the doorstep.

I’ve watched my relatives scan the news reports anxiously for updates on their beloved country, their loved ones, and I can’t help but feel felt their confusion, their pain.

“Why won’t the world help these refugees? Are dollars really more important than human lives?”

These questions run through our minds.

Having to witness the heartless apathy of contemporary political demagoguery compounds the pain.

“We shouldn’t accept refugees,” politicians yell as the cheering of their crowds haunts the ears of stranded Syrian families. “We need to worry about ourselves.”

This message of nonnegotiable self interest is laughably ironic. If we stand by as others suffer, we establish a precedent of shameless apathy and ultimately endanger our future well being.

Sheltering the Syrian refugees, in fact, positions us for long term success because, in reality, it’s neither our borders, nor our colors that define us. We are one race, humanity, and if we forsake that identity for political and monetary gains we’ll find ourselves deprived of both.

Yes, sheltering refugees will cost money, but it will save our integrity, our humanity. We no longer live in a world where it’s acceptable to bury our heads in the sand hoping to drown out the pleas of the afflicted. We risk suffocation at the hands of our prejudices, cowardice and ignorance if we fail to rise above them.

It’s time for us, as a nation, to renounce demagoguery, to overcome ignorance, to defy our own selfishness. It’s time for us to embody a welcoming spirit, the spirit Emma Lazarus evoked in her famous poem, The New Colossus:

??”Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”

It’s time for us to welcome the Syrian refugees.

Editor’s note: The views of the author are solely his own.


Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, October 20, 2015.  REUTERS/Alexei Druzhinin/RIA Novosti/Kremlin

Is Russia’s offer of parliamentary elections in Syria serious?

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, October 20, 2015.  REUTERS/Alexei Druzhinin/RIA Novosti/Kremlin

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, October 20, 2015. REUTERS/Alexei Druzhinin/RIA Novosti/Kremlin

By Juan Cole 

Informed Comment

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said three surprising things Saturday in an interview with Rossiya 1:

  1. Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad would have to be part of any transition to a new govering.
  2. Syria could have nationwide presidential and parliamentary elections next summer
  3. Russia is willing to give air support to Free Syrian Armygroups if it is informed where they are (presumably if they are willing to fight al-Qaeda and Daesh (ISIS, ISIL). American refusal to coordinate with Russia (i.e. to give Moscow any information about Free Syria Army positions) is a mistake.

These remarks seem self-contradictory and a little screwy, which suggests they aren’t informational but instrumental. That is, they don’t describe actual political positions but are being said to accomplish some strategic goals.

For instance, if there were genuine parliamentary and presidential elections, how could it be assured that al-Assad would remain part of the transition? What if he (being a mass murderer and all) were defeated and a new president came in?

I think what Lavrov is saying is that al-Assad would not step down before the elections, which has been the American and Saudi position. On the other hand, assuming the elections aren’t phoney, Russia may be also signalling to Iran that they can’t hope for al-Assad to stay in power forever, which is Iran’s position.

There is a clear split between Moscow and Tehran on this matter, with the Russians much more ready to see Bashar al-Assad moved out of power in favor of an alternative more acceptable to the opposition. National elections would be a way of coming up with an alternative candidate, and suggesting them is a way of slapping down the commander of the special operations unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, Qasem Soleimani, who seems to think that the Baath Party, after everything that has happened, could somehow survive along with the al-Assad dictatorship.

Of course, Russian policy as outlined here is more a forlorn hope than a policy. You can’t have real elections in the middle of a civil war. And nobody trusts the Baathis or Russians to have upright polls!

Then, Lavrov wants the non-al-Qaeda, non-ISIL opposition to understand that Russia now holds the cards in Syria. If Syrian oppositionists want, say, a new Federal system in the country that allows Sunnis in Idlib, Alawis in Latakia, and Kurds in Rojava more provincial autonomy from the central government, Russia alone can deliver that to them.

But one price will be turning on the al-Qaeda affiliates and offshoots (which happen also to be allied with and often to contain Russian Muslim radicals from Chechniya, Daghestan, etc.).

Most so-called “CIA-vetted” opposition groups are small, less than 1,000 fighters, though there are dozens of them, and despite having been “vetted” many have a tactical alliance with al-Qaeda (the Support Front or Nusra Front) or with the coalition it spearheads, the Army of Conquest, consisting of hard line pro-Saudi Salafists.

Lavrov seems to me offering the small “CIA-vetted” groups a new possibility. That would be to split from al-Qaeda and its coalition decisively, and find a place in a new post-conflict Syria alongside the pro-Baath groups that still support al-Assad.

It is a government of national unity strategy of a sort Mikahil Gorbachev, the last Soviet premier, tried in Afghanistan as he withdrew. The Soviets urged a national unity government headed by their man, Najib Ullah, which would be nationalist and post-communist, and with which the Mujahidin groups supported by the CIA would make a political settlement.

In the end the Mujahidin rejected all this and swept into Kabul. Najib Ullah was hanged from a lamppost.

The advantage for Russia of making this offer to the CIA-vetted groups is that it points to a Russian-brokered end to the conflict and hopes to divide the opposition, with genuine moderates (good luck finding those) turning on the al-Qaeda affiliates and offshoots.

It doesn’t cost Lavrov anything to say it, and if there ever is a settlement in Syria that is not simply an opposition victory and blood-bath against the Alawis and other minorities, this is what it would have to look like.

At the moment, it isn’t plausible– the Sunni opposition groups are not yet convinced they can’t win against al-Assad, which is why they are fighting; and they wouldn’t be willing to break with al-Qaeda, because either they need it and its allies or because they are afraid of reprisals from it. They have to become more afraid of Russia than of al-Qaeda before this strategy becomes something anyone could seriously talk about.

But if the Russian intervention continues for a year, and Moscow can change the situation on the ground radically, its hope that ultimately everyone– al-Assad, the vetted opposition, and Iran will have to acknowledge that they have to deal with Russia to broker a settlement is not completely crazy.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on The author’s views are his own.


Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu (L) and armed forces Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov observe troops in action during a training exercise at the Donguz testing range in Orenburg region, Russia, September 19, 2015. REUTERS/Alexei Nikolsky/RIA Novosti/Pool

Vladimir Putin’s big mistake

Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu (L) and armed forces Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov observe troops in action during a training exercise at the Donguz testing range in Orenburg region, Russia, September 19, 2015. REUTERS/Alexei Nikolsky/RIA Novosti/Pool

Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu (L) and armed forces Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov observe troops in action during a training exercise at the Donguz testing range in Orenburg region, Russia, September 19, 2015. REUTERS/Alexei Nikolsky/RIA Novosti/Pool

By Haroon Moghul

On the first day of airstrikes, Russia bombed the wrong rebels. On the second day of airstrikes, Russia didn’t hit ISIS. On the third day of airstrikes—stop me if you’ve heard this before. Weeks into a campaign that was ostensibly aimed at defeating them, Putin hasn’t even tried to hit any ISIS targets. It’s not that he won’t.

It’s that ISIS doesn’t seem to be the Russian leader’s priority. Why?

Many analysts suspected Moscow’s escalating intervention was not meant to weaken the Islamic State, but to (1) rescue the Assad regime, (2) preserve a Russian sphere of influence, or (3) counterbalance American hegemony, but really—not even (4) a token pinprick in al-Baghdadi’s direction? Well, that depends on how you look at it.

What if the Russian officials responsible for this accelerated intervention into Syria’s terrible civil war actually can’t tell the difference between so-called “moderate” rebels, Islamists, jihadists and the Islamic State? What if Ahrar ash-Sham, Jabhat an-Nusra, the Free Syrian Army, and ISIS, are, in their minds, exactly the same? What if they’re all terrorists?

Some people have cynical, conspiratorial explanations for how the world works. They overestimate our intelligence. I think we would be better served by underestimating our intelligence.

Just a few weeks ago, Donald Trump took one of his first serious hits when, in a radio interview with a conservative talk show host, he admitted he didn’t know the difference between Hamas and Hezbollah. But many American leaders can’t seem to distinguish between Muslim groups, or foreign groups more generally, and I don’t just mean the outsider candidates running on bluster—they’d be easier to shrug off.

During the run-up to the 2003 Iraq war, many otherwise smart people fell for the Bush administration’s fabrications. Very intelligent women and men suspended their critical faculties and accepted that a secular, socialist Ba’athist Iraqi dictatorship would plausibly seek to arm a jihadist, radical, non-state actor called al-Qaeda. In retrospect, it hardly seems believable.

Unless, of course, those very smart people weren’t as smart as we thought, or as they thought. Gripped by fear of further terrorism, overcome with a desire for (indiscriminate) revenge, and not really as knowledgeable as they assumed they were, ostensibly liberal newspapers and conservative statesmen went along. Donald Rumsfeld, incidentally, and probably coincidentally, described them, and himself, when he let us know that just as there are things we know we don’t know, there are things we don’t know we don’t know. He called them “the unknown unknowns.”

Why should Vladimir Putin be exempt?

The Russian dictator came to power through the KGB and moved up through its successor, the FSB. From there he was appointed to the Presidency, and has barely looked back. Given what we know of him, it’s easy to see how Putin’s strengths include perceiving plots and conspiracies. Fair to assume he is, by nature, a rather paranoid person. After all, I don’t suspect you’d get very far in national security if you assumed the best of people. Nice guys don’t establish no-fly zones.

They’re usually relegated to friend zones.

Putin knows he’s come to power, and stayed in power, in one of the world’s most powerful countries. He probably has an inordinately high sense of his own judgment, correctness, and capability. But does that mean Putin knows what he’s doing in Syria? He has very few people around him who might want to contradict him, or who could afford to—that’s the danger of dictating. He seems unlikely, as a strongman, to be given to bouts of self-reflection. Therefore if his military treats ISIS and its Sunni rivals as allies, when they are in fact enemies, it’s because he won’t know any better.

He may have no idea what he’s gotten himself into.

Some Americans lament Obama’s indecisiveness, and wish we had a leader like Putin. Just because you’re decisive, after all, doesn’t mean you’re right. And just because you’re cautious doesn’t mean you’re wrong. When Obama condemned the Iraq war, his was not the majority opinion. But his instincts were right.

A very powerful Soviet Union was quickly bogged down in Afghanistan, and soon after that long, unnecessary and bloody conflict, the entire Communist edifice unraveled. A few years later, the Russian army was badly bruised in Chechnya; some of the fighters Russia would come to face were radicalized by Afghanistan.

Now the descendants of those fighters are likely to see Syria as the next chapter in an interminable franchise.

Whether Putin deliberately or unintentionally confuses Syrian rebels, therefore, the effect will be the same. History doesn’t care about what causes our mistakes. Just that we erred. The very reason we’re lamenting Putin’s aggression in Syria is because Putin wants to take on ISIS, but he’s not even bombing ISIS, and meanwhile, our invasion helped create the monster we’re now so worried about.

Other Syrian Sunni groups, previously fighting ISIS and Assad, might be persuaded to postpone their internecine enmities. Putin might bomb them into no option but cooperation. A shared Sunni struggle against an Iranian, Russian and Syrian axis would inspire far more sympathy among Muslims already inclined to jihadism, and swell their numbers. Some will come from Russia, and some will attack Russia. Putin would have created the unity he assumed existed, and congratulate himself on having the foresight to have spotted the problem before anyone else, magnifying his hubris—and making a further, bigger mistake likely.

Though it’s hard to see what could be bigger.

Then again, what do I know? I’m just an armchair analyst.

Editor’s Note: Haroon Moghul is the author of “The Order of Light” and “My First Police State.” His memoir, “How to be Muslim”, is due in 2016. He’s a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, formerly a Fellow at the New America Foundation and the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School, and a member of the Multicultural Audience Development Initiative at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Connect with Haroon on twitter @hsmoghul. The views expressed here are his own.

A woman reacts as she takes part in a protest in solidarity with the refugees from Syria, in Malaga, September 9. Jon Nazca / Reuters

More Syrian refugees: good for national security

A woman reacts as she takes part in a protest in solidarity with the refugees from Syria, in Malaga, September 9. Jon Nazca / Reuters

A woman reacts as she takes part in a protest in solidarity with the refugees from Syria, in Malaga, September 9. Jon Nazca / Reuters

By David Mednicoff
The Conversation

Western countries and the Middle East are (finally) engaged in serious negotiations around resettling many more of the refugees from Syria – the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II.
While arguments around global complicity and moral obligation in the Middle East should and do inspire aid to refugees, they do not always persuade policymakers as much as pragmatic ones that refugees benefit the countries that welcome them.

With this in mind, it is worth highlighting arguments like that of economist Daniel Altman, who notes the clear economic benefits to countries for absorbing refugees.

Yet there is another strong argument to be made that offering temporary or permanent homes to specifically Syrian refugees is in the national interest of countries like the US. In particular, such refugees can be crucial resources in tackling the extremist violence and authoritarian excess that we are now witnessing in the Middle East.

They can do this in three specific ways.

First, they will no longer be part of the problem by escaping the immediate threat of violence or radicalization. Second, their experience can serve as an important example for others. Third, they have the skills and the background that can be put to work in the broader struggle to defeat parochialism and repression in the Middle East.

No longer part of the problem

For starters, Syrians who are repatriated out of harm’s way are unlikely future contributors to Middle Eastern religious or authoritarian violence.

The logic of this is clear; refugees are fleeing Bashar al-Assad, the Islamic State or both. Having experienced the extreme disruption of Syria’s brutal civil war caused by the Assad regime’s brutal crackdown on domestic uprisings and the subsequent exploitation of this disruption by ISIS, they are unlikely to entertain illusions about the merits of violence.

Indeed, as has been the case for earlier populations of refugees, like Vietnamese-Americans, displaced Syrians should be able to appreciate the societies and people who help them during their time of need, whether or not they return to their country of origin. To assume that many Syrians are would-be jihadis after what they have experienced requires, to my mind, a leap of (paranoid) faith.

In any case, if Middle Eastern and Western governments alike fear the radicalization of Syrians, showing them compassion and generosity in their hour of need is a far more obvious strategy to address this fear than forcing them to choose between fighting or capture in Syria and possible death if they leave.

Serving as an example for others

Refugees from World War II were instrumental in calling Americans’ attention to the specific tragedies of that conflict.

For instance, Elie Wiesel’s memoir of Auschwitz, Night, which he published soon after becoming an American in 1958, remains a central testimony to the particular cruelty of the Nazi Holocaust and extreme inhumanity more generally.

The adoption of Syrian refugees by countries like the US will produce similar direct and gripping eyewitness of the massive atrocities that we know have been perpetrated by both the Assad regime and ISIS. Americans have been inspired by the story of the Pakistani student Malala Yousafzai. Syrian Malalas with stories of their own await our attention.

More specifically, if Syrian refugees are welcomed in sufficient numbers and go on to connect with a broad variety of Americans, two groups of people – both important in the struggle against violence and extremism in the Middle East – could learn from their example.

First, Syrian witnesses to the reality of ISIS could provide a reality check for alienated Muslim-Americans who romanticize, or are drawn by ISIS media handlers to the pseudo Islamic caliphate.
Second, and at least as important, the example of hardworking Syrian Muslims and Christians with harrowing stories holds the potential to provide concrete sources of empathy to those Americans inclined to stereotype Middle Easterners and Muslims. This empathy would be a counter to the sort of Western-based Islamophobia that has a role in fueling ongoing conflict between parts of the West and the Middle East.

Potential problem solvers

Most Syrian refugees who come to the US will pursue or build on the many interests and careers they developed in preconflict Syria, hopefully bolstered by the best of what America has to offer: generosity and freedom.

Some refugees, however, might use their experience and knowledge to be engaged directly in the struggle against Middle Eastern violence.

By this, I am not talking of the possibility that they could join the American military or national security agencies, although this is not out of the question.

What I want to highlight, rather, is that the refugee crisis in itself reminds us that the scale of the violence in the Middle East is massive and that further violence is unlikely to solve the problem.

Middle Eastern conflict in recent decades teaches two lessons: that repeated saber-rattling only produces more and sharper sabers, and that, as a result, the underlying dynamics of conflicts must be addressed.

Before its 2011 breakdown, Syria – with its religious and ethnic pluralism – was an unusual Middle Eastern society.

Many Syrian refugees know what it is like to live with people of other religions and other ethnicities. This experience, coupled with Syrians’ familiarity with the region and their ability to communicate in Arabic, would allow refugees so inclined to work collaboratively with officials and civilians on projects fostering tolerance and defusing conflict in the region.

In short, Syrian refugees hold key assets and life stories that can indirectly and directly contribute to the long, but necessary, struggle to defuse violent religious conflict and repression in the Middle East.

Moreover, they have the incentive to do so.

For this reason, as well as basic humanitarianism, the US should dramatically increase – and quickly – the number of refugees from Syria that it takes in.

Indeed, the same logic applies to other Western and Middle Eastern countries with a strong stake in avoiding the increasingly stark future of horrific political repression in Syria – whether in the name of Assad’s secularism or ISIS’s Islamism.

Riveting Syrian refugee tragedies like that of three-year-old Alan Kurdi should be a wake-up call. The current crisis can be turned an opportunity to make a dent in the region’s suffering once and for all.

Editor’s note: David Mednicoff is Assistant Professor of Public Policy; Director of Accelerated Degree Programs, Center for Public Policy and Administration; and Director, Middle Eastern Studies at University of Massachusetts Amherst. His views are his own. This article originally appeared in The Conversation.


Aylan Kurdi’s family mourns over his body in Kobani.  Photo credit:  Rodi Said / Reuters

Can one terrible image change the direction of a humanitarian crisis?

Aylan Kurdi’s family mourns over his body in Kobani.  Photo credit:  Rodi Said / Reuters

Aylan Kurdi’s family mourns over his body in Kobani. Photo credit: Rodi Said / Reuters

By Gabriel Moreno Esparza
The Conversation

The harrowing picture of a man carrying the corpse of a drowned boy on Bodrum beach published by numerous news organisations could be the defining image of a globally significant event.
As a piece of photojournalism it has already made an impact in a way Daniel Etter’s moving picture of a crying father holding his children after landing on Kos beach did not. Etter’s piece was said to have “brought the world to tears” and has been used for fundraising . It was certainly example of how photojournalism is “at its best when it embodies our ability to benefit the issues and people with whom we connect“.

But the images of the little boy, taken by Nilüfer Demir, a photographer for the Turkish news agency Do?an, seem to have touched a deeper nerve.

We’ve since been told that the boy’s name was Aylan Kurdi and that his mother and brother also died trying to get to Europe, while his father survived.

The Huffington Post reports that this image in particular has prompted several British opposition politicians to call for action. “Bodrum” quickly became a top trending topic on Facebook, while the hashtags #refugeeswelcome and #SyriaCrisis were the centre of attention on Twitter.

Why it’s different

It remains to be seen whether the image coincides with a shift in attitudes toward what is being labelled as the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II or whether it will become as imprinted in our minds as the three great images of the Vietnam War: Hu?nh Công Út’s “Napalm girl”, Eddie Adams’ 1968 “Murder of a Vietcong by Saigon Police Chief”, or Malcolm Browne’s 1963 “Burning Monk”.

These images are recognised for their ability to communicate human suffering, letting the viewer know they are witnessing evidence of a reality that cannot just be captured in words. They convey the sense that the scene in the frame is part of something much bigger than what any observer can make of it.

The picture of the small boy is of course part of an individual and a collective tragedy. It is a scene from a humanitarian crisis that has forced millions to flee their war torn hometowns in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Bodies have been washing ashore in southern Europe for some time, and my guess is we’ll be witnessing more of these images before long.

But pictures like “Napalm girl” or “Burning Monk” were part of national narratives that told the world of the horrors of war experienced in distant countries. “Drowned boy’s corpse”, on the other hand, makes us confront a reality too close to look away.

This one image carries the echo of millions of men and women who are too scared of the nightmare they are living to think twice before putting their little boys and girls onto rafts, hoping they’ll make it to a better place.

Perhaps Lee Miller’s 1945 Dead Prisoners in Buchewald concentration camp communicated some of the same collective horror – but again, there is something different in the more recent image. It’s tragic at face value, but horrific for what it doesn’t show – the bloody realities of millions of people who aren’t in the picture.

Changing the narrative

We could stop for a minute to ponder the conflict between the ethical and journalistic dimensions in imagery of violence and tragedy. One could also remark on the hypocrisy of many conservative newspapers that have run this image to suit their sensationalist agendas after months of using others to stoke anti-immigrant sentiment.

Personally, I would prefer to stick with the momentum of favourable media attention that the photograph is generating. It has been used by campaign groups to galvanise citizen action. The hope is that it could finally tip world leaders into softening their stance on this issue.

Editor’s Note: Gabriel Moreno Esparza is a lecturer in Journalism at Northumbria University, Newcastle. This article originally appeared on and is reprinted here with permission. All views expressed here are solely those of the author.


Islamic State refugees grow disgruntled: ‘We loved them so much’

By Michael Kaplan
Religion News Service

SANLIURFA, Turkey – Hassan, a chain-smoking 20-year-old from Syria, sits in a cafe across the border from his homeland, one of thousands who escaped the clutches of the Islamic State group.

Not so long ago, he was one of their recruits, having undergone four months of religion training where he learned how to pray and read the Quran, while at the same time patrolling the rebel stronghold’s checkpoints.

“We loved them so much,” said Hassan, who was not willing to be identified by his real name for fear of retribution against family members still in Syria. “They gave us so much information and taught us very sweet things about Islam.”

But then things started to change.

As the Islamic State group grew in power, he saw more orders to target members of other widely popular Sunni rebel groups. At checkpoints, Hassan said, recruits were commanded to arrest or kill any members affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, an umbrella of rebel groups that he and his family supported.

His mother, who was growing increasingly disgruntled with the Islamic State’s strict rules, confronted him. “‘Why are you doing this?’” he said she told him. ‘”This is wrong.’”

It wasn’t long after, as intense fighting broke out with another Islamist brigade, Ahrar ash-Sham, that Hassan decided to stop fighting for the Islamic State.

The group, he said, seemed to have lost its purpose in its fighting the Syrian regime. It also lost its touch with the locals.

Little is known about how the Islamic State group is viewed by those living under its thumb. But as it conquers new land and expands into contested territories, a steady stream of refugees settling in southern Turkey offers a peek into life in the areas the militants control.

These refugees say the group’s success in establishing order, which at first won local support, has since been overshadowed by continued brutality — widely seen as out of touch with local Muslim tradition — which in turn has fostered resentment and anger.

“At first they did have some support,” said Ahmed Saleh, a former imam in the Syrian city of Deir az-Zor. “But their very kind and compassionate statements in the beginning disappeared with their intolerant and unjust behavior.”

Refugees emphasized that Islamic State laws are seen as excessively harsh and often arbitrary.

Cities along Turkey’s southern border are teeming with refugees these days. Many of the 500,000 refugees living in Sanliurfa, a city of about 1.8 million people, come from northeastern Syria, much of which is now under control of the Islamic State.

Among them are former fighters who fear that the militant group would target them because of their affiliation with other political movements, as well as civilians who fled areas held by other rebel groups amid bombardment by the Syrian regime.

Some have integrated into Turkey, which has open checkpoints, by establishing Syrian restaurants and political organizations.

“They don’t understand Islam as we the Syrian people understand it,” Saleh said of the Islamic State group, noting that much of its leadership and many of its fighters hail from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and elsewhere.

“Punishing people shouldn’t be a goal,” he said, adding that the Islamic penal code is to be waived during times of unrest. He noted that there were very few stonings during the Prophet Muhammad’s time as leader and that it was most often the guilt-ridden individual, and not the prophet, who wanted to carry through with the punishment.

After leaving the militant group, Hassan settled in Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria, to live as a civilian. But he found it difficult to conform to rigid new rules.

Repeatedly, he got into trouble with the Islamic State’s gun-wielding religious police, called al-Hisba, responsible for enforcing religious and moral codes (a parallel female-only police force, called al-Khansa, enforces rules for women).

He shared a picture on his cellphone of lash marks on his back oozing with blood from a time he was caught smoking a cigarette in his mechanic’s shop. Another time, he was thrown into a dark jail cell and beaten after a passer-by spotted and reported him to al-Hisba for sitting next to a woman (al-Hisba informants earn a $50 reward).

Then, one day, Hassan returned to his shop to find it padlocked after leaving it open during prayer time. That’s when he decided it was time to leave.

Under the Islamic State group, getting caught with alcohol is punishable by 80 lashes and cigarettes by 40 lashes. Women, who must be accompanied by a male chaperone in public, are required to wear black, Saudi-style veils with an extra layer on top — locally referred to as “body armor.” Men must grow their beards and raise the hem of their pant legs so that they hang above their ankles, in conformity with a particular Islamic practice.

More serious crimes — ranging from homosexuality to rebellion against the state — are referred to judges with powers to hand down harsh corporal punishment, including stoning, amputations and beheadings.

Public executions are reportedly a weekly occurrence in Raqqa these days.

Many of the Islamic State group’s laws are rooted in a literal reading of the Quran that ignores the rich scholarly tradition that has developed around it.

Aside from narrations believed to be passed down from the Prophet Muhammad, called the hadith, no other sources from Islam’s vast legal tradition are taken into account when determining a judicial verdict or passing laws.

According to one Syrian journalist from Raqqa, the Islamic State realized early on that it would come into conflict with local religious leaders for its simplistic understanding of Islam. “The first act of the Islamic State was to kill the people with knowledge of religion,” said the man, who writes under the alias Zaid AlFares.

Those who endorse a conflicting understanding of Islam, including those affiliated with competing rebel groups, are ruled apostates, due to leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s self-proclaimed title as caliph — the spiritual and political leader of Muslims.

Saleh thinks the Islamic State’s day in the court of public opinion might be approaching.

“If the people of Raqqa and Deir az-Zor believed that help was on the way,” he said, “there would be a revolution in no time.”


Syria’s Currency Sags Under Weight of Unrest

By Suleiman Al-Khalidi


Black smoke is seen from Homs refinery (in the background) after a pipeline carrying oil from the east of the country to the refinery was blown up, in this December 8, 2011 file handout photograph released by Syria’s national news agency SANA. Long queues to get heating oil and petrol, along with bread shortages, even in areas of the country that have not witnessed months of protests are adding to the discomfort and misery, Syrians say. Picture taken December 8, 2011.

REUTERS/SANA/Handout/ Files

AMMAN, Dec 14 (Reuters) – Syrian trader Ghaith Jawhar goes daily to the old Damascus market looking for illegal money dealers hiding in the alleyways. He sells them small amounts of Syrian pounds in exchange for hard currency that has become scarcer and more expensive in the last few weeks.

“My profits and savings are now threatened. I cannot find anyone who can give me enough dollars, and those who are offering me some are giving me prohibitive rates,” Jawhar, 62, said by telephone from his small clothing shop in the Salhia commercial district of the capital.

The Syrian pound’s depreciation has accelerated in the past week as the nine-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad takes its toll on the economy, after months of relative stability when the central bank managed to support the exchange rate by supplying foreign currency.

The official rate has fallen from 47 pounds to the U.S. dollar, where it stood when pro-democracy protests began in March, to around 54 pounds as authorities lowered the rate to narrow the differential with the black market. The biggest single adjustment, from 50 pounds, occurred on Dec. 5.

On the black market, the pound has slipped even further, with the rate now hovering around 59 pounds. A low of 62 pounds was hit briefly just after the Arab League slapped economic sanctions on Syria last month.

The violence in Syria is shrinking the economy and disrupting exports. Syrians’ worries about their local currency savings are compounded by lack of confidence in a tightly regulated financial sector, where even depositors in the country’s 12 privately held banks can find it hard to withdraw foreign currency holdings without encountering hefty withdrawal fees and central bank limits on foreign exchange transactions.

“There are a lot of people that want dollars because they are panicking…There is speculation and there are a lot of people taking advantage of this, and exchange dealers who are quoting high margins which is creating additional deprecation,” said a senior commercial banker in Damascus, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Bankers in Damascus, Beirut and the Gulf say the flow of funds into dollars has accelerated in the last several weeks as a Syrian insurgency, with attacks on government facilities, has begun to overshadow street protests.

Tough controls reminiscent of Syria’s past as a Soviet-style command economy force companies to convert hard currency into Syrian pounds at the official rate. Such measures make it difficult for ordinary Syrians and traders to get enough dollars from banks.

The flight to safety has pushed wealthy Syrian businessmen, most of whose wealth was already abroad, to send their remaining dollar savings in cash across borders to neighbouring Lebanon and Jordan, banking sources in the two countries said.

Some bankers said concern about the stability of the economy and banks was moving the country slowly towards a cash-based economy, with more cash hoarded at home.

“People have not withdrawn their savings, but they now prefer to take everyday spending for the month in one go and keep it at home, rather than drawing their salaries over the course of the month,” said a banker in Aleppo.

He added that the closure of banks for several days in the city of Hama during widescale protests in July had rattled depositors and undermined confidence in the banking sector.


Syria’s foreign currency reserves were estimated at over $17 billion before the unrest began. Up-to-date official figures are not available, but bankers believe the reserves have have now declined by at least several billion dollars, putting the central bank in a dilemma.

Between March and September, the central bank supplied dollars relatively freely to keep the exchange rate largely stable; bankers estimated it spent an average $500 million every month.

But this depleted reserves, and if they fall too far — perhaps, judging by the experience of Egypt this year, to near three months’ worth of imports — the market may worry that the central bank is running out of money and increase the pressure on the currency. Syria’s monthly imports of goods and services this year are expected to average about $1.9 billion, according to the International Monetary Fund.

“There is a limit to the intervention of the central bank. You have reserves that you cannot sacrifice,” said a Damascus-based banker at the subsidiary of a foreign bank, who is in regular contact with central bank officials.

This month’s move to align the official exchange rate closer to the black market rate appears due to a recognition that reserves could no longer be run down so rapidly to defend the currency, bankers said.

“It’s the right policy to move the official rate closer to the black market because who is going to replenish our foreign reserves?” said one banking source familiar with current thinking within Syria’s central bank management.

“The central bank has now resigned itself to the fact that it was futile to keep running to maintain the rate at around 50 pounds, and they are letting go.”

Now there are expectations in the black market for the pound to slip even further around the end of this year, and for authorities to lower the official rate accordingly.

“If things get worse, most of us expect the dollar rate could reach the 70 pounds psychological barrier, especially since there is no light at the end of the tunnel,” said a prominent Syrian economist who declined to be named.

Other economists and bankers said they still expected the central bank to spend heavily to prevent such a level being reached, partly because massive depreciation could cause a big rise of inflation.

“They cannot afford to leave the market because the moment the currency collapses it will be a tipping point once and for all, and nothing will restore confidence in it,” said Ibrahim Saif, an economist with Carnegie Middle East, a U.S. think tank.


Shooting Erupts in Hama Before Arab Visit

By Mariam Karouny


Men pray next to the coffins of people killed at security sites on Friday in two car bomb attacks, at the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus December 24,2011 in this handout photograph released by Syria’s national news agency SANA. The United Nations expressed grave concern about twin suicide car bombings in Damascus and condemned the attacks that killed 44 people and lent a grim new face to the uprising in Syria.


BEIRUT (Reuters) – At least seven people were wounded on Wednesday in the Syrian city of Hama when security forces used live ammunition and tear gas to disperse a protest against President Bashar al-Assad, just a day before a visit by Arab peace monitors, a rights group said.

Live pictures on al Jazeera television showed gunfire and black smoke rising above a street in Hama as dozens of protesters chanted: “Where are the Arab monitors?”

Arab League monitors checking if Syria is ending its violent crackdown on popular unrest are due to visit Hama on Thursday. In its footage, al Jazeera showed one man bleeding from the neck as others shouted in the background.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the protesters were heading towards Orontes square in the city centre for a sit-in at the symbolic location where demonstrations were crushed earlier this year.

Security forces were not visible in the Jazeera footage. Unarmed protesters, some masked, were heard shouting “Assad forces are shooting us.” The protesters then began chanting: “Freedom for ever” and “We will have our revenge on you Bashar.”

Reuters could not verify the details as Syria has banned most foreign media from the country.

Hama, 240 km (150 miles) north of Damascus, has particular resonance for Syrians. The city was the site of the biggest massacre in the country’s modern history.

Troops overran Hama in 1982 to put down the armed wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, which made its last stand there. Up to 30,000 people were killed, many of them killed in an army bombardment or executed in the streets by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad’s’ father, the late Hafez al-Assad. Parts of its old city were razed to the ground.

Twenty-nine years later Hama demonstrators demanding the overthrow of Bashar still revile the memory of his father, who died in 2000 after ruling Syria for three decades.


In the Jazeera footage, the protesters began cursing Hafez’s soul immediately after the gunfire was heard, before rushing to hide in alleyways.

A few looked out to shout a defiant freedom call before disappearing into hiding again. The shooting intensified, then one man shouted out that snipers were now operating in the area. Dozens of men squeezed themselves in an alley, chanting anti-Assad slogans.

“There is no turning back from the revolution,” they shouted.

Hama was among the hardest hit cities in an escalation of military attacks against urban centers where anti-Assad protests had been held.

In August, tanks attacked Hama for ten days, provoking Arab and Western outrage, after weeks of protests that drew hundreds of thousands of people to Orontes Square. Authorities said the operation was necessary to cleanse the city of “terrorists” according to the wishes of Hama inhabitants.

On Wednesday, part of an Arab League team went to a flashpoint area in the city of Homs but some of their planned tour was blocked when gunfire erupted, activists said.

Residents of Homs’s Baba Amr neighborhood initially refused to cooperate when the monitors arrived with an army escort and the team withdrew. But activists said a smaller group of monitors returned without the officer and were escorted by residents and activists on a tour of the turbulent district.

But the monitors could not enter an area where residents said they believed detainees were being hidden because gunfire erupted. It was not clear where the shooting came from.

“Residents were accompanying the team to the area to show them where they believe detainees are being held when suddenly there was gunfire near the checkpoint,” said Rami Abdelrahman, of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

(Editing by Giles Elgood)


Activists: 111 Killed in Syria’s “Bloodiest Day”

By Dominic Evans

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syrian forces killed 111 people ahead of the start of a mission to monitor President Bashar al-Assad’s implementation of an Arab League peace plan, activists said on Wednesday, and France branded the killings an “unprecedented massacre.”

Rami Abdulrahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 111 civilians and activists were killed on Tuesday when Assad’s forces surrounded them in the foothills of the northern Jabal al-Zawiyah region in Idlib province and unleashed two hours of bombardment and heavy gunfire.

Another 100 army deserters were either wounded or killed, making it the “bloodiest day of the Syrian revolution,” he said.

“There was a massacre of unprecedented scale in Syria on Tuesday,” said French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero. “It is urgent that the U.N. Security Council issues a firm resolution that calls for an end to the repression.”

The United States said it was deeply disturbed by reports of indiscriminate killing and warned Assad the violence must stop. Britain said it was shocked by the reports and urged Syria to “end immediately its brutal violence against civilians.”

Events in Syria are hard to verify because authorities, who say they are battling terrorists who have killed more than 1,100 soldiers and police, have banned most independent reporting.

Tuesday’s bloodshed brought the death toll reported by activists in the last 48 hours to over 200.

The main opposition Syrian National Council said “gruesome murders” were carried out, including the beheading of a local imam, and demanded international action to protect civilians.

The escalating death toll in nine months of popular unrest has raised the specter of civil war in Syria with Assad, 46, still trying to stamp out protests with troops and tanks despite international sanctions imposed to push him onto a reform path.

Idlib, a northwestern province bordering Turkey, has been a hotbed of protest during the revolt, inspired by uprisings across the Arab world this year, and has also seen increasing attacks by armed insurgents against his forces.

The Observatory said rebels had damaged or destroyed 17 military vehicles in Idlib since Sunday while in the southern province of Deraa violence continued on Wednesday.

Tanks entered the town of Dael, the British-based group said, leading to clashes in which 15 security force members were killed. Six army defectors and a civilian also died and dozens of civilians were wounded, it said.


The Syrian National Council said 250 people had been killed on Monday and Tuesday in “bloody massacres,” and that the Arab League and United Nations must protect civilians.

It demanded “an emergency U.N. Security Council session to discuss the (Assad) regime’s massacres in Jabal al-Zawiyah, Idlib and Homs, in particular” and called for “safe zones” to be set up under international protection.

It also said those regions should be declared disaster areas and urged the International Red Crescent and other relief organizations to provide humanitarian aid.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said unless Damascus complied fully with the Arab League plan to end the violence, “additional steps” would be taken against it. Washington and the European Union have already imposed sanctions on Syria.

“Bashar al-Assad should have no doubt that the world is watching, and neither the international community no the Syria people accept his legitimacy,” he said.

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby said on Tuesday that an advance observer team would go to Syria on Thursday to prepare the way for 150 monitors due to arrive by end-December.

Syria stalled for weeks before signing a protocol on Monday to admit the monitors, who will check its compliance with the plan mandating an end to violence, withdrawal of troops from the streets, release of prisoners and dialogue with the opposition.

Syrian officials say over 1,000 prisoners have been freed since the plan was agreed six weeks ago and that the army has pulled out of cities. The government promised a parliamentary election early next year as well as constitutional reform which might loosen the ruling Baath Party’s grip on power.

Syrian pro-democracy activists are deeply skeptical about Assad’s commitment to the plan, which, if implemented, could embolden demonstrators demanding an end to his 11-year rule, which followed three decades of domination by his father.

Assad is from Syria’s minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, and Alawites hold many senior posts in the army which he has deployed to crush the mainly Sunni Muslim protests.

In recent months, peaceful protests have increasingly given way to armed confrontations, often led by army deserters.

In a show of military power, state television broadcast footage of live-fire exercises held by the navy and air force, which it said aimed at deterring any attack on Syria.


The United Nations has said more than 5,000 people have been killed in Syria since anti-Assad protests broke out in March.

Arab, U.S. and European sanctions combined with the unrest have sent the economy into sharp decline. The Syrian pound fell nearly 2 percent on Tuesday to more than 55 pounds per dollar, 17 percent down from the official rate before the unrest.

Arab rulers are keen to prevent a descent into civil war in Syria that could affect a region already riven by rivalry between non-Arab Shi’ite Muslim power Iran and Sunni Muslim Arab heavyweights such as Saudi Arabia.

(Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris and Alister Bull in Washington; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Peter Millership)


On the Verge of Transition

– The Syrian Expatriate

By Laura Fawaz


Livonia, MI–“I think what happened in Syria is exactly what happened in the rest of the Arab World.  It’s the results of long term torture and oppression by the current regime,” said Ammar Ghanem, of Indiana, with the Syrian National Council, when speaking about the effect of the Arab Spring on Syria.

Last Saturday, the Syrian Expatriate, along with the Syrian National Council, held a seminar called “On The Verge of Transition, a Meeting With The Syrian National Council, at Burton Manor in Livonia.” 
The seminar focused on the Syrian National Council’s (SNC) integration within Syrian Communities across the world.  The SNC’s focus was for the Syrian community, especially in Metro-Detroit, to meet the SNC and the Syrian Expatiate. 

SNC board member Louay Sakka of Canada explained that they are hoping “for an exchange of ideas, and to discuss the future of Syria.”

Ghanem added, “The main objective is trying to help the people inside Syria, and to help drive forward the Syrian Revolution.”

Attendees were asking questions and exploring options for Syria with the SNC, as part of the seminar that was divided into four topics: The structure and the way the SNC is currently working, the economics of the Syrian Revolution and options to weaken the regime, discussing the political work being done, and lastly, international protection and interaction to protect civilians in Syria.

Ghanem explained that the plans for this event have been in the works for five weeks, and were necessary because “the people of Syria couldn’t take it anymore, and they want to up rise and want to get rid of the current regime.  Who doesn’t want freedom?”

Asked if most Metro-Detroit Syrians feel the same way about the current Syrian political party, Sakaa replied, “most of the people in general already get to a point where they are completely against the regime.  Having said that, it doesn’t mean that everyone is on the same page.  You still have people who get some type of benefit from this regime, directly or indirectly.” 

According to Sakaa, since the rest of the world is primary against the current political Syrian party, the Arab League has just removed Syria.  After this, it seems as though most Syrians are feeling the isolation, and is why less people are working with the Syrian government. 

Some of course still support the current Syrian regime. So the SNC when asked whether anyone came out and showed disagreement with this event, they explained that Burton Manor received anonymous threatening phone calls. 

The SNC took extra precautions, including having the Livonia Police Department all around the building, as well as having their own security on board.

As the rest of the Arab World has shown this past year, we truly cannot know what is happening inside country lines until it all unravels.  So for now, attending events such as this will be our closest entry point. 


Israel-Iran War Game Scenario Predicts Disaster:

Translated by Didi Remez

Israel’s leading columnist, Nahum Barnea, published a column this week about an academic war game exercise conducted at Bar Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center Strategic Studies.  In a paper published last September, Prof. Moshe Vered considered under what conditions the two nations might enter a war, how long it might last and how it might end.  The results were alarming even to the Israeli intelligence community.  Here is how Barnea summarizes the research (thanks to Didi Remez for translating the article):


Workers move a fuels rod at the Fuel Manufacturing plant at the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility 440 Km (273 miles) south of Tehran April 9, 2009.  

REUTERS/Caren Firouz 

“The war could be long,” Vered warns, “its length could be measured in years.”  The cost that the war will exact from Israel raises a question mark as to the decision to go to war.

The relatively light scenario speaks about an Israeli bombing, after which Iran will fire several volleys of surface-to-surface missiles at Israel.  Due to the limited number of missiles and their high cost, the war will end within a short time.  The missiles may run out, the study states, but the war will only be getting started.
“The means that may be most effective for the Iranians is war by proxies—Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas,” Vered writes.  “(There will be) ongoing and massive rocket fire (and in the Syrian case, also various types of Scud missiles), which will cover most of the area of the country, disrupt the course of everyday life and cause casualties and property damage.  The effect of such fire will greatly increase if the enemy fires chemical, biological or radiological ordnance… massive Iranian support, by money and weapons, will help the organizations continue the fire over a period of indeterminate length… due to the long-range of the rockets held by Hizbullah, Israel will have to occupy most of the territory of Lebanon, and hold the territory for a long time.  But then the IDF will enter a guerrilla war, a war the end of which is hard to predict, unless we evacuate the territory, and then the rocket fire will return…”

This is not all.  “Another possibility,” Vered writes, “is the activation of Iranian expeditionary forces that will be located in Syria as part of a defense pact between the two countries, or sending large amounts of infantry forces to participate in the war alongside Hizbullah or Syria.  Iran’s ability to do so will increase after the United States evacuates its troops from Iraq.  If the current tension between Turkey and Israel rises, Turkey may also permit, or turn a blind eye to, arms shipments and Iranian volunteers that will pass to Syria through its territory and airspace.  Israel will find it very difficult, politically and militarily, to intercept the passage of forces through Iraq or Turkey.  The participation of Iranian forces will make it very difficult for the IDF to occupy areas from which rockets are being fired.

“Along with these steps, Iran may launch a massive terror campaign against Israeli targets within Israel and abroad (diplomatic missions, El Al planes and more) and against Jewish targets.”

Iran will not attack immediately, Vered’s scenario states.  First it will launch intensive diplomatic activity, which could lead to an American embargo on spare parts to Israel.  Along with this, the Iranians will secretly move troops to Syria.  Israel will not attack the troops, for fear of international pressure.  The IDF will have to mobilize a large reserve force to defend the Golan Heights.  After the Iranians complete the buildup of their force, Hizbullah and Hamas will launch massive rocket fire against all population centers.  The IDF will try to occupy Lebanon and will engage in a guerrilla war with multiple casualties.  Hamas will renew the suicide bombings and Iran will target Israel’s sea and air routes by terrorism.  The Iranians will fire missiles at population centers in Israel, and will rebuild the nuclear facilities that were bombed, in such a way that will make it very difficult to bomb them again.

Vered bases his assessment mainly on the regime’s ideology and on the lessons of the Iran-Iraq War, which lasted from 1980 to 1988.  He writes: “Half a million dead, a million wounded, two million refugees and displaced persons, economic damage estimated by the Iranian government at about $1-trillion—more than twice the value of all Iranian oil production in 70 years of pumping oil—none of this was sufficient to persuade Iran to stop the war.  Only the fear of the regime’s fall led the leadership to accept the cease-fire.

“The ramifications are clear and harsh—like the war against Iraq, the war against Israel will also be perceived by the Iranians as a war intended to right a wrong and bring justice to the world by destroying the State of Israel.  Only a threat to the regime will be able to make the Iranian leadership stop.  It is difficult to see how Israel could create such a threat.”

The United States would be able to shorten the war if it were to join it alongside Israel.  Vered does not observe American willingness to do so.  He predicts the possibility of pressure in the opposite direction, by the US on Israel….

The military card

…The game is now approaching the critical stage, the “money time.”  Netanyahu and Barak are waving the military card.  “All the options are on the table,” they say, accompanying the sentence with a meaningful look.  There are Israelis, in uniform and civilian clothes, who take them seriously…

The following is perhaps the most important portion of this column since Barnea posits a startling theory to explain Bibi’s posturing and bellicosity concerning Iran.  If he is right then I would feel a whole lot more confident that war is not in the offing.  But if he is wrong…

I find it difficult to believe that Netanyahu will undertake such a weighty and dangerous decision.  It is more reasonable to assume that he and Barak are playing “hold me back.”  On the day they will be called upon to explain why Iran attained nuclear weapons, they will say, each on his own, what do you want from me, I prepared a daring, deadly, amazing operation, but they—the US administration, the top IDF brass, the forum of three, the forum of seven, the forum of ten—tripped me up.  They are to blame.

Netanyahu and Barak know: there is no military operation more successful, more perfect, than an operation that did not take place.

Netanyahu has upgraded Ahmadinejad to the dimensions of a Hitler.  Against Hitler, one fights to the last bunker.  This is what Churchill did, and Netanyahu wants so badly to be like Churchill.  His credibility—a sensitive issue—is on the table.  If he retreats, the voters will turn their back on him.  Where will he go?  In his distress, he may run forward.

Below, Barnea continues with his entirely reasonable, pragmatic and even cynical theories that the Israeli public neither believes, nor wants Bibi to go to war.  While he may be right, I’m afraid that many polls of Israeli opinion show a population resigned to confrontation and possible war. So who do you believe?

The fascinating side of this story is that very few Israelis would appear to believe their prime minister.  If they believed him, they would not run in a frenzy to buy apartments in the towers sprouting like mushrooms around the Kirya.  In the event that Iran should be bombed, the residents of the towers would be the first to get it.  If they believed [Netanyahu], the real estate prices in Tel Aviv would drop to a quarter of their current value, and long lines of people applying for passports would extend outside the foreign embassies.  What do the Israelis know about Netanyahu that Ahmadinejad does not know, what is it that they know.
Of course, this eminently reasonable interpretation omits the fact that many other pragmatic Israeli leaders, equally cynical in their way, have been sucked into disastrous wars for far less reason.  Most recently Ehud Olmert in Lebanon and Gaza.  Menachem Begin in Lebanon.  Do we really believe that even if he doesn’t mean to go to war that something could not suck him into it against his better judgment?  History is full of examples of precisely such things, World War I being perhaps the foremost example.

Returning to Vered’s war game, there will be Iran haters in Israel who read this who pooh-pooh this scenario claiming it overstates the negatives and overlooks Israel’s prowess and past success in similar ventures like Osirak and the alleged Syrian nuclear reactor.  But I say if even 1/10 of the complications Vered outlines happen, that disaster may be in the offing for Israel.  Israelis tend to have a “can do” attitude towards wars with their Arab neighbors.  As such, they often overestimate themselves and underestimate their adversary.  Iran, once provoked, will make a much more formidable adversary than most Israelis imagine.  Israelis should remember, but won’t, that the IDF is no longer the vaunted invincible force it was after the 1967 War.  It cannot work miracles.  Think Lebanon, 2006.  Think Gaza, 2008.  To delude yourself that bombing Iranian nuclear plants will be a surgical operation with short-term consequences alone is beyond foolish.  That is why Vered’s exercise, no matter how accurate it turns out to be, is salient.


Danish Newspaper Apologizes in Cartoons Row

A Danish newspaper apologised today to eight Muslim organisations for the offence it caused by reprinting controversial cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad, in exchange for their dropping legal action against the newspaper.

Politiken reached a settlement with the groups, which represent 94,923 of Muhammad’s descendants, in which it agreed to print an apology for the affront the cartoons caused. The newspaper has not given up its right to publish the cartoons and has not apologised for having printed them as part of its news coverage.

In a joint statement, the two sides said they wanted to “express their satisfaction with this amicable understanding and settlement, and express the hope that it may in some degree contribute to defusing the present tense situation.”

The decision to issue an apology for the offence caused has been met, however, by widespread condemnation from the Danish media and political parties.

The editor of Jyllands-Posten, which originally printed the cartoons in 2005 and is published by the same media company as Politiken, said that its sister paper had failed in the fight for freedom of speech and called it a “sad day” for the Danish press.

Kurt Westergaard, one of the cartoonists, who earlier this year was the subject of an attempted attack at his home, said the newspaper had betrayed its duty to freedom of speech. “In Denmark we play by a set of rules, which we don’t deviate from, and that’s freedom of speech,” he told the newspaper Berlingske Tidende. “Politiken is afraid of terror. That’s unfortunate and I fully understand that.”

The leader of the rightwing Danish People’s party, Pia Kjærsgaard, called the situation absurd, and said that Politiken had sold out. She urged Danish newspapers to reprint the cartoons as a protest against Politiken’s settlement. “It is deeply, deeply embarrassing that [Politiken’s editor] Tøger Seidenfaden has sold out of Denmark’s and the west’s freedom of speech. I cannot distance myself enough from this total sellout to this doctrine,” Kjærsgaard said.

The leader of the Social Democrats, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, also criticised Politiken’s decision: “It’s crazy. The media carries offensive material every day. That is what freedom of speech is about.”

The prime minister and the newly appointed foreign secretary have not commented on the settlement.

Last year 11 Danish newspapers were contacted by the Saudi lawyer Faisal Yamani, who demanded that the Muhammad cartoons were removed from their websites, that the newspapers print an apology and that they promise not to use the cartoons again.

Seidenfaden initially refused Yamani’s request for an apology, saying it was the paper’s duty to print the cartoons as part of its news coverage after Westergaard became the subject of an alleged murder plot.

Yamani, the lawyer who negotiated the settlement on behalf of the descendants, said: “This is a good settlement. It would be wrong to speak of a victory. Both parties have reached the point where they understand the background to what has happened. Politiken is courageous in apologising, even though its was not their intention to offend anyone.”

In September 2005 the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published a series of cartoons depicting Muhammad (s), in what it described as an attempt to promote freedom of expression. The cartoons initially had little impact, but when they were reprinted by Norwegian newspapers a storm erupted, with violent protests across the Middle East.

In February 2006 the violence escalated as newspapers in France, Germany, Spain and Italy reprinted the caricatures. The offices of Jyllands-Posten had to be evacuated several times after security threats.

Protests spread to other Arab countries and Danish goods including Lego and Bang & Olufsen were boycotted by Saudi Arabia, Libya and Syria. The Danish embassy in Damascus was burned down in 2006, others were attacked and death threats forced Westergaard into hiding.

Westergaard’s caricature of a bearded man with a bomb in his turban became the most talked about of the cartoons, but he has said the man in the drawing didn’t “necessarily” depict Muhammad (s).

According to Islamic tradition, it is blasphemous to make or show an image of the Prophet (s).


China Accuses US of Online Warfare in Iran

Iran election unrest an example of US ‘naked political scheming’ behind free speech facade, says Communist party editorial

A protest over the Iranian election in Washington last June. Photograph: Molly Riley/Reuters

The United States used “online warfare” to stir up unrest in Iran after last year’s elections, the Chinese Communist party newspaper claimed today, hitting back at Hillary Clinton’s speech last week about internet freedom.

An editorial in the People’s Daily accused the US of launching a “hacker brigade” and said it had used social media such as Twitter to spread rumours and create trouble.

“Behind what America calls free speech is naked political scheming. How did the unrest after the Iranian election come about?” said the editorial, signed by Wang Xiaoyang. “It was because online warfare launched by America, via YouTube video and Twitter microblogging, spread rumours, created splits, stirred up and sowed discord between the followers of conservative reformist factions.”

Washington said at the time of the unrest that it had asked Twitter, which was embraced by Iranian anti-government protesters, to remain open. Several social media sites, including YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, have been blocked in China in the last year.

The editorial asked rhetorically whether obscenity or activities promoting terrorism would be allowed on the net in the US. “We’re afraid that in the eyes of American politicians, only information controlled by America is free information, only news acknowledged by America is free news, only speech approved by America is free speech, and only information flow that suits American interests is free information flow,” it added.

It attacked the decision to cut off of Microsoft’s instant messaging services to nations covered by US sanctions, including Cuba, Iran, Syria, Sudan and North Korea, as violating America’s stated desire for free information flow. Washington later said that such services fostered democracy and encouraged their restoration.

China initially gave a low-key response to Google’s announcement that it was no longer willing to censor The internet giant said it had reached its decision following a Chinese-originated cyber attack targeting the email accounts of human rights activists, and in light of increasing online censorship.

Clinton’s direct challenge to China, in a speech that had echoes of the cold war with its references to the Berlin wall and an “information curtain”, led Beijing to warn that US criticism could damage bilateral relations. Clinton called on China to hold a full and open investigation into the December attack on Google.

In an interview carried by several Chinese newspapers today, Zhou Yonglin, deputy operations director of the national computer network emergency response technical team, said: “Everyone with technical knowledge of computers knows that just because a hacker used an IP address in China, the attack was not necessarily launched by a Chinese hacker.”

US diplomats sought to reach out to the Chinese public by briefing bloggers in China on Friday. They held a similar meeting during Barack Obama’s visit in November.


Iran, Syria Leaders Brush Aside US Call to Weaken Ties

Two countries scrap visa requirements

By Roueida Mabardi, Agence France Presse (AFP)


DAMASCUS: The presidents of Syria and Iran signed a visa-scrapping accord on Thursday, signaling even closer ties and brushing aside United States efforts to drive a wedge between the two allies.

“I am surprised by their call to keep a distance between the countries … when they raise the issue of stability and peace in the Middle East, and all the other beautiful principles,” Syrian President Bashar Assad told a news conference in Damascus with his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“We need to further reinforce relations if the true objective is stability. We do not want others to give us lessons on our region, our history,” the Syrian president said.

Ahmadinejad, who flew in to Damascus earlier in the day and later met exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, stressed that ties between the two Muslim states, both outspoken critics of US ally Israel, were as “solid” as ever. “Nothing can damage these relations,” he said.

On the same day in occupied Jerusalem, the United States and Israel resumed an annual “strategic dialogue” for the first time since US President Barack Obama assumed office in 2009, with Iran prominent on the agenda.

US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg met Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.

Assad said his country was always on the alert against Israel.

“We are always preparing ourselves for an Israeli aggression whether it is small or big scale,” he said.

Afterward, Ahmadinejad met Meshaal, Ahmed Jibril – leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – and other Palestinian leaders critical of the peace process for talks focused on “the Israeli threats made against Syria, Iran, the Palestinians and Lebanon,” a participant in the meeting said.

Ahmadinejad told the Palestinian leaders that “Iran places itself solidly beside the Palestinian people, until their land is liberated,” the participant said, and that resistance was the “likeliest path to liberation.”

On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington has been pressing Damascus to move away from Iran

Questioned on Clinton, Assad adopted an ironic tone.

“We met today to sign a ‘separation accord’ between Syria and Iran, but because of a bad translation we ended up signing an accord on scrapping visas,” he quipped.

Assad said the agreement would serve “to further reinforce relations in all fields and at all levels” between the two countries, which have been close allies for the past three decades.

In the face of US-led efforts to slap new sanctions on the Islamic Republic over its controversial nuclear program, he also defended Iran’s right to pursue uranium enrichment.

“To forbid an independent state the right to enrichment amounts to a new colonialist process in the region,” he said.

The visit came after Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said Syria was determined to help Iran and the West engage in a “constructive” dialogue over Tehran’s nuclear program.

Western governments suspect that the program in Iran is cover for a drive to produce a bomb.

Tehran vehemently denies the allegation.

On the eve of Ahmadinejad’s visit, Clinton was blunter than ever about the bid to drive a wedge between Syria and Iran.

Testifying in the Senate, she said William Burns, the third-ranking US diplomat, “had very intense, substantive talks in Damascus” last week on what was the highest-level US mission to the Syrian capital in five years.

Syria is being asked “generally to begin to move away from the relationship with Iran, which is so deeply troubling to the region as well as to the United States,” Clinton said.


Dubai Now Seeking 26 Suspects in Hamas Killing

By Raissa Kasolowsky and Cynthia Johnston

DUBAI (Reuters) – Dubai is hunting for at least 26 people over the killing of a Hamas commander in a Dubai hotel in a suspected Israeli operation that has caused a diplomatic furor.

Hamas military commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was killed last month in his hotel room in what Dubai police say they are near certain was a hit by Israel’s Mossad spy agency.

Dubai police added 15 new names on Wednesday to a list of suspects wanted over the killing. Six carried British passports, three held Irish documents, three were Australian, and three French, the Dubai government said in a statement.

Israeli media reported on Wednesday the new list could involve further cases of identity theft.

Dubai authorities had earlier named 11 suspects, who they said travelled on fraudulent British, Irish, French and German passports to kill Mabhouh. Six were Britons living in Israel who deny involvement and say their identities were stolen.

“Dubai investigators are not ruling out the possibility of involvement of other people in the murder,” the statement said.

The suspected killers’ use of passports from countries including Britain and France has drawn criticism from the European Union. Some of the governments involved have summoned their Israeli ambassadors.

“We will not be silent on this matter. It is a matter of deep concern. It really goes to the integrity and fabric of the use of state documents, which passports are, for other purposes,” Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said, as his government summoned Israel’s ambassador.

The Dubai statement said: “Friendly governments (which) have been assisting in this investigation have indicated to the police in Dubai that the passports were issued in an illegal and fraudulent manner.”

It said pictures on the passports did not correspond to their original owners.

In a statement on Monday that European diplomats said was intended as a rebuke to Israel, EU foreign ministers said that the assassination was “profoundly disturbing.”

Israel has not denied or confirmed it played any role but its foreign minister said there was nothing to link it to the killing. The United States, Israel’s main ally, has kept silent about the affair.

Mabhouh, born in the Gaza Strip, had lived in Syria since 1989 and Israeli and Palestinian sources have said he played a key role in smuggling Iranian-funded arms to militants in Gaza.

A Hamas official and Israel have also said he masterminded the capture and killing of two Israeli soldiers during a Palestinian uprising in the 1980s.

Like last week, Dubai police released passport photos and closed-circuit television footage of the new suspects, who police said arrived from cities including Zurich, Paris, Rome, Milan and Hong Kong.

“This was to take the camouflage and deception to its utmost level and to guarantee the avoidance of any security supervision or observation of their movements,” the statement said.

Once their part in the operation was completed, the suspects again dispersed to different parts of the world, with two suspects leaving Dubai by boat for Iran, it said.

Dubai police also released credit card details of some of the suspects. At least 13 credit cards used to book hotel rooms and pay for air travel were issued by the same small U.S. lender, MetaBank. The bank declined comment.

“MetaBank is declining comment pending a factual review of this matter,” it said in a statement emailed to Reuters.

Israel’s Ynet news website said it had tracked down a person with the same name as one of the suspects living in Tel Aviv.

“I am in shock from what I just heard. This is an identity theft. I cannot believe it,” Adam Marcus Korman, an Australian-born Israeli, told the website.

Several other names listed as suspects by Dubai police were similar to those of people listed in the Israeli telephone directory, including two named as British passport holders. Reuters was not immediately able to contact any of those people.

Two Palestinians suspected of providing logistical support were in detention and Dubai’s police chief has said he believes the operation could not have been carried out without information from inside Hamas on Mabhouh’s travel details.

An official from the movement was quoted as saying last week that Hamas had launched an investigation to try to discover “how the Mossad was able to carry out the operation.

Mossad is believed to have stepped up covert missions against Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia as well as Iran’s nuclear project.

Mabhouh’s killing was the third high profile murder in less than two years in trade and tourism hub Dubai, one of seven emirates in the UAE federation, where violent crime is rare.

(Additional reporting by Rania Oteify in Dubai, Allyn Fisher-Ilan and Alastair Macdonald in Jerusalem, Daniel Wilchins in New York and Rob Taylor in Canberra, Writing by Raissa Kasolowsky; Editing by Matthew Jones)


Dr. Abd A. Alghanem Elected Unanimously

Dr. Abd A. Alghanem was elected by the Michigan Board of Medicine to be Vice Chair of the board.  He has served on the Michigan Board of Medicine for seven years.   The board oversees the licenses of about 10,000 MD’s in Michigan.  Dr. Alghanem graduated from Damascus University, Syria, and has been practicing Plastic Surgery in Michigan for more than 20 years.


Israel Apologizes to Turkey

By Zerin Elci and Allyn Fisher-Ilan


Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan arrives at a welcoming ceremony in Ankara January 11, 2010.

REUTERS/Umit Bektas

ANKARA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel apologized to Turkey on Wednesday for publicly dressing down Ankara’s ambassador in a dispute that has strained the once good ties between the Jewish state and the Muslim regional power.

Turkey had demanded a formal apology for Ambassador Oguz Celikkol’s treatment on Monday and threatened to recall him.

But after receiving the letter of apology on Wednesday, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan threw a new barb at Israel, saying it should do more for peace in the region.

Turkey, as a Muslim country, is an important ally of Israel and in the past has helped forge contacts between the Jewish state and the Arab world.

But relations have deteriorated following criticism by Erdogan of Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip last year.

The latest row broke out after Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon summoned Celikkol on Monday to protest against a Turkish television drama that portrayed Israeli diplomats as masterminds of a child abduction ring.

Ayalon invited media crews to the beginning of the meeting in Jerusalem and pointed out there was no Turkish flag on the table. He also said he was deliberately avoiding a handshake with the ambassador.

In television images broadcast in Turkey, Celikkol was seen seated on a low couch, accentuating the sense of a slight.

Ayalon later conceded his behavior toward the envoy had been inappropriate. But Turkish President Abdullah Gul, who is scheduled to host Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Sunday, said that was insufficient and demanded a full apology.

Israel sent a formal letter of apology to Celikkol on Thursday.

“I had no intention to humiliate you personally and apologize for the way the demarche was handled and perceived, Ayalon said in the letter, released by the Israeli government.

“Please convey this to the Turkish people for whom we have great respect. I hope that both Israel and Turkey will seek diplomatic and courteous channels to convey messages as two allies should.”

In response, Erdogan said the Turkish foreign ministry had received “the expected, desired answer.”

But he added more criticism of Israel, telling a news conference: “Israel must put itself in order and it must be more just and more on the side of peace in the region.”

Ayalon had said earlier that his protest against the Turkish criticism of Israel remained valid. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamim Netanyahu also said thought the protest was correct but handled badly, according to his office.

As a predominantly Muslim nation, albeit with a secular constitution, as well as a NATO military power, Turkey is a key ally for Israel in the Middle East. As well as providing security cooperation, Ankara has offered Israel diplomatic help in the past, notably mediating with Syria in 2008.

But ties have become frosty since Israel’s war in the Palestinian Islamist-ruled Gaza Strip a year ago, which drew frequent public censure from Erdogan, whose AK Party’s roots lie in political Islam.

Netanyahu has said Turkey was aligning itself with Muslim countries hostile to Israel like Iran since before the Gaza war.

There was similar outrage last year over a Turkish series which featured Israeli soldiers murdering Palestinian children.

On Tuesday in London, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu renewed his country’s criticism of Israel over Gaza.

He said its 2008 invasion of the territory had marked the turning point in Turkish-Israeli relations.

Despite the row, a Turkish delegation is currently in Israel to wrap up the purchase of 10 Heron drones in a deal worth $180 million, Turkish defense officials said.

Additional reporting by Alastair Macdonald and Dan Williams in Jerusalem, Darren Butler in Ankara, and Michele Kambas in Nicosia; Editing by Angus MacSwan


An-Nawawi’s 40 Hadith





Tomb of Imam-Al-Nawawi ra in Bosra- Nawa Town- Syria
Imam Nawawi complete names is Abu Zakaria Mohiuddin Yahya, son of Sharaf AnÄNawawi, and from the family of Imam Hassan and Hussain and Prophet Muhammad (Peace be Upon Him.)
Nawawi refers to Nawa, a place near Damascus, in the suburb of the city of Howran.
Imam Nawawi (ra) was born at Nawa in the year 631 A.H. His father, a virtuous and pious man, resolved to arrange for proper and befitting education as he had discovered the symptoms of heavenly intelligence and wisdom in his promising child at an early stage.
Imam’s Simplicity and Niceness of Manners:
The learned persons, elite of the society and the public greatly respected the Imam on account of his piety, learning and excellent character.
He used simple dress and ate simple food. Devout scholars do not care about worldly chattels, they give preference to religious and academic pursuits, propagation of Faith etc.
They experience more heavenly delight and joy in such activities than those who seek satisfaction in luxurious foods, precious clothes and other worldly things. Imam Nawawi had a prominent place among the erudite notables of his age.
He was God-fearing person having illustrious and glorious aims regarding propagation of Faith. Celebrated Sheikh Mohiuddin expresses his impression about Imam Nawawi as thus:
"Imam Nawawi had three distinctive commendable qualities in his person. If anybody have only one out of these three, people return to him in abundance for guidance. First, having knowledge and its dissemination.
Second, to evade completely from the worldly inclinations, and the third, inviting to all that is good (Islam) enjoining Al-Ma’ruf [i.e., Islamic Monotheism and all that Islam orders one to do] and forbidding Al-Munkar [polytheism and disbelief and all that Islam has forbidden]. Imam Nawawi had all three in him."

Swiss Vote Betrays Enlightenment Ideals

By Juan Cole

swiss miss This campaign poster was banned for being racist, but apparently the goal of the poster, now that is all right.

Swissinfo surveys the headlines in Switzerland Monday morning and finds that the press there universally condemned and expressed dismay at Sunday’s vote. Editors expressed consternation at the inevitable tarnishing of Switzerland’s image and worried about the consequences. Will there be boycotts? Sanctions? Appeals to the European Court of Human Rights?

I can anticipate right now arguments to excuse this outbreak of bigotry in the Alps that will be advanced by our own fringe Right, of Neoconservatives and those who think, without daring saying it, that “white culture” is superior to all other world civilizations and deserves to dominate or wipe the others out.

The first is that it is only natural that white, Christian Europeans should be afraid of being swamped by people adhering to an alien, non-European religion.

Switzerland is said to be 5 percent Muslim, and of course this proportion is a recent phenomenon there and so unsettling to some. But Islam is not new to Europe. Parts of what is now Spain were Muslim for 700 years, and much of the eastern stretches of what is now the European Union were ruled by Muslims for centuries and had significant Muslim populations. Cordoba and Sarajevo are not in Asia or Latin America. They are in Europe. And they are cities formed in the bosom of Muslim civilization.

The European city of Cordoba in the medieval period has been described thusly:

‘ For centuries, Cordoba used to be the jewel of Europe, which dazzled visitors from the North. Visitors marveled at what seemed to them an extraordinary general prosperity; one could travel for ten miles by the light of street lamps, and along an uninterrupted series of buildings. The city is said to have had then 200,000 houses, 600 mosques, and 900 public baths. Over the quiet Guadalquivir Arab engineers threw a great stone bridge of seventeen arches, each fifty spans in width. One of the earliest undertakings of Abd al-Rahman I was an aqueduct that brought to Cordova an abundance of fresh water for homes, gardens, fountains, and baths.’

So if the Swiss think that Islam is alien to Europe, then they are thinking of a rather small Europe, not the Europe that now actually exists. Minarets dotted Cordoba. The Arnaudia mosque in Banja Luca dates back to the 1400s; it was destroyed along with dozens of others by fanatics in the civil war that accompanied the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

As for the likely comeback,that Muslims came to Europe from the 700s of the Common Era as conquerors, unlike Christianity, actually both were conquering state religions. It was the conversion of an emperor that gave a favored position to Christianity in Europe, which was a small minority on the continent at the time. And Charlemagne forcibly imposed Christianity on the German tribes up to the Elbe. In the cases both of European Christianity and European Islam, there were many willing converts among the ordinary folk, who thrilled to itinerant preachers or beautiful chanting.

Others will allege that Muslims do not grant freedom of religion to Christians in their midst. First of all, this allegation is not true if we look at the full range of the countries where the 1.5 billion Muslims live. Among the nearly 60 Muslim-majority states in the world, only one, Saudi Arabia, forbids the building of churches. Does Switzerland really want to be like Saudi Arabia?

Here is a Western Christian description of the situation of Christians in Syria:

‘In Syria, as in all other Arab countries of the Middle East except Saudi Arabia, freedom of religion is guaranteed in law . . . We should like to point out too that in Syria and in several other countries of the region, Christian churches benefit from free water and electricity supplies, are exempt from several types of tax and can seek building permission for new churches (in Syria, land for these buildings are granted by the State) or repair existing ones.

It should be noted too that there are Christian members of Parliament and of government in Syria and other countries, sometimes in a fixed number (as in Lebanon and Jordan.)

Finally, we note that a new personal statute was promulgated on 18 June 2006 for the various Christian Churches found in Syria, which purposely and verbatim repeats most of the rules of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches promulgated by Pope John Paul II.

That is, in Muslim-majority Syria, the government actually grants land to Christians for the building of churches, along with free water and electricity. Christians have their own personal status legal code, straight from the Vatican. (It is because Christians have their own law in the Middle East, backed by the state, that Muslims in the West are puzzled as to why they cannot practice their personal status code.) Christians have freedom of religion, though there are sensitivities about attempts to convert others (as there are everywhere in the Middle East, including Israel). And Christians are represented in the legislature. With Switzerland’s 5 percent Muslim population, how many Muslim members of parliament does it have?

It will also be alleged that in Egypt some clergymen gave fatwas or legal opinions that building churches is a sin, and it will be argued that Christians have been attacked by Muslims in Upper Egypt.

These arguments are fallacies. You cannot compare the behavior of some Muslim fanatics in rural Egypt to the laws and ideals of the Swiss Republic. We have to look at Egyptian law and policy.

The Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar Seminary, the foremost center of Sunni Muslim learning, ‘added in statements carried by Egyptian newspaper Youm al-Saba’a that Muslims can make voluntary contributions to build churches, pointing out that the church is a house for “worshipping and tolerance.” ‘ He condemned the fundamentalist Muslims for saying church-building is sinful. And Egypt has lots of churches, including new Presbyterian ones, following John Calvin who I believe lived in . . . Geneva. Aout 6 percent of the population is Christian.

The other problem with excusing Switzerland with reference to Muslims’ own imperfect adherence to human rights ideals is that two wrongs don’t make a right. The bigotted Right doesn’t even have the moral insight of kindergartners if that is the sort of argument they advance. The International Declaration of Human Rights was crafted with the participation of Pakistan, a Muslim country; the global contemporary rights regime is imperfectly adhered to by all countries– it is a claim on the world’s behavior, something we must all strive for. If the Swiss stepped back from it, they stepped back in absolute terms. It doesn’t help us get to global human rights to say that is o.k. because others are also failing to live up to the Declaration.

The other Wahhabi state besides Saudi Arabia, Qatar, has allowed churches. But they are not allowed to have steeples or bells. This policy is a mirror image to that of the Swiss.

So Switzerland, after centuries of striving for civilization and enlightenment, has just about reached the same level of tolerance as that exhibited by a small Gulf Wahhabi country, the people of which were mostly Bedouins only a hundred years ago.