It isn’t easy getting around the Gulf these days. The blockade on Qatar means no direct flights from most of its neighbors, so I spend hours of layover looking at the great mountain ranges of Muscat from the antiseptic tedium of my transfer terminal. My main reason for coming to the region is to speak in Doha for the newly revived ‘Doha Debates’. After my speech, a more than usually aggressive interviewer demands to know why Britain and other European countries have not taken in more Syrian migrants. The Emir’s sister and others are in the audience and I cannot pass up the opportunity to poke my hosts in the eye. I ask how many Syrians have been made citizens by Qatar. There is a terrible silence, followed by some giggling and a small amount of applause which is afterwards said to have come from the foreigners in the audience.
“We learned when America retreats, chaos often follows.” This assertion was made by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during his recent speech in Cairo. But the remark did little to resolve the uncertainty among Washington’s friends and allies in the region. Are US troops in Syria staying or going? If staying, for how long? And if going, when?
Mr Pompeo’s speech was a broader attempt to re-set US policy in the region and to give some sort of coherence after days of mixed messages.
But taking a leaf from his boss in the White House, Mr Pompeo spent a good deal of his time castigating the Obama administration’s approach and contrasting it with the apparent progress made on Mr Trump’s watch.
Pompeo, while not mentioning Obama by name, said that “it was here, in this city, another American stood before you” and “told you that radical Islamist terrorism does not stem from ideology.”
After three successive American Presidents had used a six-month waiver to defer moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem for more than two decades, President Donald J. Trump decided not to wait any longer. On December 7, 2017, he declared that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel; the official embassy transfer took place on May 14th, the day of Israel’s 70th anniversary.
From the moment of Trump’s declaration, leaders of the Muslim world expressed anger and announced major trouble. An Islamic summit conference was convened in Istanbul a week later, and ended with statements about a “crime against Palestine”. Western European leaders followed suit. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel said that President Trump’s decision was a “serious mistake” and could have huge “consequences”. French President Emmanuel Macron, going further, declared that the decision could provoke a “war”.
Despite these ominous predictions, trouble remained largely absent. The Istanbul statement remained a statement. The “war” anticipated by Macron did not break out.
A thousand years ago, the great cities of Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo took turns to race ahead of the Western world. Islam and innovation were twins. The various Arab caliphates were dynamic superpowers—beacons of learning, tolerance and trade. Yet today the Arabs are in a wretched state. Even as Asia, Latin America and Africa advance, the Middle East is held back by despotism and convulsed by war.
The last Trump-Macron Summit was a masterpiece of communication. The two men multiplied their signs of complicity and intimacy in front of the cameras. To indicate the strength of their relationship, The French president even declared, “We are two Mavericks.” In addition, both criticized the difficulties imposed by the political system, while emphasizing that they have never been politicians to be used, nor were they part of a partisan machine.
Yet the president of the United States did not surrender: not on the climate, nor on Iranian nuclear energy, nor on trade protectionism, nor on any subject.
Following President Donald Trump’s declaration that the U.S. would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Saeb Erekat quickly shot back and demanded “equal rights for everyone living in historic Palestine.”
Protests over Trump’s move have sparked riots in Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and even violent protests in Europe, from Germany to Sweden. But how exactly did Arab Muslims treat Christians and Jews when they ruled over Jerusalem for 19 years?
It appears Arabs were anything but tolerant toward either. The Daily Caller News Foundation examined Arab rule over the eastern half of Jerusalem from 1949 until 1967, and found that both Christians and Jews were routinely denied religious freedom and often faced persecution at the hands of the Arabs when Muslims were in charge of the eastern half of the holy city.
The world is now at the mercy of a coalition of three of the most dangerous autocrats on the planet: Donald Trump, Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Arabia’s new absolute ruler Mohammad bin Salman a name that will become increasingly familiar as the months go by. These three ‘leaders’ are now collaborating in an incredibly reckless plan to permanently reshape the Middle East. It now seems possible these three leaders are collaborating in an incredibly reckless plan to permanently reshape the Middle East.
Thanks to the Iran deal, the mullahs can buy nearly all the weapons they need.
There is currently a real Asian pivot as the president completes one of the longest presidential tours of Asia in memory.
Three carrier battle groups are in the West Pacific. America at home is in one of its periodic frenzies — did Ben Affleck grab the behinds of actresses, and is Kevin Spacey a pedophile or a pederast, or both? — as it snores through existential crises such as $20 trillion in debt, or the sale to the Russians of 20 percent of its quite limited domestic uranium reserves.
It is dangerous for the West to accept Arab anti-Semitic propaganda voiced by some Christian leaders in the Middle East; they are held hostage by the Muslim majority around them. Since the age of the internet, even many Arabs have stopped buying Arab propaganda.
A recent mark was retired Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Colin Powell when he was Secretary of State. Wilkerson recently said on MSNBC, during the recent Temple Mount crisis, that Jews pose the biggest threat to Christians in the Middle East. He learned this, he said, in 2002-2003 in Ramallah, during a business trip to meet with Yasser Arafat, from a Middle Eastern Catholic Bishop, who had told him that the biggest enemy for Christians in the region was not the Arabs but the Jews. So, Wilkerson, instead of condemning countless unprovoked terror attacks against Israelis, criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
It is most unfortunate that a former high-ranking State Department official decided to blame Israel during the recent crisis, in which Jews were the obvious victims. It is more than unfortunate that Wilkerson took the Bishop’s statement at face value instead of recognizing the complexities of the Middle East, where “no” and “yes” rarely mean “no” and “yes”.
In our neck of the woods, that is to say the Middle East, the machinery of state had modernized itself by enhancing its powers and developing new modes of control, manipulation and repression.
Both Barack Obama and Donald Trump began their presidencies with outreach to the Islamic world—and that, with one exception, is where the similarities between their respective Middle East doctrines begin and end. President Obama’s June 4, 2009, Cairo speech, delivered at Al-Azhar University, can be read as the manifesto for a post-America world. President Trump’s May 22, 2017, Riyadh speech, in startling contrast, was an unapologetic exposition of his America First creed.
Trudeau called prioritising them for refugee status “disgusting“:
By the time 17-year-old Sabah Jalal Mirad reaches Lalish temple at 8 a.m., he’s already been awake for three hours, sometimes four. The alarm on his phone wakes him in time for sunrise, when he raises his forehead towards the sky and begins to pray.
Over a breakfast of yogurt and eggs, his father reads the family a hymn. That night, he’ll light a candle and read another.
“I’d never thought about my religion until ISIL attacked us in August 2014,” Sabah recalls. “My family fled to Mount Sinjar to hide, but we had no food or water for 10 days, and I felt like I was being burned alive by the sun. I started praying without realizing what I was doing.” …
(Sidebar: for this, Trudeau recommended parkas.)
It has been almost two years since ISIL attacked the Shingal province of Northern Iraq. The genocide saw the terror group capture more than 10,000 members of the Yazidi community and kill up to 4,400 — half of whom were shot, beheaded or burned alive. The rest are thought to have died of starvation and dehydration while seeking safety in the nearby mountains. While the head of security at Lalish temple, Arsan Saed, 39, says the site has been at the top of ISIL’s target list for more than two years, the threat of attack has not deterred thousands of Yazidis from going there in search of sanctuary and support since the massacre. “We did increase our security team from 20 to 120,” he says. “But on a daily basis, our job is just to ensure nobody tries to smuggle wine into the temple. These days there are so many visitors here that even when ISIL are defeated, we’ll still need this many guards on site.” …
Many of those who were enslaved by ISIL are also finding that religion is helping to heal the psychological trauma. In August 2014, Sausan Husein Khalaf, 18, was captured outside her home in Solakh and forced to marry a militant three times her age. When she was smuggled out to safety in March this year, one of the first things she did was ask to be rebaptized into the faith. She cries at the memory. “I needed to feel like I was part of something again,” she says. “I felt like I’d forgotten who I was.”
“ISIL stole our independence,” Baba Sheikh agrees. “Before 2014, probably 95 per cent of Yazidis just dreamed of buying new houses or faster cars or getting better jobs. But when everything you’ve worked towards is gone, you have to work together to find a new identity that nobody can rip away. ISIL can try to take our houses and our hopes – but they can’t take away our culture, and they can’t take away our faith.”
Media in the West have been slow to focus on terrorism targeted at Christians. It doesn’t quite fit the conventional narrative: other groups, religious or national, are more likely to be persecuted. But Open Doors USA, a long-established agency for the protection of Christians around the world, recently noted that serious incidents of persecution have been increasing at an alarming rate. David Curry, president of Open Doors, says their research reveals “the worst levels of persecution in modern times.”
Can anyone make sense of the Middle East? Certainly those of us who perforce rely on television and newspaper reporting and analysis are in a poor position to do so, for all the professionalism and expertise of journalists and pundits. But it seems that the State Department, the Foreign Office in London, and the Quai d’Orsay are equally at a loss. Over much of the region they can’t even be sure which side they want to win, let alone which of the many sides they should support with money, weapons, training, etc.
President Barack Obama, in his address to the annual opening session of the United Nations General Assembly, said that it would be desirable for the Israelis not to develop Palestinian land (settlements) and for the Palestinians to accept the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. This is true, but also a truism. While everyone knows that there have been fierce ethnic, tribal, sectarian, and national disputes in the Middle East for centuries, most would not know that there has been an almost constant state of war for 4,000 years across much of the area, despite the comparatively stabilizing influence over centuries of the Persian, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman and British and French empires.
As a prominent Lebanese journalist recently reflected, Arabs shriek of crimes and vengeance if an outside power knocks down two Arab houses, but they scarcely react at all in polemical terms as Arabs themselves lay waste whole Arab countries.