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Islam and the West ( 20 Sept 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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A Symbolic Decision In The UN Doesn't And Shouldn't Blind Palestinians From Realities: New Age Islam’s Selection From World Press, 21 September 2015


New Age Islam Edit Bureau

21 September 2015

A symbolic decision in the UN doesn't and shouldn't blind Palestinians from realities

By Daoud Kuttab

Syria refugee crisis: Arab League’s inaction is shameful

By Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

Turkey Is Not To Blame for the Syrian Civil War

By Ömer Taşpinar

Turkey’s Unfinished Revolution

By Nuray Mert

Let Hajj bring hope Middle East societies can reject violence

By Samar Fatany

Islam is all about civilized behavior: Understanding the true meanings of Haj



A symbolic decision in the UN doesn't and shouldn't blind Palestinians from realities

Daoud Kuttab

20 Sep 2015

Imad Abu Shakra was only 17 on the 63rd anniversary of the Nakba, the catastrophe which created the Palestinian refugee problem. Born in Lebanon's largest Palestinian refugee camp in Ein al-Hilweh, Abu Shakra spent May 14, 2011 visiting friends and paying back small debts he owed to a neighbour. His mother said that he kept on hugging and kissing her. He said he would miss her.

At dawn on May 15, 2011, Abu Shakra washed, carried out his morning prayers and headed with a friend for the buses taking protesters to Ras Marron, the nearest Lebanese town to the border with Israel. The buses were full, so he took a taxi and walked the remaining distance to the fence. He climbed it and hoisted the Palestinian flag on top. During the climb, Israeli soldiers, clearly not in any danger, shot him twice in the shoulder and chest but he survived. He died at the highest point of the fence when a fatal shot hit his heart.

United Nations vote

The story of Abu Shakra is part of a series of personal biographies of Palestinian martyrs from Lebanon documented by the Yasour media group.

Abu Shakra's act follows hundreds, if not thousands, of Palestinians who have died attempting to carry out the symbolic act of reminding the world that Palestine exists and that its people yearn for freedom and independence. The United Nations recently voted overwhelmingly, 119-8 with 45 abstentions, to allow the raising of the flags of the UN's two non-member states: Palestine and the Vatican.

Israel's ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, said: "No vote, can turn empty symbolic gestures into a state," but he ignores the fact that it is Israel's military force that is continuing the illegal occupation and denying Palestinians the inalienable right of determining their own future.

The US ambassador, Samantha Power, similarly opposed the vote. The US was one of eight to vote no. She said that raising the Palestinian flag "is not an alternative to negotiations and will not bring the parties closer to peace".

The last time Israelis and Palestinians held negotiations, it was the Israelis who blew up the talks. US Secretary of State John Kerry used the expression "poof" when explaining how the nine-month-long talks went up in smoke when the Israelis reneged on their agreement to release long-term prisoners and began building illegal settlements.

For a people desperate for a breakthrough in the decades-old conflict, any attempt to bring the case of Palestine back to centre stage is welcomed. Officials, as well as ordinary Palestinians, welcomed the UN vote at a time when the world is closely following the Syrian refugee crisis and bloody conflicts in Yemen, Libya, and Iraq.

Little promise

Welcoming a symbolic decision in the UN doesn't and shouldn't blind Palestinians from realities both near and far. Although the Israelis are shedding tears about the refugee crisis in Europe, Palestinian refugees from Syria have been denied permission by Israel to come and live in the West Bank despite a public welcome by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

In Gaza the multiyear siege continues unabated, and frustration levels now have UN officials concerned that the strip might be "uninhabitable" by 2020. And while Israel bears the largest responsibility for the situation in Gaza, there is plenty of blame to be spread to the main Palestinian political/military powers Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organization, as well as Egypt, which has kept the Rafah borders closed for almost an entire year.

On September 30, Abbas will raise the Palestinian flag outside the New York headquarters of the UN. The move might be symbolic, as is much of the trappings of the Palestinian government in Ramallah. Without sovereignty and the ability to control land, Palestine's future holds little promise.

In the days and weeks after the shooting of Imad Abu Shakra, Palestinian families who welcomed newborn children into their homes gave their sons the name Imad. His actions are a symbol for the sovereign, independent, and democratic state that Palestinians are dying for.

Daoud Kuttab, an award-winning Palestinian journalist, is a former Ferris professor of journalism at Princeton University.


Syria refugee crisis: Arab League’s inaction is shameful

Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

Monday, 21 September 2015

Everyone is talking about the refugee crisis overwhelming Europe – everyone apart from the League of Arab States, that is. To date it has had little to say on the topic and, as far as I can tell, has no plan to help alleviate the problem. Why have there not been any emergency summits announced? Where are the voices from Arab capitals offering solutions? Perhaps there is a notice pinned to the League’s front door with the words ‘Gone fishing’.

Why is the League’s Secretary General Dr Nabil el-Araby not holding crisis meetings with foreign ministers and jetting around the region to find ways of preventing Syrians and Iraqis from being treated worse than street dogs expected to be grateful when they are handed a bottle of water every now and again?

Surely he sees their plight. The lucky ones have tents or blankets. Most are sleeping on pavements, unable to wash for days or weeks. Women are giving birth in the street. Mothers run out of baby milk. Diabetics have nowhere to keep their insulin refrigerated. Many report that the little money they had was stolen along with their mobile phones.

‘Where are the Arabs?’

The very least the Arab League should be doing is finding temporary refuge to allow these unfortunate people to live in dignity, while pressing hard on the international community to solve the root causes of this exodus.

We Arabs are always stressing our honour but just how honorably is the Arab League behaving, as it watches as our Arab brothers are being shuttled from pillar to post like pawns on a chessboard?

Our countries have wealth and we have lands, and so it is little wonder that Europeans are increasingly asking “where are the Arabs?” The League is made up of 22 countries, yet two of the poorest – Jordan and Lebanon – are bearing the brunt of the refugee influx.

The majority of the refugees are Syrians fleeing war and terrorism in their hundreds of thousands. Scared and tired, they trudge on hoping there is somewhere on this planet where they can live in peace. Instead, thousands have been met with barbed wire fences, riot police wielding batons, tear gas and water cannons. You would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by the hardships and indignities these people are being made to suffer.

The images of a well-known Syrian football coach holding his young son being deliberately tripped by a callous camerawoman, or that of an anguished man seen carrying his child with blood streaming down his head, or those of children choking from gas or lying comatose on the ground in the no man’s land between Serbia and Hungary do not belong to Europe in the 21st century. Were we not given to believe that we would never again witness such examples of man’s inhumanity to man, let alone to women and children, on European soil?

Some opening their doors

That said there are European states, notably Germany, Austria and Sweden, that are opening their doors and doing what they can to handle this enormous influx of humanity as best as they can, even as others refuse to call terrorised people from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan “refugees”.

Instead they are being referred to by countries that don’t want them as “illegal migrants”, “gangs” or “mobs” – their arrival characterized as “an invasion” with those who manage to break through prosecuted like criminals.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said he was shocked at the way refugees are being treated. “It’s not acceptable,” he said. Pope Francis has demanded that every Catholic parish or institution accept a minimum of one refugee family but he is facing a rebellion in some quarters, with the words “Today’s refugee could be tomorrow’s terrorist”.

The German Chancellor Angela Merkel has shown exemplary leadership. Together with the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, she is calling for an EU-wide quota system that would oblige member states to absorb refugees according to their capacity in terms of GDP and unemployment statistics, against strong objections from Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia threatened with losing their EU funding.

Diplomatic rifts

This situation now threatens to destroy the Schengen Agreement that allows for free movement between EU states; all the accusations flying between neighboring countries with very different views could cause severe diplomatic rifts.

Bashar al-Assad says the refugee crisis is all the fault of the West for arming opposition forces. Naturally, he will say anything to lift the blame from his own shoulders. If he had heeded his own people by stepping down in 2011 instead of slaughtering them, none of this mess would have happened.

No one emerges from this with a halo, and certainly not Barack Obama whose lack of leadership has allowed the Syrian conflict to fester into a terrorist swamp. Out of the so-called moderate fighters trained by the U.S. only five remain in theatre. Not five thousand or five hundred. Just five guys wandering around with guns.

A blind spot on Syria

European leaders have done nothing other than make speeches and attend summits. Turkey’s playing a duplicitous game, using Daesh as a pretext to kill its Kurdish enemies. And as for the Arab World… well, what can I say. I am not sure what is going on behind the scenes, but on the surface it appears that Arab leaderships, except those of the GCC, Jordan and Lebanon, have a blind spot on Syria.

It has taken a flood of refugees into Europe – and a Russian weapons build-up in Syria that could portend Moscow’s full scale military intervention – to galvanize the United Nations into sending its envoy to Damascus to discuss peace proposals. Plus, John Kerry appears open to discussions with his Russian counterpart on military solutions.

Until when will we continue relying on foreign powers to save us? We did the right thing by intervening in Yemen and now the Houthi rebels are on the back foot. It is about time the Arab coalition turned its attention to Syria. The Arab world needs a union that is strong and resourceful with a mandate from all member countries to take action whenever the peace and security of our region is threatened. Otherwise, what is it other than an expensive mega majlis administrated by clerks?

We will shortly be celebrating Eid al-Adha with family and friends, enjoying good meals and good company, while tens of thousands of Syrians at the mercy of European states go without food and shelter, their future uncertain. Enough! It is the time for the Arab League to resume its duties, and try to salvage our Arab honour.

Khalaf Ahmad al-Habtoor is a prominent UAE businessman and public figure. He is Chairman of the Al Habtoor Group - one of the most successful conglomerates in the Gulf. Al Habtoor is renowned for his knowledge and views on international political affairs; his philanthropic activity; his efforts to promote peace; and he has long acted as an unofficial ambassador for his country abroad. Writing extensively on both local and international politics, he publishes regular articles in the media and has released a number of books. Al-Habtoor began his career as an employee of a local UAE construction firm and in 1970 established his own company, Al Habtoor Engineering. The UAE Federation, which united the seven emirates under the one flag for the first time, was founded in 1971 and this inspired him to undertake a series of innovative construction projects – all of which proved highly successful.


Turkey Is Not To Blame for the Syrian Civil War

By Ömer Taşpinar

September 20, 2015

There is a growing tendency among some prominent and usually accurate and rational critics of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government to claim that the government's policies are primarily responsible for the tragedy in Syria.

Turkey has certainly made grave mistakes in Syria. Such mistakes have contributed to the worsening of the civil war. Yet, the argument that the situation in Syria would be very different today had Turkey adopted a different policy is disingenuous, because it inflates the importance and role of Ankara.

The civil war in Syria is the product of a combination of domestic and external factors that are beyond the control of a regional actor such as Turkey. This is why there has to be a sense of fairness and proportion when assigning blame regarding Syria.

There is no doubt in my mind that the first actor to blame is the regime itself. There were ways to contain and co-opt dissent that emerged in Syria in the wake of the Arab Spring. The relatively inexperienced and insecure regime of Bashar al-Assad missed many opportunities to cosmetically include Sunni figures from the Muslim Brotherhood in its government as a sign of reformist goodwill. Had the regime shown more flexibility in doing so, the opposition movement against it would probably have been less violent and radical.

Instead, the regime panicked, believing that any power-sharing arrangement with Sunni activists, however superficial and tactical, would lead to the incremental collapse of the regime. In other words, the fear driving the regime's survival instinct precluded a reformist path. The way regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya collapsed became a guiding principle for Damascus in terms of prioritizing survival without compromise. The result has been fatal. The decision to brutally crush demonstrations led to country-wide civil unrest that escalated to the proportions of a civil war in a matter of months.

Two additional factors exacerbated the situation in Syria. The first is the sectarian nature that the conflict quickly gained. This is an Alawite regime, representing a minority, fighting a predominantly Sunni majority population. This sectarian dimension of the Syrian conflict was largely absent in other Arab Spring countries such as Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.

The second factor that made things worse was the fact that the survival of the regime turned into a major proxy war with stakes much higher than those of Libya, Tunisia and Egypt. Perhaps the collapse of the Mubarak regime had some regional implications, particularly for Saudi Arabia. Yet, Syria mattered much more for countries like Iran, Russia, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and, of course, Saudi Arabia. As a result, the Syrian question became part of the regional balance of power between Iran, as the protector of Shiites, and Saudi Arabia, as the guardian of Sunni interests.

All these tectonic shifts were beyond the limits of Turkish influence. Yes, Turkey made several mistakes, such as playing the sectarian card with the Arab Gulf and betting on a quick victory of the opposition that would end the Assad regime. It also tuned a blind eye to jihadist infiltration into Syria and even supported groups such as al-Nusra. But my point is that none of these mistakes caused the civil war. Even in the absence of Turkey, such Jihadist infiltration would have occurred via Jordan.

If we are to assign blame regarding why Syria has descended into such bloody chaos and carnage, we must first analyze the domestic dynamics, and then understand the roles of Iran and Saudi Arabia as proxy actors, as well as the roles of Russia and the US as global powers that have more responsibility in the way things have turned out on the ground.


Turkey’s Unfinished Revolution

By Nuray Mert


Turkey missed a great opportunity for a very necessary “political restoration” after the June elections. Such a restoration could only have been implemented by a grand coalition of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Republican People’s Party (CHP), as beyond just being an ordinary coalition government, it would have also been the only chance – and necessary step – to end the country’s political and social polarization and reverse the process of democratic regression and the rise of conservative authoritarianism.

However, it has emerged that such a restoration is next to “mission impossible” for Turkey. Now, it is very important to inquire why it could never happen. It did not happen because the AKP has ceased to be an ordinary political party, as AKP rule turned out to be a revolutionary mission some time ago. After all, we all know that political compromise is not possible under revolutionary politics; it is a contradiction in terms. AKP politicians and supporters are not shy about their revolutionary goals and consider a majority AKP government not only desirable but a sine qua non on the matter. Theirs is an “unfinished revolution” to be completed.  

In fact, political and social polarization has deeper roots than it seems from the outside. From the beginning of the republican regime, there has always been tension between secularist republicans and conservatives of all sorts. Still, the conflict was manageable until the ruling AKP regressed from defining itself as a conservative democratic movement to identifying with the Islamist politics of resentment and authoritarianism. After the AKP managed to get enough political power to turn itself into a state party which sought and mostly managed to control all political space, Turkish politics have become dominated by the terms of an “unfinished revolution.”

The ruling party engaged in almost revolutionary changes after its second term. In fact, it all started with the introduction of the elected presidency; it could not totally change the parliamentary system, but found a way to create a hybrid system which was designed to pave the way for the presidential system. Especially after the 2010 referendum on constitutional amendments, perhaps it was not designed to change the judicial system altogether but managed to modify it so that it became dominated by the executive. At the same time, it managed to sideline judicial checks using its power and finally denounced judicial processes as coups against the government as in the case of corruption probes against AKP politicians and their relatives in December 2013.

In addition, the AKP culminated its efforts in its third term to promote more Islamic education and more Islamic schools. Moreover, under AKP rule, Turkey has witnessed a partial capital transfer to “the new economic elite,” that is, party cronies, by using state power over the economy. The AKP tried and mostly managed to shape the media along similar lines to suppress any dissent. Finally, Turkish foreign policy has been radically altered to fulfill the ideals of neo-Ottomanist/neo-nationalist/neo-Islamist lines which complement each other. The National Intelligence Organization (MİT) is designed to be dominated by the governing party, together with its ideology and personnel, and has gained unusual pre-eminence for a democratic country.

Unfinished revolutions may not be as unsettling in many ways as completed ones, but revolutionary politics disguised as democratic politics can be more unsettling in other ways. Political ambivalence leads not only to social apathy but also crises of political legitimacy, representation and orientation. The next election is going to be a political parody under the current circumstances.


Let Hajj bring hope Middle East societies can reject violence

Samar Fatany

20 September 2015

Hajj is the fifth pillar of Islam. It is a once-in-a-lifetime requirement for every Muslim. It is a spiritual gathering of Muslims from all over the world seeking forgiveness and the blessings of the Lord. Every ritual of Hajj emphasizes the fact that we are all equal before God. There is no difference between rich and poor, white or black, superior or inferior, weak or strong, man or woman, Eastern or Western.

It is an experience that is meant to remind us to be humble and merciful. The spirit of Hajj is meant to cleanse the souls of greed, hate, selfishness, superior and racist attitudes that divide people and make them devoid of compassion and empathy towards one another.

Hajj is the spiritual purification of the self. It is a chance for people to reflect upon their past and plan to lead a better life of goodness and righteousness. The pilgrims come for Hajj to start a new beginning and be cleansed of wrong acts that make man turn against man.

In his last sermon during Hajj Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, reminded the faithful that they will one day appear before God and have to answer for their deeds. He warned them to beware and not to stray from the path of righteousness after he is gone.

Spirit of compassion hijacked

Unfortunately not many Muslims today heed the words of the Prophet (pbuh). Many have gone astray. It is sad how their cruel deeds and greed have made them devoid of any compassion. The spirit of the religion of mercy and compassion has been hijacked by a militant ideology that continues to influence more ignorant and lost souls to kill and destroy. The Muslim world is afflicted with corrupt and selfish leaders leading a vicious campaign of terror to stay in power and exercise control.

Meanwhile Muslim scholars of different sects and ideologies remain passive and reluctant to address their differences, fueling a sectarian war that has killed, destroyed and displaced many helpless human beings including Muslims, Christians and others. The genuine message of Islamic tolerance is completely lost between the warring factions.

There are no winners in such ugly wars. There is only destruction and ruin. The Muslim world remains divided by intolerant and ultraconservatives. It is really sad how Muslims in the world today remain in conflict and find it difficult to accept the existing diversity. They are out to destroy anyone who does not prescribe to their distorted views.

Time to act is now

There are many strong voices in the Muslim world denouncing the extremist ideology and promoting “moderation”. However, there are still many others who divide the world into Muslim and non-Muslim and reject other sects within Islam.

Many Muslims today don’t feel safe to practice what they believe to be the true principles of their faith. They are threatened by the merciless extremists who call themselves Muslims while they defy God’s commands and forget that only God is the judge of man on earth.

No one should be obligated to follow blindly the dictates of their distorted ideology. In Islam no one has the right to doubt a believer’s faith if he declares that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is His Prophet (peace be upon him). It is also a great sin to include extremist interpretations of the Holy Quran.

There is no compulsion in Islam. Muslim scholars all over the world should stand united and strongly declare that Muslims are not at war with other religions and sects. Sadly many Muslims have been indoctrinated with distorted views; they need direction and an opportunity to live in a peaceful world.

Educated and enlightened Muslims should not remain idle and allow the fanatics that have gained influence in many parts of the world to spread their evil and radical ideology.

To move Muslim countries forward we need to mobilize all efforts to resolve the ideological crises that have destroyed Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya, killing children, displacing families, enslaving women and polluting the minds of the youth. The time to act is now before the terrorists spread further conflicts and destroy the rest of the Arab and Muslim world.

Let us hope that the spirit of Hajj this year could empower Muslim communities to reject violence and promote tolerance and peace. Let us pray that Muslim leaders would abide by the true principles of their faith and put an end to the conflicts and wars that have spread misery and pain to thousands of innocent Muslims in this part of the world. Let the spirit of Hajj this year revive the universal brotherhood of man.

Samar Fatany is a Chief Broadcaster in the English section at Jeddah Broadcasting Station. Over the past 28 years, she has introduced many news, cultural, and religious programs and has conducted several interviews with official delegations and prominent political personalities visiting the kingdom. Fatany has made significant contributions in the fields of public relations and social awareness in Saudi Arabia and has been involved in activities aiming at fighting extremism and enhancing women’s role in serving society. She has published three books: “Saudi Perceptions & Western Misconceptions,” “Saudi Women towards a new era” and “Saudi Challenges & Reforms.”


Islam is all about civilized behavior: Understanding the true meanings of Haj


21 September 2015

It is the wish of every Muslim to visit Makkah and Madinah at least once in his lifetime. Every year, as the Haj season draws closer those who could not get the chance to perform Haj feel aggrieved and those who are blessed with the opportunity to visit the holy sites thank Allah for the favor.

The excitement a pilgrim feels the moment he/she arrives in the Kingdom cannot be described in words. The moment they land on the airport until they reach their destination in Makkah, they forget everything and remain focused only on the Merciful Creator and His blessings.

That is why they need to delegate all their earthly concerns to others in order to immerse themselves in this lifetime journey. Those “others” happen to be the organizers of this annual gathering in Makkah.

The whole country remains on a high alert throughout the season to make sure everything is perfectly managed for the millions gathered in Makkah to perform Haj. It is a huge responsibility that we take with love and pride.

With every season, emerge a different challenge and a new reality that we should be prepared to deal with. The recent crane accident was devastating in the beginning. It was very painful but the country responded swiftly to contain the impact of that accident so as to ensure a smooth Haj 2015. According to many observers, the official response to the situation was exemplary — top officials were present on the site, precautions were taken to contain danger, investigation was conducted on spot and results were made public in records time.

Challenges are not over yet though, it does not need quantum physics to discover that the region is on fire. North or South, West or East, the Arab world is boiling. Due to the current turmoil in the region, the Kingdom is facing many security concerns. Our authorities are certainly aware of those concerns and prepared to deal with those.

We should remember that Haj is a sacred journey to a sacred place. One should not allow petty mindedness ruin the sanctity of this journey.

Saudi Arabia has always been very strict in the management of Haj. There is no room for politics in Haj. It is not a march or a demonstration to claim rights, deny actions or to do propaganda, it is a march toward God, and that’s it. Leave all your differences, your arguments and your opinions back home, we are all here to worship one God.

However, with all the efforts the organizers make to serve and protect pilgrims, it would not help until they themselves share the responsibility. The pilgrims should follow rules and regulations regarding their movement in and around the holy sites, accommodations and rituals.

After all, Islam is all about civilized behavior. At the end, besides praying for the season to succeed, thanking all those working or volunteering to serve the pilgrims is a must.