New Age Islam
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Islam and the West ( 20 Oct 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Israeli Colonisation Is At The Root Of The Violence: New Age Islam’s Selection From World Press, 21 October 2015

New Age Islam Edit Bureau

21 October 2015

Israeli colonisation is at the root of the violence

By Ilan Pappe

Why America does not take in more Syrian refugees

The Economist

Turkey’s Self-Inflicted Disaster


Turkey in, refugees out: EU’s dirty deal

By Mahir Zeynalov

Who can replace Bashar al-Assad?

By Raed Omari

Is Putin Iran’s “Senior Partner” In Syria?

By Franklin Lamb

Russia, Syria and holy war: Some Middle Eastern Christians are speaking up against “holy war” in Syria

The Economist


Israeli colonisation is at the root of the violence

Ilan Pappe

20 Oct 2015

In the midst of what has become known in Israel as the "knifers' Intifada", an unusual scene unfolded in Ramat Gan, where many of the residents are Iraqi Jews. A small slender woman was protecting a man lying on the ground who was being pursued by a mob of 40 people, including a few soldiers, who wanted to lynch him.

While lying on the ground, pepper gas was sprayed into his eyes at close range. He managed to whisper to his guardian angel: "I am a Jew." When the mob finally got the message, he was left alone.

He was chased because almost all the Iraqi Jews look like Palestinians; in fact, most of us Jews in Israel look like Palestinians. The only Jews who are "protected" are the Mizrahi Orthodox Jews who don the same clothes their Ashkenazi predecessors wore in 17th-century Europe, dismissing their traditional "Arab" dress.

Invisible people

This attack was not the only one. Other Arab Jews have been mistaken for Palestinians. Being considered an Arab in Israel, even based on looks, means you are part of the invisible, disempowered and dispensable natives.

Such an attitude is not unique in history. Most settler colonial societies adopted this attitude towards the natives: Natives, for settler-colonial societies, are an obstacle to be removed along with the stones in the fields, the mosquitoes in the swamps, and in the case of early Zionism, with the less fit - physically and culturally - Jews.

After the Holocaust, Zionism could not afford to be that choosy any more.

When one analyses the origins of the present Intifada, one can rightly point to the occupation and the expanded Jewish colonisation.

But the desperation that has produced the current unrest isn't a direct outcome of the 1967 colonisation, but rather, of nearly 100 years of invisibility, dehumanisation and potential destruction of the Palestinian people, wherever they are.

How deeply this denial of the humanity of the natives of Palestine is rooted in today's Israeli political discourse could be seen in the two main speeches by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the leader of the opposition, Yitzhak Herzog, given on Tuesday at the Knesset.

Netanyahu explained very well why the Palestinian desperation will produce more and more Intifadas in the future and why Israel's international delegitimisation will increase exponentially.

He described 100 years of colonisation as a proud project that for no good reason, other than Islamic incitement, was resisted by the native people of Palestine.

The message to the Palestinians was clear: Accept your fate as invisible, citizen-less inmates of the biggest prison on earth in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and as a community under a severe apartheid regime, and we can all live in peace. Any attempt to reject this reality is terrorism of the worst kind and will be dealt with accordingly.

Within this narrative, if his speechwriter was attempting to calm down worries in the Muslim world about the fate of al-Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary), the opposite message came through. Much of his speech about al-Haram al-Sharif was a history lesson on why the place belongs to the Jewish people.

And although he ended this section with a promise not to change the status quo, the presence of the leaders of a party strongly believing in the need to build a third temple there was hardly reassuring.

'Never together'

In his speech, Herzog, the leader of the liberal Zionist opposition, manifested the dehumanisation of the Palestinians in a different way. His nightmare, he stressed repeatedly, was a country where Jews and Palestinians would live together.

Therefore, separation, ghettoisation, and enclaves are the best solution, even if it means shrinking a bit of greater Israel. "We are here, and they are there," he repeated Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres' famous slogan from the late 1990s.

Haaretz's liberal Zionist journalist, Barak Ravid, repeated the horror of liberal Zionists: If you have a binational state, stabbings will be a daily occurrence, he warned. The idea that a liberated Israel/Palestine will be a democracy for all has never been on the liberal Zionist agenda.

This wish not to share life with anything Arab is an attitude felt by every Palestinian on a daily basis. More than a century of colonisation and nothing has changed in the complete denial of the native Palestinians' humanity or their right to the place.

It was Israeli policy and actions against Al-Aqsa Mosque that ignited the present wave of protests and individual attacks. But it was triggered by a century-long atrocity: the incremental culturecide of Palestine.

The Western world was horrified by the destruction of ancient cultural gems by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The Israeli destruction and wiping out of the Islamic heritage of Palestine was far more extensive and significant. Hardly one mosque remained intact after the Nakba, and many of those remaining were turned into restaurants, discotheques, and farms.

The Palestinians' attempt to revive their theatrical and literary heritage is considered by Israel as a commemoration of the Nakba, and is outlawed if undertaken by anybody who relies on governmental funding.

What we see - and will continue to see - in Palestine is the existential struggle of the native people of a country still under threat of destruction.

Ilan Pappe is the director of the European Center of Palestine Studies at the University of Exeter. He has published 15 books on the Middle East and on the Palestine Question.


Why America does not take in more Syrian refugees

The Economist

Oct 18th 2015

MORE THAN 12m Syrians have been forced from their homes by the civil war, according to the United Nations. Of those, more than 7.5m have been displaced within Syria, often to parts of the country that aid organisations cannot reach. More than 4m have fled abroad, mostly to neighbouring countries. Around 1.9m are in Turkey, 1.1m in Lebanon and 650,000 in Jordan. And hundreds of thousands have sought refuge in Europe. Having initially welcomed tens of thousands of newcomers, Germany is growing increasingly reluctant to take in more. By the end of the year it expects to have 1.5m asylum seekers, many of them Syrian. Meanwhile America—26 times larger, with a population four times the size of Germany's—has taken in only 1,500 Syrians since the start of the war. Why is this number so low?

Under pressure from Germany and other allies, the White House recently promised to increase America’s total intake of refugees to 85,000 in the next fiscal year (10,000 will be from Syria) and to 100,000 in the one after that (see article). Even this very modest rise has been contested. Michael McCaul, who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, introduced a bill to “rein in” the administration’s plan to admit more Syrian refugees. "I can't support a policy that would allow a jihadist pipeline into the United States," the Texas Republican told Fox News, a conservative television channel.

This is a stark expression of the reason America does not want to give refuge to more Syrians. In addition to concerns about the cost of resettling destitute newcomers who speak little English, America is deterred by fears of terrorism. Since the attacks on September 11th 2001 all immigrants and newcomers have been viewed through this lens, says Eva Millona at the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. And the much more extensive vetting procedures of refugees introduced after those attacks are expensive. After refugees are referred by an American embassy or the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, they are screened by Department of State Resettlement Service Centers all over the world. They undergo multiple investigations of their biographies; biometric checks of their fingerprints and photographs; in-depth interviews by highly trained Department of Homeland Security officers; medical screenings as well as investigations by the National Counterterrorism Center and by intelligence agencies. The entire process can take longer than three years.

If a potential terrorist is determined to enter America to do harm, there are easier and faster ways to get there than by going through the complex refugee resettlement process. Of the almost 750,000 refugees who have been admitted to America since 9/11, only two Iraqis have arrested on terrorist charges; they had not planned an attack in America, but aided al-Qaeda at home. Syrians in America have fared better than other groups of refugees, integrating quickly and finding work. Some have done very well indeed: the father of Steve Jobs, the ground-breaking innovator and founder of Apple, was a refugee from Syria. And the mother of Jerry Seinfeld, the comedian, is of Jewish Syrian descent.


Turkey’s Self-Inflicted Disaster


OCT. 19, 2015

On Oct. 10, a suicide bomb attack killed over 100 people in the center of Turkey’s capital, Ankara. The suspected perpetrators were part of an Islamic State cell in Turkey. What is more unnerving is that many saw it coming.

In June, a large pro-Kurdish election rally in Diyarbakir was attacked, killing four and injuring many more; in July, a horrendous suicide attack targeted socialist youth in Suruc, killing 33. Ominously, a number of Turkish columnists warned the government openly about potential bombers — even providing the names of some of them.

Unfortunately, Turkey’s government seems more interested these days in punishing those who insult the president on Twitter than in tracking Islamic State cells in the country. Since 2013, Turkey’s president has created a political climate in which domestic Islamic State cells have found it easy to prosper. Until very recently, Turkish security forces have been soft on Islamic State operatives and lax about their movements across the border.

Worse, as more information about the Ankara suicide bombers emerges, it’s clear that there were gross intelligence failures. The father of one of the suicide bombers pleaded with authorities to keep his son in custody, but the police let him go. The government’s ban on news reports about the incident has further clouded the situation.

Not surprisingly, many Turks now feel that the social contract between the people and the government has been broken and there is no going back. Quite simply, the government has failed to protect them.

As a former member of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or A.K.P., who served in Parliament from 2007 to 2011 and was on the party’s executive committee, this has been a deeply disappointing process to watch. The A.K.P. was once the most progressive force in Turkish politics, but it has undergone a damaging transformation since the fateful Gezi Park protests of 2013.

Although I am a former air force officer and I believe strongly in the virtues of a secular state, I joined the A.K.P. in 2007 because I believed Turkey was at a critical juncture. I had little regard for the militant secularism and nationalism harbored by many within Turkey’s old establishment. The election of Abdullah Gul in 2007, who was almost blocked from becoming president because his wife wore a head scarf, was a critical moment for the consolidation of our democracy. By that time, the A.K.P. had already put Turkey into accession negotiations with the European Union, managed an impressive economic growth story and improved Turkey’s international standing. In many quarters, Turkey was seen as an inspiration for other Muslim countries.

Every weekday, get thought-provoking commentary from Op-Ed columnists, The Times editorial board and contributing writers from around the world.

It’s true that the A.K.P. was never a liberal party, but it had a clear interest in Turkey’s democratization. That’s why the party enjoyed support from democrats, liberals and some social democrats who were eager to balance the excesses of the stern old secularist regime. Both in Parliament and abroad we enjoyed the moral high ground of normalizing civil-military relations, overseeing a growing economy and obtaining greater democratic legitimacy through growing support from the electorate. I comforted myself in thinking that the European accession process would serve as an anchor if the A.K.P.’s conservatism ever pulled the country off course.

By 2009, the process had slowed down. Then, in September 2010, a referendum allowed Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then the prime minister and now the president, to shape the judiciary to his own liking. After that vote, he believed he had defeated the establishment for good. Regrettably, he came to the conclusion that he no longer needed the moderates in the party.

When I examined the new candidates list in 2011 I immediately understood what was going on. He had decided to root out all of the democrats, liberals and moderate conservatives. Those who replaced us were ideologically conservative Islamists who showed absolute loyalty to him.

However, few were willing to make a fuss about it as the A.K.P. won its third consecutive election with a record 50 percent of the vote. The purge of centrists continued in the party’s 2012 convention. Those who asked questions, offered constructive criticism or were generally disposed to moderation were kicked off the executive committee. The consolidation of Mr. Erdogan’s grip was complete.

I disassociated myself with the party after the convention and took part in the 2013 Gezi Park protests.

A few months later, major corruption scandals put Mr. Erdogan and the party on an irreversible path. He turned authoritarian, the country became increasingly polarized, the Kurdish peace process collapsed after the June election and violence by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., broke out again.

Stubborn insistence on a disastrous Syria policy further dragged the country into a regional quagmire. Turkey’s inability to oust Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria led the government to support radical elements fighting Mr. Assad while Turkey became host to more than two million Syrian refugees.

What started out as an impressive political journey is now heading toward disaster.

It is clear that the A.K.P.’s promise to consolidate Turkish democracy, solve the Kurdish question and join the European Union has utterly failed.

It did not have to be this way. Mr. Erdogan’s desperate choices for his personal survival have doomed the party and poisoned the spirit of our nation. Mr. Erdogan has squandered a historic opportunity to consolidate Turkish democracy, transform Turkey into a First World country and bridge differences between secularists and conservatives, Turks and Kurds and Sunnis and Alevis. The absence of a viable, united opposition makes the situation even worse.

If the A.K.P. is not defeated in the Nov. 1 election, Mr. Erdogan’s authoritarianism and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s foreign policy could suck Turkey deeper into the Middle East’s vortex of violence.

Turkey is in desperate need of new leadership and political wisdom to get out of this mess.

Suat Kiniklioglu was a member of the Turkish Parliament from 2007-11 and is the executive director of the Center for Strategic Communication in Ankara.


Turkey in, refugees out: EU’s dirty deal

Mahir Zeynalov

20 October 2015

A few years ago, Libya’s late leader Muammar Gaddafi castigated Europe for supporting rebels fighting against him, and threatened to be unhelpful in curbing Europe-bound migration. That bargaining chip, migration, is now being offered to Turkey by the European Union (EU). German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Turkey last week was part of an EU-led initiative to offer what some called a “dirty deal,” raising eyebrows across Europe.

Germany’s largest-selling newspaper Bild asked on its front page: “Who gains most from the chancellor’s Turkey trip: Merkel or [President Recep Tayyep] Erdogan?” Other German dailies and opposition figures blasted Merkel for emboldening Erdogan as his former party, the AKP, is set to run in elections in just two weeks.

Amnesty International criticized her visit, and asked her to insist that Turkey clean up its act before treating it as a reliable partner in EU border management. “Talks between the EU and Turkey... risk putting the rights of refugees a distant second behind border control measures designed to prevent refugees from reaching the EU,” Amnesty said.

In Turkey, 100 academics penned a joint letter to Merkel, warning her that the visit would strengthen a man who has blatantly violated EU values.

EU incentives

The EU faces the biggest migration crisis since World War II, with hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants waiting at border crossings in Balkan countries, hoping to be able to proceed to more affluent Western Europe. Germany, which has promised to take in at least 800,000 this year, is feeling the strain at a time of rising anti-immigrant sentiment across the continent.

European leaders deliberately avoid using the term “refugees,” because international law forbids turning them back.

They are described as “migrants” seeking a better life in Europe, rather than desperately fleeing war or persecution.

One of the proposals Merkel set forth during her visit was to designate Turkey a “safe country” for refugees, a move that would allow the EU to deny asylum requests by refugees. Turkey is already feeling the burden of hosting more than 2 million, and complains of inadequate international aid.

The EU offered 3 billion euros for Turkey’s help in stemming the refugee tide, a deal resembling that between Europe and Gaddafi. Italy offered $5 billion to Libya to curb illegal immigration to Europe.

Turks themselves are unable to travel to Europe without a visa. It is the only country with membership negotiations that is not given a visa-free regime. Merkel promised to push EU leaders to start dialogue on the issue.

Ankara started EU membership talks a decade ago, but there was little if any progress. EU reluctance to accept Turkey is coupled with Ankara’s failure to meet EU criteria in reforms, governance and standards. Merkel offered to revive EU membership talks even though rights and freedoms in Turkey are getting worse.

Ankara is clearly more interested in breaking its international isolation and joining European leaders in photo-ops. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu asked Merkel for an opportunity to attend European summits. If accepted, the move would be a major PR boost for a ruling party that has lost most of its international friends in the past couple of years.

Mahir Zeynalov is a journalist with Turkish English-language daily Today's Zaman. He is also the managing editor of the Caucasus International magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @MahirZeynalov


Who can replace Bashar al-Assad?

Raed Omari

20 October 2015

The question of who could replace Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been asked throughout the conflict, and has gained urgency amid defections and rebel gains against his regime. The formation of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), and its military arm the Free Syrian Army (FSA), brought to the fore Syrian politicians, army defectors and technocrats who were viewed as transitional figures.

FSA founder Riad al-Asaad was seen as the best candidate when the FSA began to take the lead on the battlefield. However, with rising concerns about its radical attitude, Paris-based Burhan Ghalioun stepped up as an uncontroversial technocrat who could bring together secular and religious groups. When Islamists took power in other Arab countries, Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib was seen as a good transitional figure.

With Islamists’ unsuccessful rule, and amid attempts to prove the moderate attitude of the SNC and FSA, independent writer and secular Marxist Michel Kilo, and long-time dissident George Sabra, were then seen as good candidates.

However, with criticism of SNC leaders being based aboard or exiled, the focus was on Haytham Manna. As part of a major Levantine tribe, Ahmad al-Jarba was then seen as a good transitional figure when there was a need to engage Syrian tribes in the fight against Assad and foreign extremists.

However, due to the SNC’s failure to present itself as a cohesive and reliable opposition, as well as the emergence of key Islamist and jihadist players on the ground, talk of the aforementioned figures as possible replacements to Assad dissipated.

At one point, when the conflict began acquiring sectarian overtones, and amid recognition of the need to include regime figures in a transition process, Syrian Vice-President Farouk al-Sharaa - a Sunni Muslim - was seen by the opposition as a suitable replacement. However, questions have been raised about the circumstances of his disappearance from the political scene.

Complicating factors

One of the most important factors in the debate over a viable replacement for Assad is the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). He has used the group as a scarecrow, with the message: “Better me than ISIS.” Russia’s military intervention in support of the regime is another complicating factor, with Assad now seemingly unconcerned about being replaced.

He will likely leave Syria’s political scene one way or another, but he will probably be replaced by a national assembly that includes regime figures, rather than by an opposition representative. This scenario has been alluded to by both Washington and Moscow.

Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via, or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2


Is Putin Iran’s “Senior Partner” In Syria?

By Franklin Lamb

20 October, 2015

Damacus: I first personally experienced the fast rising tide of “Syria loves Putin” sentiment in this country at Lebanon’s Masnaa border crossing the other day. While waiting for my visa to be stamped in my passport I chatted about recent developments in Syria over tea in the commander’s office with three Syrian immigration officials, who over the past few years have become valued friends.

Colonel “X” jokingly explained that he had bad news for me since I am an American. As I was thinking to myself, “Now what for Christ’s sake!”, he reported that the cost of an American visa for Syria — if Americans can even get one these days — may be going up in price from the current outrageous $160 each entry to the hard to imagine $200 per entry! My friends taunted me and howled with laughter as I complained and demanded to know, “why do you people target us Americans and how about it, what do others pay to enter Syria?”

Since their unit collects the visa fees and knows who is charged how much, the gentlemen quickly listed some. A few examples: Russians are charged $14 for a visa, Chinese $ 15, Brits $ 25, French $23, Saudi Arabians $ 75 Japanese $ 24 and for some reason Turks don’t pay anything at all. The visa fee may change regarding Turkey I was told, but so far their citizens benefit from a penumbra of the unique humanitarian policy of the Syrian Arab Republic (SAR) (the only Arab country with this policy) which since the Baathist revolution and until the current conflict did not even require a visa for any Arabs coming here. How times have quickly changed in this region.

“But the Turkish government is your enemy!” I insisted. “Why do they come in free and they aren’t even Arabs?” I wailed to more guffaws. And then there is the case of the Iranians, what do they have to pay to enter Syria” I demanded to know. The reply from the commanders, with a straight face, was: “For sure, Iranians would pay nothing if they came here but we never see them? Do you Sayed Lamb?” More hysterical laughter. One immigration employee commented “Now we do occasionally see some friends of the Islamic Republic enter Syria from Lebanon in racing convoys of large black SUV’s with blackened windows but they don’t stop in for passport stamps. They simply honk and wave at our checkpoint soldiers as they speed along their way.”

I know that life is not always fair.

The conversation returned to Russia’s new ‘vitality’ in Syria. The commander explained: “All Syrians love Putin. He is known to us as ‘Abu Ali Putin’” And as my friends effusively recited praise for Valdmir Putin, I couldn’t get a word in sideways, and was reminded of Elizabeth Barrett Bowning’s poem, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”

Without serious question, Syria and this region are witnessing the most significant shift in great-power relations since the collapse of the Soviet Union a quarter century ago. For many reasons Russia has deployed its forces far from home to quell a revolution, entrench its military, showcase its new weapons and support a friendly regime. The evidence here in Damascus is that they are deadly serious and mean to challenge US influence in this region and, along with their Iranian “partners”, have no plans to leave anytime soon.

Seeking to return as a major power in the Middle East, Russia’s Putin is trying to justify his intervention in Syria as a practical move by a reliable partner to end the crisis while his aids make it plain that the US can’t be relied upon. As John C. Hulsman Enterprises, a global political risk consulting firm in Rothenburg, Germany explained this week, “Putin is a “Gaullist,” meaning that like Charles de Gaulle who maintained France a power punching above its weight after World War II partly offering France as an alternative to American arrogance.

Russia may face a contest with Iran which has roughly the same plans according to some of the journalists I have met with following the largest press conference I’ve ever attended in Syria. The packed media event was to hear an analysis by the Chairman of the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, who was accompanied by a large delegation of Iranian lawmakers. Mr. Boroujerdin explained that Iran would consider sending fighters to Syria if Damascus requests them: “If Syria makes a request for Iranian forces, we will study the request and make a decision. What’s important is that Iran is serious about the fight against terrorism,” he added. “We have supplied aid and weapons and sent advisers to Syria and Iraq.”

Some journalists in Damascus report that over the past two weeks more the 1,500 Iranian troops have arrived with more on the way. When this observer asked one Syrian journalist how he assessed the timing of the visit of such a large high ranking Iranian delegation he smiled and replied: “Oh they have come to tell the Syrians and others during this Putin lovefest “Hey, what about us? Don’t forget we have been helping Syria’s war against the terrorists since 2012. These guy are newcomers.”

Almost as if their feelings are hurt, Iran will partner closely with Russia and each country is focused on expelling “Terrorists” from certain areas of Northwestern Syria while entrenching themselves and fortifying preferred strategic real-estate. Russia closer to Tartous and Latakia and Iran and its Shia allies along the Lebanon-Syria border in order to maintain access and arms supply routes for Hezbollah. Meanwhile, they will join with the Russians to repel jihadist fighters from Hama, Homs, Aleppo, Idlib, and Damascus suburbs. Expectations here are that the Iran-Russia ‘partnership’ will achieve something dramatic in short order while exposing American timidity and unreliability to the region.

Yet, Russia’s dramatic and escalating intervention here may well complicate matters for Iran. Just like some condemn Washington for not acting sooner, some here suggest that if Tehran had gone all-in with large ground forces earlier in the war rather than relying on Lebanese, Iraqi, Yemeni and Afghan Shia militia, then Syria and the Assad government would not have needed Moscow’s involvement. As it has turned out, Iran has pleaded with Russian since last July’s visit to Moscow by Qasem Soleimani since 1998 commander of its Iran’s Quds Force, to join them in defeating the “terrorists and takfiris.” Now, Iran is no longer Syria’s sole patron and Putin’s Russia will have a major- if not dominant- decision making role in how the conflict develops. Some Syrians, including a large percentage of Sunni, no doubt resent Shia Iran’s role and would welcome the return of Russian influence at Tehran’s expense.

Until now Tehran and Moscow appear to be sharing the same short-term goals.

There are rumors among journalists that Russian President, “Abu Ali Putin” will soon pay a dramatic visit to Damascus to discuss a “political solution” and assure the region that his country is back and can be trusted to keep its word. This, as Washington and NATO are fascinated by the modernized Russian missiles and artillery they are closely scrutinizing while publicly posturing that “Putin has made a big mistake and will soon learn the price he will be forced to pay.” And just yesterday (10/16/2015) French President Francois Hollande assured the EU summit that Russian intervention won’t save Syria’s Assad.

Meanwhile the Syrian people are the ones who in the past, present and future pay the price and hope that the carnage will end soon and that perhaps Russia and Iran can achieve the peace settlement that the USA and its allies could not.

Franklin Lamb is a former Assistant Council for the House Judiciary Committee of Congress and has taught International Law at Northwestern College of Law in Portland, Oregon. He volunteers with the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program (


Russia, Syria and holy war: Some Middle Eastern Christians are speaking up against “holy war” in Syria

The Economist

Oct 21st 2015

AT THE beginning of this month, when Russian jet fighters went into action in Syria, it was widely reported that Russia and its national church had proclaimed a "holy war" against Islamic State. In the Western world, some people groaned ("not another warring party that claims to have God on its side") and some quietly approved, on the grounds that just maybe, the only antidote to jihad could be counter-jihad.

In fact, these reports somewhat distorted what the Russian Orthodox church said. It would have been amazing if (given that he maintains, with official encouragement, cordial ties with Muslim leaders inside and outside Russia) the Patriarch of Moscow had made any statement that implied a generalised conflict between Christianity and Islam. What Patriarch Kirill, speaking as de facto chaplain to the nation, said was a bit more cautious:

 The Russian Federation has made a responsible decision to use armed force to defend the people of Syria from the sorrows caused by the arbitrary actions of terrorists. We believe this decision will bring peace and justice closer to this ancient land. Wishing peace to the people of Syria, Iraq and other countries, we pray for this harsh conflict not to develop into a major war, for the use of force not to lead to the death of civilians and for all Russian military personnel to return home alive.

The "holy war" headlines were prompted by one of the Patriarchate's blunter spokesmen, Father Vsevolod Chaplin; and even he didn't exactly call for an inter-religious or inter-cultural war. What the cleric said, word for word, was as follows: "The struggle against terrorism is a blessed [literally, sanctified] struggle and today, our country is the most active force in the world that is taking part in the struggle against [terrorism]. Not because she has any selfish interest in this, but because terrorism is an amoral force."

Regardless of the exact words of Russia's religious leaders, the talk of "holy war" has in recent days triggered some powerful and articulate responses from Orthodox Christians in Lebanon, who are among the most influential exponents of Christianity in the Middle East. Hundreds of people have signed a statement circulating, in French and Arabic, on Facebook entitled "Petition against Religious Wars" which reads in part: "We unreservedly condemn the idea that the "protection of Christians" can serve as an excuse in the service of ideological or political objectives, as some have tried to do in support of the Russian military intervention in Syria."

Tarek Mitri, a respected scholar and former Lebanese culture minister, told me that he had co-launched the petition because:

We think that blessing wars, no matter what objectives they claim to have, is to be condemned. Equally, we wanted to affirm that Christians in Syria could not, and should not, be "protected" by the means of a military intervention. There were voices in Russia and the Arab world who used the "minority protection" argument, which we believe contradicts what most Arab Christians have stood for in their modern history. [All] civilians, Christian or Muslim, are to be protected.

Meanwhile senior Lebanese clergy, such as Metropolitan [bishop] Elias Audi of Beirut, have been laying out some theological and historical arguments against the idea of state-sponsored war. Roughly their case is as follows. Christianity is in its essence pacifist; and unlike Roman Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity has no doctrine of just war, but instead views war as intrinsically evil, although sometimes unavoidable, in other words a necessary evil at best. Moreover Arab Orthodox Christians, unlike Greeks or Russians with their dreams of Byzantium or the tsars, have no collective memory of wielding state power in the name of God.

All these propositions are contentious; theologians and historians could debate them for hours. And like all public statements, they have to be read against a certain political and historical background. Lebanon's Orthodox Christians occupy a particular place in the country's complex, volatile mosaic. With less than 10% of the population, they are fewer, more vulnerable and more "Arab" in their collective identity than the Maronite Christians who look westwards, theologically, culturally and commercially. In the days when secular, pan-Arab nationalism was a rising force, Lebanese Orthodox Christians were prominent supporters. Those days may be gone, but the Lebanese Orthodox are still wary of anything that would estrange them sharply from their Sunni Arab neighbours. Over the past few decades, various Maronite Christian leaders have made pacts with other players in the region, from Israel to Syria to Iran (or Iran's proxies). Lebanon's Orthodox Christians, by contrast, feel that anything that raises the regional temperature will threaten their survival.

So much for the context. But don't ignore the content. Some good, subtle and compelling arguments have been heard in recent days from the pulpits and newspaper columns of Lebanon, a country that knows all about the horrors of sectarian conflict. It's always reassuring to be reminded that religion's public role doesn't begin and end with calls to holy war.