Islamist fundamentalists 14 years later

By Claude Salhani –

In the days following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center Towers in New York and on the Pentagon, just outside Washington, DC, I wrote an analysis that tried to explain why Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida organization had embarked upon the road they had.

The terrorist attacks against the United States was, as then President George W. Bush pointed out at the time, “a declaration of war” against the United States.

Fourteen years later the French president, Francois Hollande, makes a similar statement, saying that the attacks against a number of Parisian sites was a `”declaration of war ” on France by the Islamists.

Indeed, when looking at the conflict with the benefit of some distance, one is clearly able to see the “thread” or the continuity of the Islamists’ long-term planning. Whereas the West has been reacting rather than pre-empting the Islamist movement.

It is clear today that the attack on NY and Washington were the foundation of the long-term plan bin –Laden had established to with the aim of re-establishing the Caliphate.

Bin-Laden’s plans called for a revolution in current political thinking throughout Central Asia, the Middle East and the rest of the Islamic world. Bin-Laden has been removed by the US but a far more powerful and more ruthless leader has emerged through the ranks to take his place, the man Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has grabbed large swaths of land and declared himself caliph.

Bin Laden knew that in order to survive, his Islamist revolution need to expand or die. “But that is like communism,’ exclaimed an acquaintance when I pointed out the thinking behind the Islamist’s philosophy.


Like any revolution that needs to survive, al-Baghdadi and before him bin Laden, knew that their movements must continue to grow or die.

In his quest for Muslim expansion al-Baghdadi, just like bin Laden before him, want to see the “Balkanization,” or in this case the Islamization, of Central Asia. And just as Moscow centralized all power, so too do the Islamists hope to establish a central authority.

Maybe Islamization is the wrong word because there is little that is Islamic about their ways. Interviewed some 14 years ago, Professor Akbar Ahmad, Chair of Islamic Studies at the American University’s School of International Studies in Washington, DC, said of the Islamists: “they are not Islamic at all.”

What makes it worse for Muslims is that the West is equating the Islamic State’s un-Islamic acts with Islam.

They are using Islam much like Pol Pot used communism. Mix in religious fervor and any revolution becomes all the more potent, and dangerous.

Like bin Laden, al-Baghdadi’s first step was to hijack Islam to fit his cause, passing himself off as a fervent religious man. That, of course, is meant to win him the support of hordes of fanatics who know little, if anything, of the Qoran.

So the question, of course, is what next?

Next would be to consolidate his operations and to try to achieve a breakout from the position he now finds himself in, that of being under siege in his new caliphate. This was probably a fundamental reason why bin Laden was opposed declaring the physical caliphate – at least for the moment— and al-Baghdadi did not hesitate to claim for himself a physical entity.

This would also partially explain the change of tactics on the part of the IS who might well be feeling the crunch of the siege on Rakkah, first the attack on the Russian plane over Sinai and then the attack on Paris.

Claude Salhani is a senior editor with Trend Agency. You can follow Claude on Twitter @Claudesalhani

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Syria’s horrendous refugee problem can come knocking on your door tomorrow

By Claude Salhani – Trend:

The leaders of the world’s most industrialized nations, known as the G20 will meet in the Turkish resort town of Antalya next week to discuss the major problems facing our world today.

No doubt they will address issues such as global warming that some will continue to ignore and/or deny its existence. And that despite the scientific facts that several islands in the Pacific are slowly sinking and that a number of countries have registered their hottest summer in history. And there are still a number of skeptics.

But while our scientists argue with world leaders over climate changes and disappearing coast lines, there in indeed a much more pressing issue at hand, one which will no doubt be addressed: that is the fate of several millions of refugees surviving – just barely – in makeshift camps scattered across the Levant and Europe.

The vast majority of those refugees come from Syria where the civil war has claimed anywhere from 150,000 lives to 350,000, according to opposition groups. The United Nations estimates the number of people killed in the civil war that started in 2011 at 220,000.

But the dead are not the problem here. The real problem, and one that transcends Syria’s borders is the question of the refugees. In fact the Syrian civil war has created the largest refugee crisis since the end of World War II.

Digesting what is really happening to the people who have been forced out of their homes has become somewhat banal given that we are constantly bombarded with facts and figures that the numbers no longer hold any meaning. We have become immune to real tragedies being shown to us live on television.

But here is a staggering figure: the number of refugees created by the war in Syria: are you ready for this? Nine million. Nine million people in Syria were forced to flee their homes for safer places.

Some headed to Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey; Syria’s immediate neighbors. Others opted to resettle in Europe and descended on member countries of the European Union like swarms of locusts.

Now here is another astounding figure; you recall the number of refugees from Syria, right? Nine million. The total pre-war population of Syria was under 18 million. That means that half of the country’s population have become refugees. Every other person in the country has been displaced by the war.

Comparatively, this would be the equivalent of 166 million Americans where to become refugees. It is difficult to fathom numbers such as those. In that respect Joseph Stalin, the former Soviet dictator was right when he said that a single death is a tragedy whereas a million deaths is a statistic. So is the fate 9 million Syrian refugees. They too are a statistic.

The real challenge facing the leaders of the G20 countries when they convene in Turkey next week is to come up with a viable formula on how to avoid such tragedies in the first place. In our day and age when we profess to be somewhat civilized such tragedies should not be permitted to take place to begin with.

Part of the problem however in trying to get leaders of countries as diverse as Russia, China, United States and the European Union; Brazil and Argentina; India and Indonesia, and with conflicting political agendas to agree on the concept of creating and dispatching an international preemptive force.

Such a force would intervene militarily if needed to prevent countries falling into chaos, anarchy and violence. Seeing how the outcome of the Syrian civil war is affecting not only Syria’s immediate neighbors, but is also impacts European countries, it should only be logical for those countries to preempt such disasters as the one currently unfolding in Syria. Perhaps the G20 leaders may see for themselves a boatload or two of refugees arriving by sea on the shores of Antalya, while they are out for a quick stroll on the beach and be moved to take some real action.

Claude Salhani is a senior editor at Trend Agency

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Don’t fear Christmas

By Claude Salhani

(This story was originally posted on the UPI wire on Dec. 23, 2005.)

We are entering that time of year when the American chapter of the Taliban awakens and becomes most active. Yes, little boys and girls, they do exist, even in the land of the free and the home of the brave! (And of the Braves, too.)

I am talking about the ultra-orthodox, the extremists, the politically correct polizei — or in plain English — the PC police.

They are the ones that go around the country banning — or at least trying to impose a ban on any and all public displays of Christmas.

Except here, in the good ol’ U.S. of A., where “freedom rings,” more and more people are becoming afraid to utter the words “Merry Christmas.” They are Ebenezer Scrooges before his encounter with his multiple ghosts on Christmas Eve.

Some of these people can be just as extremist in their thinking as the Taliban. And just as the Islamist fundamentalists hijacked Islam to fit their cause, the anti Christmas people too are hijacking political correctness to a new extreme, as they try to impose their unilateral ways and views on others.

That is exactly what the extremists in Afghanistan tried to do. (OK, they took it few steps further, but it’s never too early to nip these fanatics in the bud.)

Here is the tally of the Christmas cards I received this year at the office:

— Season’s Greetings: 8

— Best wishes for the holiday season: 5

— Not one had the word “Christmas” on it.

Do you know in what country Santa Claus, Christmas trees and any outward sign of Christmas are banned? Saudi Arabia.

It has become almost as though Christmas (or Hanukkah or Ramadan) has turned into a dirty word. People seem afraid to wish you Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah or Happy Kwanza. Instead, they settle on the safer and more generic, but totally meaningless shallow, empty phrase, of “Happy holidays.” Just what is that supposed to mean? Happy holidays? Its ring is superficial and does not convey the same warm, fuzzy feeling as the word Christmas does. Christmas carols, Christmas pudding, Christmas shopping. Will that all be done away with to be replaced with Holiday tunes, Holiday cake and Holiday purchases?

Nah! This doesn’t look like Kansas, Toto. It does not have the same ring to it.

Maybe while we’re at it, we should also change the wording on the U.S. currency from “In God We Trust,” to “We think we believe in a supernatural being, sort of.” (Actually, come to think of it, the atheists have asked to do this for a long time now.)

While Christmas does celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, it is also a time of tradition. Holidays is simply not the same.

Those who don’t appreciate Christmas, or feel offended by the religious aspects of Christmas, don’t have to participate, but there is no need for them to push their bah-humbug views on the rest of the world. That is what the Taliban tried to do — and failed.

I have many Jewish and Muslim friends who like to celebrate Christmas because of the tradition and because of their having been raised among Christians. They enjoy getting gifts for their Christian friends and enjoy receiving presents from their Christian friends.

And if you are not Christian and resent the whole concept of the over-commercialized Christian holiday, then ignore it. Turn off the radio when they play Christmas carols and turn your head every time you see a Santa Claus or hear the sound of jiggle bells.

Or, if you belong to no religion but feel you need to do something, emulate Kramer. Do what he did in an episode of the TV series “Seinfeld”: celebrate “Festivus.” Then, in lieu of a Christmas tree, you can have an aluminum pole as the sole decoration.

Otherwise, be bold and say it … “Happy Christmas to one and all.” You will feel better for it.

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Everything you always feared about Iran but were too afraid to admit

By Claude Salhani

The political turbu­lence shaking the Middle East region continues to rever­berate as Iran pursues a foreign policy that clearly demonstrates its plan on making itself the prominent power in the Middle East and the Arabian (which they call Persian) Gulf.

Without the sword of Damocles — in the form of international eco­nomic sanctions — dangling over their heads, the Iranians are start­ing to show their true intentions, now that the July 14th nuclear agreement lifted sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

Clearly, one of Tehran’s objec­tives — one that confirms the fears of many experts — is flexing its muscles in the region.

Tehran is sparing no costs, including that of human lives, in building a self-serving alliance — some are starting to call it the Shia crescent, a territory stretch­ing from Iran to include Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and, to the south, Yemen.

Iran is intensifying its pres­ence in Syria and Iraq. While the Iranians remain tight-lipped about their military and paramilitary de­ployments and the movement of troops is well guarded, as are the casualty lists, something that has angered many families, a sketch of the numbers involved is starting to emerge by tracking the deaths taking place in Syria.

Indeed, the deaths of many Is­lamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) officers in Syria reflects the growing ground presence by Iran’s military there and the possible transformation of the IRGC into a Middle East intervention force.

Such a move would make Iran the de facto po­liceman in the region. This has long been an Iranian desire, since the days of the shah, if not earlier.

None of this is really news, or at least it should not be, were it not for the fact that what some analysts had been predicting is finally showing signs of really happening.

Iran has been quite open regard­ing its long-term plans. It’s just that the West persistently refused to own up and constantly misread the tea leaves.

Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Kazem Shariatmadari, who was considered a moderate, laid out Iran’s political aspirations as it was transitioning from being an em­pire under the shah into an Islamic republic under the mullahs as far back as 1979.

The grand ayatollah spoke open­ly about the intended trajectory of the Islamic Republic to anyone who wanted to hear; part of the problem was that not many people heard what he had to say. Both the shah and leader of the Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, tried to keep him quiet. I met the ayatollah while the shah was trying desperately to remain in power and the clock had started to wind down. Shariatmadari disa­greed with Khomeini over having clergy in the government.

At the time the shah’s army had encircled the holy city of Qom but some of the ayatollah’s disciples managed to get me inside the city.

Today, as Iran begins test-firing ballistic missiles, it demonstrates how it intends to make use of loopholes in the nuclear agree­ment. If Iran seeks peace in the region as it claims, it is certainly walking down the wrong path.

The United States says it is at­tentive to Iran’s moves. Well, it should be. It should have been even more attentive all along. The problem may be that by the time the United States deciphers what is really transpiring in the region it may be too late. As is the case with Syria where the Russians are taking up the slack.

initially published in The Arab Wewekly

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Why not declare Palestine’s statehood? Or the state of discontent

by Claude Salhani
 I recently asked a former official of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) why the Palestinians don’t simply declare the territory they control a state as they have long aspired to do. The so-called peace talks with Israel aren’t going anywhere, the current US administration has no interest in trying to mediate peace between the two sides. And, with the  United States out of the picture, there is no one else in an position to apply pressure Israel.
“We have,” said the official. “In fact, we have declared Palestine a state on several occasions.”
“No interest from the international community.”
The Palestinians declared their independence in 1988. Then there was an attempt to be recognised by the UN Security Council in 2012. However, the only state to emerge seems to be one of confusion.
The Palestinians have been lingering in a political twilight zone, wandering in international limbo, existing in a state of
despair but still without a state proper.
By and large this has been the case since 1948 when Israel was created and British Mandate Palestine ceased to exist. Along with the creation of the Jewish state came one of the world’s largest refugee problems and a political climate that would pave the way for the mayhem that permeates the region today. What is the correlation between the Palestinian issue and the wars being waged in Syria and Iraq? A number of Arab leaders, such as Syria’s, for example,
continued to rule through martial law and states of emergency, claiming the country was still at war.
The Israeli-Palestinian dispute has contributed — indirectly — to the precarious political situation that persists
across the region. There was a time in the Middle East when the Palestinian cause was considered sacred to all Arabs.
That was before civil wars erupted in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen — the four most pro-Palestinian countries in the Arab world.
Their preoccupation with more pressing matters at home further secluded the Palestinians in their quest for support as they pressed for statehood. In the absence of the state, the Palestinian Authority (PA) is supposed to rule over the territories. But that is in principle. The PA is supposed to rule over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip but the reality is quite different as the PA holds very little authority. The West Bank remains under Israeli military occupation and the Gaza Strip is in the control of Hamas and under Israel political, military
and economic siege.
The Palestinians should have by now reached the point of statehood but at every hint that the PA might declare the formation of a Palestinian state, Israel objects, the United States intervenes in Israel’s favour and the world
community turns a blind eye once again as more injustice unfolds.
Given the socio-political and economic situations in the territories for the Palestinians living under Israeli military
occupation, the ingredients are there for confrontation. Periodically the pot boils over and another intifada breaks out. It
would appear that the Palestinian territories have reached that point once again.
As the reality of the bleak future for Palestinians that lies ahead is compounded with practically no possibility or
prospect for advancement in heir society, no real job opportunities other than menial ones, the climate becomes ripe for violence. At that point all that’s missing is a trigger, which is inevitably coming. The current situation, compiled with mistreatment and humiliation suffered by Palestinians at Israeli checkpoints, provides more ingredients to throw into
the pot of discontent. Now sit back and watch the pot boil over.
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How much US bashing is enough?

Bashing the United States for anything that goes wrong has become de riguer in today’s political world. The latest rant comes from Iran’s supreme leader, who once again berated the United States for the ills of the Middle East. Continue reading

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Tragedy at sea – death on the Mediterranean

By Claude Salhani

Tragedy at sea, death on the Mediterranean. Savagery of the people smugglers; or how more than 400 people – including a number of children died at sea this week – and nobody gives a damn. Yes its horrible, they shrug and take another sip of their latte frappe.  Then with a flick of  their finger, they move away to a different page, to less depressing news.  Meanwhile back in this little corner of the ‘liberated caliphatistan’ that resembles more and more Dante’s Seventh Circle of Hell than the Garden of Eden, people are being grilled over an open flame like chicken on a spit.

And back in the civilized world still no one gives a damn.

Now if they had drowned 400 lions and grilled three zebras, the reaction from the latte frappe sipping gangs would have brought out the masses into the streets on a scale not seen since the WTO convention in Seattle.

Looking at the tragic events unfolding on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea as bodies of ill-fated Middle Eastern and African refugees, including those of children, are washed ashore with the few odds and ends that the sea rejects everyday, it is hard to find words that will do justice to the obscenity of these scenes.

What makes these images so powerful is not just the sad stories they relate, that of families, young children, of a young boy who died among some 400 people – just this week.

What makes these images so powerful is the longarrative that brought them to this end.

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words, in this case the images in question tell a number of stories and are worth several tens of thousands of words. Some of the dramatic photos could be compared to paintings by the masters. So emotionally charged that its practically impossible to put a price on

The graphic harshness of the images, almost pornographic, although there is no bare skin. In fact the refugees probably had all there best clothes on in case they lost their luggage.

The first reaction to one of these photos is the impact of the tragedy. It speaks volumes. It speaks of the tragedy of the moment. It speaks of the boy’s final moments. It speaks of fear. The fear as the craft the young boy was traveling in, capsized.

The image tells of the fall into the dark and cold waters, presumably his struggle to stay alive and then the end, a minute or maybe a bit more or perhaps slightly less…if he was lucky in his ill-fated end.

Then there is another story too; what led this boy – and thousands before him and the thousands more who will follow after him regardless of the obstacles and the dangers.

What twisted circumstances led this unfortunate young lad to his premature death? Just how desperate were his family’s situation?  Were they simply running from the madness of the war?

How badly did they need to get away from their home country to accept such a dangerous crossing of the sea? Just how bad was it for them back home? The lack of a predictable future. Were they running for political, religious or economic reasons? Was it the lack of jobs or the lack of respect for human rights led them to flee? That in itself is yet another tragedy.

Then there is the tragedy of the people who allow this to happen. Politicians,  leaders and all those latte frappe sipping bunch, who don’t  give a damn -, unless Cedric the lion is being hunted. Too bad it wasn’t the “other lion” who gets on a boat to emigrate and leave the country he helped destroy.

— One latte frappe to go please.




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The Mideast Crisis – deja-vu?

Claude Salhani

First published in The Arab Weekly

Although part of what’s happening in Iraq is eerily reminiscent of the events leading up to the 2003 US inva­sion, the subsequent occupation of the country and the sectarian divisions that followed, the threat itself has evolved into a more frightful enemy with a far deadlier arsenal.

Bombing of US embassy in Beirut

Indeed, a number of intelli­gence officials have shown great concern at the possibility that the Islamic State (ISIS) may be in possession of elements that would allow it to go nuclear.

Of course, at this point, this all seems to be guesswork as nobody really knows what’s going on in the regions controlled by ISIS.

Is the threat of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) true?

The “other” Axis of Evil — George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, respectively former US president, vice-presi­dent and secretary of Defense — proved that if you inject the right doses of fear among the popu­lace, it will give you the right to get away with murder — quite literally.

In fact, Iraq Body Count, a non-profit organisation that has been keeping meticulous records of violent deaths in Iraq since the start of the US invasion, has recorded the deaths of 219,000. Add to that 6,900, the number of US service personnel.

Members of the George W. Bush administration took every opportunity to feed the monster and raise the level of hype and fear to obtain a green light for the project. Those included the presentation at the UN Security Council by then secretary of State Colin Powell and the blind support offered to the Bush administration by then British prime minister Tony Blair.

There was much talk then, as there is now, of “dirty” bombs and how easy it could be for the Iraqi leadership of the time to target any city in the world. All they needed was an old suitcase and an airline ticket. They had no need for perfected delivery rockets or missiles. So all this talk about Iran having the capability… Yeah, but that’s another story altogether.

Hold on a minute. The whole concept behind the US invasion of Iraq, so we were told, was to prevent Saddam Hussein from using weapons of mass destruction. And now we are back where we started, only with a fairly large disadvantage.

If memory serves well, there were hundreds of UN special inspectors running up and down the country, chased by CNN, looking practically in Saddam’s closets, under his bed and digging up trenches hither and yonder? And they came up with zilch, nada, rien, nothing.

Now we are being told that the newest threat to the region comes from those very same WMDs.

Either they think we are downright idiotic and that we will buy into the Weapons of Mass Destruction Ploy, Part Two, or we are idiots for buying into the Weapons of Mass Destruction Ploy, Part Two.

This is somewhat confusing at best, either there were WMDs or there weren’t. If there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, then why did the Americans not find any and if there weren’t any then where is ISIS getting them from?

Several Western intelligence and some high-ranking members of the armed forces fear that ISIS is in possession of enough radioac­tive material to put together at least one dirty bomb.

For the benefit of readers who might not be up to par on their terrorism lexicon, a dirty bomb is nuclear waste particles wrapped around conventional explosives. The immediate result is an explosion that leaves the site with nuclear contamination for decades. If such a bomb were placed in Manhattan, for example, it would contaminate large portions of the island, rendering it uninhabitable.

The one certainty this time around is there is no need to convince anyone about the need to remove ISIS as a threat.

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No respite for Syrians and Kurds

By Claude Salhani

If one plays devil’s advocate, one can find just as many reasons sustaining a coun­terargument, that along with the deal signed between the P5+1 regarding Iran’s nuclear aspirations in return for the West lifting sanctions on Iran, both Washington and Tehran made concessions. Washington’s concession could have been to allow Iran a free hand in Syria and Lebanon in return for Iran promising to lay off enriched uranium for a decade, for exam­ple.

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Bashar’s real problems start now

By Claude Salhani

Frederic C. Hof, a resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, recently wrote a column in which he asks whether Syria has been ‘’sold” to Iran. By that he means whether a deal was struck between Washington and Tehran where the Syrians are the losers. Hof then goes on to answer his own question, explaining why this is unlikely, giving a sundry list of reasons why.

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