A great review of Inauguration Day on Amazon.com

By John R. Carpenter on June 29, 2016

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase

In “Inauguration Day” a dramatic countdown begins to the day when a newly elected American president is to be sworn in and inaugurated, January 20th. But it is also the day when an assassination of the president-elect has been so meticulously planned that it is certain to succeed. All the details are so carefully thought out it becomes almost inevitable, and any possible flaws in the planning have been corrected, none left out. A lucky piece of information at the beginning of the novel reveals when the assassination will take place, January 20th. But no one knows who, no one knows how.
The suspense gathers with each page, the narration follows the terrorists and those who might stop them during the months, weeks, then days until January 20th. It turns out the assassination is only the first step in a plan hatched in Cairo. Taking advantage of the chaos and universal mayhem after the assassination, the US government will be paralyzed and impotent, incapable of forming a response, unable to defend itself for weeks if not months. And this will coincide with a plot of a further strike using biological weapons: “What we have done is combine two very lethal toxins, Bacillus anthracis and VX. One pound of anthrax alone has the power to kill everyone is an area as large as Manhattan, while a single drop of VX the size of a pinhead leads to instant paralysis.”
The book is well-informed. The author, Claude Salhani, has traveled widely, reporting on conflicts in the Middle East and Israel. The narrative is fiction, to be sure. But it is filled with realistic information about the world where we now live. Salhani knows the topography and the cities with their neighborhoods, sights and smells, and creates a narrative that is vivid, tactile, believable. He seems to feel at home in many of the countries he describes such as Egypt and Lebanon. And the Americans he describes who work in the Middle East have often lived there for many years. He describes Chris Clayborne: “He could not get himself to leave the place. There was a certain attraction that kept him hooked to Beirut and the Middle East. It was a love-hate relationship. At times he felt as though he was living life to the fullest; yet at other times he was really tired and fed up. There was a certain joie de vivre in the Middle East that was lacking in the US.”
Sometimes Salhani puts himself inside the mind of a terrorist, as with the sheik Omar: “The Naqba, or the Catastrophe—that’s when they lost Palestine… Omar’s world was a desperate one. It was a world where tenderness and affection did not belong and where love had been unable to survive. Born into a violent society, in turbulent times, Omar belonged to a generation where understanding had been replaced by violence… Only one thing mattered now: revenge!”
A great strength of this novel might be summed up in the word “careful.” In some journalistic talk about terrorists, descriptions of them remain outside their minds and feelings. They are portrayed often as emotional, lacking the stringent discipline to plan. This novel stands out for the methodical planning that goes into a plot against America: the covering of tracks, the creation of baffling false leads; and many of the terrorists have the ability to use the most advanced sophisticated technology with the internet a resource for the latest scientific information.
The narrative is fast-paced and well- informed. The action is seen through the eyes of a wide array of characters from different countries, through their thoughts and acts. Events happen rapidly; in the first pages the reader is introduced to Lebanese and American characters in Beirut, then the scene shifts to Cairo, the thoughts and conversations of a Sheik, a terrorist operative. Also in Cairo the reader is introduced to an American journalist and long-time Middle-East hand. Many players from different countries are caught up in the action. The narrative technique is one of the most successful and original features of the book: rapid, dynamic, well-informed, self-assured, sometimes proceeding in bursts set in different parts of the globe. But at the same time the fast-moving narrative never loses sight of the overall suspense: the count-down to January 10th.
If Inauguration Day is a work of fiction– of suspense and vivid highly dramatized conflict– it is also firmly grounded on real current events, the insoluble conflicts of today’s international world.
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Europe’s camp of shame

By Claude Salhani

The camp of squatters at the edge of the north­ern French port city of Calais is often referred to as “the Jungle”. Indeed, this “jungle” is not only an eyesore — a small city built haphazardly with bits of cardboard, tin and anything else migrants could get their hands on — but it is an eyesore at one of France’s ports of entry. Not what Paris wants to be the first site seen by visitors to France

The Jungle is also a political failure; it is a humanitarian shame and it is a sin on the collective con­science of every political leader in France and Great Britain.

The Jungle exists in a sort of geopolitical purgatory. It is a place where thousands of refugees from conflicted countries found their drive to a safe haven blocked by red tape and immigration laws.

Inside the camp, there are no laws on the books. Heck, there aren’t even books there. If there were, chances are they would be used keep fires going to give refugees some warmth for a minute or two longer.

By some fluke — or perhaps lack of luck — these immigrants find themselves so close yet so far from what they hoped would be their final destination, England. Why England? Perhaps because they speak English. Also, once inside the United Kingdom, the migrants hope to benefit from Britain’s immigra­tion policies. The difficulty is get­ting there in the first place.

The occupants of the Jungle are, for the most part, economic refugees but as conflicts across the Middle East and North Africa gather momentum, the camp houses mostly political refugees, many of them with simply nowhere to go.

There are also Kurds fleeing Turkey, Somalis, Ethiopians and many others. However, it is not their nationality that is important in this context. What is alarming is that such conditions are permitted to exist in Europe.

The refugees are in the Jungle be­cause it is the closest jumping point to Great Britain. In the interim they squat, waiting with an uncertain future, rampant crime that includes forcing women — even young girls — into prostitution, and, of course, drugs. Not to mention the opportu­nities that such camps offer jihadist recruiters.

These abominable crimes are tak­ing place in the heart of Europe and in the country where human rights were first launched. By any means what is taking place in the Jungle is a crime and those responsible are criminals.

What is happening in the Jungle is a crime all the more so because, by French law, it is a crime if one fails to provide assistance to someone in danger. The thousands of residents, especially the younger ones, of the Jungle are definitely in danger.

Migrants living in the Jungle try almost on a daily basis to sneak into Britain. They hide in lorries, cars, ferries or trains travelling through Calais in the Eurotunnel. French authorities send out regular patrol of riot police, which often end up clashing with migrants.

Police patrol the perimeter of the camp but leave the interior to its own fate, meaning mostly that it ends up being controlled by some sort of organised crime group.

Frustrated by their situation, the continued uncertainty of the future and being so close yet so far from England, the migrants periodically storm the highway leading to the port of Calais, blocking traffic for hours, as they try to sneak aboard any vehicle headed to Britain. French police typically fire tear gas and even deploy bulldozers to tear down parts of the shantytown-like areas of the Jungle.

The Jungle has attracted pimps and people traffickers who focus on the large number of orphan children who wind up in the Jungle. Accord­ing to multiple reports, there are hundreds of children in the camp living on their own and who become easy prey. Many are from countries where war has torn them from their land and family.

This situation should not be al­lowed to exist in a country such as France.

The immediate task should be finding a way to resettle all refugees and to close this despicable place of shame.

Claude Salhani is the Opinion section editor of The Arab Weekly.

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A tribute to religious tolerance

  Claude Salhani

~~~The Arab Weekly

As the world prepared for more conflict, war and other associated acts of madness, an unusual event recently took place in the United States. This was a peaceful event, quite appropriate for a man who led a turbulent life but inwardly never stopped looking for peace.

In what way was it unusual? It was a gathering to say goodbye to one of the legends of our time, Muhammad Ali, the great boxing champion. Ali, of course, was much more than a boxer and I leave it to others who knew him far better to eulogise him. However, I want to point out one manner in which Ali’s spirit reaches out.

To begin with, one of the keynote speakers at the funeral of a prominent member of the Muslim community was a member of the Jewish community and then there were the contents of his discourse.

Wait a minute! A rabbi speaking at the memorial service for a Muslim?

Yes, and not just any rabbi but Rabbi Michael Lerner, a liberal rabbi from Berkeley, California.

Lerner used his platform, where a slew of dignitaries had gathered, to call for peace between communities and for greater equality between those who have and those who have not. He asked the powers that be to introduce a plethora of social changes.

What is the world coming to when traditional bigotry and hatred are interrupted by the likes of Rabbi Lerner, who promote interfaith dialogue and respect of each other? When an American Jew calls for an ending of drone warfare and the ending of Israeli West Bank occupation? What kind of world is this when the leader of a Jewish community calls on Israel to respect Palestinians? And calls on the Turks to respect the Kurds and on the United States to become the most loved country on Earth, not just the most powerful?

What you get is the opposite of Donald Trump’s narrow-minded views and limited scope of life and politics. What you get is the opposite of what fanatical Islamists such as members of the Islamic State want. What you get is hope that there exists some sanity among us.

Regretfully, the likes of Muhammad Ali and Michael Lerner are rare. What Lerner called for is almost utopic, only a dream, a political reverie, a minute oasis of sanity among vast oceans of madness, violence growing political, social and economic instability.

With people like these you get a chance for a better world.

The rabbi began his unusual diatribe by saying he was representing the Jewish community in the United States but does he really? Certainly he can count on many supporters but, then again, so can Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who stands at the other end of Lerner’s political spectrum.

Lerner is no doubt a very learned man who understands the complexities of politics far better than some of the candidates running for the US presidency.

Alas, his talk is destined to be a good, provocative speech delivered in front of an impressive audience but that, regrettably, will soon be forgotten. Many people listened to the words of wisdom, applauded the man who delivered them, as well as the man in whose honour those words of wisdom were delivered.

Yet how many will have the courage to follow in his footsteps? Those were very big shoes Muhammad Ali left behind.

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The Syrian conundrum

The Arab Weekly
Claude Salhani

Although the war in Syria seemed to be stagnating, recently the situation appears to be moving and evolving at an accelerated pace. Russia and Iran have increased their military involvement in Syria. Both countries contributed troops to the conflict in support of the Syrian president and the Russians committed their air force to back pro-government forces.

The Iranians who have been sending troops and Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps to fight in support of Syrian Presi­dent Bashar Assad recently ran advertisements aimed at recruit­ing young boys — generally aged 9-12 — to fight in Syria — a repetition of what the Iranians did during the war with Iraq. They would often have youth brigades precede regular troops on the battlefield to clear land­mines. In exchange for their lives, the ayatollahs promised the boys a place in paradise.

US President Barack Obama reiterated multiple times over the past year that there would not be any US troops in Syria. It seems he spoke too soon. It has been confirmed that, despite Obama’s promises, that there are a number of American special operations forces on the Syrian front. Although limited in numbers, there are nevertheless US troops in Syria today.

Peace talks — or rather attempted peace talks — in Geneva have gotten nowhere with the chief negotiator for the Syrian opposition throwing in the towel, saying he was resigning in protest over the failure by the United Nations to make any headway.

The proverbial fog of war remains, thick as ever, rendering the situation as confusing and as murderous as ever. All sides in the civil war, more than five years long, claim to be on the right side and periodically they all claim to be on the winning side, too.

Indeed, at some point in this continuing mayhem, they may well be right or winning, or both or neither. Contributing to the confusion are the multitude of factions engaged in the fighting. Many of these groups have extraordinary names, such as the pro-government Cheetah Force or the Kata’ib Hezbollah. Or yet the pro-rebel Deterring the Oppressor Brigade.

Some of these groups have several thousand men while others consist of barely a handful of followers. But if the perhaps hundreds of thousands of fighters engaged in the Syrian conflict are unable to force a military solution despite five years of continued warfare and the military, finan­cial and political support of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Iran, Russia and the United States as well as a handful of European countries, including France and Britain, what on Earth could find a solution to the current conun­drum?

What is obvious is the inability of Syrians at solving their prob­lem on their own and the solu­tion, if indeed there is one, would require the intervention of two of the world’s most powerful countries, each with its own reason to want to see the demise of the Islamist terrorists. The United States, of course, opposes terrorism and wants to promote democracy in the Arab world, even if it goes about it in a rather strange manner.

As for the Russians, they want to make sure they get to defeat the jihadists before they return to the former Soviet republics and autonomous regions within Russia.

It may have taken five years of all-out war but it finally seems as though the Americans and the Russians have finally realised that by working together they may be able to solve the crisis. It is perhaps to that end that US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have been meeting in recent weeks.

 

Claude Salhani is the Opinion section editor of The Arab Weekly.


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Misunderstanding Islam

There is a great misun­derstanding of Islam in the West, a fair amount of which falls under the banner of Islamophobia — the unfounded fear of Islam.

True, much of this misconception has been accentuated by actions of Islamist fundamentalists such as members of al-Qaeda and its spinoff, the far more radical Islamic State (ISIS). It is so bent on cruelty and violence that even al-Qaeda refers to its members as terrorists.

Nevertheless, an equal amount of blame for this ignorance of one of the world’s three main religions falls on the Judeo-Christian West for its failure to reach out to Muslims in any truly constructive manner. At least no concentrated efforts were undertaken before the bubble burst on September 11th, 2001.

Much ignorance persists. Ignorance in this instance is the real enemy. Not Islam. Not Christianity. Not Westerners. Not Middle Easterners. Ignorance is the threat. Because, as we now know, ignorance breeds fear and fear brings about hatred. Combined they lead inevitably to violence.

Here is a simple example of how little some in the Western media who cover major stories concerning Muslims really know what they are talking about.

The visit by the grand imam of al-Azhar, the prestigious Cairo centre of Islamic learning, to Pope Francis in Rome was a prime example of this lack of knowledge. Judging from headlines in the Western press, it sounded as though the leader of the Catholic Church was going to meet the representative of the Sunni world.

This is how MSN reported the event: “Pope Francis to receive Sunni Muslim leader at Vatican.” The story went on to say that the pope was to meet the grand imam of Cairo’s al-Azhar at the Vatican “in an unprecedented encounter between the leader of the world’s Catholics and the highest authority in Sunni Islam”.

This is misleading. Yes, the head of Egypt’s oldest and most prominent centre of religious studies does carry a certain amount of clout. And Egypt, despite being shunned by the rest of the Arab world for many years as punishment for proceeding on its own with a peace treaty with Israel when it signed the Camp David agreement, is still a country of stature.

Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand imam of al-Azhar, is an important figure in Egyptian religious, political and social life. He often represents the clergy at official government functions. However, in the Sunni branch of Islam, there is an absence of hierarchy. There is no supreme leader, as in the Shia branch, in which there are ayatollahs, grand ayatollahs and other ranks.

One of the great attractions of the Sunni branch of the Muslim faith is that there is no pope, archbishop or supreme leader. Every Muslim has an equal footing in the community. The religious leader of the community, the imam, is respected for his knowledge of the holy books and usually because of his age. Or at least the knowledge he is supposed to have as in some cases ignorance of the world in general is so vast that his work and knowledge becomes counterproductive.

The imam can and does offer advice and leadership given his knowledge, which typically exceeds the general knowledge of the congregation. That is certainly often the case in poor communities. Officially, however, the imam wields no supreme power. That has been both a blessing and a curse, especially when it comes to sensitive issues such as issuing fatwas, religious edicts.

As we have seen many times since the September 11th, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, a number of Muslim leaders who have issued a variety of edicts were well authorised to do so. Many have been counterproductive in promoting understanding and cooperation between Muslims and the West, yet those fatwas were perfectly legal, if somewhat inane.

In contrast to Shiism, in which there is an established structure, in the main branch of Islam everybody is supposed to be equal in the eyes of God. This is an interesting concept for such a vast movement not to have a supreme leader and in times of strife, as we have seen these past years, it makes it very difficult to reach out to such a wide-ranging community in which there is no central figure who can speak for its followers.

Attempts were made in some European countries — France in particular — to designate a top Muslim figure who could influence the faithful. The exception to this rule is, of course, the caliph, the one who is supposed to lead the umma, the community and the one replacing the Prophet. But as in all other religions, here, too, one has to beware of false prophets.

 

Claude Salhani is the Opinion section editor of The Arab Weekly.


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Hezbollah: From national heroes to regional villains

The Arab Weekly
Claude Salhani

The killing of Mustafa Badreddine, the top Hezbollah military commander in Syria, adds greater pressure on the Lebanese Shia movement and its secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, at a time when both friends and foes are questioning its policies and procedures.

Over the past several years the movement went from being regarded by the majority of Leba­nese citizens as national heroes to being frowned upon as a misused regional military force and inter­national villains.

The group first rose to heroic status in the eyes of the Leba­nese and other Arabs because of its staunch and at times fierce resistance to the Israeli military occupation of southern Lebanon. Hezbollah’s relentless attacks against the Israeli military even­tually forced the Jewish state to withdraw all its forces from Lebanon.

Following the forced departure of the Palestine Liberation Or­ganisation and dozens of splinter groups from Lebanon after Israel invaded the country in June 1982, Hezbollah quickly rose to promi­nence. It became, in the absence of the Lebanese state authority, and thus the Lebanese Army, the de facto military force in the south and eventually expanded its reach over much of the country.

The Lebanese Shia group be­came known as “the resistance” and rose in prestige in the eyes of a great majority of Lebanese, including Christians, who not too long before that were engaged in fighting fellow Arabs during the Lebanese civil war.

Hezbollah succeeded in pushing the Israeli military war machine out of occupied Arab territory, something that no other Arab force had been able to ac­complish since the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.

For a brief period, Hezbollah basked in the limelight across the Arab world and was cheered as liberators from Aden to Casa­blanca.

Egged on by its suc­cess, the group made two monumental mistakes. The first came when various Leba­nese militias convened in Saudi Arabia and agreed to give up their weapons. Hezbollah, arguing that it was a resistance group and that Israel still occupied tracts of lands in southern Lebanon, convinced the others that it should retain its weapons.

That alienated many Leba­nese, who resented giving up their weapons while the Shia movement continued to acquire heavier and more sophisticated weapons, mostly supplied by Iran.

Then came the Syrian war and Hezbollah’s second and poten­tially fatal mistake. Had the group chosen to give up its arms when the other Lebanese factions gave up theirs, the history of Lebanon’s modern-day politics could have been very different.

Without its weapons, Hezbol­lah would have had to pursue dialogue and that would have encouraged Lebanese political parties to seek a just solution to their political differences through peaceful negotiations and not through strong-arm tactics, threats of violence and the like.

By allowing itself to be manipu­lated by Syria and particularly by Iran, Hezbollah transited from a position of heroism to one of re­gional hitman to that of an inter­national villain. In looking back, could it be that the organisation might have taken on a greater role than it could manage? Or should it have not become involved in the Syrian conflict?

The number of casualties the group suffered in defending Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime has made many of the group’s supporters question the logic behind a move that has turned Hezbollah into a regional terrorist group implicated in con­flict beyond its borders.

According to sources familiar with the Shia community in Leba­non, there is now open criticism of Nasrallah’s decision to support Assad in Syria and fear among some that this will drive a wedge between the Lebanese Shia com­munity and the Syrian people, who are not about to forget Hez­bollah’s position during the war.

With the killing of Badreddine in Syria, Nasrallah lost a major asset who carried enormous pres­tige and clout within the military high command. His death is a big blow to Hezbollah in general and to Nasrallah in particular. It strengthens the Iranians’ position in Syria and weakens Hezbollah’s autonomy, if it ever had any.

Claude Salhani is the Opinion section editor of The Arab Weekly.


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Iranians playing with fire in the Gulf


2016/05/08 Issue: 55 Page: 6
Claude Salhani

In an act of precarious defiance, the deputy commander of Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolu­tionary Guards Corps threatened to bar access to the strategic Strait of Hormuz to the United States and its allies if they “threaten” the Islamic Republic.

The narrow strait that lies be­tween Iran on one side and Oman’s Musandam peninsula on the other provides the only sea passage to the open ocean from the Arabian Gulf. It is one of the world’s most strategically important choke points.

At its narrowest, the strait has a width of 54km, making it relatively simple to block. Crippling one or two supertankers, of which there are no shortages going through the busy strait on a daily basis, would close the passage to all shipping.

Blocking the strait would cre­ate an oil shortage for parts of the world, diplomatic imbroglio and military enmeshment, with potentially grave conse­quences.

On the oil front, with Hormuz closed, there would be an immediate fuel shortage. It is esti­mated that about 20% of the world’s petroleum passes through the strait.

The closing of Hormuz would have serious con­sequences for Saudi Arabia, whose super tankers need the Hormuz outlet to ferry the country’s oil and liquefied natural gas from port terminals in Eastern province, as well as for other Gulf Cooperation Council members.

Such action would create a scurry on the diplomatic front, as politicians and diplomats at all levels would try to reach a peaceful solution.

The United States would cer­tainly intervene, as it has in the past to protect its US Navy 5th Fleet, which has its home port in Bahrain and is deployed mainly to protect international shipping in the region.

There is a memorable precedent of a similar situation pitting the US military against the Iranians when, in 1987-88, the US Navy set out to escort as many tankers and supertankers as it could, frequent­ly engaging the Iranians who tried to attack the vessels.

But that was nearly 30 years ago. Today the region is very different and much more volatile. Following the uprisings of the “Arab spring”, it is much more explosive with several conflicts percolating.

Given the harsh realities associ­ated with the closure of such a strategically important waterway, it is unlikely that the Iranians would actually go through with their threat to bar US ships from the strait.

However, the danger may come because hotheads in Iran, egged on by the country’s military successes in Syria and political achievements on the nuclear negotiation front, could be blinded and misguided by those limited accomplishments.

Iranian state media quoted Brigadier-General Hossein Salami, the acting commander of the Is­lamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, as saying: “If the Americans and their regional allies want to pass through the Strait of Hormuz and threaten us, we will not allow any entry.”

Earlier Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei criticised US military drills in the Gulf.

The last time the United States confronted the Iranians in the Gulf, the situation was contained but with conflicts raging in Yemen, Iraq and Syria and with jihadists creating potential trouble in the rest of the region, there are good chances for any Iranian-US conflict to escalate to very dangerous levels.

Claude Salhani is the Opinion section editor of The Arab Weekly

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A glimmer of hope at the Islamic summit

Claude Salhani

Amid the numerous wars, religious conflicts and general malaise and mayhem gripping large portions of the Levant and North Africa, there comes a glimmer of hope, a tiny flicker that peace can be within reach — at least in the humble opinion of this commentator.

I have been chronicling devel­opments — political, economic, military — as well as social trends in the greater Middle East for more than four decades and have seen the region in times of crisis and in times of greater crisis. And in all those years every attempt at resolving any crisis has lacked one thing: addressing its root problem.

The Middle East region has weathered its share of violent conflict — and then some. And with each new conflict, the level of violence increases exponen­tially.

Quite naturally as the violence grows, it feeds on itself, gather­ing momentum and growing like a demented monster. The war in Syria, which has claimed at least 270,000 lives, is a perfect example of how a conflict can grow and grow, leaving politi­cians powerless when they try to intervene because they often forget to address the root cause of the problem.

And here is the reason on which I base my optimism: the decision by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) not only to tackle the main issue that is driving the violence in the Middle East and beyond — terror­ism — but also to address the root cause or causes of the region’s turmoil.

Addressing 30 leaders of Mus­lim countries, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in an opening speech at an OIC conference in Turkey, called on Mus­lim states to unite in fighting terrorism and overcoming sectarian divisions.

“Why are we waiting for help from outside to solve our problems and put a stop to terror?” asked Erdogan.

“I believe the greatest challenge we need to surmount is sectarianism. My religion is not that of Sunnis, of Shias. My religion is Islam,” he added.

The summit nonetheless con­demned Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah for “support for terrorism”.

The events of the past few years have demonstrated that the most sophisticated security systems can be easily bypassed if terrorists have the will and resolve to strike.

If you want to resolve a conflict, you must start by addressing the reasons that have driven the ter­rorists to take up weapons in the first place. If the initial problem is not taken care of, the issue will persist. The challenge facing the OIC and its members is that the Middle East’s problem has metamorphosed into a series of different issues, making attempts at resolving the root problem all that much harder.

The OIC meeting in Turkey hoped to address the issue of the Palestinian territories, which many observers say is the root cause of the region’s problems. What began as a dispute over real estate between those inhabiting Palestine and newly arrived im­migrants claiming historical at­tachment to the land, has turned into a multifaceted religious, sectarian, political and economic conflict — at times pitting differ­ent cultures against each other.

Many will argue that the Pal­estinian problem is not what is driving today’s violence in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya. That, of course, is absolutely true. How­ever, had the conditions been different from the start, would the regimes that have found their way in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen have had the same excuse to rule the way they did all those years?

As for the second issue the OIC planned to address — terrorism — again a very difficult and multi­faceted problem to solve.

There is no doubt that those tasked with solving these issues will not face an easy job.

What makes me optimistic, however, is that Muslim leaders seem to acknowledge the exist­ence of the problems and the need to address them urgently. Peace may not be achieved right away but this is the right course to follow.

The Arab Weekly

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The autocratic transformation of Erdogan

The Arab Weekly
Claude Salhani

The image of Turkey that its president wanted to project — that of an open, secular and modern society in which concerns for an individual’s rights were on a par with Europe to the degree that the country could be invited to join the European Union — is rapidly fading.

What we are seeing emerge through the fog of confused Le­vantine politics is a very different Turkey, one far removed from what was initially hoped for.

Turkey is projecting a depressing glimpse of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s interpretation of demo­cratic principles.

Yes, the country governed by Erdogan looks very different from the one that was knocking on the European Union’s door not too long ago. When Erdogan rose to power in 2003, there were expecta­tions that he could serve as a role model of the modern and progres­sive Muslim leader who proved to sceptics that Islam and the West could coexist in peace.

Supporters of the notion that Turkey belongs in the European Union along with the rest of demo­cratic Europe argued — and contin­ue to say — that admitting Turkey into the group would propel the democratisation process in Turkey and that, within a relatively short time, the country would have come around to resemble its European partners more than its neighbours to the south, as now appears to be the case.

Those opposed to Turkey’s admission into the EU are saying that they were justified in oppos­ing Ankara’s ascension. They point to Erdogan’s two-faced policies in dealing with jihadists fighting in Syria and Iraq. On the one hand, the Turkish government helped funnel arms and fighters to the Islamists; on the other, it professed to clamp down on jihadists.

As a member of NATO, in princi­ple at least, Turkey is an ally of the United States and Western Europe. Turkey has even dispatched units to fight the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq.

The “democracy” that the Turk­ish president purports to be back­ing is in reality more of a gradual infringement on all levels of a free society. Scratch the surface of Turkish politics and you will un­doubtedly discover ugly truths.

Looking over the past few years, there is a clear transformation of the Turkish leader’s political stance and the shining light and breath of fresh air the Europeans had hoped for. The reality turned out to be something very different.

As more than one observer noted, Erdogan turned out to be a disappointment as the former prime minister became president and is now turning into a dictator.

As any self-respecting dictator would do, Erdogan went after the country’s free press. Erdogan had the editors of Zaman and Cumhuri­yet, two of the country’s largest newspapers, arrested. Zaman had devoted a number of articles to corruption in Erdogan’s family and government and Cumhuriyet repre­sented the opposition.

Erdogan also took on scores of university professors, members of the military and aid workers, send­ing dozens to prison

He erected a huge presidential palace for himself and called a ref­erendum, hoping to win the right to rewrite the constitution and give himself greater power.

Cumhuriyet published video footage showing trucks filled with weapons being delivered to rebel groups in Syria. Since the start of the war in Syria, Turkey had offered support to rebels fighting the Assad government, even arming extrem­ist groups closely affiliated with al-Qaeda. Two top editors of Cum­huriyet, Can Dundar and Erdem Gul, were accused of espionage and could be sentenced to life in prison. According to journalism watchdog groups, there are about 20 report­ers imprisoned in Turkey.

And because the United States needs Turkey’s support in the fight against terrorism, the White House and the US State Department have been reluctant to criticise the Turk­ish leader’s actions, even when his security detail beat protesters in Washington on March 31st when scuffles broke out between Turkish security and reporters.

While US authorities reiterated their position demanding that there be more media freedom in Turkey, ugly scenes erupted shortly before Erdogan’s arrival at the Brookings Institution, where Turkish security officials clashed with protesters, exchanging insults and scuffling, before police separated them.

During the scuffle one Turkish security guard aimed a chest-high kick at an American reporter at­tempting to film the harassment of a Turkish opposition reporter while another called a female foreign policy scholar a “whore”.


—-

Claude Salhani is the Opinion section editor of The Arab Weekly.

 

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Is Hezbollah a terrorist organization?

from The Arab Weekly

Claude Salhani

The six oil- and gas-producing countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) recently declared the Leba­nese Shia movement Hezbollah a terrorist organisation, echoing what Israel and the United States have long maintained.

Just one day earlier a NATO-sponsored, closed-door confer­ence addressed this very issue.

A GCC official asked the audi­ence: “Is Hezbollah a terrorist or­ganisation?” The vote by a show of hands was far from unanimous but I believe the “yeses” were in the minority.

Whether Hezbollah is a terror organisation, however, cannot be answered with a straight yes or no. The answer, much like the politics of the region, is more complicated.

One of the greatest writers on military tactics, Sun Tzu, author of The Art of War, said the first step in defeating your enemy is to know him.

Indeed, declaring Hezbollah a terrorist organisation is doing a disfavour to those trying to coun­ter the group’s philosophy and fight its expansion in the Middle East.

Among the multitude of crimes Hezbollah is accused of having committed, the US government says it has irrefutable proof that group, with the help of Syria, was responsible for the killing of 241 US servicemen, mostly US Ma­rines, and 58 French paratroopers in Beirut on October 23rd, 1983.

Hezbollah has committed ter­rorist acts, of that there is little doubt, or at least some members of the organisation carried out acts that can be classified as acts of terror.

However, to better understand the group’s actions, motivations and source of strength, one needs to take a closer look at the compo­nents that make up the move­ment and not lump them into one basket marked terrorism.

Observers of the region’s politics agree that Hezbollah is composed of three distinct units.

First and foremost, Hezbol­lah is a bona fide political party representing a large portion of Lebanon’s Shia community. As such it is represented in the government, with a number of important ministerial positions held by its representatives. It is also represented in the country’s parliament, with deputies elected on the Hezbollah slate. Because of the way in which Lebanon’s electoral laws are established, Hezbollah’s parliamentary slate includes Christian members.

Second, perhaps the most important element of Hezbollah is its social services. This unit provides services for the impov­erished Shia community in the absence of the Lebanese state. Services of primary importance such as day care and healthcare centres are provided for the com­munity by the movement. This is an area in which the Lebanese state has completely failed.

Quite naturally when providing such services to a segment of the population, in return Hezbollah receives much loyalty.

The third component of Hezbol­lah is its military wing, which is at the heart of why some call it a terrorist organisation. The military unit is armed, trained and financed mostly by Iran. Hezbollah calls its military wing a resistance movement as it was its military forces that eventually forced Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon.

The group’s involvement in the daily lives of the Shia commu­nity in Lebanon, and sometimes beyond, is so ingrained in the society that extracting one from the other would be a very difficult task unless, of course, the Leba­nese government steps in to pick up its responsibilities where it has been absent and it has largely failed.

If you want to defeat Hezbollah start by building up the Lebanese state. There is no other way.

There are, however, two problems with that notion: One is that Hezbollah has infiltrated Lebanese state institutions and substituted its own agenda over that of the country’s, making rebuilding the Lebanese state a more wishful thing today than a realistic objective.

The second problem is that Hezbollah has substituted its Iran-inspired regional agenda to Lebanon’s national security requirements. That can only be disastrous for Lebanon.

Nobody can reboot the Leba­nese state as long as Hezbollah, terrorist or not, holds the plug to the system.

Claude Salhani is the Opinion section editor of The Arab Weekly.

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