Saudi reset with Iran is unavoidable

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Kham

The terrorist strike last week on the Saudi border post facing the Iraqi province of Anbar — known to be the Islamic State’s first assault on the kingdom — could be the proverbial straw on the camel’s back, forcing Riyadh into a profound rethink of its regional strategies imbued with the rivalries involving Iran.

Tehran has effectively countered the Saudi plots in Syria and Iraq and at the moment would seem to have the upper hand. The last-ditch Saudi attempt to hurt the Iranian economy by forcing a steep decline in oil prices is not only not having the desired effect but, as President Hassan Rouhani explicitly warned yesterday, Riyadh may end up shooting at its own feet (as well as the Kuwaiti brother’s).

However, it is the attack on the Saudi post by the IS (killing two border guards and their commanding officer) that becomes a defining moment. The fact that the IS attackers included three Saudi nationals must be a rude awakening. To be sure, the blowback has begun. The Saudis hope to erect a ‘great wall’ and insulate themselves from the IS barbarians next door but that is sheer bravado.

The security situation in Anbar province, which is held by the IS, is becoming very acute. Tribal disunity combined with the Iraqi forces’ limitations has given the upper hand to the IS, which has let loose a reign of terror to systematically eliminate resistance. A lot of ground work is needed to create an organized tribal resistance to the IS (on the lines of the famous ‘Awakening’ in the last decade in the Sunni regions under US occupation) and it may partly explain the Saudi decision to reopen the embassy in Baghdad after a gap of a quarter century.

But in the ultimate analysis, it is only with a joint effort with Iran that Saudi Arabia can turn the tide of the IS threat to its national security. Riyadh and Tehran seem to be signaling at each other like strangers in the night exchanging glances. The influential Iran Daily commented in an editorial that Iran-Saudi “differences are not so substantial that they can’t be resolved.” It warned that the IS “could jeopardize the system of government in Saudi Arabia” since its “slogans can motivate” people to rise against the regime. The editorial took note that Iran-Saudi cooperation “would bring security and stability to the entire Middle East.”

Of course, the terms of engagement will have to include the question of oil price. Iran Daily admitted that the Saudi decision to increase the crude production leading to the steep fall in oil prices amounts to “using oil as a means to deal a blot to its rival – namely Iran” and “this has created economic problems for Tehran.” Having said that, the editorial also rubbed it in that the Saudis are far from a position today to dictate terms: “King Abdullah’s health is rumored to be deteriorating by the day and reports suggest there is a power struggle among Saudi princes. Mulling over a new system of government might be the way out for the Saudis.”

In the developing scenario, a Saudi rethink on regional strategies is becoming unavoidable. In an opinion piece today in the Saudi establishment daily Asharq Al-Awsat, Prince Turki, former head of Saudi intelligence, was exceptionally harsh on the IS, even rechristening the Da’esh as Fahesh (meaning ‘obscene’) and comparing them with the Kharijites of the seventh century notorious in Muslim Arab story for their barbarity. Such scathing condemnation of an erstwhile progeny only shows that the Saudis may be realizing that the ploy to play the sectarian card against Iran in the power projection in the region has proved costly and counterproductive and is fraught with negative consequences for their own core interests. The best thing for Saudi Arabia will be to remain in the game unfolding by readjusting the policies toward Iran. The US-Iranian nuclear deal will only further tilt the regional balance in favor of Iran. (See my earlier blog Iran trumps Saudi project in Syria-Iraq.)

Posted in Diplomacy, Politics.

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How do we protect Islam from terrorists?

A large number of Muslims do not support terrorism, not as an ideology, not as a nation and definitely not as a matter of faith. But is carrying a personal faith against violence enough?

For how long can we fool ourselves, insisting the terrorists were foreign nationals? That based on their physical (genital) exam, they were all non-Muslims? Some disagreement notwithstanding, most of us I hope will recognise the perpetrators of the Peshawar massacre as Pakistanis. Their picture says it all: sitting relaxed in a row with their guns held out, there are seven of them, all Pashtun looking, all young and all ready to die in the name of God.

Peering through the snapshot trying to read their minds, I am not bothered by their appearance, their beards or their turbans nor their ethnicity, culture or nationality; instead, what bothers me is their mindset, their education (or lack thereof), their training and maybe their religion, all of which may have coalesced in the last three decades to transform an obedient son into a cold blooded murderer, a caring brother into a ruthless suicide bomber and a compassionate friend into a fierce enemy. So brutal was their action in the Army Public School that I wonder if, inside their chests, they carry the same heart as ours, pumping the same human blood we all share. What have we done in our tribal areas and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa? Have we failed as a nation to nurture compassion and promote humanity in our youth? Or is it Islam, since the jihadi groups from Algeria to Pakistan show similar tendencies?

Whether one likes it or not, the terrorists seek inspiration through the same religion we share with each other. We just cannot deny that simple fact. Like them, we proclaim the greatness of the same God before waging a war, offer the same prayers under distress and recite the same verses when we get sick. And just like us they too consult the same Quran and hadith for guidance, follow the same daily rituals of a Muslim and refer to the same fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) that we abide by, which explains the reason for their demand that the children in Peshawar recite the shahada (testimony that God is the creator and that Muhammad (PBUH) is His prophet) before the terrorists pumped bullets into their heads.

The question therefore is not how similar we are but rather, how we can dissociate ourselves from the terrorists on religious grounds. Is it even possible? Muslims across the world have faced this dilemma since 2001, and what a terrible job we have done in addressing the problem, let alone denouncing it. No doubt, a large number of Muslims do not support terrorism, not as an ideology, not as a nation and definitely not as a matter of faith. But is carrying a personal faith against violence enough? I do not think so.

After 9/11, Muslim clerics had the foremost responsibility to decry terrorism as a political philosophy. They had to unequivocally pronounce the perpetrators of such attacks as non-Muslims irrespective of their personal beliefs. Like their unanimous stand on the consumption of pork in Muslim countries, they should have recommended that states take strict action against the miscreants, requesting common people to stop funding suspicious organisations and forbidding ordinary folks to sympathise with the jihadists. Islam provides them ample evidence to proscribe radicalism. Sure, it can be twisted to justify it but, throughout history, Muslim societies — from the organised insurgency of the Kharjiites to the assassins trained by Hassan Ibne Saba –have fought against such a violent and extreme vision. They still can do that today without compromising their faith. They just need to take the narrative back from the jihadists and guard its original message of peace like they would protect their own personal property.

Nonetheless, except for a few of the ulema (scholars) who took a clear stance on the issue, most clerics did not step up to the task. Their condemnation, if there was any, lacked clarity, their message spewed controversy and their tone emitted apathy as if the people who died in the suicide attack were not humans at all. Because of their meek and contentious response, the 5.8 billion non-Muslim population, almost 83 percent people around the world, believe that somehow Islam condones terrorism if not openly promotes it, an allegation we still cannot defend on religious grounds. It is an example of failure of insight on the part of our clerics.

The ruling elite in Muslim countries should have acted as our second line of defence. However, they manipulated the situation to gain personal objectives. Playing double games, they supported the US stance at the table but under it they continued to empower the rebels. What did they want to achieve through duplicity? As always, their first goal was to extend their undemocratic rule or stabilise it by maintaining the status quo. And their second aim: squeeze the maximum amount of money from the richest country in the world.

Not only religious scholars or state officials, Muslim communities too got their hands dirty by mostly staying indifferent to terrorism. Out of sheer hatred, some of them even celebrated the attack on US soil. They did not realise that the same sword that cuts the throat of their adversaries will one day be swiped at their own children, which it did a few years down the road, killing 40,000 to 50,000 people in Pakistan since 2007. Blinded by our xenophobia, even then we could not challenge the real enemy who continued to build its strength under our very noses until December16, 2014. The question now arises if we will put up a fight this time or let this opportunity slip out of our hands again by calling it an Indian conspiracy.

Syed Kamran Hashmi

The writer is a US-based freelance columnist. He tweets at @KaamranHashmi and can be reached at skamranhashmi@gmail.com

An Accomplished Actor

“Do not grieve over someone who changes all of the sudden. It might be that he has given up acting and returned to his true self.” – Socrates

A mother found her little daughter with her hands covered in red lipstick. She hit her for it then went out of the room to find that her daughter had used the lipstick to write on the door: “I love you mama.”

The mother returned and hit her again for messing up the door!

When the mother ignored her daughter’s expressions of love, it was not a natural reaction. Instead, the mother was acting out the role of disciplinarian.

The more a person is natural and free of pretension, the better they are at expressing their true selves.

Dozens of professional comedians conceal an inner state of severe depression, and many of them end up killing themselves. They play the role of happy jovial people, but behind their bright smiles lies profound sadness.

The romantic exchange between a couple during courtship is an act to win the other’s attentions. I play the role that you want me to play so you will play the role that I want you to play. When someone responds to my inner needs by making me feel special and worthy of love, I will respond by playing the role they would have me play.

It is an unspoken agreement, and it is often an unconscious one as well. It results in people making rash, emotional commitments. Falling in love usually contains an element of deception resulting from the ego’s needs being satisfied on some level.

The acted-out roles of lover and beloved often form the basis for young people’s relationships. A small degree of pleasure is given, resulting in many years of regret and conflict.

Sometimes we act out the role of the disinterested party, hoping to console ourselves, but as soon as we hear the beloved’s name or see their face, our buried emotions are brought to the surface again.

Small children sometimes hide their anger from their parents, because they do not feel any emotional warmth from their parent. Small children want their parents to be spontaneous and unpretentious with them. They do not want their parents to merely act out their roles, even if the role itself is a nice one. You may do many things for your children, and that is good, but it is not good enough if you neglect on a genuine personal level who you are and who they are. You are not giving your children a good message if you say: “Because I am your father… because I am your mother… because I am a good example… you must do this or that.”

Why do people spend their lives condemning smoking while having a pack of cigarettes in their shirt pockets?

Why do we bemoan modern technological devices and the way they controls our lives, though we are fully immersed with them all hours of the day? We are acting out the role of the critic and disputant, when all we are really doing is saying: “Hey, I exist.”

People like to cross-examine the motives of others, but the same people get offended if anyone else questions their motives or intentions in turn.

Conflict validates the ego, and it is the reason why people do things believing they are sincere. Shidād b. Aws called this “hidden desire”. For instance, a liberal politician fancies himself to be an advocate of democracy an open dialogue when opinion is moving according to his interests, but when opinion goes the other way, he starts appealing for a crackdown or military intervention. In the same way, an Islamist politician prides himself in being an upholder of people’s rights and an advocate of moderation. However, as soon as he is put to the test, as soon as his professed values conflict with his vested interests, all that goes away.

We might say that our disagreements do not affect our love for each other, but when disagreement actually happens, we are all too often prepared to lash out against each other with ferocity.

One night during a dinner party, a man told Dale Carnegie a humorous story which hinged on a quote from Shakespeare. The man mentioned that the quotation was from the Bible. Carnegie knew, however, that the quotation came from Shakespeare. He tried to correct the storyteller, but the man insisted he was right. As it happened, the man sitting on the other side of Carnegie was an old friend of his who had devoted years to the study of Shakespeare.

Carnegie and the storyteller agreed to submit the question to him. He listened, kicked Carnegie under the table and said, “Dale, you are wrong. The gentleman is right. It is from the Bible.”

On the way home that night, Carnegie confronted him about his response. “You knew that quotation was from Shakespeare.”

“Yes, of course,” he replied. “Hamlet, Act V, Scene 2. But we were guests at a festive occasion, my dear Dale. Why prove to a man he is wrong? Is that going to make him like you? Why not let him save his face?”

Carnegie understood. It thereafter became his policy that the best way to win an argument was to avoid it in the first place.

Prophet Muhammad said: “I guarantee a house on the outskirts of Paradise for someone who gives up an argument even if he is right, and a house in the middle of Paradise for one who abandons lies even when joking, and a house in the highest part of Paradise for one who makes his character excellent.” [Sunan Abī Dāwūd]

It is also related that he said: “Whoever leaves off arguing even though he is right, Allah will build him a house in the middle of Paradise. [Sunan al-Tirmidhī]

The ego does not permit anyone to bring it down. It has its own way of guarding itself against being violated. When someone criticises or insults me, it is taken as an attack on the ego which responds by trying to repair the damage either by constructing justifications and defences for itself or by lashing back with insults against the other party.

It does not matter whether the other party is right or wrong. The ego’s job is to protect the person’s self identity more than reality will allow.

When someone driving a car shouts at you: “You idiot; stupid person!”, it is the unconscious ego seeking to rectify itself through anger. A young man driving a big car ignores the right of way of the driver of a modest car. The other driver is a pleasant person, so he catches up with the young man and says smiling: “Why did you do that? Is it because my car is small? Am I the maid’s son?”

Anger inflates the ego for a short period of time. People can take this to the extreme of violence.

A sense of victimization and self-sacrifice also has a major role to play. It draws on other people’s feelings of compassion and kindness, and it is a way of getting their attention to one’s problems, one’s plights, and one’s suffering. A man sees himself as a victim because he has been physically assaulted or injured emotionally. It could also be because he was brought up to complain.

We sometimes act out a role in order to comfort ourselves. It can be an effective coping mechanism.

You can be more productive and effective if you carry out your work for the sake of the work itself, and not merely as a means to validate yourself.

Getting away from role-play is difficult but important. The most genuine a person gets is the moment when the unbeliever believes and when the person becomes face to face with the journey toward the Hereafter. Is life a stage? Are we the players? Do the masks fall away at the end?

Allah says: “[It will be said]: ‘You were certainly in heedlessness of this, and We have removed from you your cover, so your sight, this day, is sharp’.” [Sūrah Qāf: 22]

In times of crisis and tribulation, the full truth becomes clear.

When you pass away, how will others remember you? What will they say about you? Your ego persists even after death. Someone said that he wanted to have many people attend his funeral, so people can say his funeral has a big audience!

By Sheikh Dr Salman al-Oadah

Condolences to Grieving Families in Wake of Heartbreaking, Cowardly Attack on Peshawar School

Paul Salahuddin Armstrong

Schoolchildren cross a road as they move away from a military run school that is under attack by Taliban gunmen in PeshawarMy sincerest and heartfelt condolences to families grieving in Pakistan, on receiving the most appalling heartbreaking news of the loss of loved ones…

Murderers of children are the lowest of the low, cowardly criminal scumbags who have no concept of the sacred gift of Life, among the most precious of treasures gifted from the Divine Treasury.

To take lives so young, barely even started out on their first baby steps on life’s journey… How can such vile bandits as Daesh (ISIS) and Daesh Pakistan (Taliban) even talk of religion, let alone claim any moral high ground?

The sooner such filth is wiped from the face of the Earth, the better for all Humanity!

Sheikh Paul Salahuddin Armstrong

Co-Director, The Association of British Muslims
Director, KhilafahOnline

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UAE cabinet endorses new list of terrorist groups

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The groups blacklisted by the UAE were as follows:

1- UAE’s Muslim Brotherhood called Al-Islah
2- UAE terrorist cells
3- Karama organization
4- Uma Parties in the Gulf and Arabian Peninsula
5- Al-Qaeda
6- Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)
7- Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
8- Yemen’s Ansar al-Sharia
9- Muslim Brotherhood, both the organization and movement
10- Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiyya in Egypt
11- Bait al-Maqdis group in Egypt
12- Ajnad Misr (Soldiers of Egypt group)
13- Majlis Shura Al-Mujahedin Fi Aknaf Bayt Al-Maqdis (Mujahidin Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem, or MSC)
14- Yemen’s Houthi movement
15- Hezbollah party in Saudi Arabia’s Hijaz
16- Hezbollah in the Gulf region
17- Al-Qaeda in Iran
18- Badr organization in Iraq
19- Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, also known as the Khazali Network in Iraq
20- Fath al-Islam in Lebanon
21- Osbat Al-Ansar or Asbat an-Ansar (League of the Partisans) in Lebanon
22- Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)
23- Ansar Al-Sharia in Libya
24- Ansar Al-Sharia in Tunisia
25- Al-Shabab in Somalia
26- Boko Haram in Nigeria
27- Al-Murabitoon brigade in Mali
28- Ansar Al-Din movement in Mali
29- Haqani network in Pakistan
30- Lashkar Taiba in Pakistan
31- Eastern Turkestan Islamic Movement headquartered in Pakistan
32- Mohammed Army in Pakistan
33- Mohammed Army in India
34- Indian mujahideen in India/Kashmir
35- The Caucasus Emirate by Chechen militants
36- Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU)
37- Abu Sayyaf Islamist group in the Philippines
38- Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)
39- Alleanza Islamic d’Italia or Islamic Alliance in Italy
40- Islamic Association in Finland
41- Islamic Association in Norway
42- Islamic Relief Organization in the UK
43- The Cordoba Foundation in Britain
44- International Islamic Relief Organization belonging to the international Muslim Brotherhood
45- Taliban movement in Pakistan
46- Abu Thur al-Fiqari battalion in Syria
47- Al-Tawheed and Iman battalion in Syria
48- The Green Battalion or Al-Khadraa battalion in Syria
49- Al-Tawhid Brigade in Syria
50- Abu Bakr brigade in Syria
51- Talha bin Ubaidallah in Syria
52- Al-Sarim Al-Batar brigade in Syria
53- Abdullah bin Mubarak brigade in Syria
54- Convoys of Martyrs brigade in Syria
55- Abu Omar brigade in Syria
56- Ahrar Shumar or Free Shumars brigade in Syria
57- Hezbollah brigades in Iraq
58- Brigade of Abu Al-Fadl al-Abbas in Syria
59- Brigades of Al-Yom Al-Mawood (Destined Day in Iraq)
60- Battalion of Omar bin Yasir in Syria
61- Ansar Al-Islam group in Iraq
62- Nusra Front in Syira
63- Harakat Ahrar ash-Sham Al Islami (Islamic Movement of the Free Men of the Levant) in Syria
64- Jaish Al-Islam (Islam Army) in Palestine
65- Abdullah Azzam Brigades
66- Kanvaz in Belgrade, Serbia
67- The Muslim American Society (MAS)
68- Union of Muslim Scholars
69- Union of Islamic Organizations in Europe
70- Union of Islamic Organizations of France
71- Muslim Association of Britain (MAB)
72- Islamic Society of Germany
73- Islamic Society in Denmark
74- Islamic Society in Belgium
75- Sariyat Al-Jabal brigade in Syria
76- Al-Shahbaa brigade in Syria
77- Al-Qa’Qaa’ in Syria
78- Sufian Al-Thawri (Revolutionary Sufian brigade) in Syria
79- Abdulraham brigade in Syria
80- Omar bin Al-Khatab brigade in Syria
81- Al-Shayma brigade in Syria
82- Al-Haq brigade in Syria

Islamic State leader urges attacks in Saudi Arabia

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BEIRUT: Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi called for attacks against the rulers of Saudi Arabia in a speech purported to be in his name on Thursday, saying his self-declared caliphate was expanding there and in four other Arab countries.
Baghdadi also said a US.-led military campaign against his group in Syria and Iraq was failing and he called for “volcanoes of jihad” the world over.
Reuters could not independently confirm the authenticity of the speech – an audio recording carried on Islamic State-run social media. The voice sounded similar to a previous speech delivered by Baghdadi in July in a mosque in the Iraqi city of Mosul in July, the last time he spoke in public.
It followed contradictory accounts out of Iraq after US. air strikes last Friday about whether he was wounded in a raid. The United States said on Tuesday it could not confirm whether he was killed or wounded in Iraq following a strike near the city of Falluja.
Baghdadi urged supporters in Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, to take the fight to the rulers of the kingdom, which has joined the US.-led coalition in mounting air strikes against the Islamic State group in Syria.
“O sons of al-Haramayn…the serpent’s head and the stronghold of the disease are there…draw your swords and divorce life, because there should be no security for the Saloul,” Baghdadi said, using a derogatory term to refer to the leadership of Saudi Arabia.
Haramayn is a reference to the two holiest places in Islam — both of them in Saudi Arabia.
The speech was not dated but carried a reference to a Nov. 7 US. announcement that President Barack Obama had approved sending up to 1,500 more US. troops to Iraq.
Islamic State has seized swathes of Syria and Iraq and declared a caliphate over territory it controls in June. Baghdadi said he had accepted oaths of allegiance from supporters in Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Algeria.
“We announce to you the expansion of the Islamic State to new countries, to the countries of the Haramayn, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Algeria,” he said in the speech, in which he spoke at length on his group’s expansion.
“We announce the acceptance of the pledges of allegiance of the brothers who swore loyalty to us in these countries… and the appointment governors.”
Although supporters have pledged allegiance to Islamic State in countries including Lebanon, Pakistan and Afghanistan, Baghdadi singled out only those five states, picking countries where sympathisers have a strong base and could mount attacks.
He added, however: “Oh soldiers of the Islamic State…erupt volcanoes of jihad everywhere. Light the earth with fire against all dictators.”
Referring to U.S.-led military action against his group, he said: “Despite this Crusade campaign being the most fierce and severe of all, it is the greatest failure.”
“We see America and its allies stumbling in fear, weakness, impotence and failure.” The speech was transcribed in Arabic and translated into English.
Obama has said the United States aims to degrade and eventually destroy Islamic State, which has reshaped the Middle East by seizing large areas of Iraq and Syria and is imposing its radical interpretation of Sunni Islam.
Since Islamic State launched an offensive in Iraq in June, Riyadh has sent thousands of troops to the border area.
In June, King Abdullah pledged to take “all measures” to protect Saudi Arabia from Islamic State, which it has labelled a terrorist organisation.
At least 1,000 army soldiers, 1,000 national guardsmen and three helicopter units have arrived to reinforce the border area near the town of Arar since Islamic State’s advance in June, the commander of Saudi border guards in the area said in July.
Referring to Yemen, where Shia Houthis captured the capital Sanaa in September, forcing the government to resign, he said: “Oh soldiers of Yemen…be harsh against the Houthis, they are infidels and apostates. Fight them and win against them.”
Baghdadi also congratulated supporters in Egypt’s Sinai for starting jihad against what he called the “dictators of Egypt”. He also urged supporters in Libya, Algeria and Morocco to prevent secular groups from ruling.