If not peace, what’s next after ISIS defeat in Mosul?

By Ameen Izzadeen
Iraq’s victory over ISIS in Mosul is not the end of the road for the most ruthless terror group. Neither does it herald the beginning of a peaceful era in the land trod by prophets and peacemakers.
The troubles are far from over, with little or no effort being made to address their root causes. In all likelihood, the next powder keg is Kurdistan.
In many other regions of the world, periods of war follow periods of peace, but not so in the Middle East, birthplace of the world’s three main religions. Its soil has, perhaps, absorbed more blood than rainwater for the past several millennia. Are the people incapable of living in peace? Or, is war a way of life in the region? Nay, the people are the disposables in the political power games their rulers play in collusion with the West.
Be it the creation of Israel in 1947, the present ISIS terrorism or, the war on impoverished Yemen, the troubles have their origins in decisions made in London and Washington, and of late, in Riyadh and Tel Aviv.
Who created ISIS or the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria? ISIS is a dangerous byproduct of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. The blunders the West and the region’s arrogant rulers made created the breeding grounds for radicalism. Muslim youth are radicalised easily because they are angry. They are angry because, all they see around them is institutionalised injustice, for which they hold their corrupt rulers and the West responsible.
Global aid agency Mercy Corp, in a 2015 research report, said that more than poverty and unemployment, it’s the experience of injustice, discrimination and marginalisation, coupled with exposure to corruption, humiliation and violence, that triggers the decision for many to join radical groups. It is dignity, not dollars, the angry youth are after.
But the angry youth often become easy prey to manipulative mullahs, who, in turn, are handled by the big powers through their intelligence agencies. Terror leaders cite Quranic verses out of context and sayings falsely attributed to Prophet Muhammad to make terrorism alluring to the youth. Terrorism, if handled diligently, is an instrument used by certain big powers to achieve national interest goals. In hindsight, the origin of ISIS and the role it played in political events of the region appear that the group was part of a grand project aimed at Balkanising the region, beginning with a regime change in Syria. The divide-and-rule principle at play.
ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who is now confirmed dead, came into the scene from nowhere. He was taken to an American-run prison in Iraq as a ‘civilian detainee’ and allowed to make contacts with hardcore Islamists held there. This happened while the Arab Spring was sweeping the region in 2011.
Once released, he revived the Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) which had become defunct after the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Baghdadi’s popularity rose among Iraq’s Sunnis, after he successfully led a jailbreak in 2011 in Iraq, and freed some 3,000 Sunnis arrested on charges of terrorism. Adding credence to the claims that ISIS works for foreign powers, the freed Sunni prisoners were moved to Syria. A Hillary Clinton email published by WikiLeaks last year, had this to say: “… we need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region.”
It is worthwhile to mention here that the Taliban which captured power in Afghanistan in 1996, was created by Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence and supported by the Americans, the Saudis and the Emiratis.
The astonishing military success ISIS made in Syria, helped the group grow in confidence. It became a runaway terrorist outfit that took only money and weapons from its handlers, but not orders. It even severed all links with al-Qaeda’s leadership and fought al-Qaeda’s Syrian franchise Jabhat al Nusra.
While its handlers pondered how to deal with it, the terror group captured large parts of Iraq’s Sunni areas, including key cities such as Tikrit, Ramadi, Fallujah and Mosul. These victories made angry Sunni youths worldwide see ISIS as the promised liberator mentioned in the Prophet’s sayings. Across the globe, terror groups operating with Islamic labels pledged allegiance to ISIS.
With ISIS influence spread across the world, it is too early to say the demise of Baghdadi and the defeat in Mosul will sound the death knell for ISIS. As long as institutionalised injustice remains, terror groups will not face a shortage of recruits. It is in this context that the Iraqi government needs to redouble its efforts to woo its Sunni population. They are angry.
The Iraqi government’s victory became possible only after a brutal siege was laid to Mosul. There is virtually, not a single building that is standing, following nine-months of relentless airstrikes and artillery fire by Iraqi and US forces. The scenes of destruction can perhaps be comparable only to the kind of devastation the Allies brought upon Tokyo during World War II.
Now that the ISIS is virtually dead in Iraq and breathing its last in Syria, what’s next? Certainly, it is not peace. More conflicts are likely. Already, fears have been expressed about a military confrontation between the Kurds and Turkey. Even Iraq and Iran may be dragged into this conflict. The Kurds played a key role as a US ally in the defeat of ISIS in both Syria and Iraq. They are now set for major political manoeuvres. A referendum will be held on September 25 in the autonomous Kurdistan region in Iraq, to decide whether to go as a separate State. The outcome is a likely flashpoint in Iraq.
In Syria, the US is building a base in the Kurdish area, to be used as a backup facility, if Turkey decides to close down the NATO base in Incirlik. Already, Germany has begun withdrawing its troops from this base. A permanent NATO base in Syria is possible only if a Syrian Kurdish State emerges. Syria and its ally Russia will not agree to this. But the US has its own plans.
Despite US President Donald Trump’s boast about hands-on governance, the State Dept and the Pentagon do what they think is right. The Syrian ceasefire worked out last year by Russia and the Obama administration was scuttled by the Pentagon mandarins who were not happy about the truce.
Turkey, which is fighting its own Kurdish separatist insurrection, will not accept, without a fight, the emergence of independent Kurdish States on its borders. The two new Kurdish States, backed by the US and Israel, will also be a major security poser for Iran, a country with a minority Kurdish population.
Needless to say, the developments portend more bloodshed in a region where disputes are seldom settled peacefully.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Without cowing to Trump, India needs to build Asian unity

By Ameen Izzadeen
Behind the bear hug, one wonders, whether there were moves to outfox each other. By the looks of it, the awkward embrace between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and United States President Donald Trump underlined India’s endorsement of US hegemony and its willingness to be part of the US hegemonic designs, especially in Asia.
It was also a hug that sealed a partnership between two likeminded supremacists, who seem to harbour hatred towards minorities and who seem to count on populism to stay on in power. In the United States, Trump, perhaps, sending a signal to his white supremacist supporters broke with a 20-year tradition and did not host the traditional Iftar dinner during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. In India, sending a message of support to Hindu extremists, Modi’s Bharatiya Janatha Party ministers boycotted the Iftar ceremony hosted by President Pranab Mukherjee. With the two leaders sharing such negative values, no wonder Modi became the first world leader to have dinner with Trump at the White House.
It is nothing but baloney when they claimed during their joint news conference on Monday that the friendship between the United States and India was built on shared values and shared commitment to democracy. Democracies protect minority rights and uphold a secular order. In the two countries, events indicate that key democratic values have been observed more in the breach.
While Trump through executive orders institutionalises discriminatory practices such as the travel ban on Muslims and turns a blind eye to attacks on Muslims, Modi’s BJP has given a freehand to its hardline supporters to lynch Muslims in India. While Modi’s Hindutva supporters or Gau Rakshas (cow protectors) kill Muslims for eating beef, the Indian Prime Minister showed no signs of nausea when he hugged Trump, a beef eater who loves his steaks. Trump is the leader of the world’s number one beef-eating country. In a year, the Americans consume more than 25 billion pounds (or 11.3 billion kilograms) of beef. They slaughter more than 83 million cattle, including 23 million cows, a year. Hope cow vigilantes will take note of this.
Implied or explicit state patronage for violence against minorities is not democracy. But in realpolitik, values have little place. From 2005 to 2014, the United States denied a visa to Modi for his alleged role in the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat while he was the chief minister of that state. When Modi became the prime minister, the Barack Obama administration dumped human rights concerns into dustbin and lifted the restriction. This week’s visit was Modi’s fifth to the US.
Far from improving democracy, Modi’s meeting with Trump centred mainly on security cooperation and business.
India may feel it has every reason to describe the Modi visit as a major diplomatic victory because for the first time the United States had a tough message for India’s archrival Pakistan and for the first time India found in the White House a president who does not mince his words to deal with the so-called Islamic terror.
The White House warned Pakistan not to allow its territory to be used by groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba as a launch pad for terrorist attacks on other countries. A White House statement urged Pakistan to “expeditiously bring to justice” those behind the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks and last year’s attack on an Indian air base in Pathankot. Making India further happy, the US has also labelled Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Salahuddin a “specially designated global terrorist”.
But these words could be mere rhetoric. Reality could be different, because Washington can ill afford to antagonise Pakistan in view of the US war in Afghanistan. The Trump administration has no intention to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. It has, on the contrary, decided to increase the US military presence there to monitor Central Asia and counter-balance China’s westward economic expansion through its Belt and Road Initiative. Washington is unlikely to take any punitive measures against Pakistan simply to please India. Such an action, the US knows, will only push Islamabad further into China’s fold.
Besides, there is little consistency in Trump’s policies. It was only last month, Trump accused India of profiting from the Paris climate deal. And this week, he allows himself for a Modi hug and spoke nothing about climate. Trump described Qatar as a terrorist supporter but within days found Qatar as a worthy partner to enter into a US$ 12 billion fighter jet deal. Trump may find, much to India’s disappointment, Pakistan as a crucial player in US plans for the region. United States Defence Secretary James Mattis, at his confirmation hearing at the Senate Armed Forces Committee early this year, underlined the need to stay engaged with Pakistan while offering more incentives to that country to eradicate terrorism.
India, in return for the orders for 100 passenger aircraft, 22 drones and many other expensive deals that made Trump happy, wants the US to back its stance on Pakistan and Kashmir and New Delhi’s attempt to get a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council and membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Although Washington wants India to emerge as a bulwark to check China, the US support towards India’s needs has not been up to expectations. Yet, the Modi Government, it appears, is more than happy to do the US bidding. In recent years, India has increased defence contacts with the US and signed an agreement allowing the navies of both countries to use each other’s ports. Also New Delhi appears to be keen on forming a trilateral defence alliance with the US and Japan.
During Monday’s White House news conference, Modi said: “The strengthening of India’s defence capabilities, with the help of the United States, is something that we truly appreciate. We have also decided to enhance maritime security cooperation between the two nations.”
India, which is no more a champion of non-alignment and third world causes, perhaps, is making a mistake by aligning itself with the United States and portraying itself as a China’s military rival or Washington’s hitman. While military rivalry leads to a rise in defence expenditure and threatens the economic wellbeing of more than 1.5 billion people in India, close trade relations with China give rise to interdependency and, through it, peace and prosperity.
India’s future lies not in any defence alliance with the US, but in giving leadership to an Asia-centred economic bloc, including China, Japan and other Asian giants. It needs to review its opposition to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. By joining the BRI, India can not only prosper but also check China’s geopolitical ambitions, if it has any.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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London attacks: O judgment! Art thou fled to brutish beasts?

By Ameen Izzadeen
The London Finsbury Park mosque attack was not unexpected. If it did not happen last Sunday, it was only an incident waiting to happen. That the attacker retaliated in kind is significant.
“This is war … We have the right to fight back,” Britain’s far right groups declared on social media in defence of Monday’s attack in which one worshipper was killed and ten were wounded. The attacker, a father of four, plowed a white van into worshippers when they were coming out of the mosque after late night Ramadan prayers. He wanted to kill all Muslims. The incident was a replica of attacks carried out by Isis terrorists in recent months in London and other European cities. The message is that right-wing extremists are able to operate like a mirror image of Isis.
Rise up and cast Islam out of Britain, urged far-right extremists in social media messages. A British user of the American white supremacist site Stormfront described the attack as “A protest against these disgusting pigs”.
The rise of far right groups in Europe has been a serious concern to authorities since Norwegian far right terrorist Anders Behring Breivik in two terror attacks on July 22, 2011 killed 77 people, mostly innocent youths at a summer camp.
True, the far-right United Kingdom Independent Party fared miserably at the June 8 British elections and in France, Marine Le Pen of the far right National Front failed to win the French presidential election in May. But in other European countries such as Hungary, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and Greece, right wing political groups have made significant gains in recent years and their membership is rising. They see Muslims as enemies and Islam as a threat to their way of life. The enmity increases with every Isis terror attack.
Isis terrorists are not unaware that every terror act they commit will go to strengthen far-right groups. They surely know that their attacks will only make Muslims in the West a target of Islamophobes, who have become more aggressive following Britain’s Brexit vote. According to the Guardian newspaper, the number of Islamophobic attacks in Manchester went up fivefold in the week after the concert bombing, with 139 incidents reported to Tell Mama, a group recording Islamophobic crimes, compared to 25 incidents the previous week.
It appears that either there exists a secret deal between the Isis and the far-right groups or they want to start the clash of civilisations.
However, one cannot expect the West to be peaceful and terror-free when the West is mainly responsible for the bloody mayhem in the Middle East. The Palestinians have been suffering for 70 years, because Britain’s Balfour declaration made 100 years ago allowed the creation of Israel on Palestinian land. As a result of the West’s meddling in Libya, Syria and Iraq, tens of millions of people are going through untold hardships. Britain’s Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, an anti-war activist, could see it. In a statement following last month’s Manchester arena bomb attack, he said: “Many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services, have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries and terrorism here at home.”
To combat terrorism, Prime Minister Theresa May, on the contrary, took a position similar to the far-right thinking. She threatened to tear up human rights laws, saying “If our human rights laws stop us from doing it, we will change the laws so we can do it.”
With democratic leaders making such outlandish statements, we are only accelerating our reverse journey towards barbarism. It should not be called a clash of civilisations, for the civlised are capable of avoiding violence. If at all, it will be a clash of those who have hijacked religion and turned it into an ideology for violence, hatred and intolerance.
The so-called Jihadists – call them khwarijs or those who have exited Islam – and the far-right supremacists want such a clash – an Armageddon of sorts between evil forces. One wants to nuke Makkah or kill all Muslims and the other wants to rid the world of all those who do not subscribe to the terrorists’ interpretation of Islam.
The silent majority the world over – like most Londoners — long for a world order based on peace and justice, a world order sustained by a dialogue among civilisations. Cohabitation instead of conflict should be the way forward, but the forces of evil see violence and hatred as means to establish an iniquitous order with supremacists in control. Sadly, even in countries like Sri Lanka, India and Myanmar racist forces and bigots carry out their hate campaigns with impunity, with the State turning a blind eye to hate-mongering or lacking the political will to root out the evil.
Besides racist and extremist ideologies, there are other forces that work against a peaceful world order where pluralism is respected and unity in diversity is seen as strength. With a Donald Trump in Washington, a Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel and a King Salman in Saudi Arabia, the threat to a peaceful world order is, perhaps, at an all-time high.
Backed by white supremacists and surrounded by Islam-haters, Trump relishes anti-Muslim rhetoric. The only good Muslims for him are those who make deals with him – like the Gulf royals.
Since Trump’s election to power, anti-Muslim incidents have been rising at an alarming rate. He is quick to take to twitter to congratulate himself for taking an anti-Muslim posture whenever the so-called Islamic terror takes place. But he hardly condemns or is slow to condemn white supremacist attacks such as the Portland incident where two Americans died trying to protect two Muslim women from a knife-wielding white supremacist or the Finsbury Park attack.
Netanyahu, whom Trump and most US Congress members dutifully serve, represents Zionist supremacism while King Salman symbolises Sunni bigotry. The three extremist ideologies – white supremacy, Zionism and Sunni extremism –openly cooperate to sustain a conflict-ridden world order for the benefit of a few at the cost of seven billion people who suffer.
That supremacism and bigotry still exist indicates that civilisation has not kept pace with advancements human beings have made in science and technology. It appears that we are virtually still in the state of nature, which, according to the 18th century political philosopher Thomas Hobbes, is a “war of every man against every man,” a constant and violent condition of competition where existence is nasty, brutish, and short. Shakespeare said, in Julius Caesar, “O Judgment! Thou art fled to brutish beasts, and men have lost their reason!”
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Saudi-Qatari rift: Submission is survival

By Ameen Izzadeen
In the sea of world politics, it is a norm that the big fish eats the small fish. For small States, sovereignty is a myth. When the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) was formed in 1981, some Arab analysts saw it as an attempt by Saudi Arabia to swallow up the small emirates on its eastern borders.
In effect, the GCC is a Saudi-led defence bloc, as much as an economic bloc. Since the 2011 Arab Spring shock, Riyadh has resorted to aggressive and assertive diplomacy to maintain the Saudi-led political order in the troubled Middle East. For disobeying its dictates, Yemen is paying a huge price. Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain have genuflected in tribal style to the Saudis — but not Qatar and, to some extent, Oman. The two nations maintain friendly ties with Iran, largely for economic reasons, and have refused to endorse Saudi Arabia’s anti-Shiite hatred.
In January last year, when Saudi Arabia wanted all GCC members to sever ties with Iran, following a mob attack on the Saudi embassy in Teheran, oil-and-gas-rich Qatar only recalled its ambassador, without severing ties with Iran. Qatar feels it needs to maintain good relations with Iran for it to jointly explore the North Field-South Pars gas fields in the seas between Qatar and Iran. (See map)
Qatar, which has a history of troubled relations with Saudi Arabia, has been asserting its political independence in recent years, much to the chagrin of Riyadh. Qatar’s outreach to Iran and its support for Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood have infuriated the Saudis. Moreover, the relatively independent reporting of the Doha-based al Jazeeera has also been a bone of contention.
The Qataris also resent Saudi Arabia’s interference in their internal affairs. Border disputes and a Saudi hand in palace coups have also soured relations. Against this backdrop, Qatar saw an opportunity in the Arab Spring to put in motion a Middle Eastern order scripted by it. It supported the Arab Spring, while Saudi Arabia, shocked by the courage of the Arab masses, feared a similar uprising in the kingdom. To say that Saudi Arabia is no lover of democracy, is an understatement. It chops off the head of democracy at first sight, just as it chops off the heads of dissidents such as Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, the leader of Saudi Arabia’s Shiites, who make up 10 percent of the population. His crime was demanding democracy and political reforms, just as the Americans demanded a greater say in government, when they rose against the Brits in the 1700s, shouting “No taxation without representation.”
Neither is Qatar an advocate of democracy. While the Saudis unsuccessfully tried to prop up the autocracy of Hosni Mubarak, Qatar’s support for Egypt’s Arab Spring and the Muslim Brotherhood, which was elected to power in Egypt’s first ever democratic elections, was largely geopolitical. With Egypt under its wraps, Qatar set sight on regime change in Libya, providing arms and money to anti-Gaddafi rebels, some of whom were al-Qaeda affiliates and foreign fighters. No sooner the Muammar Gaddafi regime was overthrown than Qatar targeted Syria for the next regime change exercise. The lightning speed with which Qatar moved from one theatre to another gave the Saudis little time to respond or check the high-riding Qataris and the growing popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood across the region. Qatar’s plan was to open, via Egypt, a support and supply line to the Syrian Brotherhood which, having fought a rebellion against Damascus in 1982, was the most powerful dissident group in Syria.
When the dust settled on the Arab world after the Arab Spring upheaval, Saudi Arabia, together with the UAE, rolled out their plan to oust the Brotherhood government in Egypt. Although the United States was seen adopting an equidistant policy, vis-à-vis the Saudi-Qatari rivalry, it discreetly backed the Saudi moves. This was because the Brotherhood government looked east towards Iran and China.
Qatar poured in billions of US dollars to help Egypt’s Brotherhood government overcome its economic woes. But, secret US-Saudi counter-moves contributed to the early collapse of the Brotherhood government and the return of the military in civilian garb, with pseudo democratic credentials.
In Syria, Qatar continued to support the Brotherhood, while the Saudis, it is alleged, relied on Al Qaeda- and ISIS-backed groups to topple the Syrian government. Leaked Hillary Clinton emails also confirm Qatar’s and Saudi Arabia’s links with extremist groups. Hence, the Saudi accusation that Qatar supported terrorism smacks of hypocrisy of the worst order. On Wednesday, Wahhabi/Takfiri terrorists struck in Iran, much to the glee of the Saudis and Washington. Donald Trump’s White House said in a statement: “We underscore that States that sponsor terrorism, risk falling victim to the evil they promote.” Of course, such a statement can be said of 9/11 and the recent acts of terrorism in Europe.
In March 2014, the rift between Saudi Arabia and Qatar reached its nadir, with Qatar facing a crisis similar to what it experiences now. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE recalled their ambassadors from Qatar, while Riyadh even threatened to impose a sea-and-land blockade, forcing Qatar’s young emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani to mend his country’s policies to placate the Saudis.
The present crisis appears more serious than the 2014 fallout. The Saudis and their vassal States, including the tiny Maldives, have severed ties with Qatar and imposed an economic blockade, after accusing it of supporting extremism.
The tough punitive measures followed reports—the result of an alleged hacking of the Qatari news agency—that the Qatari emir cautioned allies against confrontation with Iran, and defended the Palestinian resistance group Hamas and Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shi’ite movement allied with Teheran.
Incidentally, the Saudi-led moves followed email leaks that exposed the UAE’s back channel ties with Israel. The leaks broadcast through Al-Jazeera said the UAE’s US ambassador maintained close relations with pro-Israeli think tanks in the US. It is no secret that the policies of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Israel merge well with regard to their hostility towards Iran. It is noteworthy to mention that Israel was quick to welcome Saudi Arabia’s moves against Qatar. Besides, the Saudi foreign minister has insisted that Qatar sever its links with Hamas, if it wants the kingdom to normalise relations.
The shenanigans are as shocking as they are treacherous. Israel occupies the Palestinian land, including Jerusalem—and the custodian of Islam’s holiest shrines wants Palestinian freedom fighters penalised. The noble King Faisal, who restored Saudi pride with the oil boycott of 1973, in retaliation to US support for Israel, must be turning in his grave.
Given the Trump administration’s Saudi bias, Qatar, which is home to the biggest US military base in the Middle East, has no option but to surrender before the might of the Saudis, and be a Bahrain. It appears there is no end to the flow of the Middle East’s troubles.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Riyadh summit: The Trump card was a joker

By Ameen Izzadeen
The Arabic word Riyadh means meadow. A slight variation of the word, or if one adds the letter Ta Marbuta at the end, the word will read Riyadhah, meaning a sport. Well, what a spectacle Donald Trump’s Riyadh reception last week was? Its dangerous repercussions were felt on Monday night in Manchester where during a pop concert, 22 people, mostly children, died in a suicide bomb attack carried out by a killer who allegedly professed the very extremism that Trump condemned and wanted his Arab-Islamic hosts to fight.
It was a spectacle, nay charade, because the Trump speech lacked depth and it sounded as though it was custom-made for the Saudis. There was more Iran bashing than ISIS bashing. In fact, Iran was projected as a bigger terrorist than ISIS. It made aging Saudi King Salman happy.
But no one is pointing a finger at Iran for the Manchester bomb. Instead, the focus should be on Saudi Arabia. But Britain, the United States or any other European power won’t point the finger at Saudi Arabia because of economic relations. They all milk the Saudi cow which also offers ideological milk to terrorists.
No condemnation of extremism is complete if it does not denounce forces behind such extremism. Well, it was no secret that some of the Riyadh summit leaders are culpable for the spread of violence in the name of Islam to achieve political ends.
Money, munitions and ideological support from Gulf Arab nations and Sunni bigots sustain the monster the Manchester bomber represented. In its insatiable thirst for human blood, millions of people – both Muslims and non-Muslims — in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Somalia, France, Belgium, Britain, the United States and scores of other countries have become its victims since 9/11.
Nevertheless, many Arab nations struck a strategic alliance with the extremists for a regime-change game first in Libya and then in Syria. Joining this unholy alliance was the West, including Britain and France. The European nations turned a blind eye when hundreds, if not thousands, of European-based jihadi extremists moved to Libya and Syria, while the United States sent special forces to train the extremists, whom the West, by way of deception, called moderate rebels.
After the success in Libya, the rich and powerful Arab nations together with the Western powers turned their attention to topple the Bashar al-Assad regime, and they did not mind even if it meant an alliance with the most ruthless terrorist groups. The Manchester massacre was a result of such myopic policies. It is said Manchester bomber Salman Abedi was radicalised by Libyan extremists.
Trump’s Riyadh speech was at best a sales talk, for it deliberately avoided including any mention of these home truths — or where the roots of this dangerous ideology lay – and secured US$ 450 billion sales.
Absent in Trump’s fake speech was any mention that the ISIS follows the same Wahhabi-Salafi Islam that is zealously promoted by Saudi Arabia. It was an ideology rooted in Ash’arism that stopped the progressive march of Mutazilism or rational Islam, which, during the Abbasid Caliphate (from the 8th to 13th century), took the Islamic world to the peak of science and philosophy, and brought life to an intellectually dying world, especially Europe. Ash’arism, with its anthropomorphic interpretation of matters spiritual contributed to the intellectual fall of the Islamic world. With its rise, the method of inquiry-based Islamic learning disappeared. Taqlid, or blindly following so-called scholars, became established. The spirit of Islam was ignored and the letter was liberally misused to suit the agendas of the ruling elite. Centuries later, with the discovery of oil and the establishment of Wahhabism, the Arab world became servile to the technologically advanced and militarily superior West. With all the money generated from oil, none of the Arab states, which came into being after the Arab betrayal of the Ottoman Empire, could rise as a knowledge-based nation, capable of making discoveries in science and medicine. Since they emerged as independent nations, their statecraft has been putting their trusts in one big power or another for survival, while suppressing dissent and democracy at home.
The dependence was evident when Saudi Arabia signed US$ 450 billion worth deals with the United States during the visit of Trump. The leader of the world’s most vibrant democracy said nothing about the Arab world’s pathetic human rights record or lack of democracy. The US$ 450 billion deal was a form of bribe to keep the new US president, a maverick of sort, on the side of Saudi Arabia, vis-à-vis the Sunni kingdom’s hostility towards Shiite Iran and the Assad regime in Syria. The bribe is also to buy the Trump administration’s connivance so that the Saudis could continue their excesses with impunity in Yemen, where thousands of children die of cholera and malnutrition if they are not killed by Saudi bombs.
Days after selling US$ 110 billion worth of arms to the Saudis, Trump the arms salesman on Wednesday had no qualms about meeting Pope Francis, who has denounced the arms industry as an evil that promotes conflicts and prevents peace. The meeting with the pontiff came after his visits to Israel and the West Bank, where just as his fake speech in Riyadh, his pledge to revive the peace process sounded empty.
Incidentally, whatever the arms the Saudis buy from the US cannot be used against Israel: That’s the caveat linked to the deal. Even if they are allowed to, it is unlikely that the Saudis will take up arms against Israel to free Palestine. They will fight only weak enemies – the poverty-stricken and under-nourished Yemenis or the unarmed pro-democracy protesters in Bahrain. Neither the Saudis nor any of the 50-odd Arab and Islamic leaders at the so-called Arab-Islamic-American summit corrected Trump for linking Palestinian group Hamas with al-Qaeda, Isis and Hezbollah. Ritualistic-minded Saudi King Salman told Trump not to drink from his left hand, but would not tell him that Hamas is a liberation movement. So much for their commitment to the liberation of Palestine!
Trump in his Sunday sermon to the Saudis said he did not come to lecture Arabs and Muslims what to do, but then he went on to give a lecture, urging the Muslims to condemn Islamic terrorism, and then assuming a holier-than-thou position, described the fight against Islamic terrorism as a war between good and evil.
In the runup to the presidential election, Trump had called for “a complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” He had said “Islam hates us”. Embattled at home for his alleged Russian connections, Trump is neither an Islamophobe nor an admirer of Islam, the faith of the world’s 1.7 billion people. He is a salesman and bully. And he got what he wanted from the Riyadh visit – billions of dollars and the Arab world’s submission.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror of Sri Lanka)

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Tuesday night massacre: Trump’s Watergate moment

By Ameen Izzadeen
The moment of truth has come for the United States. But in politics, truth is rarely told — and if told, it is told for a self-centred motive. Therefore it is naïve to assume that the embattled White House will tell the truth and nothing but the truth with regard to the allegation that Donald Trump had collaborated with Russia to get elected at the November 2016 election.
In Trump’s victory at the 2016 election, there is always more than meets the eye. So is it in Tuesday night’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, ostensibly on the grounds that he was not handling the Hillary Clinton email probe well. Trump said he fired Comey “because he wasn’t doing a good job.”
But Comey was also conducting investigations into allegations that Russia had a role in the Hillary Clinton email leaks and that the Trump team collaborated with Russia to influence the outcome of the election. It was only days before he was fired that Comey sought more funds for the Russia probe. Sacking the FBI director is nothing unusual. Bill Clinton did it in 1993. But people smell a rat when it’s done in the midst of a crucial investigation.
The allegations are serious. So is the sacking of Comey. The media could not resist the temptation of drawing parallels between the Comey crisis and the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of US President Richard Nixon in 1974.
Yes, it is now becoming more than clear that Trump’s Watergate moment has come. Nixon fired special prosecutor Archibald Cox, who was investigating allegations that the White House had a role in the break-in at the Democratic Party office situated at the Watergate Complex in Washington DC.
Analysts said that Cox was close to prove that Nixon was part of the scandal. He asked the White House to release the tapes of conversations the President had secretly recorded. Nixon refused to oblige. Despite a public outcry for the President to comply with the request, a defiant Nixon first issued an order instructing Cox that he should seek no further material from the White House, and then sacked him in what came to be known as ‘the Saturday Night Massacre’. Alas! It only expedited Nixon’s fall from whatever grace he had been left with by then. With the Democrats dominating Congress, Nixon faced the prospect of being impeached. Unable to face the ignominy, he resigned.
Now, history appears to be repeating itself.
Most opposition Democratic Party politicians believe that Comey was fired because, like Cox, he was closing in on the truth.
What could this truth be? Given the controversies that scuttled Clinton’s chances at the election and Trump’s admiration for Russia, it appears that the allegations regarding Trump’s Russian connections are not totally without any basis.
Days before Trump’s inauguration on January 20, a dossier prepared by a former British spy working for private clients claimed that the Russians were in possession of some salacious video tapes of the President-elect.
If these claims were true, then hats off to Putin for his ingenuity. Perhaps, for the first time, a state, other than Israel, has demonstrated its ability to influence the outcome of the US presidential election.
The claims that Putin had unleashed a regime change operation in the US are not altogether surprising, given his animosity arising from Washington’s disdain for Russia’s security concerns, especially with regard to Ukraine. A US-engineered coup in Ukraine in 2014 overthrew the pro-Russian government there, prompting Russia to annex Crimea.
The ex-British spy identified as Christopher Steele, by July last year, had collected enough material. He felt the information was explosive and its implications could be overwhelming. The agent shared his dossier with his friends in the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), but he doubted FBI chief Comey’s impartiality. This was because, days before the elections, Comey scuttled Clinton’s chances of victory by announcing he was launching a fresh probe into Clinton emails – a move that, in the voters’ mind, raised questions about Clinton’s ability to hold the post of commander in chief.
The Bureau indeed opened an investigation into Trump and his team’s dealings with Russia, though it did not make an announcement, fearing that it might be interpreted as interfering with the vote. But following a meeting Republican Senator John McCain had with Comey after the election, US intelligence chiefs – including Comey — met the President-elect. They had showed him Steele’s dossier and a memo based on it. No sooner this meeting took place than CNN and Buzzfeed carried the dossier’s contents, prompting Trump to rubbish them as fake news and accuse the intelligence agencies of leaking the dossier to the media.
One of the shocking claims the dossier made was: Trump booked into Moscow’s Ritz hotel and occupied the same room President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle had once occupied. He had allegedly watched prostitutes perform a ‘golden showers’ act (urination) on the bed to express his deep dislike for the Obamas.
The dossier claimed that the Russians were secretly filming the perverted sex acts in the room. If the claims are true, it means the Russians have compromising material or immense liverage on the next US president. The dossier also claimed that Russia had been ‘cultivating, supporting and assisting Trump for at least five years.
Strangely enough, nothing brings out the Trump administration’s Russian connection like its decision last month to fire 59 Tomahawk missiles at Syria, Russia’s closest ally in the Middle East. It was an attack aimed not so much at destroying Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s air power. It was rather a well calculated measure aimed at misleading the gullible American people into believing that Trump had no special love for Russia.
On Wednesday, visiting the White House for a meeting with President Trump to further strengthen the ties were Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, the diplomat in the centre of many a controversy linked to the Trump administration. Trump’s National Security Advisor Michael Flynn resigned in February following disclosures that he had discussed with Kislyak policy issues – including the possibility of lifting economic sanctions on Russia. Apart from Flynn, several top Trump officials, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, have come under scrutiny for their Russian links.
Fortunately, for Trump, the Democratic Party is in minority in both the Houses of Congress. Also, quite a number of Republican lawmakers are firmly behind him and are willing to give the President the benefit of the doubt. Therefore, in their support, the President will have some respite. But the question is: For how long? This is because the US system— though it is scoffed at by Trump supporters as an instrument of the Deep State – is not known to have allowed those who wield power to abuse or misuse it. The US constitution, regarded as the best man-made document on the face of the earth, gives those who abuse political power enough ropes to hang themselves.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Just as apartheid ended in South Africa, so will it in Palestine

By Ameen Izzadeen
Since the creation of Israel in 1948, almost all United States’ Presidents have been either ignorant of the true story behind the Palestinians’ suffering or advocates of injustice, however much the victimised Palestinians shout ‘Nakba, Nakba.’
Perhaps, the only exception was President Jimmy Carter. He understood what Nakba meant to the Palestinians. The Arabic word an-Nakba, meaning catastrophe, refers to the forceful expulsion or ethnic cleansing of more than 700,000 Palestinians from their homes and villages when Israel was created in 1948. In May every year, millions of Palestinian refugees mark this catastrophic event by defiantly holding high the corroded keys of their houses – a resolute portrayal of their desire to return to their original homes one day. Nakba protests are held in Palestine and worldwide in the hope that such protests would make the world leaders to shed their indifference to the Palestinians’ plight.
Despite pressure from the Zionist lobby, Carter in 1978 succeeded in making peace between Egypt and Israel after strenuous negotiations at the presidential holiday resort at Camp David. However, his attempts to solve the Palestinian crisis failed largely because Israel’s intransigence. Decades after he left office, he poured out his grievances in his book ‘Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid’, blaming Israel for not fulfilling its part of the deal in terms of the Camp David agreement and thereby killing a possible a solution to the Palestinian crisis.
Donald Trump, the present incumbent of the White House, is certainly not a Jimmy Carter. Given Trump’s pro-Israeli bias, many Palestinians believe their dream of statehood may turn into a nightmare. Trump has renounced support for the Palestinian statehood and vowed to move the United States’ embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a Palestinian city under occupation since 1967. Yet for the Palestinians, a modicum of hope emerges in the form of Trump’s unorthodox style of policymaking.
Such a hope thinly pervaded Wednesday’s talks between Trump and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House.
“We will get it done,” Trump told Abbas, claiming that the US was committed to helping Israel and the Palestinians reach peace. “I’ve always heard that perhaps the toughest deal to make is the deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Let’s see if we can prove them wrong,” Trump said.
In February, the US President met Israel’s hardline Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House. Trump then told a White House news conference that Washington would no longer insist on the creation of a Palestinian state as part of a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians.
“I’m looking at two-state and one-state…. I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one,” Trump said nonchalantly. He, however, urged Netanyahu to temporarily halt Israel’s settlement building activities in the occupied — or robbed — Palestinian land.
A just solution has eluded the Palestinian crisis for the past seven decades, largely because of the blind support the US presidents and most politicians extend to Israel. They have no compunction in covering up Israel’s atrocities. For them, the security of Israel, a nuclear power and the world’s eighth powerful nation in terms of military strength, is more important than the Palestinians’ aspiration for peace and justice.
Yet the Palestinians keep hope in the US – the dishonest peace broker, which, by using filibustering tactics, allows Israel to annex the remaining parts of Palestine in keeping with the Zionists’ secret project that seeks to establish Eretz Israel or Greater (historic or mythical) Israel extending from the Nile in Egypt to the Euphrates in Iraq. In 1947, under an outrageously unfair United Nations resolution, the then British-controlled Palestine was partitioned, giving 45 percent of land to the territory’s 70 percent Palestinians and 55 percent to the Jews who were 30 percent of the population, with most of them being immigrants from Europe.
Several wars between fainthearted Arab nations and Israel since 1948 have only aggravated the Palestinians’ plight, while the guerrilla war launched by various Palestinian groups saw the terrorist label being slapped on Palestinian freedom fighters, much to the delight of Israel. With every war which ended in the defeat of the Arab side, Israel annexed more and more territory.
At present the Palestinians hold a mere 17 percent of the 45 percent territory the UN partition plan offered them in 1947. Besides, Israel has grabbed much of the water resources and fertile land, on which the Palestinians once grew the world famous Jaffa oranges and top quality olives, among other crops.
The 1993 Oslo accord appeared as a solution, but Israel dishonoured the deal and blamed the Palestinians for its collapse.
Encouraged by the pro-Israeli bias of the Trump administration, the Zionist nation has passed a series of new laws that legalise land grab and impose a travel ban on activists advocating the BDS – Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions – campaign against Israel.
The Trump administration has made no criticism of these unjust Israeli laws. Yet the Palestinians hope that Trump would be the President for peace in Palestine. Even Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal this week called on Trump to break with past approaches to Middle East peace. In a surprise move, Hamas this week recognised the 1967 borders as the borders of the future Palestinian state, thus, for the first time, indirectly recognising Israel’s right to exist on the other side of the 1967 borders. Hamas had earlier campaigned for the setting up of the Palestinian state within the 1947 borders prior to the partition.
With Syria and North Korea dominating the international agenda, the Palestinian issue remains virtually unaddressed. Even the ongoing hunger strike by more than 1,800 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails has not attracted enough world attention to resurrect the peace process. Countries which once championed the Palestinian freedom struggle are now cozying up to Israel in an apparent bid to be on the good books of Trump. Sri Lanka, for instance, this week abstained from voting in favour of a pro-Palestinian resolution at UNESCO — the second time the so-called good governance Government exposed its moral bankruptcy in foreign policy in as many years. What’s worse, some Arab nations in their animosity towards Shiite Iran are seen to be in collusion with Israel.
But the Palestinians should not lose hope. Concerted international activism ended apartheid in South Africa in 1991. In 1977, Commonwealth leaders signed the Gleneagles agreement to discourage sporting contact with South Africa. Similar activism – let’s begin the sports boycott — can one day free the Palestinians from the yoke of Israeli colonialism.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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