August 2012 Archives

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Father Roy writes:  Asa Winstanley is a journalist from London who has lived and worked in occupied Palestine.  His website is:www.winstanleys.org….  Nurit Peled-Elhanan is an Israeli language and education professor.  Nurit is Miko’s sister.   Peace, Roy

Nb. the highlights below are courtesy of Father Roy

electronicintifada.net…

Book review: how Israeli school textbooks teach kids to hate

Asa Winstanley 

London 

The Electronic Intifada 

11 August 2012

 At the height of Israel’s brutal 2008-09 assault on the Gaza Strip, then-foreign minister Tzipi Livni claimed that “Palestinians teach their children to hate us and we teach love thy neighbor” (232).

The first part of this myth is propagated by people like US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and more recently Newt Gingrich, who both spread the baseless claim that Palestinian schoolbooks teach anti-Semitism. This calumny originated with anti-Palestinian propagandandists such as Israeli settler Itamar Marcus and his “Palestinian Media Watch.”

In an important new book, Palestine in Israeli School Books,Israeli language and education professor Nurit Peled-Elhanan buries the second part of Livni’s myth once and for all.

Peled-Elhanan examines 17 Israeli school textbooks on history, geography and civic studies. Her conclusions are an indictment of the Israeli system of indoctrination and its cultivation of anti-Arab racism from an early age: “The books studied here harness the past to the benefit of the … Israeli policy of expansion, whether they were published during leftist or right-wing [education] ministries” (224).

She goes into great detail, examining and exposing the sometimes complex and subtle ways this is achieved. Her expertise in semiotics (the study of signs and symbols) comes to the fore.

Inculcation of anti-Palestinian ideology in the minds of Israel’s youth is achieved in the books through the use of exclusion and absence: “none of the textbooks studied here includes, whether verbally or visually, any positive cultural or social aspect of Palestinian life-world: neither literature nor poetry, neither history nor agriculture, neither art nor architecture, neither customs nor traditions are ever mentioned” (49).

Palestinians marginalized, demonized by Israeli textbooks

On the occasions Palestinians (including Palestinian citizens of Israel) are mentioned, it is in an overwhelmingly negative, Orientalist and demeaning light: “all [the books] represent [Palestinians] in racist icons or demeaning classificatory images such as terrorists, refugees and primitive farmers — the three ‘problems’ they constitute for Israel” (49).

For example in MTII [Modern Times II, a 1999 history text book] there are only two photographs of Palestinians, one of face-covered Palestinian children throwing stones ‘at our forces’ … [t]he other photograph is of ‘refugees’ … placed in a nameless street” (72).

This what Peled-Elhanan terms “strategies of negative representation.” She explains that “Palestinians are often referred to as ‘the Palestinian problem.’” While this expression is even used by writers considered “progressive,” the term “was salient in the ultra-right-wing ideology and propaganda of Meir Kahane,” the late Israeli politician and rabbi who openly called for the Palestinians to be expelled. Peled-Elhanan finds this disturbing, coming as it does “only 60 years after the Jews were called ‘The Jewish Problem’ ” (65).

She reprints examples of the crude Orientalist cartoon representations of Arabs, “imported into Israeli school book [sic] from European illustrations of books such as The Arabian Nights” (74). Arab men stand, dressed in Oriental garb, often riding camels. The cartoons of Arab women show them seated submissively, dressed in traditional outfits. Meanwhile, two Israelis on the same page are “depicted as a ‘normal’ — though caricaturistic — Western couple, unmarked by any ‘Jewish’ or ‘other’ object-signs” (110-11). The message is clear: Arabs do not belong here with “us.”

Justifications for massacre

Peled-Elhanan concludes: “The books studied here present Israeli-Jewish culture as superior to the Arab-Palestinian one, Israeli-Jewish concepts of progress as superior to Palestinian-Arab way of life and Israeli-Jewish behavior as aligning with universal values” (230).

While Israeli war crimes are not entirely ignored, the textbooks do their best to downplay or justify massacres and ethnic cleansing. “[T]he Israeli version of events are stated as objective facts, while the Palestinian-Arab versions are stated as possibility, realized in openings such as ‘According to the Arab version’ … [or] ‘Dier [sic.] Yassin became a myth in the Palestinian narrative … a horrifying negative image of the Jewish conqueror in the eyes of Israel’s Arabs’ ” (50-1).

Deir Yassin was a Palestinian village where, in 1948, a notorious massacre of around 100 persons by terrorists from the Zionist militias Irgun, Lehi and Hagana took place. Yet note in the example above that is is only the negative image of Israel that is “horrifying.” The massacre of unarmed men, women and children is otherwise not a cause for concern.

Israeli education going backwards

With reference to previous studies of Israeli school textbooks, Peled-Elhanan finds that, despite some signs of improvement in the 1990s, the more recent books she examined have if anything got worse. The issue of the Nakba, the forced expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland in 1948, is for the most part not ignored, but instead justified.

For example, in all the books mentioning Deir Yassin, the massacre is justified because: “the slaughter of friendly Palestinians brought about the flight of other Palestinians which enabled the establishment of a coherent Jewish state” — a result so self-evidently good it doesn’t need explaining (178).

Contrary to the hope of previous studies “for ‘the appearance of a new narrative in [Israeli] history textbooks’ … some of the most recent school books (2003-09) regress to the ‘first generation’ [1950s] accounts — when archival information was less accessible — and are, like them ‘replete with bias, prejudice, errors, [and] misrepresentations’ ” (228).

There is some sloppy editing here, and the academic jargon at times slips into the realm of mystifying. But those quibbles aside, Peled-Elhanan’s book is the definitive account of just how Israeli schoolchildren are brainwashed by the state and society into hatred and contempt of Palestinians and Arabs, immediately before the time they are due to enter the army as young conscripts.

Asa Winstanley is a journalist from London who has lived and work in occupied Palestine. His website is: www.winstanleys.org….

Palestine in Israeli School Books: Ideology and Propaganda in Education

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Father Roy writes:   Canada’s Jewish Community is “outraged”.  Pasted below and here are two posts which will explain.  My Allies and I regard Israel’s settlements policy as a “morally reckless path”.  See:  Jewish Settlers Part 1/5 – (08:31)   Peace, Roy

Nb. highlights are courtesy of Father Roy 

United Church of Canada votes to boycott West Bank products

Canadian Jewish organization ‘outraged’ over what it calls amorally reckless path

August 16, 2012, 4:32 am

The United Church of Canada voted Wednesday to boycott Israeli products made in the West Bank, drawing immediate criticism from the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

The center announced its outrage at the decision in a statement, adding that it was “equally offended by the Church’s expression of regret for previously calling for Palestinian recognition of Israel’s Jewish character. This decision represents a radical shift in the United Church’s policies, betrays the views of the vast majority of its members, and flies in the face of decades of constructive interfaith dialogue.”

The center’s statement called the decision to boycott a “morally reckless path” and said that it “was driven by narrow ideology rather than by a desire to faithfully represent the views of the membership

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Here’s a powerful reflection on Al Quds Day by Rev. Stephen Sizer (with highlights courtesy of Father Roy Hayes).

From my perspective, the media has done everything possible to destroy Al Quds Day this year. They have labelled it a day of hate and they slander those who take part in it, though all the persons I know who are involved have had no other concern but to remember the suffering of their oppressed sisters and brothers in Palestine. It’s a time-tested tactic – make a lot of noise and slander the protestors, and so divert attention away from the real issues that Al Quds Day is supposed to highlight.

Thank you, brother Steve, for restoring some balance to the debate by bringing us to the heart of the issue.

Dave

Souce: stephensizer.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/al-quds-day.html

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What are your hopes for Al Quds? What is your vision for Jerusalem? What do you pray for Yerushaláyim? Is it for a return to 1967 and Jordanian rule? Or the British Mandate of 1917? The Ottoman rule of 1517? The Mamluks of 1250 or the Ayyubid dynasty of Saladin from 1187? Or do you long for the return of the Islamic Caliphate of 638? Or even earlier, the rule of the Herod, Alexander, Artaxerxes or Cyrus? Or is it to see a return to the kingdom of David or Solomon?

During its long 4,000 year history, Jerusalem has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times. Jesus was not the first and will not the last to weep over Jerusalem. The Bible tells us,

“As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side… They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (Luke 19:41-44)

Jesus prediction came true in 70AD when the Romans demolished the city and built their pagan Aelia Capitolina, to occupy, suppress and control its citizens. Today we weep too that Al Quds, the Old City and East Jerusalem remain, after 45 long years, under Israeli military occupation. An occupation in breach of international law, Geneva Conventions and UN Resolutions. That is why no country recognizes Israeli sovereignty over the city.

But what kind of Al Quds do you envision? What kind of Jerusalem are you marching for today? Is it for an open, inclusive city of faith? Or for one as exclusive as the Zionists are trying to create? Let me be frank. Is there a place in your Jerusalem for Jews, Muslims, Christians and those of no faith? Is there a place for Sunnis as well as Shias, for Salafists as well as Sufis? Is there a place for all those born there? All those who have found refuge there? All those driven out by fear or persecution?

What kind of Al Quds do you want? Perhaps we should instead ask ‘What kind of Al Quds does God want? Long before Jesus or Mohammed were born, God inspired David to envision a city whose residents would be identified by their faith not race.

“Glorious things are said of you, city of God: “I will record Rahab and Babylon among those who acknowledge me – Philistia too, and Tyre along with Cush – and will say, ‘This one was born in Zion.’” Indeed, of Zion it will be said, “This one and that one were born in her, and the Most High himself will establish her.” The Lord will write in the register of the peoples: “This one was born in Zion.” (Ps. 87)

The Prophet Isaiah also envisions Jerusalem as a city where God teaches the nations, where swords are turned into plough shares and spears into pruning hooks.

In the last days
the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
and all nations will stream to it.

3Many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will
they train for war anymore
. (Isaiah 2:2-4)

That is why, quoting the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah, Jesus insisted Jerusalem must be a place of prayer for all nations.

On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.” (Mark 11:15-17)

Therefore if we wish to do God’s will, we will work and pray for Al Quds to become an inclusive city that reflects God’s vision, a city of justice, peace & reconciliation. Insha’Allāh.

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Stephen Sizer
Christ Church Vicarage
Virginia Water,
GU25 4LD

www.cc…
www.stephensizer.com…
stephensizer.blogspot.com…

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Father Roy writes:  At one time Russia and the USA were charged by the United Nations to monitor the critical negotiations between Israel and Palestine.  Russia was subsequently marginalized, however, because Israel wanted the US to be the only monitor.  Russia is still a member of the Quartet.  The article pasted below will bring us up-to-date on Russia’s current role in the Middle East.  I’ve highlighted the paragraphs which refer to the Palestinian-Israeli crisis.  Russia supports the Goldstone Report.    Peace, Roy

From the Palestinian Chronicle: Russia in the Middle East Return of a Superpower?

(nb. highlights courtesy of Father Roy)

By Eric Walberg

The US ‘withdrawal’ from Iraq last year and the planned ‘withdrawal’ from Afghanistan in 2014 cannot help but change the face of Central Asia and the Middle East. But how does Russia fit in?

The world is living through a veritable slow-motion earthquake. If things go according to plan, the US obsession with Afghanistan and Iraq will soon be one of those ugly historical disfigurements that — at least for most Americans — will disappear into the memory hole.

Like Nixon and Vietnam, US President Barack Obama will be remembered as the president who “brought the troops home”. But one cannot help but notice the careful calibration of these moves to fit the US domestic political machine — the Iraqi move to show Americans that things on the international front are improving (just don’t mention Guantanamo), the Afghan move put off conveniently till President Barack Obama’s second term, when he doesn’t need to worry about the fallout electorally if things unravel (which they surely will).

Of course, Russia lost big time geopolitically when the US invaded Afghanistan, and thus gains as regional geopolitical hegemon by the withdrawal of US troops from Central Asia. Just look at any map. But American tentacles will remain: Central Asia has no real alternative economically or politically anymore to the neoliberal global economy, as Russia no longer claims to represent a socialist alternative to imperialism. The departure of US troops and planes from remote Kyrgyzstan will not be missed — except for the hole it leaves in the already penurious Kyrgyz government’s budget and foreign currency reserves. Russia is a far weaker entity than the Soviet Union, both economically and politically. Thus, Russia’s gain from US weakness is not great.

Besides, both Russia and the US support the current Afghan government against the Taliban — as does Iran. In fact, in case US state department and pentagon officials haven’t noticed the obvious, the main beneficiary of the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq has been Iran, again by definition. The invasion brought to power the ethnic Persian Tajiks in Afghanistan, and the invasion of Iraq set up a Shia-dominated government there.

Similarly, when the US invaded Iraq, Russia lost politically and economically. The US cancelled Sadam Hussein’s state debts, which hurt the Russians and Europeans but not the US. The US just happened to be boycotting Iraq for the previous decade and took pleasure from shafting its sometime allies for ignoring US wishes. However, once Iraqi politicians begin to reassert some control over their foreign policy, Russia will be seen as a much more sympathetic partner internationally.

Ironically, on many fronts, Iran now holds the key to readjusting the political playing field and establishing rules that can lead away from the deadly game being played by the US, including in Afghanistan, Iraq, with broader implications for broader nuclear disarmament, EU-US relations, but above all, for the continued role of the dollar as world reserve currency. This encourages Russia to maintain its alliance with Iran over vague (and empty) promises of US-Russian world hegemony as envisioned by the now-discredited Medvedev Atlantists in Moscow.

Russia’s relations with both Central Asia and the Middle East since the collapse of the Soviet Union have been low key. In the Middle East, it maintains relations with Palestine’s Hamas, and, as a member of the so-called quartet of Middle East negotiators (along with the EU, the US and the UN), insists that Israel freeze expansion of settlements in the Occupied Territories as a condition of further talks. It appears to be trying to regain some of the goodwill that existed between the Soviet Union and Arab states, supporting the UN Goldstone Report which accused Israel of war crimes in its 2008 invasion of Gaza.

It embarked on a diplomatic offensive with Arab states in 2008, offering Syria and Egypt nuclear power stations, and is re-establishing a military presence in the Mediterranean at the Syrian port, Tartus, though Syria’s current civil war, with Russia and Iran lined up against the West and the Arab states could leave Russia on the losing side. Western attempts to portray Russia as the power-hungry bad guy in Syria do not hold water. Russia is concerned about heightened civil war in an evenly divided population, with rebel groups openly armed by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s Arab and Western foes. The hypocrisy in the Arab world is appalling: Gulf monarchies and Saudi Arabia loudly demand that Egypt’s new government swear off any attempt to “interfere” in their internal politics, but brazenly arm Syrian rebels.

Russia is still struggling to leave its own tragic civil war in Chechnya behind, and to make sure there’s a place at the table for its Muslims. With its 16 million Muslims (about 12 per cent of the population), it has expressed interest in joining the Organization of Islamic Conference. Its unwillingness to let Syria slide into civil war does not gain it any brownie points among its own separatist Muslims in the Caucasus and elsewhere, but it is not willing to carve up either Syria or the Russian federation in the interests of some fleeting peace.

The importance of Jewish financial and economic interests in post-Soviet Russia — both the banking and industrial oligarchs and the Kosher Nostra mafia ensures that Israel gets a sympathetic hearing from Russian leaders. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is a Russian Jew who emigrated from the Soviet Union in 1978.

Israel is also able to take advantage of the persistence of Muslim unrest and dreams of independence in the Caucasus within Russia to prevent Moscow from taking any strong position to pressure Israel. Russia’s prickly neighbor Georgia harbors Chechen rebels and Georgia’s president, Mikheil Saakashvili, uses Israeli and US military advisers. Of course, the US benefits from Israeli pressures on Russia. This is a key feature of the current Great Game, where the US and Israel act as the new imperial “centre”.

It is popular to call this era a new Cold War. However, history never repeats itself. There certainly is a new tension in world politics following 9/11, and the failure of the newly aggressive US to successfully assert its hegemony around the world, including Russia, keeps the fires of chauvinism hot in the US. On the US right, Russia is seen merely as the Soviet Union reborn, a ruse to hide the KGB’s agenda of world communist control. For the saner Obamites, it is a more diffused Cold War, dominated by a new US-Israeli imperial centre, the “empire-and-a-half”, with shifting alliances of convenience, though with a strong, new opposition player on the horizon — a savvier, more articulate Islamic world, with Iran, Turkey and Egypt in the first rank.

The desire by both the US and Israel to overthrow the Iranian government is now the only common goal left in this “empire-and-a-half”, but it is a common goal only because Israel is in the driver’s seat. Israel resents Iran as an existential threat not to Israel itself, but to Greater Israel and regional domination. Iran serves as a powerful example, a third way for Muslim countries, and is most definitely a rival to Israel as Middle East hegemon.

Among the new Arab Spring governments, it is only Egypt’s that worries Israel. Just imagine if Egypt and Iran start to cooperate. Add in Shia-dominated Iraq, Turkey and Russia, as Russia has good relations with all four, and common objects on the international scene. Suddenly the Middle East playing field takes on a totally different appearance.

A rational US policy to join with Russia and China to accommodate Iran could save the teetering dollar, or at least give the US a chance to prepare for an orderly transition to a new international currency. If Russia, China and Iran defuse the current nuclear crisis between the US and Iran peacefully, with a nod to Turkey and a resolve to make Israel join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, this could pave the way for a new Eurasian playing field. If and when the US withdraws from Afghanistan, Pakistan and India will be drawn in as well.

This would set off a chain of events that could change the whole nature of the current Great Game leading to a Russia-India-Iran-China axis (Russia-India-China summits have already been held yearly since 2001), leaving Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Israel to sort out their regional conflicts outside of a new, very different great game. US interests would be considered but without US diktat, forcing, or rather allowing the US to put its own house in order. Iran would finally be accepted as the legitimate regional player that it is. If the US cannot bring itself to make a graceful exit from its self-imposed crisis in the region, this will only accelerate its decline.

Russia inherits fond memories across the Middle East region as the anti-Zionist Soviet Union’s successor. It now has the chance to gain long term credibility as a principled partner not only in the Middle East but to non-aligned countries everywhere, and should hold the fort, the anti-imperial one, against what’s left of empire.

– Eric Walberg writes for weekly.ahram.org… and is author of Postmodern Imperialism: Geopolitics and the Great Games – claritypress.com…. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com…. Contact him at: ericwalberg.com….

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I had the privilege of meeting Dr Muzzafar in person back in the 80’s at his home in Penang. He was a champion of human rights work even then – a passionate advocate of inter-racial and inter-religious harmony, and someone who had already been imprisoned for his stand on behalf of Christians and Muslims who were suffering injustice in his home country of Malaysia.

Over the years Dr Muzzafar’s wisdom and influence has only grown!  His analysis of the situation in Syria and its relation to the broader Middle Eastern struggle is as insightful as it is disturbing.

Father Dave

CUSTODIAN OF THE CUSTODIAN OF THE CUSTODIAN

Dr Chandra Muzzafar

by Chandra Muzaffar

Muslims and Muslim governments are angry with Bashar al-Assad. They hold him responsible for the massacre of thousands of people, many of them innocent civilians, in Syria. They want him to go.

It is true that Bashar’s army has killed a lot of people. It has used excessive force — as I have pointed out in a number of articles before this. Anyone with a conscience would condemn the mindless violence that has bloodied Syria in the last 17 months.

But Bashar’s violence is only one side of the story. The armed rebels opposed to him have also massacred thousands. How else can one explain the fact that almost one-third of the 17,000 people killed so far in the conflict are from the army and related security agencies?

The rebels are not only well equipped with a range of weapons and communication apparatus but are also supported by logistical routes developed by the CIA and intelligence provided by Mossad. Their weapons are delivered through “a shadowy network of intermediaries, including the Muslim Brotherhood,” and “are paid for by Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.” Since April 2012, hundreds, perhaps even a few thousand, militants, some linked to Al-Qaeda and its affiliates, from Iraq, Libya, Tunisia and Jordan have crossed over into Syria to fight the Bashar government in what they perceive as a “jihad.” It is reported that out of 200 rebels captured in Aleppo recently, 70 were foreign fighters.

The mainstream media in most Muslim majority states have not highlighted these aspects of the Syrian conflict. Neither have they subjected to scrutiny the authenticity of the news they carry on the conflict and the sources of the news items. As a case in point, the Houla massacre of 25 May 2012 was widely publicised all over the world as an example of the brutal, barbaric character of the Bashar government. Scores of children were allegedly butchered by his militia. A picture of a large number of dead children “wrapped in white shrouds with a child jumping over one of them” was offered as proof of the heinous crime. The picture was actually from the war in Iraq in 2003. The photographer himself, Marco Di Lauro of Getty Images, came out in the open to expose the fabrication. In fact, the Houla massacre itself was “committed by anti-Assad Sunni militants, and the bulk of the victims were members of the Alawi and Shia minorities, which have been largely supportive of the Assad”, according to the leading German daily, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ).

Houla is not the only case. A Christian nun, Mother Agnes-Mariam de la Croix of the St. James Monastery has published on the monastery’s website, an account of armed rebels gathering Christian and Alawi hostages in a building in the Khalidiya neighbourhood in Homs, and blowing it up with dynamite. The rebels then put the blame for the crime upon the Syrian army. There is also the story of Zainab al-Hosni, allegedly abducted by government forces and burnt to death. A few weeks later, Zainab appeared on Syrian television to nail the lie about her. The most widely quoted source for the alleged atrocities committed by the Syrian government is of course the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) which is a one man operation run by a Rami Abdul Rahman from Coventry, England. His statistics have been challenged on a number of occasions by Syrian analysts who have shown why his reporting is unreliable.

It is disappointing that most Muslim governments and NGOs are oblivious to all this and focus only upon Bashar’s wrongdoings. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) at its emergency summit held in Mecca on 14 August 2012 reflected this biased approach to the
Syrian conflict by condemning only the government while exonerating the armed rebels. A few states such as Algeria, Kazakhstan and Pakistan called for a balanced statement from the summit that would also apportion blame upon the armed opposition but their plea was gnored. Worse, Syria which was suspended from the OIC at the summit was not even invited to the meeting and given a chance to defend itself. It was denied the most elementary principle of natural justice. It is a right that is fundamental to Islamic jurisprudence.

Why has the Muslim world as a whole, especially its elites and its intelligentsia, adopted such a blatantly biased and starkly unjust position on Syria? Is it because many are ignorant of what is really happening in that country, given the orientation of the mainstream media? Or is it because Muslims revere the Saudi monarch so much — he is after all the custodian of the two holy mosques— that they are convinced that in seeking the elimination of Bashar al-Assad he is doing what is morally right? Or is it because many Muslim elites are beholden to Saudi wealth — and Qatari largesse —- that they are prepared to acquiesce in their wishes? Or is it also because of certain sectarian sentiments that Muslims appear to be incensed with the Bashar government?

It is these sentiments that I shall now explore. For many months now a segment of Sunni ulama (religious elites) in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and certain other states have been attacking Bashar as an Alawite leader who is oppressing the Sunni majority. Since Alawites are a branch of Shia Islam, the target has been Shia teachings and the Shia sect. Given the standing of these ulama, their vitriolic utterances have succeeded in inflaming the passions of some Sunni youth who view Bashar and his circle as infidels who should be fought and defeated at all costs. Even the spiritual guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, has now joined the bandwagon and accuses Shias of theological deviance and malpractices.

It is important to observe in this regard that in the context of Syria there is no rigid Shia-Sunni dichotomy. The Sunnis given their numerical strength dominate the army, the public services and the private sector. Some of the most critical positions in Syrian society are held by Sunnis.  The Grand Mufti of Syria for instance is a Sunni of the Shafie doctrinal school. Indeed, sectarian, or for that matter, religious affiliation has very little weight in society. In many ways, Syria is a society that has sought to de-emphasise religious and sectarian loyalties and nurture a notion of common citizenship. Since the beginning of the conflict, it is the Western media that have been preoccupied with the so-called Sunni-Shia divide and appear to be deliberately stoking sectarian sentiments. The Arab media has followed suit.

The way in which Sunni-Shia sentiments are now being manipulated convinces me that geopolitics rather than sectarian loyalties is the  motivating force. If sectarian loyalties are really that important, how does one explain the close ties that the Sunni Saudi elite enjoyed with the Shia Shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi, in the sixties and much of the seventies? Was it because the Shah was the gendarme of the US and the West in the Persian Gulf and an ally of Israel? Was this the reason why the Saudis could get along so well with the Iranian elite? Isn’t it revealing that it was only when the Shah was ousted in a popular revolution in 1979 and the new Islamic leaders of Iran rejected American hegemony over the region and challenged the legitimacy of the Israeli entity, that Saudi relations with Iran took a turn for the worse?

Saudi animosity towards the new independent minded Iran was so great that it bankrolled the Iraqi instigated war against Iran from 1980 to 1988. The primary goal of that war was to strangulate Iran’s Islamic Revolution at its birth. The war brought together a number of pro-
US Arab states with the notable exception of Syria. Needless to say the US and other Western powers aided and abetted this anti-Iran coalition. It was during this time that anti-Shia propaganda was exported from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan and other parts of South and Southeast Asia. Groups within the Shia community also began to respond to these attacks by churning out their own anti-Sunni literature.

In spite of the relentless opposition to it, Iran, much to the chagrin of its adversaries in the region and in the West, has continued to grow from strength to strength, especially in the diplomatic and military spheres. One of its major achievements is the solid link it has forged with Syria, on the one hand, and the Hezbollah in Lebanon, on the other. It is the most significant resistance link that has emerged — resistance to Israel and US hegemony— in West Asia and North Africa (WANA) in recent decades.

Israel, the US and other Western powers such as Britain and France, and actors in WANA like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, are worried. The Iran helmed resistance has increased their apprehension in light of five other related developments.

One, Iran’s nuclear capability. Though Iranian leaders have declared on a number of occasions that they regard the manufacture and use of a nuclear bomb as haram (prohibited), there is no doubt that the country’s nuclear capability has been enhanced considerably in recent years.

Two, the inability of Israel to defeat Hezbollah and gain control over Lebanon which it regards as its frontline defence. This was proven again in 2006 and today Hezbollah is in a more decisive position in Lebanese politics than it was six years ago.

Three, the Anglo-American invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 and the introduction of electoral democracy which has led to the rise of Shia political power. Shia political elites in Iraq are by and large inclined towards Iran, which the US sees as a huge setback for its hegemonic ambitions in the region.

Four, the Arab uprisings, especially those that are mass based, like in Tunisia and Egypt, have raised questions about the shape of democratic politics in the region in the coming years. Will it give rise to the emergence of Islamic movements that challenge the legitimacy of Israel, US hegemony and the role of feudal monarchies in WANA? Or, would it be possible to co-opt the new Islamic actors into the status quo?

Five, how will all these changes unfold in a situation where US hegemony is declining? How will Israel and the other states in WANA that are dependent upon US power for the perpetuation of their interests fare when the US is no longer able to protect them as it did in the past?

For Israel in particular all these developments in WANA portend a less secure neighbourhood. Total control and predictability are crucial elements in Israel’s notion of security. It is because of its obsession with security that guarantees control over its neighbourhood that it is determined to break the link between Iran, Syria and the Hezbollah. It reckons that if Bashar is ousted that link would be broken.

This was obvious in the conversation between Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Russian President, Vladimir Putin, as reported by the respected Jewish journalist, Israel Shamir. Netanyahu made it clear that Israel preferred “the Somalisation of Syria, its breakup and the elimination of its army.” Bashar’s successor —- after his ouster— he stressed “must break with Iran.” Netanyahu gave the impression that Israel was in a position to “influence the rebels.”

Since this is Israel’s agenda for Syria, all the moves and manoeuvres of states like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to eliminate Bashar would be very much in line with what Israel wants. Any wonder then that both Israeli leaders and its media welcomed the suspension of Syria from the OIC. In this regard, Israel would have been thrilled to read a pronouncement by Al-Qaradawi in May 2012, widely reported in the WANA media that “If the Prophet Muhammad was alive today, he would lend his support to NATO.”

More than endorsement from within the region, what Israel has always been confident about is the patronage and protection of the US and most of Europe. On Syria, and in the ultimate analysis, on Iran, the Israeli political and military elites know that the centres of power in the West share its diabolical agenda. Indeed, it is Israel that determines the US’s position on critical issues pertaining to WANA. It is the tail that wags the dog.

Israel’s relationship with a major Arab state like Saudi Arabia, (with whom it has no formal diplomatic ties) on the one hand, and the US, on the other, tells us a great deal about who is in charge of who. The Kenyan- American scholar, Professor Ali Mazrui, once described the Saudi-US nexus this way: the problem with the custodian of the Holy Mosques is that there is a custodian of the custodian.

If I may add, since it is Israel that decides US foreign policy in WANA, it may not be inaccurate to say that there is a custodian of the custodian of the custodian.

Dr. Chandra Muzaffar is President of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST).

Malaysia.
21 August 2012.