Writing at Al Arabiya TV, Joyce Kalam argues that the growth of ISIS has meant the death of the map drawn up by the Sykes-Picot Agreement concluded in 1916. That agreement drew lines on the map of the Middle East that might have made sense for certain European powers — France, the UK, Russia — but made little sense to the people on the ground.
Syria and Iraq, main beneficiaries/victims of the Agreement, have now abandoned their joint border. Intent on the survival of their regimes, they have been forced to pull in toward their centers, Baghdad and Damascus, leaving a vacuum that is now being filled by the disaffected. New borders are going to result, though not any time soon.
When Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi , the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) flaunted a year ago from the Great Mosque in Mosul the birth of his new “Caliphate,” it was both a statement of the organization’s brutal ambition and the unraveling of the Sykes-Picot map in both Iraq and Syria.
One year later, ISIS as a non-state actor and a terrorist organization is the loudest but not the only symptom of the de facto crumbling of the central nation state structures in Baghdad and Damascus. Understanding its threat and prospects cannot occur absent of this context of rising militias and autonomous groups in what was once “the beating heart of Arab nationalism.”
Arab News reports that Type II Diabetes is a serious problem in Saudi Arabia and that it’s going to get worse. Already, the Kingdom ranks 7th in the world and 1st in the GCC in incidence. The article states that Arab genetics produce a higher susceptibility toward developing the disease. Lifestyle, too, plays a role. Arab (and particularly Saudi) diets have undergone massive changes over the past few generations, apparently not for the better when it comes to diabetes, though perhaps positively in terms of overall nutrition.
RIYADH: Despite significant improvement internationally in the study and treatment of diabetes over the past five years due to the development of new drugs that control blood sugar levels, endocrinologists have revealed that the Kingdom ranks seventh worldwide and the first in the Gulf in terms of diabetes rates.
Director of the diabetes program at the National Guard, Dr. Saleh Al-Jasser, said the American Diabetes Association stressed that new medicines must be studied to prove their effectiveness and to confirm their degree of safety, following a review of the results of a scientific study conducted over four years about the side effects of some diabetes treatments.
He said that diabetes rates have exceed 23 percent among 60 to 73-year-olds, while Arabs are more susceptible to diabetes due to the existence of particular genes not present in other races.
Consultant physician and head of the Diabetes and Endocrine Unit at King Saudi Medical City in Riyadh, Dr. Morad Al-Morad, said that Type II diabetes affects 400 million people around the world, or 9 percent of the total population, and is expected to increase to 600 million people over the next 20 years.
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed rails against the way religion is being used as a weapon of mass destruction in the Middle East. He tries to pin the blame on Iran and its regional surrogates, but I think he’s forgetting his history.
Religion has been a popular tool used to mobilize the masses for hundreds, if not thousands of years. We need only look at Afghanistan in the 1980s to see how government — including the US and Saudi Arabia — were willing to enlist religion as a weapon against the “godless Communists.”
Now, religion is being used to wage sectarian war and, of course, that’s a bad thing. But it was also a bad thing when it was used as a club against Israelis as Jews, as a stick with which to beat Baha’is, as a cudgel in the separation of India and Pakistan. The use of religion as a weapon is amazingly foolish because it’s a weapon that cannot be controlled, no matter what the manipulators think. Loosing non-rational dragons is and always will be a tactic that will turn on its masters.
The long-term fallout of religious warfare
We are going through a gigantic, chaotic war in the Middle East. It is worse than anything the region witnessed even during the two world wars. All kinds of weapons are being used, from primitive knives to the most advanced military hardware such as drones.
However, the most dangerous weapon of all is religion, because it is capable of mobilizing communities and controlling armies of young people willing to die, and because it is similar to a nuclear bomb: its toxic fallout will last long after the end of the war. Many were killed by radiation caused by the nuclear bombs years after they were dropped on Japanese cities in the Second World War. This is also the case with sectarian wars: their consequences will linger for decades.
Citizens are dragged into civil wars after centuries of coexistence because they are mesmerized by propaganda. If you want to understand your opponent, put yourself in their shoes. Ever since the failure of Iran, Hezbollah and the Syrian government in the Syrian war, and the ever-worsening situation in Iraq, these three players have been keen on spreading sectarian bacteria to the Gulf states, which are modern and comprise a variety of social components.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has done the same, focusing its hate speech against Shi’ites. Uncivilized, religious-oriented people have been dragged into sectarian clashes; clerics, intellectuals and a large audience have fallen for this trick. They started accusing each other of reinterpreting history and settling scores. That is what Iran, the Syrian regime and ISIS want.
The Saudi justice system, often decried as harsh and even barbaric, has its elements of mercy as well, a story in The New York Times reports.
A serious issue with the system is that it is erratic. The same crime, adjudged in different courts by different judges, can result in widely varying sentences. Much depends on the sensibilities and sensitivities of the sitting judge. Uncodified laws and the lack of a requirement to rely on legal precedent can result in wide disparities in results.
This is a factor taken into consideration by appeals courts and, ultimately, the King who can issue pardons.
But there are also mechanisms through which the harshest penalties can be avoided. The story reports on just such a case, involving a clear case of murder, in which the miscreant’s life was spared by the daughter of the victim.
If nothing else, the article does a good job of portraying the complexity of a system based on tradition, custom, and religious law.
Saudi Justice, Harsh but Able to Spare the Sword
BURAIDA, Saudi Arabia — The murder that almost cost Bandar al-Yehiya his head started with an old debt to a close friend.
Struggling to raise the cash, Mr. Yehiya invited the friend to his home and offered him a rifle as payment. But when the friend refused, Mr. Yehiya got angry and shot him in the chest, leaving him dead on the living room couch, the slain man’s brother, Faleh al-Homeidani, said.
Mr. Yehiya confessed to the murder, so under Saudi Arabia’s strict interpretation of Islamic law, he would face the punishment that has made Saudi justice notorious around the world: beheading in the public square.
But the execution never happened.
Saudi Arabia’s justice system is regularly condemned by human rights groups for violating due process, lacking transparency and applying punishments like beheading and amputation. Criticism has grown as Saudi cases have made news abroad: a liberal blogger caned for criticizing religious leaders; activists jailed for advocating reform; a woman held without charge for more than two months for driving a car.
An interesting op-ed in Asharq Alawsat from former Editor-in-Chief Tariq Alhomayed. In it, he complains about how media (and others) use names to identify both individuals and groups. It’s a problem of long standing, not just in today’s contexts. Do you use the name the subject uses for self-identification or do you use something else, perhaps assigned for political or other reasons? Who gets to do the naming? And what of the consequences of name that carry emotional or political baggage?
He doesn’t really offer any good solutions, but identifying the fact that names are not just some neutral tag is useful. It might help journalists (and others) to think about names, but it doesn’t offer any useful argument or conclusions on how to deal with the conundrum.
Opinion: Abu Who?
One can only be shocked and surprised by the way the Arab media has been reporting on terrorism and terrorists. Most recently we had the story of the Australian teenager Jake Bilardi, aged 18, who is believed to have carried out a suicide bombing in Iraq’s central city of Ramadi on behalf of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
What is shocking to me is that the majority of Arab media used this teen’s chosen kunya (an Arabic teknonymic naming convention) of Abu Abdullah Al-Australi (meaning “Father of Abdullah the Australian” in Arabic) in their reports, rather than describing him as what he actually was, namely “the terrorist Jake Bilardi.” Here we must ask ourselves: Is it so important for the media to respect the protocols and naming conventions of terrorists and terrorist groups? Must we ensure that the chosen name of a terrorist is used and repeated again and again until it becomes infamous?
Should we allow terrorists and terrorist groups to promote themselves in our media in this manner? Doesn’t the media have a duty to take a position on this issue? The media, by its very nature, is biased to one degree or another—regardless of claims to neutrality. So a killer must be described as a killer; a criminal as a criminal; and the same applies to a terrorist, even a teenage one.
Today, for example, we find some media outlets describing ISIS as the “Islamic State” or the “Islamic State group.” While other news outlets describe them in the same manner, but make sure to add the term “militant” or “radical” to the mix. But, by adding this description—or shall we say classification—do these latter media outlets inadvertently stumble into the realm of propaganda?
What about the media outlets or governments that insist on using the Arabic acronym of the group and call them “Daesh”? Is this better or worse, particularly when we know that ISIS itself does not approve of this name?
The Washington Post runs an analysis of human rights issues in Saudi Arabia. The piece notes that the Kingdom receives low marks on whatever metric is being used to measure liberty interests, including women’s rights, free speech, and religious freedom. The quandary is that most Saudis are not calling for changes in the way things work and, what’s more, it has been the government at the forefront of change and liberalization.
The US government, the article notes, is not eager to get involved in pushing for reform when there’s no popular support for reform. It would rather leave it to the Saudi government to implement changes at a pace acceptable to Saudi society.
The article also points to the question marks hanging over the changes in government following the ascension of King Salman, not noted as a reformer himself.
For almost 70 years, Saudi Arabia has been a vital U.S. ally in the Middle East. The relationship, which famously opened in a meeting on the Suez Canal between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the first Saudi king, Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, is based around shared concerns about regional security and crude oil supplies. It has proved remarkably durable, despite a rapidly changing world.
Over the past few months, however, something seems to have shifted. Americans and other Westerners seem to have grown more and more skeptical about the true nature of their ally. In particular, an unusual set of circumstances — including the fearsome rise of the Islamic State, the death of Saudi King Abdullah and renewed concerns about Saudi links to the 9/11 attacks — has led to a significant public debate about Saudi Arabia’s true values.
One particular source of concern has been the state of human rights in the country, highlighted by a spate of public executions and the high profile punishment of liberal blogger Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes for “insulting Islam” last year.
Arab News offers a piece explaining who the new Deputy Crown Prince — second in line to the throne — Prince Muhammed bin Naif is. The article gives a gloss on his involvement with the government and the various jobs he has held, as well as his role in Saudi Arabia’s anti-terrorism efforts. It does not mention that he has survived four assassination attempts.
Prince Mohammed’s appointment as deputy crown prince welcomed
RIYADH: MD RASOOLDEEN
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman appointed Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Naif as the second-in-line to the throne, according to a royal decree issued Friday.
Prince Mohammed will be the deputy crown prince in addition to his present portfolio as the minister of interior.
Prince Mohammed bin Naif was born in Jeddah on Aug. 30, 1959. The prince is the son of the late Crown Prince Naif.
During his primary, preparatory and secondary education, Prince Muhammed studied at the Capital Institute in Riyadh. Then he studied in the United States during the university stage. In 1401, he obtained the BA degree in political science from Lewis and Clark faculty in Portland. He attended a number of advanced military courses related to anti-terrorism in the Kingdom and abroad.
Al Arabiya TV provides a pictorial history of King Salman’s political engagement over the decades:
In an op-ed for Asharq Alawsat (here reprinted by Al Arabiya TV), Abdulrahman Al-Rashed points to Saudi Arabia’s long struggle with religious extremism (for certain values of “extreme”). He notes that just 17 years after the founding of the country, Saudi leaders had to resort to violence to put down a revolt by the Ikhwan, the tribal group that had militarily supported the cause of the Al-Saud, but which had now become a problem when it challenged the government over its policies.
From the Brotherhood of Sabilla to ISIS
The Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS), al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda and similar groups are not really states the sense we understand. They are an idea of extremism that unites those who subscribe to it and those who support it in different forms, either with bullets, dollars, words or emotions. There are extremists who may be against taking up weapons, but they agree with violent groups on the ultimate idea and goal, even if they differ on the means to use.
Unlike what’s common in political analysis, extremism and extremists have always represented a threat to the Saudi Arabia. But this truth gets lost in a sea of accusations and the whole image is blurred even to the most well-informed people on the Middle East and Saudi Arabia in particular. This false historical understanding of the friend and the foe is no longer limited to foreigners and Arab propagandists. This false understanding has entered Saudi Arabia itself where some believe it and other extremists promote it. I think extremism is the biggest enemy and is the biggest threat to Saudi Arabia. This is why it’s in our interest to systematically, institutionally and continuously fight it.
Writing in Arab News Saad Dosari finds himself in general agreement with the sentiments addressed by Abdulrahman Al-Rashed. Muslims need to take a serious look at how they’ve permitted terrorism in the name of Islam to grab hold and threaten individuals and groups around the world.
When words turn into bullets
What is more evil? To commit a crime or to back it through reasoning and justifications. I would argue that the crime itself is completed once the criminal act is over, you kill someone, he is dead, you blow up a checkpoint, the damage is done, it could lead to ramifications, but the act itself is already part of history. But when you reason and theorize any crime, you are actually preparing for a next wave of violence. You are keeping the evil concept of the crime alive, breeding more brutality and barbarity.
Last week, history repeated itself, another attack, new blood spilled, more lives lost in the name of Islam. Gunmen with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine in the heart of Paris, blindly wounding and killing whomever happened to be on their way.
After all these years of terrorism in the name of religion, it is pointless to defend Islam from the massacres committed under its banners…
…For us Muslims everywhere in the world, we need to stop and revisit our culture and traditions, to go back to the pristine teachings of Islam. This religion has been sent to the world with nothing but mercy, why some of us are depriving it of its holiest message?
Commenting on remarks made by publisher Rupert Murdoch, Abdulrahman Al-Rashed agrees that it is the responsibility of Muslims to act against the “jihadist cancer” that is infecting the body of Muslim societies. It is Al-Rashed, in an editorial for Asharq Alawsat, here picked up by Al Arabiya TV, who identifies these extremists as “fascists,” noting how their actions and beliefs mirror those used by the fascist states of the early 20th C. “Equivocation and silence” no longer cut it in dealing with the problem, he says.
Murdoch: Muslims bear responsibility for terrorism
Protests against recent terrorist attacks in France should have been held in Muslim capitals and not in Paris because Muslims stand accused in this case; embroiled in this crisis and expected to declare their innocence. The tale of extremism began in Muslim societies and it’s with their support and silence that extremism grew into terrorism which is harming people across the world. It’s of no value for the French people, who are the victims here, to take to the streets to condemn the recent crimes. What’s required here is for Muslim communities to disown the Paris crime and Islamic extremism in general.
Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch said on Twitter on Friday: “Maybe most Moslems [are] peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.” In another tweet, he added: “Big jihadist danger looming everywhere from Philippines to Africa to Europe to US. Political correctness makes for denial and hypocrisy.”
In his op-ed for Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV, Hisham Melhem argues that the terrorists of the world are winning because their targets are civilized and have a lower threshold of pain that they are willing to endure. They also have a lower threshold of pain they are willing to inflict.
Melhem provides a survey of asymmetric warfare across the ages. He points to the use of terror by the Assassins and equates Anwar al-Awlaki with the “Old Men of the Mountain” who directed terroristic groups in both Syria and Iran during the Middle Ages. Awlaki is able to cause action from beyond the grave, he notes.
A world in the shadows of terrorism
The terror attack on Charlie Hebdo, the worst on French soil in 50 years and the clashes it spawned, showed in bold relief how vulnerable are open democratic states to the diabolical machinations of a handful of trained killers. Paris, the political and cultural heart of France, a country of 66 million people, and a major world power with a nuclear arsenal, was neutralized for two days by four terrorists, according to preliminary reports.
Never have a few people, disrupted the lives of so many, with such low cost. In recent years, until the shocking rise of ISIS last summer, the literature on terrorism was dominated by the relatively new strain of terror threat cyber-attacks. Huge financial and significant human resources have been allocated to defend against this kind of terrorism that could cripple a modern economy, and to develop offensive cyber capabilities, particularly after major American corporations and key national security structures like the Pentagon have been subjected to successful hacking attacks. But conventional terror attacks, as we have seen recently in Canada, Australia and now France are as deadly and as crippling as ever.