In his current Asharq Alawsat column, Amir Taheri says that trying to analyze the chaos of the Middle East in terms of religious sectarianism is a mistake. It’s not religious identity that’s at play, but politics that will use sectarianism as another tool.

Shi’ism may be a big tent, he writes, but Iran has certainly not welcomed Syria’s Awalawites or Yemen’s Houthis into the religious fold. Both of those groups are seen as heretical. But, they’re useful. Supporting those groups serves Iranian ends, not because they’re religiously pure, but because they and their issues allow Iran an entry into the region that would otherwise be closed to it.

Continuing to try and parse the current struggles as sectarian matters is to continue to miss the point: It’s politics, all the way down. And if you’re not correctly identifying the problem, the odds of fixing it are remote.

The Terrorist Challenge—Understanding and Misunderstanding
Amir Taheri

Faced with the growing threat of terrorism, Western officials and analysts seem hard put as to how to deal with something they find difficult to understand.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has advised the media not to use the term “Islamic State” for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)—known as “Da’esh” in Arabic—because, he claims, the “caliphate” based in Raqqa in Syria is not Islamic. In other words, Cameron is casting himself as an authority on what is Islamic and what is not. At the other end of the spectrum, French Premier Manuel Valls speaks of “Islamofascism” and claims that the West is drawn into a “war of civilizations” with Islam.

Cameron continues Tony Blair’s policy in the early days of Islamist attacks on Britain. Blair would declare that although the attacks had nothing to do with Islam he had invited “leaders of the Muslim community” to Downing Street to discuss “what is to be done.”

As for Valls, he seems to forget that Islam, though part of many civilizations including the European one, is a religion not a civilization on its own. He also forgets that civilizations, even at the height of rivalry, don’t wage war; political movements and states do.

While it is important to understand what we are dealing with, it is even more important not to misunderstand the challenge.

To circumvent the hurdle of labeling the Da’esh-style terror as “Islamic,” something that runs counter to political correctness and could attract cries of Islamophobia, some Western officials and commentators build their analysis on the “sectarian” aspect of the phenomenon.

Thus, we are bombarded within seminars, essays and speeches seeking to explain, and at times explain away, the horrors of ISIS and similar groups as part of sectarian Sunni–Shi’ite feuds dating back to 15 centuries ago.

However, the “sectarian” analysis is equally defective.


July:04:2015 - 07:52 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Al Arabiya TV reports that cross-border attacks are still continuing in Jizan and Najran, Saudi Arabia’s southwesternmost provinces. The attacks are primarily artillery attacks on the part of the Houthis, while Saudi Arabia is responding with airstrikes.

Yemen’s Houthis attack Saudi border towns

Yemen’s Houthi militias on Saturday shelled various areas in Saudi Arabia’s Jizan and Najran, according to Reuters news agency citing Houthi sources.

Thirteen shells had been launched on Friday, targeting several areas including Jizan’s airport, the report stated, adding that military equipment had also been destroyed.

It is yet unknown whether there are casualties.

A Saudi-led alliance has been bombing Yemen’s Houthi militia and allied army units loyal to deposed leader Ali Abdullah Saleh since March 26 in an attempt to restore exiled President Abdrabbu Mansour Hadi to power.

Saudi forces and the Houthis have been trading fire across the border since the Arab alliance began its military operations.


July:04:2015 - 07:40 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

According to Arab News, Saudi Arabia’s laws prohibiting criticism of public figures is still going strong. The paper reports that two Saudis are to face trial for allegedly “insulting the late King Abdullah”.

2 to be tried for ‘insulting’ the late King Abdullah

RIYADH: Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman has ordered that two men face trial for allegedly insulting the late King Abdullah.

Quoting reliable sources, a local online publication said that King Salman has also barred Mohsin Al-Awaji and Abdullah Al-Mudaifir from appearing in the media.

The website said the program ‘Fis Sameem’ (At Heart) broadcast on Rotana television, would be taken off air. The show hosts public figures and interviews them on various issues.

During the television talk show hosted by Saudi presenter Al-Mudaifir, Al-Awaji reportedly uttered negative remarks about the former king who ruled the country from August 2005 to 2015.

The publication reported that King Salman took the decision because the government would not allow anyone to besmirch the name of any of the country’s previous rulers, who all helped to build the Kingdom.


July:03:2015 - 06:43 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Asharq Alawsat reports that the government of Kuwait is looking into the possibility that the Saudi responsible for the suicide attack on a Shi’ite mosque may have ties with an Al-Qaeda affiliate, “Peninsula Lions.” The government believed it had crippled the group back in 2005, but documents found in the house from which the recent attack was staged show some relationship to the group. On the other hand, ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack. It is, however, conceivable that the group has migrated toward ISIS, away from Al-Qaeda.

Kuwait investigates link between Shi’ite mosque attacker and “Peninsula Lions” group

Kuwait City, Asharq Al-Awsat—Kuwait is investigating whether the perpetrator of last week’s deadly attack on a Shi’ite mosque had links to the “Peninsula Lions,” an Al-Qaeda-linked group that staged a series of attacks in the oil-rich country in 2005.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, a Kuwaiti security source said there were reports that jailed Peninsula Lions members shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) upon receiving the news of Friday’s deadly attack on the Imam Al-Sadiq Mosque in the neighborhood of Sawabir in Kuwait City.

The incident has prompted the authorities to investigate whether the perpetrator of the attack had any links to the Peninsula Lions group whose members have been killed, imprisoned or fled Kuwait.

Kuwait dismantled the group in 2005 and jailed 37 of its members on charge of belonging to Al-Qaeda.

Nine members were killed during clashes with Kuwaiti police in early 2005 and six were given death sentences.

Kuwait has identified the suicide bomber as Fahd Suleiman Abdul Mohsen Al-Qaba’a, a 23-year-old Saudi citizen who crossed into the neighboring country on the same day he carried out the attack.


July:01:2015 - 07:00 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

H.A. Hellyer, writing at Al Arabiya TV, notes that there’s something wrong with the (partial) condemnations of sectarianism popping up in the regional media. Whether is obliviousness, disengenuity, or out-and-out machinations, what is condemned is only that which comes from the other guy. “Our guy” gets a pass, if not actual support.

The short-sightedness (to put it at its most gentle) is appalling. There seems to be utterly no conception of the possibility that today’s majority might not remain so tomorrow. And when that happens, all the methods, tricks, interpretations, and the like that are used to justify violence in the name of today’s majorities will be used to justify similar actions against them when they’re in the minority. Even the most cursory reading of history should inform one that things do not stay the same forever.

Sectarianism is bad… until it is your side that is inciting it
H.A. Hellyer

It’s Ramadan. Against the backdrop of Muslims observing the obligatory performance of the fast, sheikhs and religious authorities will remind the faithful of the saying of the Prophet: “There has come to you Ramadan, a blessed month which God has enjoined you to fast, during which the gates of heaven are opened and the gates of Hell are closed, and the rebellious devils are chained up.” Sages in the past would comment – and warn believers that if there were sins they persisted in the month, they had to take them seriously. For in this month, the whispers and murmurs, beckoning souls to wretchedness – well, that’s all on them. Because the devils, as the adage goes, are locked up.

One would hope, then, that in this month, there would be an absence of truly horrendous actions – if from no one else, than from Muslims themselves, particularly those that claim to raise high the banner of Islam. Alas, the last few days show that while some human beings don’t require the murmurs and whispers of baser beings at all – they can do rather evil things all on their own.

… Is the principle really ‘sectarianism is bad’ – or is the principle ‘sectarianism is bad… until it is my side doing it?’

Is there anyone who will take seriously within the region that be it Sunni on Shiite sectarianism; or Shiite on Sunni sectarianism; or Sunni on Sunni sectarianism; or Muslim on Christian sectarianism; that these are all just bad ideas? That differences of views can, and should, be expressed – but that the incitement that finds itself in words will, far too often, be eventually conveyed in acts of violence and terrible consequences? Or have too few not reached the point of realizing that rotten discourse does not have rotten consequences?

Are there leaders in these communities who know they must rise, in order to be clear once and for all, not simply in rhetoric but in action, to avert further catastrophe by declaring – if you will seek to promote hate and incitement, you will not be tolerated? Are there leaders who will pursue that path, not as a way to crackdown on legitimate dissent and varying opinions that do not win favor with the palace – but as a way to ensure and develop the health of their communities and societies?


June:29:2015 - 10:07 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Saudi Gazette carries an Agence France Presse article reporting that Kuwait officials have identified a Saudi national as responsible for the bombing of a Shi’a mosque in Kuwait. The attack seems to have been well-planned, with the bomber entering Kuwait only on the morning of the attack. Others involved has been arrested, including the owner of the house from which the plan developed, as well as the driver and the owner of the vehicle used to transport the bomber to the mosque.

Kuwait mosque bomber a Saudi national, say probers
Omar Hasan | AFP

KUWAIT CITY: Kuwait on Sunday identified the suicide bomber behind an attack on a Shiite mosque as a Saudi national, after a series of arrests in connection with the blast that left 26 dead.

Friday’s attack also wounded 227 worshippers in the first bombing of a mosque in the tiny Gulf state, and Kuwait’s security services have vowed to catch and punish those responsible.

The Daesh (Arabic acronym for the group calling itself Islamic State) group’s Saudi affiliate, the so-called Najd Province, claimed the bombing and identified the assailant as Abu Suleiman Al-Muwahhid.


June:28:2015 - 12:35 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Gazette reports that over 1,300 Saudis have been arrested for involvement with ISIS/Daesh over the past eight months. The article suggests that these are predominantly youths, only some of whom took part in attacks. The others were captured “before they were able to do so,” officials say.

1,351 Daesh terrorists arrested in 8 months
Saud Al-Shaibani

RIYADH — A total of 1,351 terrorists belonging to Daesh (the self-proclaimed IS) have been arrested in various parts of the Kingdom over the past eight months.

A source reported the terrorists make up 29 different nationalities, but most of them are Saudis.

“There were 1,058 Saudi terrorists and most of them were very young. They contacted Daesh through numerous websites and some of them have committed deadly terrorism attacks and others were arrested before they were able to do so,” said the source.

The source also said the total number of non-Saudis who were arrested for being involved in terrorism stands at 293.


June:28:2015 - 12:27 | Comments Off | Permalink

In his column for Asharq Alawsat, Mshari Al-Zaydi comments on Egyptian moves to burn the books written by those Islamists now deemed as extremist, including those by Hassan Al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb, and Yusuf Al-Qaradawi. The problem is that the ideas are already out there and you can’t destroy every exemplar of their writings. Further, by banning something, you only make it more attractive to many, particularly in a region that is more than happy to seize upon any sort of conspiracy theory to find justification.

While the past cannot be undone, the governments who are now aware of the dangers contained in these books, can and should stop promoting them. That they did in the past is clearly a mistake. But short of finding some sort of eraser that can undo history, they’ll have to deal with the monsters they created and do the best they can to close the monster factories that thrive in their mosques, schools, and government offices.

Burning the Books of Hassan Al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb
Mshari Al-Zaydi

There have been insistent demands for the renewal of religious discourse in several Muslim countries, including Egypt, which is known as “the Mother of the World” and home to the Al-Azhar university, its highest religious authority.

Ever since the toppling of Egypt’s former Muslim Brotherhood-led government, which led to a surge in terrorist attacks and pro-Brotherhood propaganda campaigns, there has been much talk about the need for religious reform, whether inside or outside Egypt. The discourse the Brotherhood, Al-Qaeda, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) employ to recruit people is based on specific religious texts and Islamic Shari’a concepts that lost touch with reality a long time ago.

Although easier said than done, asking Al-Azhar clerics to reform and revolutionize the Islamist discourse, as Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi recently did, is not enough. The problem of religious discourse is too divergent and therefore solving it should involve several factors, most importantly addressing issues such as collective psyche and upbringing. The solution lies in revisiting the religious concepts and ideas people were brought up upon. Similar attempts have been done by many of the great Muslim scholars in Iraq, Egypt, and Andalusia.

It is understood that in such uncertain circumstances it is difficult to find the right point of departure for bringing about religious change and reform. Last week, Egypt’s Ministry of Religious Endowments ordered mosques to remove from their shelves books that encourage extremism, particularly those authored by Brotherhood leaders. According to the Egyptian daily newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm, Minister of Religious Endowments Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa has ordered the burning of all the books written by clerics who incite violence, such as Hassan Al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb, and Yusuf Al-Qaradawi.


June:26:2015 - 08:21 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Arabia is making its position on Gay Rights clear: There are none.

Arab News reports that the country’s Ministry of Interior says that in the conflict between gay rights and religion, religion wins. It’s not just delivering a message to Saudis, but vociferously made its point in a session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Saudi Arabia rubbishes calls for gay rights

JEDDAH: There would be no rights granted to gay people in the Kingdom, the Interior Ministry said on Wednesday.

In a post on its Twitter account, the ministry stated that it supports human rights principles proposed by international bodies as long as they are in line with Islamic law. It also slammed those questioning the Kingdom’s rights record.

It said that freedom of expression does not mean demeaning the beliefs of Muslims; and condemned those who continue to ridicule the Prophet, peace be upon him.

The ministry said it rejected terrorism and urged united international action to tackle all forms of extremism because these ideas violate the teachings of the world’s religions.


June:25:2015 - 07:25 | Comments Off | Permalink

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.

ISIS’ ‘Caliphate’ one year later: The end of Sykes-Picot
Joyce Kalam

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.”


June:25:2015 - 07:19 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

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.

Diabetes: KSA is 7th in the world, 1st in Gulf

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.


June:24:2015 - 07:30 | Comments Off | Permalink

Nasser Al-Qassabi, who made a name for himself with the notorious TV satire program “Tash Ma Tash,” is back this Ramadan with a new, one-man show, “Selfie.” He’s not only drawing heat from Saudi imams, as reported below, but he’s put himself in the crosshairs of ISIS/Daesh and its supporters.

Writing at Arab News, Abdulateef Al-Mulhim says that if nothing else, he’s drawing Daesh-supporters out of the woodwork as they take to Twitter and other social media to lambast him… and threaten his life.

Nasser Al-Qassabi Exposing Daesh in his own way
Abdulateef Al-Mulhim

During the holy month of Ramadan, the time for breaking the fast (Iftar) is not only considered a meal but it is the time when all members of a family sit together to enjoy these special moments.

Saudis have developed a new habit during the past two decades i.e. watching television together at Iftar time. This has become a prime time during which various television channels, mostly Arabic of course in this part of the world, compete to attract as many viewers as they could. The time of the last prayer of the day i.e. Isha starts two hours after the Maghrib prayer. These two hours are filled with tens of programs catering to the needs of different segments of society. One man who creates waves and makes millions smile needs a special mention. His program Tash Ma Tash is widely watched in the Arab world.

This show in Ramadan has become Saudi Arabia’s televised stand-up comedy show. The show had featured many actors but the two main characters were Nasser Al-Qassabi and Alsadhan. This year, a new show called Selfie, has been launched featuring only actor and comedian Nasser Al-Qassabi.

In another Arab News piece, Al-Qassabi is reported to be taking the threats on his life with a certain equanimity, putting his fate in the hands of God. He is also receiving words of support, from Saudis and others, for showing that those who preach religion can be and often must be distinguished from religion itself.

Saudi artist pooh-poohs Daesh death threats


June:22:2015 - 07:33 | Comments Off | Permalink
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