Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Jerusalem Post - 'Turning' Islamists to defeat Islam

The most practical way to overcome the Islamists is for them to be defeated from within. After all, non-Islamists have a profound stake in the outcome.

'Turning' Islamists

Jan. 6, 2010

During the Cold War, Westerners consoled themselves in the belief that most people behind the Iron Curtain did not believe in Communism; they were simply entrapped by a morally bankrupt system driven by a moribund ideology. It was not so much the allure of capitalism that ultimately won over the people of Eastern Europe; it was the failure of Communism.

What will it take to "turn" vast numbers of Muslims now enthralled with extremist Islam, and convince those uncommitted, not to follow the path of the Islamists? Much depends on the outcome of the ongoing battle within Islamic civilization between those promoting jihad against the West and those who say Islam does not need to tear down the West in order to thrive.

Yesterday, this newspaper carried a Washington Post dispatch, "Jordan emerges as key CIA counterterrorism ally." The story by that paper's national security reporter revealed that a Jordanian agent working in tandem with American intelligence had been killed by the Islamist suicide bomber who struck a CIA base near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border last week.

It now transpires that the suicide bomber was a 36-year-old Jordanian physician named Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi. He had been "turned" - or so it was thought - during a stint in a Jordanian prison for jihadi activities.

According to Al Jazeera, the medical-man-turned-suicide-bomber was in Afghanistan to trap another physician, Ayman al-Zawahiri, one of al-Qaida's two top leaders. Balawi had provided so much reliable information that he was trusted to enter the CIA post without being thoroughly searched.

The dead agent, Sharif Ali bin Zeid, was Balawi's handler. King Abdullah II participated in Zeid's funeral, raising the ire of Islamists within his kingdom.

This murky story of spycraft and betrayal serves as a metaphor for how the still-nameless war between freedom, moderation and enlightenment against the benighted forces of coercion, fanaticism and medievalism needs to be waged - by pushing Muslims to choose: the way of Balawi or the way of Zeid.

The most practical way to overcome the Islamists is for them to be defeated from within. After all, non-Islamists have a profound stake in the outcome.

YESTERDAY, President Barack Obama met with his top domestic and foreign national security advisers in the White House situation room. The agenda was two-fold: to unravel what went wrong, both on the systemic and personnel level, that allowed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to board Northwest Flight 253; and to take stock of the damage caused by what Balawi did at Forward Operating Base Chapman.

Along with Zeid, seven brave CIA agents, with a combined 100 years' of expertise, were lost. This betrayal, like previous acts of perfidy in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere, underscored how dependent the West is on human intelligence provided by those who swim in a sea of anti-Western fanaticism.

Other lessons emerge. The Islamists must not be underestimated. They are getting good at counter-intelligence and disinformation. Israelis have seen this with Hizbullah.

Now Peter Baker of The New York Times has revealed that US intelligence was nearly fooled into thinking that Islamists from Somalia had infiltrated into the US in order to detonate bombs during Obama's inaugural address.

Fortunately, John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, deduced that a "poison pen" operation was afoot. One terror group was trying to get the US to take out its rivals. Pretty sophisticated stuff and illustrative of what the West is up against.

Another lesson is not to belittle suicide bombers as "sad guys with no self esteem," or risk being surprised by those like Balawi, who are harder to pigeonhole.

The doctor had once told an Islamist magazine: "I have had a predisposition for... jihad and martyrdom since I was little. If love of jihad enters a man's heart, it will not leave him, even if he wants to do so."

CLEARLY, some Islamists are irredeemable. But others are not. If the West recognizes the scale of the challenge and confronts it effectively, and if there are enough courageous men the caliber of Sharif Ali bin Zeid working to preserve Islam from within, we can be reasonably hopeful that the jihadis will one day find themselves relegated to the dustbin of history.


Viva Palestine - The Egyptian Police Clashes With The Convoy

Viva Palestina's bumpy road

Chehata says most of volunteers joined the group because of their convictions [Reuters]

In an international effort to show solidarity with the Palestinian people, Viva Palestina (VP) volunteers from around the world have left their families and in some cases resigned from their jobs in order to take part in this humanitarian undertaking.

They have done this for no other reason than that they feel strongly about the crisis in Gaza. The images that they saw flash across their television screens during the assault on Gaza in 2008-9 has been seared into their minds.

It is sad that it took such a horrific tragedy to wake people up but one inevitable consequence of the Israeli attacks and their cruel blockade was certainly to educate the world as to the reality of the situation.

Civil action

Until that point many people could not even pinpoint Gaza on a map. Now they are spending their time and risking their personal safety to defend Gaza and its people.

Seeing the images of the chaos and destruction during the Gaza assault certainly mobilised a lot of people into civil action.

Immediately following the atrocities, those who were appalled by the number of civilians killed, who had seen the UN buildings, schools, mosques and hospitals deliberately targeted decided that they could no longer sit back or pretend that they did not know what was taking place.

Ignorance was no longer an excuse. Action was called for and multiple tactics were employed from the grassroots level upwards. Protests and demonstrations were held, MPs were bombarded with emails and letters, campaigns to boycott Israeli goods were put into action and yet, while all of this has drawn attention to the plight of the Gazans, the situation has not improved.

In fact, the siege is tightening and the condition of the people living there has deteriorated considerably. More direct action was clearly required. People were becoming increasingly disillusioned by the inaction of their governments and, in some cases, their direct complicity in Israel's oppression and aggression against the Palestinian people.

Thus enters VP 2009. Here was finally a way for individuals who felt betrayed by their government's to take direct action and be themselves a tangible part of the solution.

By physically taking in the aid that Israel would not otherwise let through, not only is the convoy alleviating the short term suffering of the Palestinian people by providing them with desperately needed medicine, clothes and other vital humanitarian aid but it is also refocusing attention on the ongoing crisis that exists in Gaza.

However, in a fairly unexpected turn of events a new actor has walked into the scene. If you ask anybody the question, "who is responsible for the siege on Gaza and the suffering of the Palestinian people?", they will inevitably respond "Israel", and rightly so.

Cairo's complicity

While Egyptian government has been complicit for a very long time now, its wrongdoings have been of a secondary nature. However, somehow, recently Egyptian government is succeeding, much to Israel's delight, in diverting attention away from the Israelis.

This has primarily been done by their insistence on placing unreasonable obstacles in the path of the convoy. For instance, the VP Convoy had planned to enter Gaza on December 27 to mark the first anniversary of the attack.

That was intended to show how, one year on, the siege continues to compound the suffering of the Gazans. They have not been allowed to rebuild their homes or their lives.

Instead of being in Gaza and handing over the aid to the waiting recipients on 27th of December as planned, the VP Convoy was stranded in a compound in Jordan with hundreds of vans and ambulances full of aid. The reason for this was that Egypt had refused to grant permission for the convoy to pass through the necessary part of their territory.

The Egyptian government has been extremely uncooperative and have fought VP every step of the way. While VP has done their utmost to accede to their demands, the Egyptian authorities continued to place more onerous conditions which George Galloway, the British MPand VP leader, has said he is unwilling to undertake.

These include dealing with the Israeli government directly. Why should VP have to deal with Israel when the issue is about taking aid from one Arab country to another?

Extra cost

Eventually, we were forced to return to Syria from where we chartered special flights to transport us to El-Arish while our vehicles were loaded onto ferries.

The extra cost, which exceeded $300,000, could have meant the total collapse of the mission because the sum required was most certainly beyond the reach of individual convoy members.

Thanks to the generosity of the Turkish contingent and a few other Arab donors, we managed to continue with our journey.

There is absolutely no justification for the Egyptians' stalling tactics. Even now after our arrival in El-Arish and in spite of previous agreements, we are confronted with new obstacles, namely the number of vehicles allowed to enter.

Egypt refused access to Gaza, angering the convoy of activists [AFP]
Instead of making the transition as easy as possible for those who have taken it upon themselves to do the job that frankly Arab governments should be doing, Egypt seems to be almost punishing the Convoy for daring to try and help the people of Palestine and are playing a power game, trying to show who is in control, a completely unnecessary game to play, against merely powerless individuals, considering what is at stake.

Frustration, anger and disgust with the Egyptian government have naturally increased incrementally as the days have passed. They have been the subject of much vilification.

I have spoken to many people who have vowed to boycott Egypt from now on.

It is bad enough that Egypt is allying itself with Israel, the aggressor, against the victim, Palestine, by tightening the siege and restricting access to Gaza via the Rafah border crossing but shortly before we left home the news that they were building an underground steel wall at Rafah to block off access to the tunnels, the one lifeline to Gaza, set the tone for everyone's disgust.

Worse still, while we are sitting miles away from our destination, stranded and tired we received news that Benjamin Netanyahu was welcomed into Cairo with open arms. What a disgraceful state of affairs! A convoy of humanitarian aid is treated with hostility while the perpetrators war crimes are welcomed with open arms!

Role of villain

Egypt has had every opportunity to redeem and to recast itself in the role of the hero. Instead they have needlessly and voluntarily cast themselves in the role of villain.

I am half English and half Egyptian and used to be so proud of that fact but since Egypt have chosen to ally itself so unnecessarily and immorally with Israel, I feel a profound sense of shame.

When Convoy members know of my heritage, I am bombarded with a tirade of very reasonable questions including "Why is Egypt adding to the suffering of the Palestinian people?" "Why are the Egyptians not helping their Muslim brothers and sisters - aren't they part of the Muslim Ummah (community) as well?" These are all perfectly reasonable questions to which I have no answers.

Now that we are on its territory, all that is left is to call upon Egypt allow our convoy through! I love Egypt and I love its people and have to keep reminding those that I meet that the Egyptian people are not being fairly represented by their government.

I fear that if it does not change its policies immediately they will be branded irrevocably with the same label deserved by Israel, War Criminals and villains of modern history.

Dr Hanan Chehata is travelling with the Viva Palestina convoy. She is director of public relations at the Middle East Monitor (MEMO), London. Her blogs from the convoy can be read on

The Gulf Desert dreams: Moving for the best

Burj Khalifa is still a hot topic in the world. It is a dream comes true for a lot of people in the UAE especially those behind this mammoth, grandeur and breathtaking development.

It could be a symbol of desert dreams, it may not be realised for some, or it can be nightmares.

However, live the life and dream on....

Desert dreams: Moving for the best
By Sameera Aziz

The freezing of many projects due to the economic tsunami in the once-thriving desert city of Dubai has made many expats jobless, which in turn has led them to consider relocating to other Middle Eastern countries, especially Saudi Arabia. However, the country’s economy minister has reassured that the debt crisis will not have a “huge reflection” on Dubai.

“Realizing that there are fewer job opportunities or even no opportunities for expatriates in Dubai, I applied for jobs in other GCC countries prior to my work contract coming to end in Dubai. Luckily, I succeeded in finding a suitable job in Jeddah after six months of job-hunting,” said Rashid Rizvie, an Indian site engineer, who has ten years of work experience in a construction company in Dubai.
“Renewal of a work contract in Dubai is nearly impossible due to the lack of new projects, which is a result of the economic crisis. Hence, a gradual exodus of foreign workers is taking place there,” he said.

According to the AFP tally, Dubai has been hit hard by the global financial crisis and faces serious debt troubles. By the end of 2007, the UAE was estimated to have 5.5 million foreigners – comprising most of its population of 6.4 million. Ahead of last year’s economic crisis when Dubai was racing to build grand business districts and huge shopping centers, the Ministry of Labor registered over three million workers.

However, with the current grim situation, expatriates - particularly from the developing and under-developed countries - who once enjoyed the strength of UAE’s currency are now faced with grave concerns on the job front.

Muhammad Muneer, a Pakistani construction worker who was able to find a job in Jeddah after his work contract was terminated in Dubai recently, said a lot of his friends in Dubai have not been paid for months now.

“Being breadwinners of their families, they were remitting large amounts of money back home. Despite being unpaid, they wanted to stay back until they got a suitable opportunity in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain or Muscat,” said Muneer.

Even the state-owned holding company, Dubai World, which is seeking to restructure about $22 billion of debt, said that it wants to halt payments on its huge debts for at least six months, as reported by AFP. Property prices were down by half and office rents by as much as two-thirds.
“People want job security. The economic situation has ramifications as far as their salaries and bonuses are concerned. Because of this uncertainty many are taking serious steps and are relocating,” said Muneer.

Recently, media reported that three members of an Indian family in Dubai committed suicide due to financial troubles in a pact initiated by a fourth who survived his suicide attempt. The man told the police his rope slipped off the fan, saving his life, while the other three died.

S.R. Rudy, an American who recently joined a private organization in Al-Khobar, worked as a contractor in a Dubai-based company, which was also hit by the credit crunch. “I managed to find a new job in Saudi Arabia through my Facebook contacts. Although I earn less now, I prefer working here because in a recession it may not be easy to earn big bucks in the US either,” said Rudy, citing unemployment rates in the US that have hit new highs with the country losing 25,000 jobs every day, as reported by The Scotsman.

Joe and Merry, a Filipino couple, have recently shifted to Jeddah. Earlier, they were working in a Dubai-based medical complex that was owned by a big organization.

“Foreign workers in the UAE often face major challenges when they return home as the change in lifestyle can be agonizing. We left our jobs to advantage of better opportunities in the Kingdom since there is no longer job security in the UAE,” said Joe.

“Our decision to relocate to the Kingdom was strengthened after reading the statement of the Saudi deputy labor minister, in which he said the recruitment of foreigners to work in the private sector and for Saudi individuals will continue here.

The sectors in which Saudis are not interested to do certain jobs or are not skilled enough for certain work can present good opportunities for foreign workers,” he said. “Despite the global financial crisis, Saudi Arabia is better place than other countries as its economy is booming with many new opportunities and projects here,” Joe said.

There are nearly seven million foreign workers in the Kingdom. Merry said that her friends living in Saudi Arabia told her that if one is hardworking, straight-forward and peaceful, “then Saudi Arabia is a good place to be”. – SG

Burj Khalifa...Megalomania or a rallying cry?

The name change isn't just about honor. In many ways, Dubai owes its current standing to the sheikh. In a short amount of time, Dubai had grown from a backwater into the dynamic commercial hub of the Middle East. But the financial crisis showed that the country had taken on far too much debt to fuel its growth. In 2009, the sheikdom surprised many when it disclosed just how precarious its financial was. And the person who came to the rescue was Sheikh Khalifa, who had Abu Dhabi provide billions of dollars in aid to help keep Dubai afloat.

In Tuesday's newspapers, German commentators applauded the opening of the structure. As they see it, the structure is much less a symbol of hubris and much more one of a small Arab state that has dared to be different.

The financial daily Handelsblatt writes:

"Megalomania or a rallying cry? The opening of the Burj Dubai … really symbolizes both. Dubai, only just floored by having to admit its financial woes, is now reestablishing its claim to the world of glitz. …"

"Hidden behind all this glamor, though, is the real success story of the emirate. An Arab state -- though admittedly a small one -- has completely reinvented itself here. Dubai is a melting pot of people from all over the world, and there is a phenomenal social and economic experiment being conducted here. While terror rages in the neighboring Arab states, which have rigid regime structures, Dubai is prospering. Ignoring a few exaggerations, the Gulf state is still a trendsetter for many Arab nations. Many in the Arab world can only dream of its ability to bring Western liberalism and openness together with Islamic social structures without profound disruptions. But, in Dubai, this dream has become a reality."

"Like Babel, Dubai will also pay a price -- not through the destruction of its tower, but through the collapse of the financial house of cards. But the tower will be left standing, and it will become a symbol of Arab adaptability. If other states in the region realize that progress and Islam are not contradictory, the building will have been worth it."

Conservative Die Welt writes:

"Despite the financial crisis that hit the emirate and its major projects like an unforeseen blow to the head, the tower was still completed. It was not allowed to just waver in the wind or become an eternal monument to Muslim hubris in its incomplete state. The shock can still be felt, and it's still hard to tell whether Dubai will be able to slacken its pace without completely losing itself in the process."

"A lot of people criticize the world's highest tower for being completely senseless in economic terms and for only being the result of the 'power of money.' And they might be right. Ah, but what a boorish slap at capitalism! Skyscrapers are endlessly fascinating, and ones like this will encourage many copies in countries that have the requisite sophistication, money and lust for recognition."

-- Josh Ward