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November 29, 2014 / 7 Kislev, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘North Africa’

Tunisia Leader Facing Flack Over Jewish Pilgrimage to El Ghriba

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

Just one day after Tunisia’s leader urged officials not to make a fuss over normalization of ties with Israel, the country’s parliament voted to “interview” its tourism minister for deciding to allow Israelis to participate in the annual Lag B’Omer pilgrimage to El Ghriba synagogue on the island of Djerba.

The elected National Constituent Assembly (NCA) has announced it will question Tourism Minister Amel Karboul over the decision to allow Israelis to enter Tunisia.  Also to be “interviewed” will be Security Minister Sefar Ridha, according to international media reports.

“Our problem is not with our Jewish brothers who come for the pilgrimage but with the Zionist entity that occupies Palestinian territories,” said leftist Democratic Alliance head Mohammed Hamdi.

Since the country’s Jasmine Revolution in January 2011, Tunisia has struggled with a massive economic crisis.  Interim Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa warned the parliament Tuesday it was in Tunisia’s best interest to “make the tourist season a success, because tourism is one of the activities that brings immediate cash to the country.”

Of those activities, Jomaa noted, tourism professionals have determined “the pilgrimage to Ghriba must be successful for the tourist season to be successful.” He added, “This is a tradition known to us – the pilgrimage has been taking place for years.”

The tourism industry in Tunisia employs some 400,000 people and accounts for seven percent of the GDP.  Jomaa’s decision to create a policy of tourism “transparency” means that Israelis can for the first time use their official passports to enter the country for the pilgrimage, rather than a specific Tunisian embassy-issued document.

Tunisia had “offices of interest” in Tel Aviv in 1996, and Israel had one in Tunis as well. Those ties were established just two years after the closure of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) headquarters which had existed in Tunisia for the twelve years prior.  But the fragile ties established between Tunisia and Israel were torn apart in October 2000 when the PLO succeeded in launching the second intifada in Israel – prompting Tunis to freeze ties in a protest against Israel’s efforts to quell the violence.

For years Jews have gone to Tunisia for the pilgrimage, with or without formal Israeli-Tunisian diplomatic ties. But an Al Qaeda terror attack on the synagogue in 2002 left 21 people dead, and killed the tourist event for the next decade. The Jasmine Revolution and the Arab Spring did the rest.

Prerequisites for Muslim-Jewish Reconciliation

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

I appreciate the fact that this Jewish publication was willing to publish my article. I’m not sure how easy it would be for a Jewish pundit to get his or her work published in a Turkish, Egyptian or Iranian magazine. I believe it’s high time someone gave it a try.

History buffs among us know all too well that the best time for Jews over the past two millennia—ever since they were overcome by the force of the Roman empire following two bloody rebellions—was under the rule of the Arab caliphates, both in Spain and in North Africa. So much so, that Jewish sources refer to that time as “The golden age.”

The various Muslim caliphates, which began ruling a very large chunk of the known world in the 7th and 8th centuries, were driven by a single, fundamental, religious mission: to spread Islam. But their agenda for the pagans populating Asia, Africa and Europe was different from their agenda for the “peoples of the book,” followers of Christianity and Judaism. While, most often, the heathens were given no choice about conversion: you became Muslim or you died – Christians and Jews who refused to convert to Islam only had to endure a kind of second class citizenship, with different features in different locales.

It would be helpful to recall that while Jews in Muslim territories at the time were forced to wear articles of clothing that set them apart, and were forbidden to ride horses or use the main public sidewalks—a few miles up north, in Christian Europe, they were being raped, pillaged and burned alive on a steady basis. And while in Christian Europe Jews were blocked from most of the professions, under the caliphates their economic options were much more exciting, hence the term “golden age.”

While Jewish culture in Christian Europe centered almost strictly around the houses of study, with little evidence of a robust culture, in Spain and North Africa the Jews wrote songs and books of philosophy, and excelled as military generals and court politicians—in addition to their flourishing business as traders and bankers.

It is true that Islam had its low point even during that golden age, and every once in a while the mainstream in various provinces—for a variety of geopolitical and social reasons—would take on an ominous spirit of fanaticism and start harassing the “peoples of the books” with fanatical impatience and zeal, threatening their lives unless they converted. But even those waves of fanaticism are dwarfed by the pogroms and expulsions that marked the lives of Jews under Christian rule.

Indeed, the demise of the thriving Jewish culture in Spain came not under Muslim rule, but only after the Christian invasion of the late 1300s, which ended with the expelling of all the Jews of Spain and Portugal in 1492.

What followed was particularly grim for Islam. Just as the original Muslim invasion of the Middle East, North Africa and Southern Europe was enabled by the decline of the Roman Empire, so did was decline of the Caliphate an invitation to a new force, the great Ottoman Empire, to quickly overtake those same areas, and to push far north into Central Europe, only to be blocked, finally, at the gates of Vienna.

But something went wrong in Muslim history at that point. Historians will continue to argue over the precise reasons – the reality is that sometime around the Renaissance period, while Christian Europe began to emerge from its barbarism, to usher in an age of discoveries, inventions and the rise of the human spirit—at a high cost to many indigenous peoples on several continents—Islam began its sad and disheartening decline that set aside Muslims in general and Arabs in particular as the second class citizens of a developing world. Instead of setting the tone in science and scholarship, as it used to do in the middle ages, Islam was relegated to the position of a spectator in a game it could not hope to win.

We have a big problem with cognitive dissonance in most Arab countries, which are trying to be simultaneously Muslim and modern. By “modern” I mean doing all the things a normal Western society takes for granted: publishing books, making movies, starting businesses, dining in restaurants, driving cars, writing laws to serve the community, delivering state services. Every single one of these aspects of your life which you take for granted represent a potential clash with Islam.

Spain’s New ‘Fornicators’

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

Originally published at the Gatestone Institute.

Public prosecutors in Spain have dropped charges of “advocating gender violence” against a Muslim cleric who, on April 2013, preached a two-hour sermon in Spanish, entitled “The Queens of Islam,” during which he made a number of pronouncements about the role of women in Spanish society, including: “Any woman who wears perfume and leaves the house and walks past men who can smell her perfume is a fornicator, and every glance she gets is a fornication.”

The case involves Malik Ibn Benaisa, a Muslim imam based in Ceuta, a Spanish exclave in North Africa where Muslims constitute about 50% of the total population.

Benaisa also said that women should be banned from wearing blue jeans and high heels and from leaving the house unless their hands and face are completely covered.

The comments, which were aired on Spanish public television, enraged women’s rights activists and triggered a nationwide debate over when religious speech becomes abusive and crosses the line into “sexual discrimination” and “gender violence.”

After Benaisa’s sermon was re-broadcast on Spanish public television for a second time during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan in July, the Secretary for Gender Equality for the Spanish Socialist Party in Ceuta, Sandra López Cantero, accused Benaisa of being an “advocate for gender violence” and called on public prosecutors to investigate the imam for violating the Spanish Penal Code.

During a press conference on July 23, Cantero recited quotes from Benaisa’s sermon: “A women cannot show her face or bare hands, she cannot wear high heeled shoes, she cannot wear blue jeans, she must wear a scarf to cover her chest, she cannot pluck her eyebrows and she cannot wear perfume because if she uses it she becomes a fornicator. A woman must keep her head down because a jealous husband can cause problems with other men. A woman should be in total submission to her husband. She has an obligation to wear the veil.”

Cantero added: “We will not allow anyone to hide behind any religion or any culture in order to advocate violence. The Socialist Party will not allow any attack on the dignity of women, wherever it may come from. We will not allow the advocacy of violence, especially in a public medium.”

For his part, the President of the center-right Government of Ceuta, Juan Jesús Vivas, said in a statement that he “manifests his defense of the unequivocal values ​​enshrined in the Spanish Constitution, and in particular, those relating to non-discrimination and equality between men and women.”

Vivas added: “The Government of Ceuta believes that all should endeavor, each within the scope of their responsibilities, to reconcile respect for all faiths with the supremacy of democratic values ​​that are the pillars of our social order and of coexistence.”

Amid considerable media controversy across Spain, Benaisa organized a press conference at the Ibn Rochd Benzúa mosque in Ceuta to defend himself. Surrounded by some 150 Muslim female supporters, Benaisa said he lamented the “de-contextualization” of his statements, which he said were aimed exclusively at “Muslim women” in accordance with “the teachings of the Prophet and the Koran.”

According to Benaisa, “My message has always been to advise and not to impose, as this is not part of Islam, because in the Koran Allah makes it clear that there is no compulsion in religion.”

Benaisa also said that the term “fornicating” was not offensive in tone and that its essence was applicable to both men and women, “who when preening themselves excessively before going out are seeking to be unfaithful to their partners and to Allah.”

Spanish public prosecutors have decided to give Benaisa the benefit of the doubt. After analyzing Benaisa’s sermon, the district attorney concluded that the imam had not broken any laws.

In a statement dated August 7, the Ceuta District Attorney said that labelling women as fornicators is not a crime: “In relation to domestic violence, the law refers to concrete action in the form of threats, injuries, coercion or abuse, while the sexual or religious discrimination section of Article 510 of the Penal Code refers to encouraging discrimination, hatred or violence. This did not occur at the conference in question.”

An Awakening…or Just Terror?

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

Over the years I have urged readers to look behind the news. Now, amid relentless socio-political eruption and upheaval taking place across the Middle East and North Africa, there has still been too little serious effort to look for any underlying meanings and explanations. To some extent, perhaps, the reasons for this laxity have to do with an apparent sense of obviousness. On the surface, after all, much of the violence is entirely predictable, having been spawned by the traditionally visible array of Islamist fears andjihadist goals.

In essence, cascading and intersecting crises of religion, war, and terror in volatile sectors of the Islamic world represent distinctly primal kinds of social behavior. Such behavior, moreover, is the inevitable result of both compelling private needs, and ecstatic collective expectations.

Sometimes, even more than their typically overriding need to avoid death, human beings want to belong. This often desperate need can be manifested harmlessly, as in sports hysteria or rock concerts, or more perniciously, as in rioting, war, and terrorism. In all cases, however, the critically underlying motivations are pretty much the same.

Back in classical Greece, Aristotle had already proclaimed that “Man is a social animal.” Now, we readily understand that even the “normal” individual often feels empty and insignificant apart from his or her membership in the “mass,” the “crowd,” or the “herd.” Often, that herd is the state. Sometimes it is the tribe. Sometimes it is the faith (always, the “one true faith”). Sometimes it is the liberation movement, or, in a plainly kindred relationship, the revolution.

Whatever the particular demanding collectivity of the moment, it is the persistent craving for membership that hastens to bring forth a catastrophic downfall of individual responsibility, and, as corollary, a corrosive triumph of collective will. Today, unless millions of our fellow humans in parts of the Middle East and North Africa can learn to temper their overwhelming desire to belong, the prevailing military and political schemes to control regional violence, war, and terrorism will inevitably fail.

To best understand what is going on here analysts must first learn to locate pre-political causes. These “molecular” explanations stem from the celebrated fusion of susceptible individuals into popular crowd-centered collectives. Not every mass or crowdor tribe or herd is pernicious, of course, but war and terrorism can never take place in the absence of consuming collective identifications.

Whenever individuals crowd together and form a herd, the murderous dynamics of the mob may be released, thus lowering each person’s moral and intellectual level to a point where absolutely anything, even mass killing, can be accepted.

Publicly, current Arab/Islamic rioting, war and terror are fueled by certain effectively incontestable presumptions of Divine Will. In reality, of course, the net result of homicide bombings, chaotic riots, and mass denunciations must always be to drown out any residual hint of sacredness or godliness. Once empathy and compassion outside the Islamist herd go intentionally unrewarded, they become extraneous, and as virtues completely beside the point.

In the presumed name of divinity, Arab/Islamist war, terror, and the murder of “others” impose upon the wider world neither salvation nor holiness but groupthink. Reciprocally, and expectedly, the hideously intolerant rhythms of such a suffocating ethos make it increasingly futile to advance any meaningful efforts at coexistence. This futility is especially troubling in Israel, where assorted promises of a peaceful “two-State solution” are resoundingly unpersuasive.

To mount now urgent investigations of an already widening Arab/Islamic jihad against Israel and the United States, our scholars and policy makers should begin to look more closely at human meaning. Before we can prevent further expanding violence against innocents, certain Arab/Islamic states and terrorist groups will have to be shorn of their capacity to bestow significance upon complicit individuals. To affect those individuals who now turn ritually to rioting, war, terror, and killing for affirmations of importance, we will first have to identify more benign and similarly appealing sources of belonging.

An underlying cause of present Islamist violence in Libya, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Sudan and elsewhere in the region is the enduring incapacity of individuals to draw authentic meaning from within themselves. In the Middle East and North Africa, at least among large swaths of enthusiastic Islamists, true redemption still requires Muslims to present tangible proof of “membership.”

Obama’s No Churchill

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

A recent dispute between conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer and White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer centered on the Obama administration’s return to the British government in January 2009 of a bust of Winston Churchill, which had been kept in the Oval Office by President George W. Bush following the September 11, 2001 attacks.

A more fruitful discussion would compare the policies and military campaigns of British Prime Minister Churchill and President Obama in the Middle East and North Africa during their respective first years in office. This historical comparison is timely, as last week’s foreign policy debate between Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney was primarily devoted to these interrelated regions.

While Obama’s serial failures over the past 45 months in the Middle East and North Africa have been intensively analyzed, Churchill’s outstanding successes in the same regions between 1940 and 1943 are not remembered by the general public in Western democracies.

For example, an Israeli government-sponsored conference on September 21 in New York City, on the more than 800,000 Jews who were expelled from Arab countries after the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948, totally ignored the critical reality that nearly all Jews living in the Middle East and North Africa during World War II survived because of Allied battlefield victories. For three decades after the war, these Mizrachi Jews immigrated to Israel, France, America and other Western countries, and they and their descendants have made many valuable contributions to their new homelands.

Even Obama’s most diehard supporters have not argued that his strategy between January 2009 and October 2012 has been successful in the two regions. The president refused to support the popular uprising in Iran in the summer of 2009 against the Islamic fanatics who have misruled that nation for three decades, and his reliance on diplomacy and economic sanctions to end the Iranian nuclear-weapons program has also failed.

Similarly, Obama’s reactions to the revolutions that have swept across North Africa and the Middle East since their beginning in Sidi Bou Zid, Tunisia in December 2010 (the site of a major American battlefield defeat in February 1943) are aptly summarized as “leading from behind.” The unwillingness to take military action to end the mass killings of civilians by the Assad regime in Syria is another diplomatic fiasco on the part of Obama and his hapless secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.

In Iraq, Obama snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by not negotiating an agreement with the new Iraqi government to extend the stay of American military personnel who were successfully rebuilding the country’s armed forces.

Further, the president’s dispatch of tens of thousands of Army, Marine and Air Force reinforcements to Afghanistan in 2010 and his simultaneous announcement of their withdrawal in 2012 violated a cardinal rule of war. As General George Patton once pointed out, no commander should allow a pre-existing plan to override battlefield conditions; instead the commander must adjust the plan to the inevitable successes or failures on the ground.

More than 1,500 Americans have been killed in the Afghanistan Theater since Obama’s inauguration as compared to 650 killed there during President Bush’s eight years in the White House.

Finally, on September 11, 2012, our embassies in Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia and other Muslim countries were attacked by local religious fanatics, and four Americans – Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone S. Woods and Glen A. Doherty – were killed in an assault on our embassy in Benghazi, Libya.

Despite extensive outreach and apologies to the Muslim world, the Obama administration can’t claim the countries of the Middle East and North Africa are more aligned with American interests than they were when the president was inaugurated in January 2009. In short, his “new beginning” with the Islamic world has been an abject disaster.

* * * * *

By contrast, between May 1940, when he replaced Neville Chamberlain as prime minister, and May 1943, when the Mediterranean again became an Allied lake, Churchill was the driving force behind victorious military campaigns from Iran in the east to Morocco in the west.

In September 1940, with the Battle of Britain raging and a Nazi invasion still a genuine threat, Churchill reinforced Commonwealth and Empire forces in Egypt in anticipation of an Italian attack from Libya aimed at the Suez Canal and Middle East oil fields. The expected Italian invasion was launched, but stalled after an advance of just 60 miles into Egypt.

Amnesty: By the Way, Hamas Cops Beat Up Demonstrators

Saturday, March 31st, 2012

Proving that public officials must read their own stories before sending them out, we found an item on the Palestinian news agency Ma’an’s website Saturday that began:

“Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and north Africa called Friday for Israel to stop using excessive force against demonstrators.”

The item continued (2nd paragraph): “Ann Harrison said reports that dozens were hurt at demonstrations were “extremely worrying, particularly in the light of frequent and persistent use of excessive force against Palestinian protesters.”

Only the third paragraph recalled that the same Ms. Harrison also had some critical things to say about the Palestinian demonstrators’ own brothers in arms, citing her statement:

“We are also concerned at reports that Palestinian Authority security forces have tried to prevent protests in areas under their control, while Hamas security forces have beaten protesters in Gaza.”

There, that last part, about Hamas beating the daylights out of their own people, that was buried way down there. Because, let’s face it, you kind of expect Hamas and the PA to beat the you-know-what out of Palestinians, it’s what they do. Israel, on the other hand, is expected to turn the other cheek.

French Nuclear Physicist on Trial for Plotting Hits with Al Qaeda

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Fox News reports that Adlene Hicheur, a French nuclear physicist of Algerian descent who once worked at Switzerland’s renowned CERN laboratory, is being tried in Paris on charges of collaborating with Al Qaeda in North Africa. His attorneys claim he only sent angry emails. They are afraid their clients would be unfairly linked with the Toulouse murderer.

Hicheur spent two and a half years in prison, awaiting the trial which has begun Thursday. But now that the trial has started, the timing couldn’t be worse for the scientist:

“I think that there should be no confusion between Mohamed Merah and Adlene Hicheur,” said Hicheur’s attorney Patrick Baudouin. He argued that Adlene Hicheur “has a family, friends, working colleagues, a stable entourage. He has never been in Afghanistan nor in any other such country.”

Hicheur’s brother Halim also complained that after the killings in Toulouse, “Some people wanted to raise the specter of the terrorism threat by the Algerian, Muslim nuclear physicist, etc. All the key words you can name.”

The prosecutors base their case on a period back in 2009, when Hicheur sent out a string of angry e-mails calling for the punishment of the West for its anti-Muslim wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The defense argues that the scientist wasd laid up with a herniated disk at the time, and the emails were merely an expression of his pain and frustration.

Attorney Baudouin told Fox News that Hicheur was arrested in a pre-dawn raid on Oct. 8, 2009, at his parents’ home in southeastern France, hours before he was to take a flight to Algeria to work on a real estate purchase.

French investigators analyzed some 35 emails between Hicheur and a recipient they suggest was his Al-Qaida contact, an Algerian named Mustapha Debchi. Some emails mention possible targets, including a French army barracks in the Alps.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/french-nuclear-physicist-on-trial-for-plotting-hits-with-al-qaeda/2012/03/29/

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