Tag Archives: Middle East

Christian Persecution in the Middle East

In his latest book, Christian Persecution in the Middle East: A 21st Century Tragedy, author George J. Marlin explores the fall of Christianity in its birthplace, documenting the suffering of those people who face death simply for being a Christian.

The most well-known persecution occurs at the hands of the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL). For over a year, ISIS has worked to destroy historical sites while persecuting those who do not submit to their sadistic interpretation of Islamic law. Mosul, Iraq, was home to one of the largest Christian communities in the world where they lived peacefully with Muslims. But ISIS ended that in June 2014 when they invaded the town and either murdered or expelled all the Christians.

Marlin, who runs the group Aid to the Church in Need, explores not only the damage done by the Islamic State but that committed by those who should be America’s allies. Devout Muslim Recep Tayyip Erdoğan rules NATO-member Turkey with an iron fist as president. His actions since he became prime minister point to a desire to re-establish the Ottoman Empire. His anti-Semitic views make headlines, but hardly anyone touches on the downfall of Christianity in the country during his tenure.

The Christian population of Turkey is evaporating rapidly. The nation, a NATO member since 1952, has experienced a reduction in its Christian population from 20 percent 100 years ago to only 0.2 percent today. Istanbul was once known as Constantinople, founded by Roman Emperor Constantine in 324. He made it the capital of Rome before it fell to the Ottoman Empire in 1453. They made it their capital until the empire collapsed after World War I. Modern-day Turkey officially renamed it Istanbul in 1923.

“You have to remember that the AKP–the Justice and Development Party in Turkey–is a spinoff of the Muslim Brotherhood,” described Jonathan Schanzer, from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). “This is an organization that is founded on Islamist principles. Mr. Erdogan sees himself as an Islamist and a Turk first and foremost. And so he’s synthesizing Turkish nationalism with the Muslim Brotherhood.”

In May, a large rally in Istanbul demanded the government change the historic Hagia Sophia church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, into a mosque. The idea to change the church into a mosque begun to gain momentum in April after Pope Francis recognized the slaying of 1.5 million Armenians in the 20th century as a genocide. Liam Deacon at Breitbart London chronicled the history of Hagia Sophia.

“Our real problem remains our basic property, we have no ownership papers and have never had any,” said Bishop Louis Pelatre, the Roman Catholic Apostolic Vicar of Istanbul, in Marlin’s book. “This is not an easy situation. I am not recognized as a bishop, I can open a bank account in my own name but not in the name of my diocese.”

Marlin then writes about Lebanon, which is “recognized as the nation in the Middle East with the most religious freedom.” But recent years left Christian leaders in fear that radical Muslims will do away with those freedoms. Christians made up 84 percent of the Lebanese population in 1926, but now only 30 percent live in the country.

Iraqi Christians fled to Lebanon in 2007 only to be met with discrimination and threats of death. Marlin explained that 31 people were arrested for a plot to attack Christian neighborhoods in Zahle, which boasts a Christian population of 20,000. The Pope visited in 2010, but the visit did not diminish Christian persecution. Only a month later, Muslims attacked numerous Christian communities, killing 10 people and wounding over 100.

Even more Christians and Muslims filed into Lebanon after ISIS established their caliphate in Syria. Rifaat Nasrallah leads a Christian militia that protects the Lebanese border. He said if it was not for his militia, the cities on the border “would be another Mosul.” Marlin also noted the fight with ISIS forced these Christian militias to team with Hezbollah, who consider Syrian President Bashar al-Assd an ally. One of Nasrallah’s deputies said the two groups “share a common enemy” since ISIS wants to destroy both. The militias “have received training and supplies from Hezbollah.”

Marlin’s book did an excellent job documenting Christian persecution in the Middle East, especially countries largely ignored by the mainstream media. He provided a voice to those religious leaders who live through the persecutions on a daily basis.

“That Christian presence is now at risk of disappearing — for good. The loss would be immeasurable,” said Marlin. “A Middle East without Christians — holy sites not surrounded by a living Christian community — would turn the region into a museum of Christianity, maintained by foreign clergy for the benefit of foreign pilgrims. It would become a ‘Church of stones,’ in the ominous words of Pope Paul VI.”

The book is available for purchase on Amazon.

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Thwarting Iran’s regional dominance

Why would we stand against Iran’s nuclear deal? We support any agreement ending all forms of confrontation with and sanctions on Iran, but the problem lies in the details. If it were a good deal, Iranians and Arabs would be contented neighbors, but it is not.

The Iranian regime is like a monster that was tied to a tree and finally set loose in our region. This means we are on the threshold of a new, bloody era. Verbal promises from Washington will not be enough, and Iranian pledges will not reassure us. The countries of the region have only one choice: to expect the worst-case scenario.

However, every cloud has a silver lining. The withdrawal of the West from the conflict with Tehran may be a good incentive for us to re-examine the rules of confrontation. The challenges are substantial: economic, political, security and military, all interrelated. Without a vital economy, we will not be able to improve other fronts. With the huge void caused by the withdrawal of the West from the conflict with Iran, we need to review our military capabilities according to the new reality.

Tehran does not intend to drop its aims of expanding its regional dominance and destabilizing neighboring countries, taking advantage of the lifting of sanctions

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Before the agreement, there was international cooperation for some three decades in the Gulf waters. There was a ban on military deals. Iran was besieged and controlled by a large fleet – this is what led the Iranians to wage war via Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Palestine, Asaib al-Haq in Iraq, the Houthis in Yemen, and the Syrian and Sudanese regimes.

After the agreement, we face one of two possibilities: Tehran will either change its ways, marking a new era of reconciliation, or it will increase its hostile activities, unencumbered by sanctions and Western involvement in the regional conflict.

Bad intentions

Tehran does not intend to drop its aims of expanding its regional dominance and destabilizing neighboring countries, taking advantage of the lifting of sanctions, which will facilitate the transfer of funds and the purchase and shipment of arms.

Tehran intends to destabilize the region in order to impose submissive regimes. It is using Hezbollah to control Lebanon. It is behind Palestinian division by using Hamas against the Palestinian Authority (PA). Iran is also operating a large network of organizations and militias in Iraq to impose its authority over the country’s institutions. It is behind the Yemen coup through its Houthi representatives, who occupied most of the country.

Iran is using the Sudanese regime for its own purposes, and is using opposition groups to spread unrest in Bahrain. Tehran is responsible for the Syrian regime’s unprecedented crimes. The list of chaos and Iranian agents is very long.

Washington believes these activities are temporary as Tehran is using them to force the lifting of sanctions and to reach an agreement.

However, we believe it is a fixed policy. Tehran’s dominance will expand and become more dangerous with time, even without direct conflict between us and Iran.

The countries of the region face a large task in thwarting Iran’s activities in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere. They should deploy all possible efforts to push Tehran toward genuine reconciliation, not mere maneuvers as it is doing today with the West.

However, conflict management will not succeed without improving economic and bureaucratic performance, and developing military and security forces that are necessary in light of today’s chaos and Tehran’s determination to dominate.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on July 17, 2015.

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Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Obama turns the Middle East into the Wild West

You’ve got a problem — a security problem? Don’t sweat it. President Obama has an answer. He’ll arm you.

You say the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is attacking the Iraqi city of Ramadi? Stay calm. We’ve got it covered. Vice President Biden assured the Iraqi prime minister last Friday that the U.S. is fast-tracking AT-4 shoulder-held rockets and other heavy weaponry to Iraqi government troops — and their Iranian-backed militia allies. Of course, on Saturday, Ramadi fell to ISIS — which seized every opportunity to grab the U.S.-supplied arms left behind by the Iraqi army.

You say the Syrian government is dropping chlorine gas bombs on its own civilians again? Well, what are you complaining about? Obama already sent the Free Syrian Army 3,000 tons of M16A assault rifles from Croatia, M79 anti-tank rockets from Saudi Arabia and most recently BGM-71 TOW armor-piercing anti-tank systems. The problem is … those weapons that were sent to the moderate Syrian rebels, the Free Syrian Amy, somehow wound up in the hands of the al Qaeda affiliate al Nusra Front and ISIS.Now, you say Iranian-backed Shiite rebels in Yemen are lobbing rockets and mortars into Saudi cities? Keep your hat — I mean crown — on, King Salman. Obama is setting up “a dedicated Foreign Military Sales procurement office to process GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council]-wide sales, streamlining third-party transfers, and exploring ways the United States could accelerate the acquisition and fielding of key capabilities,” or so says the White House press statement.

The problem is … the day after Obama promised military aid to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states in return for their supporting negotiations toward the “Iran deal,” the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei announced that “Yemen, Bahrain and Palestine are oppressed, and we protect oppressed people as much as we can.” Yes, you heard right: Bahrain.

Bahrain, a member of the GCC, is a small island state to the east of Saudi Arabia and to the west of Iran. The country is indeed home to an Iranian-backed Shiite group, Saraya al-Mukhtar, that has participated in rallies, protests, bombings and attacks on police stations controlled by the minority Sunni regime.

In making the statement, Khamenei now threatens to activate the Shiite rebel group Saraya al-Mukhtar and destabilize Bahrain. Since Bahrain is also home to the U.S. Fifth Naval Fleet, destabilizing Bahrain is probably not in the best interests of the United States.

So, the day after Obama met with GCC leaders to convince them to drop their opposition to the Iran deal in exchange for lots of things that explode, Khamenei signaled that Iran is escalating the Shiite-Sunni regional war to include Bahrain.

Up until now, Iran has primarily focused its efforts on maintaining control of (1) Syria through Syrian President Bashar Assad; (2) Lebanon through the Hezbollah, (3) Yemen through the Houthi rebels; and (4) Iraq through its ties with the Shiite-dominated government and Shiite rebels. Now, it will expand into (5) Bahrain.

Now, last month when Iranian ships sailed toward Yemen with advanced weapons for the rebels, the mere entrance of the USS Theodore Roosevelt into Yemeni waters sent the Iranian ships scuttling back home.

Commentators in Israel and the Arab world hoped that Obama would realize what flexing a bit of military muscle can do in the Middle East — that the president might embrace a strategy known as “deterrence.” The president didn’t. Instead, the president focused on partisan battles within the U.S. and tried to convince the GCC to embrace his Iran deal at the Camp David conference. The king of Bahrain, for his part, opted out of the conference, choosing instead to accompany the Queen of England to a horse race.

It is high time Obama reassessed his strategy. There is only one military superpower in the world today. There is only one sheriff in town. And that sheriff better put on his badge.

That sheriff can use deterrence to prevent Iran from delivering military supplies to the Houthi rebels in Yemen, Saraya al-Mukhtar in Bahrain, the Syrian Army and the Hezbollah through naval and aerial threats. That sheriff can rally the U.N. and Western allies to put a stop to the Yemini war — and get a peacekeeping force on the ground. That sheriff can also monitor the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps activities in Iraq with hopes that Iraq doesn’t fall to Iran.

Understand, our pro-Western Sunni allies are fighting two major wars: one against Iran-supported Shiite radicals (in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and now Bahrain) and one against ISIS. They need our support to win first the one and then the other.

And remember, the U.S. does possess the military capability necessary to stand up to Iran. The U.S. can unite our allies behind such a move. And, of course, President Obama should prevent Iran from destabilizing the Middle East and from obtaining a nuclear bomb on — or off — his watch.

Friedman is an American-Israeli writer and editor in the fields of political science, history, and information technology.