Not With a Bang, but a Whimper…?

According to the Pew Research Center poll on Religion in Public Life, the Christian share of the US population is declining while the number of adults who do not identify with any organized religion is increasing. The percentage of adults who describe themselves as Christians dropped from 78.4% in 2007 to 70.6% in 2014 and the percentage of unaffiliated (atheists, agnostics or “nothing in particular”) increased from 16.1% in 2007 to 22.8% in 2014; the drop in the Christian population registered mostly among mainline Protestants and Catholics, each of which shrunk by approximately 3% since 2007. The evangelical Protestant share has also declined but at a lower rate of about 1% in the same time period. The unaffiliated are also getting younger; the median age has dropped from 38 in 2007 to 36 in 2014; contrast this with the median age of mainline Protestants at 52 from one of 50 in 2007 and that of Catholics to 49, up from 45 in 2007.

While the percentage of people who identify themselves as Christians in the US remains the largest in the world, the results of the poll indicate a definite downward trend that has provoked concern and alarm among the religious leaders of the various Christian denominations in the country. The results should not have come as a surprise; a cursory examination of the country’s religious landscape shows mostly complacent congregations entertained by music best described as mod and listening to mild and sometimes amusing sermons better suited to a safe and orderly world. But the world is neither safe nor orderly; while we listen to the occasional joke from the pulpit, in the Middle East Christians are being slaughtered for no other reason that they are Christians with nary a word of indignation preached to the congregations, with the exception of perhaps offering a prayer as an afterthought.

The fact is that today, the world’s largest group of people persecuted for their faith are Christians; they are being killed, brutalized, tortured and sold as slaves, robbed of their good reputation and threatened solely because they are Christians. Where is the outrage, where are the demonstrations and marches? Where are the thunderous sermons? Where are the pickets in front of the diplomatic offices of the countries that notoriously persecute, terrorize and brutalize Christians?

While we fret about political correctness, Islamic savages murdered 21 Egyptian Christian Copts in Libya by cutting their throats as if they were slaughtering cattle. In 2013, in Kenya, Islamic terrorists cornered people in a Nairobi shopping center and after instructing Muslims to leave, shot the remaining non-Muslims, killing 39 and wounding 150. During the 2014 ISIS offensive in Iraq, the savages issued a decree in July demanding that all indigenous Assyrian Christians in the areas under their control must leave the lands they had occupied for 5000 years or pay a special tax of $470 per family, convert to Islam or be murdered. Christian homes were painted with the Arabic letter nun for Nassarah, the Arabic word for Christian and declared them “the property of the Islamic State”. According to Patriarch Louis Sako, there are no Christians in Mosul for the first time in the nation’s history. While American churches were holding picnics or having coffee and donuts after milquetoast services, ISIS attacked the Assyrian town of Qaraqosh. The 5-year old son of one of the founding members of St George’s Anglican Church in Baghdad was slaughtered by the savages, who cut the boy in half.

The attacks on Christianity are not limited to the Islamic lands nor to the Communist controlled states, such as North Korea, China or Cuba; anyone who keeps abreast of the news will realize that there is a concerted and unceasing attack against Christians in the United States, especially after the 2008 elections. President Obama loses no opportunity to wag his finger and attack Christian audiences, as he did not too long ago during the National Prayer Breakfast, when he brought up the Crusades and the Inquisition, events that took place almost a thousand years ago for the former and close to five hundred for the latter while urging his audience to “get off their high horse” Recently, during an appearance at Georgetown University -a Catholic institution- he suggested that “Catholics and Evangelicals should focus more on helping the poor, instead of focusing on divisive issues such as gay marriage and abortion” This is the same president who, while never passing up and opportunity to verbally slap Christian audiences, opened a press conference with the following statement “Let’s make one thing very clear. ISIS is not Islamic” before fielding a single question. The same president who went to the UN a few days after terrorists murdered four Americans, including our ambassador, during an almost seven hour siege of the American consulate in Benghazi, and famously said in a very energetic tone of voice “The future does not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam”. Apparently, the future does belong to those who slander the followers of Christ and the descendants of Abraham.

The two hot-button issues facing the churches today are abortion and gay marriage. What should have been a unanimous negative reaction based on the core doctrines of every Christian denomination, instead shows a fragmented response, especially among those “with it” and “responsive” denominations trying to adjust to a “changing environment”. While the Catholic, Orthodox, Mormon and Evangelical churches completely oppose abortion and gay marriage, there is a surprising number of so-called Christian denominations that favor either one or the other, or both.

Gay Marriage

Presbyterian Church (USA) Redefined marriage as a “commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman”

Evangelical Lutheran Church of America allows same-sex couples to be married but leaves it to the individual ministers of the congregations to decide . “There is nothing that prescribes who a congregational pastor can marry or not marry so long as it is consistent with state law” (ELCA Secretary David Swartling, 2012)

The Episcopal Church established a rite of blessing for same-sex couples in 2012 and prohibited discrimination against transgender people.

The United Church of Christ has allowed same-sex couples to get married since 2005

Abortion

Presbyterian Church The General Assembly reaffirmed its belief that the termination of pregnancy is a personal decision. While the church disapproves of abortion as a means of birth control or as a method of convenience, it seeks “to maintain within its fellowship those who, on the basis of a study of Scripture and prayerful decision come to diverse conclusions and actions” on the issue.

United Church of Christ “is a firm advocate of reproductive rights, including the right to a safe abortion”

United Methodist Church “sanctions the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures” but rejects abortion as a method of gender selection or birth control.

Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations “support the right to choose contraception and abortion as a legitimate expression of our constitutional rights”

Wonderful, isn’t it? The ambivalence bleeds through all of the sanctimonious expressions. Are we firm, yet flexible? Do we worship at the altar of political correctness? I particularly like the statement on terminating a pregnancy after reading Scripture and praying and reflecting on it. I must have missed that part in either the Old or New Testament. I do not recall any incidents of same-sex marriage in either book of the Bible, unless they perhaps refer to the wedding at Cana, but somehow I doubt it. In the meantime, while some of our brethren cultivate a Slinky Toy for a spine, Christians in the Middle East are being slaughtered by savages who smell weakness.

Pope Francis denounced the murder and persecution of Christians in the Middle East and called them “martyrs, killed simply because they were Christians. The blood of our brothers and sisters is a witness that cries out to be heard. It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Protestants. They are Christians! Their blood is one and the same. Their blood confesses Christ”

Whereas the number of self-proclaimed Christians declined in the fat and prosperous lands, it actually increased in those places where the mere act of being a Christian is a potential death sentence. Revelation 3:16 reads: “So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth”

Free Speech…or Almost Free Speech?

Free Speech…or Almost Free Speech?

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Thus reads the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, an amendment so important that the Founding Fathers placed it ahead of all others. It should be obvious to all that without free speech all the other amendments, even the Constitution, become moot points.

On Sunday, May 4th, Pamela Geller, co-founder of “The Freedom Defense Initiative” sponsored a “Draw Mohammed “ contest at the Curtis Culwell Center in the city of Garland, Texas. Two hours into the event, a dark vehicle pulled up and two men, wearing body armor and carrying rifles emerged from it and opened fire, wounding an unarmed security guard in the ankle. The gunmen were intent in replicating the Charlie Hebdo massacre; unfortunately for them, they picked the wrong venue and an outgunned, but better trained traffic officer, moonlighting as security for the event, shot and killed the would-be jihadists. It turned out that both men, who had tweeted allegiance to ISIS, had driven from Phoenix, AZ, some 1080 miles and 16 hours away, as per Google Maps. The key note speaker of the event was Dutch politician Geerd Wilders, under death sentence from Islamist extremists for having made the short film, “Fitna” which depicts extreme acts of terrorism against a background of Koranic verses. It is obvious that both Ms Geller and Mr Wilders were the main targets for assassination, along with anyone else the “holy warriors” had the opportunity to kill before they themselves could be dispatched to Paradise.

The reaction from what passes as the main stream press was swift in coming and Ms Geller was dubbed as anything from a “provocateur” to “despicable” and “hate monger” Surprising criticism came from Bill O’Reilly and some of the Fox News commentators. Apparently, the opinion they espoused is that the event was “offensive” to Muslims and therefore should not have taken place. The “progressive” press, with the New York Times leading the charge, called it “hate speech” and “offensive and provocative” therefore, not protected by the 1st Amendment.

News flash! It is precisely that kind of speech that the 1st Amendment protects. If all speech were like The Barney the Dinosaur song (remember?) the 1st Amendment would have no reason to exist, but it is not and therefore, it exists. Yes, you cannot yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater but that is an exception, not the rule. You can yell “Fire!” anywhere else. You may not yell “Loot!” and incite a crowd at the door of a store during a riot but you may write, or say “Loot!” from the safety of your home at a distance, as Al Sharpton has demonstrated countless times. If you are a minister, priest or holy man, you can fulminate from the pulpit and call the wrath of God upon the heads of those miscreants who have the audacity to not recognize the righteousness of your cause, but you have no right to harm, hurt, maim, kill or otherwise impede the welfare or destroy the property of those miscreants. That is precisely what those two gunmen in Garland attempted to do. The irony is that they inadvertently vindicated Ms Geller’s and Mr Wilder’s point. There is a violent streak in Islam and it comes not from the lunatic fringe but from its core.

The same public outlets that cried out against “right wing” and “fascist censorship” when objections were raised against the display of a crucifix immersed in a plastic jar full of urine or when the Brooklyn Museum of Art ran an exhibit in which a portrait of the Virgin Mary was surrounded with pornographic images and elephant dung, are the same ones who now object and fret about something as inane as a cartoon of the prophet Mohammed…..and why? Because in contrast to Catholics and other Christians, Islamic extremists not only threaten, but kill those who have the audacity to depict the prophet.

On April 12th, 2006, Comedy Central censored an image of Mohammed scheduled to be shown on the night’s episode of “South Park”, bowing to pressure from Islamic extremists. However, Comedy Central had no problem showing an episode of “South Park” -during Holy Week, no less- showing Jesus Christ defecating on President Bush and on the American flag. Mormons and Scientologists have been the butt of humor verging on the offensive; yet, neither Catholics, Protestants, Mormons or Scientologists have ever threatened Comedy Central with physical violence or death. The most they have ever done is to switch off their television sets.

Muhammed has been depicted in the past, particularly in Medieval Muslim art and illuminated manuscripts, especially in Shiite sources, and no one was killed.

Pamella Geller is a 56 year old single mother of four children and was born June 14th 1958 in Hewlett Harbor, a section of Long Island, NY, the third of four sisters. Helping her father in his business, she became fluent in Spanish. During a recent interview on Sean Hannity’s show on Fox News, she debated an Islamic cleric, who called for her to be tried and punished by a Sharia court, to which she replied: “Canon Law applies only to Catholics, Jewish Law applies only to Jews, but Sharia applies to everyone? I live in America, sir and I’m free to do and think what I want”

I lived the majority of my life without paying much attention to Islam or the Arab world….until September 11th 2001, when I saw those planes deliberately crashing into the World Trade Center towers. I watched them collapse into enormous clouds of dust and mountains of rubble, but the image that still stays with me and that I sometimes dream about, is that of people jumping from the burning towers to their deaths on the pavement below, human beings faced with the choice of either burning to death or splattering on the concrete. I started to read and learn all I could about Islam, and what I read I did not like; if you have any doubts as to the root causes of 9-11 just read Mohammed Atta’s will.

Are all Muslim like that? Certainly not. But the hard fact is that Islam needs a reformation, as the Egyptian President recently stated. But all is not lost. During the recent Nigerian army operation that resulted in the liberation of scores of young girls kidnapped by Boko Haram, there was a young lady who had been kidnapped, along with her sister, when they visited a local beauty supply store. While they were being transported in trucks, there was an opportunity to escape and her sister took advantage of it, but she could not, because while they were being herded on foot, she ran across three children whose parents had been killed and she took it upon herself to care for them and decided she could not abandon them. She, along with the children, were rescued by the army. She is Muslim. The children are Christian. You see, there is hope.

ISIS has called for Pamela Geller’s death, calling her a “pig” She is a very courageous lady who speaks her mind very clearly. She runs a blog called “Atlas Shrugs” which has become the target not only for Islamists but for “progressive” forces as well, who want to shut her down, the same “progressive” forces who claim 1st Amendment rights when it comes to attack, ridicule and slander Christians or Jews knowing full well that no physical harm will come to them as a result; however, when it comes to Islam, these “progressives” suddenly become conscious of “hate mongers”, “freedom of religion” and “offensive speech”, wonderful expressions behind which they hide their cowardice and jellyfish spines. Ms Geller has shown them for what they really are and now they join in the chorus call of blaming the victim, not the perpetrators. It is said that some Oriental rulers, when receiving a message they did not like, ordered the messenger killed. Apparently, the modern version of that mentality is still with us.

Kowtowing to any group or institution that puts limits or definitions on what should or should not be said in public discourse is a first step on the downward road to serfdom. Almost free speech is not free at all.

Stay safe, Pamela!!!

Reference Links

https://themuslimissue.wordpress.com/2012/12/01/islamic-depictions-of-mohammed-in-full/

http://pamelageller.com/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fitna_%28film%29

Muammar Gaddafi….miss him yet?

On April 30th the headlines were full of the story of a ship lost at sea off the coast of Libya carrying as many as 900 people trying to reach Europe. All are feared lost.

On May 5th, dozens of overloaded rubber boats and rickety fishing vessels sent by human traffickers were intercepted by European authorities. Between Friday 1st and Sunday 3rd, some 7000 people were rescued.

Last year, about 219,000 refugees and migrants crossed the Mediterranean and at least some 3500 died in the attempt. Most migrants come to Europe through Italy; after all, the small Italian island of Lampedusa is closer to Tunisia than to Sicily and the authorities there are overwhelmed by the unchecked influx of refugees.

The migrants come from as far away as Syria but mostly from North and sub-Sahara Africa. They congregate in Libya, a center of lawlessness and a haven for rings of human smugglers and then are herded into overcrowded and unsafe vessels at the Libyan ports of Zarawah and Zawiya. Saharan tribes, such as Tuaregs and Tebus, battle each other for control of the lucrative human trade.

Zarawah and Zawiya in Tripolitania and Benghazi in Cyrenaica have long been notorious centers for the traffic of migrants into Europe. As an aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq and the subsequent change of Gaddafi’s behavior and disposal of his nuclear armament, Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair, in 2007, signed an accord with the Libyan leader in an attempt to help transition Gaddafi from the role of pariah into one of more or less respectability. Among the accord’s provisions, Gaddafi agreed to curtail people smuggling; later on, he made a similar agreement with Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi. Unintended consequences being what they are, the accords prompted the Zawarians to rise against Gaddafi because he had destroyed their source of income, not because they yearned for some sort of democracy.

It was at this point that the Arbiters of the World came together and decided that it was time for Gaddafi to go. Latching on to something they dubbed The Arab Spring, they bombed and decimated Gaddafi’s forces. In October 2011, Gaddafi was captured, tortured and executed, in living color, to the delighted squeal of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. It was unfortunate for the Arbiters that things did not go according to script. Libya collapsed into anarchy and lawlessness.

Under Gaddafi, Libya was a mercantile haven and thus became a magnet for the Northern and sub-Saharan Africans who flocked there; presently, it has become the focal point for human smuggling, a very profitable trade carried out by Libyan militias, tribesmen, bandits and law-enforcement officials; the collapse of the Libyan economy and the race between the militias and tribesmen to find sources of money to finance their internal wars provide ample fuel for the brazen traffic in human misery.

The Middle East is in an almost frenzy-like state of turmoil, much of it because of the incredibly inept US foreign policy, fashioned by President Obama and his triumvirate of Warrior Amazons Hillary Clinton, Valerie Jarred and Susan Rice. The turmoil extends all the way to sub-Sahara Africa and it is reflected in the composition of those fortunate enough to be rescued in the Mediterranean. The carnage in Iraq and the civil war in Syria have displaced millions of people towards Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. There is an estimate of at least 500,000 Syrians ready to go to sea.

The UN estimates that close to a million refugees will eventually reach European shores, mostly poor, uneducated, some illiterate and by necessity, mostly male and if the previous pattern of North African immigration holds, Muslims who do not wish to assimilate into European society but rather, want European society to assimilate into them, with a birth rate that outnumbers the native European population, long steeped into the culture of birth control and abortion.

This would not be the first time that huge population displacements have resulted in the collapse of civilizations. It was the Huns who exerted pressure on the Germanic tribes to move westward into the Roman Empire which created the upheavals that eventually resulted in its collapse. Contrary to popular myths, Rome did not disappear into a sea of flames, rape and pillage; rather, in 477 AD, Odoacer the Herulian, commander of the palace guard, decided that it was time for the boy-emperor, Romulus Augustus, to go. He did not kill him; rather, he sent him away to southern Italy where he lived his days in obscurity. Odoacer did not take the title of emperor but was contented with that of Patrician. He bundled the Western Imperial regalia and sent it to the Eastern Roman emperor, Zeno. Thus ended the Roman Empire of the West. Its citizens did not notice the change.

While on a state visit to Italy in 2010, Gaddafi, always theatrical and bombastic, warned that Europe would turn black unless it was more rigorous in turning back immigrants. While he also advised Europeans to convert to Islam, he also told a Rome meeting: “We don’t know what will be the reaction of the white and Christian Europeans faced with this influx of starving and ignorant Africans. We don’t know if Europe will remain an advanced and united continent or if it will be destroyed, as happened with the barbarian invasions” Contrast this with Hillary Clinton’s stupid and ignorant cackling in a CBS interview while serving as Secretary of State: “We came, we saw, he died” Who is laughing now?

There is a human tragedy unfolding in the African continent and in the waters of the Mediterranean which did not have to happen. The Arbiters of the World decided that it was high time for the little Dutch boy to remove his fingers from the holes in the dam and go home; the water is gushing forth and the dam is about to burst and once it does, all the king’s men and all the king’s horses will not put Humpty Dumpty together again. Unfortunately, the price will be paid in blood, not water. The ISIS savages will be the executioners but the final responsibility lies with the Arbiters who unleashed them.

Want a little preview of the future? On April 16th 2015, Italian police arrested 15 Muslim migrants who threw 12 Christians overboard from a boat. They eventually drowned. The victims were from Nigeria and Ghana. The suspects from the Ivory Coast, Mali and Senegal.

Gaddafi….miss him yet?

Those We Left Behind

Those We Left Behind

Retired Marine Sergeant Amir Mirza Hekmati has spent three and a half years in the Iranian Evin prison, a reputed hellhole from all accounts; condemned initially to death, the sentence was later reduced to ten years. He is accused of spying for the United States. In case you have not heard of Amir (unless you are a regular Fox News viewer) here are some pertinent facts: Amir Hekmati was born on July 27, 1983 in Flagstaff, Arizona of Iranian parents. He joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 2001 and was honorably discharged in 2005 with the rank of Sergeant in the 1st Marine Division. Here is part of his record:

Took part in Operation Iraqi Freedom

Combat Action Ribbon

Good Conduct Medal

National Defense Service Medal

Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal

Sea Service Deployment Ribbon

After discharge he founded Lucid Linguistics LLC in 2006 and worked as a military contractor translating Arabic and Persian and later worked for Kuma Reality Games developing a language learning game for the U.S. Dept of Defense and while in Kansas he worked for BAF Systems, a multinational defense contractor as a cultural and language expert. The preceding information was taken from Wikipedia.

In August of 2011 he visited Iran to see his gravely ill grandmother and roughly two weeks into his visit he was arrested amid great fanfare, charged with espionage and sentenced to death. His sentence was later overturned and a new trial ordered, which took place behind closed doors, without Amir’s presence and no legal defense allowed; the result was a 10-year sentence for cooperating with a hostile government (US)  Even though Amir is a natural born citizen of the United States, because Iranian law considers children born abroad of Iranian parents to be citizens of Iran, they charged him as an Iranian, even though he publicly renounced his so-called Iranian citizenship. The Swiss government, which represents U.S. Interests in Iran, has not been allowed to visit him.

Amir has been tortured, placed in isolation and given drugs in order to break his will. In the recent nuclear negotiations in Switzerland, Secretary of State John Kerry did not see fit to bring up Amir’s case once. So far, only Greta van Susteren, of the Fox News Network and talk show host Montel Williams, himself a Marine, have made it a point to keep his name front and center in the news. The other outlets are silent.

Amir’s father, Ali Hekhmat has brain cancer and also has had a stroke; he wants to see his son before he dies. Amir has a mother, Behnaz Hekmati and a sister, Sarah Hekmati. Amir is a natural born American citizen of Iranian descent who has served his country faithfully and honorably and now rots in a prison notorious for its brutality. He certainly deserves more than the inane platitudes uttered by the officials of the country of his birth.

Christian pastor Saeed Abedini, an American citizen born in Iran was sentenced to 8 years in prison accused of evangelizing in the Islamic Republic . He was sentenced in Tehran by judge Pir-Abassi, known as the “hanging judge”. Iran recognizes Christianity as a minority religion, but Muslim converts to Christianity face discrimination, sometimes death and are not allowed to worship with other Christians in established churches; this has led to the establishment of underground house churches where these converts can worship together, albeit illegally.

Saeed Abedini was born May 7, 1980 and converted from Islam to Christianity in 2000. In 2002 he met and married his wife Naghmeh. He was ordained  minister and in 2010 became an American citizen. His family is located in Boise, Idaho, where Naghmeh grew up. They have two children and are members of the Calvary Chapel Church in Boise.

Pastor Saeed has been in prison since the summer of 2012 “for undermining the Iranian government by creating a network of Christian house churches and attempting to sway Iranian youth away from Islam”. Initially he was incarcerated in the notorious Evin prison but in November 2013, he was transferred to the Rajai Shahr prison in the town of Karaj. This is a prison populated by hard core criminals and infamous for its harsh and life-threatening conditions.

According to his wife Haghmeh Abedini, in a public appearance on September 25 2011, he is being threatened by guards who tell him that “he will never be free until he renounces Jesus Christ and returns to Islam”, which he has steadfastly refused to do. To make matters even more dire for him, there have been mass executions in the prison. In response to the beatings and mistreatments he has endured, the U.S. State Department issued the following written statement:

We remain concerned about Mr Abedini’s health and welfare, especially given reports of mistreatments during his transfer back to Rajai Shahr prison. We repeat our request for Iran to permit Mr Abedini to receive any necessary medical treatment and to grant Swiss officials, who serve as our protective power, consular access to determine his well-being. We remain in touch with Mr Abedini’s family regarding developments in his case. We call on Iran to release Mr Abedini so he may be returned to his family”

Words that can hardly be expected to send the mullahs cowering under their beds. The State Department and President Obama have used harsher language when addressing our Israeli allies.

Marine Sergeant Andrew Tahmooressi’s story has a happier ending (of sorts) for he was returned to his family but only after spending 214 days in a Mexican prison chained to his bed. He was arrested after taking a wrong turn at a poorly marked border crossing near San Diego and winding up in Mexico, where he explained to the border guards that he had mistakenly entered the country and wanted to return to the US. When the guards asked if he had any weapons, he said he did and was arrested on the spot on charges of bringing military grade weapons into Mexico, where they are illegal.

Sergeant Andrew Tahmooressi is a veteran of two tours of duty in Afghanistan and suffers from PTSD. He left his Daytona Beach home, loaded everything he owned in a truck, including military grade weapons (as defined by Mexican statutes) and headed for San Diego to get treatment for his PTSD

He was released only after a very lengthy, closed trial in Mexico and a Congressional hearing in the US, which was highly critical of the Obama administration’s efforts (or lack thereof) to secure his freedom. The diplomatic efforts on his behalf came from former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson (D-NM) and representatives Ed Royce (R-CA) and Matt Salma (R-AZ), along with talk show host Montel Williams and the nightly efforts of Fox News Channel Greta van Susteren who kept Sgt Tahmooressi’s plight front and center in the news. US Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) held a rally in support of the Marine’s release. “Where is the outrage” she said “and where are our highest officials calling and demanding his release, or at the very least, his day in court?” Both Ed Royce and Matt Salma visited Tahmooressi in the Tecate prison, where he was held, harassed by guards, in isolation to keep him safe from the other inmates and chained to his bed. After diplomatic pushes to help convince a judge to release the Marine on humanitarian grounds, the Mexican PGR (Attorney General) withdrew all charges.

From his prison, Sgt Tahmooressi appealed to President Obama to intercede for his release, pointing out that Obama had secured the freedom of US soldier Bowe Berghdal. Obama met with Mexican President Nieto on his trip to Mexico City but Sgt Tahmooressi’s plight was not part of the discussion.

Apparently, the mistake made by Sgt Tahmooressi was to not have walked away from his post and to have not bad mouthed his country. That would have guaranteed presidential intervention on his behalf.

The Arab Spring Come Full Circle

1.The Bardo Museum in Tunis is the most important in North Africa after the Cairo Museum. It houses the largest collection of Roman mosaics in the world and in addition, Star Wars was filmed there; tens of thousands of tourists visit it yearly and is an important source of income for Tunisia, a country heavily dependent on tourism. In fact, some 6.1 million people flocked to Tunisia in 2014. On March 18 terrorists stormed the building and after the siege that ensued ended, 20 tourists and 3 Tunisians were dead, not including the terrorists shot by the Tunisian security forces, and dozens wounded. Some hours after the siege ended, thousands of Tunisians congregated in downtown Tunis’ Bourguiba Avenue for a night rally and sang “Free Tunisia”, the national anthem. In a televised address to the nation Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi called the terrorists “savage minority groups” and further stated “I want the people of Tunisia to understand firstly and lastly that we are at war with terror and these savage minority groups will not frighten us. The fight against them will continue until they are exterminated”

2.The Tunisian President’s words echo those of French Prime Minister Manuel Valls after the barbaric Charlie Hebdo attack and the killings in the Jewish delicatessen in Paris “France is now at war with radical Islam” and he further stated “If Jews flee (France) the Republic will be a failure” The White House’s Press Secretary Josh Earnst read the following bland statement: “We extend our deepest sympathies to the victims of today’s heinous violence and condemn in the strongest terms the terrorist attack which took the lives of innocent Tunisians as well as visiting tourists” Almost a word by word repetition of the one issued after the Paris attacks.

3.Tunisia was ground zero of the 2011 movement that triggered the so-called Arab Spring. Tunisians overthrew their authoritarian president and after some tussles with Islamic fundamentalists, succeeded in establishing the basis of a democratic government -as democratic governments go in Arab countries. The White House gloated and the mainstream press fawned over what they perceived to be the beginnings of fundamental changes in the Arab world which would finally bring forth democratic institutions, women’s rights and freedom of expression; that no one in any other Arab country asked for or even favored those institutions seems not to have made any impression on the residents of the ivory towers. Amid the utter failure of the Arab Spring, Tunisia stands as the lone beacon of success. Traditionally, Tunisia is the most liberal of the Arab countries, where women enjoy a great deal of freedoms and has one of the most educated populations -as those institutions go in the Middle East- and the closest thing to a secular government in the region. Tunisia has a long history going back thousands of years before the coming of Islam; it was the seat of Carthage, the ancient power that fought bloody wars against Rome for supremacy in the Mediterranean and whose ruins are today a great tourist attraction. It is also the gateway to Italy; additionally, Tunisian security forces have had a great deal of success against Islamic militants. On the dark side of the ledger, however, Tunisian recruits in ISIS number between 3000 to 4000.

4.Tunisia is in a very vulnerable position, sandwiched as it is between Algiers and Libya, both hotbeds of Islamic extremism and its Achilles heel is the tourist industry, the obvious target of the terrorist attacks. There were veiled warnings in social media going back to March 11 in tweets “warning Muslims to avoid places frequented by unbelievers” and that “there will be good news for Muslims soon” which is terrorspeak for brutal attacks against what they perceive to be soft targets frequented by “infidels” There were 9 arrests made and it was determined that the Libya trained terrorists were able to cross the porous border without difficulty. ISIS claimed responsibility for the “blessed event” and as a follow up, they bombed 2 mosques in the Yemeni capital of Sanna resulting in 137 deaths and scores of wounded.

5.It should be obvious by now that the Arab Spring movement has been a colossal disappointment, at least to those who, while looking through the rose colored lenses of wishful thinking, saw in it attributes it never had. While Tunisia has been -up to now- a success, it must be noted that part, if not all of it, can be credited to the unique conditions in the country; elsewhere it has been an utter failure. It is high time to take off the rose colored glasses and look at the world as it really is, not as we wished it to be. We are at war against Islamic terrorism, not against some vague and ill-defined “violent extremism”. It is not a criminal matter where we can go and arrest terrorists, bring them to the US, read them their Miranda rights and, if convicted, incarcerate them among the general prison population, perfect recruiting ground for Islamic extremism. They have to be captured, interrogated and then kept in a place like Camp Justice in Guantanamo for the duration, where they can be kept from contaminating others with their poison. We must stop referring to “foreign fighters”. In Islam, there is no such thing as “nationality” rather, House of Islam (Dar al-Islam) and House of War (Dar al-Harb); therefore, it makes no difference whether they are called ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Shabaab or al-Qaida. We must stop undermining our allies and helping our enemies, thus eroding our credibility. We must stop treating Vladimir Putin as the second coming of Stalin; he is not, and we do need his cooperation in the war against terror. We must realize that it was our premature withdrawal from Iraq that created the vacuum that allowed Iran (Shiite) to extend its influence in Iraq, therefore opening the door for a Sunni reaction. It should be apparent by now that ISIS is hardly “junior varsity” but a fully grown, brutal and fanatical foe that will stop at nothing to impose their own view upon the whole world, Incidentally, ISIS replicates the tactics that Mohammed and his followers employed when they burst out of Arabia in the 7th century.

6.ISIS was hatched in Syria as a result of the bloody civil war taking place there -where we still cannot tell the players without a scorecard- and spread to Iraq after doing short work of the Iraqi army and now has metastasized into Libya and Tunisia in North Africa and Yemen in the Arabian Peninsula. To counterbalance, Iran has taken control of the Iraqi offensive in Tikrit and of Yemen via the Houthi rebels take over of that nation’s government, thus threatening Saudi Arabia from two sides and setting the stage for a vicious Shiite-Sunni blood letting of monumental proportions. It could also turn into a a three-way civil war which would pit the Shiite and Sunni extremists not only against each other but also against the moderate Arab governments, such as Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia. The 900-pound gorilla in the area is Turkey, which so far has been content to stand on the sidelines, biding its time, waiting for just the right moment to intervene decisively. Turkey’s President Erdogan has traveled to Latin America and has made bizarre comments about Islamic presence in the Americas predating Columbus. Is he setting the stage for a possible revival of the Turkish Caliphate? Iran has also spread its influence into Latin America in Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela. In the meantime, we sit at home and have politically correct debates on Islamophobia and on how to best discourage terrorists by perhaps creating jobs and opportunities for them.
7.We are facing an existential threat to our way of life and by that I mean the sum total of Western Civilization. We have to decide on what is enough and then have the intestinal fortitude to say “We will not be passive, we will not go quietly into the night. You want to destroy us? Just try. We will fight you every step of the way until we send you back to the particular cauldron of hell from whence you came” The choice is ours. The storm is blowing our way.

Sykes-Picot And The Collapse of Iraq

It is obvious to anybody following the news coming out of the Middle East that Iraq is falling apart very quickly. Confronted by the determined push of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters, the Iraqi army simply melted away, in some instances without a fight, abandoning all kinds of weapons and equipment to the advancing insurgents. This is the same army that the US trained and equipped at a cost of some 20 billion dollars. True to form, the White House expressed “surprise”, both at the rapidity of the ISIS advance and the decidedly lack of fighting spirit of the Iraqi army.

 

If anyone noticed, some of the ISIS fighters, while parading through the streets of the newly conquered cities, carried signs that read #NO SYKES-PICOT and there is even a recruiting video titled “The End of Sykes-Picot” which makes interesting watching, if you can stomach the annoying Arabic martial music. It is purportedly narrated by a man calling himself Abu Safiyya, originally from Chile (something that should make us pause hard) vowing to erase all borders and reach Jerusalem.

 

Prior to WWI, all of the Middle East, including the Arabian Peninsula, was part and parcel of the Ottoman Empire, better known as the Ottoman Caliphate. Because the Turks had thrown their lot with the Central Powers, the British sent T.E. Lawrence to encourage the Arabs to rebel and fight the Turks. He carried official documents and promises of a creation of an independent Arab kingdom under the Sharif of Mecca. At this point, a word of caution to those raised watching Lawrence of Arabia: whatever the cinematographic merits of the film, its historical contents are nonsense. While Lawrence and the Arabs were happily fighting the Turks, Mark Sykes of Britain and Francois Picot of France, anticipating the defeat of the Ottomans, in 1916 made a secret agreement to divide the spoils between them. England received Trans Jordan and Mesopotamia, France got Syria and Russia, though not a signatory, would have received Istanbul and the Turkish Straits. Unfortunately, the Bolsheviks toppled the Czar, nullifying their part of the agreement. The Bolsheviks were only too happy to make the agreement public, causing much embarrassment to the Allies and much consternation among the Arabs.

 

The real damage caused by Sykes-Picot was the obliteration of the Sunni-Shiite divide that the Caliphate had wisely instituted in addition to the Chrchillian arrogance of carving Iraq out of Mesopotamia and handing it over to Shariff Hussein-bin-Ali’s son, Faisal to rule as king. Iraq was a monarchy until 1958 when a brutal and bloody army coup carried out by Baath Party officers murdered the royal family and proclaimed a republic. After a succession of coups and counter coups, each one bloodier than the previous, Sadaam Hussein eventually came out on top. The Baath Party (socialist and secular in nature) ruled in Iraq, Syria and Egypt, the Hashemite dynasty, descendents of Mohammed, ruled in Jordan and in Lebanon, which had been carved out of Syria by the French, a precarious arrangement between Christians and Moslems formed an uneasy government.

 

Which brings us back full circle to the present situation in Iraq. It is apparent that Humpty Dumpty had a great fall and that all the king’s men and all the king’s horses will not be able to put Humpty Dumpty together again, which means that Iraq will probably fragment into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish sections after much bloodshed. Recently, ISIS announced the formation of a new Caliphate under their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as Caliph, claiming authority over all Muslims. Already ISIS has changed its name and now calls itself the Islamic State; whether this will become a reality or not, should not blind us to the fact that we in the West have no real understanding of the psychology and dynamics operating in the Middle East. The invasion of Iraq was called Operation Iraqi Freedom and we went in full force, much as Don Quijote charging windmills, filled with good intentions but full of wrong assumptions.

 

One assumption was that we could teach a class on “Democracy 101” and expect to create a model for the whole of the Middle East. It worked for a while, but the soil was not really fertile enough. We spent billions to train and equip an army without paying too much attention as to what thoughts were in their heads. In a region where religious sectarian violence is endemic and where Sunni and Shiite go at each other with a fanaticism that makes the European religious wars pale in comparison, we expected that the duly, democratically elected Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite representing the country’s Shiite majority, would magically extend the hand of friendship and brotherhood to his fellow Sunni countrymen when those same Sunnis had ruled Iraq under the brutal and bloody tyranny of Sadaam Hussein.

 

The price of trying to save people who do not want to be saved has been very high, with 4,500 American soldiers dead, ten times as many wounded or crippled and a trillion dollars spent. The underlying lesson here is that no matter which side wins in the Middle East, we lose.

 

 

 

 

 

The Unintended Consequences of Meddling

On May 22, Ukranian President Oleksander Turchynov announced that 13 Ukranian soldiers were killed during an attack on a Russian sympathizers base in Slovyansk and nearby Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine in the latest spat of violence in the region. Prior to that, 40 people died in the city of Odessa, most of them caught in a building set on fire by what appeared to be Ukrainian government supporters during running battles in the city.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said that the US hopes Russia will play a “constructive” role in the upcoming May 25 Ukrainian presidential election, followed by warnings that if Russia or its backers in Ukraine disrupt the voting “the US and the EU will impose heavier economic sanctions” aimed at the vulnerabilities in Russia’s business, banking, mining, energy, defense and other sectors. Ignoring the warnings, pro-Russia militants held a referendum in 2 eastern Ukraine regions and based on the results declared both regions “independent” on May 10; of course, Kiev dismissed the referendum as a “sham”.

The underlying message conveyed to Moscow by both the the US and the EU is one of “not meddling” in Ukrainian affairs; unfortunately, it has the hollow sound of a counterfeit coin, considering the heavy handed western meddling that took place and that actually served to trigger the unrest plaguing the region. The EU encouraged the overthrow of Viktor Yanukovych, the elected Ukrainian president, because he declined to advance the European Union’s interests when he turned down an assistance package that included drastic economic austerity programs, which would have resulted in higher natural gas prices, a move sure to be highly unpopular; added to that, legislative reforms that infringed upon Ukraine’s sovereignty. Little wonder that when Putin stepped in with a slightly better assistance package, one that did not include the EU’s conditions, Yanukovych accepted. The riots and unrest that ensued, centered in Kiev and the western Ukraine, drove Yanukovych from power, something that could have been accomplished in the May 25 Presidential elections and would have resulted in an orderly transfer of governments; instead, the transfer came about as a result of a coup.

The US had a very visible part in the coup. In December 2013, US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland visited Independence Square in Kiev, talked to the demonstrators assembled there and even helped distribute food to the protesters, which included Ukrainian ultra nationalists, neo-Nazis and virulent anti Semites.

The result of all this meddling has been to deepen the existing divide between Western and Eastern Ukraine and lead to serious confrontations between the newly elected pro western government and the pro Russian Eastern Ukraine and between the Ukrainian and Russian armed forces; such confrontations can easily get out of hand and lead to a Russian-Ukrainian war, one which Ukraine has no chance of winning. Neither the EU or NATO are in position to aid Ukraine, not when confronted by a nuclear armed Russia.

Vladimir Putin has managed to drive a wedge between the US and its EU allies over sanctions to Russia. Germany and France have stayed away from sanctions, which is not surprising, considering Western Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas. Putin maintains amicable relations with Chancellor Merkel and France announced that she is going ahead with a $1.2 billion contract to sell warships to Russia.

In a recent letter to European leaders, Vladimir Putin stated that since Ukraine’s debt to Russia for natural gas supplies has reached $3.5 billion and because of the former’s refusal to pay Moscow, Russia will switch to pre paid gas deliveries starting June 1. Europe is Russia’s largest trading partner and it does have sway over the Russian economy, but on the other hand European nations are very reluctant to stymie their economies by endangering their Russian energy supplies.

This impasse came to an end on May 21, 2014, when Russia and China signed a $400 billion 30 year deal for Russia to deliver some 1.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas to China, which could replace her primitive, highly polluting coal energy generators. The deal is in its first stages and might present difficulties of its own, but one eventual result could be the blunting of Western Europe’s economic influence in Russia. The deal could also include gas deliveries to South Korea and to energy deficient Japan. It can also result in the economic marginalization of the US, who continues to erect obstacles to the exploitation of its native energy sources, oil, gas and coal. The most ominous part of the deal is that payments will be made in currencies other than dollars.

Policies have consequences. We have meddled in regions in which we have no business meddling, implementing decisions instigated by incompetent individuals, short on knowledge and long in arrogance, who have succeeded only in putting us in untenable positions. Should there be a Russo-Ukrainian war -and it’s a possibility if things get out of control- are we going to intervene? Really? Against a nuclear Russia, in a region in which we have no strategic interests? The Ukrainian army is no match for the Russian army and a Ukrainian defeat would mean the absorption of most of Eastern Ukraine into Russia, the way it was way before the Bolsheviks. And then, what are we going to do? We would emerge weaker, with a damaged economy. Do not forget that Russia holds billions of dollars; what would happen if those dollars are released into the market?

Again, Putin has out maneuvered us. The price of short term policies that ignore the long term consequences have come full term to bite us in the rear end. Again, this is the difference between a former KGB operative and a community organizer.