March 10/15

Bible Quotation For Today/Curing the Blind Man in Bethsaida
Saint Mark 08/22-26: "They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, ‘Can you see anything?’And the man looked up and said, ‘I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.’Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Then he sent him away to his home, saying, ‘Do not even go into the village.’"

Bible Quotation For Today/Greet one another with a holy kiss.
First Letter to the Corinthians 16/15-24: "Now, brothers and sisters, you know that members of the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints; I urge you to put yourselves at the service of such people, and of everyone who works and toils with them. I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence; for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. So give recognition to such people. The churches of Asia send greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, greet you warmly in the Lord. All the brothers and sisters send greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss. I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Let anyone be accursed who has no love for the Lord. Our Lord, come! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love be with all of you in Christ Jesus."

Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on March 09-10/15
Text of GOP Senators’ Letter to Iran’s Leaders on Nuclear Talks/ March 09/15
Bill C-51, The Anti-terrorism Act, is a right step on the right track/
By Elias Bejjani and Charbel Barakat/March 09/15

Why Politicians Pretend Islam Has No Role in Violence/Daniel Pipes/The Washington Times/March 09/15
How Islamism has damaged Islam/Amal Mousa/Asharq Al Awsat/March 09/15

Do we have to reconcile with Assad/Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya/March 09/15
Obama brushes off Iran’s regional ambitions/Raghida Dergham/Al Arabiya/March 09/15

Lebanese Related News published on  March 09-10/15
Assassinations likely to resume: Machnouk
FPM-LF dialogue collapses over presidential vote
Adwan Says Gaps Bridged with FPM, Accuses Hizbullah of Impeding Presidential Election
Kaag Visits Ras Baalbek, Hails Army's Anti-Terror Efforts
Salam Says Army in High Spirits over Aid, Lebanese Support
Kataeb Hopes Resumption of Cabinet Sessions Will Restore Normalcy to State Institutions
Saqr Charges Syrian Detainee Harba with Offenses that Could Be Punishable by Death
Death Penalty Demanded for 4 Relatives in Murder of Syrian Journalist Jammo
Report: Refugees in Arsal Outskirts to be Relocated over Rising Terror Threat
Mashnouq Fears Return of Assassinations, Says Situation 'Under Control'
Aoun Meets Berri, Speaks of 'Some Progress' in Presidential Issue
Shaker's Lawyer Says He Intends to Turn Himself in Soon
Security plans to launch in Beirut camps
Syria-based jihadis prepare for Lebanon offensive
Lebanon may move Syrian refugees from Arsal
Hezbollah is Netanyahu, Hale's ‘boogeyman’: MP
Australian arrested in n.Lebanon over terror links: report

Miscellaneous Reports And News published on  March 09-10/15
Iran dismisses GOP letter while Obama says it aligns them with Iran hardliners
White House warns of 'interference' after GOP letter to Iran
GOP, White House lock horns over Iran talks
US reassures Israel over Iran nuclear arms
UN Gaza war crimes probe seeks delay to June
Palestinian Authority calls for arrest of Liberman for saying anti-Israel Arab citizens should be beheaded
What was the meaning and purpose of Jesus' temptations?
Arab League calls for multinational anti-ISIS
Erekat: Netanyahu never believed in two-state solution, always chose
Over 100 Hamas members arrested by PA
Kurdish forces attack ISIS west of Kirkuk
Libyan general sworn as top commander as his planes hit Tripoli airport
Yemen defense minister escapes Sana’a to Aden after being held by Houthis
U.S. offers $5 million for return of ex-FBI agent missing in Iran
France wants U.N. Security Council meeting on minorities in Mideast
Saudi Grand Mufti urges Muslims to use internet to fight terror 
Swedish Minister Says 'Silenced' by Saudis at Arab League
Kuwait Opposition Protests in Support of Jailed Leader
U.S. Army Chief Says Iraq Sectarian Divide May Strain Anti-IS Coalition

Jihad Watch Site Latest Reports
U.N. Security Council to Meet on 'Persecution' of Mideast Christians
NPR boosts British group blaming UK govt for Islamic State’s “Jihadi John”
Why Obama boycotted Netanyahu’s speech — on The Glazov Gang
Robert Spencer in PJ Media: Muslim Holidays in New York Public Schools: Why Not?
Policewoman among 4 in custody over links to Paris jihadis
UK’s Independent: “Are peaceful Muslims in denial about their religion?”
U.S. withdraws $3 million bounty for Somali jihadist who defected
Kuwaiti researcher: Islamic State is product of Islamic heritage
French PM: 10,000 Muslims from Europe to wage jihad by year’s end
Murdered Charlie Hebdo staff named “International Islamophobe Of The Year”
Russian opposition leader killed because of “negative comments on Muslims and Islam”
Iran unveils surface to surface missile with 2500 km range

Bill C-51, The Anti-terrorism Act, is a right step on the right track
By Elias Bejjani and Charbel Barakat
March 09, 2015
We, the undersigned, Elias Bejjani, and Charbel Barakat, as proud Canadian citizens of Lebanese decent, and in our capacity as human rights activists, political commentators, and journalists mostly focusing on Lebanese and Middle East politics and terrorism, emphatically and with full satisfaction commend the Canadian government on its very wise, extremely appropriate and thorough Anti-Terrorism Act proposal (Bill C-51).
We genuinely hope that the Canadian parliament will pass this crucial and badly needed anti-terrorism act as soon as possible.
As Canadian citizens, we all expect our government, as well as our numerous security and intelligence bodies, to safeguard and protect us and the country from all types of threats, especially all forms of terrorism. For all those official bodies to successfully and effectively execute their vital duties, carry out their obligations and fulfill their essential roles, they must be provided with all facilitating tools, and all legal empowering means.
In this context, it is greatly believed that Bill-C51 is a very important legislative tool that is needed for maintaining Canada safe and well-protected from all kinds of terrorism.
Accordingly, we strongly call on each Canadian citizen to carry his/her own share in helping to keep our great country, Canada, safe and terrorism-free. In this realm, all citizens from all walks of life, each in his/her capacity are required to fully cooperate with the government and security bodies and provide them with all the support they need to accomplish their jobs as successfully as possible.
Meanwhile, we as concerned citizens need to understand that if the security bodies are not given the right legislations, they will not be capable of performing their duties. The appropriate legislations help them in aborting and preventing all vicious endeavors of radicalization, fanaticism, faith derailed bullying, and in keeping the country safe in the face of the global war declared by the jihadists against not only Canada, but against each and every country that honors human rights, abides by the Global Charter of Rights, and longs for equality, peace, freedom, democracy, pluralism and common living.
In summary, we are blessed as Canadians because all-encompassing security issues continue in our country to be addressed by the law, and not through the use of extrajudicial government power, oppression and other non-democratic means. At the same, we all must be ready to give up some of our freedom for the common good.
God bless Canada and safeguard its people!

Elias Bejjani
Canadian-Lebanese Human Rights activist, journalist and political commentator

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Charbel Barakat
Retired Lebanese army officer, renowned worldwide expert on terrorism.
Human Rights Activist, Author, analyst & political commentator. 

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FPM-LF dialogue collapses over presidential vote
Hussein Dakroub/Hasan Lakkis/The Daily Star
Mar. 10, 2015
BEIRUT: MP Michel Aoun said after talks with Speaker Nabih Berri Monday that minor progress had been made in the presidential crisis, despite the generally gloomy prospects for ending the deadlock that has left Lebanon without a president for more than nine months.
The Free Patriotic Movement leader’s meeting with Berri came amid signs that several rounds of talks between the FPM and the Lebanese Forces have foundered over the presidential election deadlock, dashing hopes for a long-awaited meeting between Aoun and LF chief Samir Geagea. “Aoun’s meeting with Berri could be the beginning of the quest for an alternative candidate,” political sources told The Daily Star. Despite several rounds of hectic talks between officials from the FPM and LF covering key domestic issues, including the presidential election, the sources said: “Aoun’s relations with the LF are back to square one.” With his presidential chances uncertain and the reconciliation attempt with Geagea in trouble, Aoun sought to raise some hope over the presidential impasse.
“Minor progress has been made in the presidential issue, regardless of who and how,” Aoun told reporters after meeting Berri in Ain al-Tineh, without elaborating. He said his talks with Berri delved into “important issues relating to the Lebanese situation and other issues that influence this situation in our surrounding.”  “The presidential vote has gone through some phases. God willing, it reaches a full conclusion,” he said. Asked to comment on the outcome of ongoing talks with the LF, Aoun said: “We will not give details because when details are made public, things will be spoiled.” Aoun, supported by the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance for the country’s top Christian post against Geagea, the March 14 coalition-backed candidate, has vowed not to withdraw from the presidency race.
The FPM leader has been blamed by March 14 parties and foreign powers for posing a major hurdle toward the election of a new president with his insistence on seeking the presidency.
Aoun’s meeting with Berri came two days before Parliament is slated to meet to choose a successor to former President Michel Sleiman, whose six-year term ended on May 25. However, Wednesday’s session, the 20th attempt since April, is doomed to fail like previous ones over a lack of quorum. Lawmakers from Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc and Hezbollah’s bloc and its March 8 allies have thwarted a quorum with their consistent boycott of Parliament sessions, demanding an agreement beforehand with their March 14 rivals over a consensus presidency candidate. Meanwhile, parliamentary sources close to Aoun quoted him as saying that he no longer saw seriousness in the dialogue between the FPM and the LF which has been going on for weeks between the FPM’s MP Ibrahim Kanaan and Milhem Riashi, chief of the LF communications and media department.
The two men have been working to prepare “a declaration of intent” that would set the stage for a meeting between Aoun and Geagea. Kanaan told The Daily Star that he was still waiting for the LF’s response to the FPM’s remarks concerning the declaration of intent. Riashi said that matters are on the right track and the two parties’ decision to drop lawsuits against each other is irreversible. However, parliamentary sources close to Aoun sounded pessimistic about an imminent breakthrough in ties between the two sides, or about holding a meeting between Aoun and Geagea. “We are back to a wait-and-see situation,” the sources said, adding that if the dialogue between the two sides failed, Geagea would be held responsible for “undermining Christian ranks.”The sources said Aoun was very pleased with a “cordial” meeting he held with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri at the latter’s residence in Downtown Beirut last month. Hariri hosted a dinner to celebrate Aoun’s 80th birthday. Aoun, according to the sources, understands that the decision to support him for the presidency is still in some capitals. The LF’s deputy leader MP George Adwan said it would be illogical for the LF to support Aoun, given his political alliance with Hezbollah. Asked whether Geagea was ready to back Aoun for president, Adwan said in an interview published by An-Nahar newspaper Monday: “There is a substantial political dispute between us. The Lebanese Forces, which has struggled during all its history and in the past 10 years against the ‘memorandum of understanding’ between Aoun and Hezbollah, on what basis it will support him [for president]? This is illogical.” However, the LF sought to play down Adwan’s remarks, saying it upheld the dialogue with the FPM and did not veto any presidential candidate.“The LF attaches great importance to the ongoing dialogue between it and the FPM on all issues, including the presidency,” a statement issued by the LF’s media department said. “The LF does not put any veto on anyone and is working very hard for the election of a Lebanese president.”

U.N. Security Council to Meet on 'Persecution' of Mideast Christians
Naharnet /The U.N. Security Council is to meet on March 27 to oppose the growing persecution of Christians in the Middle East, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Monday. "We are on the side of the persecuted minorities," Fabius, whose country currently presides over the Security Council, told a press conference in the Moroccan capital. He said the March 27 meeting, which he would himself chair, would demonstrate an international will not to accept atrocities committed by jihadists who "deny that minorities have the right to exist."
In an interview with BFM TV, Fabius said it was "completely unacceptable what has been done to these minorities."Referring to the Islamic State group by an acronym in Arabic, he said: "Daesh and terrorists who are with them simply want to eradicate, physically remove, guillotine anyone who doesn't think like them."In Syria, IS kidnapped some 220 Assyrian Christians last month, prompting 5,000 people to flee the countryside in fear of the jihadist advance. IS militants have also attacked Christians in neighboring Iraq, where it seized swathes of territory in a lightning June offensive last year.Agence France Presse

Kaag Visits Ras Baalbek, Hails Army's Anti-Terror Efforts
Naharnet /U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Sigrid Kaag visited Monday the Bekaa border town of Ras Baalbek and praised the Lebanese army's efforts to repel attacks by Syria-based jihadist groups. “We commend the achievements of the Lebanese army and security forces in the face of the challenges facing the country,” said Kaag after meeting with representatives of the army in Ras Baalbek.  The U.N. official also made site visits, according to a statement issued by her office. Earlier, Kaag met with Ras Baalbek's municipal chief and other local representatives to discuss "the situation along Lebanon's eastern border as well as the socio-economic challenges faced by residents and local municipalities." She also discussed with U.N. agencies and partners "the situation of Syrian refugees and Lebanese host communities in the area."Eight soldiers were killed in January as the army repelled a jihadist attack on a military surveillance post in Ras Baalbek. Scores of gunmen were killed and wounded in the clashes, according to an army statement.
In late February, the army waged a preemptive attack in the town's outskirts and seized control of strategic hilltops, inflicting heavy losses among the ranks of the militants. Jihadists from the Islamic State group and the al-Qaida-linked al-Nusra Front are entrenched on the outskirts of Lebanese towns on the porous Syrian-Lebanese border. They stormed the border town of Arsal in August 2014 and engaged in deadly battles with the Lebanese army before they retreated under a ceasefire mediated by Lebanese Muslim clerics.

Saqr Charges Syrian Detainee Harba with Offenses that Could Be Punishable by Death
Naharnet/State Commissioner to the Military Court Judge Saqr Saqr charged on Monday a Syrian detainee with offenses that could be punishable by death if convicted. He referred the case of Hassan Mohammed Jamil Harba to Military Tribunal Judge Imad al-Zein. The army had announced on Saturday Harba's arrest. He confessed to belonging to armed terrorist groups and taking part in the clashes against the army in the northeastern border town of Arsal in August. The fighting erupted when Islamic State and al-Qaida-affiliated al-Nusra Front groups overran Arsal and engaged in battles with the military. Harba also sought to plant explosive devices in the Arsal region with the aim of targeting the army.

Kataeb Hopes Resumption of Cabinet Sessions Will Restore Normalcy to State Institutions
Naharnet/The Kataeb Party welcomed on Monday the resumption of cabinet sessions, hoping that it will remind officials of their responsibilities and the need to elect a new president. It said after its weekly politburo meeting: “We hope that the resumption of the sessions would restore normalcy to state institutions.”“We hope that the government would tackle pressing issues through positive consensus,” it added. Furthermore, it drew attention to the case of the Constitutional Council whose term ends on June 5, hoping that this issue “would not be resolved at the very last minute.”In addition, the Kataeb Party said that it looks forward to an agreement being reached over adopting a security plan for the greater Beirut area, similar to the ones that were implemented in the northern city of Tripoli and northern Bekaa region. “Such a plan is necessary given the dangerous phase the region is passing through and should be approved without hesitation,” it remarked. The cabinet had held a session on Thursday after some two weeks without meeting due to a dispute over its mechanism that determines the manner in which it adopts decisions given the vacancy in the presidency. Lebanon has been without a president since May when the term of Michel Suleiman ended without the election of a successor. Ongoing disputes between the March 8 and 14 camps have thwarted the polls.

Death Penalty Demanded for 4 Relatives in Murder of Syrian Journalist Jammo
Naharnet /The death penalty has been demanded against four people in the 2013 murder of pro-Syrian regime journalist Mohammed Darrar Jammo. Judge Mounif Barakat ordered the death sentence against his wife Siham Younes, her nephew Ali Khalil Younes, her brother Badie Mohammed Younes, and her daughter Fatima. Jammo was killed on July 17, 2013 in Sarafand. His wife had been arrested on suspicion that she may have planned the crime. The 44-year-old journalist and political commentator was one of Syrian President Bashar Assad's and Hizbullah's staunchest defenders. He was killed when his wife's relatives burst into the first floor of his apartment in the town of Sarafand and opened fire on him. Initial reports that the murder was politically motivated were ruled out when security forces detained the relatives.

Shaker's Lawyer Says He Intends to Turn Himself in Soon
Naharnet /Former singer turned Islamist militant Fadel Shaker has decided to turn himself in to security agencies in the coming days, his lawyer announced on Monday. “Fadel wants to turn himself in in the coming days,” the lawyer May Khansa, who is defending him before the Military Court, told Agence France-Presse. She stressed that he severed his ties with fugitive Islamist cleric Ahmed al-Asir “some time ago.”"He has abandoned the hardline religious path he was on," his lawyer added.
Later on Monday, al-Jadeed television quoted Shaker as saying that he will not turn himself in until his judicial file is “settled.”
“The media reports are baseless,” he added. Shaker is hiding out in a home he recently bought in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain el-Hilweh, his birthplace, according to witnesses who recently met him. He looked gaunt, having lost significant weight after recent illness -- and the bushy beard he sported in 2013 was gone. The people who met him said the reasons for his sudden about-face were unclear. Al-Akhbar newspaper reported that an apparent deal with state security forces may see a reduced sentence for the former singer.
The daily also said that influential Lebanese and Arab figures were mediating in the case, identifying some of them as Army Commander General Jean Qahwaji, Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, LBCI TV chairman and CEO Pierre al-Daher and ex-minister Layla al-Solh Hamadeh. In remarks to OTV released in the evening, Qahwaji confirmed that “concert organizer Imad Qansou contacted the Army Command recently in a bid to help Fadel Shaker.” “The answer was that the issue is exclusively in the hands of the Military Court,” OTV quoted Qahwaji as saying. Asked about reports of an alleged link between Shaker's case and the possible release of Lebanese troops and policemen abducted by jihadist groups, Qahwaji noted that “the negotiations over the hostages are not being conducted by the Army Command but rather by other political and security authorities.”“Reports that I'm mediating with Alwaleed bin Talal to resolve Fadel Shaker's case are fabricated,” ex-minister al-Solh for her part told OTV. LBCI's al-Daher also denied any involvement in the case.
In an interview with LBCI released Saturday, Shaker -- who has been on the run for nearly two years -- said he wants to return to his "normal, natural life" with his friends and family. Shaker also denied fighting alongside al-Asir's gunmen in the fierce 2013 clashes with the army in the Sidon suburb of Abra. At least 18 soldiers and dozens of gunmen were killed in the fighting. He said he "never carried a weapon."The interview is one of the man's rare public appearances since a video uploaded to YouTube during the street fighting. In that video, he called his enemies pigs and dogs. Shaker and more than 50 other suspected militants face charges of committing crimes against the military. LBCI said the interview was filmed at the Ain el-Hilweh camp near Sidon. Though he grew to become one of the Arab world's most famous singers, Shaker suffered through a miserable childhood of poverty, which a onetime musician friend says helped lead him down a dark path later in life. Now in his mid-forties, Shaker was born to a Palestinian mother and Lebanese father in the country's biggest Palestinian refugee camp, Ain el-Hilweh. Born Fadel Shmandur, he began his career as a popular wedding singer who performed from the rooftops of the camp, an over-crowded and hopeless place. In his prime, Shaker sang love songs that were instant region-wide hits. He released his first album in the late nineties, and continued to perform until 2011. Shaker's brother had long been a strict Muslim, and he tried for years to convince him to leave music. But it wasn't until after the outbreak of an uprising in Syria against President Bashar Assad that Shaker became convinced that singing is haram, or forbidden in Islam. Shaker soon became the best-known face of Asir's small movement of openly sectarian, Sunni radicals and praised the cleric as "the lion of the Sunnis."Agence France Presse

Text of GOP Senators’ Letter to Iran’s Leaders on Nuclear Talks
Washington Wire/09.03.15
Dozens of Republican senators wrote an open letter to the leadership of Iran, warning them that any nuclear deal signed between Iran and U.S. President Barack Obama might not last beyond his presidency, without Congress signing off on it as well. Here is the text of the letter.
An Open Letter to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran:
It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system. Thus, we are writing to bring to your attention two features of our Constitution — the power to make binding international agreements and the different character of federal offices — which you should seriously consider as negotiations progress.
First, under our Constitution, while the president negotiates international agreements, Congress plays the significant role of ratifying them. In the case of a treaty, the Senate must ratify it by a two-thirds vote. A so-called congressional-executive agreement requires a majority vote in both the House and the Senate (which, because of procedural rules, effectively means a three-fifths vote in the Senate). Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement.
Second, the offices of our Constitution have different characteristics.
For example, the president may serve only two 4-year terms, whereas senators may serve an unlimited number of 6-year terms. As applied today, for instance, President Obama will leave office in January 2017, while most of us will remain in office well beyond then — perhaps decades.
What these two constitutional provisions mean is that we will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei. The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.
We hope this letter enriches your knowledge of our constitutional system and promotes mutual understanding and clarity as nuclear negotiations progress.
Senator Tom Cotton, R-AR
Senator Orrin Hatch, R-UT
Senator Charles Grassley, R-IA
Senator Mitch McConnell, R-KY
Senator Richard Shelby, R-AL
Senator John McCain, R-AZ
Senator James Inhofe, R-OK
Senator Pat Roberts, R-KS
Senator Jeff Sessions, R-AL
Senator Michael Enzi, R-WY
Senator Michael Crapo, R-ID
Senator Lindsey Graham, R-SC
Senator John Cornyn, R-TX
Senator Richard Burr, R-NC
Senator John Thune, R-SD
Senator Johnny Isakson, R-GA
Senator David Vitter, R-LA
Senator John A. Barrasso, R-WY
Senator Roger Wicker, R-MS
Senator Jim Risch, R-ID
Senator Mark Kirk, R-IL
Senator Roy Blunt, R-MO
Senator Jerry Moran, R-KS
Senator Rob Portman, R-OH
Senator John Boozman, R-AR
Senator Pat Toomey, R-PA
Senator John Hoeven, R-ND
Senator Marco Rubio, R-FL
Senator Ron Johnson, R-WI
Senator Rand Paul, R-KY
Senator Mike Lee, R-UT
Senator Kelly Ayotte, R-NH
Senator Dean Heller, R-NV
Senator Tim Scott, R-SC
Senator Ted Cruz, R-TX
Senator Deb Fischer, R-NE
Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-WV
Senator Bill Cassidy, R-LA
Senator Cory Gardner, R-CO
Senator James Lankford, R-OK
Senator Steve Daines, R-MT
Senator Mike Rounds, R-SD
Senator David Perdue, R-GA
Senator Thom Tillis, R-NC
Senator Joni Ernst, R-IA
Senator Ben Sasse, R-NE
Senator Dan Sullivan, R-AK

Iran dismisses Republican Party.(GOP) letter while Obama says it aligns them with Iran hardliners

Ynetnews /News Agencies/Published: 03.09.15 / Israel News
Obama slams Republicans senators for penning letter to Iranian leadership, saying next administration could nullify deal 'in single swop of a pen'; while Iran dismisses it as propaganda.
US President Barack Obama responded to a letter sent by Republican senators to the Iranian leadership, saying calling it "somewhat ironic", saying "it's an unusual coalition" to see US Republicans talking directly to Iranian hard-liners.
Meanwhile, Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Monday dismissed as of "no legal value" a letter from 47 US senators warning that any nuclear deal will require Congressional approval.
In an open letter to the Islamic republic, the 47 Republicans, including Senate leaders and several potential 2016 presidential candidates, reminded Iranian leaders that President Barack Obama is in office only until January 2017, and a successor could scrap the agreement if Congress has not approved it.
"We believe that the letter has no legal value and is propaganda," Zarif said, quoted in Iranian media.
"The senators must know that under international law, Congress cannot change the content of the agreement.
"Any congressional action to prevent the implementation of any agreement will violate the international commitments of the (US) government.
"The world is not just in America," Zarif added.
The letter appeared to be another bid to influence or even derail the talks underway between Tehran and the P5+1 group of world powers to rein in Iran's contested nuclear program.
It marked a rare foray by Congress into US foreign policymaking, as negotiating with foreign governments is a responsibility typically handled by the executive branch, not lawmakers.
In an open letter to Iranian leaders, freshman Sen. Tom Cotton and 46 other Republicans said that without congressional approval any deal between Iran and the US would be merely an agreement between President Barack Obama and Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
"The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen," they wrote, "and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time."
The US and other nations are seeking a pact that would let Western powers verify that Iran will not obtain a nuclear weapon.
At the White House, spokesman Josh Earnest said the Republican letter interferes with negotiations over limiting Tehran's nuclear ambitions.
"I would describe this letter as the continuation of a partisan strategy to undermine the president's ability to conduct foreign policy and advance our national security interests around the globe," Earnest said. "The rush to war or at least the rush to the military option that many Republicans are advocating is not at all in the best interest of the United States."
Earnest said the talks with Iran are no different from the negotiations that resulted in an agreement with Syria to eliminate its chemical weapons arsenal. Earnest noted that Congress did not have to approve that agreement.
Though the Republican letter was addressed to leaders in Tehran, it seemed as much aimed at delivering a message in the United States.
Republicans and some Democrats want Congress to vote on any agreement. The pact the bargainers are working on would not require congressional approval because it is not a treaty. A treaty would require a two-thirds majority Senate vote to be ratified.
Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, accused the Republicans of risking another war in the Middle East.
"This is a cynical effort by Republican senators to undermine sensitive international negotiations - it weakens America's hand and highlights
our political divisions to the rest of the world," Durbin said in statement. "Understand that if these negotiations fail, a military response to Iran developing their nuclear capability becomes more likely. These Republican senators should think twice about whether their political stunt is worth the threat of another war in the Middle East."
Last week, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, postponed action on legislation to give Congress a vote on any deal that emerges. He delayed the measure in the face of solid Democratic opposition to moving ahead on the bill now, just weeks before an end-of-March deadline for negotiators to produce an outline of an agreement.
The letter released Monday was signed by 47 of the Senate's 54 Republicans. Included were McConnell and the rest of the Senate leadership plus presidential contenders Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz.

What Does GOP Stand For in American Politics
By: Shawn Donovan
You may be wondering, "what does GOP stand for?" The GOP meaning is steeped in American history. GOP is actually an acronym that originally stood for "Gallant Old Party;" today, however, it stands for Grand Old Party. You probably already know it by it's more common name, the Republican Party. Former presidents George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon were all members of the Republican Party, as is John McCain, the 2008 candidate for president.
GOP History
The Grand Old Party roots date all the way back to the 1850s. The first Republican to be elected president was Abraham Lincoln in 1860. Presently the Republican Party, along with the opposing Democratic Party, are the nation's two largest political forces.
The Republican Party was originally founded as a political party that stressed the abolition of slavery, granting women the right to vote and free speech. Although it helped all of these progressive goals to be achieved, the modern Republican Party now serves as the conservative side of the American political spectrum. Republican ideaology has historically stressed small government, reduced government spending, individual freedoms, state law rather than federal law and low taxation. It is important to remember that since this is one of the United States' largest political parties, there are a broad range of beliefs held by individual members that may not be shared by all members. Ideaology also differs from region to region throughout the country.
If you watch the news during an election, you may have noticed that an elephant is commonly used to symbolize a Republican candidate. Historians trace the use of this symbol to 1874, when famous political cartoonist Thomas Nast labeled an elephant "The Republican Vote" in an editorial for Harper's Weekly. The image stuck and it is now the most identifiable of all Republican symbols. GOP leaders use the elephant today as an emblem of the party's strength, intelligence and compassion.

White House warns of 'interference' after GOP letter to Iran
By MICHAEL WILNER/03/09/2015/J.Post
WASHINGTON - The White House accused Republicans in the Senate of partisan interference in negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program on Monday, after 47 caucus members sent a letter to Tehran warning of their intent to undermine any future multilateral agreement.
Opposed to the deal under discussion, which would temporarily cap, restrict, roll back and monitor Iran's nuclear work, Senate Republicans informed Iran that such a deal would be a "mere executive agreement" without a vote of congressional approval.
"The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen," reads the letter, written by Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), a junior senator, "and any future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time."
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest responded harshly, characterizing the letter as the "continuation of a partisan strategy to undermine the president's authority."
Republicans have "a long and sordid history" of choosing war over diplomacy, Earnest said. And as negotiations enter the final stretch in Switzerland with Iran, gunning toward a March 31 deadline, this letter "certainly interferes with that effort."
"All of this is much more likely to be successful and more enduring than the military option our Republican opponents seem to be advocating," Earnest said. "It's surprising to me there are some Republican senators who are seeking to establish a backchannel with hardliners in Iran to undermine an agreement with Iran and the international community."
Obama commented briefly on the letter later in the day, calling the "unusual coalition" of Republicans and Iranian conservatives "somewhat ironic."
While the president has the constitutional authority to officially ratify treaties, he must first receive the approval of Congress. The Obama administration is not defining the deal currently under consideration with Iran as a treaty.
Nevertheless, an effort on Capitol Hill from Senate Democrats and Republicans alike would ensure congressional oversight over the deal through hearings and an up-or-down vote. The vote would not be on ratification, but instead on congressional participation in any future deal through the easing, lifting or full repeal of congressionally-mandated, nuclear-related sanctions.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, speaking to Iranian press, mocked the letter as a "propaganda ploy" and questioned whether its signatories – including the upper chamber's most senior members – fully understood their constitutional role.
"In our view, the letter has no legal value," Zarif said. "While no agreement has been reached, some political pressure groups are so afraid even of the respect of an agreement that they resort to unconventional methods, unprecedented in diplomatic history."
"The world is not the United States, and the conduct of interstate relations is governed by international law – not domestic law," he continued. "The authors may not fully understand that in international law, governments represent the entirety of their respective states and are responsible for the conduct of foreign affairs."
Several prominent Democratic senators involved in Iran policy criticized the letter as a "stunt," including Senator Dianne Feinstein, who has been critical of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's efforts to prevent the current deal from proceeding but nevertheless publicly supports congressional oversight. US Secretary of State John Kerry will fly to Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt this week for meetings with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and will then travel to Lausanne, Switzerland, to continue direct meetings with Zarif.
Negotiators from the US, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany hope to seal a "big-picture" political framework agreement with Iran by March 31.

Erekat: Netanyahu never believed in two-state solution, always chose settlements
By JPOST.COM STAFF/03/09/2015/J.Post/After Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made comments on Sunday in which he appeared to step back from his previous support for a two-state solution, Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator to the peace talks, said that he hoped the statements would be "an eye-opener.""He was never a man of the two-state solution,”The New York Times quoted Erekat as saying. “Simply irrelevant” is how Netanyahu described his former support for a demilitarized Palestinian state on Sunday.  “In the situation created in the Middle East, any territory that will be evacuated will be taken over by radical Islam and terrorist organizations supported by Iran,” Netanyahu said. “Therefore, there will not be any withdrawals or concessions. The matter is simply irrelevant.”Netanyahu delivered a speech at Bar Ilan University in 2009 in which he voiced his support for a demilitarized Palestinian state. Erekat told Al Jazeera on Sunday that when Netanyahu was given a choice between settlements and peace he has repeatedly chosen settlements. "Netanyahu's policies are a major threat to peace and stability in the region," Erekat said. Following Netanyahu's comments, Zionist Union co-leader Tzipi Livni said that the prime minister had caused Israel to be isolated. "When the Bar Ilan speech cannot be believed, then the speech on Iran cannot be believed either," Livni said, referring to the speech on Iran that Netanyahu delivered to the US Congress last week.

Palestinian Authority calls for arrest of Liberman for saying anti-Israel Arab citizens should be beheaded
J.Post/09.03.15/The Palestinian Authority on Monday called for the arrest and trial of Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman for saying that anti-Israel Arab citizens should be beheaded. Liberman, head of the Yisrael Beytenu party, said in a speech on Sunday before the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya that those (Arabs) who support Israel “should receive everything; those against us, it cannot be helped, we must lift up an ax and behead them – otherwise we will not survive here.” In response, the PA Foreign Ministry issued a strongly worded statement in which it called for the arrest of Liberman “because he poses a threat to humanity.”The ministry said that the foreign minister’s remarks were “very dangerous.”It said that the “smugness of the killer Liberman would surely be one of the cases brought before the International Criminal Court so that he would stand trial for his crimes.”The ministry claimed that Liberman’s remarks were part of an “official Israeli call for ethnic cleansing and an extension of the fascist policies of the settlers.”

What was the meaning and purpose of Jesus' temptations?
Answer: The three temptations by Satan in the wilderness were not the only temptations our Lord ever suffered on Earth. We read in Luke 4:2 that He was tempted by the devil for forty days, but He was undoubtedly tempted at other times (Luke 4:13; Matthew 16:21–23; Luke 22:42), and yet in all this He was without sin or compromise. Although some have suggested that the Lord’s period of fasting compares with that of both Moses (Exodus 34:28) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:8), the main point is how the Lord deals with temptation in the light of His humanity.
It is because He is human, and made like us in every way, that He could do three vital things: 1) destroy the devil’s power and free those who were held in slavery by their fear of death (Hebrews 2:15); 2) become a merciful and faithful High Priest in service to God and atone for our sins (Hebrews 2:17); and 3) be the One who is able to sympathize with us in all our weaknesses and infirmities (Hebrews 4:15). Our Lord’s human nature enables Him to sympathize with our own weaknesses, because He was subjected to weakness, too. More importantly, we have a High Priest who is able to intercede on our behalf and provide the grace of forgiveness.
Temptation is never as great as when one has made a public declaration of faith as did our Lord when He was baptized in the Jordan (Matthew 3:13–17). However, we also note that, during this time of exhaustive testing, our Lord was also ministered to by angels, a mystery indeed that the omnipotent One should condescend to receive such help from lesser beings! Here is a beautiful description of the ministry that His people also benefit from. During times of testing and trial, we too are aided by angels who are ministering spirits sent to those who will inherit salvation (Hebrews 1:14).
Jesus’ temptations follow three patterns that are common to all men. The first temptation concerns the lust of the flesh (Matthew 4:3–4). Our Lord is hungry, and the devil tempts Him to convert stones into bread, but He replies with Scripture, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3. The second temptation concerns the pride of life (Matthew 4:5–7), and here the devil uses a verse of Scripture (Psalm 91:11–12), but the Lord replies again with Scripture to the contrary (Deuteronomy 6:16), stating that it is wrong for Him to abuse His own powers. The third temptation concerns the lust of the eyes (Matthew 4:8–10), and if any quick route to the Messiahship could be attained, bypassing the passion and crucifixion for which He had originally come, this was the way. The devil already had control over the kingdoms of the world (Ephesians 2:2) but was now ready to give everything to Christ in return for His allegiance. But the mere thought almost causes the Lord’s divine nature to shudder at such a concept and He replies sharply, “You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only” (Deuteronomy 6:13).
There are many temptations that we sadly fall into because our flesh is naturally weak, but we have a God who will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear; He will provide a way out (1 Corinthians 10:13). We can therefore be victorious and then will thank the Lord for deliverance from temptation. Jesus’ experience in the desert helps us to see these common temptations that keep us from serving God effectively. Furthermore, we learn from Jesus’ response to the temptations exactly how we are to respond—with Scripture. The forces of evil come to us with a myriad of temptations, but all have the same three things at their core: lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh, and the pride of life. We can only recognize and combat these temptations by saturating our hearts and minds with the Truth. The armor of a Christian solider in the spiritual battle of life includes only one offensive weapon, the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17). Knowing the Bible intimately will put the Sword in our hands and enable us to be victorious over temptations.
**Recommended Resources: Jesus: The Greatest Life of All by Charles Swindoll and Logos Bible Software.

Religion from the inside out
Ralph Singh 9 March 2015
True religion is living a life of compassion in the midst of the material world.
Humanity is at a crossroads. When we tune in to the news, we see a world inching ever closer to the brink of destruction—beset by violence, environmental degradation, and poverty in the midst of wealth. This is not a world I want to bequeath to my children.
Below the surface, a battle is raging, not simply for control over policies and resources but for control of the human mind. Everything that plays out in the world is an extension of the interior human condition, and currently that condition is out of control.
The temptation to feed our minds on external perceptions and possessions is constant, and these distractions have never been more graphic nor more accessible—supplying us with the instant gratification we crave and imprinting greed and violence into our imaginations. We have become so concerned with feeding our desires with this diet of external stimuli that we have forgotten how to nourish our minds with love and compassion.
The critical role of spiritual practice in developing these qualities has been usurped by religion as a political force, ‘acting from the outside in’ by manipulating people according to some group or leader’s definition of the ‘one true way,’ and even justifying killing in the name of God. By contrast, my own experience has been shaped by ‘religion from the inside out’—acknowledging the value of spirituality in grounding a different pattern of human relationships. Unless we are able to control our minds and turn them towards compassionate action, we will be overcome, not by some abstract force of evil but by the well-organized and systematic attempts to dominate our thoughts and control our behavior to aggrandize the power of the few. Without a spiritual ‘force shield,’ we are easily subverted by greed, jealousy and intolerance. When this happens, both our inner and outer realities become polluted. There can be no peace in the world without peace within; no commitment to justice and democracy unless we feel intimately connected to other people. To recognize the light in others, we must find it within ourselves. At least, that’s my story.
I had just graduated college, and was having a cup of green tea with a friend in his apartment close to Columbia University in New York. Suddenly my friend and the room vanished, and there in front of me stood a remarkable being, enveloped in light. He held up his hand and said, “Don’t be afraid,” and showing me something similar to an atom, instructed, “Meditate on this.”
In a flash the room was back, but for me it seemed like an eternity. I had no idea what had happened, but I knew my life was about to change dramatically. So I deferred admission to graduate school, gave away my possessions and set out on a classic spiritual quest—feeling that until I had found ‘Truth’ all other pursuits were meaningless.
After traveling across Europe to India, I came face to face with the same being that had appeared to me in my vision: His Holiness Baba Virsa Singh ji, a Sikh mystic and founder of Gobind Sadan, an international interfaith community that grew out of his vision for world peace. He had never been to school and couldn’t read or write in any language, yet he was able to link anyone who met him with the God that dwells within. Christians often received a vision of Jesus; atheists found an experience of eternal light. It didn’t matter what they cared to call it. “You’re a student,” he greeted me, “Have you found God in your books yet? Why do you think it should be so easy to find God without any effort at all? Just as there are prerequisites to learning, reading, writing, and counting, in God’s school meditation is the basic course. Tomorrow’s your final. Take this prayer, recite it like you’re cramming for your exam and ask God that you want to meet Him.”
Within minutes those words began reverberating in my mind, and this prayer has been my constant companion ever since, helping to ground me in compassionate action. But prayer alone is not enough. We must learn to live by the vision that grows out of this inner connection – to “recognize all people as one human race” in the words of the eighteenth century Sikh leader Guru Gobind Singh ji. It is this recognition that provides the foundation for a different body politic, a moral imperative to affirm everyone’s equal rights and freedoms. When we see God in everyone, who can be our enemy?
That’s enough philosophy. We all can recite our lessons, but it’s the tests of life that determine what kind of students we really are. My biggest test came after 9/11, when four teenagers got drunk and torched the spiritual center I belong to north of Syracuse in upstate New York. They thought our turbans meant that we were supporters of Osama bin Laden. The name of our center – “Gobind Sadan” (or “God’s House without Walls”), sounded close enough, at least to a few inebriated individuals who were doing their ‘patriotic duty’ to burn us out. As members of the community gathered around the shell of the building, we offered a prayer to take away the ignorance and hatred that lead to acts like this. The oppressive smoke that hung heavy in the air began to clear. In the midst of the charred remains of the old wooden farm house that had been converted into our sanctuary we found the “Guru Granth Sahib”—the holy scripture of the Sikh religion—undamaged despite the fire and the thousands of gallons of water that had been poured onto the flames.
We immediately went public with a statement of forgiveness that was published in local newspapers and picked up by other media including the BBC and the Associated Press. “This provides us the opportunity to help rebuild and repair the overall community,” the statement read, “to rebuild the sense of love and compassion which will triumph over the hatred in our society. Out of that love, the building in its time will also be rebuilt." The teenagers were later arrested and charged with committing arson as a hate crime. They have been supported by Gobind Sadan in their rehabilitation.
Everyone has a ‘theology’—a frame through which they are taught to see others and the world around them. The teenagers who torched our sanctuary were taught to see people who look different as their enemies. Our response was the opposite, informed by the founder of Sikhism’s message, Guru Nanak, that “Everyone is part of my community—I see no one as an ‘other.’”
Today however, much of what masquerades as religion has little to do with God, and God may have even less to do with religion. What originates as the shared truth of justice is subverted, and religious power is used to dominate and destroy. Much that is broadcast in the name of religion is simply another form of mind control instead of liberation. Too often, religions build walls and silos to protect the pristine purity of The Faith or The One True Way. In the process, religion becomes just another powerful political ideology. No wonder so many people have turned away.
However, while protecting ourselves from the fanatic or strident voice of religion, we have unintentionally inoculated ourselves against the values and inner disciplines of the spiritual life. We play into the hands of the worldly powers and the consumer ideologies they represent. We have been taught to measure our self-worth by what we have, not by who we are. In this reality, what makes us feel powerful or fulfilled is the latest fashion, the size of our houses, our team winning, or our party in power—not realizing that the only voice which is strengthened in the process is that particular brand, not the interests of the whole.
By contrast, what distinguishes true religion is religious experience—accessing and utilizing spiritual power to transcend material domination. No one can own it. It can’t be bound or walled up. Like light itself, it radiates freely, accessible to everyone. It is this inner power—‘religion from the inside out’—which can change us, change others, and change the course of the world.

Heartbreaking Times for Syrian Kurdish Refugees
Jonathan Spyer/The Jerusalem Post
March 7, 2015
Originally published under the title "Heartbreaking Times."
SURUC, Turkey – Kobani refugees faced a bitter winter on the Turkish-Syrian border, yet there was one bright spot: The fight to rid the Kurdish Syrian town of Islamic State jihadists was officially declared over on January 27.
The Kurdish YPG militia, with the vital assistance of the US Air Force's 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron and additional coalition air power, drove the last of the jihadists out and planted the Kurdish flag once more over Kobani.

 They have kept up the momentum; more than 160 additional villages in what once formed the Kobani enclave have been liberated. The Kurds are now pressing up against Tel Abyad to the east of the city, and Jarabulus to its west.
Yet for the civilian residents of Kobani, the story is far from over.

 Around 200,000 displaced people remain on the Turkish side of the border; they form the overwhelming majority of the families who fled Kobani last autumn, before US air support began, when it looked like the city was doomed. Concentrated in and around the border town of Suruc are 67,200 of the refugees, where a number of makeshift refugee camps have been established.
Around 200,000 displaced Kurds remain on the Turkish side of the border.
Refugees have also taken up residence in any available space, swelling the population of the town. Many of the structures are exposed to the elements, and lack even the most basic facilities. It is an acute humanitarian crisis – one largely ignored now that the fighting fronts have moved elsewhere.
Last week, this reporter visited Suruc and the border area, seeking to gain a clearer picture of the reality facing both refugees and returnees.
For the 4,000 or so who have returned to Kobani and environs, the main problem beyond the sheer physical destruction visited on the city is booby traps. Islamic State forces, before leaving, wired explosives to much of what remained intact in the city – including furniture, doorways and toys.
"We need experts to come in and remove the unexploded bombs," Mustafa Alali, a Kurdish activist who was among the first to return to Kobani, tells me, "and then we need a humanitarian corridor for helping the people as they begin to return, with food, water and electricity."
Most of those who have returned were formerly residents not of Kobani town itself, but of villages surrounding it. The villages were rapidly abandoned by the jihadists once Islamic State ceded the goal of conquering the urban area. As a result, houses in the rural points of settlement were less badly damaged in the fighting than those in the city.
In Kobani town, little remains. Yet impatience to return is growing among the refugees.

" Just yesterday, a seven-year-old girl here in my office was asking her father why they haven't gone home yet to Kobani," says Mustafa Dogal, head of Kurdish relief efforts in Suruc, speaking in his cluttered office there. "And of course, he doesn't know how to tell her that their home simply doesn't exist any more."
Hope for a "humanitarian corridor" from Turkey into Kobani runs up against the political reality of Turkish-Kurdish conflict.
"People are running out of patience to return to their homes," Dogal continues.

 "There is an urgent need to rebuild houses, schools and hospitals, and for clean water and electricity; Kobani now has none of these. We are living in heartbreaking times."
But Alali and Dogal's hope for a "humanitarian corridor" from Turkey into Kobani runs up against the political reality of Turkish-Kurdish conflict.
The Turkish government appeared content to allow Kobani to fall to Islamic State; Turkish forces assembled to the north of the enclave during the battle made no move to intervene. This is because the Kurdish cantons in Syria are controlled by the Syrian franchise of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) – which has been engaged in an insurgency against the Turkish government for over 30 years.
The conflict has left a legacy of extreme distrust between the Turkish authorities and Kurds on both sides of the border, and this is having a direct impact on the plight of the refugees. In January, AFAD (the Disaster and Emergency Management Organization of the Turkish republic) opened a new camp, offering accommodation for 35,000 refugees; thus far, only around 4,000 people have taken up residence there.
"People are worried about going to the government camp," says Ferzad Daniel, an Iranian Kurdish relief worker in Suruc. "You need to remember that many of the refugees are Kurdish activists on one level or another; they're worried about retaliation from the government after the 'foreigners' leave."
The absence of facilities for education in Kurdish under AFAD auspices is another reason given for avoiding the government camp. Lack of food is the main problem facing the refugees who prefer to remain outside of Turkish jurisdiction, says Ferzad. "Food not controlled by the government isn't reaching the camps; so the refugees live on a meager diet of just rice and beans. There are urgent health issues, too – flu is everywhere; 40 percent of the children have diarrhea; and there are skin diseases too, brought on by lack of nutrition."
Despite the shortages, the camps maintained by the Kurdish relief organizations offer basic but adequate facilities – tents, washing areas, schooling in Kurdish for the children.
Disused houses in Suruc have also been occupied by some refugee families, seeking shelter from the elements. Conditions here are primitive in the extreme. In one structure I visited, four families – 40 people in total – were living together in one large room, with just a blanket placed over the open doorway.
One of the families, the Shaikhos of Sheran village, are still mourning the loss of their eldest son, 19-year-old Mahmoud, who was killed when he stepped on a land mine while crossing the border to escape the advance of the jihadists last October.
Mahmoud's younger brother, Fadel, 13, was with him when he was killed; Fadel survived the explosion, but lost both legs. Now he lives with his family in the large, empty shell of a house in Suruc, a thoughtful-looking boy who tries but does not quite succeed in smiling.
The plight of the Kobani refugees is just one element of the vast problem of people displaced by the Syrian war. No end to the war appears in sight, and spring looks set to bring little respite to the refugees on the Turkish- Syrian border.
Heartbreaking times, indeed.
**Jonathan Spyer is a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, and a fellow at the Middle East Forum. He is the author of The Transforming Fire: The Rise of the Israel-Islamist Conflict (Continuum, 2011).

How Islamism has damaged Islam
Amal Mousa/Asharq Al Awsat
Monday, 9 Mar, 2015
It is true that Islam is too big to be damaged by the attacks that have recently been launched against it and which in reality are more the concern of those who instigated them than the world’s more than 1 billion Muslims. At the same time, however, much of these attacks have come from inside the House of Islam itself; so we would do well—especially in the interests of safeguarding impartiality and nonpartisanship—if we examined them further.
One of these attacks against Islam has come from what is known as “Islamism,” or “political Islam.” This movement has now succeeded in tarnishing the image around the globe of a more than 1,400-year-old religion, also spreading false messages and mangled religious interpretations throughout the Muslim world, especially to the youth, who perhaps more than anyone in society are vulnerable to such ideas, seeking as they are to define their identity and individuality.
Islamism has chosen to eschew the true symbolic currency of Islam, instead concocting erroneous and perverse interpretations of the religion that deviate egregiously from its true core. Moreover, Islamism co-opts Islam for purely political goals, playing on the strong religious feelings in the Muslim world to garner popular support for its cause.
As such we see how Islamism has damaged the image of Islam, distorting its rational spirit while at the same veiling its true form. This is the greatest danger which Islamism poses to Islam.
So that we are not throwing out random and unfocused accusations here, let us focus on some of the ideas espoused by arguably the most paradigmatic Islamist group out there, the Muslim Brotherhood. Those ideas were later adopted by more extreme Islamist groups with more overt political aims—such as establishing by force a so-called “Islamic state” or caliphate.
The Brotherhood’s ideology is based on a small cluster of core principles, the most important of which concern who has the right to lead the Islamic world and the concept of the “modern jahiliya,” a proposed modern counterpart to the jahiliya, or “age of ignorance,” under which the Arabs in the Arabian Peninsula lived prior to their embracing Islam. A third principle, and perhaps the most important, is the Brotherhood’s conception of the religion itself, as a “total Islam”—that is, one that isn’t just focused on spiritual or moral concerns, but is wide, or “total,” enough to encompass all matters of life and society.
As far as the first issue of the leadership of the Islamic world is concerned, this is primarily revealed through the religious curriculum which the organization adopts for its members—and more openly perhaps in the infamous oft-repeated Brotherhood motto, “The Qur’an is our constitution and the Prophet is our guide.” This revivalist curriculum basically cancels the Islamic concept of ijtihad, the use of reason in providing interpretations of religious scripture.
As far as the Brotherhood is concerned, political authority in Islam is, as defined by the organization’s founder Hassan Al-Banna, the “complete submission to the authority of God and his Shari’a in every facet of life.” This understanding of the concept of authority and its subsequent explanations and interpretations leads us directly to the concept of the “totality” of Islam which the Brotherhood and other Islamists so vociferously embrace. This concept of “total Islam,” whose adherents insist is entirely different from all other understandings of the religion, was made clearest, again, in one of Banna’s own writings, the Epistle on the Teachings. In that publication Banna asks his readers to view Islam through the prism of 20 basic principles—considered “the main intellectual–religious base which members of the Brotherhood throughout the world operate from.”
The first two of these principles are particularly illuminating. The first states that Islam is a total and complete way of life embracing all aspects of society relating to both the individual and the collective, including state, nation, government, or community. The second states simply that the Qur’an and the Sunnah (the collected sayings and actions of the Prophet Muhammad) are the Muslim’s sole guides for deriving Islam’s tenets and laws.
In addition to the concept of authority in Islam and the religion’s all-pervasive “totality,” we identified a third Brotherhood idea paradigmatic of the Islamist outlook in general: the modern jahiliya. It is this idea that allows us most accurately to place the contours of the relationship between Islamists and the problems and turmoil we see in the Middle East and beyond today, as well as how Islamist groups deal with the concept of the “other.”
To understand this idea we can go no wrong if we quote the words of Mohamed Qutb, the younger brother of the Brotherhood’s main ideologue after Banna, Sayyid Qutb. He writes in his book, Jahiliya in the 20th Century, that jahiliya is not as many contend “a historical period that has passed and will not return. Instead, it is a distinctive quiddity which can take a variety of forms depending on its environment, locale, and circumstances.”
He continues: “It is not either the equivalent of what is commonly known as knowledge or civilization, or secularism, or progress, or materialism; neither does it equate to intellectual, social, political, or human values . . . Jahiliya is instead a psychological state characterized by the refusal to follow the guidance of God and [a desire to] establish a political structure squarely at odds with God’s law.” On this understanding, all the societies of the globe “who do not follow divine guidance” are in effect in a state of jahiliya: “the jahiliya of science and research and learning and theorizing. A jahiliya of narcissistic progress and materialism, in love with its own power and the success it has achieved. It is a jahiliya that seduces people using progress and civilization and secularism.”
We can therefore see from the centrality of this concept of jahiliya in Brotherhood thinking the original impetus behind its distinctive and idiosyncratic definition of the concept: you are either part of Islam, or part of jahiliya; there is no middle ground. And from here the core principle and motto of the Brotherhood emerges: “Islam is the solution”—and by “Islam” here they of course mean a sole, “total Islam.”
These ideas have now spread throughout the Arab and Islamic world to infect every iteration of Islamist extremism out there. Such ideas not only form the core of Brotherhood and Islamist thought, but also give those who espouse them a kind of “religious license” to stop engaging with modernity, obsess over the past, and fight the “other”—that is, anyone, Muslim or otherwise, who doesn’t agree with this outlook; they are, after all, citizens of Jahiliya.
Following the Arab Spring, the Brotherhood and its various incarnations decided to alter the way they engaged with the public in order to make themselves more palatable to a suspicious electorate. The Brotherhood’s successors, however, have not been so diplomatic: the numerous violent radical Islamist groups that sprung up on the back of the Brotherhood’s ideology have not at all minced their words in this department, and have used the core of the Brotherhood’s intellectual bequest to guide their takfirist agenda.
And so we see now the harm Islamism has done to Islam, harm which at first impacted only intellectual ideas, but whose reach now spreads much further.

Do we have to reconcile with Assad?
Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya
Monday, 9 March 2015
As the Iranians and their allies fight alongside Syrian regime forces, and as the Iranians lead the Iraqi fight in Tikrit and Saladin province against the Islamic Stare of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), some are calling for reconciliation with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
I completely disagree. Reconciliation may have been acceptable at the start of the Syrian crisis, but it is currently the worst decision any Arab - especially Gulf - government could possibly consider.
The problem is not with Assad as an individual but with his legacy, his pairing with Iran and the amount of blood he has shed. The previous promise to give him a safe exit, to protect him from retribution, and to turn a new page with some of the regime’s leaders and establish a transitional phase that unites all Syrians, was sincere.
Iranian threat
One cannot view the war in Syria as a domestic problem, or without understanding the regional power balance and the struggle with Iran. If Saudi Arabia accepts a solution by which Assad stays in power, it will have handed over Iraq, Syria and Lebanon to Iran. The inevitable result would be Iranian domination of the northern Gulf and Saudi Arabia.
The notion that Turkey, the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS constitute a worry is true, but it is no reason to hand over Syria and Iraq to Iran. We are in an era in which several wars are being orchestrated in parallel and threats vary, but the Iranian threat is the greatest, especially as a nuclear deal is close to being reached. Iran will translate such a deal into an indirect attack against its Gulf rivals.
If Saudi Arabia accepts a solution by which Assad stays in power, it will have handed over Iraq, Syria and Lebanon to Iran
We cannot put our faith in the Americans, no matter how much they insist that they will not let Iran harm its neighbours. U.S. regional influence has decreased, and its new policy is to turn toward China. Therefore, supporting the moderate Syrian opposition politically and militarily has become absolutely necessary for Gulf Arabs in order to prevent Iran from controlling Syria, whose suffering is a humanitarian cause.
Saudi Arabia cannot give up on 20 million Syrians no matter what the reasons are, and it cannot overlook the threat of Iranian expansion in Mesopotamia. We should not accept the possibility of reconciling with Assad, as this has no place in the Gulf’s supreme calculations.
It is impossible for Saudi Arabia to reconcile with Assad, who has killed a quarter of a million people, in order to fight ISIS. How can we convince the 10 million displaced people - victims of Assad’s war machine - that we are giving up on them?
As for Turkey, the problem lies with its president. Other than protecting and evacuating the remains of Suleyman Shah - the grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire, who has been dead for hundreds of years - the government has done nothing to protect Turkey’s important interests in Syria.
When the time comes to discuss Assad’s fate, no one will care about the concept of vengeance. The focus today is on two parallel solutions: supporting the armed moderate opposition - the Free Syrian Army (FSA) - and supporting any peaceful solution based on the reconciliation of the entire Syrian people and on the maintenance of the regime without its senior leaders. A political solution cannot be fairly imposed without supporting the FSA.

Obama brushes off Iran’s regional ambitions
Raghida Dergham/Al Arabiya
Monday, 9 March 2015
Growing concerns are accompanied by scattered coordination to the rhythm of nuclear negotiations between the United States and Iran in the P5+1 framework, with a crucial deadline set to arrive on March 24. But whether the negotiations fail or succeed, they have already shaken historic and strategic relations between the United States and its friends - beginning with when secrecy had been unveiled from some of their particulars, and now as the talks enter the stage of grand concessions.
An immediate military confrontation in the event of failure is unlikely and unnecessary. It would be much more prudent at this time in the confrontation with Iran to tighten economic sanctions against Tehran, curb its military capabilities, and rein in its regional ambitions, with Iranian tentacles now extending all the way to Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon. Indeed, the failure of nuclear negotiations is more costly for the ruling clique in Tehran, who are in dire need for the economic sanctions - in particular U.S. sanctions - to be lifted, so that they can press ahead with their regional strategies.
In the American mind in general, Iran has become a necessary partner for the United States in the bid to eliminate the new number one enemy
Yet failure will be politically costly for President Obama as well, whose legacy is now linked to securing a nuclear deal with Tehran. However, if the nuclear negotiations culminate with the international community recognizing Iran’s right to keep its nuclear capabilities that give it the ability to build nuclear weapons with “suspended implementation” then this will be in the interests of the nuclear industry, because a nuclear race will definitely follow in the wake of that outcome. Equally, if not more so, it will benefit the mullahs in Tehran, regardless of whether they are moderates or hardliners.
Biggest winner
The biggest winner in that case will certainly be the Revolutionary Guards and the Qods Force, led by Qassem Soleimani, as they escalate battles in the Arab countries to consolidate regional Iranian power - at times in the name of fighting Takfiris and ISIS, and at others in the name of securing Iran’s strategic depth in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen.
Israel is riled up in light of the information it has, indicating that the United States is on the verge of making massive concessions to Iran in what Israel believes is a “bad deal,” with corresponding repercussions for Israel and the entire Middle East.
Some Arab countries are concerned because Washington ignored all their attempts to have access to information regarding the progression of nuclear talks with Iran. In effect, Washington deliberately misled friendly countries like Saudi Arabia, when it kept them in the dark concerning the secret negotiations that took place in their backyard, for example in Oman.
Turkey is studying its options, which are confined between reining in its pride as a result of Iran acquiring nuclear capabilities after the other Islamic nuclear nation Pakistan, and reining in its alliances as a result of adopting the Muslim Brotherhood line, which has caused it animus with Egypt and tension with Gulf nations such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Mobilizing Arab leader
As for ISIS, this group that has played the most important role by mobilizing Arab leaders into an alliance against it, it is now an absolute priority that diverts attention away from scrutinizing and analyzing the U.S.-Iranian dimension, the nuclear negotiations, and the repercussions involved.
In the American mind in general, Iran has become a necessary partner for the United States in the bid to eliminate the new number one enemy. There are no qualms about the Iranian Revolutionary Guard infiltrating deep into Iraq or Syria, as long as this helps crush the monster named ISIS. The Americans in general became loath to and distrustful of Sunnis because of the 9/11 attacks, and the rise of ISIS in the past few years has only reinforced this and deepened U.S. enmity towards Sunnis, who have been portrayed thanks to ISIS in the media as being extraordinarily bloody tyrants.
A few months ago, a group of American retired military officers and republican figures opposed to President Obama’s bid to appease Iran tried to highlight the Iranian role against U.S. citizens. They indicated that Iran was behind attacks that killed large numbers of Americans in Lebanon, Khobar, the Iraq war, and other terrorist attacks reported to have been sponsored by Iran. This group appeared on U.S. media outlets to explain to the American public the history of American-Iranian relations, to correct the impression that the only absolute enemy are Arab Sunnis.
Forgotten hostages
Americans seem to have forgotten their hostages who were held for 444 days in Tehran when the Iranian revolution seized power in 1979 and brought mullahs to rule the country in a theocracy that was new to the Middle East. Today the American elite, especially in the media and policy-making circles, are focusing their efforts on supporting the deal with Iran by any means. They are ignoring Iran’s role in the Arab countries and Iran’s regional ambitions. Even though not long ago the Americans were in favor of preventing Iraq from acquiring any nuclear capabilities, even if they are only in the minds of scientists, at any cost, they today speak the language of the inevitability of admitting that Iran has become a nuclear state and that this cannot be stopped.
President Obama is wagering in his engagement with Iran on the desire of the American majority to not become involved in new wars and its willingness for a historical reconciliation with Iran after more than 35 years of estrangement. For this reason, Obama focused solely on nuclear talks, and turned a blind eye to Iranian incursions in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon. Obama entered into a diplomatic and political confrontation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu including in the heart of the U.S. establishment on Capitol Hill, in a precedent that will certainly have many repercussions.
The majority of American public opinion does not accept for Israel to implicate the United States in military operations against Iran. This segment of the public opinion does not trust Benjamin Netanyahu nor his ability to engage in a military confrontation unilaterally against Iran. For this reason, this segment is opposed to Netanyahu’s positions on the nuclear talks, and has protested against his attempts to incite the Republican-dominated Congress to rebel against the Democratic president.
This segment of the U.S. public opinion wants to normalize relations with Iran. It believes the nuclear deal will restrict Iran’s nuclear capabilities while the failure to reach a deal will allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons in the absence of oversight. Naturally, this segment shares the U.S. president’s inclination to bury his head in the sands in relation to the Iranian role in the Syrian war alongside the regime in Syria (which Obama had called upon to step down), or in Yemen alongside the Houthis, who toppled the legitimate government and the U.S. partner in the war on al-Qaeda there.
Benjamin Netanyahu speaks
What Benjamin Netanyahu did when he addressed Congress this week is that he challenged Barack Obama to stop ignoring Iranian regional ambitions and excluding them from the imminent deal with Iran. He challenged him to tell the U.S. public about the true meaning of Iranian incursions in four Arab countries and Iranian domination over Arab capitals, including some that are on the border with Israel, instead of neglecting this important strategic issue in the future of the Middle East. He also challenged him over the nuclear dimension of the deal, which he said only “postpones” Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons by a few years while giving Iran access to funds that are necessary to develop such weapons.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s challenge irked Barack Obama. Netanyahu’s strategy was bold in the view of some, and audacious in the view of others, as he sought to expose the U.S. president before Congress and the American public. What no others, Arabs or Americans, dared do, Netanyahu daringly undertook, risking his political future on the eve of Israeli elections. Netanyahu dared to evoke Iranian regional ambitions in the context of American-Iranian nuclear talks, even as Obama sought to separate the two issues completely, ignoring the appeals by friendly and allied Arab countries to do otherwise.
The strategic alliance between the United States and Israel is not going to collapse as a result of the collapse of cordiality between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu. The Palestinian issue is also not related to this confrontation, because the U.S. president has since refrained from promoting what he had brought to the White House in terms of ideas for the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The nuclear talks will not stop because of Netanyahu’s speech in Congress, or because he opposes them. If they fail, it would be because of the gap that remains in place related to the vision of the Obama administration for the nuclear deal, the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear capabilities, and the sanctions in place, as opposed to the vision of the Iranian regime.
The U.S. president is able to keep the nuclear deal with Iran away from the fangs of the Republican-dominated Congress, and is able to sign a deal without the need for Congressional approval. He also has the right to veto any new sanctions proposed by Congress.
But what Obama cannot do is give Iran exactly what it wants, namely, completely lifting the sanctions imposed by Congress. This is not in the hands of the U.S. president, especially given as he is at odds with the Republican Congress. Meanwhile, Tehran does not want to content itself with an agreement with a president who will be in the White House for only two years. What Tehran wants is indeed in the Congress’ hands. This is one of the points that poses a threat to a potential deal.
The general climate suggests the negotiations are going in the direction of a deal. However, it is still premature to say for certain that a deal will happen. At any rate, the U.S. administration has been promoting a deal. The visit by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to Saudi Arabia and his meeting with GCC ministers can be seen to be in this context.
Kerry brought with him reassurances, telling the Gulf nations that the deal would not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons and will not mean the U.S. blesses the Iranian role in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon - though it is unlikely any of his counterparts believe him. Kerry brought a U.S. pledge to Gulf ministers to continue to confront Iranian expansion in the region, but the ministers must have winked at each other when they heard him say “continue to confront” Iranian expansion. In other words, what Kerry brought to Riyadh was a bit too late if the intention was to reassure Saudi Arabia.
Perhaps Kerry’s visit was meant to notify Gulf leaders that Obama is determined to sign this deal with Iran and wants them to accept the fait accompli. Or perhaps the goal was to agree on a strategy should the negotiations succeed and on another should they fail.
The Gulf nations realize that the U.S.-Iranian deal will not be exclusively nuclear, but will perpetuate the policy of turning a blind eye to Iranian regional policies and ambitions that the Obama administration has adopted. This will embolden the Iranians to expand further and seek to dominate the Arab region, through Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, and elsewhere.
These countries realize, as does the United States, that such a development would further restrict them unless they adopt unconventional strategies including nuclear ones. However, this would benefit the nuclear industry and drain the resources of the Arab region, because money will be diverted - once again - to weapons instead of development and modernization in the Arab world.
In the event the deal that Obama wants with Iran fails, the strategy that the U.S. administration will have to pursue is to rein in the Iranian tentacles, from Syria and Iraq, to Lebanon and Yemen. In a few weeks, we will either see the features and regional consequences of a deal, or see the features and regional consequences of a no-deal.

Why Politicians Pretend Islam Has No Role in Violence
Daniel Pipes/The Washington Times
March 9, 2015
Prominent non-Muslim political figures have embarrassed themselves by denying the self-evident connection of Islam to the Islamic State (ISIS) and to Islamist violence in Paris and Copenhagen, even claiming these are contrary to Islam. What do they hope to achieve through these falsehoods and what is their significance?
First, a sampling of the double talk:
President Barack Obama tells the world that ISIS "is not Islamic" because its "actions represent no faith, least of all the Muslim faith." He holds "we are not at war with Islam [but] with people who have perverted Islam."
British Prime Minister David Cameron and U.S. President Barack Obama agree that violence perverts Islam.
Secretary of State John Kerry echoes him: ISIS consists of "coldblooded killers masquerading as a religious movement" who promote a "hateful ideology has nothing do with Islam." His spokesperson, Jen Psaki, goes further: the terrorists "are enemies of Islam."
Jeh Johnson, the U.S. secretary of Homeland Security, assents: "ISIL is [not] Islamic." My favorite: Howard Dean, the former Democrat governor of Vermont, says of the Charlie Hebdo attackers, "They're about as Muslim as I am."Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont, has declared himself a Muslim?
Europeans speak identically: David Cameron, the Conservative British prime minister, portrays ISIS as "extremists who want to abuse Islam" and who "pervert the Islamic faith." He calls Islam "a religion of peace" and dismisses ISIS members as not Muslims, but "monsters." His immigration minister, James Brokenshire, argues that terrorism and extremism "have nothing to do with Islam."
On the Labour side, former British prime minister Tony Blair finds ISIS ideology to be "based in a complete perversion of the proper faith of Islam," while a former home secretary, Jack Straw, denounces "the medieval barbarity of ISIS and its ilk" which he deems "completely contrary to Islam."
Across the channel, French president François Hollande insists that the Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher criminals "have nothing to do with the Muslim faith." His prime minister, Manuel Valls, concurs: "Islam has nothing to do with ISIS."
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte echoes the same theme: "ISIS is a terrorist organization which misuses Islam." Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a left-wing German politician, calls the Paris murderers fascists, not Muslims. From Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agrees: "Extremism and Islam are completely different things."
This is not a new view: for example, prior U.S. presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush also aired their insights about what is and is not Islam, though less assertively.
Summarizing these statements, which come straight out of the Islamist playbook: Islam is purely a religion of peace, so violence and barbarism categorically have nothing to do with it; indeed, these "masquerade" and "pervert" Islam. By implication, more Islam is needed to solve these "monstrous" and "barbaric" problems.
But, of course, this interpretation neglects the scriptures of Islam and the history of Muslims, seeped in the assumption of superiority toward non-Muslims and the righteous violence of jihad. Ironically, ignoring the Islamic impulse means foregoing the best tool to defeat jihadism: for, if the problem results not from an interpretation of Islam, but from random evil and irrational impulses, how can one possibly counter it? Only acknowledging the legacy of Islamic imperialism opens ways to re-interpret the faith's scriptures in modern, moderate, and good-neighborly ways.
Why, then, do powerful politicians make ignorant and counterproductive arguments, ones they surely know to be false, especially as violent Islamism spreads (think of Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, and the Taliban)? Cowardice and multiculturalism play a role, to be sure, but two other reasons have more importance:
First, they want not to offend Muslims, who they fear are more prone to violence if they perceive non-Muslims pursuing a "war on Islam." Second, they worry that focusing on Muslims means fundamental changes to the secular order, while denying an Islamic element permits avoid troubling issues. For example, it permits airplane security to look for passengers' weapons rather than engage in Israeli-style interrogations.
According to non-Muslim politicians these Taliban members have nothing to do with Islam.
My prediction: Denial will continue unless violence increases. In retrospect, the 3,000 victims of 9/11 did not shake non-Muslim complacency. The nearly 30,000 fatalities from Islamist terrorism since then also have not altered the official line. Perhaps 300,000 dead will cast aside worries about Islamist sensibilities and a reluctance to make profound social changes, replacing these with a determination to fight a radical utopian ideology; three million dead will surely suffice.
Without such casualties, however, politicians will likely continue with denial becaus it's easier that way. I regret this – but prefer it to the alternative.
**Mr. Pipes (, @DanielPipes) is president of the Middle East Forum. © 2015 by Daniel Pipes. All rights reserved.