Washington institute for Near East Policy

Israel, Saudi Arabia and claim that once land is Muslim, that land is always Muslim

Israel, Saudi Arabia and claim that once land is Muslim, that land is always Muslim

The Jewish state of Israel and the Sunni Islamic kingdom of Saudi Arabia have a complicated relationship. Official diplomatic relations between the two are non-existent. Yet unofficial contacts not only exist but appear to be thriving

Why? Because for all the bad blood between them, both consider Shiite Iran the greater threat. It's one of those enemy-of-my-enemy hookups.

Israel would love the relationship to play out officially and in public as a grand sign to the world of its desired acceptance as a sovereign Jewish nation in the heart of the Muslim Middle East.

The Saudi monarchy has a more complex agenda, however.

Whatever it's political goals, the Saudi royals also must mollify their nation's ultra-traditional religious establishment, the staunch support of which has allowed the descendants of King Abdulaziz Al Saud to rule over the bulk of the Arabian Peninsula since the nation's founding in 1932.

Saudi Arabia is the cradle of Islam, containing the holy cities of Mecca and Medina and the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad. Because of the kingdom's centrality to Islam, religious backing is critical to the ruling family's continued reign.

Problem is, those religious leaders show little willingness to compromise their rigid Wahhabi Muslim theology for the sake of earthly political considerations.

Here's an example of how the game is played.

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Orlando through an Arab and (limited) Afghan media lens: Gays involved? Religion? No way!

Orlando through an Arab and (limited) Afghan media lens: Gays involved? Religion? No way!

Just so everyone knows where I'm going in this post, and to respond in advance to those who might accuse me of burying my lede, let me state here and now that the focus of this piece is about how media in the heart of the Muslim world -- the mostly Arab Middle East -- treated the Orlando massacre.

But first, this: The coverage in the United States and most of the world has been nothing short of overwhelming. The volume of information included in news stories, analysis and opinion pieces produced across the journalistic spectrum has been extraordinary.

Of course it wasn't flawless. How could it be when it had to puzzle together -- without having all the pieces -- the complexities of international terrorism, sexual orientation, cultural and religious influences, gun control and mass murder, presidential politics, the psychology of a twisted mind, and a state of almost unbearably sad raw emotion. Oh -- and doing it while under intense time and competitive pressures, and subject to instant online criticism.

So I'd say it's fair to conclude that today's unforgiving, report-first-confirm-it-later, 24/7 news cycle worked about as well as one can realistically hope it might. I tip my hat for a job well done to all those who worked from the scene and in news rooms to deliver this story of intense public interest.

Let's not overlook the good when perfection is out of reach. 

My reading of the preponderance of the coverage by mainstream, Western-oriented news operations was that it once again self-identified with the victims in the manner that follows every ugly manifestation of terrorist mass murder these days. What else could it do?

That is not to say there weren't pointed questions about America's politically sacrosanct gun culture. Or differences of opinion about the role played in Orlando by Islam and, in particular, the influence of the Islamic State.

Today, we are all Paris, Istanbul, Brussels, Mali, Kabul, Nigeria, Tel Aviv, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Syria, San Bernardino, etc., etc. There are far too many places to list them all.

Now, we're all Orlando. Who knows who we'll be in a week or two?

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When reporting on the Islamic State, try reporting on more than its ties to Islam

When reporting on the Islamic State, try reporting on more than its ties to Islam

We're told that on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq, ISIS is consistently losing ground, thanks in the main to air strikes led by Russia and the United States. But here's something else, perhaps even more important.

Poll results released last week said that ISIS (also known as the Islamic State, ISIL, and, in Arabic, Daesh) is also losing ground in the battle for popular support among Arab Muslims

This piece from The Washington Post details the poll in question. Here's the nut of it:

The new poll, based on face-to-face interviews with 3,500 respondents ages 18 to 24, suggests that young Arabs are both increasingly fearful of the terrorist group and less swayed by its propaganda, compared with previous years. More than half the participants ranked the Islamic State as the No. 1 problem facing the Middle East, and 3 out of 4 said they believed that the group would ultimately fail in its quest to establish an Islamic caliphate in Iraq and Syria.
The survey suggests that religious fervor plays a secondary role, at best, when young Arabs do decide to sign up with the Islamic State. When asked why Middle Easterners join the group, the participants listed joblessness or poor economic prospects as the top reason. Only 18 percent cited religious views — a “belief that their interpretation of Islam is superior to others” — and nearly as many picked sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shiites as the chief motivating factor.
Young Arabs from countries with high unemployment rates were more likely to list economic hardship as a top reason for wanting to join the Islamic State, the survey found. The results align with the findings of other researchers who have noted that many recruits use religion mostly as a rationalization.

Now that's interesting. Economics is said to be the driving factor; not religious radicalization but religious rationalization. Which is to say that there's more to the problem of ISIS than its version of Islam, as some on the anti-Muslim right -- including you-know-which-presidential-wannabes -- loudly exclaim.

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Bait and switch? Contradictory Iran election coverage still has an uncertain ending

Bait and switch? Contradictory Iran election coverage still has an uncertain ending

Which faction came out on top in the recent Iranian elections? Was it the "reformists"?  The "moderates"? Or was it the hardline clerics who run the Islamic republic and get to decide who is allowed to stand for election?

I ask because it remains difficult, some two weeks after the late February balloting, to tell from a face-value reading of the various media reports just who emerged victorious in the voting for both the nation's unicameral parliament and its clerical consultative body. The latter officially (if not necessarily in reality) has a hand in selecting Iran's all-important supreme leader.

This election muddle underscores how essential it is for journalists to weigh voting results firmly in the context of the nation involved. Confusion is bound to follow when imprecise political labels -- such as reformists or moderates -- are borrowed from Western discourse to simplify complicated foreign political intrigues for American media followers.

The muddle also serves to underscore the dangers inherent in jumping to sweeping conclusions based on initial returns.

Moreover, I can't help but wonder whether there's an element of wishful thinking is also at play here. After all, I think most Americans, and the media they follow as well, would love to see Iran become more open to the West and tone down its anti-Western rhetoric and actions now that its nuclear agreement has been signed.

Some examples of what I mean:

Example A is this early election results story from the BBC, which includes this far too premature declaration: "This stunning election result will make a difference in Iran's engagement with the wider world."

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Update on status of Samuel P. Huntington's predicted 'Clash of Civilizations'

Update on status of Samuel P. Huntington's predicted 'Clash of Civilizations'

The global news continues to grow grimmer. The great unraveling seems to be accelerating even faster than it can be Tweeted.

The primary focal points are the Middle East, North Africa and Europe -- the last largely as a result of the mass dislocations caused by war and poverty in the first two. Some sub-Saharan African nations -- Nigeria and hopelessly dysfunctional Somalia, to name just two -- certainly may be included.

Thanks to our globalized media, all this misery, fear, murderous depravity and loathing flows into our homes and awareness in real time. And we call this progress, a communications revolution.

An explanation for this meditation seems necessary.

Perhaps a good place to begin is by reflecting again on what has been labeled the "Clash of Civilizations." The term is most often attributed to Samuel P. Huntington, the late Harvard international affairs professor and Carter administration national security adviser, even though it was actually used years earlier by the Nobel Prize-winning writer Albert Camus and others.

For those unfamiliar with the term, the clash spoken of is the cognitive and emotional gulf that sets one portion of humanity apart from another, leading to hostility rooted in conflicting values generally expressed in religious, political and economic terms. Civilization refers to the sum total of a group's world view, its professed religious values acting as a cultural cornerstone.

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