Video: Iraq, Syria, Islamic State – What you’re not being told

Orthodox Church of Antioch: the West feigns empathy for a problem of its own making

There’s been renewed American media coverage and discussion of the Middle East’s Christian population as a result of Islamic State’s (ISIS) purging of Christians in Mosul. While this attention is good, the entire presentation and discussion of current threats to the region’s Christians continues to be driven by distorted assumptions, contributing to a false and dangerous narrative that will only exacerbate and prolong the persecution. This false narrative tends to assume that western countries are benevolent players in the region, standing up for the rights of native Christians and against Islamic extremism.

France’s recent declaration of amnesty and resettlement assistance for Iraqi Christians was met, in various Christian and conservative corners, with celebration and adulation. Why can’t the U.S. issue the same appeal as France? “Why not us?” …some commentators are asking. Yet this completely ignores the root of the real threat to the Middle East’s Christians. This week’s official statement by the Orthodox Church of Antioch speaks to the heart of the problem, and cuts through the false narrative:

In the midst of all destruction which is taking place in the Middle East and with the recent events like killings and displacements which affected Christians and others, and in the midst of the conflicts in Syria and the attack on Gaza, we hear some officials of Western governments giving  declarations from time to time or publishing some “studies” to express their unreal empathy with Christians of certain areas and showing their solidarity with them, describing their circumstances in a way that supports the logic of minorities. But the most recent of these declarations  is that of the French government regarding its readiness to accept the Iraqi Christians and granting them a political asylum, in addition to the study issued by the American Ministry of Foreign Affairs that describes the presence of the Christians in the Middle East as “a shadow of its former status”.

We, in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and all the East, would like to confirm that the difficult circumstances in the East do not justify  anybody’s attempt to misuse them as “Trojan Horse” to empty the East from its Christians, declaring  that what Christians are confronting in the East is similar to what is happening to religious or ethnic minorities in other places of the world. We believe that helping the  inhabitants of the East, Christians or Muslims, starts with  uprooting terrorism  from its homeland and  stop nourishing the movements of extremism and Takfirism (religious prejudice) , whose financial resources  are very well known as well as  the states and the governments that offer them  the ideological, logistic and military support through undeclared international alliances.

Some American Christians might be bewildered at such a harsh condemnation of France’s offer from the Orthodox Church, but some essential background information is necessary.

First and foremost, it must be remembered that the Islamist groups that have been, for at least the past two years, targeting Christians for kidnapping, extortion, and murder, are funded, armed, trained, and politically supported by Western and NATO powers and their Gulf allies like Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Above left: Former U.S. Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, in northern Syria in May 2013 with rebel “Free” Syrian Army Colonel Abdul-Jabbar who at that time was head of the western backed and funded Aleppo Military Council (video here). Above right: “Free” Syrian Army Colonel Abdul-Jabbar with ISIS Emir Abu Jandal after their forces jointly capture Menagh Military Airbase in Aleppo province, August 2013 (video here and here). [Photo and commentary courtesy of Orontes:Syrian Christians in a Time of Conflict]

As I detailed last February, the terrorist coalition that attacked the Christian towns of Maaloula and Saidnaya included not just the “bad Islamists” like Al-Nusra (in Washington’s rhetoric), but “Free Syrian Army” units as well, which are directly supported by Washington, even the point of receiving US government paid salaries. As for groups like Nusra (a transplant of Al-Qaeda in Iraq), Islamic Front, and ISIS, these are funded out of Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait -all allies of the West and Washington.

When Middle Eastern Christian leaders frequently speak of the “West’s silence” when it comes to the systematic razing of churches, they aren’t just pointing to a failure to speak out, but are highlighting the actual complicity of Western policy-makers.

The Christian city of Saidnaya has been under constant rebel threat over the past year. US and Saudi backed rebels have promised to cleanse the region of its 2000-year-old Christian presence.

The Christian city of Saidnaya has been under constant rebel threat over the past year. US and Saudi backed rebels have promised to cleanse the region of its 2000-year-old Christian presence.

France itself led the way in getting the EU to lift an arms embargo on Syria, for the express purpose of allowing weapons/money to flow to Islamist rebel groups (the very groups now persecuting Christians). Now that these very groups (that France itself has given some degree of material support to) are cleansing Eastern Syria/Iraq of its ancient Christian population, France presents itself as the benevolent “good guy” ready to receive Christians with outstretched arms. The Patriarchate of Antioch certainly understands that refugees need help, but is ultimately calling out France (and others in the West) for its contradictory and hypocritical policies. Instead, the Patriarchate says that France should be “helping the people of the Levant, Christians and Muslims… by uprooting terrorism from their land and stop nurturing the takfiri groups.”

Downtown Damascus

Downtown Damascus

It’s further important to understand that the Christians of the Middle East present a real problem for Western policy makers. Christians have been integrally linked to nationalist Arab politics of the 20th century.  They are not, like many in the West assume, a mere forgotten minority on the sidelines, but are key parts of Levantine societies (esp. Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine). Go to any major city in the near East and you’re likely to find large, ancient churches dominating the skyline alongside Muslim minarets. Middle East Christians have consistently voiced that any future political solution to the region must involve the input of the region’s sizeable and influential Christians.

Father of Arab nationalism Constantin Zureiq, an Antiochian Orthodox Christian (Wikimedia Commons)

Father of Arab nationalism Constantin Zureiq, an Antiochian Orthodox Christian

Sadly, “western solutions” to Middle East problems have sought to completely sideline the Christian component in these societies. This is partly because it has long been official Western policy to actively fight against Arab nationalism (a movement founded by Orthodox Christians like Constantin Zureiq and Michel Aflaq). More recently it’s been the policy of the West to woo the region away from pluralistic secular nationalism (represented by the Ba’ath for example), and to instead impose ethno-religious statelets, which spells trouble for the Christians. Western planners have made no room for Middle East Christians in their schemes.

One potential map of the Middle East, created by retired Col. Ralph Peters, envisions a future division according to Shia, Sunni, Kurdish regions, with absolutely no place for Christians, who will be “cleansed” through genocide or forced immigration. One article Peters wrote was called “Blood Borders” because he admitted that minorities would have to be killed off for his map to make sense! (Yes, as in well-known FOX News contributor Ralph Peters).

While some might understandably benefit by France’s latest offer, and this is good for those individuals and families who have already suffered enough, the Patriarchate has a firm understanding of the current and future designs of Western policy makers. Ethno-religious sectarianism was not a shaping reality for 20th century Arab nationalist movements, but is the long-term strategic plan of Saudi Arabia. Through the help of its closest ally, the United States, along with other western countries, the logic of sectarianism is being implemented, and there are few who understand the nature of the game.

muslim-christian-division-2

 

ISIS detonates Jonah’s tomb (and related tales from Mosul)

Walls of Ancient Nineveh (courtesy of WikiMedia)

Several days ago, like the rest of the world, I heard that ISIS had destroyed the grave of Jonah (yes, as in, Jonah and the whale). In all honesty, like the rest of the world, I had little idea that he grave was supposedly in Mosul. This short piece is a sharing of my own efforts to learn what was lost.

The modern city of Mosul lies in the north astride the river Tigris. In short, it is the historical twin city to Nineveh, the ancient capital of the Assyrian empire. The Babylonians destroyed Nineveh in 612 BC when they overthrew that empire, and a new city, Mosul (al-Mawsil), arose on the opposite bank of the Tigris. I have noticed that news sources sometimes try to disassociate the cities (saying that Nineveh is “nearby”, or similar). Perhaps the writers in question lacked the diligence to consult a map. Perhaps a diminished connection to ancient Nineveh suited each article’s obligatory paragraph attacking the historicity of the site. In any case, the remains of Nineveh’s western wall stand barely half a mile from the center of old city Mosul. Apart from the archaeological park, which is plainly visible from a satellite photo, the ruins of Nineveh are completely enveloped by the northeast suburbs of modern Mosul.

The site of the Nabi Yunus (prophet Jonah) mosque, was a few thousand feet south of the Mashki gate and modern archaeological park, on a hill known locally as Tell al-Tawba (the “hill of repentance”). Once upon a time, it would have been part of the western wall of Ninevah. For most of the Christian period of the city, which started in the late 1st or early 2nd century AD, it had been a church or monastery. M. Streck’s old entry on “Ninawa” (Brill’s First Encyclopedia of Islam, originally published in 1927) is worth reading because it sets the stage for recent events. The site remained in Christian hands even after the Islamic conquest; the first mosque was built on the hill sometime in the 10th century and the site finally changed hands after the Mongols took control of Mosul in the 13th century. Christian and Muslim alike venerated the tomb. Indeed, the 10th century Arabic geographer al-Muqaddasi said that seven pilgrimages to Nabi Yunus in Nineveh were as valuable at the great pilgrimage to Mecca.

This sort of background is needed if one wants to appreciate news coverage of recent events. Official statements from ISIS claim that the mosque was destroyed to purify Islam from perceived idolatry. Not surprisingly, news coverage has, on the main, treated the event as an affair between Muslim sects (cf. Telegraph, Time, NPR, Washington Post, to take a quick sampling). The odd thing is that most fail to observe that the mosque was a Sunni holy site. ISIS Islamists are also Sunni. This should not be confused with the Sunni vs. Shi’ite violence so common to Iraq.

Some, however, have noted that this is equally an attack on what little Christian community remained in Mosul. Nabhan’s Wall Street Journal article is useful as is CNN’s interview with Dr. Candida Moss from the University of Notre Dame. She also co-authored a CNN blog post with Joel Baden from Yale Divinity School in which they lay out the argument in greater detail. In short, because the site had a long Christian history and because Christians see Jonah as a prophetic anticipation of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the destruction of Nabi Yunus should be understood primarily within the context of the religious cleansing taking place in Mosul.

This makes good sense, provided one knows the history of the site and takes the time to learn about the recent history of Mosul. Before the U.S. invasion in 2003, Mosul had a Christian population of roughly 130,000. By the time ISIS overran the city, only about 10,000 remained. It is not hard to understand why. Mosul had seen frequent outbreaks of Islamist aggression against Iraqi Christians over the last 10 years. One may find a compilation of the more infamous atrocities on Wikipedia.

NunThe fall of Mosul to ISIS was the final calamity for the remaining community. I will not outline ever detail here. Those interested may refer to the timeline provided by the Assyrian International News Agency. They closed, desecrated, and destroyed the remaining churches. Christians were given a deadline to convert, pay the jizya tax, or flee. As the deadline approached, ISIS marked Christian houses with the Arabic letter “N” for “Nazarene”.  (If you travel in the right Facebook circles, you have seen friends changing their picture to a stylized version as a sign of solidarity and protest, pictured to left.) As Christians fled the city, numerous reports indicated that they were robbed of all but the clothes on their backs (compare, for example, the Guardian, Breitbart). Interviewed survivors and church officials indicate that return is unthinkable as long as ISIS controls the city.

Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako, head of the Chaldean Church, summed up the situation simply: “For the first time in the history of Iraq, Mosul is now empty of Christians“.  Given that the city’s inhabitants converted to Christianity some 1800 years ago, that is a stunning and tragic statement. It is also the final stage of a religious purge that has a 10 year history.

Video: Israeli sniper attacks civilians, IDF ordered to “kill anything that moves”

Just saw the bodies of children in the morgue of the main hospital which is so full that they are piling up on the floor. Doesn’t get worse.       

-Peter Stefanovic, London-based journalist, reporting from Gaza

LR Editor’s Note: Having personally spent a lot of time doing live fire exercises in the Marine Corps, the “snap” “snap” you hear in the video is the unmistakable sound of rifle rounds being fired into the group, which includes international aid workers, from some distance away (perhaps 200+ meters). The UN now estimates that 75% of Gaza’s dead are civilians. The only explanation for such a high civilian-to-militant ratio by a high-tech modern army is that the IDF has been given “kill anything that moves” orders.

From THE GUARDIAN UK: According to Alex Fishman, a military analyst writing in Yedioth Ahronoth: “The tanks, which serve as the heart of the assault force, received an order to open fire at anything that moved. The area and the targets are due to be seized by the morning hours. From here on, [the army] will start to clear the ground, in what could last for several days, depending on political developments.”

From an Israeli courtroom transcript of a 2005 IDF audio-recording used at the trial of an officer accused of emptying his rifle into a Palestinian child: This is commander. Anything that’s mobile, that moves in the zone, even if it’s a three-year-old, needs to be killed. Over.”

The above video, documenting a war crime, was uploaded to YouTube by the International Solidarity Movement, which described the incident in a 20 July press release:

The Israeli military just shot a Gazan man trying to reach his family, during an announced ceasefire. He was with a group of municipality workers and international human rights defenders who were attempting to retrieve injured people in the Shujaiya neighborhood.

“We all just watched a man murdered in front of us. He was trying to reach his family in Shujaiya, he had not heard from them and was worried about them. They shot him, and then continued to fire as he was on the ground. We had no choice but to retreat. We couldn’t reach him due to the artillery fire and then he stopped moving.” Stated Joe Catron, US International Solidarity Movement (ISM) activist in Gaza. “Shajiya is a smoking wasteland. We just passed two bombed out ambulances.”

The Israel military has also shelled Red Crescent ambulances as they attempted to retrieve injured people in the Shujaiya neighbourhood, east of Gaza City. A ceasefire was announced, during which injured and dead people, could be evacuated from the area, in which at least 60 people have been killed today.

“They said we would be able to evacuate the injured from the disaster zone, but they have been shelling ambulances,” stated Dr Khalil Abu Foul of the Palestinian Red Crescent, speaking from Shujaiya.

Now, the international volunteers, including some from the US, the UK, and Sweden, are in a rescue centre on the outskirts of Shujaiya.

Life in Gaza Explained

Some necessary context to the current crisis in Gaza:

1) In a U.S. diplomatic cable in 2008 revealed by Wikileaks, U.S. officials confirmed that Israel maintains a policy of economic strangulation over Gaza just enough “to avoid a humanitarian crisis.” One cable states:

“As part of their overall embargo plan against Gaza, Israeli officials have confirmed to (U.S. embassy economic officers) on multiple occasions that they intend to keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse without quite pushing it over the edge.”

and…

Israel wanted the coastal territory’s economy “functioning at the lowest level possible consistent with avoiding a humanitarian crisis”, according to the Nov. 3, 2008 cable.

Read more in Israel’s major daily newspaper Haaretz: WikiLeaks: Israel aimed to keep Gaza economy on brink of collapse

2) Hamas was created, promoted, and funded by the Israeli government as a “divide and conquer” tool in order to counteract Arafat’s Fatah party and the secular nationalist PLO in the 1980’s (ironically, when the US was funding the Afghan mujahideen against the Soviets). Read about it in an investigative 2009 article in the Wall Street Journal entitled How Israel Helped to Spawn Hamas:

“Hamas, to my great regret, is Israel’s creation,” says Mr. Cohen, a Tunisian-born Jew who worked in Gaza for more than two decades. Responsible for religious affairs in the region until 1994, Mr. Cohen watched the Islamist movement take shape, muscle aside secular Palestinian rivals and then morph into what is today Hamas, a militant group that is sworn to Israel’s destruction.

Instead of trying to curb Gaza’s Islamists from the outset, says Mr. Cohen, Israel for years tolerated and, in some cases, encouraged them as a counterweight to the secular nationalists of the Palestine Liberation Organization and its dominant faction, Yasser Arafat’s Fatah. Israel cooperated with a crippled, half-blind cleric named Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, even as he was laying the foundations for what would become Hamas. Sheikh Yassin continues to inspire militants today; during the recent war in Gaza, Hamas fighters confronted Israeli troops with “Yassins,” primitive rocket-propelled grenades named in honor of the cleric.

and…

When Israel first encountered Islamists in Gaza in the 1970s and ’80s, they seemed focused on studying the Quran, not on confrontation with Israel. The Israeli government officially recognized a precursor to Hamas called Mujama Al-Islamiya, registering the group as a charity. It allowed Mujama members to set up an Islamic university and build mosques, clubs and schools. Crucially, Israel often stood aside when the Islamists and their secular left-wing Palestinian rivals battled, sometimes violently, for influence in both Gaza and the West Bank.

3) Do you wonder why you’ve never heard the above two points presented in any kind of media analysis on let’s say FOX, CNN, or nightly cable news? Americans that receive news exclusively through mainstream sources (Washington Post, NY Times, FOX, CNN, NBC, CBS, etc…) should understand that there is some degree of real debate over Gaza and the Israel-Palestine conflict going on even within Israel itself, as well as Jewish media. Israeli policy is almost never subject to critical debate within American major media establishments.

Israel receives its overwhelming firepower and military hardware from the United States government and U.S. taxpayers. There is a huge Israeli lobbying effort in the U.S. which spends millions on influencing politicians, influential analysts, and media personalities. The purpose is to prevent any kind of real public criticism of Israeli action to ensure that the money continues to flow.

Again, it is ironic that one can actually get more divergent views on the Israel-Palestine conflict while reading Jewish and Israeli sources. Consider for example this analysis-driven piece in the Jewish Daily Forward newspaper: How Politics and Lies Triggered an Unintended War in Gaza.

It confirms what I wrote on July 1:

This current round of Gaza bombardment by Israel has little to do with the three Israeli teens kidnapped and murdered in the West Bank, but was planned in advance for political reasons by the Netanyahu government. The murdered teens served as the pretext for an attack on Gaza, in the way that Hezbollah border incidents have been the pretext for Israeli bombing of all of Lebanon. But in this case Israel’s proclaimed target, Hamas, likely had nothing to do with the murdered teens.

 

 

Former MI6 chief Richard Dearlove says ISIS/Islamic State was Saudi sponsored project from the beginning

“Such things simply do not happen spontaneously.”

THE INDEPENDENT UK (7/13/14) – How far is Saudi Arabia complicit in the Isis takeover of much of northern Iraq, and is it stoking an escalating Sunni-Shia conflict across the Islamic world? Some time before 9/11, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, once the powerful Saudi ambassador in Washington and head of Saudi intelligence until a few months ago, had a revealing and ominous conversation with the head of the British Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove. Prince Bandar told him: “The time is not far off in the Middle East, Richard, when it will be literally ‘God help the Shia’. More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them.”

The fatal moment predicted by Prince Bandar may now have come for many Shia, with Saudi Arabia playing an important role in bringing it about by supporting the anti-Shia jihad in Iraq and Syria. Since the capture of Mosul by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) on 10 June, Shia women and children have been killed in villages south of Kirkuk, and Shia air force cadets machine-gunned and buried in mass graves near Tikrit.

In Mosul, Shia shrines and mosques have been blown up, and in the nearby Shia Turkoman city of Tal Afar 4,000 houses have been taken over by Isis fighters as “spoils of war”. Simply to be identified as Shia or a related sect, such as the Alawites, in Sunni rebel-held parts of Iraq and Syria today, has become as dangerous as being a Jew was in Nazi-controlled parts of Europe in 1940.

There is no doubt about the accuracy of the quote by Prince Bandar, secretary-general of the Saudi National Security Council from 2005 and head of General Intelligence between 2012 and 2014, the crucial two years when al-Qa’ida-type jihadis took over the Sunni-armed opposition in Iraq and Syria. Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute last week, Dearlove, who headed MI6 from 1999 to 2004, emphasised the significance of Prince Bandar’s words, saying that they constituted “a chilling comment that I remember very well indeed”.

He does not doubt that substantial and sustained funding from private donors in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, to which the authorities may have turned a blind eye, has played a central role in the Isis surge into Sunni areas of Iraq. He said: “Such things simply do not happen spontaneously.” This sounds realistic since the tribal and communal leadership in Sunni majority provinces is much beholden to Saudi and Gulf paymasters, and would be unlikely to cooperate with Isis without their consent.

Read the full article here.

Syrian Rebels Set to Receive $500 Million in US Funds Admit to Press they work Jointly with Al-Qaeda

Above left: Former U.S. Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, in northern Syria in May 2013 with rebel “Free” Syrian Army Colonel Abdul-Jabbar who at that time was head of the western backed and funded Aleppo Military Council (video here). Above right: “Free” Syrian Army Colonel Abdul-Jabbar with ISIS Emir Abu Jandal after their forces jointly capture Menagh Military Airbase in Aleppo province, August 2013 (video here and here). [Photo and commentary courtesy of Orontes:Syrian Christians in a Time of Conflict]

NEW EASTERN OUTLOOK (Tony Cartalucci) – The New York Times in its article, “Obama Requests Money to Train ‘Appropriately Vetted’ Syrian Rebels,” stated:

President Obama requested $500 million from Congress on Thursday to train and equip what the White House is calling “appropriately vetted” members of the Syrian opposition, reflecting increased worry about the spillover of the Syrian conflict into Iraq.

The reportage is a stunning entanglement of contradictions, claiming that the additional funding for terrorists fighting in Syria will somehow address “spillover” that is in fact a direct result of US, NATO, and their Persian Gulf collaborators’ creation, expansion, and perpetuation of the war in Syria in the first place.

The NYT also stated:

The training program would be a significant step for a president who has consistently resisted providing military aid to the rebels in the conflict in Syria, and has warned of the dangers of American intervention. But military and State Department officials indicated that there were not yet any specific programs to arm and train the rebels that the money would fund, nor could administration officials specify which moderate Syrian opposition members they intended to train and support, or where they would be trained.

Despite the NYT’s attempt to portray the US as having “consistently resisted providing military aid” to terrorists operating along and within Syria’s borders, the US, UK, NATO, and the Persian Gulf monarchies have provided terrorists hundreds of millions in aid, including weapons, equipment, and even vehicles. NATO-member Turkey has also provided air and artillery cover for terrorists during cross border operations including most recently in the northwest village of Kessab.

And despite assurances that these hundreds of millions in aid was going to similarly “vetted” “moderates,” terrorist organizations including Al Qaeda’s Al Nusra and Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have achieved uncontested primacy among militant groups fighting in Syria. If the US and its regional collaborators have provided “moderates” with hundreds of millions in aid, who has provided Al Qaeda with even more to explain their now state-sized holdings not only in Syria but now in northern Iraq?

The answer is simple. There never were any moderates to begin with. An Independent article titled, “‘I am not fighting against al-Qa’ida… it’s not our problem’, says West’s last hope in Syria,” claims:

Speaking from a safe house on the outskirts of the Turkish town of Antakya, Jamal Maarouf, the leader of the Syrian Revolutionary Front (SRF) told The Independent that the fight against al-Qa’ida was “not our problem” and admitted his fighters conduct joint operations with Jabhat al-Nusra – the official al-Qa’ida branch in Syria.

Read the full article here.

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