Pope Francis Receives MWL Chief

London- Pope Francis on Wednesday met with the Muslim World League’s Chief Dr. Mohammed bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa, the Vatican said in a statement, without elaborating on the content of the meeting.

The Muslim world appreciates Pope Francis’ stance on false claims linking Islam to extremism and violence, Al-Issa told the pope.

The two men exchanged views on a number of topics of mutual concern, notably cooperation between the Vatican and the Islamic world on issues concerning peace and coexistence.

Pope Francis had formerly said that violence is not directly related to Islam, and that no religion is free from having extremist followers.

After their meeting, the pope and Al-Issa exchanged gifts.

The MWL chief gave the pope a religious symbol representing Islamic civilization and its communication with other civilizations.

Pope Francis gave Al-Issa a memorial pen marking the 500th anniversary of St. Peter’s Basilica in 2006, and a medal commemorating his fifth year as head of the Roman Catholic Church.

During his visit, the MWL chief will meet senior figures from the Vatican administration and leading Italian officials, and will attend a number of religious and cultural functions in Rome.

The Saudi Arabian government-supported NGO, MWL, was founded in 1962 to propagate Islam and to improve worldwide understanding of the religion.

Headquartered in the Saudi city of Mecca, the MWL in its mission statement says it rejects violence and fosters “dialogue with people of other cultures.”

Coexistence or ISIS

A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) waves an ISIL flag in Raqqa

The ISIS terrorist organization was established after the collapse of a series of coexistence trials. It changed maps and tore borders apart, and maps are like buildings, they always need maintenance. Negligence speeds up their demise with walls cracking and doors breaking down. Factionalism policies rattle their core and peace.

This gives “black winds” the chance to infiltrate into them. Songs and armies are not enough to protect the borders. Based on experiences, borders fall from within before they are violated from the outside.

Today, the region rejoices the series of strikes against ISIS, and it is within its right to celebrate. ISIS is a storm of blood and mud and a heavy chapter of injustice and darkness in the story of time. Stories of those captivated or orphaned by ISIS are both heartbreaking and terrifying.

But, what is more important than victorious celebrations are the lessons learned.

This terrible organization wasn’t dropped over our societies but rather penetrated through cracks and supported by experienced fighters driven by their grudges. ISIS couldn’t have violated borders hadn’t they were already suffering and it couldn’t have settled in the region hadn’t the national will been torn apart.

War on ISIS seems a difficult one with suicide bombers, tunnels, explosives, and young men brainwashed until they became bombs searching for a chance to detonate themselves.

Yet despite its importance, this war should be part of a more comprehensive war. Real victory is overcoming the idea of ISIS and the circumstances that facilitated the birth of the organization and its infiltration into one country or another.

Without an encompassing confrontation against ISIS on the streets, in the club or school books, media and mosques, the war on the terrorist organization remains incomplete and the results are endangered.

ISIS militants can escape and live as lone wolves waiting for the right moment to explode anywhere.

The most important thing about a broad confrontation is taking a difficult and probably painful decision to coexist. This doesn’t mean returning to the fake coexistence on television that failed its first test. The point is to have people within countries and countries live together.

One must admit that ISIS leader Abu Baker al-Baghdadi couldn’t have emerged in Mosul, Iraq and open the door on this costly tragedy had the relations between Iraqi components been healthy and normal.

ISIS wouldn’t have been able to infiltrate into Syrian territories and take over the popular revolution causing its failure if relations between Syrian components had been natural within a normal state.

We must make the decision to coexist with the world and the different various beliefs, ethnicities, and colors without thinking that we should impose our beliefs on the world or otherwise destroy it.

Believing that we have to subjugate the world into becoming like us is the shortest way towards becoming a ticking bomb in this world. We enter into a crushing clash more than we can handle if we fail to admit to one’s right to be different.

Considering anyone different from us as an enemy or someone who strayed from the right path consolidates demarcation which blocks any cooperation we need to achieve progress reached by other countries.

Those countries went through their own costly experiences and survived with the belief that being different can enrich them and is a right that should be respected. Thinking that it is our duty to salvage humanity based on a single concept that can’t be interpreted or even without considering any other forms puts us in front of a wall and pushes us towards disaster.

Before making the decision to coexist with other people outside our region, living with others within the region must be determined. Considering every different idea a crime and a threat is the first step towards civil wars, identities terminations, and massacres. We must admit to other people’s right in a building, or a village, or a city to be different, and it is within their right to be equal and feel safe in a state based on citizenship and not on a majority, regardless of demographic percentages and modifications.

There is no way out of this hellhole that created hundreds of thousands of casualties and millions of refugees unless we coexist. Without deciding that, every victory is threatened of becoming another round in a war that settles and rekindles.

Without a true determination, torn societies will be the perfect opportunities for ISIS and similar organizations to resurface again.

Final triumph over ISIS can’t happen without the mission to build a truly modern state with rights and duties. It is not possible without citizenship in a country that respects the right to be different and a country of opportunities, comprehensive development, welcoming curriculum, and open and responsible media.

There is no way out of this hellhole if interventions and coups continue and if elimination and hatred policies are still used. For ages now, we tried these vindictive futile policies and retaliations that took us out of the race for the future, poisoned our states, capitals, and colleges. We can’t keep swimming in these turbid waters.

Determination doesn’t mean that we are personally turning our children and their children into fuel for upcoming wars, nor does it mean we allow our countries to become pools of blood struggling with poverty and unemployment.

Our problem didn’t begin with ISIS’ existence to end with a military victory over it. Our real issue is failing the test of time to follow up development and modern age. Our problem is that we don’t want to pay for the train ticket heading towards the future.

Coexistence Is the Last Chance to Avoid the Precipice

Last week, Egypt’s Coptic Christians cancelled Easter celebrations in mourning for those who were killed in two separate terrorist explosions targeting churches in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria.

In Iraq too, new maps are being drawn by sectarianism, while minorities shrink and ethno-religious fabric change under the violence perpetrated by Iran on one side and ISIS on another.

Likewise, we openly witness how shredded Syria has become, and under the eyes of the international community, it is well on the road of partition and population exchange– finally, the less said the better it is when the subject matter is ongoing events in occupied Palestinian territories.

Given this painful regional climate, the ongoing arguments about Lebanon’s future electoral system become a travesty, not much different from the ‘crowded’ field of Iran’s presidential elections where neither votes nor abundance of candidates mean a thing against what the Supreme Leader utters and the elitist Revolutionary Gaurd the (IRGC) dictates.

In Lebanon, the Middle East’s ‘democratic’ soft belly, the Lebanese’ daily bread and butter is endless and absurd arguments and counter-arguments about what the most appropriate electoral system should look like in upcoming parliamentary elections. This is not actually new. Moreover, true intentions behind what is going on have nothing to do with what is being said, whether the intention is escalation or hypocrisy.

The real problem is that the Lebanese are acutely divided on several basic issues regarding conditions of coexistence, political representation and even the meaning of democracy.

For a start, one must ask oneself whether the next elections – regardless of what system is adopted – are going to produce any change in the status quo? Is there any common Lebanese vision as to what the country’s identity is among the ostensible ‘allies’, let alone political adversaries and those dependent on foreign backing and sectarian hegemony?

Then, one may also ask – given defective mechanisms of governance – would ‘state institutions’ still be relevant and meaningful? Would any electoral law be effective in the light of accelerating disproportionate sectarian demographics, and the fact that one large religious sect enjoys a monopoly of military might outside the state’s umbrella, while still sharing what is underneath that umbrella?

The other day in his Easter sermon the Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Bechara Ra’i said “the (Lebanese) Christians are nobody’s bullied weaklings, but are rather indispensable (!)…”. This is tough talk indeed, but it too is not new.

From what is widely known about Cardinal Ra’i, even before assuming the Patriarchate, is that he is highly interested in politics, and that political views are as candid as they are decisive. On Syria, in particular, he has been among the first to warn the West against and dissuade its leaders from supporting the Syrian uprising; when he claimed during his visits – beginning with France – that any regime that may replace Bashar Al-Assad’s may be worse, and thus it would better to keep him in power.

The same path has been followed by current Lebanese president Michel Aoun, who was strongly backed by Hezbollah, to the extent that the latter forced a political vacuum on Lebanon lasting for over two years.

Of course, Hezbollah, in the meantime, had been imposing its hegemony over Lebanon, fighting for Al-Assad in Syria, and training the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen as part of Iran’s project of regional dominance. In promoting this ‘project’ globally, but particularly in the West, Iran has given it the themes of ‘fighting terrorism’ – meaning ‘Sunni Muslim terrorism’- and ‘protection of minorities’ within the framework of a tactical ‘coalition of the minorities’.

A few days ago Aoun said during an interview that “the aim behind what is taking place in the Orient is to empty it of Christians and partition the region into several states”. Again, this is not something new, as it used to be said on the murder and kidnapping road blocks during the dark days of the Lebanese War between 1975 and 1990. Those days the fears of uprooting were common and widespread; reaching the climax within the Christian community with rumors that the mission of American diplomat Dean Brown was to evacuate Lebanon’s Christians to Canada, and within the Druze community during ‘the Mountain War’ (1983-1984) that they would be expelled to southern Syria.

However, Aoun, as it seems, has not been quite aware of who was applying the final touches on population exchange, and drawing the map for the ‘future’ states he has been warning against. He has simply ignored the full picture, turning instead, to repeat old talk in order to justify temporary interests that are harmful if not fatal to minorities, rather than being beneficial and protective.

In this context, come the ‘try-to-be-smart’ attempts to impose a new electoral law in Lebanon as a means of blackmail, as if the country’s sectarian ‘tribal chieftains’ are naïve or debutants in the arena of sectarian politics. The latest has come from Gebran Bassil, the foreign minister and President Aoun’s son-in-law, when he expressed his “willingness to entertain the idea of a Senate, on the condition that it is headed by a Christian!”. This pre-condition was quickly rejected by the Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri on the basis that the presidency of a Senate, as approved in “Taif Agreement” – which is now part of Lebanon’s Constitution – was allocated to the Druze; and thus, what Bassil had suggested was unconstitutional.

It is worth mentioning here that all suggestions regarding the future electoral law have ignored the issue of a Senate. It was has also been obvious that another item in the “Taif Agreement” was being intentionally ignored too, which is adopting ‘Administrative De-Centralization’.

However, if some Lebanese parties feel uncomfortable with the idea of ‘De-Centralization’, more so as both Iraq and Syria seem to be on their way to actual partition, it is not possible anymore to separate Lebanon’s politics from its demographics.

The latter are now being affected by radical and everlasting demographic changes occurring across the country’s disintegrating eastern borders with Syria. These include what is being reported – without being refuted – about widespread settlement and naturalization activities in Damascus and its countryside. Furthermore, once the population exchange between Shi’ite ‘pockets’ of northern Syria and the Sunni majority population of the Barada River valley is completed, the new sectarian and demographic fabric of Damascus and its countryside would gain a strategic depth and merge with a similar fabric in eastern Lebanon.

This is a danger that Lebanese Christians, indeed, all Lebanese, Syrians, Iraqis and all Arabs, must be aware of and sincere about. The cost of ignoring facts on the ground is tragic, as blood begets blood, exclusion justifies exclusion, and marginalization undermines coexistence.

Nation-building is impossible in the absence of a free will to live together. It is impossible in a climate of lies, while those who think they are smart gamble on shifting regional and global balances of power.

Muslim World League: Hate Advances Terror Agendas, Provides Rally Base

Islam

Durban – Secretary General of Muslim World League (MWL) Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa demanded an audience of scientists and intellectuals to confront hate-fostering atmospheres.

They should give emphasis to an aware civilization, religious representatives, intellectuals, academic institutions and influential podiums that share a large responsibility in fighting the rise of hate, which has led to the most tragic wars in the history of mankind, he said.

Speaking at the MWL sponsored forum on coexistence and religious diversity held in the South African city of Durban, Issa addressed some of the most prominent government, civil, religious and cultural figures worldwide.

The MWL chief reiterated that Islamophobia or any other form of hate has played into the hands of extremists, serving as a strategic rally ground based on an “us-against-them” rhetoric. Fighting animosity toward fellow humans must therefore be decisively, fiercely and unanimously fought so that peaceful coexistence prevails.

Coexistence is an eventual necessity, which international efforts must unite to establish through promoting tolerance and multi-religious coexistence in South Africa, added Issa.

Opposing coexistence has resulted in a brutal clash of civilizations which led to tragedy and war, said he added. Reasons of such a conflict is the short-coming of academic and scholarly outlets of taking positive steps towards raising a self-sustaining awareness among its pupils away from the orthodox way of teaching and preaching.

Resisting change also plays part in egging on conflict, while acceptance and openness towards different positive opinions reflects the efficacy of social awareness and educational safety, added Issa.

Youth are in need of an aware and mature environment that promotes openness so that they react positively to ideas or arguments even though they are based on a different cultural background, he explained.

Resorting to a conformist and isolationist mindset is a key factor that feeds into the conflict. Issa went on to say that positively reviewing other beliefs with good intentions is central to promoting coexistence.

Cairo Symposium Promotes Muslim-Christian Coexistence

Pope Francis greets Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayeb (R), Egyptian Imam of al-Azhar Mosque at the Vatican, May 23, 2016. © Osservatore Romano / Reuters

Cairo- Officials, experts and clerics partaking in the international meeting in Cairo, Egypt on Tuesday reaffirmed that excommunicating other religions contradicts the principals of forgiveness promoted by faith and international conventions. Extremism was conceded to be the greatest threat to coexistence.

The head Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayyeb, called on religious institutions in the East and West to act against Islamophobia, telling faith leaders at a Cairo conference that Islam “is not the reason for wars.”

“Exonerating religions from terrorism no longer suffices in the face of these barbaric challenges,” Tayyeb said.

Tayyeb called for dispelling “the lingering mistrust and tensions between religious leaders that are no longer justified, for if there is no peace between the proponents of religions first, the proponents cannot give it to the people.”

Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros II called for “fighting extremist thought with enlightened thought.”

“Egypt and the region have suffered from extremist thought resulting from a mistaken understanding of religion that has led to terrorism,” he said.

The “Freedom and Citizenship” conference is hosted by Al-Azhar, one of the leading Muslim authorities based in Cairo.

Arab League Secretary-General confirmed that the region is undergoing tragic events as a result of misinterpreting holy scripture and exploiting the misreading to justify bloodshed by extremist groups. Extremism has hindered social values of patriotism and coexistence, he added.

The activities of the two-day conference ‘Freedom and Citizenship’ kicked off on Tuesday and are sponsored by Al-Azhar, Council of Elders of Muslims, and under the auspices of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Representing delegations of over 50 countries are partaking in the event.

The conference, including Muslim muftis and Christian clergy such as Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rahi, is to issue a closing statement today.

ISIS, which controls parts of Syria and Iraq, views Christians as enemies who should either be killed or subjugated.

In Egypt, the group’s affiliate called for war on the Coptic minority after bombing a church in December 2016, killing 29 people.

Tayyeb, who represents a more moderate and traditional form of Islam, argues that groups like ISIS have perverted the religion.

Mosul, Chances of Iran Being The ‘Biggest Winner’

Members of the Shi'ite Badr Organisation undergo training before the upcoming battle to recapture Mosul in Diyala province

It has been twelve weeks since the Mosul offensive to drive ISIS hardliners out of their Iraq stronghold launched– the whole world awaits good news on the decisive battle. Iraqi forces, backed by an international coalition, currently are the chief the power combating ISIS in the northern Iraqi city, Mosul.

The capacities of Iraqi forces to retake the city and defeat the extremist group ISIS are undoubted. It is only a matter of time. However, what remains a considerable distress is that Iran would turn out to be the greatest beneficiary of the Mosul operation. The United States’ President-elect Donald Trump, when asked about the ongoing U.S.-backed offensive to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from ISIS during the final presidential debate, said terror-sponsor of terrorism Iran will ultimately “benefit” from the operation.

To him the greatest fear is that Iran will be at a winner position, and the U.S. will be cut out. “Iran is taking over Iraq,” Trump said. What is more is that it remains a possible scenario, so long that the U.S.-led international coalition has not yet engineered a conclusive clear-cut plan for countering terrorism.

In 2001, when U.S. forces ended the Taliban’s reign over Afghanistan, and then carried on with taking down the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, it was oblivious to the disruption caused to regional balance, which Iran found in its favor.

Iran had profited from the eradication of its chief two regional enemies, so will be the case if ISIS is expelled from Mosul. It will exploit vacancy, caused by Washington’s repeated mistake, to its own gains. The more Washington rolls back on its ties with Baghdad, the stronger the Iran-Iraq relations would be, moving Iran a step closer to its expansionist ambitions.

Iran-aligned militias, currently a factor in the Mosul operation, would later overrun and strive in liberated areas, should international forces stick to a mere militarized contribution. Especially that an Iran influential dominance still strains the Iraq government.

All international efforts on eliminating terror group ISIS will then become counter effective on terms of restoring overall balance, enhancing Iran’s position as a regional power, and its presence in both Iraq and Syria.

There is an outspoken global concession on the importance of freeing Iraq’s third largest city from ISIS-hold, but obscurity covers the post-battle phase.

If Iran’s presence in Mosul, for the sake of argument, was a mere advisory one according to its claims, it does not make up for the fact that its proxy Iraqi militia the Popular Mobilization Forces, whose sworn allegiance is given to Tehran, is openly partaking in the offensive secured in the knowledge that who fights in Mosul today gets to be a part of its political future tomorrow.

Iraq faces a grave demographic threat if U.S. interests, Iraqi government aims, and Iran’s end game all translate into keeping Iraq’s Sunni community at bay, and a political minority that rests on the sidelines of Iraqi life. The aftermath of such a situation will extend its harm beyond Iran in a chain effect across the region.

Iran seeks a Mosul victory which can add to the sectarian schism of the Muslim world, pitting Shi’ites against Sunnis, bringing about a political process in which Shi’ites exclude their Sunni counterparts. The same approach will give Iran a greater strategic influence over the region.

Mosul’s offensive is key not only because it fights off terrorist group ISIS, which has managed to occupy entire Iraqi cities, but also because it would outline Iraq’s political makeup and the chances of coexistence among its diverse communities.

It is alarming that the Mosul offensive, despite ridding the world from ISIS, would leave behind the makings of future extremist groups just as dangerous and disturbing as the one we face today.

Editorial: Not In Our Name

The heinous crime that took place in the London suburb of Woolwich in broad daylight last week cannot be justified or excused, and most certainly Islam and Muslims should not be held responsible for it.

The ugly sight of a young British soldier’s body on the side of a main road, with two men of British African origin near it, proud of what they had done, and asking passers-by to film them while one of them was brandishing a meat cleaver and a knife, both soaked in blood, is a sight of pure madness.

A crime of this sort does not carry a political meaning and is not a rebellion against injustice, but whatever the perpetrators of this crime had in their minds, what was perpetrated was in contradiction of Islam, tolerance and coexistence. Prime Minister David Cameron, in his first statement about the crime, was very quick to say this was a “betrayal of Islam and Muslims.” He was absolutely right.

It was actually a stab in the heart for civil coexistence in a country that has welcomed hundreds of thousands of Muslims from all over the world and treated them like full citizens throughout successive governments, whether Right or Left. They have enjoyed the same rights and duties enjoyed by their peers whose origins in the British Isles date back centuries.

Britain also opened the doors of both houses of its parliament to Muslims, and government departments too, and opened the way for them to prosper by their participation in economic activities, making hundreds of them very rich, not to mention deservedly occupying top positions in civil service, culture and major educational institutions.

Going back to the heinous crime, there was a minor reaction from certain racist groups, which was to be expected, and a small number of attacks did take place, but the general public opinion in Britain dealt with the crime and its motives in a reasonable, responsible and civil manner, exactly like it dealt with the 7 July 2005 public transport bombings in London.

The reasonable British citizen recognized long ago that these actions were distant from Islam’s teachings and spirit, and that their perpetrators were misled and unaware that it was not in the interest of Islam and Muslims to hijack the legitimacy of Islam and threaten Muslims’ interests by implicating them in a survival clash of civilizations without consulting them or acquiring their permission.

Even if there was a grievance of some sort, resorting to blind violence in the wrong place and at the wrong time increases misunderstandings, frustrates reconciliation efforts, instills doubt, creates animosities, and harms education and employment opportunities for the coming generations of young Muslims. These are the last things Muslim minorities in the West want.

However, looking closer to home, is irrational violence a problem in the Muslim world itself? We have countless pieces of evidence showing the endless failure of those who build their beliefs and practices on murder, blood and terrorism, while Muslim countries who build their beliefs and political practices on understanding, accepting the other view, partnership in development, and investing in people have achieved good levels of growth and prosperity.

What happened in London last week has nothing to do with Islam, and this a clear and direct message which should be made clear to the world, in word and in deed.