Is Lebanon Lost?

Evidence of Hezbollah’s presence in Lebanon wasn’t  hard to come by as I travelled in the country a few years ago.  Visiting the world-renowned ruins of Baalbek,  for instance, meant entering Hezbollah-controlled territory in the Bekaa Valley.  On the way to the archeological site, I passed numerous yellow and green Hezbollah flags and banners, posters of Hezbollah’s leader Nasrallah, as well as sundry Shia ‘martyrs’.  The women we passed along the road were all dressed in black:  a sign that we were in Shia territory.   I must confess that I was tense as we approached the checkpoint, but we were waved through without any problem.

Baalbek1

Columns of the Temple to Jupiter

The city of Baalbek had its origins in the 3rd millennium BC as a Phoenician place of worship to the god Baal.  In 47 BC Julius Caesar made Baalbek capital of his Roman colony here.  Over the next 200 years a succession of Roman emperors oversaw the construction on the site of temples in honour of Rome’s gods.  The columns in the photo above are what remains of a temple dedicated to Jupiter.   A trip to Baalbeck is a must-see for any visitor to Lebanon.

Baalbek2 (2)

Evidence of Hezbollah on the way to Baalbek  (I have no idea what the Arabic on the Hezbollah banners says.)

At the time I visited Lebanon, Hezbollah held sway largely in the Bekaa Valley. Today, Hezbollah, incredibly, is the most powerful member of Lebanon’s current ruling coalition.  How could this have happened?

The answer is, in one word, Iran.  The Shiite militia group hizb’allah, ‘party of Allah’, or Hezbollah, was formed in 1985, aided and abetted by the Islamic Republic of Iran, as a resistance group to counter Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon.  At the end of Lebanon’s civil war (1975-1990), Hezbollah was the only major militia allowed to retain its weapons, in spite of a UN Security Council resolution to the contrary.  In 1992, Hezbollah began running candidates for Lebanon’s government.  In 2000, when Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon,  Hezbollah claimed the credit for driving the Israelis out.  In 2005, Lebanon’s Sunni prime minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated by a car bomb.  More recently, Hezbollah has seen more than 1000 of its members killed  fighting on the side of Bashar Assad and Iran in the Syrian civil war.

Hezbollah’s influence only keeps growing, not just in Lebanon, but in the wider region. Hezbollah is working with Iranian-backed forces in Iraq, and is allegedly  arming and training the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels in Yemen as well.  Returning the favour, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is said to be building underground arms factories right in Lebanon itself.  Hezbollah-dominated Lebanon now constitutes Iran’s most valuable proxy in the Middle East.

Is it still possible, even at this late date, to wrest control of Lebanon from the clutches of Shiite Iran?  That is what Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and his son Crown Prince  Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) appear to have in mind.  On 4 November, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri was summoned to Riyadh, pressured to resign (most likely), and is now being held against his will (allegedly).  It is believed that King Salman removed PM Hariri–a Sunni Muslim and a citizen of Saudi Arabia as well as Lebanon–because he failed to adequately deal with Hezbollah. Hariri’s ‘kidnapping’ is merely the opening salvo in a tug-of-war between the Sunni Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran over Lebanon’s future.   There’s more to come, for sure.

Iran is very open about its ultimate goal:  the destruction of Israel.  I mentioned earlier how I saw signs of Hezbollah’s presence in Lebanon.  I also saw signs of Hezbollah’s presence on the other side of the world, in Buenos Aires, in a park.

Israeli Embassy, BsAs (2)

On 18 July 1994, a Hezbollah suicide bomber from south Lebanon detonated a car bomb in front of the Jewish Community Centre in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  The explosion killed 85, wounded 300, and destroyed the building.  The scene of what was once a cruel terrorist attack on innocent people has been turned into a place of quiet contemplation.

Being Iran’s proxy in the region makes Lebanon extremely vulnerable in any coming confrontation with Israel.  When I was in Lebanon, I encountered people so opposed to the Shiite militia/terrorist organization that they literally spat out the name, “Hezbollah.” For their sake and Lebanon’s, I hope it’s not too late.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Terror on Temple Mount

Today is Tisha B’Av, the saddest day for the Jewish people in their entire lunar calendar.  This is a day of fasting and reflection as Jews recall the great calamities that befell their people on Tisha  B’Av, the ninth day of the Jewish month of Av.  Tradition has it that both Jerusalem Temples were destroyed on this day:  Solomon’s Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC, and Herod’s Temple in AD 70.  Also on this same day, the last Jewish fortress to hold out against the Romans during the Bar Kochba Revolt fell in AD 135. A  year later, the Temple area was ploughed under by the Romans, again on TishaB’Av.

I can’t help but think that recent events on the Temple Mount must add to the Jewish sense of mourning today. A little over two weeks ago, Arab Israelis smuggled guns onto the Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif to Muslims).  Three of the gun smugglers then trained their guns on policemen standing guard just outside the site, killing two Israeli Druze police officers, before being themselves killed.  As a way to prevent further attacks of this nature, Israel installed metal detectors at two of the gates opening onto the Temple Mount and closed the others.  We all know how well that went over with certain members of the Muslim population.  Not content merely to boycott the Temple Mount or riot, one ‘aggrieved’ Arab Israeli, wanting to avenge what he saw as an ‘assault on the al-Aqsa mosque’, slaughtered three members of a Jewish family as they were sitting down for their Shabbat meal.

Mounting metal detectors seems like a reasonable response to the attack, yet it was highly objectionable to many Muslims.  What Israel had done by installing metal detectors was to “change the status quo.” (I would have thought that a terrorist attack on the Temple Mount had already changed the status quo, but that was not what the Muslim objection was all about.)

What is the ‘status quo’ on the Temple Mount?  Although the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif is sacred to both Jews and Muslims,  Jews are not allowed to pray there.  Before Jews are allowed to enter the compound, their belongings are meticulously checked for prayer shawls and phylacteries.  On the esplanade itself, patrolling police carefully scrutinize Jewish faces for moving lips, a telltale ‘giveaway’ that the Jewish visitor just might be praying.  Two weeks ago, the police were checking for moving lips, but missed terrorists moving guns onto the Temple Mount.

The idea that it is illegal for a Jew to pray on the former site of the Jewish Temple–to even be seen moving his or her lips–should be abhorrent to anyone who cares about religious freedom and human rights.  Hard to believe, but it was a fellow Jew,  the Israeli war hero Moshe Dayan, who bears the responsibility for the current status quo.

Up until 1917, the Temple Mount had been controlled by the Ottoman Empire.  In 1948, when Jordan seized the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Jordan transferred responsibility for the Temple Mount compound to itself.  Jews were not allowed to visit the Temple Mount while Jordan exercised control from 1948 to 1967.  With the retaking of the Temple Mount during the Six Day War in June 1967, Jews finally had control of the site of their two temples–for the first time in two thousand years.

But then Dayan, Israel’s defense minister at the time, in a stunning decision, relinquished control of the Temple Mount back to Jordan, reasoning thus:  for Muslims, the mount was a “Muslim prayer mosque” while for the Jews, the Temple Mount was no more than an “historical site of commemoration of the past…one should not hinder the Arabs from behaving there as they now do.”

Dayan’s first act on the Temple Mount was to have the flag removed that Israeli paratroopers had raised there.  Next, he cleared out the paratroop company that was supposed to remain permanently stationed on the northern part of the Temple Mount. Then,  he forbade Jewish prayer and worship on the compound (although he insisted that Jews could visit the site).  He left the Mount and its management in the hands  of the Islamic Religious Endowments Authority, or Waqf.  (The Waqf is entirely controlled and funded by the Jordanian government.) Jordan would continue to have control over what happened on the Temple Mount, while Israel would be responsible for security around the perimeter of the esplanade. Dayan believed that, by relinquishing control of the Temple Mount to the Jordanian Waqf,  he would avoid a larger conflagration with the Muslim world.

For Israel to put metal detectors on the Temple Mount was a sign,  in the eyes of many Muslims, that Israel had wrested control of the Temple Mount from the Muslim Waqf–an unlawful act.

Dayan’s magnanimous concession to the Muslim world in 1967–continued control over the Temple Mount–did not win the Jewish state any friends in the neighbourhood in the ensuing years.  Given the obvious lack of control by the waqf overseer two weeks ago, leaving the Temple Mount in the hands of a dubious ‘peace partner’ is likely to lead to a larger conflagration, just the opposite of what Moshe Dayan intended.  The status quo is no longer tenable.

 

Israel Germany 2014 034 (2)

(This is the most volatile piece of real estate on the planet:  Temple Mount /Haram al-Sharif). This picture of the Temple Mount with its prominent Dome of the Rock was taken on my recent visit to Israel.  As I had been up on Temple Mount on a previous trip, I decided to stay down below at the Western Wall.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Betrayal at the UN

In eighteen days time, Barack Hussein Obama’s presidency will have ended and President-elect Trump will have been installed as the 45th president of the USA.  By now, many have likely forgotten how Pres. Obama, in office for only a few months and before he had accomplished anything of note, was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.  Widely criticized for their choice of recipients, the Norwegian Nobel Committee justified their selection of the fledgling US president thus:  It was because Pres. Obama had “created a new climate in international politics.”  (The award was intended, as much as anything, as a rejection of the foreign policies of Pres. Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush.)

In 2009, Pres. Obama hadn’t as yet created the “new climate in international politics” that the Norwegian Nobel Committee believed he had.  But that is not the case eight years later.  Just look around at the world he leaves for his successor.  The world’s greatest exporter of terrorism, Iran, is billions of dollars wealthier, courtesy of the US.   An ascendant Russia now ‘calls the shots’, literally, in the Middle East, thanks to a leader content to “lead from behind.”

Not only has Pres. Obama empowered two of the biggest threats to the West and, ultimately, to world peace–Iran and Russia–he has abandoned the one and only true democracy in the Middle East, Israel.  It had been a longstanding tradition that when the United nations Security Council (UNSC) attempted to pass resolutions targeting Israel over the issue of so-called ‘settlements’, the US as one of the permanent members would use its veto power, and thus the resolution would fail to pass.  On 23 December 2016, the Obama administration, breaking with tradition, abstained rather than using its veto power, thereby allowing UNSC resolution 2334 to pass.

This unprecedented abstention will have far-reaching consequences.  Resolution 2334, unlike previous resolutions, calls for Israel not only to withdraw to the pre-June 1967 borders, but to withdraw from East Jerusalem.  Consider what such a withdrawal would mean for the Jewish people:  It would mean abandoning the Temple Mount, site of the First and Second Temples; it would mean forsaking the Western Wall where Jews pray; it would mean turning over to the Palestinians the entire Jewish Quarter of the city, including the cemetery on the Mount of Olives, the Hadassah Hospital and Hebrew University on Mt. Scopus.  Resolution 2334 calls for the Jewish people to deny their historic and religious connections to Jerusalem.  It calls for Israel to do the unthinkable!

 

western-wall-3

(Personal photo taken on a trip to Israel in 2014)

Israelis remember all too well what life was like when Jordan occupied the same territory (1948-67).  During the 1948 war between the nascent Jewish state and its Arab neighbours, Jordan seized control of the west bank of the Jordan River as well as the Old City of Jerusalem.  Jordan’s seizure and annexation of this territory, interestingly, was viewed as an illegal act by the Arab League; Britain recognized it.  The 1949 Armistice Agreement that ended the war was supposed to give Israelis access to their religious sites in the Old City/East Jerusalem, but Jordan never honoured the agreement.  Israelis were barred from entering the Old City; some 58 ancient synagogues in the Jewish Quarter were either desecrated or destroyed; and tombstones from the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives were used to build army barracks and even latrines for the Jordanian army.  Slum dwellings were allowed to abut the Western  Wall where Jews once prayed.  The site most sacred to Jews worldwide came to resemble a garbage dump.

Contrast Israel’s treatment of religious sites today with that of Jordan’s.  In Israel, all religious groups are allowed administration over their own holy sites.  The administration of the Temple Mount has been retained by the Islamic Waqf, as it has been for centuries.

Because the US president abandoned Israel at the UN, expect to see more boycotts, divestment, and sanctions placed on Israel goods (economic warfare); more Israelis and their supporters hauled up before the International Criminal Court (lawfare); and, ominously, anticipate even more resistance a.k.a. terrorist attacks.  The Palestinian Arabs have had their claims to East Jerusalem affirmed by the UN Security Council, so why bother to negotiate with the Israeli government?

With the West’s enemies empowered and Israel abandoned at the UN, war is more likely now after eight years of an Obama presidency than before. This is the new climate in international politics created by the 2009 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize:  Pres. Obama.

 

Violence against Women: A Terror Tactic

First thing in the morning now, after making a Keurig coffee, I turn on the TV with one thought in mind:  “Where have the jihadis struck this time?”  This morning it was Ouagadougou in Burkino Faso, West Africa.  Four terrorists (the number keeps changing), two of them women, slaughtered 23 innocent people in a 4-star hotel and nearby Cappuccino restaurant.  Ouagadougou, Jakarta, Istanbul, Philadelphia, Paris, San Bernardino–on and on the list of terrorist atrocities goes, and grows.  I have some sense of what it must have been like during World War II, with our parents and grandparents anxiously turning on their radios each morning to learn how the war was going.  But there all similarity ends.  The people of that day, along with their leaders, recognized what was at stake:  freedom as they knew it.  To those who didn’t understand the gravity of their situation, there was Winston Churchill to articulate it for them.  We are facing an equally formidable foe in the global jihadist movement but we, unfortunately, have no ‘Churchill’.

The terror tactics of the enemy are not dependent solely on AK 47s and bombs, however, as women throughout Europe’s cities discovered to their grief on New Year’s Eve.  Over 500 women in Cologne alone were victims that night of something called taharrush gamea, an Arabic phrase which means roughly ‘collective harassment’.  The tactic goes like this:  a large group of men forms a circle around a lone female.  Some of the men then move into the middle of the ring to grope or rape, sometimes rob, the lone female.  Those not directly involved in the assault watch from the perimeter, or help divert outsiders’ attention to what is taking place inside the circle.  The tactic is almost always carried out in a naturally-chaotic setting, like a large public gathering where no one in the crush of people notices what’s going on beside them.  Because of the density of the crowds, the perpetrators are difficult to identify, and hence, to prosecute.  Though never seen before in Europe, this practice is not a new tactic:  CBS reporter Lara Logan, for instance, was a victim of taharrush in Cairo’s Tahrir Sqquare in 2011.

Not all, but a good number of those men who terrorized women on New Year’s Eve have been identified as recent migrants.  Rather than behaving like newly-arrived asylum-seekers, eager to ingratiate themselves with their generous hosts, the young men who assaulted and robbed women on New Year’s Eve were acting more like a conquering army.  (Do they perhaps see themselves as such?)  Speaking of conquering armies, the behaviour of the Soviet Red Army in Germany at the close of World War II comes to mind.  I’ve read accounts of how German women, of all ages, plain or beautiful, and  desperate not to attract the attention of the Russian soldiers  now patrolling their streets, would make themselves as undesirable as possible:  they stopped bathing and washing their hair; they smeared themselves with dirt; they wore the ugliest clothes they could find–all to avoid hearing the bone-chilling  words, “Komme, Frau ‘come here, woman’.”

The terror attack in Ouagadougou has left 23 innocent people dead and 56 wounded, many with grievous, life-altering, wounds.  I wouldn’t want to minimize the dreadful injuries those victims have undoubtedly sustained.  Their lives will never again be the same.  But we mustn’t think that the women and girls who were sexually molested  or raped or robbed on New Year’s Eve will be left unscarred, either.  Will they ever be as confident again out-and-about on their own?  That may have been one of the goals of the men that night:  to intimidate the women; to make them think twice about going into the public square, uncovered and unaccompanied by a male relative (just like back home).  Cologne looked an awful lot like a city in the Muslim Middle East that night, and the jihadis didn’t even have to fire a shot.  Incredibly, the mayor of Cologne, a woman, called on the local women to change their behaviour, to keep the men at arm’s length, in order to avoid a repetition. Now how about the young men?

 

Common Ground or Shaky Ground?

It’s the custom on January 1 to wish everyone from loved ones to complete strangers a “Happy New Year.”  I hate to be a pessimist but, despite all the well-wishing, I suspect 2016 is going to look an awful lot like the year that has just passed.  Tragically, a shooting at a bar in Tel Aviv supports my claim:  It’s only day one of the New Year, and already the murder of innocent victims has started.  A black-clad assailant with an assault rifle killed two people and wounded seven others at a birthday party celebration in a pub in Tel Aviv this afternoon.  (Israeli police as of yet are not calling it a terrorist attack.)

How to bring an end to the scourge of Islamic terrorism is one of the greatest challenges of our day.  Some, like Fr. Ronald Rolheiser OMI, believe that the solution lies in getting Muslims and Christians to recognize what they share in common.  In the 3 December 2015 issue of the Los Angeles diocesan online paper The Angelus, Fr. Rolheiser calls for “greater solidarity with Islam,” the reason being that “We are both part of the same family….” and for this reason “Muslims more than ever need our understanding, sympathy, support, and fellowship in faith [emphasis mine].”  In his article, Fr. Rolheiser expands on sentiments voiced by Pope Francis on his recent visit to the Central African Republic, where the pope referred to Christians and Muslims as “brothers and sisters.”  The basis for that kinship, Fr. Rolheiser and the pope would say, is their common belief in one Supreme Being and their shared Abrahamic ancestry.  Jews, thus, are their brothers and sisters as well.

The idea of shared common ground between the three monotheistic faiths has been taken to a whole new level by a Lutheran parish priest in Berlin.  In 2009, archaeological excavations on Berlin’s Museum Island unearthed the remains of the city’s earliest church, the Petrikirche (St. Peter’s Church), as well as a Latin school for educating priests, both dating from the 13th century.  Upon learning of this discovery, Lutheran pastor Gregor Hohberg came up with a novel idea:  Why not use this prominent site to build a house of worship in multicultural Berlin where adherents of all three monotheistic faiths could worship together as neighbours?  And thus was born the idea for ‘The House of One’, as it is to be called.  Pastor Hohberg has brought Rabbi Tovia ben Chorin and Imam Kadir Sanci on board.  Together, the three clerics have come to be known as the ‘Tolerance Trio’.

Work on this highly unusual house of worship is slated to begin this year.  Designed by German architect Wilfried Kuehn, the structure will house under the one roof a synagogue, a church, and a mosque, each of equal size but of different shape.  The House of One will have a common room at its centre where adherents of the three religions can meet for dialogue and social events.  Adherents must follow two ‘house rules’:  one, there must be no violence; and two, no proselytizing is allowed.  The project, which is expected to cost some 43.5 million euros, is being funded through crowdsourcing; a donation of 10 euros will purchase one brick.  You don’t have to be a member of one of the three religions in order to donate, either.  The House of One is expected to open in 2018.

Although Berlin’s House of One will be the first worship centre of its kind (if indeed it does get built), a somewhat similar project is underway in the very heart of the USA.  In what is known as the ‘Tri-Faith Initiative’, Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Omaha, Nebraska intend to build houses of worship on a common campus:  a 38-acre plot of land just outside Omaha.  A synagogue, a church and a mosque will be erected on three corners of the lot.  A building that provides social, educational, and conference facilities to be used by all three faiths will occupy the fourth corner.  Participating in the project are Temple Israel, Countryside Community United Church of Christ, and the American Muslim Institute.  A fourth partner is the Tri-Faith Initiative of Omaha, a local organization whose purpose it is to “foster mutual understanding, respect, and friendship between the Abrahamic faiths.”

Rev. Elnes, the Christian partner in the project, calls the proposed campus an attempt to “wage peace between the Abrahamic faiths in the modern era by engaging not simply in interfaith dialogue–which is important–but by learning to live with each other despite our differences as people who worship and adore the same God.”  (I’m not so sure about that).  Like the prospective occupants of The House of One, Tri-Faith Initiative members hope to start building this year.

Will the creation of houses of worship on common ground bring peace between the Abrahamic faiths?  It’s true, Jews, Christians, and Muslims do share common ground, but the differences between them are profound.  The so-designated ‘Abrahamic faiths’, for starters, don’t even agree on the identity of Abraham.  Muslims look on Abraham as the first Muslim, a view both Jews and Christians reject.

From a Christian perspective, what is more likely to happen, I believe,  is a ‘watering down’ of core doctrines and beliefs for the sake of unity and out of a desire not to offend.  Indeed, we have recent evidence of this very thing from no less than the pope himself.  From the very beginning of his papacy Pope Francis has sought to bring Jews, Christians, and particularly Muslims together.  There are many examples of the pope’s reaching out to Jews and Muslims:  the prayer meeting in the Vatican garden where Jews and Muslims for the first time were invited to pray alongside Catholics is a prime example.  In another instance of reaching out:  on December 10, the papacy issued a document stating that the “Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews.”  What the document says, in essence, is that the Catholic church will no longer try to convert Jews.   Does this mean that Jews no longer have to believe that Jesus the Christ is their long-awaited mashiach or messiah  (‘Christ” is Greek for the Hebrew ‘messiah’)?  I am speechless, other than to say, expect more concessions on this scale, all in the name of achieving common ground.

 

 

Terrorists: Why Don’t They Mind Dying?

“…a handful of people who don’t mind dying…” is how President Obama described Islam-inspired terrorists at a press conference at the recent G20 summit in Antalya, Turkey.

From my previous blog you will know that I spent the last month travelling in Spain, travel which took me to Spain’s capital Madrid, and to Madrid’s Atocha train station, scene of an horrific terrorist attack on 11 March 2004.  In what was the deadliest terrorist attack in Spain’s history–referred to by Spaniards as ‘M-11’–ten bombs were placed inside backpacks and then planted on four cercanias, ‘commuter trains’.  The bombs were detonated simultaneously by terrorists using cell phones during the height of the morning rush hour.  That morning, 191 innocent commuters died and 1,800 were injured.  An al Qaeda-inspired terrorist cell claimed responsibility for the bombings, citing Spain’s participation in the war in Iraq as their motivation.  Later, when the terrorists who carried out the attack were surrounded by police, they blew themselves up rather than be captured.

I entered the Atocha train station for the first time in a reflective mood, my thoughts turning to the innocent people who were so brutally murdered there eleven years earlier.  There was no plaque or memorial commemorating the 191 victims anywhere in the train station, at least none that I could see.  I have since learned that a memorial garden was created in their memory in a park near Madrid’s famous Prado Museum.

No terrorist attack on the scale of the Madrid train station bombings had taken place in Europe until this past Friday the 13th in Paris.  Before the nine terrorists had ended their murderous rampage, 129 lay dead (now 130) with hundreds more injured, almost 100 critically.  The terrorists carried out their operation on Friday, fully intending to die; all wore identical suicide vests packed with ‘Mother of Satan’ explosives which they detonated at various points in their co-ordinated attacks.

Why did seven young men–in their late teens or 20s, at the prime of life–“not mind dying,” to use President Obama’s turn-of-phrase?  (Was the president only feigning indifference?  Let’s hope so.)  To listen to the ‘experts’ in the media, the young men who willingly turn themselves into human bombs are “mad men,” “crazies,” “psychopathic killers.”

Earlier this month, Remembrance Day services were held to honour the young men who perished in World Wars I and II, and in the conflicts that followed.  Undoubtedly, those who died–to a person–hoped to survive the war and return to their loves ones and former way-of-life.  No so with the Paris terrorists.

Last night, for the first time, I heard someone reporting on the Paris attacks say the word “zealotry.”  When I hear the word zealotry, I think of religious fervour.  Was this an acknowledgment–finally–that the young men who blow themselves up are religiously-driven, at least in part?  Islam does not condone suicide.  The Qur’an never mentions suicide, and in the hadith, the written record of the sayings and actions of Muhammad and his companions, suicide is forbidden.  How do terrorists then justify their actions?  Suicide is held to be an act of martyrdom, and the one who commits suicide is regarded as a shahid, a ‘martyr’.  Suicide is forbidden, but martyrdom is praised.

A prime example of the glorification of martyrdom is that of Palestinian  terrorist Abu Jihad a.k.a. Khalid al-Wazir, responsible for the deaths of 125 Israelis.  One of his ‘glorious’ feats was a bus high-jacking that resulted in the deaths of 37 Israelis, including twelve children.  Last year, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Fatah named a West Bank forest in his honour:  the Martyr Khalil al-Wazir Forest.

Praise from family and friends who remain behind, a place in paradise after death:  these are the rewards that await the shahid.  Unlike the rest of Muslim males, the shahid is guaranteed a place in Islam’s paradise, depicted in the Qur’an as a garden of never-ending delights.  There, the shahid will wear “clothing of fine, thick silk” (44:53); “eat and drink in health, reclining on couches” (52:19-20); marry “fair ones with wide lovely eyes” (52:20). The number of virgins allotted to him–72–is not stated in the Qur’an but found in one of the hadiths (al-Suyuti’s).  The shahid gets to name 70 family members to paradise as well.  How much do sensual incentives and sexual enticements like these influence young Muslim males to strap on suicide vests:  only a failed terrorist can say.

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, France’s President Hollande declared war on the Islamic State (IS), the terrorist group that claimed responsibility.  Yesterday,  exactly a week after the Paris carnage, another terrorist group with the name al-Mourabitoun, aided by al-Qaeda affiliate al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), stormed the Radisson Hotel in Mali’s capital Bamako, firing at anyone who moved, killing 21.  Who has heard of al-Mourabitoun before?  We’re fighting a war against a global jihadist ‘cancer’ that is metastasizing rapidly.  It’s getting to be quite a handful, isn’t it.

 

The Great Migration of 2015

It has been two months since I last posted a blog.  Time, then, to offer my take on the issue dividing the 28 EU member countries into two opposing camps:  What to do about the massive number of Muslim asylum-seekers who have landed, and continue to land daily, on Europe’s shores.  Europe hasn’t seen people on the move in such numbers as this since the end of WWII.  In the month of August alone, a record number of refugees and migrants from the Middle East–104,460–made it onto European soil.  Germany’s vice chancellor Sigmar Gabriel predicts that before the year is out, one million will have arrived in Germany.  Night after night on television, we see heart rending scenes of people jammed into dangerously-inadequate boats issued by unscrupulous human smugglers, determined nevertheless to make the perilous trip across the Mediterranean even though they and their children–like almost 3,000 earlier asylum-seekers–may drown before reaching land.

Canada and the United States are nations of immigrants.  I myself am the daughter of an immigrant.  My father, while still a teenager–only 16 years of age–was encouraged by his mother to forsake war-ravaged Europe and join an older sister of his who had emigrated earlier and was living in a small town on the Canadian prairies.  And so he did.  [For some reason unknown to me, his mother chose to stay put along with three other of his sisters.  His father had died when he was only six months old.]  Many of the asylum-seekers from the Middle East that we see on our TV nightly appear to be young males in their late teens or twenties–up to 71%, according to some observers–the same age as my father when he emigrated.

Some have noted that what we are witnessing today bears similarities to the Great Migration of Peoples into the Western Roman Empire that occurred in the 4th century.  In order to escape from the Huns–a fearsome Eastern nomadic people–Germanic tribes massed in great numbers on the borders of the Roman Empire.  In 376, the Visigoths were the first of the Germanic tribes to receive permission from the Roman authorities to settle on imperial land.  Two years later, the Visigoths, riled by the policies of their host, rebelled.  On 8 August 378 they attacked a Roman army at Adrianople.  Two-thirds of the Roman army were slaughtered, the Roman emperor Valens was killed and his body was  never recovered.  Thirty-four years later, the Visigoths led by their leader Alaric sacked the imperial capital, Rome.  The admission of the Germanic tribes turned out to be a primary contributing factor in the empire’s eventual downfall.

Witnessing  the ‘great migration of 2015’, we must not assume that all those clambering to get into Europe are fleeing the war in Syria or the savagery of the Islamic State (IS).  Some are, for certain.  Others are not refugees but rather, economic migrants intent on reaching the ‘Promised Land’, Germany.  But what if the dreams of those economic migrants never become a reality?  Today, they are armed only with backpacks and cell phones.  What if they don’t get the job they want, or achieve the lifestyle they had pictured for themselves?  What if they find the ‘decadence’ of post-Christian Europe intolerable?  And what if they turn on their host like the Visigoths centuries before?

How many of the young men now breaching Europe’s borders are just guys like my immigrant father, ready to work hard and assimilate, no one can say.  And therein lies the problem.  There are reasons to be worried.  Back in February of this year, IS revealed that it planned to flood Europe with as many as 500,000 refugees.  The predicted ‘invasion’ is happening before our very eyes. That there are IS terrorists sheltered among the migrants should be taken for granted.  In a videotaped killing of Coptic Christians, IS showed a masked fighter pointing across the Mediterranean towards Europe, saying, “We will conquer Rome, God willing.”  And an IS tweet reads, “We are coming, O Rome.”

The vast majority of migrants, undoubtedly, are peace-loving Muslims.  Something the noted scholar of Islam Robert Spencer has pointed out, however, is that the act of migrating to a non-Muslim country can be for a Muslim an act of piety which brings rewards.  It’s known as hijrah, migrating for the sake of Allah.  The Qur’an promises that

whoso migrateth for the cause of Allah will find much refuge and abundance in the earth and whoso forsaketh his home, a fugitive unto Allah and his messenger, and death overtaketh him, his reward is then incumbent upon Allah…(Surah 4:100).

This explains in part, I think, why migrants are not going to other Muslim countries, but to the West. Immigration to non-Muslim countries promotes the spread of Islam, as well as bestowing blessings on those who undertake it.  Do many or any of the migrants believe they are immigrating for the sake of Allah?  It could very well be.

Of one thing we can be sure:  The ‘great migration of 2015’ is going to change Europe irrevocably, and in ways we could never have even imagined.