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.

The Lausanne Deal: Peace, but Only for a Time

There’s an unsettling feeling shared by many that the world has just entered another ‘Neville Chamberlain’ moment in time, a suspicion that the six major world powers who participated in the Lausanne negotiations have been outmanoeuvred and ‘outfoxed’ by a wily Islamic Republic of Iran. Neville Chamberlain, you will recall, was the well-meaning but naïve British Prime Minister who thought he could do a deal with Herr Hitler. When Nazi Germany threatened to take over all of Czechoslovakia unless Britain supported its plans to annex the German-speaking part of Czechoslovakia known as the Sudetenland, Chamberlain went to Berchtesgaden to meet with Hitler personally. Der Fuhrer promised not to make any further territorial demands if he was given the Sudetenland. In a shameless act of appeasement, Chamberlain granted Hitler his wish. On 29 September 1938, Britain, France, Italy, and Germany signed the Munich Pact which transferred the Sudetenland to Germany. Czechoslovakia was never even consulted. Upon his return to Britain, a triumphant Chamberlain announced, “I believe it is peace for our time.”

We all know how that worked out. In March 1939, Germany annexed the rest of Czechoslovakia. Years later, it was revealed that it had been Benito Mussolini, representing fascist Italy in Munich, who proposed the plan that came to be implemented by the four world powers–a plan written, in fact, by the German Foreign Office.

Neville Chamberlain has been vilified as a pathetically-naïve dupe of der Fuhrer. In fairness to Chamberlain, however, how many world leaders at the time–apart from an astute Winston Churchill–perceived the gravity of the threat posed by Hitler and his Third Reich? It is often forgotten that Chamberlain returned from Germany to public acclaim and cheering crowds in Britain.

The P5 plus 1 (the six permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) and Iran have been meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland for the past eight days in an attempt to hammer out a deal which would restrict Iran’s nuclear activity to peaceful purposes. Iran, in return, would have the sanctions imposed on it by the international community lifted. At one stage in the negotiations, with the possibility of a preliminary draft agreed to by all seven countries looking increasingly unlikely, the P5 plus 1 lowered their expectations. They would be content now with a joint ‘statement of goals’.

Hasn’t Iran already stated its goals to anyone paying attention? In a recent speech marking the Persian new Year, the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, didn’t hesitate to join with the rabble calling for America’s destruction. When people started hollering “Death to America” as is their wont, Khamenei responded: “Of course, yes, death to America, because America is the original source of this pressure [not sure what ‘pressure’ he meant].” And the response from the Obama white House? Pay no attention; it’s only “intended for a domestic audience.”

Then, on Tuesday, the commander of the Basij militia of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRG), Brigadier General Naqdi, announced that “erasing Israel off the map is non-negotiable.” The brazenness of Iran’s spiritual and military leaders in calling openly for the destruction of America and the annihilation of Israel–at the very time that the P5 plus 1 negotiators were meeting with Iran’s Foreign Minister–is ‘jaw-dropping ‘ in its audacity. One thing to be said in Neville Chamberlain’s defence: He didn’t know what Hitler had in mind for Germany’s neighbours, indeed, for the rest of the world. The P5 plus 1, on the other hand, unlike Chamberlain, will never be able to plead ignorance.

Word has just come that the P5 plus 1 negotiators, along with Iran, have drafted what they are calling “the framework of an agreement” which sets the stage for a final agreement to be reached by June 30. The hard work of writing the final text now begins. Iran’s Foreign Minister Zarif claims the agreement will show that Iran’s nuclear program is “exclusively peaceful, has always been and always will remain exclusively peaceful.” An upbeat President Obama asserts with confidence that the deal cuts off “every pathway that Iran could take to build nuclear weapons.” This “historic” deal, President Obama insists, leaves the US, its allies, and the whole world safer.

I for one won’t be breaking out the champagne just yet. Has Iran indicated that it has given up its intention to eliminate the ‘Zionist enemy’ as it refers to Israel? That it will stop funding terrorism? Or cease fight proxy wars? By boasting that this deal “cuts off every pathway that Iran could take to build nuclear weapons,” President Obama has in effect issued a challenge to Iran’s scientists, mullahs, and military leaders to prove him wrong. Until Iran accepts the existence of the Jewish state, no framework, or deal, or agreement–whatever name you want to give it–will make the world any safer.

The Islamic State (IS) and the Great Battle of Dabiq

Claims by Western leaders that the acts of terrorism and atrocities we’re witnessing have nothing to do with Islam have been debunked yet again. (Anyone who has read the Qur’an and has some knowledge of Islamic history wouldn’t have been persuaded by such claims to begin with.) In recent days it’s come to light–thanks to Graeme Wood’s article in the March 2015 issue of The Atlantic–just to what extent the Islamic State (IS) draws on–some would say ‘exploits’–Islamic eschatology in order to grant the terrorist organization legitimacy and to inspire Muslim youth worldwide to flock to Syria to fight on behalf of the ‘caliphate’.

From the Greek word eschaton meaning ‘farthest, remotest’, eschatology refers to that branch of theology having to do with the end times. Christian eschatology tells of a great battle that will occur at the time of the end: a battle commonly known as the ‘Battle of Armageddon’. This future battle takes its name from the Hebrew har-magedon , ‘Mount Megiddo’, a name which occurs only once in the Bible, in Revelation 16:16. The Valley of Jezreel and the Plain of Esdraelon lie near Megiddo. This area was the scene of decisive battles in Israelite history and, according to John, will one day be the scene of the ultimate and final battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil. Described as “the war of the great day of God, the Almighty” by John (Rev 16:14), this battle marks the final overthrow of the forces of evil.

Scholars have noted, however, that there is no mountain in the region called Megiddo. Furthermore, the valley and plain lying southwest of Nazareth could not possibly contain the number of armies that John predicts will be gathered there by God for the final confrontation. The term ‘Armageddon’ should thus be understood in a symbolic sense, and not taken for a literal place.

Islam has its own version of Armageddon: the so-called ‘Great Battle of Dabiq’. Islamic prophecies are found, not in the Qur’an, but in the hadiths, the ‘collected reports of what Muhammad said and did in his lifetime’. Hadith 6924 predicts that a final great battle will occur in the vicinity of Dabiq, Syria, a town of about 3,300 inhabitants located 44 km. north of Aleppo near the Turkish border. According to Abu Hurayrah, one of Muhammad’s Companions, it was Islam’s Prophet Muhammad himself who predicted that Dabiq would be the site of al-Malhama al Kubra, ‘the Great Battle’, the final showdown between Islam and the ‘Crusaders’. This battle would be won by the Muslim forces, leading directly into Judgment Day. Hadith 6924 reads:

The Last Hour would not come until the Romans would land at al-A’maq or in Dabiq. An army consisting of the best (soldiers) of the people of the earth at that time will come from Medina (to counteract them)…They will then fight and a third (part) of the army would run away whom Allah will never forgive. A third (part of the army) which would be constituted of excellent martyrs in Allah’s eye would be killed and the third who would never be put to trial would win and they would be conquerors of Constantinople.

At first, Western observers were baffled by IS’s interest in the small and seemingly-insignificant Syrian town. After IS forces captured the town in August 2014, the reason became clear. In taking Dabiq, the self-proclaimed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi revealed his apocalyptic aspirations: He wants to fulfill the prophecy of the Great Battle of Dabiq. As part of its strategy, IS subsequently launched a slick, glossy magazine (propaganda tool) named Dabiq. When asked why this name, IS replied, “The area will play a historical role in the battles leading up to the conquests of Constantinople, then Rome.” The fourth issue of Dabiq depicts a black IS flag flying atop the Egyptian obelisk in the centre of St. Peter’s Square in Rome. In the fifth issue, IS vows that its flag will fly over not just Rome, but over Mecca and Medina, and Jerusalem as well.

Another Islamic prophecy predicts that the infidel force at the Great Battle of Dabiq will fly the flags of 80 different countries. (Currently, there are 60 countries represented in the coalition forces.) IS is attempting to lure more ‘infidels’ to join in the upcoming battle. IS, alone, it would seem, wants ‘boots on the ground’ in Syria. And IS’s brutal executions are meant to goad the infidels into action. The beheading of the American hostage Peter Kassig took place in Dabiq. At the time of his murder IS said, “Here we are, burying the first American Crusader in Dabiq, eagerly waiting for the remainder of your armies to arrive.”

World conquest is the ultimate goal of IS. In the fifth issue of Dabiq, IS makes the following prediction:

“The shade of this blessed flag [black IS flag] will expand until it covers all eastern and western extents of the Earth, filling the world with the truth and justice of Islam and putting an end to the falsehood and tyranny [the state prior to Islam] even if America and its coalition despise such.”

Western leaders–the majority, it would seem–are confounded by the behaviour of Western-raised and Western-educated Muslim youth who are travelling to Syria to join IS. So far, 3400 Westerners have joined the fight on behalf of IS. Unbelievably, there still some who–despite all the evidence to the contrary–put it all down to lack of job opportunities. As I see it, what IS has done–through social media, its magazine Dabiq, and imams who share IS’s vision–is to have given idealistic Muslim youth a cause: a chance to play a vital role in a ‘hallowed’ and truly earth-changing event, the triumph of Islam worldwide.

There will have to be ‘boots on the ground’ at some point. And when there are, those boots will have to be present in sufficient numbers to totally eliminate IS. For only then will the ‘Great Battle of Dabiq’ lose its grip on youthful Muslim imaginations.