Putin’s Russia: Friend or Foe?

I was all set to cross the Kremlin and Red Square off my travel bucket list last year.  The opportunity arose when I was invited to join a choir travelling to Latvia to take part in a choral fest.  Nothing against Latvia or Latvians, but when I said “count me in,” it was the possibility of a side trip to Latvia’s neighbour, Russia, that most excited me.   But it was not to be!   After learning that NATO forces had been stationed  in Latvia to respond to potential Russian aggression,  those in charge cancelled the choir trip out of safety concerns.

So quickly has the relationship between Russia and the West–and in particular the US–deteriorated that I doubt that I will ever see the colourful onion-shaped domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral or view the magnificent art collections housed in the Hermitage.

NATO troops stationed in Latvia to deter Putin’s Russia:  it wasn’t supposed to be like this.  Didn’t the Obama administration ‘press the reset button’ with Russia?  Who can forget the goofy red button episode in 2009, when Secretary-of-State Hillary Clinton presented Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov with a big red button inscribed with the English word ‘reset’ and the Russian word ‘peregruzka’–which actually meant ‘overcharged’, not ‘reset’.   It had been Pres. Obama’s idea, not Clinton’s, to reset relations between the US and Russia (although the idea for a big red button probably didn’t originate with Pres. Obama).  With two new heads at the helms of their respective countries–Obama and Medvedev–this was the perfect time to inaugurate a new era of cooperation.

Evidence of this new spirit of co-operation came via a ‘hot’ microphone.  In what was meant to be a private conversation  between him and then-Pres. Medvedev prior to the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, Pres. Obama can be heard telling Medvedev how it is important for Putin to give him [Obama] space; how after the election, his [Obama’s] last, he will have more flexibility.   In the aftermath of that conversation, a now more-flexible POTUS dismantled the US missile defense plans for Central Europe, and made a new arms treaty with Russia which allowed it to grow its atomic arsenal.

Further evidence of this new spirit of co-operation came with the Obama administration’s approval of a deal which saw more than 1/5 of  US uranium-mining capacity sold to Russia’s state-controlled nuclear energy conglomerate, Rosatom.

Given this history of co-operation between the Obama administration and Russia, it seems just a little rich for the Democrats to accuse Trump and his associates of ‘colluding’ with the Russians to swing the 2016 election in their favour.  The word ‘collude’ has negative connotations, of course.  It means ‘to come to an understanding or conspire together, especially for a fraudulent purpose’.  The word ‘co-operate’ on the other hand means simply ‘to work or act together’.  Was the Obama administration ‘colluding’ or merely ‘co-operating’ with Putin’s Russia?  The word one chooses has a lot to do with one’s political affiliation.

Pres. Trump and his associates are currently being investigated by the FBI to determine whether they colluded with the Russians to swing the 2016 presidential election in their favour.  Trump denies any collusion.  Putin–former head of the Soviet Union’s spy agency, the KGB–denies any meddling. Would he say otherwise?  Whatever the outcome of the FBI investigation, the relationship between Putin’s Russia and the US has been ‘reset’ to a low point not seen since the Cold War.  A trip to Putin’s Russia now?  Not very likely.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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!

 

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(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.

 

The Russian Bear’s New Best Friends

If you are someone who depends solely on the Main Stream Media (MSM) for your news, you likely are  unaware that a geo-political shift of seismic proportions has occurred in the Middle East.  Like me, probably all you have heard from the MSM is that, for the first time ever, Russia launched a bombing raid on the so-called Islamic State (IS) from a base inside Iran.  Nor is it likely that you learned Turkey wants to make Incirlik, the US military’s major base of operations in Turkey and site of the US’ largest stockpile of tactical nuclear weapons on foreign soil, available now to Russia as well.

In an unprecedented move, and something even the shah of Iran never allowed, the Islamic Republic of Iran has permitted a foreign power, Russia, to use one of its air bases–Shahid Nojeh air base 50 km north of Hamadan–from which to launch bombing raids against IS in Syria.  (Critics of Russia’s bombing campaign claim that Russia targets predominantly moderate Syrian opposition forces, allies of the US, not IS.)  What does Russia get out of this new arrangement?  A greatly reduced flying time to terrorist targets in Syria.  What does Iran get out of collaborating with Russia?   Given that Iran calls the US ‘the Great Satan’ and Israel ‘the Little Satan’, I can’t think of anything good to come out of it for Israel and her allies.  (Since Russia “bragged” about its use of the Iranian air base, Iran has announced an end to the arrangement after only three sorties by the Russian bombers.  Be that as may, that Iran would allow it even once is jaw-dropping.)

Then there’s Erdogan’s Turkey,  a fellow NATO member, although, who could tell these days?  After the failed coup attempt in July, Erdogan ordered the blockade of Incirlik, the major base of operations for the  US military in Turkey, home to 5,000 US airmen and site of the US’s largest stockpile of nuclear weapons on foreign soil.   He has asked the US to hand over to Turkey the tactical nuclear weapons  (the US hasn’t).  Furthermore, he wants to make continued use of Incirlik air base by the Americans contingent on the US turning over Gulen, who Erdogan claims was behind the coup.  And, astoundingly, Erdogan wants the air base at Incirlik to be available now for use by Russia  as well.  An American presence on Turkish soil was established during the Cold War as a deterrent to the threat posed by the former USSR! Ironic, isn’t it.

The ‘cozy’ relationship developing between Russia, Iran, and Turkey should be a major news story, but to most, it isn’t.  Those who take Biblical prophecy seriously, however, are sitting up and taking notice.  In the Book of Ezekiel, the Hebrew prophet describes a coalition of nations, led by a leader named Gog, who attacks Israel in the latter days with disastrous consequences for the world (Ezek 38 and 39) in what has come to be known as ‘The War of Gog and Magog’.   Only one of the nations who make up this coalition is readily identifiable today:  Persia, or Iran as it is now known (38:5). Consequently, this has led to a lot of speculation as to the makeup of the rest of this latter day coalition.  Some claim that “Gog, prince of Meshech and Tubal” (38:3) refers to Russia and its leader, and “Togarmah” (38:6) is Turkey, hence the interest in the new Iran-Russia-Turkey axis.

How did Russia come to be the dominant power in the Middle East, seemingly overnight?  I asked someone this question and he replied:  “The Russian bear moved into the Middle East, and Obama moved into the bathrooms of America.”  I think that sums it up pretty well.  In pursuit of so-called “transgender rights,” the Obama administration, through its policies and decrees, is forcing radical social change on America.  Under Obama, who claims to be acting on behalf of the 0.6% of the American population who identify as transgender, the concept of male-female is being made irrelevant.   Just last week, Pres. Obama decreed that every bathroom, shower, and locker room in every courthouse, every school,  indeed,  every federal building in the US, is now open to people of either gender.  One’s sexual identity–now considered a matter of personal choice–determines what bathroom or locker room one can use, and not the set of ‘plumbing’ one was born with.  Social change:  this is Pres. Obama’s priority at this moment in time.  I predict that future generations will regard this period in history with utter disbelief, trying to,  and failing, to make sense of the Obama administration’s  obsession with bathrooms at a time like this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Pope’s Politics vs. Trump’s Christianity

The spat between His Holiness Pope Francis and GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump appears to have ended. The unholy brouhaha began when Trump, speaking on Fox Business Network’s “Varney & Co.”, called the pontiff “a very political person” who didn’t understand the dangers an open border with Mexico posed to the US.  “I think Mexico got him to do it,” claimed Trump, “because they want to keep the border just the way it is.”

The pope pushed back by calling Trump’s profession of Christian faith into question, averring that “a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not of building bridges, is not Christian.”  Trump, in turn, called the pope’s questioning of his faith “disgraceful.”  Realizing that a fight with the pope would not likely endear him to Catholic voters, Trump has since assured everyone that he actually has great respect for the pope.

Pope Francis, to quote ‘the Donald’, is “a very political person.”   Just how political is the pontiff?   On the last night of his visit to Mexico, the pope, hoping to influence the outcome of the upcoming US presidential election (what other explanation could there be?)  turned the celebration of the Catholic Mass into a piece of political theatre.  On the evening of 17 February, the pope, accompanied by some 200,000 people, gathered on the southern shore of the Rio Grande River across from the city of El Paso, Texas, for an open-air mass.  On the US side of the river stood about four hundred or so.  During the ceremony on the Mexican side, the pope laid flowers on a memorial dedicated to those who had perished trying to reach the US.  He lamented “the forced migration” of thousands of Central Americans. As the pope well knows, what to do about the US-Mexican border is a huge issue in the 2016 election.  Deliberately injecting himself into the debate as he has done, the pope made it clear where he stands.

How political is the pope?   In 2014, the pope wrote a letter to Pres. Obama, urging the president to pursue a closer relationship with Cuba and to ease the trade restrictions imposed on the island by the US after Fidel Castro’s Communist Revolution.  Pope Francis, who acted as mediator between the US and Cuba throughout 18 months of secret negotiations, can be credited with the recent restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries.  (Interestingly, the Holy See never broke off relations with Cuba even after Castro imprisoned or exiled the priests and confiscated all Catholic property on the island.) In protesting the economic embargo imposed by the US, the Cuban people knew they had an ally in the Vatican, which had always objected to the embargo on the grounds that impacted most adversely Cuba’s poor.

Overcome with gratitude for the economic lifeline Pope Francis has thrown him,  Raul Castro gushed on a recent visit to the Vatican:  “If the pope continues to speak like this, sooner or later I will start praying again and I will return to the Catholic church–and I’m not saying this jokingly.”  A new Catholic Church is slated to be built on the island at Sandino, the first one since the 1959 Revolution. Strangely enough, since the restoration of diplomatic relations with the US, the number of imprisoned dissidents has reached the highest level in five years.

How political is the pope?  Probably the pope’s greatest political achievement since assuming St. Peter’s Throne  has been the historic meeting between him and His Holiness  Patriarch Kirill, head of Russia’s Orthodox Church, which took place on 12 February at the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, Cuba.  This was the first meeting between a Catholic pope and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church since the Great Schism of 1054. This was not a political meeting, however, the pope claimed:  the purpose of the meeting was for the two branches of the church to deal jointly with the dire problem of persecuted Christians in the Middle East.   The pope might have not regarded their meeting as political, but it was nevertheless.

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Photo from Asia News .it  01/27/2016

The meeting could never have taken place if Russian President Putin had not first given the patriarch the ‘green light’ to attend.  His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, the first patriarch since the breakup of the USSR, is closer to the Kremlin than any of his predecessors, even to calling Putin a “miracle from God.”  [I wrote about the unusually close relationship between Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church in a previous blog (2 January 2015).] The pope’s meeting with the saintly-looking Russian patriarch (rumoured to be, like Putin, a former KGB officer) helped to restore–somewhat–the image of Putin’s Russia in the West.

Trump was correct when he called Pope Francis a very political person.  How does one account for the pope’s political activism?  The answer is:  Latin American liberation theology aka ‘Christian’ Marxism.  Liberation theology puts social action on an equal footing with the gospel message.  In the eyes of the Argentine pope, someone who would build a wall to keep migrants out is not a Christian.

Is Trump a Christian?  When it comes to determining who is or is not a Christian, it is not our place to judge, but, as the saying goes, that doesn’t mean we can’t be ‘fruit inspectors’.

When a Business Becomes an LGBT Advocate

Television viewers will have noticed how some companies and organizations are using rainbow symbolism in their commercials to send a message.  Three such commercials readily come to mind:  In one, a child carries six balloons in the six rainbow colours; in another, a child runs across a field flying a rainbow-coloured kite; and in a third commercial, the camera focuses for a brief moment on a rainbow-striped pedestrian walkway.  To LGBT viewers, the company or organization is saying:  We are gay-friendly and we want your business.  To heterosexual viewers, the message is:  We are an LGBT supporter and you should be one, too.

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One business recently took their support a step further.  The Wells Fargo Bank produced a commercial which depicted two lesbians learning sign language in order to communicate with the deaf girl they were adopting.

Upon viewing the commercial, Franklin Graham, son of world-renowned American evangelist Billy Graham, withdrew the not-insignificant funds of the Billy Graham Evangelical Association (BGEA) and those of the charity Samaritan’s Purse from the Wells Fargo Bank and moved them to another bank.  Franklin, CEO of the two Christian organizations, offered this explanation for his action:

“The decision to move the BGEA’s banking business away from Wells Fargo is based on the bank using corporate advertising to promote lifestyles that are counter to what God’s Word teaches.  This is not about a business being gay friendly, it’s about whether the business is using stockholders’ money to promote a lifestyle that is not biblical.”

For doing what most of us have done at one time or another–changing banks–Graham has been vilified by LGBT activists and their supporters.  How could Graham, a Christian, react to such a “beautiful,” “touching” commercial in this way, they howl.  Of course the commercial is beautiful and touching–as it was intended to be.  You’d have to be a hard-hearted bigot to disapprove, right?

Dean Obeidallah’s June 11 article in The Daily Beast, an American news-reporting and opinion website, is a prime example of the ugly vitriol now being directed at Graham personally.  In his piece entitled “Franklin Graham Hates for Jesus,” Obeidallah, lawyer turned stand-up comedian, wants his readers to know that Graham is a hater.  Just to make sure everyone gets it, Obeidallah used the word “hate” or some variation of it nine more times in the body of the article:  “a hater,” “stoking the flames of hate,” “hate spewed,” “spewing hate,” “haters,” “hate,” “hate mongering,” and “spew all the hate.”  After reading this vile diatribe, there’s no doubt in my mind who the hater is, and it’s not Franklin Graham.

A second-generation American, Obeidallah is the son of a man born in British Mandate Palestine and a Sicilian mother.  One would think that Obeidallah, an American of Arab descent and a Muslim, would direct his hate-filled harangues at those who hang homosexuals from cranes or hurl them to their deaths from the rooftops of buildings.  But, no.  In Obeidallah’s mind, those who reject same-sex marriage, based on their Christian convictions, are the real haters.  For the record, I support traditional marriage, not because I hate gays and lesbians, but because of what I believe the institution of marriage to be.

Graham’s detractors have not even attempted to disguise their great amusement upon learning that the bank to which Graham transferred his organizations’ finances itself recently contributed funds to a Gay Pride Parade.  The number of businesses–big businesses–that support LGBT activists financially is legion, and continuing to expand.  Graham moved his organizations’ finances, he said, “to fight the moral decay that is being crammed down our throats by big business.”  But, as Graham has learned, finding a business that is not engaged in LGBT social activism is hard, and going to get harder.

Remember when advocates of gay marriage claimed that ‘marriage equality’ would change nothing–even though no previous society in history had ever redefined marriage; that it would merely grant to gays and lesbians the right to marry that heterosexual couples currently enjoyed.  Tell that to Franklin Graham and those of us now labelled as ‘haters’ for supporting traditional marriage.

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.