Israel, UAE and the hypocritical manipulation of religion

Israel, UAE and the hypocritical manipulation of religion

Palestinians and other Arabs are not interested in the promotion of ‘religious tolerance’ by highly intolerant regimes.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair speaks at the Hallam Conference Centre in London, Britain December 18, 2019 [Toby Melville/Reuters]
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair speaks at the Hallam Conference Centre in London, Britain December 18, 2019 [Toby Melville/Reuters]

On December 21, right-wing British magazine The Spectator published an article by Ed Husain, a controversial figure on the British Muslim scene, entitled Islam’s reformation: an Arab-Israeli alliance is taking shape in the Middle East.

Husain, a self-styled champion of “Islamic renaissance” who describes himself as a former Muslim extremist is seen by some as an ally of Islamophobia.

His article puts forward a bizarre narrative: That a burgeoning alliance between a handful of authoritarian Arab leaders, including Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) and the UAE’s Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, and Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu is a sign of “religious glasnost” in the Muslim world.

It was tweeted almost immediately after its publication by the Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed.

It is not surprising that the UAE’s leadership gave its stamp of approval to the article. Husain, after all, has close links to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is a close friend and supporter of the UAE’s rulers and their allies.

Husain’s CV includes the title of former adviser to Blair, and a stint at the Blair Faith Foundation, whose stated goal was to counter religious extremism. This same foundation was mentioned in a proposal made by Blair to the UAE in 2016 for a $35m contract to “build its brand and reputation, and to establish powerful networks of influence”.

In his pitch to the Gulf state, Blair, who recently offered his services to Egypt’s military ruler, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, bragged about his and his foundation’s connections in more than 50 countries. Over the last couple of years, Blair has been defending himself against claims of impropriety over the direct and indirect consultancy payments he allegedly received from the UAE and Saudi Arabia for services rendered.

Husain’s article peddles some of the questionable theories we have previously seen Blair promote. These include blaming the hostility Israel faces in the Middle East and beyond on Arab and Muslim “extremism” and “anti-semitism” and claiming that Arabs should become more “tolerant” in order to end the conflict. Also, the claim that conflicts involving Muslims, from the Philippines to the Caucasus, and from Palestine to Mali, are all linked, and again the fault of Muslims, and their “intolerant” religious doctrines.

At one point, Saudi-promoted Wahhabism was advertised as the main culprit. This is, of course, too simplistic, since the bulk of the conflicts Muslims are involved in today are not religious but political and exist outside Wahhabism’s zone of influence. Husain himself had become an extremist without ever coming in touch with Wahhabism – the ideology of the group he joined, Hizbut-Tahrir, is anathema to Salafi Wahabism.

The irony is that the proponents of these views now appear to believe, as demonstrated in Husain’s article, that the Saudis hold the key to religious enlightenment in the Muslim world, and “reformist” MBS’s Saudi Arabia can bring peace to the Middle East by forming an alliance with fellow “peace-lover” Netanyahu’s Israel.

Even from an Israeli perspective, the Netanyahu government is not an advertisement for religious enlightenment, tolerance or peace. Secular Israelis are feeling under siege in the face of the hegemony of religious bigotry, fascistic tendencies and the ever-increasing aggression and self-entitlement of illegal settlers. It is even worse for Israel’s beleaguered Arab citizens, or the Ethiopian Jewish minority, let alone the Palestinians living under occupation.

It may be a coincidence that the International Criminal Court announced an imminent investigation into Israeli war crimes just the day before this article came out, but it was another blow to any misguided hopes that Netanyahu’s Israel should be the source of inspiration for anyone in this region, let alone religious reformers.

The coincidental highlighting of the UAE’s own dismal human rights record did not help either. The day after bin Zayed’s tweet, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a damning report documenting systematic and brutal harassment of the relatives of Emirati dissidents. Dozens of relatives of jailed or exiled peaceful opposition figures are currently banned from travel, cannot renew identity documents, or have restricted access to jobs or higher education. Tolerance, it appears, does not start at home.

The chorus of international condemnations that greeted the announcement this week of sentences against those convicted of murdering Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi did not help either. It was another unwelcome reminder of the credentials of another key ally in this coalition for so-called “Islamic reformation”.

Spin and self-promotion do not qualify as reform or renaissance, and its promotors lack authority.

This a reminder that the Arab-Israeli conflict has nothing to do with religion, any more than the current intra-Arab struggles. The main actors in the conflict, both Israeli and Arab, have been, and still are, predominantly secular rulers and groups. In both the Arab and Israeli camps, the leaders of the initial struggle, whether from the Israeli Labour party, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation or leaders like Egypt’s Gamal Abdul Nasser and Syria’s Hafiz al-Assad, were lukewarm towards religion. Islamist actors and Jewish religious extremists entered the fray much later, in the 1980s.

Palestinians and other Arabs are not interested in the promotion of “religious tolerance” by highly intolerant regimes, but in a halt to the campaigns of dispossession and oppression.

No one knows or cares what Netanyahu’s religious beliefs are and how different they may be from those of Arab leaders. It is what is being done on the ground (harassment, dispossession, killings, etc) that is causing conflict.

For peace with Israel to happen, the war and the colonial appropriation of land first has to stop. For the UAE and its allies, the human rights abuses and foreign adventures must cease. The hypocritical manipulation of religion will not lead to peace and tolerance. Quite the reverse, it will drive continuing conflicts and resentment within the Muslim Arab community.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.


30-Year CIA War Against Islam Succeeding In Plan To Ignite Islamic Civil War

'Mental and behavioural radicalism' in some Muslim countries 'paved the way to foreign interventions', said Rouhani [Lim Huey Teng/Reuters]
‘Mental and behavioural radicalism’ in some Muslim countries ‘paved the way to foreign interventions’, said Rouhani [Lim Huey Teng/Reuters]

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said the Muslim world is in a “state of crisis” and called for “implementable” solutions as he hosted a summit of Muslim-majority countries.

Mahathir made the call to action on Thursday as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani highlighted in their speeches the plight of the Palestinians under decades-long Israeli occupation.

“We all know that the Muslims, their religion and their countries are in a state of crisis. Everywhere we see Muslim countries being destroyed, their citizens forced to flee their countries, forced to seek refuge in non-Muslim countries,” Mahathir told a packed crowd gathered in Malaysia‘s biggest city.

The 94-year-old prime minister pointed out while other countries devastated by World War II have recovered and developed, many Muslim nations “seem unable to be governed well, much less to be developed and prosper”.

Mahathir said “fratricidal wars, civil wars, failed governments and many other catastrophes” continue to confront many Muslim countries and Islam “without any serious effort being made to end or reduce them or to rehabilitate the religion”.

But even as he sought a unified voice among Muslim-majority states to address those issues, several countries – including Saudi Arabia and Pakistan – were absent from the meeting, which is seen by some in the Muslim community as an emerging competition to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

‘Divide’ feared

On Tuesday, Pakistan announced that it pulled out of the summit, citing concerns from Saudi Arabia the event could “divide” the Muslim world.

Initially, it was reported Prime Minister Imran Khan, who earlier confirmed his presence at the event, was sending Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi to represent him. But the country withdrew altogether just two days before it started.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who was earlier listed as a speaker at the event, was also a no-show.

His vice president, Ma’ruf Amin, who was announced to represent him, cancelled at the last minute citing health reasons. Ma’ruf is the former supreme leader of Indonesia’s largest Muslim group, Hahdlatul Ulama.

On Thursday, Al Jazeera asked Mahathir if he received a message from the Indonesian president about Jakarta’s participation at the summit, but he waved off the question.

As for Saudi Arabia, Samsudin Osman, the summit secretary-general, earlier told Al Jazeera that Mahathir had sent a personal representative to invite King Salman to the summit. Saudi Arabia also decided to skip the event.

Osman said the summit is not meant to rival the OIC.

Khaled Meshaal, former leader of the Palestinian group Hamas, was among those who attended the summit. He told Al Jazeera the event in Kuala Lumpur is “not meant to create animosity between any nations” in the Muslim world.

Middle East ‘threats’

Meanwhile, in his opening speech on Thursday, Iran’s Rouhani blamed “serious security threats” facing the Muslim world and the Middle East in particular on the “Zionist regime” – a reference to Israel, which he said continues to impose its will on the stateless Palestinians.

Rouhani said the plight of the Palestinians remains the most important issue in the Muslim world.

Qatar Emir Sheikh Tamim expressed the same sentiment, saying the occupation of Palestine is “one of the most important sources of instability in our region”.

The annexation of Palestinian lands, illegal settlements, and the “Judaisation of Jerusalem” are examples of policies that “wipe out the Arab character of the city and provoke the feelings of Arabs and Muslims everywhere”, he said.

In a veiled criticism of Saudi Arabia, Rouhani said the “mental and behavioural radicalism” in some Muslim countries has “paved the way to foreign interventions” in the Middle East.

“The war in Syria, Yemen, and riots and turbulence in Iraq, Lebanon, Libya and Afghanistan is the outcome of the combination of domestic extremism and foreign intervention,” he said.

Calling Iran a “model of resistance”, Rouhani also urged the Muslim world to develop its own economic framework “to save it from the domination of the US dollar and the American financial regime”.

malaysia summit - rouhaniii
Iran’s Rouhani raised ‘serious security threats’ facing the Muslim world [Lim Huey Teng/Reuters]

He said Muslim countries can establish special mechanisms for banking and financial cooperation, and use national currencies in trading. Iran has been under US sanctions since 2018, and is barred from using the international financial system to carry out trade with other nations.

For Turkey’s Erdogan, the challenge for the summit is to “implement and execute the plans” agreed upon between the leaders present, even as he said Muslim countries “should come to terms” with their own failures, particularly in preventing conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere.

“It is unfortunate that we are wasting our own energy on internal disputes,” he said, referring to the current situation in the Muslim world.

He said Muslim countries should not leave the fate of the 1.7 billion Muslims in the hands of Western powers, including the five member states sitting as permanent members of the UN Security Council.

“The world is bigger than five,” Erdogan said, repeating his frequent criticism of the international body’s permanent members whose veto power, he said, is harmful to smaller nations.

He said the US Security Council is “way past its expiry date”.

Nur Aldeen AlKawamleh, a doctorate graduate in Islamic studies from Jordan and a delegate at the event, said he hopes the summit will deliver alternative solutions to issues not addressed by the OIC.

The messages delivered reflect some criticism towards the OIC, he said, adding he sees the emergence of a “new coalition” of like-minded countries to address issues in the Muslim world.

Ahmad Farouk Musa, a professor at Monash University in Kuala Lumpur, also attended the summit.

He blamed Saudi Arabia for being a proponent of sectarianism in the Muslim world, and for showing its opposition to the summit, which tries to bring different voices into the debate.

“We have seen how this sectarianism destroyed the fabric of unity among Muslims. And to me, the main proponent sectarianism in the Muslim world is none other than the Saudis and their virulent ideology,” Farouk Musa said.

Saudi Arabia’s animosity towards the summit was because of the “presence of the Iranian leader”, Rouhani, he said.

With additional reporting by Manar al Adam

US Drones Attack Iranian/Hezbollah Allies In Syria and Iraq…Multiple Deaths

BAGHDAD (Sputnik) – The death toll from the drone attacks of the United States against Kata’ib Hezbollah militia in Iraq stands at 25, with 51 people injured, the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces, also known as Hashd al-Shaabi, said in a statement on Monday. Earlier, Hashd al-Shaabi reported of 19 people killed and 35 others injured.

The number of casualties may grow, as some remain in critical condition.

On Sunday, the US forces have carried out strikes targeting five Kata’ib Hezbollah facilities in Syria and Iraq, including weapons storage locations and command and control bases, the US Defence Department said in a statement. The Pentagon said it was retaliation for the group’s recent attack on a US base near the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk.

On Friday, the US accused Kata’ib Hezbollah of involvement in a deadly rocket attack on the K1 military base outside Kirkuk. The attack claimed the life of a US civilian contractor and left several US service members with light injuries.

No group took immediate responsibility for Friday’s attack.

Kata’ib Hezbollah, not to be confused with the Hezbollah group of Lebanon, is a paramilitary force with Shia ideology established in 2007 and operating under the Hashd al-Shaabi umbrella. Washington designates them as terrorists.