World

Remaining Iraqi Christians Expelled

By on 7.21.14 | 4:18PM

The most prominent Christian landmark in Iraq was emptied of its Christians on Sunday. Mar Behnam is a Syriac Catholic church that was built by a fourth-century Assyrian king. The church was his penance for killing his son, a Christian convert. It is now under the control of Islamic extremists from ISIS, and the monks having been sent away with nothing but the clothes on their backs, according to AFP. They walked for miles before Kurdish Peshmerga forces picked them up and took them to Qaraqosh. 

The monks were the last Christians to leave the plains of Iraq; a few still live in Baghdad, but the rest have fled to Kurdistan.

Obama Calls Out Putin Over Plane Crash

By on 7.18.14 | 2:55PM

President Obama called out Russian President Vladimir Putin for escalating the conflict in eastern Ukraine during an address to the White House press corps on the downed Malaysia Airlines passenger jet late Friday morning. He described the event as “an outrage of unspeakable proportions,” though he said at this time only one American citizen is known to have been aboard the aircraft.

He confirmed that Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 “was shot down over Ukraine near the Russian border,” adding that American intelligence found that “evidence indicates the plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile that was launched from an area that is controlled by Russian-backed separatists.” The president was careful to not assign direct blame for the shooting, but did enumerate the recent spate of aircraft downed by militia-launched missiles. He pointed out, however, that the separatists were supported by Russia and could not engage in the level of military action they had achieved without Russian weapons and training.

Nuclear Weapons Are Against Shiite Islam

By on 7.17.14 | 5:51PM

"Tales of 1001 Nights" (which, ironically enough, is not respected as fine literature in the Middle East itself) is the story of an ancient Persian king. In a fit of disillusioned anger, the king declares he will marry a new maiden every evening and execute her the next morning. He is thwarted when one bride distracts him with a story that never seems to end properly. The king is too eager to hear the story's end to kill the storyteller, and his wife saves her life by telling an endless spiral of stories for 1,001 nights. 

The land of Persia is now called Iran, and its nuclear negotiations with the West don't look any more likely to end by the July 20 deadline than Princess Shaharazad's stories were to end at daybreak. Iran has more than hinted at an extension of the planned six months of negotiations with Western powers in Vienna, reported Reuters. 

Hamas Searches for a Better Bargain

By on 7.16.14 | 5:01PM

Shopping in the Middle East can be a surprise to Westerners. There's the greeting, the inquiry after one's family, leading questions from the buyer, perhaps a cup of Arabic coffee from the seller. The buyer suggests a price, and the vendor protests that to accept it would bring his children to the brink of starvation. The buyer strides ostentatiously from the establishment, only to be called back by a better deal.

The rejection by Hamas of Egypt's cease-fire deal after more than a week of missile exchange with Israel was merely good business for Middle Eastern bargaining, said Ghaith al Omari of the American Task Force on Palestine at an American Enterprise Institute discussion. 

The Egyptian deal did not meet any of Hamas's demands, namely: a re-release of the prisoners Israel first freed in 2011, funds from Qatar to pay employees' salaries, and a reopening the "secret" supply tunnels between Egypt and Gaza. That last one is especially relevant; some have speculated that the supply tunnels are what drove Hamas to enter a unity government with Fatah, which is what started the recent hostilities in the first place. 

The War on Terror Spectator

The Middle East’s Christian Diaspora

By 7.15.14

Anyone who obtained too much power in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had two choices: join the Ba’ath Party or die. Joseph Kassab, a medical researcher at the University of Baghdad, chose a third option—flee to the United States. Thirty-five years later, he describes his success here as “an American dream story.” But he is a Chaldean Catholic, and he worries for the fate of his people, the Christians of Iraq.

“Do we want our people to leave Iraq? The answer is no,” he told TAS. “Our ancestry in Iraq goes back 2,000 years before Christ.”

The Christian population of Iraq, which has its roots in the ancient Assyrians who embraced Christianity in biblical times, numbered 1.3 million before 2003. Over the next decade, nearly a million Christians fled to neighboring countries. Many who became refugees fled to the West if they could.

Most joined the Chaldean Christian community in Michigan, which began in the 1870s. They had helped build the automobile industry, saving factory wages to bring family members to the land of opportunity. The Detroit community of Chaldeans now numbers 200,000 and has associations for every profession from pharmaceutics to CPAs.

What Women Want

By on 7.14.14 | 5:20PM

July 14, according to the United Nations, is Malala Day, referring to the birthday of the Pakistani "girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban."

Malala Yousafzai celebrated her seventeenth birthday by visiting the families of the kidnapped girls from Nigeria. She wrote in the Washington Post that they and other girls worldwide are her "sisters," in need of her help:

I know education is what separates a girl who is trapped in a cycle of poverty, fear and violence from one with a chance at a better future. During my school holidays, I traveled to help my sisters through my organization, the Malala Fund. I have visited refugee camps in Jordan, spent time with girls facing poverty in Kenya, and even been to New York City, where girls face bullying and violence.

Teutonic Trust Issues

By on 7.11.14 | 11:43AM

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was on her seventh trip to China when she was informed that a double agent had been seized in Munich. The spy, who was an employee of the German foreign intelligence agency the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), was detained last Wednesday after attempting to sell services to Russia. But the real revelation came when, interrogating him, Germany’s counterintelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BFV), discovered that the turncoat had conducted espionage operations for the CIA over the past two years. He has earned approximately $34,000. His most recent assignment: passing along to his handlers any information he could find on the German investigation of the NSA’s surveillance of Merkel.

Bahrain Expels an American Diplomat

By on 7.10.14 | 5:48PM

American diplomacy in the Middle East is starting to resemble a giant game of whack-a-mole. On top of everything else, the government of Bahrain has now expelled an American diplomat.

Bahrain told Tom Malinowski, U.S. assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, that he was no longer welcome at their game on Monday. Marlinowski had the gall to set up a meeting with leaders of a Shiite political party. Bahrain is one of the Middle East's rare, majority-Shia nations, so a friendly chat with the leaders of a legal party that has been in dialogue with the government since 2011 seemed natural. The ruling family, however, is Sunni, and they did not take kindly to Malinowski's efforts to be inclusive of the majority of the population.

The government of Bahrain says there are no hard feelings about Marlinowski though. Apparently it says nothing about how they feel about us.

Crickets Chirp for Islamic Caliph

By on 7.9.14 | 4:57PM

The Middle East is known more for its locusts than crickets, but some kind of insectile chirping could be heard after the Sunni militant group ISIS declared itself a caliphate and commanded the Muslims of the world to join them.

No rush of support greeted the ISIS—excuse me, caliphate underling—call to destroy the Kaaba, the most sacred shrine of Islam, which Muslims believe marks a place where heaven symbolically touches earth.

Even the Sunni clerics who gave bin Laden and others of his ilk the theological go-ahead are questioning ISIS's inattention to proper Islamic jurisprudence, according to the Daily Beast:

Israel’s Show of Force

By on 7.8.14 | 5:34PM

"We win every battle, but we lose the war," said Ami Ayalon, who once led the Israeli secret service. Ayalon spoke in the documentary "The Gatekeepers" about Israel's strategy for the Palestinians, one that was highlighted by events over the last month in Israel and the West Bank.

The two-week-long search by Israeli officials for three kidnapped Israeli teenagers in the West Bank was the most aggressive in decades. The search for three teens, it turns out, required Israeli officials to blow up two houses, arrest nearly 400 people, and kill five civilians, one of whom was sixteen, the same age as the young Israeli hitchhikers.

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