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I Attended a Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra Concert

The Mar. 9, 2017 program of the Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra.

I had the opportunity yesterday evening of attending a concert by the Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra (ROSO) playing in its home city of Muscat.

Founded in 1985 and offering its first public concert two years later, ROSO is very much a personal project of the long-ruling Sultan Qaboos bin Said (b. 1940, r. 1970-).

As a flattering newspaper profile explains, "ROSO emerged as a novel and a poetic idea; an idea born in the heart and soul of a benevolent leader. The idea was nourished by passion, love, and understanding of culture as a tool towards cultural diplomacy, understanding, diplomacy."

Nor was the sultan's contribution limited to flowery words. He took a direct interest in the Western music project, giving it a military validation and bringing it into his palace:

Under the direct supervision of His Majesty, young talented musicians from both sexes were selected in 1985 based on basic musical skills of melody, tempo, and rhythm. Under the umbrella of the Royal Guard, they were subjected to intensive studies in music both in Oman and abroad. As anticipation grew, the arrival of instruments was a cause for celebration. ... At [a] young age, Omani musicians were subjected to intensive training within the boundaries of the palace. It was not unlikely for the young musicians to attend rehearsals only to see His Majesty himself waiting outside the classrooms, anxious to hear and encourage the first note.

Qaboos insisted that the musicians all be Omani nationals, restricting foreigners to teaching, soloist, and conducting roles. Sometimes he took up the baton and himself conducted the orchestra.

The concert I attended was titled "Viennese Classics" and featured two parts of Mozart's Idomeneo, Beethoven's violin romance #2, and Haydn symphony #101, conducted by Justin Bischoff. I recorded the Beethoven segment.

The concert took place in a European-style classical music concert hall, the Oman Auditorium. The audience filled about half the auditorium and was about 90 percent Western, with the rest Omani with a sprinkling of South Asians.

Tickets nominally cost US$25 but many were given away.

In the orchestra pit, the men wore elegant white-tie tuxedoes; the women wore red hijabs over green dresses, except for the female violin soloist, who wore white on white.


(1) ROSO is part of a larger Western classical music project in Oman sponsored by the sultan; of particular note is the 1,100-seat Italianate Royal Opera House Muscat, a purpose-built structure that opened in 2011.

(2) In keeping with my thesis that "you need Beethoven to modernize," I understand the sultan's eagerness to bring Western classical music to Oman as a sign that he understands a profound truth: modernization requires Westernization.

(3) This understanding was more common in the heyday of Western confidence. The Khedive Ismail of Egypt built an opera house and commissioned Verdi to write Aïda on the occasion of the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. A leading pasha built the Süreyya Operası in Istanbul in 1927 (although it only staged its first opera in 2007).

The interior of the Royal Opera House Muscat.

(4) That said, Western classical music, and opera especially, still enjoys surprising prestige. The shah opened an opera house in Tehran in 1967. The Mubarak regime encouraged a gala production of Aïda in Luxor in 1987 and a replacement for the khedive's burnt-down opera house opened in Cairo a year later. The Dar al-Assad for Culture and Arts serves as the opera house in Damascus since 2004. Turkey's President Erdoğan plans to tear down an ugly 1960s opera house and replace it with the largest opera house in Europe. These instances suggest that some rulers, even Islamist ones, understand the connection of Westernization to modernization.

(5) Let us hope the trend continues, with symphony orchestras and opera houses appearing in such cities as Benghazi, Sanaa, and Kabul.

(6) The Japanese and Chinese have mastered both Western music and modernity. The Omanis have just started on this path – the country was medieval as recently as 1970 – and I hope they will also become proficient with both.

Daniel Pipes (DanielPipes.org, @DanielPipes) is president of the Middle East Forum.

By Daniel Pipes  |  March 10, 2017  |  Permalink

Egypt's Leading Imam: Christianity and Judaism Create Terrorism No Less than Islam

Originally published under the title "Christianity and Judaism Create Terrorism No Less than Islam, Says Egypt's leading Muslim Cleric; Bemoans World's 'Double Standards' and and 'Islamophobia'."

Ahmed al-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar

Egypt's leading Muslim cleric and head of Al Azhar, Dr. Ahmed al-Tayeb, recently spoke before the religious representatives of some 50 nations during a Cairo-based conference. Instead of honestly admitting that there is a special problem between Islam and violence—the way [President Abdel Fattah] al-Sisi did a couple of years ago when he flatly declared before Egypt's Muslim clergy, with Tayeb sitting in the front row, that Islamic teachings are "antagonizing the whole world"—Tayeb spent his time denouncing "Islamophobia" and bemoaning how "painful" it is to see so many people around the world associate Islam with violence and terrorism.

He even boasted that, from its very beginnings, Islam has always treated non-Muslims—usually labeled as "infidels," the Arabic kuffar, that is, the most despised forms of humanity whose blood can be shed with impunity in most cases —as equals.

But the farcical claims do not end there. The Al Azhar sheikh insisted that, when it comes to its capacity to "radicalize" its followers, Islam is no different than Christianity or Judaism. Rather, only Jewish and Christian "double standards" make Islam appear more violent and intolerant. In his own words:

There is an obvious double standard in the world's judgment of Islam on the one hand, and with Christianity and Judaism on the other—despite the fact that all are guilty of one and the same thing, that is, religious violence and terrorism. Christian and Jewish violence is a cool and casual matter for the West, which never besmirches the image of these two religions. Only their third brother [Islam] stands trial alone on the dock, where his image continues to be ruined.

This assertion flies in the face of reality. For it seems not a single day passes by without some Muslim(s) attacking some non-Muslim(s) somewhere around the world—and almost always in the name of Islam and/or jihad.

Moreover, in his speech Tayeb spoke of "Christian" and "Jewish" "terrorism and violence"—as opposed to merely "Christian terrorists" or "Jewish terrorists"—thereby portraying Christianity and Judaism, the religions themselves, as equally liable to prompt their followers to terrorize, subjugate, behead, crucify, mutilate, enslave, and—why not?—extract jizya from non-Christian and non-Jewish "infidels."

At one point, perhaps to give his otherwise abstract claims of equivalency some substance, Tayeb named as "Christian terrorists" Michael Bray (arrested in 1985 and imprisoned for four years in relation to abortion clinic bombings); Timothy McVeigh (1995 bombing of Oklahoma City federal building); and David Koresh (cult leader, killed during shootout in Waco, Texas, 1993).

Just how analogous these three men are to the question of Islamic terrorism is debatable. For starters, none of the American men he mentioned cited authentic Christian teachings—or quoted Jesus—to justify their violence, the way Muslims regularly cite mainstream Islamic teachings and quote Muhammad verbatim; McVeigh referred to himself as an agnostic and Koresh was a cult leader denounced by practically every American Christian aside from his immediate devotees.

That Tayeb, who seems to have combed through every possible terrorist-style incident that can possibly be associated with Christianity could only come up with three—in 1985, 1993, and 1995—further begs the question: how are these three examples, which span the course of more than 30 years (from 1985 to the present), supposed to be equivalent to the thousands (if not tens of thousands) of incidents of violence and terrorism committed by highly pious and observant Muslims over the same time frame?

Indeed, since July 2011 alone, I have been compiling monthly reports of Muslim persecution of Christians, for a total of 65 reports. Each of these contains dozens of anecdotes of Muslims around the world—Egypt, Tayeb's homeland never misses a month—persecuting, raping, enslaving, and slaughtering Christians, and attacking their churches, on the basis that they are undesirable "infidels." While the majority of anecdotes in these reports are deemed "un-newsworthy" by Western mainstream media, if the persecutor was a Christian and the victim a Muslim, they would likely receive 24/7 blanket coverage.

That's the real "double standard" we should all be decrying—not Tayeb's imaginary "Islamophobia."

Raymond Ibrahim is a Judith Friedman Rosen Fellow at the Middle East Forum

By Raymond Ibrahim  |  March 10, 2017  |  Permalink

Silicon Valley-Subsidized Hate Speakers: Siraj Wahhaj

Please click here to sign a petition calling for an end to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation's support for radical Islamists.

On March 1, the Middle East Forum revealed that the Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF) has provided at least $330,524 to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and Islamic Relief, two extremist organizations that routinely give platforms to Islamist speakers who incite hatred against women, Jews, Christians, and the LGBTQ community. MEF's Islamist Watch project has compiled profiles and recordings of the worst of the worst SVCF-subsidized speakers.

Siraj Wahhaj addresses the Philadelphia chapter of CAIR in 2012.

Siraj Wahhaj

Affiliation to SVCF

Siraj Wahhaj is a frequent headliner at CAIR fundraising banquets (e.g. Los Angeles in 2011, Philadelphia in 2012, San Francisco in 2014) and a former member of its advisory board.

Wahhaj is also heavily involved with Islamic Relief–Canada.


Born Jeffrey Kearse in Brooklyn in 1950 and raised a Baptist, Siraj Wahhaj became involved in the the black separatist movement in the late 1960s and converted to Islam under the guidance of Nation of Islam (NOI) Louis Farrakhan in 1969.

After receiving clerical training in Saudi Arabia, Wahhaj founded Al-Taqwa mosque in Brooklyn in 1981.

Siraj Wahhaj has led the congregation at Al-Taqwa mosque in Brooklyn, NY, since its establishment in 1981.

Though Wahhaj enjoyed a reputation as moderate over the next decade (in 1991 becoming the first Muslim to deliver a prayer before the House of Representatives), his views sharply radicalized in the wake of the 1990-1991 Gulf crisis, with his sermons expressing extraordinary intolerance toward non-Muslims, women, homosexuals, and others. He is infamous for his 1992 threat to burn down a GLBTQ-friendly mosque in Toronto.

In the wake of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, authorities discovered that Wahhaj and his mosque were closely linked to the attack's mastermind, the recently-deceased Omar Abdel Rahman, and others arrested for terror plots in the New York area.

U.S. attorney Mary Jo White named Wahhaj a possible unindicted co-conspirator in the bombing plot. Wahhaj served as a character witness for Abdel Rahman at trial, extolling him as a "respected scholar."

Like many other Muslim extremists affiliated with CAIR, Wahhaj has toned down the rhetoric in his public speeches in recent years, but has not disavowed any of his previously-expressed positions.


Click the play button at left to instantly hear Siraj Wahhaj say the offending quote displayed at right in his own voice.a


"The prophet cursed, la'ana, cursed the feminine man and the masculine woman. Cursed... I don't believe any of you are homosexual. This is a disease of this society."
And you know, brothers and sisters, you know what the punishment is, if a man is found with another man? The Prophet Mohammad said the one who does it and the one to whom it is done to, kill them both."


"[W]e want our women back to their natural place. What's their natural place? Feminine. Allah made them feminine."

The Great Satan

"Do you understand what these devils who control the media are doing? ... they're being controlled by Shaytan [Satan]. This society, America, wallahi azeem. America is controlled by Shaytan. American government is controlled by Shaytan. American way of life is controlled by Shaytan. It is. Oh yes, it is. Definitely. No doubt about it."


"If you commit zina [adultery] and you're married, the punishment is death by stoning—capital punishment. What you read in Qu'ran is the punishment for fornication, but the punishment for married and committing zina is death by stoning."
"The thief, the one who steals, man or woman, male or female, chop off their hands. If they steal, chop off their hands. This is a commandment of Allah, subhanahu wa ta'ala."


"We want some guns in Bosnia so the Muslims can defend themselves. ... I'm asking for us to greet the duty for jihad here in America. How? By helping our Muslim brothers and sisters by sending money over there and bringing weapons to Bosnia to the Muslims by any means necessary."[1]
"Let us march to Palestine and liberate our brothers and sisters there. But don't stop there. Let's go to Algeria, and liberate the Muslims there. Don't stop there. Go all over the world."


"Woe to the Muslims who pick kafirs [non-Muslims] for friends. Woe, woe, woe to the Muslims who take kafirs as friends. Kafir will take you away from the remembrance of Allah."


"Take not into your intimacy those outside of your race. They will not fail to corrupt you."

David M. Swindle is the Coordinator of Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum. Follow him on Twitter at @DaveSwindle and Islamist Watch at @Islamist_Watch

[1] Wahhaj played major role raising money for the Benevolence International Foundation, which the Treasury Department designated as a "financier of terrorism" in 2002, ostensibly to aid Muslims in Bosnia.

By David M. Swindle  |  March 9, 2017  |  Permalink

Turkey's Purge Reaches Its Largest Defense Corporation

Originally published under the title "Scores of Aselsan Staff Indicted for Terror Links."

Turkey's purge of alleged supporters of Fethullah Gulen has now hit the country's largest defense corporation.

ANKARA — Turkish prosecutors have launched a probe into scores of personnel at the military electronics specialist Aselsan, Turkey's biggest defense company.

An Ankara prosecutor's office said it had launched legal proceedings against 84 Aselsan employees on charges of being members of leaders of the FETO/PDY terrorist organization.

Police forces said on March 9 they detained a total of 46 Aselsan employees. Of those, the police said, 30 are active duty officials, including "several engineers and specialists."

Nearly 50 other Aselsan officials probed by the prosecutors had earlier been either suspended from work or dismissed from the company.

Police officials say there are arrest warrants for some company officials who are wanted by the police.

FETO/PDY is allegedly a clandestine network of Islamists who aimed to filter into, among others, the top ranks of Turkey's judiciary, security, military, academia and business circles.

FETO/PDY's alleged leader is Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic preacher who has been living in self-exile in Pennsylvania, United States, since 1999. Turkish officials claim Gulen was the mastermind of a coup attempt on July 15, 2016, in which nearly 300 people, including civilians, were killed.

The Turkish government has since asked for Gulen's extradition from the U.S., but Washington has not yet replied positively or negatively saying independent U.S. courts should decide on the matter.

The government also has purged more than 100,000 government officials and detained tens of thousands of others on charges of alleged links with the Gulen network.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Turkish police officer said that the main evidence against Aselsan officials was their use of "ByLock," an encrypted communications application Turkish prosecutors claim was the primary means of communications among FETO/PDY members.

A spokesman for Aselsan did not comment on detentions of personnel. But an official from the Turkish Armed Forces Foundation, majority shareholder of Aselsan, said that the operation would not affect Aselsan's business in any significant way. "Ongoing programs are progressing as planned," the official said. "We are not affected in any way by this unpleasant situation."

Aselsan employs more than 5,000 personnel, more than half of which are engineers.

Aselsan reported recently that its 2016 profits jumped by 272 percent to $220 million.

The company is the prime local contractor for several large-scale Turkish indigenous weapons programs.

Burak Bekdil is an Ankara-based political analyst and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.

By Burak Bekdil  |  March 9, 2017  |  Permalink

Silicon Valley Subsidizes Hate

Please click here to sign a Change.org petition calling on the nation's largest community foundation to end its financial support for Islamist hate groups.

SVCF's board of directors is turning a blind eye to religious extremists.

In many lines of work, a new job means a slow first day. My first day as the director of the Middle East Forum's Islamist Watch project, however, featured a clash with the Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF), the nation's largest community foundation, which holds over $8 billion in assets.

I previously ran Stand for Peace, a British counter-extremism organization. I know that we face the enormous challenge of media, government and civil society that refuse to acknowledge the extent of Islamist influence over the American Muslim community, and the threat that it poses to our security. My first day was never going to be an easy one.

For several months before my arrival at Islamist Watch, the Forum had attempted to contact SVCF's staff and trustees, urging them to stop funding extremist groups such as the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and Islamic Relief USA, a branch of the largest Muslim Brotherhood charity in the world. Since 2008, SVCF has given $330,524 to these two Islamist organizations.

The Forum's attempt to explain the extremist links of CAIR and Islamic Relief were rebuffed by SVCF, which refused to address MEF's concerns that they were not funding ordinary American Muslims, but international Islamism, an extreme form of the religion.

SVCF funding of extremists betrays moderate Muslims working to free their faith from the grip of Islamism.

SVCF's unwillingness to stop funding extremists betrays moderate Muslims working to free their faith from the grip of Islamism. So on March 1, the Middle East Forum published a petition that explained the anti-Semitic, homophobic and misogynistic rhetoric that SVCF money is subsidizing.

Regular speakers at CAIR and Islamic Relief events include Hussein Kamani, who advocates sex slavery and calls for adulterers to be "stoned to death"; Jamal Badawi, who tells husbands they have a right to beat their wives; and Siraj Wahhaj, who cites the death penalty for the "disease" of homosexuality. Hardly the proudest product of Silicon Valley ingenuity and liberalism.

You can read our press release and sign our petition here.

Just a few hours after publishing our petition, SVCF responded. You can read their reaction here.

We had urged SVCF to work instead with moderate Muslim groups. Rather than examine the facts, SVCF chose to label our evidence "Islamophobic." The Forum, our Muslim staff and our Muslim allies disagree.

The Forum is not the only organization concerned about CAIR and Islamic Relief. Both CAIR and Islamic Relief are designated as terrorist groups in the United Arab Emirates. CAIR was named by American federal prosecutors as an un-indicted co-conspirator in the 2008 Holy Land Foundation terrorism financing trial. The FBI has banned outreach with CAIR since 2008, and the Anti-Defamation League accuses CAIR of promoting anti-Jewish sentiment.

In a recent article published at National Review, we revealed that Islamic Relief USA is funding a Hamas-linked charity in the Gaza Strip, whose officials have called for Jerusalem to be "free... from the filth of the most dirty Jews." Senior Islamic Relief USA staff have included Omar Shahin, who once preached: "oh (servant) slaves of Allah, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him."

I have a lot of experience with Islamist groups like CAIR and Islamic Relief. Coming from the United Kingdom, I know exactly how dangerous it is when a society fails to challenge the forces of radicalization and extremism that run the charities, schools, community centers and mosques all across the country. It took Britain over a decade after 9/11 to realize that we had been giving power and money to the wrong people within British Islam, at the cost of thousands of recruits to foreign terror groups, increasing numbers of homegrown terrorists and whole Muslim communities that have segregated themselves from British society and teach their children to hate Jews, Christians, the West and all its values.

It's time to fix our mistakes and properly challenge Islamist forces at home and abroad.

Over the last few years, the British government finally started to realize the terrible mistakes they have made. They cut funding to Islamist groups and refused to meet with them. For many, it feels this insight was too late. In America, the extremism problem is less developed – we have time to fix our mistakes and properly challenge Islamist forces at home and abroad. But we have to start now.

If groups such as SVCF continue to fund the flagship institutions of Islamist extremism, they will further disempower moderate Muslim organizations, contribute towards the growing problem of radicalization, and aid Islamist incitement against Jews, women, homosexuals and Muslim minorities.

Help us show SVCF that by funding Islamist groups, they are not fighting prejudice; they are promoting it. Sign our petition, share it and tell SVCF that they're making a terrible mistake.

Sam Westrop is the director of Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.

By Sam Westrop  |  March 6, 2017  |  Permalink

A Gazan Provincial Governor for the Islamic State

Overall, the resonance of the Islamic State (IS) among the Palestinian Arab populations in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza has been relatively low. Attempts to connect some recent Palestinian attacks on Israelis to IS have been unconvincing.

Abu Bakr al-Ghazawi (Abu Bakr the Gazan), who died fighting in the IS affiliate in Sinai. He had reportedly been expelled from Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood-oriented group that governs Gaza. Many pro-IS networks have featured Hamas defectors.

Where support for IS does exist, it is primarily found in Salafi jihadi circles in Gaza, though there are no formal affiliates in Gaza, but rather pro-IS groups. Some of these groups have undoubtedly acted as feeders into IS ranks both in the Sinai area (where a formal wilaya – "province" – was declared in November 2014) and to "IS central" in Iraq and Syria. There have also been claimed links between Gaza and the IS affiliates in Libya.

The main IS-aligned Gazan network in Syria that emerged went by the name of the Sheikh Abu al-Nur al-Maqdisi Battalion, named for a Salafi cleric in Gaza who had clashed with Hamas. The Sheikh Abu al-Nur al-Maqdisi Battalion had emerged on social media before the Caliphate declaration at the end of June 2014.

Following the Caliphate declaration, the group's profile dropped from social media, similar to the apparent disappearance of other nationality/ethnicity specific foreign fighter battalions aligned with IS such as the Katibat al-Battar al-Libi.

Bilal Ali al-Ghafri, a Gazan who was killed fighting in the ranks of IS in the Mosul area. Condolences paid to him here by the Ibn Taymiyya Media Centre, a Salafi jihadi media outlet in Gaza.

The most likely explanation for this apparent disappearance is that these types of groups were formally disbanded with the fighters distributed into various military divisions, brigades and battalions of IS that have been set up since the Caliphate to give the impression of a conventional army under its Diwan al-Jund ("Department of Soldiers").

The positions of IS provincial governors (walis) have often been held by Iraqis and Syrians, but at least one Gazan became an IS wali, in this case for Wilayat Halab (Aleppo province in northern Syria). Reports of this appointment emerged in late June 2015. For instance, the Kurdish outlet ARA News reported on 25 June 2015:

Miiitary sources close to the organization, who refused to reveal their identities, told ARA News that 'Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi appointed the one called Abu Mansur al-Ghazawi as wali for Aleppo, and he appointed the one called Abu Khabab al-Ghazawi as security official over the wilaya.'

According to the same sources, the 'two new leaders are considered among the most important symbols in the Abu al-Nur al-Maqdisi Battalion (a Salafi jihadi leader in the Gaza Strip in Palestine, who was killed at the hands of Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) members during the mosque explosion in the town of Rafah). And the two leaders are Palestinians from the inhabitants of the strip, who left some time ago to join the Islamic State organization, and the battalion is considered among the elite battalions in the Islamic State organization.'

The sources also pointed out that 'Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi previously transferred the base of the 'Abu al-Nur al-Maqdisi' battalion from Idlib to the Shuhail area in Raqqa, to participate in guarding the leadership of his base there.

I am not sure of the accuracy of the last paragraph in particular (there may be geographic confusion with the Shuhail area name, which also refers to a place in Deir az-Zor province in eastern Syria). However, Abu Mansur al-Ghazawi's position as wali of Aleppo province is confirmed in an internal document I obtained recently amid the Turkish-backed "Euphrates Shield" initiative that captured the Aleppo province town of al-Bab from IS.

The document notably confirms that Abu Mansur al-Ghazawi was in his position as wali at least some time before the reports of his appointment emerged. Indeed, the ARA News report incorrectly makes it out as though his appointment occurred on 25 June 2015.

Unfortunately, beyond the details presented above, Abu Mansur al-Ghazawi's biography remains shrouded in obscurity. Furthermore, the duration of his tenure as provincial governor is not clear. Nor can it precisely determined yet whether he was replaced, and if so who his replacement might have been. The outlet Aleppo24 in a post in March 2016 made reference to an "Abu Harith al-Iraqi" as a previous wali of Aleppo, but the chronological relationship between him and Abu Mansur al-Ghazawi is not clear.

Besides the reference to Abu Mansur al-Ghazawi, the document is also interesting for the apparent order to stop paying various medical bills for IS personnel in the private setting. The reason for this order was not specified, though there is space for reasonable conjecture. For example, the order could well have come about on account of financial difficulties. After all, other benefits for IS personnel and fighters have been reduced over time, such as rent benefits and privileged electricity access. Some insight is also provided into the workings behind the IS news service called Idha'at al-Bayan.

The document is translated in full below, with the original available.

Islamic State
Post no. 36
Diwan al-Siha [Health Department]

Sunday, 20 Sha'aban 1436 AH [7 June 2015]
No. 1104

In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

To: the brother Sheikh Abu Mansur al-Ghazawi, the wali of Wilayat Halab, may God protect you.

Subject: Statement for distribution

As-salam alaykum wa rahmat Allah wa barakatuhu

1. It is requested to stop paying the bills (for all the brothers) regarding surgical operations, medications, and laboratory and clinical examinations that are carried out in the private hospitals and clinics.

2. It is requested to send the weekly news report that is the work of the wilaya's medical administration to the Diwan al-Siha centre, in order to coordinate with Idha'at al-Bayanto cover the news of the wilaya on a weekly basis. Note that the sending of the report will be done on Tuesday every week.

And may God reward you best.

Dr. Abd al-Rahman

Islamic State
Diwan al-Siha

With agreement: 24 Sha'aban 1436 AH [11 June 2015]

Islamic State
Wilayat Halab
The Wali's Office

Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi is a research fellow at Middle East Forum's Jihad Intel project.

By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi  |  March 5, 2017  |  Permalink

All Art Is "Immoral," Says Egypt's Top—and "Moderate"—Cleric

Ahmed al-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar

Art has a largely negative impact on human morality. So says Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand imam of Egypt's Al Azhar madrassa and arguably the "most influential Muslim in the world."

In a recent televised interview, Tayeb was asked "To what degree does art influence the morals of the youth." The sheikh responded that art—presumably all forms and expressions of art, as no particular form was specified—has a 90 percent influence rate on the morality of the youth; and all of it is bad.

What is of note here is that, once again, Tayeb responds in a way that one is hard pressed to differentiate from the "radical" response. For we are constantly hearing that it is the "radical Muslims"—the ISIS types—who condemn all forms of art. Yet here is the "moderate" making essentially the same claims.

But of course, this is nothing new. As documented here, Tayeb agrees with any number of "radical" views: he believes that Islam is not just a religion to be practiced privately but rather is a totalitarian system designed to govern the whole of society through the implementation of its (otherwise human rights abusing) Sharia; he supports one of the most inhumane laws, punishment of the Muslim who wishes to leave Islam, the "apostate"; he downplays the plight of Egypt's persecuted Christians, that is, when he's not inciting against them by classifying them as "infidels"—the worst category in Islam's lexicon—even as he refuses to denounce the genocidal Islamic State likewise.

One can go on and on. Tayeb once explained with assent why Islamic law permits a Muslim man to marry a Christian woman, but forbids a Muslim woman from marrying a Christian man: since women by nature are subordinate to men, it's fine if the woman is an "infidel," as her superior Muslim husband will keep her in check; but if the woman is a Muslim, it is not right that she be under the authority of an infidel. Similarly, Western liberals may be especially distraught to learn that Tayeb once boasted, "You will never one day find a Muslim society that permits sexual freedom, homosexuality, etc., etc., as rights. Muslim societies see these as sicknesses that need to be resisted and opposed."

Also not new is how important Western and Christian institutions ignore all this and continue to portray Tayeb and Al Azhar as "moderates." Thus, despite all the above—despite the fact that Al Azhar encourages enmity for non-Muslims, and has even issued a free booklet dedicated to proving that Christianity is a "failed religion"—it was recently announced that "The Vatican and Al-Azhar University, one of Islam's most renowned schools of Sunni thought, will be joining forces to discuss how to fight religious extremism that uses God's name to justify violence."

Such are the mockeries of our time as ugly reality continues marching unopposed.

Raymond Ibrahim is a Judith Friedman Rosen Fellow at the Middle East Forum

By Raymond Ibrahim  |  February 27, 2017  |  Permalink

Erdoğan to Me: Stay Out of Turkey

Kemal Ökem (standing right) and me (standing left) in discussion. (Credit: Yoni Reif)

I participated yesterday in a conference about the eastern Mediterranean at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA) just outside Tel Aviv; and because Tel Aviv is the diplomatic center of Israel, its events attract a good number of diplomats. Yesterday was no exception, with a foreign minister and other diplomats from several eastern Mediterranean countries, including Albania, Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, and Turkey.

My talk surveyed the role of Islamism in the region. In the question-and-answer period, Turkey's newly-appointed ambassador, Kemal Ökem, vigorously protested points I had made about his country. I defended these, then challenged Ökem (in a video that can be viewed here):

Pipes: I started going to Turkey in 1972. I studied Turkish, not very successfully, but I did study it. I've gone back many times. And at this point, I dare not go back to Turkey because I am critical, as you may have heard, of the government and, in particular, I supported the July 15th coup [a position] which is absolutely an outrage in Turkey. And so, I dare not go back to Turkey. And so, let me ask you, Mr. Ambassador, would it be it safe for me to go to Turkey and spend some time there or just go through the airport? You have a great airline that I would love to use but I dare not use it. Would I be safe going to Turkey?

Ökem: If you say that you support the failed coup attempt that killed 250 Turkish civilians and if you that say you support the kind of organization which we call a terrorist organization, which is a religious cult by the way, and trying to export something, if you say that, I would rather advise you not to go there because you be an accomplice, considered an accomplice. [laughter]

Pipes: That's what I was expecting.

Ökem: It's an expected answer but it's legitimate answer. I mean, I would advise you to find good legal advice before you travel to Turkey.

The name of that "terrorist organization" was not spoken, but Ökem was referring to the so-called Fethullahçı Terör Örgütü, or FETÖ (Fethullah Terror Organization). To the rest of the world, it's the Hizmet movement founded by Fethullah Gülen, a former close and important ally of Erdoğan's until the two of them split. No one else sees it as violent, much less terroristic. Erdoğan's accusation that it organized the July 2016 coup attempt is noxious and absurd.

This ambassador's statement has several interesting implications:

  • Left unspoken was what would happen to me, were I foolish enough to venture to Turkey, so I'll make it explicit here: as someone deemed an accomplice of FETÖ, I would be jailed without charges and held for who-knows-how-long.
  • My Cold Warrior father, Richard Pipes, could visit Leningrad in 1959.

  • This is despite my having a long record of being critical of the Gülen movement. For example, the Middle East Quarterly, a journal I publish, ran so important a critical article on Hizmet by Rachel Sharon-Krespin in 2009 that it was translated and prominently featured by the leftist Turkish daily Cumhuriyet.
  • An arch critic of the Soviet Union, such as my father, Richard Pipes, had no problem visiting Russia in the still-repressive post-Stalinist era. In other words, Ankara, a member of NATO and a formal ally of the United States, imposes a higher level of thought control than did the U.S.S.R.
  • Turkish Airlines would seem to be the only airline whose passengers must pass an ideological test if they hope to complete their journey without danger of getting thrown in jail.

I have visited Turkey, one of my favorite destinations, 10 times over 45 years, with the final trip in 2012. I shall miss the country. Like tens of millions of Turks, I look forward to celebrating the early termination of the Erdoğan regime.

Daniel Pipes (DanielPipes.org, @DanielPipes) is president of the Middle East Forum.

By Daniel Pipes  |  February 22, 2017  |  Permalink

Turkey Mulls Purchase of Russian S-400 Air Defense System

Turkey is in talks with Russia to buy S-400 surface-to-air missiles.

ANKARA, Turkey — In what would be a snub to NATO, the Turkish government has said it may buy the Russian-made S-400 for its near-mystery program to build the country's first long-range air and anti-missile defense system.

Defence Minister Fikri Isik said Feb. 22 that talks between Turkey and Russia for the potential acquisition of the S-400 system "made quite [the] progress."

"The S-400 [system] looks like the closest option," Isik said. But the minister cautioned that "we are not at a stage of signing a deal tomorrow."

Isik said that Turkey's priority was to indigenously develop a system that would permanently protect Turkey against any attack.

Isik's statement came when the three-nation group that builds the Medium Extended Air Defense System, or MEADS, was offering Turkey what looks like a customized partnership to construct a long-range air defense architecture for the country. Turkey and the MEADS group have been in talks for a potential deal since April.

The United States, Germany and Italy developed the ground-mobile air and missile defense system intended to replace the Patriot missile system through a NATO program. They jointly spent $4 billion for the development of the system.

For its long-range air defense system, dubbed T-LORAMIDS, Turkey in September 2013 selected China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corporation's $3.44 billion solution, which defeated rival bids from Eurosam, maker of the SAMP/T; a consortium of Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, maker of the Patriot system; and the Russian-made S-300/S-400 option.

In its 2013 assessment, Turkey's procurement officials found the Russian offer "exorbitantly expensive." Under pressure from its NATO allies, Turkey later scrapped the preliminary deal with CPMIEC and the competition.

Since then Ankara has held talks with the Western contenders, but it also commissioned two domestic state-controlled companies, Aselsan and Roketsan, to locally develop the system.

Burak Bekdil is an Ankara-based political analyst and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.

By Burak Bekdil  |  February 22, 2017  |  Permalink

Turkey Aims to Produce Long-range Missiles

Turkey hopes to bring targets as far away as Cairo and Budapest within range of its missiles.

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey's state-controlled missile-maker Roketsan is developing a long-range ground-to-ground missile and weapons system, the country's procurement office has announced on its website.

The Undersecretariat for Defense Industries, or SSM, said that "deliveries continue on in line with the program's timetable." But SSM did not say if the deliveries were prototypes or the systems, dubbed "Bora." SSM did say the systems are required by the Turkish Land Forces.

An SSM official familiar with the program would not comment on the status of Project Bora, but said the end goal of the program is to earn capabilities to design, perform qualification and progress into serial production of the Bora system.

Security analysts say Turkey would eventually aim to produce ground-to-ground missiles with a range of up to 1,000 kilometers.

Some of the foreign capitals falling within that range if a missile is fired from Turkey include Damascus, Baghdad, Tehran, Tel Aviv, Cairo, Belgrade, Athens, Kiev and Budapest.

"If Turkey makes verifiable progress in its 'offensive' [ground-to-ground] long-range missile system, this will inevitably have repercussions in the region. Some of the countries that feel politically and militarily threatened by Turkey would seek ways to develop or buy systems that would intercept the Turkish system. Secondly, they may seek ways to develop or buy their own offensive systems, sparking a kind of missile race within this very turbulent region," a security analyst said.

In 2016, Turkey's top procurement official and SSM chief Ismail Demir said Turkey might develop "offensive" missile systems in addition to its plans to build a long-range air and anti-missile defense system. He said the efforts to develop offensive missiles were meant to improve deterrence capabilities.

Burak Bekdil is an Ankara-based political analyst and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.

By Burak Bekdil  |  February 6, 2017  |  Permalink

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