Tag Archives: Saudi Arabia

The Temple Mount as symbol of Muslim fanaticism

In recent weeks, there have been numerous media reports warning about escalating tensions and possible violence on the Temple Mount.  Even if you just read the headlines and leads, the situation sounds pretty dire, as this selection from Al Monitor, Sky News and the Washington Post illustrates:

Israeli Restrictions at Al-Aqsa Mosque Could Spark Violence: Israel is imposing tighter restrictions on Palestinian Muslims wishing to access Al-Aqsa Mosque while allowing more Jewish visits that disrespect Islamic customs.”

Sacred Shrines Become ‘Ticking Time Bomb: ‘The chief cleric at one of the world’s holiest mosques tells Sky News that acts of Jewish prayer could spark a regional war.”

Jewish activists want to pray on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, raising alarm in Muslim world.”

These headlines and leads also tell us already who is to blame for this potentially explosive situation: Jews who want to visit the Temple Mount and maybe even pray there. Well, who could imagine a greater outrage than Jews wanting to visit and perhaps pray at the historic site of the Jewish Temples?  And who would dispute that followers of the “religion of peace” have every right to react to such an outrage with threats of massive violence? After all, Muslims are used to having their holiest sites off-limits to “infidels.” True, frustrated journalists who don’t make it into Mecca and Medina may point out that “You don’t have to be a Catholic to go to the Vatican. You don’t have to be Jewish to go to the Western Wall… You don’t have to be Buddhist to hear the Dalai Lama speak” – but there is obviously no reason to expect similar openness from Islam. Indeed, as a Guardian contributor casually remarked: “a billion Muslims worldwide would go ballistic” if Jews were allowed to freely visit the Temple Mount and pray there. And of course, in the Guardian as elsewhere, it’s the Jews who are the extremists.

However, this kind of reporting and commentary isn’t as biased as it may seem, because it unfortunately reflects the view of the Israeli authorities.  As a recent Jerusalem Post report about violent attacks by Muslims explains:

“Although the [Israeli] Supreme Court has upheld Jewish prayer rights at the Temple Mount – which is overseen by the Wakf Muslim religious trust – the court also allows police to prevent any form of worship there if they believe such activities will incite a ‘disturbance to the public order.’ […] Asked what has precipitated the pronounced uptick in violence, Police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said Arabs are growing increasingly incensed by religious Jews who increasingly illegally pray there in an act of civil disobedience. ‘The Arabs don’t like Jews coming there to pray, and an extreme group of Jews is going there to provoke them,’ he said.”

In other words, Israel’s Supreme Court has acknowledged that Jews have the right to pray on the Temple Mount, but it has also given Muslims a veto right: if they don’t like it and become violent, then they’ll get their way and Jews who exercise their supposed right are accused of engaging in a provocative “act of civil disobedience.” In practice that means that the Saudi policy of treating “infidels” like dogs who have to be kept off Muslim holy grounds is all too often also enforced on the Temple Mount.

Temple Mount threats

 Sky News screenshot

While I myself am not religious and have little sympathy for the political agenda of the more prominent activists who push for greater access to the Temple Mount, I don’t quite agree with the conclusion offered in a recent article by Avi Issacharoff that “[r]adical Muslim and Jewish groups at times seem to have forged an unholy alliance to push for holy war.”

As most of the reports on anything that happens on the Temple Mount emphasize, it is probably the most explosive spot on earth – but it is so explosive because the whole world takes it for granted that it is perfectly acceptable that “a billion Muslims worldwide would go ballistic” if they had to acknowledge the fact that first and foremost Jews, but also Christians have a historic attachment to the Temple Mount and that the claim of exclusive Muslim control is a ridiculous anachronism rooted in the glorification of Islamic imperialism and supremacism.

One of the very few Muslims to publicly acknowledge the long pre-Islamic history of the Temple Mount and its significance is Qanta Ahmed, who earlier this year published a fascinating four-part report on her visit to the site. In the final part of her report, she recounts her visit to the Al Aqsa mosque, where her Muslim guide showed her some massive ancient columns, explaining: “This was the entrance to the Second Jewish Temple that was here before Al Aqsa. You can see it is absolutely distinct.”

Reflecting on this sight, Qanta Ahmed writes:

“Somehow, these hardy arches, these massive pillars had escaped even the Romans’ determined destruction of the Second Temple. Before this place was made ours, it had clearly been theirs. We were on borrowed ground.”

Already in a melancholic mood from the decay and neglect she witnessed all over Islam’s supposedly third-holiest site – something noted also more recently by another Muslim visitor – Qanta Ahmed ends her report with a somber conclusion:

“Nowhere in my long ago travels and imperfect memory is the anoxia of Islamism more apparent than [in] the spent bosom of the Farthest Mosque [i.e. Al Aqsa]. Here, we have become the Farthest Muslims. I feel our departure most acutely in Jerusalem, the world’s gentle biographer, the beating, romantic heart of all belief, to all People, of all Books. Jerusalem, dear Muslims, is home to a gilded dome rendered hollow, little more than a fading husk to the richness once contained therein. She is ours no more.”

Once we hear even remotely similar sentiments from Muslim leaders, we will know that the Middle East is on the mend and peace is really possible.

In the meantime, it would be already a big step in the right direction if journalists and commentators hesitated a bit before they nonchalantly report – and implicitly justify – threats of Muslim violence. Ironically enough, the recent “Islamophobia” report of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) lectures us that the notion “that Muslims are inclined to violence including revenge and retaliation” is “Islamophobic.”  So the next time a Sky News reporter hears the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem threatening that the “whole region will be engulfed by war” if Jews want to pray on the Temple Mount, he could perhaps ask the Grand Mufti to explain this threat in view of the historic Jewish attachment to the Temple Mount and claims that Islam is a “religion of peace.” And maybe next time a Guardian blogger – particularly if he happens to be a Christian priest – writes about how easily “a billion Muslims worldwide would go ballistic,” he could ask himself what it would take for him to write with equal understanding about the threat of a billion Christians worldwide going ballistic.

As long as the media depict Muslim violence in the name of Islam as an inevitable reaction to any perceived provocation and give a free pass to the Muslim leaders who never tire to threaten such violence, we can regard the OIC definition of “Islamophobia” as no more than a cynical political tool that allows Muslim leaders to incite violence with impunity – and we can expect that the Temple Mount will remain a dangerous symbol of Muslim fanaticism.

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First published at my JPost blog on December 12, 2013

 

Destroying Muslim heritage [updated]

There is a veritable industry out there producing an endless stream of “reports” about imaginary Israeli efforts to destroy, damage or defile Muslim sites, in particular the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. I have repeatedly written about this vicious campaign that goes back to the days of Haj Amin al Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, who later gained notoriety as a Nazi collaborator. Many recent examples of this ongoing incitement have been compiled by Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), and for the very latest installment, you can always turn to the website of Quds Media Center .

The manufactured outrage that usually accompanies the false reports on invented Israeli transgressions against Muslim holy places stands in stark contrast to the docile silence that has allowed Saudi authorities to transform Islam’s holiest places into glitzy luxury destinations.

However, by now several reports highlighting the destruction of historic Islamic sites in Saudi Arabia have appeared in the media. A CNN report includes some fascinating photos dramatically illustrating how much reckless construction has transformed the area of Islam’s holiest site.

CNN Mecca screenshot

As the CNN report notes:

“Lavish skyscrapers now tower over devotees circling the Kaaba in the Grand Mosque.

Most imposing is the Royal Mecca Clock Tower, a 120-floor hotel that resembles London’s Big Ben and which, at 601 meters, is the world’s second tallest building.

The U.S.-based Institute for Gulf Affairs estimates that 95% of Mecca’s millennium-old buildings have been demolished in the past two decades.”

The Independent has also published several related reports; the most recent one is headlined “The photos Saudi Arabia doesn’t want seen – and proof Islam’s most holy relics are being demolished in Mecca.”

Saudi destruction 1of3

Previous reports include a September 2011 piece on “Mecca for the rich: Islam’s holiest site ‘turning into Vegas’” and another report from last October about “Medina: Saudis take a bulldozer to Islam’s history.”

Saudi destruction 2of3 Saudi destruction 3of3

In a related article in October 2012, The Independent’s Jerome Taylor asked “Why don’t more Muslims speak out against the wanton destruction of Mecca’s holy sites?

It’s of course a good question given that the affected sites are part of Islam’s holiest places.

As Taylor pointed out:

“One area that you might think would see Muslims speaking out with one voice is the wholesale archaeological and historical destruction of Islam’s birthplace. Over the past twenty years, fuelled by their petro-dollars and intolerant Wahabi backers, the Saudi authorities have embarked on cultural vandalism of breath-taking proportions.

Mecca and Medina, the two holiest cities in Islam, are being systematically bulldozed to make way for gleaming sky scrapers, luxury hotels and shopping malls. […] Most appallingly dozens of early Islamic sites – including those with a direct link to the Prophet himself – have been wiped off the map. The situation is so bad that the Washington based Gulf Institute estimates that 95 percent of the millennium old buildings in the two cities have been destroyed in the past twenty years.”

Taylor goes on to argue that “Muslim silence on this issue isn’t just cowardly, it’s deeply hypocritical,” noting that it is of course “politically a lot more convenient to blame infidels for disrespecting your religion’s founder than it is to point the finger of blame at your own kind.”

But while nothing may beat the political convenience of getting all worked up about imaginary Israeli plans to destroy Al Aqsa, it turns out that the real destruction wreaked by the Saudis includes a centuries-old column (possibly dating back to the 8th century) that was “supposed to mark the spot where Muslims believe Muhammad began his heavenly journey on a winged horse, which took him to Jerusalem and heaven in a single night.”

This means of course that from the monuments associated with Muhammad’s legendary “Night Journey,” only the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem remains.

I doubt very much that any of the purveyors of the “Al-Aqsa-in-danger”-libel and similar incitement had anything to say about this. And if one hears anything from these quarters, one can expect something along the lines of a screed posted last December by Iran English Radio under the promising title “Saudi-Zionist plot to destroy cultural heritage of Muslims.” About two-thirds of the piece are devoted to summarizing western media reports about the destruction of Islamic sites in Saudi Arabia – with some added heartfelt comments like: “the Saudis are following the footsteps of the pagan Arabs in their hatred of Islam, and the Prophet’s family;” but inevitably, the last third moves on to all the usual fantasies about nefarious “Zionist” plots that justify the conclusion that “the Wahabbis and the Zionists have joined hands to destroy the cultural and religious heritage of the Islamic world.”

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Cross-posted from my JPost blog.

Update:

Under the wonderful title “McMecca: The Strange Alliance of Clerics and Businessmen in Saudi Arabia,” The Atlantic has now also published a piece on the destruction of historical sites in Islam’s holiest city. Zvika Krieger notes there that “developers and retailers have found an unlikely ally in Wahhabi clerics, who consider the veneration of historical sites to be a form of idolatry, and are happy to see all them demolished.”

Krieger highlights a pamphlet published by Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs that was endorsed by the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia and distributed at the Prophet’s Mosque – where Mohammed, Abu Bakr, and the Islamic Caliph Umar ibn Al Khattab are believed to be buried – which declared: “The green dome shall be demolished and the three graves flattened in the Prophet’s Mosque.”

According to the article, examples of already destroyed sites include an “ancient house belonging to Mohammed [that] was…razed to make room for, among other developments, a public toilet facility. An ancient mosque belonging to Abu Bakr has now been replaced by an ATM machine. And the sites of Mohammed’s historic battles at Uhud and Badr have been…paved to put up a parking lot.”

Krieger writes that when he questioned the head of all the hajj-related construction projects about the destruction of historical sites in Mecca, “he seemed unconcerned about their religious significance. More important to him was that the hajj was ‘a good opportunity to visit Mecca and Medina, do some shopping, make a vacation out of it.’”

It should go without saying that only Muslim vacationers are welcome in Saudi Arabia’s holy cities…

Saudi apartheid[Screenshot]

 

Christmas news for Christians

Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar once promised his audience during a mass rally in Gaza that “Islam will enter every house and will spread over the entire world;” more recently, the mufti of the Jordan-based Palestine Liberation Army seems to have entertained similar hopes.

Maybe it’s people like Zahar and the militant mufti that Walter Russell Mead has in mind when he notes that a new report from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life “will make a lot of people unhappy.” Mhm, and Mead’s headline won’t be much of a consolation for those unhappy people, either: “The Missionaries Win: Christianity Becomes Global Religious Superpower.”

Mead highlights some of the most important findings of the report:

Christianity in the last one hundred years grew to become the world’s most widespread and diverse religion as well as the largest.  Roughly one third of the world’s almost seven billion people are (or at least say they are) Christian.  The second largest religion, Islam, claims about one fourth of the world’s population.

The most dramatic change in the last 100 years is Christianity’s global surge.  In 1910, there were about 9 million Christians in sub-Saharan Africa, the Pew survey reports.  Today there are more than half a billion.  This fact is of interest to geopoliticians as much as to believers: sub-Saharan Africa remains the scene of intense Christian-Muslim competition, a competition that frequently breaks out into violence.  The Christians appear to be winning the “race for Africa” at least for now as more than 60 percent of sub-Saharan Africans look to the Cross rather than to the Crescent.  As the US increases its presence in Africa, the common religious orientation will likely make for better and deeper ties.

In another major development, Christianity has achieved a significant presence on the mainland of Asia. […] the future of Christianity as a global faith will likely depend on what happens in countries in East, South and Southeast Asia. […]

As Mead points out, religious demography is a problematic field, but the Pew report provides the most reliable information available – and, so says the professor, because “familiarity with religious history, religious culture and religious demography is essential for anybody who aspires to be a serious student of world affairs; this Pew report is not to be missed.”

To add just one observation from the report’s executive summary – which explains why Zahar and the militant mufti are so upbeat about the ultimate victory of Islam:

Though Christianity began in the Middle East-North Africa, today that region has both the lowest concentration of Christians (about 4% of the region’s population) and the smallest number of Christians (about 13 million) of any major geographic region.

Particularly in the Christmas season, it’s popular in some quarters to blame one of the Middle East’s tiniest countries for the plight of the region’s Christian population…

Perhaps less known is the fact that due to an influx of Christian workers and refugees, some think that there are “enough newcomers now for a Catholic cathedral in every major Israeli city.”

Another piece of rather surprising news can be found at the website of the National Catholic Reporter, where a lengthy post under the hopeful title “Liberating the Christian voice in the Arab Spring” claims that

Israel is not the only country in the Middle East where the Christian population is experiencing growth. Statistics provided at last October’s Synod for the Middle East show that of the sixteen nations that make up the Middle East, seven have seen spikes in their Christian population since 1980: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Yemen. All are part of the Arabian Peninsula.

No doubt in all these places – and particularly in Saudi Arabia – construction workers are frantically building cathedrals and churches to provide the “spiking” Christian population with adequate places for worship…

And sadly, as far as the (equally unrealistic) hopes about the “Arab Spring” are concerned, it seems that almost 100 000 Egyptian Copts have already given up any such hopes and left their country.

Who’s defaming Islam?

Efforts to combat “Islamophobia” have long been on the agenda of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), but there are legitimate concerns about the implications of various initiatives that have sought to criminalize any “defamation” of Islam. Whenever I read about these issues – raised e.g. in this recent piece – I’m left with a lot of questions, because it seems to me that it is often Muslims, and indeed Muslim authorities, that are the worst offenders.

Consider the examples from the Saudi textbook on “Studies from the Muslim World” quoted in my previous post. To say that the Koran encourages Jew-hatred surely sounds “Islamophobic,” but unfortunately, that seems to be very much the message that Saudi authorities want to convey to the millions of Muslim youngsters who study this textbook.

Similarly, it would seem definitely defamatory to say that one of the most influential Muslim preachers believes that Hitler should be seen as “divine punishment” for the Jews – but unfortunately, this is just one of many shocking statements made by Sheik Yusuf Qaradawi, who is revered as a great scholar by many millions of Muslims.

Western non-Muslims are often admonished to avoid formulations that associate Islam with terrorism or racism. One frequently cited argument is that “just as the Ku Klux Klan does not speak for Christianity,” terrorists who claim to be motivated by Islamic teaching don’t speak for Islam and do not deserve to have their claim taken seriously.

But in this context it’s instructive to recall that the UN has not adopted a definition of terrorism because the OIC wants to make sure that the definition would not include violent acts that its Muslim member countries deem part of “the legitimate struggle of peoples in the exercise of their right to self-determination.” As everyone knows, this means that Kurdish terrorists will remain terrorist, whereas “jihad” as defined in the Saudi “Studies from the Muslim World,” won’t be terrorism:

“Jihad for the sake of Allah is the only path to liberating Palestine. Only through jihad did the Muslims conquer Jerusalem, and only through jihad did the Crusaders leave Palestine. Likewise, only through jihad will the Jews leave Palestine.”

There are plenty of examples indicating that the Muslim Brotherhood – which, given its impressive popular support can now definitely claim to be a “mainstream” group, and which is often described as “moderate” in the Western media – has a similar view. And no matter what Western liberals may want to believe, the term “jihad” most definitely does not refer to some struggle for self-improvement here.

The obvious problem is that the OIC’s efforts to shield Islam from defamation by non-Muslims will inevitably look like an attempt to proscribe free speech as long as authorities that claim a leading role in the Muslim world as well as mainstream Muslim groups and widely revered Muslim scholars come out with statements that sound quite “Islamophobic” when quoted as representative of mainstream Muslim views.

 

Saudi lessons in Jew-hatred

What is taught in Saudi Arabia’s schools matters a lot, because the kingdom’s lavishly funded support for “Muslim” education – and Wahhabi indoctrination – abroad means that Saudi textbooks and the ideas they propagate are disseminated not only all over the Muslim world, but also among Muslim communities in Europe, the US and elsewhere. This is hardly a trifling matter given that estimates indicate that the Saudis may have been spending some $ 2 billion annually over more than two decades on their “educational” efforts.

In the wake of the terror attacks on 9/11, the Saudi export of Islamist fundamentalism began to attract some much-deserved scrutiny and criticism, and the Saudis found themselves confronted with demands to revise particularly offensive teachings. But a recent study indicates that, despite Saudi promises to address concerns about incitement in textbooks, little has changed in the decade since 9/11.

Part of the problem seems to be that Saudi officials – themselves a product of this education – can’t quite understand what they are supposed to change. Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom and the author of the study on Saudi textbooks, recounts that the Saudi Justice Minister explained to her that the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” – a notorious forgery – are “a very old book here” that was also in his own father’s library.

Continued concern about Saudi textbooks and the dissemination of fundamentalist jihadi ideology is particularly warranted given the transformation of the Middle East in the wake of the so-called “Arab Spring”. The enormous popularity of Islamist parties and the unexpected electoral success of Salafi candidates in Egypt – who can count on “spiritual as well as material” support from Saudi Arabia – illustrates the potential reach of Saudi-sponsored “education” that is already teaching many millions of Muslim students to distrust non-Muslims and hate Jews.

A glimpse of the kind of lessons offered in Saudi textbooks is available in a recent MEMRI-report that provides translations of several pages from a twelfth-grade Saudi textbook entitled “Studies from the Muslim World.” The book includes a chapter on the Palestinian cause that teaches students every possible antisemitic lesson. Here are a few of the relevant passages from the MEMRI translation:

Whoever studies the nature of the conflict between the Muslims and the Jews understands an important fact, [namely that] this is a religious conflict, not a dispute about politics or nationality, or a conflict between races or tribes, or a fight over land or country, as some describe it. This is a deeply rooted enmity, a conflict between truth and falsehood, between monotheism and polytheism, between heresy and faith. The enmity between us and the Jews will not cease under any circumstances until one of two things [happens]: either they join our religion and become Muslims, or we abandon our religion, God forbid. [Page 91]

The noble Koran is the best source to acquaint us with the [Jews’] personality and psychological makeup. The expressions ‘Jews’ and ‘Children of Israel’ appear more than 63 times in the book of Allah, may He be exalted. They were the nation charged with ruling the earth, but Allah took their [role of] leadership away from them due to their corruption and destructiveness, and because they killed the prophets. The following are a few brief descriptions of some of their traits, as they appear in the noble Koran … [Pages 92-94, including 17 examples of supposed Jewish perfidy from the Koran.]

Zionism does not aspire to win over the friendship of others, for it does not want them to join it. Therefore, the Jews’ relations with the nations among which they live have been characterized by tension and instability, which caused the peoples to support one another against [the Jews], to molest them, to deal them bitter blows, and to expel them. Since the Jews have been in the Diaspora, they have not known peace with any nation because they have [always] striven to [perpetrate] fraud, deceit, and cunning. There is no better proof of this than the Muslims’ experience with them in Medina – [which caused] the Prophet to expel them and order to banish them from the Arabian Peninsula – and what happened to them in countries such as Germany, Poland, Spain, and elsewhere.

Throughout their history, the Jews have never attributed any importance to peace… believing it impossible to establish peace with other nations. They even believe that the nations around them must live in perpetual strife that will undermine their stability, so that they will be unable to fight [the Jews]. This may explain the Jews’ aspirations to spread destruction and corruption by various means, even in countries with which they claim to have what they call ‘peace agreements.’ [Page 106]

Jihad for the sake of Allah is the only path to liberating Palestine. Only through jihad did the Muslims conquer Jerusalem, and only through jihad did the Crusaders leave Palestine. Likewise, only through jihad will the Jews leave Palestine. [Page 112]

In his address to the United Nations General Assembly last September, President Obama rightly pointed out that “Israel’s children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them.” But what Israel’s children know, few adults outside Israel know, because the mainstream media don’t report much on the rampant antisemitism that is an everyday feature of Arab and Muslim education, entertainment and political discourse.

Instead, much ink – real and virtual – is wasted on lecturing Israel about the need to take “risks” for peace. But the people doing the lecturing often seem to know and care little about the risks Israel is facing in a region where every year millions of young minds are poisoned with lessons designed to teach them that Jews deserve to be despised and hated.

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Cross-posted from my JPost blog.

UPDATE:

I’ve just read the recently published CST report on “Antisemitic Discourse in Britain in 2010.” (pdf here) On page 45, the report notes instances of “Antisemitism in UK-Saudi school texts”:

BBC’s Panorama revealed the use of Saudi Arabian antisemitic text books within a network of over 40 British Saudi-linked part-time educational establishments, attended by approximately 5,000 Muslim children. (68) This included schoolchildren being asked to list the “reprehensible qualities” of Jews and statements that Jews are “cursed by G-d” and resemble “monkeys and pigs”. Fifteen-year-olds were taught: “Zionists want to establish world domination for Jews by inciting world conflict.”