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BLOG 418 January 21, 2019

WISE ON THE MIDDLE EAST ~ Each week Robert L. Wise, PhD, explores the Middle Eastern situation, ranging from Egypt through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the surrounding area. Wise first traveled to Israel and the neighboring countries in 1968. Two of his sons taught in Jordan and Lebanon universities. Wise presents an objective view of the behind the scenes situation in these countries.

Last week I concluded with the statement. “Let’s face the facts. The enemy is Assad and the threat is Iran and Russia.  ISIS remains fighting and is not defeated.

One week later, the headlines in the media screamed, “Syria Attack kills 4 U.S. Citizens.” The suicide bombing killed at least 16 people. The Associated Press reported, “The strategic northeastern town of Manbij highlighted the threat posed by the Islamic State group despite Trump’s claims.” In seven days, the reports confirmed the fact that ISIS is far from dead.

The arbitrary and abrupt withdrawal of US troops has left the door open not only for more killing of American personnel, but for a power play that will further destabilize the region. Who is applauding the sudden retreat of the USA?  Russian and Iran.

The foregoing is not my opinion, but what allies and particularly Israel are currently saying.

What further complicates the situation are the divergent opinions expressed by National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo trying to assure the Kurds and Israel that Trump didn’t really mean what he said. Yet, the most recent reports seem to indicate military equipment is  currently being withdrawn. Who knows what the reality of the situation actually is! The impression one receives is that informed leaders in the current administration are trying to temper Trump’s uninformed decision.

The immediate wild-card is Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erodgan. On December 14, 2018, President Trump said Erodgan assured him Turkey would not attack the Kurds. On December 17, 2018, Erodgan reiterated his threat to attack the Kurds. If that threat is carried out, one of America’s most faithful and consistent allies are open to an assault from the Turks.

Even though a NATO ally, Turkey has been on a path of authoritarianism and support for the Sunni faction of Islam. In addition, Erodgan has been deliberately increasing his ties with Russia. This situation makes Trump’s talk of withdrawal all the more ominous.

So, where are we? Not in a good place!

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BLOG 286 January 18, 2016

Last week we started the New Year by considering the problems facing Israel. This week we look in the opposite direction: the problems with ISIS. While the Islamic push has been slowed, the issues have far from slipped from the headlines. The West must remember what makes this terrorist menace tick and why fringe personalities fall for their propaganda.

Regardless of what Western politicians say, ISIS is fighting a religious war and the people who are recruited believe they are fighting for Allah. History has made it clear that the worst expression of hostility is a religious war because the soldiers believe God is on their side and He sanctions every act they commit. Consequently, ISIS remains an extremists expression of medieval Islam. They believe that even their defeats were predicted in the Koran and are a sign of the approaching final battle between good and evil (of course all non-Muslims are the bad guys). When they are pushed back, it is only another indication that the final end is near.

Is such thinking powerful? Simply look at American history. William Miller believed Jesus Christ would return sometime between March 1843 and March 1844. Fifty thousand believers lined up to follow the Millerite frenzy. Joseph Smith started Mormonism with the proclamation that that the New Jerusalem would be in Jackson County, Missouri. Even today a small band of Mormons expect the resurrection of Adam and the prophets along with Joe to start the new millennium. Are these proclamations magnetic? Absolutely!

Obviously, all Muslims are not jihadists anymore than the Millerites represent biblical Christianity. However, the extremist are the order of the day in Syria, Iraq, and the new state called ISIS. Bernard Haykel, the foremost secular authority on the subject, said, “there is an assiduous, obsessive, seriousness” about their dedication to the Koran.

ISIS’s destruction of objects dating back to antiquity is violence in the name of the quest for racial purity. The Koran specifies crucifixion as one of the punishments for infidelity. While the massacre of prisoners is completely repugnant to the West, the beheadings and destruction are following the prophecy and example of the prophet Muhammad in punctilious detail. ISIS is fundamentally reliving the earliest period in its history when Islam conquered with the sword. Suicide bombers get an automatic free ticket to heaven along with other benefits for killing themselves in religious warfare.

Obviously, such promises are powerful tools for recruiting soldiers. The poor and unstable are ready for their trip out of this world. Beats Obama Care all to pieces!

If the current administration believes it can bomb this ideology out of existence, they better think twice. The West has again been pulled into a war that has gone off and on for over 1,200 years. Where do we go next? There is no easy road out.

As long as Russia props up Assad as the ruler of Syria, the civil war will continue. In the meantime, more innocent people will be killed or attempt to immigrate. Sorry, but it doesn’t look like a good year ahead.

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Filed under America, middle east, Violence


            When Americans think of extremism, they conjure up ideas like the Jehovah Witness group going from house-to-house pushing their Watchtower magazines. A Mormon missionary riding a bicycles down the street wearing a white shirt and black tie with pants to match might come to mind. In the world of politics, the Left wing points to the Tea-Party types as the extremist while the Ann Coulter’s of the right point in the other direction. Depending on your viewpoint, you either like or dislike these groups. But you aren’t waiting in the bushes to shoot one of them if they come by your house.

            Extremism in the Middle East is an entirely different breed of cat. Shiites and Sunni are still killing each other over a difference of opinion about a successor to Mohammed that happened way over a thousand years ago. Westerns cannot make sense out of such hostilities.

Some years ago, I was in Jerusalem and had gone up to the Temple Mount. Near the Al-Aska Mosque was a large fountain used by Muslims to wash their hands and feet before entering the mosque. I was looking into the reflection pool when a Muslim man approached me and warned me to get out. I told him that I had as much right to be there as he did. My answer nearly got me assaulted and possibly killed. What I will always remember was the fierce, grazed look in his eyes. This “true believer” was ready to attack the infidel who had wandered across some imaginary line.

Can you imagine a Baptist in America threatening a Presbyterian for picking up a hymnal in one of their churches?

However, here’s how it is playing in Iraq today. Last week a suicide bomber killed 23 people inside a Shiite mosque during evening prayers. Looking like the rest of the worshippers, the suicide bomber simply sat down in the midst of the crowd and blew himself up. Since the beginning of April, more than 2,000 Iraqis have been killed in extremists attacks. These massacres have been the most sustained violence in Iraqi since 2008. What’s it all about? Just religious differences between the Shiites and Sunnis!

In the village of Sabaa al-Bour a suicide bomber in a Shiite mosque killed 14 people and wounded 32 others. Moreover, police officers are often the targets of these attacks. Not only driving explosive laden vehicles into police stations, the extremists often attack checkpoints.

The Al Qaeda followers in Iraq often assault the Shiite-led government in an attempt to undermine public confidence in this element.

The point? Americans paid no attention to this highly destructive factor and the meaning of religious extremism in their various forays in the Middle East. As we erred in Vietnam by not assessing how the natives thoughts, we have made the same error in the Middle East. To avoid these terrible clashes, we need experts to explore the mindset of the locals and how various groups differ.

We must not underestimate the potential of extremism to produce destruction.

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Filed under Iraq, middle east, Violence