June 29/17

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For Today
Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven

Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 16/13-20/:"When Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah."

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness
Second Letter to the Corinthians 11/21-30/:"To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that! But whatever anyone dares to boast of I am speaking as a fool I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they ministers of Christ? I am talking like a madman I am a better one: with far greater labours, far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death. Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea;on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I am not indignant? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness."

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on June 28-29/17
Paraguayan man linked to Hezbollah faces drug charges in Miami/Jay Weaver/Miami Herald/June 27/17
Rouhani faces unprecedented attack by Iranian hard-liners/Rohollah Faghihi/Al Monitor/June 28/17
What Might be Missing in the Muslim World/Denis MacEoin/Gatestone Institute/June 28/17
Violence against Women: Some Inconvenient Data for the Corrupt UN/Burak Bekdil/Gatestone Institute/June 28/17
Why Americans Feel So Good about a Mediocre Economy/Noah Smith/Bloomberg/Al Arabiya/June 28/17
It Is Southern Syria, Smart Guys/Eyad Abu Shakra/Al Arabiya/June 28/17
Doha Must Raise the White Flag/Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Al Arabiya/June 28/17
US issues warning to Syria after finding 'potential preparations' for sarin attack/Julian Borger/The Guardian/June 28/17
Angela Merkel Embraces German Nationalism with a Twist/Leonid Bershidsky/Bloomberg/Al Arabiya/June 28/17

Titles For Latest Lebanese Related News published on June 28-29/17
Tenenti tells NNA situation in UNIFIL operations area stable, must remain so
Aoun calls to contain younger generation, keep it aloof from social scourges
Aoun receives telegram of congratulations from Trump
Report: Lebanon Still Faces Many Challenges After Vote Law
Johnson Welcomes Salameh's Appointment as New UN Libya Envoy
Calm Restored in Shatila Camp After Deadly Overnight Clashes
Franjieh Affirms Openness to All Sides
UN Refugee Cash Card Scheme Boosts Lebanese Grocers
Geagea, Austrian Ambassador tackle political situation
Berri accentuates salary scale ratification
Riachi, Collège Notre Dame de Louaize delegation take up internet safety media plan recommendations
Armed assailants break into alBaraka Bank in Cola, rob $70.000
Army: Three enemy gunboats infiltrate into territorial waters off Ras Naqoura
Army Commander meets with Consular Corps Dean in Yarzeh
Wed 28 Jun 2017/NNA - Army Commander Joseph Aoun met on Wednesday at his Yarzeh
Lebanese Deputy PM: We seek to Hold Parliamentary Polls before their Schedule
Paraguayan man linked to Hezbollah faces drug charges in Miami

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on June 28-29/17
US Defense Chief Rebukes Putin for 'Mischief'
Mattis says Assad took Trump's chemical warning 'seriously'
Iran Warns U.S. against 'Dangerous' Syria Escalation
Saudi Arabia: No Negotiations with Qatar over Demands
Iraqi CTS Forces to Push against Last ISIS-held Pocket in Mosul’s Old City
Assad in Hmeimim Base: ‘I Won’t Forget Moscow’s Stance’
Egypt Air Force Razes 12 Weapon-Loaded Vehicles Trying to Infiltrate Libyan Borders
Egyptian Warplanes Hit 'Arms Convoy from Libya'
Will Libya Succeed in Becoming ‘Europe’s Guardian’ to Stop Immigrants?
Fears of a New War in Gaza
Extension of State of Emergency Sparks Political Division in Turkey
NATO Says Non-US 2017 Defense Spending to Rise 4.3%
Helicopter Hurled Grenades at Venezuela Supreme Court
Swiss police arrest four with suspected terror links
Canada, European NATO states to raise defence spending by 4.3 pct in 2017

Latest Lebanese Related News published on June 28-29/17
Tenenti tells NNA situation in UNIFIL operations area stable, must remain so
Wed 28 Jun 2017/NNA - "The situation in the area of operations of the UNIFIL force in southern Lebanon has been calm and stable for 11 years, and it is essential that this calm continues," said UNIFIL spokesman, Andrea Tenenti, to the National News Agency. "The relationship with the Lebanese officials in Beirut has been very good, and our coordination with UNIFIL's main partner, the Lebanese army, is also outstanding," he added. Tackling the latest Israeli threats and hints at imminent war against Lebanon, Tenenti said "what we hear sometimes of high-pitched statements does not reflect the reality on the ground. At the last tripartite meeting, we have stressed the need to maintain stability, and both sides have underlined there commitment thereto."
As for the Israeli move to build a wall on the border with Lebanon, he said "we are watching the Blue Line, (...) and what matters to us is that security and stability along this Line continue to exist."

Aoun calls to contain younger generation, keep it aloof from social scourges
Wed 28 Jun 2017/ NNA - President of the Republic, Michel Aoun, called upon the Scout movement in Lebanon to contain young Lebanese and to keep them away from the destructive plagues that threaten them, including drugs. The president made these remarks during his meeting with a delegation of the Lebanese Scout Union, chaired by Joseph Khalil. He reiterated his call to combine efforts among those fighting against drugs, those working on awareness-raising among younger people against this danger, and those who provide treatment to drug addicts. According to the president, such coordination could achieve good results, including the drop in the number of drug addicts. The president said Scout action is the most important in the world, noting that Lebanon needed it because it is able to contain young people and save them from social scourges. For his part, Khalil affirmed that Scouts were always ready to serve the society and mobilized to give endlessly, out of belief in Lebanon as a country and a message. Separately, the head of state met with former minister Abdel Rahim Mourad.

Aoun receives telegram of congratulations from Trump
Wed 28 Jun 2017/NNA - President Michel Aoun received a cable of congratulations from his US counterpart, Donald Trump, on the occasion of the Eid al-Fitr. In the telegram, the US president extended, in the name of the American people, his warmest congratulations to Aoun and to the Lebanese people on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr. "As we celebrate this occasion, we remember the importance of compassion and goodwill. On this occasion, the United States renews its joint commitment with Lebanon to maintain these values," the cable read.

Report: Lebanon Still Faces Many Challenges After Vote Law
Naharnet/June 28/17/Although Lebanon's government agreed after long negotiations on a vote law that will govern its parliamentary elections in 2018, but it still has a lot of challenges ahead to face including repercussions of the Syrian war and the US sanctions on Hizbullah and the burgeoning crisis of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. “The government can not sleep on the glory of agreeing on a new electoral law or the completion of the Baabda Declaration because the challenges facing Lebanon at this stage are enormous,” ministerial sources told al-Joumhouria daily on Wednesday. “First, the repercussions of the Syrian war on Lebanon in light of reports about a new battle to be waged against the Islamic State militant group and the Nusra Front in the outskirts of Arsal,” said the sources on condition of anonymity pointing out the challenges. “Second, it must find ways to confront the US sanctions that will be imposed on Hizbullah in Lebanon and abroad, which could impact the financial and economic situation in the country and the overall general condition,” they added. “Third, the fate of displaced Syrians in Lebanon in light of new positions made by the UN and decision-making states calling for the 'absorption' of refugees where they are. Although President Michel Aoun has given this issue great significance, but he received no positive response from the international and Arab communities.”In June, Lebanon's cabinet approved after marathon negotiations a new electoral law based on proportional representation and 15 electoral districts, replacing the winner-takes-all system for the first time in the country's history. The elections are set to be held in May 2018.

Johnson Welcomes Salameh's Appointment as New UN Libya Envoy
Naharnet/June 28/17/Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson welcomed on Wednesday the appointment of Lebanese ex-culture minister Ghassan Salameh as Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Libya. “I welcome the appointment of Ghassan Salamh to the role of Special Representative of the UN Secretary General (SRSG) for Libya and head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL). Salamh brings a wealth of experience from three decades in public service and academia, specializing in international relations and conflict resolution,” said Johnson. “I would like to thank Martin Kobler for his hard work and dedication in the role of SRSG since November 2015, working tirelessly towards a better future for all Libyans,” he added. “The UK is at the forefront of international efforts to help bring the peace, stability and security that all Libyans deserve, which can only be achieved through an inclusive political deal within the framework of the Libyan Political Agreement. Salameh and his UN team will be central in achieving progress and I call on all Libyans and members of the international community to continue their full support for this important work,” Johsnon concluded.

Calm Restored in Shatila Camp After Deadly Overnight Clashes
Naharnet/June 28/17/Calm was restored on Wednesday in the Palestinian refugee camp of Shatila south of Beirut after nightlong armed clashes that left three people dead including two fugitives and an 8-year-old girl, media reports said. The Lebanese army deployed heavily in the area and managed to control the situation. Machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades were used in the clashes between group members affiliated to Bilal Akar -one of the most dangerous fugitives in the camp- and a group affiliated to Abou Mohammed Badran, said reports. Three people were killed including Bilal Akar, Samir Badran and a young girl of eight years old who was identified as Helena. The brother of Bilal Akar was seriously wounded, it was reported. On Wednesday, member of the political bureau of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine Ali Faisal told VDL (93.3) that the situation in the camp has returned to normal after coordination between the Palestinian forces and the Lebanese army. VDL added that Internal Security Forces in the south arrested a man, identified as Jamal Amer Akar, who was injured in the clashes and taken to a hospital in the southern town of al-Ghazieh. He was handed to police for interrogation and will be referred to the related authorities.

Franjieh Affirms Openness to All Sides
Naharnet/June 28/17/Marada Movement leader MP Sleiman Franjieh highlighted on Wednesday his openness to all sides and stressed that if he receives a second invitation from President Michel Aoun to the Baabda Palace, he will certainly meet it. "We are open to everyone. This was the spirit of Baabda meeting when we met the invitation of the President. If we receive another invitation, we shall meet it as well," said Franjieh addressing a delegation of Marada employees at Casino du Liban. Aoun invited Franjieh and ten other leaders to take part in a consultative meeting at Baabda Palace earlier in June. Aoun-Franjieh meeting was the first since Aoun's election. Franjieh had boycotted the binding parliamentary consultations to name a new premier as well as the latest presidential iftar banquet. Ties between the former allies were strained after Prime Minister Saad Hariri nominated Franjieh for the presidency before eventually switching his endorsement to Aoun. Regarding the upcoming legislative polls, Franjieh called for a "detailed review" of the preferential vote "for the sake of the allies."

UN Refugee Cash Card Scheme Boosts Lebanese Grocers
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/June 28/17/In three years, Lebanese grocer Ali Khiami hired six staff, invested in property and funded his children's university education. Business is booming -- thanks to Syrian refugees using UN debit cards. Displaced Syrian families in Lebanon are using electronic cards, topped up each month by the United Nations' World Food Program with $27 (24 euros) per person, for their grocery shopping. The WFP scheme has both helped refugees and delivered a windfall to cash-strapped Lebanese shop owners. "This program changed my life. I bought an apartment in Beirut and I paid for my three children's college degrees," said Khiami.
Since registering with the WFP, he has seen his personal income skyrocket from $2,000 per month to $10,000, allowing him to pay off a long-standing debt.
"I used to sell goods worth about 50 million Lebanese pounds (around $33,000) per year. Today, my turnover reaches 300 million pounds," said Khiami. A small blue sticker in the window of his cosy store in southern Beirut identifies it as one of the 500 shops taking part in the WFP scheme.
Lebanon, a country of just four million people, hosts more than one million refugees who fled the conflict that has ravaged neighboring Syria since 2011. The influx has put added strain on Lebanon's already frail water, electricity and school networks. The World Bank says the Syrian crisis has pushed an estimated 200,000 Lebanese into poverty, adding to the nation's one million poor. - Changing perceptions -With 700,000 Syrian refugees benefiting from the program, the debit cards are offsetting at least some of that economic pressure.
When they buy from Lebanese shops, the country's "economy is also benefiting from WFP's program, not just Syrian refugees," WFP spokesman Edward Johnson told AFP. The UN agency says Syrian refugees have spent $900 million at partner shops in Lebanon since the program was launched in 2013.
It selects stores based on their proximity to gatherings of Syrian refugees in camps or cities, as well as cleanliness, prices and availability of goods. Umm Imad, a Syrian customer at Khiami's store, said shopping with the card makes her feel much more "independent" than with the WFP's previous food stamp program. "Now I can buy what I need at home," she said. The scheme has also changed perceptions. Instead of seeing refugees as a burden, shopkeepers like Khiami see them as potential customers to be won over. He has begun stocking items favored by his Syrian customers, such as clarified butter, halwa -- sweets made of sesame, almonds, and honey -- and plenty of tea, "which Syrians love". "Syrian customers have bigger families, so they buy more than Lebanese customers," he said.'We sell more' -Ali Sadek Hamzeh, 26, owns several WFP-partnered shops near Baalbek in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, where dozens of informal refugee camps have sprung up on farmland.
"In eight months, I rented three new locations to stock merchandise and opened up a new fruit and vegetable store," Hamzeh told AFP. He said Syrian refugees make up around 60 percent of his customers, but he has also attracted new Lebanese clients with his lower prices. The debit card scheme is set to scale up after three large supermarket chains signed contracts with the WFP. They include the United Company for Central Markets (UCCM). Its 36 stores across Lebanon are even offering a seven percent discount on purchases made using the cards. "At the end of the day, we're a business and we're here to make a profit, but we also want to help out the WFP," the company's Sleiman Sleiman told AFP. "We sell more, so we buy more from our suppliers. All this generates economic activity," he said. But for some shop owners, partnering with the WFP has had a downside. Omar al-Sheikh manages a shop in Nuwayri, a district of western Beirut.Since he registered his store with WFP in 2013, his monthly profits have nearly doubled from $5,000 to $8,000 -- but at a price. "My profits went up, but I've lost about 20 percent of my Lebanese customer base. Lebanese customers don't like it when it's busy, and maybe they have some racist views," he said. Sheikh, 45, said a Lebanese shopper was annoyed one evening last week when he found the store's bread supply had run out. "You're just here for the Syrians, you only work for Syrians now!" the customer said. But Sheikh said he would continue to serve his Syrian customers.
"These are human beings. Their country is at war and we should help them."

Geagea, Austrian Ambassador tackle political situation
Wed 28 Jun 2017/NNA - Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea met on Wednesday at his Meerab residence with Austrian Ambassador to Lebanon, Marian Wrba, with talks between the pair reportedly touching on the general political situation in Lebanon and the broad region, in addition to the bilateral ties between Austria and Beirut. Talks also dwelt on the situation of the Lebanese community in Austria,

Berri accentuates salary scale ratification
Wed 28 Jun 2017/NNA - House Speaker, Nabih Berri, on Wednesday reiterated the importance of the implementation of laws in the various fields, stressing the need to summarily address the daily living conditions of citizens. Speaker Berri told visiting MPs, within the framework of "Wednesday Gathering", that the Parliament is gearing up for a broad workshop aimed at studying and approving vital and urgent project laws, first and foremost the series and salary scale. The Speaker elaborated that the public budget shall be included on the agenda of the Parliament's General Assembly for discussion and approval, after the Finance Committee concludes its discussion. Berri also disclosed that the United Nations had informed Lebanon of its readiness to patronize the demarcation of maritime borders. National Education Minister, Marwan Hamadeh, visited Berri today and well-wished him on Eid al-Fitr. On the other hand, Berri received a cable from US President, Donald Trump, congratulating him on Eid al-Fitr, affirming "the great meanings of this blessed month of tolerance, goodness and solidarity." The US President also renewed commitment to Lebanon. He also received similar congratulatory cables on Eid al-Fitr, notably from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and Cypriot House Speaker. Berri received phone calls on Eid al-Fitr from Foreign Minister, Gebran Bassil, and MP Samy Gemayel.

Riachi, Collège Notre Dame de Louaize delegation take up internet safety media plan recommendations
Wed 28 Jun 2017/ NNA - Information Minister, Melhem Riachi, on Wednesday met at his ministerial office with a delegation from Collège Notre Dame de Louaize, who briefed him on the recommendations of the School's media, educational and legal plan on internet safety. The delegation was led by School President, Father Charbel Haddad, who said on emerging that the meeting focused on the project primed by the School in the aim of protecting children online. "We will circulate this project amongst several ministries, starting with the Ministry of Information," Father Haddad said, highlighting the paramount importance of this project in the protection of children while using internet. The media plan recommended the launching of a media campaign that includes educational programs and articles on internet safety. The plan also beseeched media outlets to allocate ample space for family programs to promote the culture of safe use of internet. The plan also called for celebrating the World Cyber Safety Day held every February, in order to raise awareness on cyber safety usage, and holding more conferences, seminars, exhibitions and workshops on this topic at the national, regional and international levels.

Armed assailants break into alBaraka Bank in Cola, rob $70.000
Wed 28 Jun 2017/NNA - Two armed assailants Wednesday stormed into al-Baraka Bank Branch in Cola and robbed around 70.000 dollars, NNA field reporter said. In details, two shrouded assailants broke into al-Baraka Bank in Cola, whereby one of them fired shots at the Bank's roof to scare and intimidate employees, asking them to stay in their place under the threat of arms. Employees were forced to collect money in a bag. The two armed men looted said money and fled to an unknown destination aboard a motorcycle. The looting incident was caught on surveillance cameras which showed the images of the two assailants who stormed into the bank. Police patrols in Beirut and southern suburbs are currently prosecuting the perpetrators, in a bid to arrest them.

Army: Three enemy gunboats infiltrate into territorial waters off Ras Naqoura
Wed 28 Jun 2017/NNA - Three gunboats belonging to the Israeli enemy violated yesterday between 13.50 pm and 14.35 pm, the Lebanese territorial waters off Ras Naqoura, and infiltrated some 390 meters into the sea, a communiqué by the Lebanese army indicated on Wednesday.
Violations are a matter of coordination between the Lebanese Armed Forces and the UNIFIL.

Army Commander meets with Consular Corps Dean in Yarzeh

Wed 28 Jun 2017/NNA - Army Commander Joseph Aoun met on Wednesday at his Yarzeh office with Dean of the Honorary of Consular Corps of Lebanon, Honorary Consul General of the Republic of Singapore, Joseph Habis, accompanied by a delegation of general consuls.
The delegation expressed the Consular Corps' support to the Lebanese army, applauding its role in defending and preserving Lebanon's security and stability.

Lebanese Deputy PM: We seek to Hold Parliamentary Polls before their Schedule
Asharq Al-Awsat/June 28/17/Beirut – Government and parliamentary workshops are expected to be held in Lebanon after the Eid al-Fitr holiday in line with the outcome of the consultative meeting, which was held last week at the Baabda Palace, in parallel with the preparations for the upcoming parliamentary elections in May 2018. Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Ghassan Hasbani is supervising several files which will be tackled in the coming ministerial meetings, including the activation of infrastructure projects, the electricity and the garbage file, as well as the 2018 budget.
In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, Hasbani underlined the importance of holding cabinet sessions in various governorates, in order to boost cooperation between ministries on important infrastructure projects. “It is the first time in Lebanon that we see a comprehensive plan aimed at dealing with infrastructure issues,” he stated. Hasbani noted in this regard that he has held a series of meetings with 1,100 municipalities across the country, with whom he set out a list of priority projects, adding that ministerial meetings in the different governorates would be held as of end of August or beginning of September.
The cabinet, according to Hasbani, would extensively work on drafting an economic plan that would represent the basis of the 2018 budget, after the referral of this year’s budget for parliament’s approval. He added that the garbage crisis would be also be resolved during the upcoming ministerial meetings. A consultative meeting chaired by President Michel Aoun on Thursday gathered heads of the political parties participating in the current government and adopted the plan of action for the cabinet’s economic and reform items. Participants in the meeting stressed the need for administrative decentralization, noting in a statement: “Lebanon, which is economically sound, needs to implement a comprehensive economic plan, which will generate the state budget, secure economic growth, create jobs and promote balanced development.”The statement also called for the revival of the Economic and Social Council as soon as possible. Hasbani told Asharq Al-Awsat that the current government’s top priority was holding the parliamentary elections, stressing in this regard efforts to hold the polls ahead of the scheduled date in May. “The cabinet can do so, however, the issue is closely linked to the readiness of the Interior Ministry on the technical and practical levels,” he said. Other governmental priorities, according to the deputy premier, include the security situation, noting that Lebanon has become one of the most stable countries in the region.

علي عيسى من البراغوي الوثيق الصلة بحزب الله متهم بالتآمر لإدخال كوكايين إلى أميركا
Paraguayan man linked to Hezbollah faces drug charges in Miami
Jay Weaver/Miami Herald/June 27/17
A Paraguayan man charged with conspiring to export loads of cocaine to the United States pleaded not guilty in Miami federal court on Monday.
But what the conspiracy charge against Ali Issa Chamas did not mention was that he is close to a network of relatives and associates with ties to Hezbollah, a terrorist organization based in Lebanon accused of numerous bombings and plots against Israeli and other Western targets, according to published reports and terrorism experts.
Chamas, 36, is of Lebanese descent but has lived for the past decade in Paraguay, which along with Brazil and Argentina form what’s known as the Tri-Border area. U.S. authorities say it’s a hub for a variety of illicit enterprises such as drug trafficking and money laundering that have long operated as fundraising fronts for the Hezbollah.
While Hezbollah has evolved into an influential political force in Lebanon, the U.S. government has considered it a terrorist organization since 1997.
Chamas was arrested by Paraguayan authorities last August at Ciudad del Este’s international airport for trying to smuggle 39 kilos of cocaine hidden inside 27 boxes of plastic wrap.
He was charged by a Miami federal grand jury with distributing that cocaine “knowing” that it “would be unlawfully imported into the United States,” according to an indictment. Part of the shipment was intended for shipment to associates in Houston, though the U.S. extraterritorial trafficking statute allows for Chamas to be prosecuted in South Florida.
Paraguayan authorities extradited Chamas to Miami in mid-June.
The federal public defender’s office, which is representing Chamas, did not respond to a request for comment. He is being held in the federal detention center in Miami as he awaits trial.
A counter-terrorism expert with the Washington, D.C., nonprofit Foundation for Defense of Democracies said Chamas’ extradition was significant because it shows U.S. authorities have turned their attention once again to the festering Tri-Border area.
“For a long time, Paraguayan authorities have been in a constant state of denial about Hezbollah in their midst,” said Emanuele Ottolenghi, a senior fellow at the foundation. “It sends a political signal that they’re willing to be more forthcoming and cooperative.
“It’s a signal from the United States that there is a problem [in the Tri-Border] area and that they have to deal with it,” said Ottolenghi, who testified in May before a Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee.
Ottolenghi, whose foundation was formed in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, focuses on foreign policy and national security. A former Oxford University lecturer, Ottolenghi said Hezbollah, with assistance from Iran, has become ingrained in Paraguayan society and the other Tri-Border nations, helping criminal cartels and local mafias ship drugs and other contraband to markets in the United States, Europe and other parts of the world.
“They then launder revenues through sales of consumer goods,” Ottolenghi told the Senate subcommittee. “Finally, those profits fund terrorist activities.”
Gen. John F. Kelly, former commander of the Southern Command based in Miami and now secretary of Homeland Security, told a congressional committee in 2015 that Hezbollah has depended on support from the Lebanese diaspora community in South America to finance terrorist attacks against Jewish, Israeli and other Western targets.
“These clan-based criminal networks exploit corruption and lax law enforcement in places like the Tri-Border Area of Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina and the Colon Free Trade Zone in Panama and generate revenue, an unknown amount of which is transferred to Lebanese Hezbollah,” Kelly told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“Unfortunately, our limited intelligence capabilities make it difficult to fully assess the amount of terrorist financing generated in Latin America, or understand the scope of possible criminal-terrorist collaboration.”
**Jay Weaver: 305-376-3446, @jayhweaver

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on June 28-29/17
US Defense Chief Rebukes Putin for 'Mischief'
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/June 28/17/Pentagon chief Jim Mattis accused Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday of making international "mischief" and said America's commitment to NATO remains unwavering. Speaking to students in Germany to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Marshall Plan to rebuild World War II-ravaged Europe, Mattis said Russia had chosen to challenge the "secure and peaceful" post-war order. The Russian people's "leader making mischief beyond Russian borders will not restore their fortunes or rekindle their hope," he said, in an apparent reference to the Ukraine conflict and Moscow's alleged meddling in the US electoral process. Mattis' visit to Germany is his fourth to Europe since becoming US defense secretary in January. Jittery European partners have looked to him for reassurance about America's international intentions after President Donald Trump on the campaign trail repeatedly questioned long-established alliances. Matters haven't improved much since Trump entered the White House, with his administration embroiled in a simmering scandal about alleged ties to Russia. The US president further stoked concerns when he visited NATO and the G7 summit in Europe last month, where he upbraided allies over their levels of military spending. Any message of reassurance his presence was intended to provide was overshadowed by images of the billionaire tycoon shoving his way to the front of a NATO summit "family photo" shoot in Brussels.  'Iron-clad' commitment -But Mattis stressed that America and Trump should be judged by their actions. He pointed to continued US support through 2020 for NATO's Enhanced Forward Presence in the alliance's east to counter Russia. And he said Trump had requested a huge increase for the European Reassurance Initiative, up from $3.4 billion last year to $4.8 billion this year.  "Beyond any words in the newspapers, you can judge America by such actions," Mattis said. Speaking at the same event, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen credited the transatlantic bond for bringing peace and stability to Europe, but also said it was time for the continent to do more to ensure its own security. "As Europeans, we do want to take on more responsibility, but without ever forgetting where we have come from," she said, noting Europe needed to "pool its resources" as it works towards building a greater defense union.She also spoke in favor of Germany spending two percent of GDP to meet NATO pledges. "Being partners, we need to have a fair burden sharing within NATO. That means we Germans need to do more for our security," she said. Mattis also pointed to Article 5, NATO's mutual defense guarantee, calling US commitment to the measure "iron-clad". Mattis is a former four-star Marine Corps general who fought with NATO and Western allies in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Marshall Plan was named after General George Marshall, who was chief of staff of the US Army during World War II. He was secretary of state from 1947 to 1949 and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953 for his post-war rebuilding efforts.

Mattis says Assad took Trump's chemical warning 'seriously'
Wed 28 Jun 2017/NNA - US President Donald Trump's warning to the Syrian government not to carry out a chemical weapons attack appears to have worked, Pentagon chief Jim Mattis said Wednesday. "It appears that they took the warning seriously," Mattis said, referring to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. White House spokesman Sean Spicer warned Monday night that if "Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price." The warning came after US intelligence noticed suspect activity at the airbase used to launch a suspected chemical strike two months ago. "I think the president speaking about (these preparations) says how seriously we took them. He wanted to dissuade them," Mattis told reporters as he flew into Brussels for a NATO defense ministers meeting. The April 4 attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun was reported to have killed at least 87 people, including many children, and images of the dead and of suffering victims provoked global outrage. Washington launched a retaliatory cruise missile strike days later against the Shayrat airbase -- the first direct US action against the regime, which denies any use of chemical weapons. When asked how he knew Trump's warning had worked, Mattis said: "They didn't do it," a reference to the fact no chemical strike had occurred since Monday. At the same time, he cautioned that "Assad's chemical program goes far beyond one airfield." -- AFP

Iran Warns U.S. against 'Dangerous' Syria Escalation
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/June 28/17/Iran warned the United States on Tuesday against a "dangerous" escalation in Syria after Washington accused President Bashar al-Assad of possibly preparing another chemical attack for which he would pay a "heavy price.""Another dangerous U.S. escalation in Syria on fake pretext will only serve ISIS (the Islamic State group), precisely when it's being wiped out by Iraqi and Syrian people," tweeted Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Iran is the key political and military backer of Assad alongside Russia, which has also criticized Washington's "threats." White House spokesman Sean Spicer on Monday said in a statement that the U.S. "has identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians.""If... Mr. Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price," the statement said. The U.S. launched a cruise missile strike on a Syrian air base in April following a chemical weapons attack allegedly carried out by Assad's regime. Iran is helping in the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, but its support for Assad has put it fiercely at odds with Western countries.

Saudi Arabia: No Negotiations with Qatar over Demands
Asharq Al-Awsat/June 28/17/Washington – Saudi Foreign Affairs Minister Adel al-Jubeir ruled out any possibility to hold negotiations with Qatar over the list of 13 demands submitted by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. During a news conference held in Washington on Tuesday, Jubeir said: “We have made our point, we took our steps and it’s up to the Qataris to amend their behavior. If they don’t, they will remain isolated”. The foreign minister stressed that it was up to Doha to stop supporting terrorism and extremism. The demands included cutting all ties between Qatar and “ideological and confessional terrorist organizations”, in particular the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS, al-Qaeda, Fatah al-Sham (previously known as Al-Nusra Front) and the Lebanese “Hezbollah” group. Jubeir’s statements came in parallel with diplomatic efforts led by Qatar and Iran in an attempt to ease pressure on Doha. In this regard, Qatari Foreign Affairs Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani met on Tuesday in Washington with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The meeting followed earlier remarks by Tillerson on the need for the four Arab states and Qatar to sit down together and resume talks on the means to resolve the crisis. Meanwhile, Kuwaiti State Minister for Cabinet Affairs Mohammed al-Abdullah is leading mediation efforts in Washington, in order to boost the Kuwaiti initiative aimed at reconciling viewpoints and easing tensions. In the same context, Germany’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sigmar Gabriel urged on Tuesday all sides to engage in direct dialogue to prevent escalation of the crisis. Following talks in Berlin with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Gabriel told reporters: “Now is the time to not inflame the conflict further and to talk with one another.”
He also suggested that Kuwait’s emir should moderate between the two sides.

Iraqi CTS Forces to Push against Last ISIS-held Pocket in Mosul’s Old City
Asharq Al-Awsat/June 28/17/Carefully scoping the view through a lookout hole at the Mosul frontline on Tuesday, Iraqi soldiers surveyed the last remaining patch of land controlled by ISIS in the Old City area. Getting this deep into Mosul’s Old City means soldiers from the Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) must dismount from their armoured Humvees and walk for 10 minutes down a maze of narrow alleyways which at some points are barely wider than a man, said a report by Reuters. Construction is so dense here that vehicles cannot pass and air strikes would likely cause too much collateral damage. The battle to retake ISIS’s de facto capital in Iraq has come down to a band of soldiers with assault rifles maneuvering on foot through the dusty heart of the city. Heavy fighting in close quarters between the elite troops and ISIS’s most hardened fighters has left the Old City so damaged that it is often hard to tell the difference between what constitutes indoors and outdoors. Iraqi forces stormed the Old City, the ultimate target of an eight-month-old campaign to capture Mosul, nine days ago. On Monday they captured the neighborhood of al-Faruq, facing the Hadba minaret and the adjoining al-Nuri mosque, and on Tuesday they retook al-Mashahda neighborhood, the military said. Like the historic districts of great Arab capitals such as Cairo and Damascus, Mosul’s Old City holds market stalls, a few mosques and churches, and small houses built and rebuilt on top of each other over the ages. Most of its stone structures date from the medieval period, but some are older. Modernization initiatives and long neglect had caused significant damage before ISIS took over, yet the 45-meter leaning Hadba minaret had survived as an icon of the city. Iraq’s prime minister has said its destruction amounted to an acknowledgment of defeat by ISIS. The group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made his only confirmed public appearance in the mosque three years ago to declare the establishment of a modern-day caliphate which is now crumbling.
He has left the fighting in Mosul to local commanders and is believed to be hiding in the Iraq-Syria border area, according to U.S. and Iraqi military sources. The Iraqi military estimates up to 350 militants are besieged in the remaining parts of the Old City, dug in among civilians in crumbling houses and making extensive use of booby traps, suicide bombers and sniper fire to slow the troops advancing from west, north and south. More than 50,000 civilians are trapped behind ISIS lines with little food, water or medicine, according to those who have escaped. None were visible on Tuesday in government-controlled parts of the Old City. Only a handful of neighborhoods remain outside the control of Iraqi forces, and while authorities expect the offensive to end in the coming days, their advance remains arduous.In the courtyard of a dilapidated home, a soldier launches a white commercial drone. As it buzzes skyward, officers gather on a couch to inspect enemy defenses on the transmitted video feed. Soldiers, who dash through alleys blocked up precariously with stones and furniture, said snipers and suicide bombers remained the primary resistance from ISIS. They chat with each other about how to adjust to fighting more from outside their Humvees. “The blocks in this area are uneven, so it’s not a direct confrontation,” said one soldier. “Sometimes they jump out from around a corner.”

Assad in Hmeimim Base: ‘I Won’t Forget Moscow’s Stance’
Asharq Al-Awsat/June 28/17/London- On the sidelines of his visit to Hmeimim military air base, where Russian air forces are based, head of Syrian regime Bashar al-Assad stressed that he will never forget Russia’s support for him in the Syrian war. “Russia has provided weapons and ammunition to support Syria in its war against terrorism, but more importantly it has offered blood as well, which is the dearest thing a human being can give to fellow humans,” Assad said, according to Sputnik news agency. “The Syrian people will not forget that their Russian brethren stood alongside them in this patriotic war. Salute to all the Russian fighters and to the leadership of Hmeimim base and the Russian military leadership, and the biggest salute to President Vladimir Putin.”This is the second time Assad tours outside Damascus, where he had delivered the Eid prayer in the city of Hama, located in central Syria, whereas the Hmeimim base is located in the province of Latakia east Syria. He visited Hama after the Russian army bombed the countryside of the city and weeks later after attacking Khan Sheikhun with chemical weapons, which Washington responded to by bombing the regime forces.

Egypt Air Force Razes 12 Weapon-Loaded Vehicles Trying to Infiltrate Libyan Borders
Asharq Al-Awsat/June 28/17/Troops and vehicles from the national army in Kufra, are seen taking part in a "Operation Dignity" mission, at the Libyan-Egyptian border, near Kufra. Troops and vehicles from the national army in Kufra, are seen taking part in a "Operation Dignity" mission, at the Libyan-Egyptian border, near Kufra, June 4, 2014. The operation, a self-declared campaign launched by former Libyan army officer Khalifa Haftar, is conducted against Islamist militants by irregular forces - a mixture of a mixture of militias, regular army and air force units - loyal to Haftar. Picture taken June 4, 2014. Cairo- Egypt’s army said on Wednesday that it had effectively destroyed 12 vehicles loaded with arms crossing the borders from Libya. More so, the army added that it had thwarted an attempt staged by a number of militias on infiltrating western borders.
He added that “striking terrorism and protecting the border, through the process yesterday, is a consolidation of the army to the people,” Egyptian army spokesman Tamer al-Rifai told Asharq Al-Awsat. The air force acted after hearing that “criminal elements” had gathered to try and cross the western boundary, the army statement said, without giving details on exactly where or when the strikes took place. The attacks came a month after Egypt launched a series of air raids in Libya on what it said were ultra-hardline militants responsible for attacking Christians in its territory.
“The attempt to breach the border with a four-wheel drive took place during the holy Islamic holidays,” the spokesman said. He further explained that the militiamen were planning to exploit the holidays, but army taskforces were looking out with a watchful eye to protect their country.
The army spokesman said that the militants were located based on intelligence information indicating that they were planning to enter the borders from the west. According to the Egyptian army, as soon as information showed that the target has crossed into the south of Siwa, a desert area, the General Command of the Armed Forces issued orders for the air force to take off and sweep the border area, detect and follow hostile targets. The spokesman confirmed that the strikes resulted in destroying the 12 SUVs. He said that they were loaded with large quantities of weapons, ammunition and explosive materials. The operation took place south of the Siwa Oasis located between the Qattara Depression and the Egyptian Sand Sea in the Western Desert, nearly 50 km east of the Libyan border, and 560 km from Cairo. Rifai added that fugitive militants are being pursued with army forces saving no effort in taking legal action against them. “This comes as an extension of air forces and border guards carrying out their duties with unbound determination, despite the holidays, hoping to secure national borders,” he added.

Egyptian Warplanes Hit 'Arms Convoy from Libya'

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/June 28/17/Egyptian warplanes struck a convoy of 12 vehicles about to be driven across the border from Libya carrying weapons and ammunition, the military said on Tuesday. The military said in a statement that it had acted on "intelligence indicating a number of criminal elements had gathered to cross the border into Egypt using a number of four-wheel-drive vehicles." An official in the armed forces told AFP the vehicles had been on the move from Libya. Air force units found "the hostile targets, confirmed their coordinates and dealt with them for more than 12 hours," the military said, without specifying when the raids were carried out. "The operation led to the targeting and destruction of 12 four-wheel-drive vehicles carrying quantities of weapons, ammunition, and explosive materials," it added. The official Facebook page of Egypt's military spokesman published a video showing warplanes taking off on the mission, as well as footage from the air of vehicles being struck. Libya has been wracked by chaos since the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, with rival authorities and militias battling for control of the oil-rich country. Egypt has repeatedly expressed concern over militants crossing into its territory from Libya to conduct attacks. In a speech last month, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said setbacks by the Islamic State group in Syria were driving its fighters to try to relocate to Libya and Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. Last month, Egypt launched air strikes against "terror camps" in Libya in retaliation for a deadly attack on Coptic Christians in Egypt, saying the assailants had been trained there.

Will Libya Succeed in Becoming ‘Europe’s Guardian’ to Stop Immigrants?
Asharq Al-Awsat/June 28/17/Tripoli- When the Libyan coast guard received the first batch of long-awaited patrol boats from Italy in May, two of the four vessels had mechanical problems and the third vessel broke down on its way to Tripoli. As Italy’s interior minister later flew in to present the boats officially at a naval base in the Libyan capital, coast guards grumbled that the vessels were old and had little deck space for rescued migrants. “They want us to be Europe’s policeman. At the same time, that policeman needs resources,” said naval coastguard spokesman Ayoub Qassem. “I challenge anyone to work in these conditions.”Half a million people have crossed the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy over the past four years, mainly sub-Saharan Africans who pay smugglers to shepherd them across the desert to Libya, and onward to Europe in unseaworthy dinghies. An estimated 13,000 of them have drowned.
European governments want to stop the migrants and break the grip of the smugglers. But more than four months after Italy and the European Union launched a new push to tackle the crisis, accounts by migrants, aid workers and officials show that effort is all but failing to make a difference. When Libyan authorities do catch migrants, they take them to detention centers nominally under the control of the government, which already house about 8,000 people.
Though Europeans have pledged funding to improve the camps, some are still so cramped that migrants have to sleep sitting up. At Tripoli’s Tariq al-Siqqa migrant center, where visiting dignitaries are brought, flowers have been planted in the courtyard and wash-basins installed. But behind a padlocked metal gate hundreds of migrants still languish, crammed side to side on mattresses in a single unventilated room. “They shut us up, they imprison us, they ask us for money,” said one 22-year-old from Guinea, who has been in the center since March, when he was intercepted by the Libyan coastguard with about 120 other migrants shortly after they set off for Italy. “They hit people. They don’t like black skin.”The sea route from the Libyan coast is one of two main routes in the biggest flow of migrants to Europe since World War Two. The other, by sea from Turkey to Greece, was largely shut down last year after an agreement between the EU and Ankara, but the flow from Libya has only increased. This year has already seen 70,000 people make the journey, with the summer peak season for the voyage only just beginning. An estimated 2,000 have died so far this year. Unlike Turkey, Libya is still seen as too dangerous for Europeans to send migrants back, so those who make it into international waters usually end up in Italy.
Libya’s people-smuggling networks flourished amid the upheaval that followed the revolution that toppled dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi in 2011, and their trade surged after 2014, when conflict spread and rival governments were set up in Tripoli and the east. Since 2016, the EU has made a push to cooperate with a new Libyan government backed by the United Nations. Coastguard training began on board EU ships in October. In February, Italy signed a memorandum of understanding with Tripoli that the EU quickly endorsed, earmarking 90 million euros. But Europe has delivered little concrete support, said Tarek Shanbour, a senior coastguard official. “We meet, we talk, we take decisions, we make agreements, but on the ground there is no execution.”The Libyan government has little sway outside the capital or even over some of the ministries within it. Its authority has been rejected in the east and is barely felt in the south where smugglers bring migrants in across the Sahara. “So far we can’t say as the European Union we’ve achieved much,” a European official said on condition of anonymity. “The point is we need short term solutions but there are no short-term solutions. There is no Turkey deal in North Africa.”
As European policy makers study longer-term schemes to improve security on Libya’s southern borders, wean communities off smuggling, and provide aid in migrants’ countries of origin, Libyan officials worry that numbers inside Libya will swell. They say they have little capacity to host migrants in a country deep in economic crisis, where nearly 250,000 are still internally displaced.European funding has helped increase voluntary repatriations of migrants caught in Libya who agree to return home, but this is unlikely to surpass 10,000 this year. Migrants caught by the Libyan coastguard at sea or swept up in nighttime raids are detained in migrant centers, both official ones nominally run by the government and others run by an array of armed groups. Those running the centers raise money by making migrants or their families pay for their release, selling them back to smugglers or hiring them out for labor, migrants say. Sexual abuse is common, according to a former member of staff at one of the Tripoli centers. In unofficial centers and holding houses in western and southern Libya, run by militias or even by smugglers themselves, conditions are said to be far worse. Migrants say video or audio of them being tortured is relayed to their families to extort cash transfer payments. Migrants said they were forced to build the center themselves. Several had died from untreated illnesses. Detention center staff say they lack resources, and sometimes have to use force with desperate or unruly migrants. Mohamed Bishr, the head of Tripoli’s Department of Combating Illegal Migration (DCIM), dismissed reports of abuse and killings, saying migrants were detained for their protection. “Given the security situation inside the Libyan state they cannot leave the detention centers because they do not have identification documents,” he said. “They might face the worst if they leave.”

Fears of a New War in Gaza
Asharq Al-Awsat/June 28/17/Ramallah – Tensions escalated in Gaza after Israeli army launched series of strikes in response to rockets fired from the strip. Israeli warplanes launched retaliatory intensified airstrikes on Hamas targets in Gaza early Tuesday. Security forces in Gaza reported F16 warplanes targeting Badr site of Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, north of Shati camp. The F16 then targeted another site of the Brigades northeast of Rafah, south of Gaza strip. Israeli navy participated in the attacks as well and launched several strikes from the sea. No injuries were reported, but the missiles destroyed several nearby houses, as it seemed as though Israel didn’t want to escalate the situation further. Israeli Military spokesperson said that in response to projectile fire from Gaza earlier, Israeli aircraft targeted two Hamas military infrastructures in north and south Gaza.
On Monday night, a rocket fell in an open area at the Shaar Hanegev Regional Council, causing no injuries or damage. Ahfad al-Sahaba, an organization affiliated with ISIS, claimed responsibility for the rocket fire, but Hamas was doubtful about the launch. The organization accused Israel of fabricating false claims of the rocket fire in order to justify attacks in Gaza. Hamas warned Israel not to continue with its dangerous escalation in the Gaza Strip and said that it must bear the consequences of its policy and actions. In a statement issued, Hamas said: “The Israeli claim of a rocket being fired from Gaza and the ‘release’ of a claim on behalf of ISIS to excuse what happened afterward, escalation and an attack of resistance positions, are part of a dangerous and transparent Israeli game.”The escalation occurred at a time Israeli army increased the readiness of combat soldiers and commanders on Gaza borders, after joint evaluations of the Shin Bet leaders and army commanders of a possible escalation in the strip. Intelligence reports stated that the humanitarian situation in Gaza is deteriorating because of infrastructure problems which affect the water and electricity supply, in addition to the financial and political pressure exerted by the Palestinian Authority on Hamas. Furthermore, Qatar, which hosts several Hamas leaders, is dealing with a diplomatic boycott and international pressure, which could affect its financial support for the militant movement. A general assumption is that Hamas will take aggressive measures and start a new war to improve the economic situation and its position in the Arab world. Hamas wants to improve its status in the Arab world as many countries began referring to it as a terrorist entity. Hamas believes that images from a conflict with Israel could definitely help the organization achieve that goal, according to Shin Bet officials. Israeli officials believe that Hamas will use the “halted” Tel Aviv’s project of building a wall on Gaza borders which will destroy all tunnels of the movement. Israeli sources reported that Hamas increased its border patrol and established several checkpoints. An Israeli commander of the southern region said that Hamas is very interested in the construction on the border, adding that officials are working on securing both the region and the worker, but tension and pressures are escalating as the work progresses. Israel is expected to rely on movable wall system to secure the project, which includes walls with machine guns in an indication of expected clashes that could turn into a new war.

Extension of State of Emergency Sparks Political Division in Turkey
Asharq Al-Awsat/June 28/17/Ankara – The debate over prolonging the state of emergency in Turkey that was announced in wake of the failed July 2016 coup has revived political divides in the country. The state of emergency is expected to end on July 19 and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has hinted that it may be extended indefinitely. The divide has pitted the ruling Justice and Development Party and the National Movement Party that favor the extension against the Republican People’s Party and the Peoples’ Democratic Party that oppose the move. The Justice and Development Party explained that the state of emergency is necessary due to the ongoing crackdown against supporters of exiled US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, said MP Murat Alparslan. Ankara has accused Gulen of being behind the failed coup. National Movement Party leader Devlet Bahceli stressed that the state of emergency must be extended because there are still major challenges facing the state. Those opposed to the extension have fallen under the spell of the failed coup, he added. The opposition Republican People’s Party meanwhile said that the state of emergency should end so that normal life and democracy can be restored in Turkey. Republican People’s Party MP Levent Gok, who visited the Justice and Development Party on the occasion of the Eid al-Fitr holiday, said that his party had supported the various government measures, including the state of emergency. He added however that there are still some pending issues that should be resolved through normal legal means. Since the state of emergency was put into effect on July 20, 2016, Turkish authorities have arrested over 55,000 suspects and sacked over 155,000 employees from various public posts. Hundreds of schools, universities, companies and media outlets have been shut down because they serve Gulen’s movement, which Ankara has deemed a terrorist entity.

NATO Says Non-US 2017 Defense Spending to Rise 4.3%

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/June 28/17/European NATO allies and Canada will increase defense spending this year by 4.3 percent, alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday, amid pressure from President Donald Trump to spend more. "In 2017 we foresee an even greater annual real increase of 4.3 percent. That is three consecutive years of accelerating defense spending," Stoltenberg told reporters on the eve of a defense ministers' meeting in Brussels. "So we are really shifting gears, the trend is up and we intend to keep it up," he added. Trump has repeatedly berated the allies for not doing more to share the defense burden and bluntly told them again at a leaders' summit in Brussels last month that they could not count on Washington coming to their defense if they did not do their bit. Trump's comments caused consternation among many, notably Germany, but Stoltenberg said the president's demands were understandable given the challenges the US-led alliance now faces. "I welcome the strong focus of Trump on spending and defense burden sharing," he said. "At the same time, I also underline that allies should invest more in defense not to please the United States but because it is in their own interest and they have made the commitment."Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian prime minister, recalled that the 28 allies had pledged at a 2014 summit in Wales to increase defense spending to the equivalent of two percent of annual economic output within a decade. That move, pushed by then president Barack Obama in response to the Ukraine crisis and a more aggressive Russia, had halted and reversed years of defense cuts, Stoltenberg said. So far only five allies have met that benchmark -- the US, Greece, Britain, Estonia and Poland. But Stoltenberg said Romania was set to join them this year, and Latvia and Lithuania in 2018. In 2015, the allies turned the corner with an increase of 1.8 percent overall, pushed that to 3.3 percent in 2016 and now looked to go further again this year, he said.In all, the three years represented an overall increase of $46 billion dollars, boosting NATO's ability to face the Russian challenge in Europe and new threats such as Islamic State-inspired jihadi terrorism across the Middle East and North Africa. The United States accounts for about 70 percent of combined NATO defense spending and Washington has pushed the allies for years to do more to ease the burden. Trump, however, has pressed hardest of all, putting the allies on the back foot by dubbing NATO "obsolete" and questioning the wisdom of the US security commitment if they failed to live up to their side of the bargain.

Helicopter Hurled Grenades at Venezuela Supreme Court
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/June 28/17/A helicopter dropped two grenades on Venezuela's Supreme Court building in a "terror attack" against the government, President Nicolas Maduro said in a speech Tuesday. "I have activated the entire armed forces to defend the peace," he said in remarks delivered from the Miraflores presidential palace.Maduro said he has put the military on alert to respond to the alleged assault. "Sooner or later, we are going to capture that helicopter and those that carried out this terror attack," he declared. He did not say when the alleged attack is supposed to have occurred, and said no one was injured and that one of the grenades failed to detonate. In his speech, Maduro, 54, said that in addition to firing on Venezuela's high court, the helicopter flew over the Justice and Interior Ministeries. The beleaguered president, who for weeks has been thundering about alleged coup plots against him, said the aircraft was flown by a pilot who worked for his former Interior and Justice minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres, from whom he is now estranged. Earlier Tuesday, Maduro repeated claims of a US-backed coup attempt and angrily warned President Donald Trump that Venezuela would fight back against such a move. His comments came a day after he announced the arrests of five opponents he accused of plotting against him to clear the way for a US invasion. - Anti-US tirade -It was one of the more dramatic in a regular series of anti-US tirades by the socialist leader, who is resisting opposition calls for elections to remove him. "If Venezuela were dragged into chaos and violence... we would fight," Maduro bellowed in a speech to supporters. If a coup prevented his side fulfilling his contested reform plans, he said, "we would achieve it by arms." He said that an armed intervention in his country would spark a crisis that would dwarf those caused by conflicts in the Middle East. Addressing Trump, he said: "You are responsible for restraining the madness of the Venezuelan right-wing." Maduro has a number of times claimed that the United States is to blame for the grave political and economic crisis in the oil-producing country, which has fueled the often violent demonstrations of recent months. Clashes in anti-Maduro protests over the past three months have left 76 people dead, prosecutors say.The opposition blames Maduro for an economic crisis that has caused shortages of food and medicine in the oil-rich country. They regularly accuse him of repressing and jailing opponents. Judicial NGO Foro Penal says there are 383 political prisoners in Venezuela. War of words -Addressing a crowd over the weekend, Maduro had said detainees would face military trial over an alleged coup plot, backed by Venezuelan opposition leaders and aimed at precipitating a US intervention in the country. "I am not exaggerating when I say it would have involved the arrival of American ships and troops in Venezuelan waters, on Venezuelan soil," Maduro said. And on Saturday the head of the Organization of American States dug his heels in a war of words with Caracas, flatly rejecting its demand that he resign. Maduro had suggested that Luis Almagro -- who has criticized the Venezuelan government of violating human rights, interfering in elections and detaining political prisoners -- step down in exchange for the country's continued membership in the regional body.
Though Almagro dismissed that notion, the OAS General Assembly was unable to reach agreement on a plan to deal with the instability in Venezuela at a meeting in Cancun last week.

Swiss police arrest four with suspected terror links
NNA - Swiss police have arrested four people this month with suspected links to jihadist organisations like the Islamic State group, fearing some posed "an immediate danger", prosecutors said Wednesday. The office of Switzerland's attorney general (OAG) confirmed that three people were arrested in the western canton of Vaud last Friday and Saturday, suspected of violating "the prohibition of groups like Al-Qaeda, Islamic State and similar organisations." They were also suspected of participating in a "criminal organisation", it said. A fourth man -- reportedly a taxi driver suspected of being an Islamic State recruiter -- was arrested in Geneva on June 14. There was no apparent link with the other three, according to the OAG. Swiss authorities have not revealed the identities or the nationalities of those arrested. In the most dramatic case, police swooped on a car outside a busy mall in Aubonne, Vaud on Saturday, in what one onlooker said looked like a scene straight out of an "American movie". "It was surreal," the witness told the 20 Minutes daily, describing how heavily-armed police had blindfolded and taken the driver away. Other witnesses told the paper that police had also taken away his passenger, a woman wearing a headscarf and with a child on her lap. But the OAG stressed Wednesday that all of those arrested were men, without explaining how the woman in the car figured in the case. It also denied reports that those arrested had been in possession of explosives, insisting in a statement that "no traces of explosives have been found until now." OAG information chief Andre Marty did however tell the Le Temps daily that the Aubonne arrests were made because it was believed the suspects "might pose an immediate danger." Police had first arrested another person in Vaud on Friday, and Marty said investigators were now seeking to determine the connection between the three. The man arrested in Geneva earlier this month was not believed to have any connection with those arrested in Vaud, he said, insisting it would be "a complete exaggeration to talk about the dismantlement of a terrorist network." Swiss authorities are currently investigating some 60 cases linked to suspected jihadist terrorism, the OAG said, stressing that most of those cases revolve around the spread of jihadist propaganda over the internet. "Nothing justifies alarmism," it said.--AFP

Canada, European NATO states to raise defence spending by 4.3 pct in 2017
Wed 28 Jun 2017/NNA - European allies of NATO and Canada will increase defence spending by 4.3 percent in 2017, marking a cumulative ê46 billion jump since cuts stopped in 2014, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday. "To keep our nations safe, we need to keep working to increase defence spending and fairer burden-sharing across our alliance," Stoltenberg said a day before NATO defence ministers meet in Brussels to discuss greater security expenditure, which U.S. President Donald Trump is pushing for.
"After years of decline, in 2015 we saw a real increase in defence spending across European allies and Canada ... this year, we foresee an even greater real increase of 4.3 percent," he told a news conference. ---Reuters

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on June 28-29/17
Rouhani faces unprecedented attack by Iranian hard-liners

Rohollah Faghihi/Al Monitor/June 28/17
On June 23, Iranian hard-liners once again attacked moderate President Hassan Rouhani, but this time was different. A group of hard-liners approached the president and chanted harsh slogans while he was marching in the streets to mark International Quds Day.
Iranian hard-liners step up their attacks on recently re-elected moderate President Hassan Rouhani.
Every year, Iranians take to the streets on the last Friday of the month of Ramadan to decry Israel for “occupying Palestinian lands.” Various figures, including high-ranking officials, take part in the marches, but this time, a group of hard-liners came close to the president and chanted slogans against him that were interpreted as impolite and insulting. Among the slogans shouted at Rouhani, who was re-elected by a landslide on May 19, were “The American sheikh,” “Rouhani, Banisadr, congratulations on your linkage” (in reference to Abolhassan Banisadr, Iran’s first president who was impeached and later exiled), and “Down with hypocrites” (in reference to the outlawed opposition group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq).
Minutes after the attack, Rouhani’s supporters on social networks backed him, using the hashtag “I’m a supporter of Rouhani,” which became a top trend on Twitter on June 23. In fact, every time the hard-liners have attacked Rouhani, the atmosphere has turned in favor of him, as many of his supporters become mobilized on social networks and denounce the attacks. Furthermore, the attacks of hard-liners are sometimes so harsh that even critics of Rouhani, including conservatives, rally to his side. Reformists and moderates soon pointed their fingers at conservatives and hard-liners who had lost the election to Rouhani. In this vein, some conservative figures tried to exonerate their camp from this controversy. This, in turn, portrayed the hard-liners as more violent in the eyes of ordinary people and labeled the conservatives as “unity breakers.” In fact, moderates and Reformists opined that instead of demonstrating unity and condemning Israel on International Quds Day, the hard-liners served Israel’s purposes by breaking the unity sought with such marches.
Conservative cleric Mohammad Taghi Rahbar slammed the group of hard-liners who chanted slogans, saying that they aren’t “real Hezbollahis [hard-liners],” distancing them from the Principlist camp. Moreover, as Reformists and moderates stated that the chanting of slogans against Rouhani was pre-planned and organized by the hard-liners, conservative Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel described the mob as ordinary people and said people were critical of Rouhani, but they had to express it politely.
Some of the hard-liners believe that their actions were based on the supreme leader’s comments and quote his recent remarks on June 7: “I constantly say to all intellectual, thinking jihadi and cultural nuclei throughout the country that each of them should work in an independent manner. As is said in military arenas, ‘fire at will’ when they want. Of course, during a war, there is a command center that issues orders, but if the command center cannot contact other bases and centers, the commander issues the ‘fire at will’ order. Well, you are the officers of the soft war. You are supposed to be the officers of the soft war. Whenever you feel that there is something wrong with the central organization and that it cannot work properly, you are free to fire at will. Under such circumstances, you are free to decide, to think, to move and to act.”
A few days after the supreme leader’s speech, the conservatives tried to correct what they believed to be a “misinterpretation” of his remarks by hard-liners. Asadullah Imani, the Friday prayer leader in Shiraz province, said June 18, “‘Fire at will’ doesn’t mean chaos.”
Following the new attack on Rouhani, conservatives sought to distance themselves from the group who chanted the slogans. In this vein, on June 24, the ultra-conservative Javan newspaper described the group of hard-liners who were chanting as “superficial.” The daily also wrote that what the hard-liners did against Rouhani turned the atmosphere in favor of the moderate president.
On June 26, in reaction to the hard-liners’ behavior against the president, the supreme leader tried to explain his previous remarks, saying, “‘Fire at will’ does not call for anarchy; it does not mean giving opportunities to those making thoughtless claims against the country’s revolutionary movement.”
However, three days after the events on International Quds Day, a few minutes before the beginning of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s speech at the Eid al-Fitr prayers, a eulogist recited a poem against Rouhani and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
The poem and eulogist were both criticized by Reformists and moderates who thought the poem was insulting. Although, in a move that shows that such harsh verbal attacks against Rouhani will persist, the conservatives defended the poem and the eulogist, who was described as 2017 presidential election conservative candidate Ebrahim Raisi’s eulogist. In this vein, hard-line activist Vahid Yaminpour tweeted June 26, “The poem of Meysam Motei [the eulogist] had a big difference from the slogans of Quds Day [against the president], and that is the neatness [of it]. Fire at will means [doing] a neat work.”

What Might be Missing in the Muslim World?
Denis MacEoin/Gatestone Institute/June 28/17
Recently, Chinese, Japanese and other educators have found that rote learning and endless drills produce high achievers without creativity, originality, or the ability to think for themselves. Western academic standards of rationality and objectivity have been behind most of the West's achievements.
"The campus has three mosques with a fourth one planned, but no bookstore. No Pakistani university, including QAU, allowed Abdus Salam to set foot on its campus, although he had received the Nobel Prize in 1979 for his role in formulating the standard model of particle physics." — Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy, commenting on Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, Pakistan, the second-best university among the 57 Muslim states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
The very thought that "Islamic science" has to be different from "Western science" suggests the need for a radically different way of thinking. Scientific method is scientific method and rationality is rationality, regardless of the religion practiced by individual scientists.
In April this year, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Shaykh 'Ali Gomaa, told an interviewer what he meant as a flat statement of fact: that there are no female heart surgeons, as such work required strength and other capabilities that no woman possesses. He put it this way:
You may have noticed that there is not a single female heart surgeon in the world... It's amazing. It's peculiar. Why do you think that there are none? Because it requires great physical effort -- beyond what a woman is capable of. That's in general. Along comes a woman who challenges this, and she succeeds in becoming a surgeon. But she is one woman among several million male surgeons."
Now even a child could have carried out a simple Google search and realized that there are countless female surgeons and many female heart surgeons. It would not have taken long to find, for example, the US Association of Women Surgeons, which includes heart surgeons -- and that would have settled his hash. But apparently deep-seated, pre-formed judgements about women's abilities prevented Gomaa from using whatever powers of reasoning and intelligence he may possess.
Sadly, there often seems a profound absence of scientific probing within the Muslim world.
It seems reasonable to assume that levels of intelligence are pretty well the same around the world, regardless of race, gender, or religious affiliation. As human beings, we share the same brainpower, just as we share all other physical functions. Mercifully, earlier views of racial inequality have in most places been replaced by a more fact-based understanding of human characteristics. Today, theories put forward in the last two centuries of a supposed "racial supremacy" of white people have been happily discarded. In democratic societies, white supremacists are universally loathed.
In the OECD's 2015 PISA science results, seven out of the top ten countries, based on achievements at school level, were in the Far East -- including Japan and China, with Korea at eleven. The United States was number 25. In mathematics, the results were even more striking: the top seven countries ranged from Singapore to Korea, with the United States at 39, well below most European nations. While such results show that Asian students are indeed intelligent, there is a price to pay for those outstanding results. Students put in long school days and long school years, and live regimented lives. Recently, Chinese, Japanese and other educators have found that rote learning and endless drills produce high achievers without creativity, originality, or the ability to think for themselves. Often, as we shall see, rote learning in the Middle East seems to lead to poor educational outcomes.[1]
For all that, we are all aware that different nations, different cultures and different religions achieve varied and even conflicting levels of intellectual achievement. The Western democracies, including Israel, have for some time now been the highest achievers in fields such as science, technology, medicine, information technology, astronomy and the exploration of space, as well as in modern academic disciplines such as sociology, anthropology, critical history, economics, analytical politics, statistics, and unbiased religious studies, among others. Western academic standards of rationality and objectivity have been behind most of those achievements. Sadly, many scholars in Western countries, not least the US, have abandoned even a semblance of neutrality on and off campus, following a deep politicization of many humanities subjects, above all the Middle East and related studies.
What follows has nothing to do with race or ethnicity. It is a discussion of why some cultures (in several forms) appear to have remained in high levels of ignorance and underachievement, and those cultures sometimes appear to include the culture of the religion of Islam, regardless of where it is practiced. Muslims belong to just about every ethnic group in the world, so it will be clear that concerns about their religion and culture (or cultures) are totally apart from race. Rather, they seem to stem from a widespread lack of literacy, opportunities for education and exposure to questioning, as well as to a wide range of ideas. Of course, if one is convinced that questioning might cause one to burn in hell forever, that could also be an impediment.
Perhaps the simplest way of showing this disparity between Islam and the rest is to compare the number of Muslim Nobel Prize winners with a much smaller group with comparable religious foundations, the international Jewish community.
There are approximately 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, a figure that may rise. There are roughly 14.4 million Jews in total. The disparity in numbers is remarkable. So is the disparity in Nobel Laureates. Take a deep breath. There have been twelve Muslim Nobel Laureates – seven for Peace (including one to an arch-terrorist, Yasser Arafat), two in Literature, one in Physics, and two in Chemistry. For a brief survey of how several of these Laureates have been treated by their fellow Muslims, see Gordon Fraser's Oxford University Press article. As for the tiny Jewish population, there have been 193 Nobel Laureates, equaling 22% of Nobel Prize winners overall.
This may not matter to many Muslims, who might value life's goals in a different way, such as regarding strict obedience to Islamic spirituality, law, and theology, as the only routes to paradise. Yet, increasingly large numbers of young Muslims, including many educated in Western universities, are ambitious to succeed in a range of more mundane pursuits and to see Islam return to the intellectual strength it displayed in its early centuries.[2]
The disparity in creativity between the Islamic world and the West is shown in figures and comments by the secular Pakistani nuclear physicist Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy in his book, Islam and Science: Religious Orthodoxy and the Battle for Rationality, and in an important article in Physics Today, "Science and the Islamic world: The quest for rapprochement". Hoodbhoy provides striking information that shows the dearth of any real scientific or technological advance in the modern Islamic world in general. Focusing on the 57-member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), he writes:
A study by academics at the International Islamic University Malaysia showed that OIC countries have 8.5 scientists, engineers, and technicians per 1000 population, compared with a world average of 40.7, and 139.3 for countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Forty-six Muslim countries contributed 1.17% of the world's science literature, whereas 1.66% came from India alone and 1.48% from Spain. Twenty Arab countries contributed 0.55%, compared with 0.89% by Israel alone. The US NSF [National Science Foundation] records that of the 28 lowest producers of scientific articles in 2003, half belong to the OIC.
This unworthy level of scientific innovation is reflected in the number of patents issued by Muslim countries:
The situation regarding patents is also discouraging: The OIC countries produce negligibly few. According to official statistics, Pakistan has produced only eight patents in the past 43 years.
Behind all that lies a visible absence of practicing scientists across the Islamic world:
Bigger budgets by themselves are not a panacea. The capacity to put those funds to good use is crucial. One determining factor is the number of available scientists, engineers, and technicians. Those numbers are low for OIC countries, averaging around 400–500 per million people, while developed countries typically lie in the range of 3500–5000 per million.
Building on this, Hoodbhoy tackles some of the root causes of this lack; they reflect the present writer's own experience of teaching in a Moroccan university and studying at another in Iran:
Most universities in Islamic countries have... a starkly inferior quality of teaching and learning, a tenuous connection to job skills, and research that is low in both quality and quantity. Poor teaching owes more to inappropriate attitudes than to material resources. Generally, obedience and rote learning are stressed, and the authority of the teacher is rarely challenged. Debate, analysis, and class discussions are infrequent.
Hoodbhoy expands on that. At the heart of this problem, he says, lie attitudes developed from around the 10th century and later enforced across the Islamic world.[3] Those attitudes have been greatly reinforced by the growth of radical Islam in the modern era. Here is Hoodbhoy:
At Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, where I teach, the constraints are similar to those existing in most other Pakistani public-sector institutions. This university serves the typical middle-class Pakistani student and, according to the survey referred to earlier, ranks number two among OIC universities. Here, as in other Pakistani public universities, films, drama, and music are frowned on, and sometimes even physical attacks by student vigilantes who believe that such pursuits violate Islamic norms take place. The campus has three mosques with a fourth one planned, but no bookstore. No Pakistani university, including QAU, allowed Abdus Salam to set foot on its campus, although he had received the Nobel Prize in 1979 for his role in formulating the standard model of particle physics.
The second-best university among 57 states has no bookstore. That alone is worth dwelling on. But Hoodbhoy goes farther, quoting a warning issued by the head of a mosque-seminary in Pakistan's capital city:
The government should abolish co-education. Quaid-i-Azam University has become a brothel. Its female professors and students roam in objectionable dresses ... Sportswomen are spreading nudity. I warn the sportswomen of Islamabad to stop participating in sports ... Our female students have not issued the threat of throwing acid on the uncovered faces of women. However, such a threat could be used for creating the fear of Islam among sinful women. There is no harm in it. There are far more horrible punishments in the hereafter for such women.
It is not surprising then, as Hoodbhoy and his colleagues report, that most students -- especially veiled females -- have become silent note-takers, timid, and reluctant to ask questions or engage in discussions.
Commenting about the disparity in creativity between the Islamic world and the West, Pakistani nuclear physicist Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy wrote that no Pakistani university allowed Abdus Salam (pictured above) to set foot on its campus, although he had received the Nobel Prize in Physics. (Image source: Keystone/Getty Images)
Can this be reversed? Hoodbhoy is pessimistic, though he retains hope that the situation can eventually be resolved.
In the 1980s an imagined "Islamic science" was posed as an alternative to "Western science." The notion was widely propagated and received support from governments in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and elsewhere. Muslim ideologues in the US, such as Ismail Faruqi and Syed Hossein Nasr, announced that a new science was about to be built on lofty moral principles such as tawheed (unity of God), ibadah (worship), khilafah (trusteeship), and rejection of zulm (tyranny), and that revelation rather than reason would be the ultimate guide to valid knowledge. Others took as literal statements of scientific fact verses from the Qur'an that related to descriptions of the physical world. Those attempts led to many elaborate and expensive Islamic science conferences around the world. Some scholars calculated the temperature of Hell, others the chemical composition of heavenly djinnis. None produced a new machine or instrument, conducted an experiment, or even formulated a single testable hypothesis. A more pragmatic approach, which seeks promotion of regular science rather than Islamic science, is pursued by institutional bodies such as COMSTECH (Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation), which was established by the OIC's Islamic Summit in 1981. It joined the IAS (Islamic Academy of Sciences) and ISESCO (Islamic Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) in serving the "ummah" (the global Muslim community). But a visit to the websites of those organizations reveals that over two decades, the combined sum of their activities amounts to sporadically held conferences on disparate subjects, a handful of research and travel grants, and small sums for repair of equipment and spare parts.
The very thought that "Islamic science" has to be different from "Western science" suggests the need for a radically different way of thinking. Scientific method is scientific method, rationality is rationality regardless of the religion practiced by individual scientists. Should we just shrug our collective shoulders and let the Muslim nations go their own way? Yes and no. A major problem lies in the fact that Islam is still expanding and that irrational attitudes in Muslim states have been growing, in stark contrast to the late nineteenth and early twentieth-century efforts in Iran, Turkey, Egypt and several other places, to move towards dispassionate and fact-based approaches to law, science, democracy, and even secularism.
This problem faces not only science. The strictures in the ways of thinking in Islamic fundamentalism affect all sorts of things, from politics to history to interfaith relations to peace negotiations. Here are some examples of the damage this does, not just to the Muslim world itself but to the rest of us. In 2016, UNESCO passed a resolution backed by 24 states, of which 11 were Muslim countries, and started by seven Muslim member states, declaring that sacred sites in Jerusalem -- the Temple Mount and the Western Wall -- are to be regarded henceforth as Muslim-only sites. This was followed by a 2017 resolution identifying the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem as Palestinian sites identified by their Arabic/Muslim names. These deeply insulting, counter-factual moves defy centuries of historical information, archaeological research, and common sense. These were Jewish sites long before Islam came on the scene, but the Muslim states that want to deny any genuine Jewish history there do so, not on the basis of such scholarship or knowledge of early texts, but purely through a supremacist act of Islamic rejection.
We may ask why a wealthy state such as Saudi Arabia still beheads people on charges of witchcraft and sorcery, yet the USA, the UK and other countries engage in close trade relations with it. In 2005, Shafayat Mohamed declared that the 2004 Indonesian tsunami had been caused by a rise in homosexuality, yet he remains the imam of the Deobandi militant Darul Uloom Institute in Florida. In 2016 a Muslim man, Omar Mateen, murdered 49 gay men at a nightclub in Orlando. Had he been influenced by Shafayat Mohamed's words? In March this year, a French survey of the main factors leading to Islamic radicalization found that the chief factor was that young Muslims interviewed "defend an absolutist view of religion -- believing both that there is 'one true religion' and that religion explains the creation of the world better than science."
Islamic obscurantism and opposition to rational thought do not just harm Muslims; they cross all boundaries, geographical and intellectual. The belief that the Qur'an, shari'a law, or prophetic traditions override science and reason -- or that shaykhs, imams, mullahs, and other religious authorities in Egypt's al-Azhar University, or in Saudi Arabia, or in Iran or elsewhere, are superior in their knowledge and wisdom to scientists, university professors or elected politicians, merely because they are experts in Islamic theology and law -- all guarantee that Islam will remain fixed in its classical stance that all innovation (bid'a) is heresy and that heresy leads to hellfire. And that affects all of us, deeply.
*Dr. Denis MacEoin is rationalist and secularist. He taught Arabic and Islamic Studies at a British university, has a doctorate in Persian Studies, and writes as a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute.
[1] On which, see here and here.
[2] For a dated but scholarly account of those achievements, see Sir Thomas Arnold and Alfred Guillaume, The Legacy of Islam, Oxford University Press, 1931, last updated 1952.
[3] For a popular study of the Muslim rejection of reason in the Middle Ages and later, see Robert Reilly, The Closing of the Muslim Mind (2011)
© 2017 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

Violence against Women: Some Inconvenient Data for the Corrupt UN
Burak Bekdil/Gatestone Institute/June 28/17
The last (worst) rankings of the Global Gender Gap Index of the World Economic Forum, from 128th to 144th, are without exception overwhelmingly Muslim countries, including Turkey at the 130th place.
A 2016 study by Turkey's Family and Social Policies Ministry revealed that no fewer than 86% of Turkish women have suffered physical or psychological violence at the hands of their partners or family.
So, tell us, Ms. Simonovic: Do Turkish men beat and sometimes kill their wives because of Israeli occupation? Is there "a clear link" between Turkey's rising numbers indicating violence against women and "Israel's prolonged occupation?"
The United Nations panels lovingly practice hypocrisy all the time. In 2016, a UN debate revolved around the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), which voted to blame Israel for Palestinian domestic violence. This year's show was hardly different in the content of nonsense. The executive director of UN Watch, Hillel Neuer, asked Dubravka Simonovic, UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, at a session on June 12: "Ms. Simonovic, in other words, what you are saying is as follows: 'When Palestinian men beat their wives, it's Israel's fault.'"
At first glance it sounds like dark humor, but it is not. Not just one but two reports presented before the UNHRC by Simonovic argue that Israel is to blame for Palestinian violence against women, through "a clear linkage between the prolonged occupation and violence".
Where, Neuer asked Simonovic, is the data? There is data, but not the kind that Simonovic would prefer to believe exists.
According to the Global Gender Gap Index of the World Economic Forum, there is not a single overwhelmingly Muslim nation in the best 50 scoring list of countries. In contrast, the last (worst) rankings of the index, from 128th to 144th, are without exception overwhelmingly Muslim countries, including Turkey at the 130th place. Turkey's case is important to note, as the increasing supremacy of Islamist politics in daily life in the country has boosted patriarchal behavior and worsened gender equality since 2002, when President (then Prime Minister) Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power. In other words Turkey, the 17th biggest economy in the world, is the 15th-last country in terms of gender equality.
The United Nations Population Fund grimly observed in a report:
"... women and girls are still exposed to violence, being abused, trafficked, their access to education and political participation is refused and face with many other human rights violations ... The fact of violence against women as a concept emerged through gender inequality is widespread in Turkey".
A 2013 Hurriyet Daily News survey found that 34% of Turkish men think violence against women is "occasionally necessary," while 28% say violence can be used to discipline women; a combined 62% approval of violence against women.
In 2014, Turkey's Family and Social Policies Ministry reported that its domestic violence hotline received over 100,000 calls, and estimated that the number of unreported cases is three to five times that number.
A 2016 study by the same ministry revealed that no fewer than 86% of Turkish women have suffered physical or psychological violence at the hands of their partners or family. According to the ministry's findings, physical violence is the most common form of abuse, as 70% of women reported they were physically assaulted. Violence against women is a cultural practice, and culture here is a blend of derivatives including religion and politics. Frenchmen, for instance, did not develop a habit of beating their wives during the German occupation. Nor did the Cypriot men after Turkey invaded the northern third of their island.
Violence finds particularly fertile ground in societies where the dominant "culture" is derived from Islamist conservatism. At the beginning of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, for instance, a Turkish professor of theology, Cevat Aksit, said during a television show that: "Women who are not fasting due to menstruation and eat on the street during Ramadan can get beaten".
How does Erdogan's government respond to that? Not by law enforcement but by gender-based segregation. Bursa, one of Turkey's biggest cities, recently launched a project to designate separate railway carriages for women on intra-city trains, to make women "comfortable" during their rides.
All that is normal in a country where the most popular political figure, Erdogan, is a man who once said that "women should know their place," and that "gender equality is against human nature", and his deputy prime minister once told women not to laugh in public.
So, tell us, Ms. Simonovic: Do Turkish men beat and sometimes kill their wives because of Israeli occupation? Is there "a clear link" between Turkey's rising numbers indicating violence against women and "Israel's prolonged occupation?"
The 56th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, in the hall of the United Nations General Assembly, February 27, 2012. (Image source: UN Women/Ryan Brown)
**Burak Bekdil, one of Turkey's leading journalists, was just fired from Turkey's leading newspaper after 29 years, for writing what was taking place in Turkey for Gatestone. He is a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.
© 2017 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

Why Americans Feel So Good about a Mediocre Economy
Noah Smith/Bloomberg/Al Arabiya/June 28/17
A strange thing seems to be happening to the US economy. On surveys, businesspeople and consumers say the future looks bright. But recent economic activity hasn’t appeared very robust.
Andrew Ross Sorkin of the New York Times noted this in a recent article about mergers and acquisitions. A number of surveys have been reporting that chief executive officers are highly optimistic. For example, the website Chief Executive and the Wall Street Journal/Vistage Small Business CEO Survey both report a surge in CEO confidence since the 2016 election, while Business Roundtable’s CEO Economic Outlook Survey finds an average level of confidence.
But as Sorkin reports, M&A activity is at its lowest level since 2013, and has fallen 40 percent in the past two years. Share buybacks have also slowed. Those “hard” numbers indicate that whatever CEOs are saying on paper, they aren’t taking actions that signal confidence in the future of their businesses. Capacity usage, which fell slightly in May, is another indicator of that true business sentiment is far from giddy.
Another example is consumption. The University of Michigan’s Surveys of Consumers show confidence at the highest levels they’ve been since before the crisis.
But again, some hard numbers tell a different story. Retail sales fell in May, and have been relatively lackluster for the entire year so far.
Auto sales are falling as well. Since cars are expensive, long-term purchases, consumers often signal lack of optimism by holding back on the purchase of a new car, choosing instead to drive their old model for a little while longer. So this is another data point that belies rosy consumer confidence numbers. Pending home sales provide a third spot of weakness.
Employment isn’t particularly strong either. Nonfarm payrolls expanded by only 138,000 in May, lower than the 185,000 that had been forecast. That follows another middling month in April and a dismal 79,000 in March.
Why the divergence between the “soft” numbers of confidence surveys and the “hard” numbers of the real economy? One possibility is that this is just a momentary spot of economic weakness, and the numbers that measure sentiment point to better days in the near future. But survey numbers have been rosy for a half-year now, so if these surveys were doing their job of forecasting the real economy, it seems like the good times they predict would have started to show up in the data by now.
It’s also possible that the hard numbers are just very noisy and full of error. That’s always a danger with up-to-the-minute analysis of the latest economic statistics. For example, capacity utilization rose substantially in April, so the slight fall in May might be due to the correction of a random mismeasurement the previous month.
Another possibility is that the seemingly weak “hard” numbers are cherry-picked by me and others. No one knows exactly which economic numbers to trust at any given moment in time. The Conference Board’s index of leading economic indicators was actually up slightly in May. But Morgan Stanley reports a “record gap” between hard and soft numbers in recent months, so the phenomenon seems real.
A third possibility — and one I personally find likely — is that surveys of consumer and business confidence have systematic errors that make them unreliable in certain economic and political climates but not in others.
Surveys have some predictive power, but only a bit. The Index of Consumer Sentiment is believed to explain only 13 percent to 26 percent of the variations in economic output. Similarly, financial surveys have a slight bit of ability to predict the stock market, but only when many are used in conjunction — and even then, the signal is a weak one.

It Is Southern Syria, Smart Guys!
Eyad Abu Shakra/Al Arabiya/June 28/17
Waiting for Washington’s position towards old nationalist Kurdish aspirations, at least in Northern Syria, more interest is silently being accorded to what may be the most serious flashpoint in the Near East today. It is Southern Syria.
Recently, Asharq Al-Awsat published Israeli viewpoints on the region extending from Albu-Kamal, on the Iraqi border in the east, all the way westwards to the Ceasefire line in the Israeli Golan Heights, including Al-Tanf checkpoint on the Jordanian borders. What was expressed was quite interesting, although what we have learned from the experience is that the essence of Israeli policy is never what is being said, but what takes place on the ground.
Indeed, often, most public pronouncements are nothing but attempts of diverting attention, if not outright misleading and bluffing.
So, for a moment, let us leave behind what is being said and concentrate, instead, on the facts in Southern Syria.
The first is that the Syrian Regime, whether directly or through pro-Regime village-defense vigilante groups, is well-established near the Southwest corner of the country. Israel, on its parts, accepts the principle of village-defense groups for both humanitarian and sectarian reasons as long as it does not have to pay a political or strategic price for their existence. However, there is a military presence too for the Regime as well as Hezbollah militia – subsequently, Iran – on the eastern slopes and foothills of Mount Hermon. Thus, silence here means that Israel does not feel such presence is a threat.
The second fact is that in southwestern Dera’a Province (Southern Jadhour and western Hauran) exists an ‘enclave’ that comprises a few villages and is controlled by ISIS. This ‘enclave’ is supposed to be geographically isolated from the rest of Dera’a Province which constitutes the ‘heart’ of historical Hauran (Roman ‘Auranitis’) and would be vulnerable to air attacks; yet, neither the Regime – which has already destroyed Aleppo, Homs, and many Damascus suburbs – nor Israel has attacked it!
The third fact is that Israel, which in December 1981 officially annexed the occupied heights after the 1967 War, considers the annexed area an indivisible ‘Israeli territory’. In fact, since then the former Syrian President Hafez Al-Assad and various Israeli leaders were engaged in political maneuvers regarding the ‘liberation’ of the Golan Heights. Both parties were doing their best to ‘justify’ why they were running away from a solution. Among the ‘justifications’ was the ‘disagreement’ on the future of Al-Batiha and Al-Himma lands on the shores of Lake Tiberias (Sea of Galilee), and the borders drawn by the tidal water level of the lake. Once, an Arab hydrologist who knew a lot about this issue told me that Hafez Al-Assad was keen to maintain the ‘no war no peace’ situation – including keeping the Golan under Israeli occupation – because this would continue to portray his regime as a bastion of “steadfastness and confrontation” against Israel, and thus, sparing him the risks of opening up to true democracy, freedoms and proper constitutional rule. On the opposite side, Israel would benefit from the Syrian regime becoming a fake umbrella for lip-service “steadfastness and confrontation” while serving Israel strategic interests.
The fourth fact is that since the Arab-Israeli War of October 1973, which aimed at handing over all the regional cards to Washington, the Golan ceasefire line was the calmest of all regional ‘fronts’. Animosity towards Israel was never translated into military action except in Lebanon as part of qualifying to become part of the ‘Shi’ite Crescent’, the Palestinian Territories with the intention of fomenting a Palestinian civil war, and, of course, in popular TV series and patriotic songs. It is well known that the Syrian army entered Lebanon in 1976 to crush the Palestinian ‘resistance’ organizations with an American green light and Israeli blessings. The only thing that changed since then was the ‘details’ of the unwritten ‘accords of co-existence’ between Damascus and Tel Aviv in 1982, when the Israelis swept through Lebanon. However, things went back to normal after overturning Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait in 1990. Hafez Al-Assad’s participation in liberating Kuwait with the OS-led Allied Forces was rewarded by the Americans – and Israelis – by giving him yet again a free hand in Lebanon. The result has been the liquidation of the ‘Lebanese State’ in favor of Hezbollah’s ‘State of the Resistance’.
The fifth fact is that Israel has accepted, since withdrawing its troops from Southern Lebanon in 2000 and declaring the ‘victory of Hezbollah’, to co-exist with a Lebanon run by Hezbollah, which is an organ of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC). Israel, which is well aware of what Hezbollah is, to whom it is connected, and what it has done to the Lebanese fabric, was keen in 2006 to gift it another political victory in order to enhance its nationalist ‘legitimacy’. That year Israel launched a devastating war intended to ruin Lebanon’s infrastructure but not Hezbollah’s. After that, a tacit understating emerged by which it became clear that the pro-Iran militia could use its military arsenal anywhere within Lebanon and the Arab world but not against Israel.
The sixth fact is that after fighting inside Syria in support of Bashar Al-Assad’s Regime alongside other Iranian-led Shi’ite militias, Hezbollah was treated by Israel the same way Al-Assad regime was being treated; i.e. through coded messages. The reality is that Israel has so far regarded the survival of both Al-Assad regime and Hezbollah as an Israeli ‘strategic goal’, but under Israeli conditions. Hence, as we have been noticing recently, Iran and its henchmen and puppets have put aside fiery rhetoric and military marches for the ‘liberation of Jerusalem’, while using the deadliest weapons to ‘liberate’ Syrian cities and villages from their inhabitants and occupying four Arab capital cities!
As a result, if we look at what has remained of Syria, we cannot fail to see that the ‘De-escalation Areas’ format hides a grand plan, in which the ‘Iranian Crescent’ plays a central role; and if messages from Washington and Moscow to Turkey and the secessionist Kurds appear contradictory, Israel’s silence towards the situation in Southern Syria does not mean that Tel Aviv is disinterested.
In fact, Israel, which has implicitly defended Al-Assad in Western capitals, is now expecting its share in not only the ‘Syrian cake’, but also the “regional cake’. It hopes to place the whole of natural and historical Hauran under its sphere of influence.

Doha Must Raise the White Flag
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Al Arabiya/June 28/17
In face of the recent angry boycott of Qatar, Doha is like a trapped cat searching for a way out. Rather than dealing with its crisis and admitting it had become a serious and dangerous threat to everyone in the region, Doha resorted to its old tricks.
To the Qatari cat we say: quit jumping off windows, the crisis has only one way out and that is through reaching an understanding with the neighbors. Iran’s Supreme Leader will do you no good and neither will Turkish soldiers, or US circles that believe in half solutions, or German statements. None of the parties that you resorted to will save you.
The four countries boycotting Qatar have 13 demands which in reality share one goal: Qatar regime end its harm and the damage it is creating for the region’s countries which will resort to restraining Doha regime if it continued to disagree.
It seems that the countries have made up their mind not to remain silent over threats to their security and existence, thus reaching a point where Qatar tastes its own medicine.
As for this insistence, for more than two years, Egypt has been calling the Qatari regime to end its support for the opposition whether armed or civilian. Egyptian affairs only concern Egyptians.
Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE had repeatedly asked Doha to halt funding extremist opposition and stop supporting armed groups in Yemen and other areas.
Bahrain suffered long from Qatar’s funding of armed and civil opposition.
The countries insisted on the 13 conditions because they have previously tried to reason with the Qatari regime which only exposed its lies.
During the 2013 Riyadh agreement, Doha signed a document pledging it won’t be part of any aggression against its neighbor Saudi Arabia.
After protesting that Qatar didn’t fulfill its agreement, Doha claimed it didn’t pledge to anything.
Faced with this denial, mediating countries suggested a mechanism to ensure Qatar’s commitment to its obligations. A year barely passed and Qatar was linked to every crisis Gulf countries faced, which confirmed that it was preparing the worst against them. Above all of that, the regime was lying.
Qatar claimed it is committed to what was asked of it. It literally did by adopting a deceitful approach to abide by the Riyadh agreement. It stopped hosting extremist opposition figures in Doha but it transferred them to other countries such as Turkey, Britain, and the US to work against their countries and funded them.
Some of these figures were granted the Qatari nationality, thus the regime can claim it was not funding Egyptian or Saudi extremists.
Qatar obliged al-Jazeera channel to steer away from Saudi Arabia and it stopped inciting and broadcasting terrorists’ recordings. However, it launched several media networks for the exact role, including alternative television channels funded in Turkey and Britain.
Qatar now thinks it can still deceit the countries but in different formations. But the crisis has escalated now and Cairo can see that Qatar’s actions are threatening its security, especially when it funds armed terrorist groups in Libya that execute its attacks inside Egypt. These groups attack Egypt amid Al Jazeera’s celebrations and obvious incitement against it.
Saudi Arabia also no longer kept silent over Houthis who shelled Saudi cities with support from Iranians and Qataris.
Saudi Arabia cannot remain silent over Qatar’s funding of deceived Saudis who fight with ISIS and al-Nusra Front in Syria and Iraq.
We are aware that Qatar’s real aim and project is for these Saudis to return later to Saudi Arabia and fight there.
This is similar to what Qatar did when it incited Saudis who joined al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and revolted against their country in the past two decades.
The battle is clear. Qatar is targeting regimes by toppling or weakening it. It is inevitable for its deeds to be met with the same action. It is better for this misbehaved and infamous cat to raise its white flag rather than believing its own claims. Doha is threatening that confrontation will lead to a similar result of the “Safwan Tent” but we fear it will become “Rabaa Square”.

US issues warning to Syria after finding 'potential preparations' for sarin attack

Julian Borger/The Guardian/June 28/17
The US said on Tuesday that it had observed preparations for a possible chemical weapons attack at a Syrian air base allegedly involved in a sarin attack in April following a warning from the White House that the Syrian regime would “pay a heavy price” for further use of the weapons.
Reporters traveling in Germany with the US defence secretary, James Mattis, were told that the Pentagon was prepared to take action after activity was seen at the Shayrat base similar to the pattern that preceded the April gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun, which killed at least 80 people. That incident prompted a US missile strike on the base, although the strike did not seriously impair its operations.
What do we know about regime's use of chemical weapons in Syria?
Pentagon spokesman Cpt Jeff Davis said that the activity at the base had taken place in “the past day or two”. “This involved specific aircraft in a specific hangar, both of which we know to be associated with chemical weapons use,” he told Reuters.
In a bluntly worded statement released late on Monday night, the White House said: “The United States has identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children.
“The activities are similar to preparations the regime made before its April 4, 2017 chemical weapons attack,” the White House said. “As we have previously stated, the United States is in Syria to eliminate the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. If, however, Mr Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price.”
The unusual public warning on Monday night appeared to be intended to deter the regime from repeating its use of chemical weapons against rebel-held cities and towns.
It may also have been aimed at the regime’s backers in Moscow and Tehran, who have resolutely backed Assad and denied the regime’s responsibility for chemical weapons use.
The French presidency said in a statement on Tuesday that Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump had agreed during a telephone call on the need for a “joint response” in the event of another chemical attack in Syria but refused to say if it had evidence of one under preparation.
After a meeting last month with Vladimir Putin, an Assad ally, Macron drew a “very clear red line” on the use of chemical weapons “by whomever” and warned of reprisals.
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The Kremlin on Tuesday described the US warning as an unacceptable threat and said Russia had no information about a new chemical attack. However, the Russian and Syrian militaries are closely intertwined. The White House warning came on the same day the chief of the Russian general staff, General Valery Gerasimov met President Bashar Assad at Khmeimim air base near Latakia.
Mattis did not address the nature of the intelligence or White House warning as he flew to Europe for a Nato meeting, but said the US was not going to get pulled into the conflict between the regime and the armed opposition.
“We just refuse to get drawn into a fight there in the Syria civil war, we try to end that one through diplomatic engagement,” he told reporters. “If somebody comes after us, bombs us or takes a heading on us or fires on us, then under legitimate self-defence we’ll do whatever we have to do to stop it.”
He said the US would not fire “unless they are the enemy, unless they are Isis. He did not mention the administration’s response to the regime’s use of chemical weapons.
Although the focus of US military operations in the region is the defeat of Isis in its two major strongholds, Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, the Trump administration has showed itself willing to act if the Assad regime carries out a major chemical weapons attack.
On 6 April, Donald Trump ordered a salvo of 59 Tomahawk missiles against Shayrat base in response to the sarin attack on Khan Sheikhoun. Russians were present at the Shayrat base, near Homs, but US planners ensured that the missiles used in the night-time strike fell well away from the Russian compound.
“President Trump’s warning to the Assad regime not to use chemical weapons against Syrians is based on intelligence submitted to the administration about such [a] possibility,” Walid Phares, a Trump adviser on the Middle East during the campaign, told the Guardian.
Phares suggested the main intended recipient of the White House message was Moscow.
“The situation is delicate as Russia warned [against] US air action over Assad regime assets,” he said. “Hence it is maybe up to the Russians to insure that Assad won’t use these weapons so that no escalation in Syrian airspace could happen.”
The UK’s defence secretary, Michael Fallon, said the US had not shared any evidence of a specific threat of a chemical weapons attack.
“We are very clear the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime is absolutely abhorrent and the last time the United States took action to deal with the aircraft and airbase from which these chemical weapons were used we fully supported their strike,” Fallon told the BBC.
The UK would support any US attack on Assad so long as it was proportionate, legal and necessary, Fallon added.
“The White House must have solid intelligence about a possible Syrian sarin attack but why they chose to send [a] message to Assad and Putin via press release isn’t clear,” Daryl Kimball, the head of the Arms Control Association said in a tweet. Kimball said that the risk of coming into conflict with Russian forces in the event of another punitive US strike was higher now than it was in April.
Frants Klintsevich, who sits on a defence committee in the Russian parliament, criticised the White House warning. The US is “preparing a new attack on the positions of Syrian forces”, Klintsevich told state-owned RIA Novosti, adding: “Preparations for a new cynical and unprecedented provocation are underway.” US forces in Syria have also been empowered to defend themselves and their allies against attack, which has led to a string of recent clashes with pro-regime forces competing for the same territory.
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Angela Merkel Embraces German Nationalism with a Twist
Leonid Bershidsky/Bloomberg/Al Arabiya/June 28/17
There are certain points in history when it makes sense for a leader to define what it means to belong to a country and a culture. In 2017, quite a few countries appear to need a reminder. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has just attempted, with equal measures of levity and earnestness, to define what it means to be German. Her definition, published in the tabloid Bild on Thursday, takes the form of an alphabetical glossary of things and notions she considers quintessentially German, from A to Z. Some of the entries are deadly serious, such as “Germany’s eternal responsibility for the Holocaust” or “Article 1, paragraph 1 of the Constitution” (which proclaims the inviolability of human dignity). Others are quirky: carnival jesters’ traditional greetings “Helau” and “Alaaf” are included. Some are in line with what the world associates with Germans and their traditions: “punctuality,” “precision work,” “bratwurst,” “order,” “Octoberfest,” “Wagner in Bayreuth.” Some denote traditions that are less well-known: “collective bargaining,” “choral singing,” and the “church tax.” Then there’s a category that’s all about national pride: “the fourth star” for Germany’s fourth football World Cup, and “world champion in exports.”
This, of course, is something of an election campaign gimmick. During the 2013 campaign, a video that quickly went viral showed Merkel angrily taking a German flag away from a fellow party member who had tried to wave it while standing next to her. This year, the flags are back, and the flag colors get a mention on Merkel’s list. Her Christian Democratic Union is trying to reclaim the patriotic ground from the Alternative for Germany populists. Affirming the German Leitkultur, lead culture, is one of the CDU strategies. Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, a Merkel ally, published his own “Top 10” of the Leitkultur’s features in April, and it included Christianity but not any other religions; the Judeo-Christian tradition makes an appearance on Merkel’s list, too.
But, for everyone who might think she regrets letting in more than a million refugees into the country in 2015 and 2016, Merkel’s list also includes “Muslims” and “migration background” — something that 21 percent of Germany’s residents have today. In that, Merkel echoes a campaign speech by France’s new President Emmanuel Macron in Marseille, in which he held forth on how French national identity is driven by its diversity of immigrants: “Armenians, Comorans, Italians, Algerians, Moroccans, Tunisians, Malians, Senegalese, Ivorians.” It amounted to a challenge to his far-right rival, Marine Le Pen.
The way these two leaders see national identity is a step away from the slogans of diversity, multiculturalism and supranational federalism. They’re talking about a deep-rooted, old culture taking on some new flavors without straying too far from its traditional mainstream. It only looks progressive compared with the alternatives — for example, the stump speeches of Le Pen or other nationalists across Europe.
At the same time, it’s somewhat similar to the vision of Russian national identity that Vladimir Putin laid down in a 2012 article. He described ethnic Russians and the Russian culture as a “binding fabric” for historically multiethnic society. Putin quoted Ivan Ilyin, his favorite emigre philosopher whom many consider an early fascist ideologue (despite his troubles with the Nazi regime in Germany): “Not to eradicate, not to suppress, not to enslave outsider blood, not to strangle foreign and non-Orthodox life but to let everyone breathe and give them a great Motherland; to watch over everyone, make peace, let everyone pray in their own way, work in their own way and involve the best from everywhere in building a state and a culture.”
Putin’s version of mild nationalism, in which everyone is welcome to the “lead culture” and full assimilation isn’t required as long as you’re involved in “state-building,” has been successful in Russia. Most people I know there, even those who dislike Putin, share this vision with little variation. But I’m also aware of the danger of politicians’ forays into cultural identity. After a while, the idea of a welcoming but dominant culture can morph into uglier forms, as it did for Russia when it went to war against Ukraine, a country with a similar but distinct identity that didn’t want join the Russian fold.
I don’t expect Merkel or Macron to go invading neighboring countries. But, as core European Union members, Germany and France are in a unique position to influence a large block of extremely diverse nations. Inclusive flag-waving is still flag-waving; though it’s easy to understand why some version of nationalism is necessary to win elections this year, it may develop into the kind of high-handed assertiveness that united Europe was meant to eliminate. That’s why I wonder which parts of that rather chaotic alphabetical exercise are really the most important to Merkel — the inclusion and openness bits or the tradition and identity bits. Her previous record says the former. But could it be that the latter are getting more important in 2017, not just for election-related reasons?