A Campaign in Saudi Arabia Challenges Young People to Rethinking Their Biases

by Joseph Braude – A three-minute video, posted by a Saudi government-backed organization to YouTube on June 4, has garnered 150,000 views in 48 hours and sparked a discussion in the kingdom about how to stem sectarian conflict. In “The Hidden Killer,” a voice speaking Saudi-inflected Arabic asks the viewer to guess the identity of a force “worse than disease, natural disasters, and famine” which kills not only innocents by the hundreds of thousands but also entire states. (Spoiler alert: The hidden killer might be you, unless you learn to accept difference and get along with others.) The narration intensifies over a sequence of animated watercolor images and a lean, crescendoing soundtrack. Here’s the clip, subtitled into English: The King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue, which commissioned the video, was established in 2003 in the wake of the September 11 tragedy and a subsequent series of Qaeda-linked terror attacks in Riyadh which claimed more than 40 lives. It aimed to offer a platform to “debate reform and suggest remedies” for Continue Reading…

Why Iran Matters to South Korea — and Why South Korea’s Middle East Posture Should Matter to the United States

The controversial Iranian nuclear framework agreement presented on April 2nd in Lausanne is being closely watched 6,500 miles east of Tehran, on the Korean peninsula. Beginning in 1994, the rogue state of North Korea broke a series of promises to the international community to submit to nuclear inspectors and disarmament. In 2009, it declared that it had developed a nuclear weapon. As the country most gravely threatened is the democratic Republic of Korea to Pyongyang’s south, I sat down this week with Oh Joon, the country’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, and asked for his perspective on Lausanne. Seoul is an increasingly active player in the Middle East. In 2012, a South Korean consortium began to construct four commercial nuclear power reactors in the United Arab Emirates, in a deal approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency and valued at $20 billion. Trade with the broader region has grown rapidly. With respect to Iranian efforts to dominate Arab politics through proxy militias, South Korea has generally sided with Sunni Continue Reading…

Political slugfest on suggestion the White House may take an Iran deal to the UN

This following is a translation of Joseph Braude’s latest weekly column in Arabic, Letter from New York (Risalat New York), in the Moroccan daily Al-Ahdath al-Maghrebiya. Reports emerged in the American media Thursday that President Obama may propose a resolution to the UN Security Council calling for the lifting of international sanctions on Iran, if an agreement is reached by the “P5+1″ negotiating team over the country’s nuclear program. The possibility angered members of the Republican Congress, who have been fiercely critical of the emerging Iranian deal, citing concerns that it will enable Iran to gradually achieve its nuclear aspirations, as well as free its hand to further empower its Shi’ite Islamist Arab proxies. Michael Doran, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, told Al-Ahdath al-Maghrebiya, “There is a strong possibility that the President will take this to the Security Council because that is an Iranian demand. The reason the Iranians want him to go to the UN is they want sanctions relief, and a UN resolution will give the Continue Reading…

New pressures on the UN Security Council to lift its arms embargo on Libya

Pressures mounted on the United Nations Security Council yesterday to lift its international embargo on arms to the Libyan government. In an interview with journalist Valerio Robecco, Libyan UN ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi said, “A time limit should be set for militias to leave the capital and a government of national united needs to be formed. Otherwise, military efforts should be deployed alongside political ones.” He added that the end of March would be an appropriate deadline. Yesterday’s comment by the Libyan ambassador follows his impassioned speech at the UN Security Council Wednesday, in which he called for exemptions on the arms embargo which the government says has hobbled its ability to fight the growing threat of Islamist militancy — and also blamed inaction by the international community for allowing jihadist militancy to spread across much of his country. It also comes on the heels of new press reports, citing unnamed diplomatic sources, that the government of Egypt led by General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is pressuring the United Nations for mandated Continue Reading…

A Growing Rift Between Washington and the Gulf States on Yemen

Activity intensified over the past week at the United Nations with respect to the deteriorating situation in Yemen — amid further evidence of a rift over the country’s future between Washington and its traditional Gulf allies. Jamal Benomar, the United Nations special envoy to Yemen, met with Yemeni president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi at his new headquarters in Aden. He reiterated support for Hadi as the country’s legitimately elected leader, told reporters that his “resumption of duties would help to pull the country together,” and called for a resolution of the crisis within the framework of the “Gulf Initiative.” Meanwhile, the United Nations Security Council decided to extend the mandate of the “group of four” experts on Yemen, which was established to oversee sanctions measures employed against individuals and entities designated as threatening “peace, security or stability “in the country. And the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Friday raised alarms about a growing number of “unlawful arrests, arbitrary detention, and the targeting of journalists” in the Continue Reading…

Mounting concern about the President’s ISIS strategy, or lack thereof

Two months after the United States Air Force began its attack on territories controlled by ISIS, criticism of the Obama Administration’s strategy toward the organization continues to mount. Or to be more precise, American critics of the Administration increasingly charge that it lacks a coherent strategy. As columnist Tim Mak put it in The Daily Beast on November 13, the President is yet to answer three key questions: Where is the legal justification for the war? Will American troops fight? And who are they really battling? The heightened concern was stoked on Wednesday when CNN reported that the president had commissioned a review of the ISIS strategy, a sign of discomfort with the approach that had been taken thus far. When Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was subsequently asked by members of Congress whether there was or would be a shift, his answer, as characterized by Mak, was to avoid the question “by responding in the present tense.” As Mak pointed out, Secretary Hagel told the Congressional committee, “There is no change Continue Reading…

An unexpected turn in a campaign of psychological warfare

– Here is a translation of Joseph Braude’s weekly broadcast in Arabic, Risalat New York, for October 20, 2014. To hear the broadcast, click here. For some time now, a campaign of disinformation and psychological warfare has been waged against the United States and its allies by a terror group that brutalizes the innocents who live under its rule. In recent days, however, there have been signs that the group could itself fall prey to the trap it set for others. We are referring of course to the so-called “Islamic State,” otherwise known as ISIS. Reports have been numerous over the past half-year that the organization excels in the use of social media, such as Twitter, as a means to recruit fighters from around the world as well as intimidate various powers in the West. In addition to the infamous beheadings of American and European hostages, some militants in Iraq and Syria went so far as to photograph themselves, smiling, next to the gruesome remains of locals who had also been Continue Reading…

On the Politicization of Jewish-Muslim dialogue

From New York, we send to all the Muslims of Morocco the very best wishes for an Eid Mubarak, and every year may you be well. And to the Jewish community of Morocco on the occasion of the day of atonement, “Yom Kippur,” we say, Shana Tova. It was perhaps a sign of hope to find these two important monotheistic holidays coinciding on one weekend this year, at a time of unprecedented sectarian strife in so much of the region. As Moroccans are well aware, King Mohammed VI continues to play a distinguished role in supporting tolerance and reconciliation among faiths — and he has not missed an opportunity to advance the cause of dialogue between Muslims and Jews in particular. The world is fortunate, moreover, that the king is not alone in this endeavor. Recent years have seen an uptick in interfaith conferences, both in the Arab world and the West. Here in New York, for example, a young Jewish American named Daniel Pincus regularly hosts gatherings in his Continue Reading…

Some Women Have Joined the Ranks of ISIS, But Others Can Help Defeat It

by Ahmed Charai and Joseph Braude – After the grisly execution of American journalist Steven Sotloff by an ISIS terrorist earlier this month, a chilling message from inside ISIS-controlled territory reached tens of thousands globally via social media: “I wish I did it.” It came from Umm Ubaydah, a Western woman who had converted to Islam, moved to Syria, married a jihadist fighter, and joined in the ISIS media campaign to drum up support for the movement among English-language Tweeters and bloggers everywhere. According to estimates by American and European centers for the study of radicalization, Umm Ubaydah is one of hundreds of Western women who have either joined the ranks of ISIS or been intercepted en route to the territory it now controls. Some are converts to Islam: Nineteen-year-old Coloradan Shannon Maureen Conley, arrested in April by the FBI on her way out of the country via Denver International Airport, pleaded guilty on September 10 to planning to join the group. Other female recruits hail from Muslim immigrant communities, Continue Reading…

Teaching Critical Thinking in the Middle East

Whether a conflict involves enraged spouses or a nation embroiled in sectarian warfare, feuding parties can de-escalate by employing civil discourse and rational argumentation. They can talk and reason empathically, for example. They can call out each other’s logical fallacies and agree to stop using them. They can pinpoint irreconcilable differences, accept them, and negotiate a compromise. But doing so is hard enough in the heat of an emotional exchange; it is much harder under the yoke of a religious dictate, or in an environment where rational argumentation is neither taught nor even available to learn in the local language. There are many such places, and one is Saudi Arabia, according to Omar al-Anazi, a 23-year-old medical student at King Abdelaziz University in the Saudi port city of Jedda. “When people talk to each other here,” he says, “too often they make arguments based on logical fallacies, impossible to resolve. It’s detrimental to the country to leave them that way.” In his view, an “ignorant movement” advanced by extremist clerics, Continue Reading…