Category : Middle East

(WSJ) For the U.S. vs. Iran, It’s Win or Go Home. That’s Pressure Enough.

“We used to be excited when one of our young players took the field against Chelsea, or Juventus or Milan,” said [Roger] Bennett. “Now we have talents that play for all of those teams and more. They have gained both the self-respect that comes with that, as well as the commercial opportunities.”

Stereotypes linger, especially overseas—the U.S. as plucky, undertalented overachievers from a country that doesn’t say football and can’t hang with the highest contenders. You could sense a little of this from the disappointed England fans who booed their homeland squad off the pitch following the draw with the U.S.

But that’s an old mindset. The U.S. team is in Qatar not to represent, but to win, the surest signal that the sport has evolved past any kind of existential debate about its future or perception around the world.

What does Tuesday’s game versus Iran mean for the United States? It means survival at the World Cup. That’s meaningful enough.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Qatar, Sports

538 ranks teams chances of winning the World Cup

It’s hard to believe — mostly because it’s currently November and not June 1 — but the 2022 World Cup kicks off at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, on Nov. 20. The host nation will square off against Ecuador in the first World Cup match ever played in the Arab world. And the start of the tournament comes with plenty of questions about who might lift soccer’s most prestigious trophy.

Will it be Brazil, the betting favorite? Or could France become the first nation to repeat since 1962? Is Spain’s new golden generation — piloted by teenagers like Barcelona midfielders Gavi and Pedri — as good as its previous golden generation? 2 Does Lionel Messi have enough left in the tank to lead Argentina to glory and further cement himself as the G.O.A.T.? Is football finally coming home?3 Which squads could shock the world? Is there any shine left on Belgium’s underachieving golden generation?

Last week, we used Elo ratings to measure historical Groups of Death at the World Cup, and also to see where this year’s groups rank — or if a Group of Death even exists this time around. (TL;DR: We’re not sure/it’s complicated.) Today, we’re back with our full-fledged World Cup forecast model to take a broader look at the field and try to answer who’ll be the last team standing on Dec. 18.

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Posted in Globalization, Qatar, Sports

A Prayer for the Feast Day of Saint Ammon of Egypt

Drive far from thy church, O God, the spirit of clerical ambition, that all whom thou dost call to lead thy people might do so in the order to which they have been truly called. Grant that like thy servant Ammonius we may refuse to conflate ordination and leadership and may never confuse rank with holiness. In the name of thy son Jesus Christ our Lord, who alone is our great High Priest. Amen.

Posted in Church History, Egypt, Spirituality/Prayer

(WSJ) Walter Russell Mead–The Iran Nuclear Deal’s Convulsive Death

If the U.S. is going to develop an effective response to this combination of strategic threats, our political leaders will have to move beyond finger pointing and blame games over the fate of the JCPOA. Republicans can say justly that Mr. Obama’s decision to sign something as consequential and controversial as the Iran nuclear deal without the bipartisan support needed to get a treaty ratified in the Senate was a historic mistake. Democrats can reasonably riposte that Mr. Trump’s unilateral withdrawal made everything worse. Such matters can be left to the historians. The question before us now is not who was right in 2015 or 2018. It is what we do next.

Mr. Biden has repeatedly said that allowing Iran to build nuclear weapons is not an option. If his administration fails to hold that line, the consequences for American power in the Middle East and globally would be profound and perhaps irreversible. If America attacks Iranian nuclear facilities and finds itself stuck in yet another Middle Eastern quagmire, the effects at home and abroad will also be dire. China and Russia would take advantage of America’s Middle East preoccupation to make trouble elsewhere, and U.S. public opinion would be further polarized.

Few presidents have faced policy choices this tough or consequential. It’s understandable if not commendable that the administration postponed the day of reckoning for so long, but as the dead-cat stink intensifies, Mr. Biden is coming closer to the greatest test of his career.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., China, Foreign Relations, Iran, Politics in General, President Joe Biden, Russia

(WSJ) U.S. Held Secret Meeting With Israeli, Arab Military Chiefs to Counter Iran Air Threat

The U.S. convened a secret meeting of top military officials from Israel and Arab countries in March to explore how they could coordinate against Iran’s growing missile and drone capabilities, according to officials from the U.S. and the region.

The previously undisclosed talks, which were held at Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, marked the first time that such a range of ranking Israeli and Arab officers have met under U.S. military auspices to discuss how to defend against a common threat.

The meeting brought together the top military officers from Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt and Jordan and came as Israel and its neighbors are in the early stage of discussing potential military cooperation, the officials said.

The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain also sent officers to the meeting. The U.S. was represented by Gen. Frank McKenzie, then the head of the U.S. Central Command.

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Posted in Foreign Relations, Iran, Israel, Middle East, Military / Armed Forces, Politics in General, Science & Technology

(Reuters) Church of the Holy Sepulchre’s ancient altar rediscovered, researchers say

Pressed against a wall in a back corridor of Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a stone slab bore testimony only to the graffiti etched on it by multitudes of pilgrims through the ages.

But the 2.5 x 1.5 metre stone turned out to be far more precious when its other side was exposed during recent renovations at the church, the traditional site of Jesus’s crucifixion and burial.

Researchers believe the elaborate looping ornaments they found on the long-hidden part of the slab indicate it was once the decorated front of a medieval high altar that took pride of place centuries ago in one of Christianity’s holiest sites.

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Posted in Church History, Israel, Middle East, Religion & Culture

(WSJ) Israel’s ‘War Between the Wars’ With Iran Expands Across Middle East

The Israeli military says it has carried out more than 400 airstrikes in Syria and other parts of the Middle East since 2017 as part of a wide-ranging campaign targeting Iran and its allies, offering its fullest picture yet of its undeclared war with Tehran.

Israeli leaders refer to the campaign as the “war between the wars,” which they say is aimed at deterring Iran and weakening Tehran’s ability to hit Israel in the event of an open war between the two regional adversaries.

Israel’s airstrike campaign in Syria has hampered Iran’s military ambitions, military analysts say, but it has also pushed the conflict into other arenas, with both countries now battling at sea, in Iran, and above Israel’s skies.

“It’s not 100% success,” said Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, who retired last week as head of Israel’s air force, where he served as architect of the campaign. “But without our activity, the situation here might be much more negative.”

Among the targets hit by Israel: Russian-supplied air-defense systems, drone bases operated by Iranian military advisers, and precision-guided missile systems bound for Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon.

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Posted in Foreign Relations, Iran, Israel, Middle East, Military / Armed Forces, Politics in General, Syria

(NYT) As the U.S. Pulls Back From the Mideast, China Leans In

In January alone, five senior officials from oil-rich Arab monarchies visited China to discuss cooperation on energy and infrastructure. Turkey’s top diplomat vowed to stamp out “media reports targeting China” in the Turkish news media, and Iran’s foreign minister pressed for progress on $400 billion of investment that China has promised his country.

As the United States, fatigued by decades of war and upheaval in the Middle East, seeks to limit its involvement there, China is deepening its ties with both friends and foes of Washington across the region.

China is nowhere near rivaling the United States’ vast involvement in the Middle East. But states there are increasingly looking to China not just to buy their oil, but to invest in their infrastructure and cooperate on technology and security, a trend that could accelerate as the United States pulls back.

For Beijing, the recent turmoil in neighboring countries like Afghanistan and Kazakhstan has reinforced its desire to cultivate stable ties in the region. The outreach follows the American military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years, as well as the official end of its combat mission in Iraq. That, along with the Biden administration’s frequent talk of China as its top national security priority, has left many of its partners in the Middle East believing that Washington’s attention lies elsewhere.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., China, Foreign Relations, Middle East, Politics in General

(Telegraph) Is the world is at the most dangerous strategic juncture since the Cuban missile crisis in 1962? Ambrose Evans-Pritchard thinks so

While Britain’s political class is distracted by a Downing Street party, the world is at the most dangerous strategic juncture since the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.

The West faces escalating threats of conflict on three fronts, each separate but linked by unknown levels of collusion: Russia’s mobilisation of a strike force on Ukraine’s border, China’s “dress rehearsal” for an attack on Taiwan, and Iran’s nuclear brinkmanship.

Each country is emboldening the other two to press their advantage, and together they risk a fundamental convulsion of the global order.

You have to go back yet further to find a moment when Western democracies were so vulnerable to a sudden change in fortunes. Today’s events have echoes of the interlude between the Chamberlain-Daladier capitulation at Munich in 1938 and consequences that followed in rapid crescendo, from Anschluss to the Hitler-Stalin Pact.

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Posted in China, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Globalization, Iran, Politics in General, Russia, Taiwan, Ukraine

(NPR) The UAE is adopting a 4.5-day workweek and a Saturday-Sunday weekend

The United Arab Emirates just announced some big changes to its work schedule.

The Gulf nation is transitioning to a 4.5-day workweek, with weekends to consist of Friday afternoon, Saturday and Sunday.

That’s significant for two reasons: It likely makes the UAE the first nation to formalize a workweek shorter than five days, and it also brings the country more in line with Western schedules. Up until now, the UAE has had a Friday-Saturday weekend, which is the standard in many predominantly Muslim countries.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, Economy, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, UAE (United Arab Emirates), Uncategorized

(NYT) On Syria’s Ruins, a Drug Empire Flourishes

Built on the ashes of 10 years of war in Syria, an illegal drug industry run by powerful associates and relatives of President Bashar al-Assad has grown into a multibillion-dollar operation, eclipsing Syria’s legal exports and turning the country into the world’s newest narcostate.

Its flagship product is captagon, an illegal, addictive amphetamine popular in Saudi Arabia and other Arab states. Its operations stretch across Syria, including workshops that manufacture the pills, packing plants where they are concealed for export and smuggling networks to spirit them to markets abroad.

An investigation by The New York Times found that much of the production and distribution is overseen by the Fourth Armored Division of the Syrian Army, an elite unit commanded by Maher al-Assad, the president’s younger brother and one of Syria’s most powerful men.

Major players also include businessmen with close ties to the government, the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and other members of the president’s extended family, whose last name ensures protection for illegal activities, according to The Times investigation, which is based on information from law enforcement officials in 10 countries and dozens of interviews with international and regional drug experts, Syrians with knowledge of the drug trade and current and former United States officials.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, Drugs/Drug Addiction, Economy, Syria

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s sermon at Thanksgiving for the Province of Alexandria in Cairo

A Church attuned to the Spirit of surprise:

In human terms, Philip took the wrong road – and there he was met by the Spirit of God, who showed him why he was in the middle of the desert. And he found himself speaking to someone who was the wrong person, in human eyes. It was the wrong recipient of God’s message; Luke always points us to the Gospel for the excluded. The Ethiopian was a foreigner so could not enter the temple, a eunuch so wrongly considered by the people of his time to be outside God’s purpose. He was doubly outside

Luke’s stories in Gospel and Acts are of refugees, the poor, those of no honour. Seen in hospitals, schools, prisons, rubbish dumps and food centres. Seen here in the past and now.

Yet in God’s eyes there was nothing wrong. This was the right time, right road, right scripture, right person, right opportunity for baptism.

The Bible tells us to be where the Spirit sends us, not by human wisdom, and the Gospel reading shows us the foundation of what Philip was doing.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, - Anglican: Latest News, --Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, Egypt, Middle East, Sermons & Teachings

([London] Times) Joe Biden to declare end of combat operations in Iraq

The United States will today declare an end to combat operations in Iraq, asserting that the fight against Islamic State can be led by local forces.

The announcement will be part of a deal signed with Iraq’s prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who is in Washington and will meet President Biden.

It will state formally that US combat troops will be withdrawn from Iraq and the forces that remain will perform only training and advisory roles. Its aim is to help Kadhimi to argue that he is no longer beholden to western military interests, and that attacks by pro-Iran militias on US targets, often bases shared with Iraqi troops, are illegitimate.

Read it all (subscription).

Posted in America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Iraq, Iraq War, Military / Armed Forces, Terrorism

(EFAC Global) New Primates for the Anglican Communion

Archbishop Sami Fawzi has been installed as the Episcopal / Anglican Archbishop of Alexandria and Primate of the Episcopal / Anglican Province of Alexandria, succeeding Dr Mouneer Anis. In the united Church of Pakistan, Bishop Azad Marshall has been elected Moderator, to succeed Bishop Humphrey Peters.

A new Archbishop in Burundi will also up his post in August, when Bishop Sixbert Macumi will succeed Archbishop Martin Blaise Nyaboho as Primate

Archbishop Sami Fawzi was installed at All Saints Cathedral in Cairo. Speaking at the service, he said: “the Church will continue to support the poor, the needy, the marginalised, and the people of determination and cares in particular [for] refugees through the Episcopal Care Institution.”

He added that “the vision of the Episcopal Church is the main focus of a strong, real communion relationship with God” and that “this is how a spiritual revival is achieved in our churches”.

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Posted in Anglican Church of Burundi, Egypt, Pakistan

A brief biography of Moses the Black from the OCA

Moses the brigand spent several years leading a sinful life, but through the great mercy of God he repented, left his band of robbers and went to one of the desert monasteries. Here he wept for a long time, begging to be admitted as one of the brethren. The monks were not convinced of the sincerity of his repentance, but the former robber would neither be driven away nor silenced. He continued to implore that they accept him.

Saint Moses was completely obedient to the hegoumen and the brethren, and he poured forth many tears of sorrow for his sinful life. After a certain while Saint Moses withdrew to a solitary cell, where he spent his time in prayer and the strictest fasting.

Once, four of the robbers of his former band descended upon the cell of Saint Moses. He had lost none of his great physical strength, so he tied them all up. Throwing them over his shoulder, he brought them to the monastery, where he asked the Elders what to do with them. The Elders ordered that they be set free. The robbers, learning that they had chanced upon their former ringleader, and that he had dealt kindly with them, followed his example: they repented and became monks. Later, when the rest of the band of robbers heard about Saint Moses’ repentance, then they also gave up their thievery and became fervent monks.

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Posted in Church History, Egypt

A Prayer for the Feast Day of Moses the Black

Almighty God, whose blessed Son dost guide our footsteps into the way of peace: Deliver us from paths of hatred and violence, that we, following the example of thy servant Moses, may serve thee with singleness of heart and attain to the tranquility of the world to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Posted in Church History, Egypt, Spirituality/Prayer

(DW) Antisemitism in Germany: ‘As Muslims, we must tackle this’

Eren Guvercin, the founder of the Muslim Alhambra Society in Germany, which promotes international understanding, isn’t surprised by the video. Antisemitism among Muslims in Germany becomes visible occasionally, and most commonly when violence in the Middle East escalates. “But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist in quieter times as well,” he said.

Antisemitism is a central ideological component for a number of extremist Islamist organizations, Guvercin explained, and these also try to promote it in more moderate Muslim communities. “This is something we have to deal with as Muslims first and foremost. But often this fails because the problem cannot even be named.”

Clearly antisemitic slogans were shouted in some cases, conceded Bulent Ucar, a professor of Islamic theology at Osnabrück University. “There are good arguments against Israel’s policy of occupation and dispossession, which is against international law,” he told DW. “But there are also polarizing actors, who are loading this political dispute in the Middle East with antisemitism, and then trying to transfer it to Europe. This is not at all acceptable. There is no justification for Jews in Germany to be threatened and harassed. That’s inexcusable and a total no-go.”

Orkide Ezgimen, who heads the Discover Diversity project at the Kreuzberg Initiative against antisemitism in Berlin, agrees that different motivations were on display at the demonstrations. There was criticism of Israel’s actions against the Palestinians but also a lot of potential for aggressive behavior, some of which include antisemitic sentiments. “These reference German history, such as the Holocaust,” she said. “That is clearly antisemitic. Of course, in a democracy one has the right to demonstrate against the policies of another country — but not in all forms. In the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you have to distinguish very clearly between legitimate criticism and antisemitism.”

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Posted in Germany, Judaism, Psychology, Religion & Culture, The Palestinian/Israeli Struggle

(The Cut) A Wonderful story on Nasim Alikhani, who opened a New York restaurant at age 59

I was born in Iran, and I went to school to study law to become a judge. Then the revolution happened, and women could no longer be judges. The only option for an outspoken woman like me was to leave my country, and so I came to New York in my early 20s on a student visa. I lived in Jackson Heights, Queens, and I didn’t have any money. I couldn’t study law in the U.S.; I couldn’t afford it. I was starting over completely.

I found a job as a nanny, and the family paid me a little extra to cook their meals. My own mother had taught me to cook when I was growing up, and it was always something I was passionate about, but I never considered it professionally. The family noticed that I could cook really well, and the wife recommended me to her friends, so I started cooking in other people’s homes for parties, people’s birthdays, things like that. People would tell me, “You should open a restaurant.” But I was so young, and still a student in a master’s program. To me, the only way to advance was through higher education, so I got a useless master’s degree and kept doing all kinds of odd jobs — waitressing, babysitting, working in a copy shop.

When I got the opportunity to open my own copy-and-print shop, I was beside myself. It was the first chance I had for financial stability. I had that business for eight years, and it did really well. During that time, I got married, and between my husband and me, our financial situation improved significantly. We were working hard and dining out a lot, and I would always look at the food scene and say, “Why is nobody doing a good job with Iranian food?” I started thinking seriously about opening a coffee shop in the East Village that would serve Persian food for breakfast and lunch. We were also trying to start a family, and it was difficult. I lost pregnancies. And then I got pregnant with twins, so I put the restaurant idea on the back burner.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Dieting/Food/Nutrition, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Iran, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Middle Age, Pastoral Theology, Psychology

(AP) Israeli experts announce discovery of more Dead Sea scrolls

Israeli archaeologists on Tuesday announced the discovery of dozens of Dead Sea Scroll fragments bearing a biblical text found in a desert cave and believed hidden during a Jewish revolt against Rome nearly 1,900 years ago.

The fragments of parchment bear lines of Greek text from the books of Zechariah and Nahum and have been dated around the first century based on the writing style, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority. They are the first new scrolls found in archaeological excavations in the desert south of Jerusalem in 60 years.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of Jewish texts found in desert caves in the West Bank near Qumran in the 1940s and 1950s, date from the third century B.C. to the first century A.D. They include the earliest known copies of biblical texts and documents outlining the beliefs of a little understood Jewish sect.

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Posted in History, Israel

(WSJ) Robert Nicholson–Abraham’s Missing Child: Christians

The announcement that Israel would normalize ties with Muslim-majority Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates might have been the highlight of an otherwise dismal 2020. Yet these groundbreaking accords still lack one important child of Abraham. Do Near Eastern Christians have a seat at this table? If not, who can help get them there?

Years of international anxiety over the slow demise of Christianity in its ancient homeland hasn’t translated into action. The situation in old bastions like Lebanon, Syria and Iraq is now catastrophic. Egypt, with the largest population of Jesus followers in the region, isn’t much better. That the region’s second most afflicted religious group—after the devastated Yazidis—has gained the least from a long-overdue peace is a painful irony not lost on its persecuted members.

Part of the problem is that the regional hostility being rolled back under the Abraham Accords was never a distinctly Christian problem. The centurylong animus between Muslims, the region’s largest group, and Jews, its oldest Abrahamic population and newest recipient of sovereignty, could only be rectified by Jews and Muslims. The relative lack of Christians in any the four Muslim countries that are part the Abraham Accords—Israel has as many as all of them combined—means that Christians simply haven’t been part of the discussion.

Another thorny problem is the imprisonment of the region’s most dynamic Christian communities in its other geopolitical axis: the resistance bloc controlled by Iran.

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Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Inter-Faith Relations, Islam, Judaism, Middle East, Muslim-Christian relations, Other Churches, Politics in General

The Rev. Jerry Kramer’s Sunday Sermon from Christ Saint Paul’s, Yonge’s Island

The sermon starts about 22:30 in.

Posted in * South Carolina, Iraq, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Theology: Scripture

(WSJ) Saudi Arabia Shrinks Hajj Pilgrimage Because of Coronavirus Pandemic

Saudi Arabia said it was curtailing this year’s hajj pilgrimage to only a small number of people already in the kingdom, rather than the millions who usually flock to Islam’s holiest sites, amid concerns about the spread of the new coronavirus.

The hajj, the Muslim world’s most important religious pilgrimage, is considered a pillar of Islam and has been held since the seventh century in Mecca. All Muslims who are able to are required to make the journey at least once in their lifetimes.

The five-day event, which begins in late July this year, is a source of great political and religious prestige for Saudi Arabia, while also generating an estimated $8 billion in revenue for the kingdom each year.

The smaller umrah pilgrimage, which takes place in Mecca throughout the year, and international travel to and from the kingdom remain suspended.

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Posted in Health & Medicine, Islam, Religion & Culture, Saudi Arabia, Travel

(BBC) Dozens of world leaders attend the the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp at the Yad Vashem remembrance centre

The Fifth World Holocaust Forum is the largest diplomatic event in Israel’s history.

More than 40 dignitaries attended and laid wreaths, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, US Vice-President Mike Pence and the Prince of Wales, who is making his first official trip to the Holy Land.

In the opening address, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin thanked them “for your commitment to remembering the Shoah [Holocaust], for your commitment to the citizens of the world, to those who believe in the dignity of man”.

He said their countries should not take for granted the common values that people fought for in World War Two, such as democracy and freedom, saying that Jewish people “remember because we understand that if we do not remember then history can be repeated”.

“Anti-Semitism does not only stop with Jews,” he warned. “Racism and anti-Semitism is a malignant disease that dismantles people and countries, and no society and no democracy is immune to that.”

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Posted in Defense, National Security, Military, History, Israel, Judaism, Religion & Culture, Violence

(NYT Op-ed) David Brooks–Has President Trump Made Us All Stupid?

Donald Trump is impulse-driven, ignorant, narcissistic and intellectually dishonest. So you’d think that those of us in the anti-Trump camp would go out of our way to show we’re not like him — that we are judicious, informed, mature and reasonable.

But the events of the past week have shown that the anti-Trump echo chamber is becoming a mirror image of Trump himself — overwrought, uncalibrated and incapable of having an intelligent conversation about any complex policy problem.

But in the anti-Trump echo chamber, that’s not how most people were thinking. Led by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, they avoided the hard, complex problem of how to set boundaries around militias. Instead, they pontificated on the easy question not actually on the table: Should we have a massive invasion of Iran?

A great cry went up from the echo chamber. We’re on the brink of war! Trump is leading us to more endless wars in the Middle East! We’re on the precipice of total chaos! This was not the calibrated language of risk and reward. It was fear-stoking apocalyptic language. By being so overwrought and exaggerated, the echo chamber drowned out any practical conversation about how to stabilize the Middle East so we could have another righteous chorus of “Donald Trump is a monster!”

This is Trump’s ultimate victory. Every argument on every topic is now all about him.

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I will take comments on this submitted by email only to KSHarmon[at]mindspring[dot]com.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Iran, Military / Armed Forces, Politics in General, President Donald Trump

Iran Fires Missiles at Two U.S. Bases in Iraq: Live Updates

Read it carefully and read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Iran, Iraq, Military / Armed Forces

(FA) Will Iran’s Response to the Soleimani Strike Lead to War?

Perhaps the most provocative thing Iran could do is carry out a terrorist attack on the U.S. homeland or attempt to kill a senior U.S. official of Soleimani’s stature. This would be much more challenging for Iran to pull off than an attack on U.S. interests or personnel overseas but may be deemed by Iran as appropriately proportional. The last time Iran is known to have attempted an attack in the United States was in 2011, when American law enforcement and intelligence agencies foiled a plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington by blowing up a restaurant. In that case, the plot was detected early on and easily foiled because of poor Iranian tradecraft. The episode suggested that Iran is much less capable outside the Middle East than inside it, an assessment that is buttressed by foiled Iranian bombing attempts in Denmark and France this year. So while Iran may try to conduct an attack inside the United States, it would need to get lucky to succeed.

If the Trump administration is smart, it will do all that it can to harden U.S. facilities and protect Americans while absorbing some of the inevitable blows to come. It should also reach out to Iran through U.S. partners that have good relations with the country, such as Oman, to try to de-escalate while also setting clear redlines in private to avoid an Iranian miscalculation. Finally, Trump should be satisfied to declare victory and boast that he got the upper hand on Iran by killing Soleimani—not take further military actions. But this type of restraint appears to run counter to Trump’s very nature. And even if he shows uncharacteristic self-restraint in the coming weeks, the desire for revenge in Iran, and the political momentum that desire is already beginning to generate, may inevitably draw the United States and Iran into a major conflict.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Iran, Iraq, Middle East, Military / Armed Forces, Office of the President, Politics in General, President Donald Trump

(WSJ) Robert Carle–A Central American Jerusalem

San Pedro, Guatemala

This town of 10,000 was built on a peninsula of Lake Atitlán, one of the deepest in the world. Fishermen in wooden boats drift along the shores of the volcano-ringed lake, while women in bright multicolored skirts wash clothes along its banks. The mostly indigenous Mayans here have little to do with the urban culture of the capital city 125 miles away.

Yet this isolated mountain town is more cosmopolitan than it seems: Most every waterfront restaurant here offers a menu in Hebrew. The story of San Pedro is also the story of the unlikely but deep friendship between Israel and Guatemala.

About 15 years ago Israelis began building sprawling hostels in San Pedro. Today they accommodate hundreds of Israeli tourists, while Israeli investors are building a luxury hotel at the head of Lake Atitlán.

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Posted in --Guatemala, Israel, Religion & Culture

(1st Things) Matthew Schmitz–God’s Garbage People

Fr. Botros Roshdy, a priest who serves there, tucks an iPhone into his black cassock. He has a social media presence and is known across the country. He is more willing than most to discuss the persecution faced by the zabbaleen and Egypt’s other Christians. “Neither the church leaders you have met, nor those you are going to meet, are speaking freely,” he says after we sit down. “If they could speak freely, they would discuss the discriminatory laws, the infiltration of the judicial system by the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Roshdy notes that little has changed for the Copts over the last decade, despite the hollow promises of freedom that came with the Arab Spring and current president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s self-presentation as a defender of Christians. “We are still being used as a playing card in political games. When the government wants to win the support of Copts during the elections, they offer to let us build a church.” But these overtures have not changed the landscape. “Take the blasphemy law,” ­Roshdy says. “It has been applied only against Christians.”

Roshdy mentions some typical incidents of persecution. One involved an elderly Coptic woman in Minya who was attacked, stripped naked, and dragged through the streets. “Everyone knows who did this crime, but there has been no punishment.” A group of Coptic students in Bani ­Mazar filmed a video in which they mocked ISIS. “People in their town accused them of blasphemy for mocking Islam. So these young children were arrested and jailed. . . . They were finally freed and received asylum in ­Europe.”

Despite the persecution, Egypt’s Christians are winning converts. The number and names of converts must be carefully guarded, however, because conversion from Islam carries a high price. “Some of them are kicked out of their houses, some of them are fired, some of them have their kids taken away,” Roshdy says. “But they consider all of these troubles nothing for the sake of Christ. Their faith is so strong, they see him.” Cast out by their families, these men and women are adopted into the household of God.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, Coptic Church, Egypt, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture, Religious Freedom / Persecution

(Economist) Drawing the line between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel

One reason debate over Israel gets heated is that both sides question each other’s motives. Supporters of Israel note that anti-Semites often cloak their prejudice in criticism of the Jewish state. They say some views—like saying that Israel should not exist—are by definition anti-Semitic. Pro-Palestinian advocates retort that charges of Jew-hatred are intended to silence them.

Such mistrust has grown in Britain and America, as anti-Semitism has resurfaced at both political extremes. On the left, legislators in America have accused pro-Israel colleagues of dual loyalty, and implied that Jewish money bought Republican support for Israel. In 2012 Jeremy Corbyn, now the leader of Britain’s Labour Party, defended a mural depicting hook-nosed bankers.

The right has used similar innuendo, often by linking liberals to George Soros, a Jewish investor. Muddying matters more, Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, has also denounced Mr Soros. In America right-wing anti-Semitism also takes a more explicit, occasionally violent form. In 2017 marchers in Virginia chanted “Jews will not replace us.” And in 2018 a shooter at a synagogue in Pittsburgh killed 11 people.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Israel, Judaism, Politics in General, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Violence

(CT) Syrian Christians to US: ‘Don’t Abandon Us Now’

The Kurdish-controlled area of northeast Syria stretches 300 miles from the Euphrates River to the Iraqi border. Approximately 750,000 people live there, including estimates of between 40,000 and 100,000 Christians.

Over 700,000 Christians have fled Syria since 2011. And while some warn of further displacement, others fear a greater threat.

“Turkey aims to kill and destroy us and to finish the genocide against our people,” said a statement issued by the Syriac Military Council, a Christian component of the Syrian Defense Forces (SDF), as reported by the Christian Broadcasting Network. “We hope and pray that as we have defended the world against ISIS, the world will not abandon us now.”

The Christian community of Qamishli, on the border with Turkey near Iraq, issued its own statement.

“The Turkish regime is based on armed extremist and radical groups that commit crimes against civilians and humanity,” said Sanharib Barsoum, the co-chair of the Syriac Union Party. “Such threats endanger the life of Syriac people in the region.”

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Middle East, Military / Armed Forces, Religion & Culture, Syria, Turkey