by Michael Isenberg
Trump in Saudi, Israel: Donald Trump visited Saudi Arabia and Israel this week, as the first two stops on his first foreign tour as President of the United States.
On Sunday, Mr. Trump addressed the Arab Islamic American Summit. Those of you who follow me on social media know that I’m not a fan of the president, but I’m willing to give credit where credit is due. His Riyadh speech hit the bullseye. He called out terrorists for what they are, “barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life.” What a welcome change from the cringing, apologetic tone of Mr. Obama! I found it significant that he mentioned ideology six times. IMHO, he showed real insight into the War on Terror: it's a War of Ideas. Terrorists become terrorists because they accept an ideology that tells them to become terrorists.
Following his speech, he joined King Salman of Saudi Arabia and President as-Sisi of Egypt at the opening of the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology. As far as I can tell, the Center, which is located in Riyadh, is a boiler room for countering jihadism on social media. While combating extremist ideology is pretty much my raison d'etre these days, there’s something creepily Orwellian about governments, some of which are already highly repressive, countering any form of speech. In any case, the three heads of state let themselves be photographed holding on to a glowing orb. The unfortunate visual, combined with the Center's sinister mission, put many in mind of a certain organization of supervillains, and #HailHydra trended for a day. But by Monday Mr. Trump was in Israel and the Interwebs had a new thing to speculate about: what did he write in the note that he left at the Western Wall?
Turkey State of Emergency: The New York Times reported that in Turkey on Sunday, President Recep Erdogan stated that the state of emergency put into place after last year’s coup attempt would stay in place until “welfare and peace” returned to the nation of 80 million. According to the Times report, under the emergency measures, thousands have been jailed, and websites blocked, with no parliamentary oversight.
Iran Election Aftermath:Iran President Hasan Rouhani is getting back to work following his overwhelming victory in the May 19 election. The BBC reports that he faces three major challenges: 1) unemployment, 2) opposition to reform from Supreme Leader Ali Khamanei, and 3) relations with the United States.
The third challenge was underscored by Mr. Trump during the course of his travels. In his Riyadh speech he said, “Until the Iranian regime is willing to be a partner for peace, all nations of conscience must work together to isolate Iran, deny it funding for terrorism, and pray for the day when the Iranian people have the just and righteous government they deserve.” In Israel, he vowed, “Iran will never have nuclear weapons, that I can tell you.” But Mr. Rouhani scoffed at the words of his American counterpart, which he called, “Just a show.”
Liberation of Mosul: The slow but steady advance of the Iraqi army and its allies into the city of Mosul continues. While east Mosul is now under government control, ISIS remains entrenched in the western sector of the city.
Liberation has not been without its cost in human life. The United States confirmed on Friday that 105 civilians died in a US air strike in March. The US had targeted two ISIS snipers with precision-guided munitions, tragically unaware that the building was used to store explosives and was also a place of refuge for residents who had been driven from their homes.
With liberation, come the stories: the true horrors of life under ISIS. According to the BBC, these include the murder of a seven year old girl. She died screaming in front of her mother, who was also screaming, as female members of the religious police bit and pinched her to death for the crime of being alone with a male shop owner when she went to buy candy.
Manchester Bombing:Tragedy struck Manchester, England Monday night when a suicide bomber detonated an explosion at an Ariane Grande concert. Twenty-two victims, as young as eight years old, died in the calamity, their hopes and dreams snuffed out in an instant.
As the week progressed, a portrait, albeit a fuzzy one, emerged of the monster responsible. Twenty-two-year old Salman Abedi was born in England, but his ties to the Mideast are extensive. His parents are Libyan refugees. The Telegraph reports that his father belongs to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, "a well-known militant Islamist group in Libya, which is proscribed in Britain." The younger Abedi is thought to have traveled recently in Syria and Libya. There is some question as to when and how he became radicalized. According to some reports, he drank alcohol until as late as last year, but his travels changed him. His sister said, “I think he saw children—Muslim children—dying everywhere, and wanted revenge.” I am skeptical. IMHO, jihadism is motivated primarily by its own ideology; anything the West has done is secondary. There is some evidence this was the case with Abedi. Contradicting accounts of a recent conversion to jihadism, The Telegraph writes there were at least five reports to authorities of incidents, going back five years, of Abedi showing sympathy to terrorists. These included telling friends that "being a suicide bomber was okay," and getting banned from the local mosque after a run-in with an imam who had given a sermon condemning terrorism.
So Abedi was on the authorities' radar long before he launched his hideous attack. It occurred to me that he had that in common with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the older of the Boston Marathon bombers, and Omar Mateen, the Pulse nightclub shooter. In all three cases, the authorities failed to prevent them from carrying out their evil intentions. There hasn’t been much discussion about why counter-terrorist agencies have been unable to do more in these cases. Possibly they are overwhelmed with such reports, and are unable to distinguish the real threats. Possibly red tape limits their ability to act. Clearly it’s something that the US and its allies need to take a closer look at.
Egypt Bus Attack: Alas, Manchester was not the only significant terrorist attack this week. Near Cairo on Friday, armed militants stopped and boarded a bus full of Coptic Christians on their way to a monastery in the desert. The militants, who wore masks, opened fire, murdering at least 29. ISIS has claimed responsibility.
Michael Isenberg writes about the Muslim world, medieval and modern, exposing Islamists and supporting reformers. His forthcoming novel, The Thread of Reason, is a murder mystery that takes place in Baghdad in the year 1092 and depicts the battle for the Muslim soul between those who embraced science and tolerance, and those who threw in their lot with mysticism and persecution instead.
Photo credit: The Telegraph
Photo credit: The Telegraph