Saudi Arabia Acknowledges the Holocaust

Jan. 29 2018

In 2016, Mohammed al-Issa was appointed head of Saudi Arabia’s Muslim World League (MWL), the state-run organization that, for decades, has been the world’s major exporter of the most extreme, intolerant, and anti-Semitic form of Islam. Issa’s mandate, in keeping with the country’s overall reformist turn, seems to involve transforming the MWL into something else entirely. Robert Satloff, who has spearheaded efforts to bring awareness of the Shoah to the Muslim world, hails Issa’s surprise decision not only to visit the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington but also to follow up with an open letter to the museum’s director:

Saudi Arabia: land of religious purity, whose king (Faisal) once celebrated the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as historical fact, whose UN representative (Jamil Baroody, 1976) once denounced Anne Frank’s diary as a forgery and claimed the murder of millions of Jews by the Nazis was fiction? The country . . . whose religious hierarchy exported bigotry and intolerance to mosques and madrasas around the world for decades, fueling the hate on which al-Qaeda, Islamic State, Hamas, and all Islamist extremist movements thrived? Yes, that Saudi Arabia. . . .

But Issa surprised me. . . . He wrote a lengthy missive. . . . In it, he labeled the Holocaust “an incident that shook humanity to the core, and created an event whose horrors could not be denied or underrated by any fair-minded or peace-loving person.” . . . On Holocaust denial, Issa had particularly harsh words: “We consider any denial of the Holocaust, or minimizing [of] its effect, a crime to distort history, and an insult to the dignity of those innocent souls who have perished. It is also an affront to us all, since we share the same human soul and spiritual bonds.”

And unlike many Muslim interlocutors with whom I have discussed these issues over the years, Issa did not try to deflect potential criticism of [his] engaging on the Holocaust by wrapping himself in the false equivalence of Israel’s “genocide” of Palestinians. To the contrary, he stayed away from the issue altogether. . . .

I assume there are many reasons—some sacred, some less so—why the head of the Muslim World League took pen to paper to denounce Holocaust denial. . . . But action matters so much more than motive. And having been written, Issa’s words cannot easily be undone.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Holocaust, Moderate Islam, Muslim-Jewish relations, Politics & Current Affairs, Radical Islam, Saudi Arabia

The U.S. Must Maintain the Kurdish Enclave in Eastern Syria

Aug. 16 2018

Presently only two rebel enclaves remain in Syria, and both are dependent on outside powers: one in the northwest, under Turkish control, and an area in the east controlled by the U.S.-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Only by continuing its support for the latter can America prevent Iranian domination of Syria, writes Jonathan Spyer. Officials in Washington have made various statements suggesting that the White House has no intention of ceding the country to Iran, but haven’t clarified what this means in practice:

Actions . . . are a better guide than sentiments. And it appears that the SDF leaders remain skeptical regarding America’s long-term plans. Last week, the first direct negotiations took place between their representatives and those of the Assad regime, in Damascus.

It is not quite clear where things are heading. But Israel’s interest in this is clear. Maintenance of the east Syrian enclave and the [U.S.] base in Tanf means keeping a substantial physical obstacle to the Iranian hope for a contiguous corridor [connecting it to Lebanon via Syria and Iraq]. It would also prevent an overall Iranian triumph in the war and give the West a place at the table in any substantive political negotiation over Syria’s future. . . .

Specifically, efforts should be made to ensure a formal U.S. declaration of a no-fly zone for regime and regime-allied aircraft east of the Euphrates. This move, reminiscent of the no-fly zone declared over Iraqi Kurdistan after the Gulf War of 1991, would with one stroke ensure the continued viability of the SDF-controlled area. There should also be a formal recognition of the SDF zone, or the “Democratic Federation of Northern Syria,” as it is formally known. This entity is not seeking independence from Damascus, so Western concerns regarding the formal breakup of Syria need not be raised by such a move.

As the strategic contest between Iran and its allies and the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East moves into high gear, it is essential that the West maintain its alliances and investments and behaves, and is seen to behave, as a credible and loyal patron and ally.

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More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Kurds, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy