Islam, Arab Public Opinion, and the Palestinians

March 8 2019

Palestinians—as well as Arab leaders and opponents of Israel in the U.S. and Europe—have often claimed that the Palestinian fate is a central concern, if not the central concern, of Arabs everywhere. Examining data from Google in various Arab countries, Hillel Frisch notes that the frequency of searches for such topics as “Palestinian resistance” decreases sharply the farther one goes from Gaza and the West Bank. Non-Palestinian Arabs, by contrast, are far and away more likely to search for “al-Aqsa mosque” than for information about the Palestinian resistance, and Palestinians’ own interest in al-Aqsa is similarly high. To Frisch, all of this makes clear that religion, far more than nationalism, motivates Arab attitudes regarding Israel:

[These data] underscore the importance of the religious dimension in the Arabic-speaking world, both within and without the Palestinian arena, in the Arab-Palestinian conflict. This is hardly new. Islam was a major if not dominant theme in the most tumultuous periods of strife between Jews and Arabs in the Holy Land. In April 1920, attacks against Jews began during the religious Nabi Musa pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The 1921 riots began in Jaffa to protest the participation of immodestly clad Jewish women in the May Day demonstrations in Jaffa.

Seven years later, in 1928, Haj Amin al-Husseini coined the phrase “al-Aqsa in danger” in a pan-Islamic campaign against the Zionist movement that led to the most murderous onslaught against Jews to date in August 1929. This term has since been adopted by both Hamas and the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, which was banned by Israel in 2015.

During the second intifada, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Fatah tried in vain to name the conflict the “independence intifada” in its struggle against a rising Hamas, which wanted to color the conflict with Israel in religious terms. Today, it is universally referred to in Arabic as the “al-Aqsa intifada,” even in Fatah and PA discourse. The same religious zeal regarding the Palestinian cause can be found in the Arab world.

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More about: Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict


War with Iran Isn’t on the Horizon. So Why All the Arguments against It?

As the U.S. has responded to Iranian provocations in the Persian Gulf, various observers in the press have argued that National Security Advisor John Bolton somehow seeks to drag President Trump into a war with Iran against his will. Matthew Continetti points out the absurdities of this argument, and its origins:

Never mind that President Trump, Vice-President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, and Bolton have not said a single word about a preemptive strike, much less a full-scale war, against Iran. Never mind that the president’s reluctance for overseas intervention is well known. The “anti-war” cries are not about context, and they are certainly not about deterring Iran. Their goal is saving President Obama’s nuclear deal by manipulating Trump into firing Bolton and extending a lifeline to the regime.

It’s a storyline that originated in Iran. Toward the end of April, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif showed up in New York and gave an interview to Reuters where he said, “I don’t think [Trump] wants war,” but “that doesn’t exclude him basically being lured into one” by Bolton. . . . And now this regime talking point is everywhere. “It’s John Bolton’s world. Trump is just living in it,” write two former Obama officials in the Los Angeles Times. “John Bolton is Donald Trump’s war whisperer,” writes Peter Bergen on . . .

Recall Obama’s deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes’s admission to the New York Times Magazine in 2016 [that] “We created an echo chamber” to attack the Iran deal’s opponents through leaks and tips to the D.C. press. . . . Members of the echo chamber aren’t for attacking Iran, but they are all for slandering its American opponents. The latest target is Bolton. . . .

The Iranians are in a box. U.S. sanctions are crushing the economy, but if they leave the agreement with Europe they will be back to square one. To escape the box you try to punch your way out. That’s why Iran has assumed a threatening posture: provoking an American attack could bolster waning domestic support for the regime and divide the Western alliance.

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More about: Barack Obama, Iran, Javad Zarif, John Bolton, U.S. Foreign policy