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Muslims Praying in the Pentagon. Who Knew?

Two stories that cropped up today call attention to the fact that -- for nearly eight years -- Muslims have been praying on "sacred ground" a few steps away from where American Airlines Flight 77 slammed a giant hole in the Pentagon on September 11th.

Reuters explains:

Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Mormons and Episcopalians regularly hold services in the multifaith chapel that was dedicated in November 2002 after reconstruction of the section of the Pentagon hit by Islamist hijackers on September 11, 2001.

"I've been here four years next month and the chapel and its function and role have never been an issue," George Wright, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon, said on Thursday.

Petula Dvorak in today's Washington Post Metro section explains "In this Pentagon chapel, Muslims can unroll their prayer mats once a day and give praise to Allah. On Fridays, they bring in an imam to conduct a service."

She wonders, where's the outrage?

"Nope, never heard a word about it," folks in the Pentagon chaplain's office told me Thursday after we visited the crash site memorial and the chapel next to it. "No one has had a problem with it."


As we were talking about the 3,500 Muslim service members, one of the chaplains
told me that there are plenty of U.S. military facilities across the globe that have spaces dedicated to Muslim services, not just interfaith chapels. "On bases in Iraq and so forth, we have mosques," he said. "No one has ever raised any concern about that."

Dvorak concludes with a statement framed as a question: "Why should anyone?"

An Israeli Weighs in on the Flotilla

Last month I interviewed Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, and the piece, 6,800 words long, duly appeared in The Tablet, a Jewish-American online magazine. A minuscule part of the interview raised a journalistic firestorm last week in Britain.

Peres said that there was always an anti-Semitic (and anti-Israeli) streak in the British establishment, among both Labourites and Conservatives, and this was given historic expression in Britain’s abstention in the pro-Zionist UN partition vote in November 1947 and in subsequent, periodic anti-Israel arms embargos and in Britain’s treaty alliances with various Arab states. He could also have mentioned Britain’s recent expulsion of the Mossad’s London head of station in retaliation. By the way, Peres said that British MPs are no doubt wary of their millions of Muslim constituents when they make foreign-policy pronouncements.

Some British newspapers summarized the message in their headlines thus: Peres says Britain is anti-Semitic. The exaggeration, not to say misrepresentation, of Peres’s point was in part a reaction to Israeli anger last week over British Prime Minister David Cameron’s public description of the Gaza Strip today as “a prison camp “ and of his condemnation of Israel for its raid on the Turkish “humanitarian “ flotilla heading for Gaza.

The Gaza Disaster

Israel’s ill-fated commando attack on the Turkish ferry Mavi Marmara, the sixth boat in a self-styled “freedom flotilla” which set sail on Sunday, in international waters near the Gaza Strip brings to mind the French diplomat Talleyrand’s famous remark: “It was worse than a crime. It was a mistake.” In no conceivable way can this operation, which resulted in numerous deaths, be justified as being in Israel’s national interest. Instead, it has harmed Israel in four obvious ways.

First, Israel has always prided itself on carrying out swift and flawless commando operations. Its reputation for precise, surgical strikes, however, is fast eroding. It seems clear that among the peace activists were some hardened fighters, as the Israeli government is asserting. But why is it that the commandos were unprepared for what the Washington Post editorial page is deeming the “dozens of militants who swarmed around them with knives and iron bars”? Purely as a military operation, this raid was a bungled one. It looks as though Israel was caught napping. This isn’t the Israel of Entebbe. Instead, it recklessly endangered the lives of the Israel Defense Forces.

Holier Than Thou

The normally placid Swiss created an international frenzy when they voted to ban the construction of minarets on mosques. Elite European opinion was unanimously negative, leavened with the oft expressed hope that the European Court of Human Rights would overturn the measure if necessary. Hostility among Muslims around the world was even greater.

Western engagement with Islam remains fraught with difficulty. President Barack Obama pushed for greater understanding when he spoke in Cairo earlier this year, but the practical results of his appeal remain few.

The West-and America-are not without blame. Recent U.S. policy, in particular, has been seen as anti-Muslim. To have America's UN Ambassador, then Madeleine Albright, declare that "we think the price is worth it" when challenged over the alleged death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children from sanctions highlighted the U.S. government's reputation for arrogance and callousness. Moreover, as evident in the Swiss example, the West has not always lived up to its claim to respect freedom of religion.

Nevertheless, Islamic governments have little credibility to complain. In the main Muslim nations are authoritarian, distrustful of any form of freedom, whether civil, political, personal or religious. Some have tolerated and even supported terrorism as long as it was not directed at them. Finally, Muslim regimes are among the most virulent persecutors of members of minority faiths.

The latter is of particular note given Islamic criticism of Switzerland. The Swiss vote was wrong in my view, an attack on religious freedom by an otherwise free state. It is fair to criticize-though not demonize-the Swiss electorate for its decision.

Xenophobia on the Continent

From the issue

A DISTURBING new trend is emerging across Europe. Anti-Semitism and xenophobia are on the rise. A growing minority of citizens in several European countries holds unfavorable opinions of Jews. Negative views of Israel, sympathy with the Palestinian cause, rising anti-Americanism, and a backlash against globalization and immigration all play a role in this trend.

Research by the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project, as well as polls by the Anti-Defamation League, make clear that anti-Jewish sentiments are increasing. Granted, the breadth of European anti-Semitism should not be overstated. This rise in negative attitudes toward Jews has for the most part been modest, and anti-Jewish sentiments in Europe remain much less common than anti-Muslim views. Most of the Europeans surveyed by Pew continue to hold favorable opinions of Jews and, compared with other regions of the world, Europeans remain relatively tolerant. For instance, anti-Jewish sentiments are almost universal in the three Arab nations surveyed-95% or more in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt say they have an unfavorable opinion of Jews.

Though they may be modest trends, in light of the dark history of anti-Semitism in Europe, any uptick is surely troubling. Moreover, rising anti-Jewish views are part of a broader pattern of increasing xenophobia; European attitudes toward Muslims have also turned more negative over the last few years. And in Western Europe, the same groups tend to have the most negative opinions of both Jews and Muslims: the less educated, those over fifty and people on the political right. All these features combined lead to a troubling trend it would be unwise to ignore.


THE STARKEST example of increasingly anti-Jewish views is Spain, where negative ratings have more than doubled since 2005, rising from 21% to 46%-by far the highest negative percentage among the European nations included in Pew's 2008 survey.

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Hezbollah Steams Ahead

Three weeks ago Lebanese political factions came to an agreement in Doha that ended a week of Hezbollah-driven violence, bringing the country back from what many saw as the brink of civil war. On Wednesday at the Nixon Center, Geneive Abdo, a fellow at the Century Foundation, and Mona Yacoubian, Special Advisor to the Muslim World Initiative at USIP, reflected on the situation in the aftermath of the crisis. They looked at what factors led to Hezbollah's turn to violence and what we can expect to happen in Lebanon over the summer. Though violence may be quelled, the ever-complex situation within the country is certainly still in flux.

The phrase proxy war is often used when describing happenings in Lebanon. And this time around, Ms. Abdo argued the impact of regional forces on Hezbollah's actions is not to be underestimated. Iran plays a particularly important role. On this point, though, the panelists differed.

Hezbollah may not be acting as a direct arm of the Tehrani government, but Abdo maintained that the organizations' actions were certainly influenced indirectly by changing dynamics and new forces in the region-and that Iran provides more direct monetary support to the organization. The vocal rise of players like Iran, particularly those that challenge the United States' influence in the region, have encouraged movements like Hezbollah to make themselves heard even more loudly. "The growing strength of Iran in the region has given these movements a sense of confidence that didn't exist before," Abdo argued.

Lebanon: Back from the Brink?

The election of the new president comes as a relief to conflict-stricken Lebanon. Michel Suleiman's formal victory on Sunday followed six days of intense negotiations in Qatar, where rival Lebanese leaders reached a deal on May 21 to end eighteen months of political conflict that had led the country to the brink of civil war. As part of the agreement, the Lebanese governing coalition granted Hezbollah veto power over any cabinet decision and signed an accord endorsing Suleiman for president. In a conflict that many view as a proxy battle of Iran and Syria versus the United States and Saudi Arabia, many hope some progress has been made. At the Nixon Center on May 23, three experts weighed in on the significance of the Doha agreement and the future of Lebanon. The Nixon Center's director of Regional Strategic Programs, Geoffrey Kemp, moderated the discussion.

Hisham Melhem, a PBS NewsHour regular and the Washington bureau chief for the Lebanese newspaper An Nahar, called the Doha agreement "at best an intermission." David Schenker, a senior fellow and the director of the Program in Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said it was a "hutna, a temporary peace." And Emile el Hokayem, a research fellow at the Stimson Center, deemed it "the first ceasefire in the Lebanese civil war."

Melhem began his remarks with a frank assessment of Doha, noting that the fundamental causes of the conflict remain. Hezbollah's status as a state within a state, its retention of arms and weapons, and its implementation of its own taxation system, call into question the "very ethos of the country." The contradictory visions of Lebanon's future have not been reconciled and Hezbollah will continue to attempt to reshape the political landscape.

Flawed but Still Important

Flawed but Still Important


From the issue

When two distinguished professors of political science write a highly controversial book on U.S. foreign policy one expects a comprehensive explanation of their hypotheses and their chosen methodology to demonstrate and confirm their arguments. If one is identifying the power of one lobby (in this case the Israel lobby), how does this lobby's influence compare to that of other ethnic lobbies-e.g, the Greek, Armenian and anti Castro Cuban lobbies? Certainly if they are making very controversial statements about the decision of the U.S. government to go to war, one anticipates an exhaustive list of primary sources who have spoken to the authors, on or off the record, to support or rebut their case. Most important, one looks for new government documents that add bona fides to their case.

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Conservative Columnist: The End of War as We Know It?

I have been following the Hamas takeover of Gaza with a sense of what Yogi Berra, in reference to Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, described as "déjà vu all over again."

Almost exactly a year ago, Professor Michael I. Krauss of George Mason University School of Law and I co-authored an op-ed in which we predicted that Hizballah's Iranian-backed qualitative and quantitative build-up of armaments just north of the Israeli border was straining the delicate security balance and quickly creating an intolerable situation that would lead to open conflict. Less than a week after our piece appeared, the Second Lebanon War broke out after a Hizballah unit crossed the frontier into Israel, killing three Israel Defense Force soldiers and kidnapping two others.

Now another Islamist terrorist group, Hamas, controls territory on the borders of Israel. It is well-armed and-if the deputy chairman of its political bureau, Dr. Moussa Abu Marzouq, is to be taken at his word-a "campaign against the Zionist enemy" is precisely what is needed to end the intra-Palestinian conflict. While I concur with TNI editor Nikolas K. Gvosdev's assessment that "a large scale military incursion to try and root Hamas out is probably too costly for Israel to contemplate in terms of blood", I also wonder if the alternative-waiting as the militants consolidate their position-might not actually be worse for the Jewish state. If I am right, the last week's declarations of support for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas by President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert notwithstanding, are we merely waiting for a casus belli?

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April 18, 2014