Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Russia and Islam, part four: "Islam" as a threat

The first thing to which I would like to draw your attention to is that in the title Russia and Islam, part four: "Islam" as a threat I put the word "Islam" in quotation marks.  This is very important, as most of the issues I will be discussing today are not directly linked to Islam at all.  However, in the minds of many Russians, these issues are linked to Islam and it is therefore simply impossible to analyze the topic of "Russia and Islam" without taking a long hard look at the connection which a lot of Russians make between some issues (with no direct relationship to Islam) and Islam itself.

The use of words can be very tricky in this context.  Take the word "Muslim", what does it really mean?  In Bosnia, the word "Muslim" was really used to describe a "non-Orthodox and non-Catholic Bosnian" since both Croats and Serbs often were natives of Bosnia and since Bosnian-Croats, Bosnian-Serbs and Bosnian-Muslims are all of the exact same ethnic stock (hence the fallacy of speaking of "ethnic cleansing" in the Bosnian context).  Later, the rather inept term "Bosniac" was coined, as opposed to "Bosnian" because to use "Muslim" or "Bosnian" just made no sense.  Regardless, by fiat of some politicians, what used to be called "Muslim" became "Bosniac" overnight.

Likewise, in Ireland, the "troubles" were supposed to oppose Catholics and Protestants, but did the IRA or the Ulster Volunteers really care about the Papacy or Martin Luther?  Did these denominations really play a relevant role in this conflict?

This is hardly a new issue.  In the past, both the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire assimilated religious groups to ethnic minorities hence the Karaites in Russia were not considered as Jews while the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople was referred to by the Ottomans as "Millet-Bashi" or "ethnarc".  In modern France there is a "problem" of the Muslim immigration and its effects on the suburbs of many French cities.  But taking a closer look at these (mostly Algerian) immigrants one could legitimately wonder to what degree this is an "Islamic" problem.  This confusion between "Islam" (as a faith, a religion), "Muslim" (used as both a sign of religious and, often, ethnic affiliation)  is as frequent in modern Russia as it is in France.  Keeping all these caveats in mind, let's look at the type of issues which makes many Russians see "Islam" (in quotation marks) as a threat.

a) Immigration and crime.

Ever since the dissolution of the former Soviet Union there as been a steady flow of immigrants from some former Soviet republics (Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, etc.) towards big Russian cities.  In parallel to that, a large number of immigrants from the Caucasus (Chechens, Dagestani, etc.)  also emigrated to central parts of Russia.  The combination of these to migratory flow resulted in a vast increase of immigrants in every major Russia city.  As is so often the case, while some of these immigrants came looking for a job, there were enough criminal elements amongst them to strongly tie the issue of immigration and crime to each other.  Typically, these immigrants from the south were composed of a mix of four groups:

a) Law-abiding and hard working workers, often ruthlessly exploited and treated as quasi-slaves by their local employers.
b) Arrogant and very poorly educated young men who, while not necessarily criminals, act in highly provocative and offensive manners.
c) Petty thugs who combine an official job with petty criminal activities.
d) Hardened criminals who are deeply involved in drugs, prostitution, illegal casinos, etc.

Typical Chechen thugs
Typically, the first group is bigger than the second which, in turn, is bigger than the third, while the fourth group is the smallest of all.  And yet, that explosive combination achieves in Russia exactly the same effect as it does in France: it associates crime and immigration in the mind of many, if not most, people.

Furthermore, since most of these immigrants come from historically Muslim countries and since many of them consider themselves as Muslims, many Russians experience their first or most frequent interaction with putative "Muslims" in a criminal situation.  As for the fact that in the vast majority of these cases these "Muslim thugs" know absolutely nothing about Islam is not at all apparent, in particular from a Russian point of view.

The French author and philosopher Alain Soral, who is very actively engaged in efforts to reconcile and unite all French citizens against the NWO, including Christians and Muslims, speaks of "Islamo-racaille" ("Islamo-scum"): young loud thugs, wearing "rapper-gangsta" gear, with NYC baseball-hats and who speak of Allah and Kufars while driving around in sports cars - often high or drunk - looking for somebody to rob, rape or abuse.  As Soral points out - these people are not exactly the type you would see coming out of a mosque and  the very same is true of Russia.  Still, it is undeniable that many Russians still make the association "Islam" <-> crime.

b) Wahabism - internal

The wars in Chechnia and the Islamic terrorism in Dagestan and many other part of Russia have had a huge impact upon the Russian public opinion.  The two was in Chechnia, in particular, resulted a a deep aversion for the Chechen insurgents and any other Islamic terrorist group which could be described as "Wahabi".  Initially, the combined propaganda tsunami of the Western corporate media and the Russian "liberal" media left people confused as to what was really going on, but soon the horrible events on the ground become impossible to suppress:  the Chechen insurgents combined the very worst of the Wahabi extremism with the worst of Chechen thuggery.  Thousands of people were summarily executed, women raped, Russian soldiers and even civilians were tortured to death, crucified, skinned alive, raped and beheaded.  Hostages were kidnapped from all over southern Russia and a slave market was working each day in downtown Grozny.  And all these horrors were committed by bearded man, brandishing green and black flags embroidered with suras of the Kuran, and to the constant screams of Allahu Akbar.  And since the Chechen insurgents loved to use their cellphones to videotape their atrocities, a steady stream of blood-curling videos make it to the Russian TV and Internet sites.  By 2000 the Russian public opinion was ripe to give no quarter to any Islamic terrorist or anybody supporting them.

To make things worse, the Chechen insurgency had the support of the vast majority of the Muslim world which, just as in Bosnia or Kosovo, automatically sided with the "Muslim" party no matter what (I call this the "My Umma -  right or wrong" position).  That knee-jerk support for the Muslim side, even if it is largely composed of Wahabi terrorists and criminals, put a big stain on the image of Islam in Russia and gave a lot of weight to the "conflict of civilizations" paradigm which the West and its supporters in Russia wanted to impose upon the Russian public opinion.

If under Eltsin the Russian state proved completely incapable of taking any kind of measures to deal with this situation, under Putin things changed extremely rapidly as shown by the 2nd Chechen war which basically crushed the insurgency.  Subsequently, the combined efforts of a completely re-vamped Russian security establishment and the coming to power of Akhmad and, later, Ramazan Kadyrov completely changed the situation.  Grozny was rebuilt in a record time, and Chechnia became of the of safest republics of the entire Caucasus (at the expense of Dagestan where the situation got worse).    The cost in human lives and suffering was absolutely horrendous, both for Russians (almost all those who survived left Chechnia) and for Chechens who died in huge numbers.  The main scar left by this war though is that Russia has become a society with zero tolerance for any form of Wahabism and the Russian people have fully endorsed what I call the "Putin doctrine" of dealing with Wahabis: "change your ways or expect to be annihilated".  This, by the way, applies to both individuals and ethnic groups: against a Wahabi enemy the Russian people will support the harshest possible military methods of warfare, something which a lot of Muslim communities are acutely aware of (more about that later).

Spetsnaz GRU forces with Arab prisoner
In Chechnia itself, Ramzan Kadyrov instituted an even harsher anti-Wahabi policy than in the rest of Russia.  During the 2nd Chechen war, foreign mercenaries and preachers were interrogated and then summarily executed by both Russian and Chechen forces and ever since Saudi, Yemeni or Pakistani preachers are simply barred from entering Chechnia.

Contrary to the predictions of most "experts", the Kremlin did successfully deal with the situation in Chechnia, but one inevitable side effect of this success was that a lot of the Wahabi extremists were flushed out of Chechnia into neighboring Dagestan and even the rest of Russia.  And that second problem is far from solved.  While the USA and the UK have now toned down their pro-Chechen rhetoric, the Saudis are still pushing Wahabi-Islam into Russia, although in a more discrete manner.

First, they train preachers in Saudi Arabia and send them back to Russia.  Then these preachers form small communities, often inside mosques, were the faithful are recruited for social and religious activities.  During that phase, the candidates for the next step are carefully investigated, vetted and selected for the next phase: the establishment of weapons caches, safehouses, training grounds, and the like.  Eventually, the new recruits are used to attack police stations, banks, murder traditional (anti-Wahabi) clergymen, and opposing Mafia gangs.  Russian security services have observed that sequence in Dagestan, Kazan or Stavropol (regions with large Muslim minorities), but also in Saint Petersburg, a city with a very small and very traditionalist Muslim population.  So far, the security services have managed to say one step ahead, but this is far from over and that kind of penetration efforts can last a very long time.

One of the crucial aspects of this dynamic is the reaction of the local, traditional, Muslim spiritual leaders.  First, as I have mentioned above, no Russian Muslims want to have a "2nd Chechen war" happen in their own town or region, because they have no doubts whatsoever about the outcome of such a situation.  Second, traditional Muslim spiritual leaders are themselves the first victims of the Wahabi infiltrators who often begin their "active" phase of operations by murdering the local imams.  Third, Muslims in Russia are often very rapidly disillusioned with the Saudi version of Islam which declares as "un-Islamic" many customs and traditions which are at the core of the cultural identity of many Muslim groups in Russia.  Fourth, for all the thugs from the Caucasus behaving in obnoxious and vulgar manners in Central Russia, the fact is that the Muslim communities these young people come from are often very conservative and peaceful and that the older generation deeply disapproves of the kind of behavior which, in their opinion, brings shame upon their people.  Fifth one should not under-estimate the legacy of the Soviet period which promoted both secularism and modernism and which has left a strong mark on the local elites.  These elites are both outraged and horrified when they are told by Wahabi preachers that they have to completely abandon their way of life and begin living according to medieval precepts.  Finally, there is an inherent tension between any form of nationalism and the Saudi style Wahabism being imported to Russia.  This tension is one of the key elements which turned the Kadyrov clan against the various Wahabi warlords in Chechnia which were viewed by the more nationalist Chechen leaders as arrogant foreigners who were enemies of the Chechen ancestral  traditions.  For all these reasons, there is a lot of push-back on the part of the local Muslim communities and Muslim leaders against the type of Wahabi style Islam the Saudis have been trying to export to Russia.

c) Wahabism - external

Wahabism is not only an internal threat for Russia, it is also a major external threat.  According to Russian analysts, the Obama Administration has brought with itself a fundamentally new set of imperialist policies which are now being implemented.  During the Bush era, the USA exercised direct control, mostly by means of military interventions, over the Middle-East and Africa.  This "direct" approach is the way the Jewish Lobby and the Neocons believed that the USA should maintain its global empire.  Obama represents a very different type of constituency (old "Anglo" money) which is vehemently opposed to the Neocons and which will agree to pay lip service to the Israel-firsters but, in reality, places US strategic interests far ahead of any Zionist priorities.  In practical terms, this means that the Obama administration will withdraw as many US troops as possible and relinquish the direct control over contested regions, and that it will secure its domination over a country or region by means of chaos.  This is a policy of indirect imperial control.

After all, why invade and occupy a country, thereby loosing US blood and money, when one can use proxies to create a situation of absolute chaos inside that country?    In the best of cases, chaos leads to a Libyan-style "regime change" and in the worst case, a civil war like the one taking place in Syria.  But in either case, undesirable heads of state like Gaddifi or Assad have been "de-fanged" and their countries removed from any possible anti-US alliance.  As for the "good guys" of the day (say Abdullah in Jordan or Hamad in Bahrein), they are protected from the surrounding chaos at rather very limited costs.

According to Russian analysts, the Wahabi and "al-Qaeda" types are the foot soldiers of this new US imperial policy.  The US simply "injects" them in any society it wants to subvert and then it sits on the sidelines without much else to do than to send in special forces to assist here and there, depending on the needs of the moment.  In this situation, the CIA agent is the puppeteer and the Wahabi crazy the puppet, whether it is aware of that or not.

The big fear of Russian analysts is that this US strategy will be used to remove Assad and then that it will be used against Iran.  True, Syria has a large Sunni population, whereas Iran is predominantly Shia, whom the Wahabis hate with a special seething loathing.  Still, Iran does have small Kurdish, Turkmen and Balochi (Sunni) minorities which, combined with pro-Western "Gucci revolutionaries" of the upper classes can pose a real risk to the regime.  And, if not, there is always the option of triggering a war between Iran and some Sunni country.  Most Russians analysts believe that Iran is strong enough to resist such attempts at destabilizing it, but they remain very attentive to the situation because they agree that if Iran was to be engulfed into some form of US-sponsored chaos this would directly affect the southern regions of Russia.

Some analysts also see this US "indirect" or "control through chaos" strategy as a "win-win" for the USA even if their Wahabi proxies are defeated.  They ask a simple question: what will happen if Assad convincingly wins the war in Syria?  Where will the Wahabis go next?  Back to Mali, which they temporarily left to avoid engaging the French?  Or into Algeria, to start a civil war there?  Or maybe into Kosovo or even southern France?  And what if these Wahabis decided to "test the waters" in Kazakhstan?

This type of concerns brings some Russian security specialists to actually see a positive aspect to the war in Syria. Simply put - Assad is killing a lot of al-Qaeda types and every Wahabi crazy killed in Syria is one less candidate for a transfer to another holy war in another part of the world.

We now can clearly distinguish the rationale behind the Russian policy not to threaten to shut down NATO supply lines over Russia, regardless of the amount of obnoxious and hostile pronouncements and actions from the US side: the Russians want the Americans to remain in Afghanistan as long as possible to give time to Russia and its allies like Tajikistan to prepare for a Taliban regime back in power in Kabul.  In the meantime, Russia is strengthening its powerful 201 Russian Military Base (ex- 201 Motor-Rifle Division) in Tadjikistan and providing technical assistance to the Tajik Border Guards.

As part of the recent reforms of the Russian Armed Fores the entire Russian military has been reorganized into four Strategic Commands, each capable of independently waging a regional defensive war independently by directly controlling practically all the military forces and resources in its area.  It is interesting to note that while the Southern Strategic Command is the smallest one in size, it is by far the most combat ready.  If there is anything which the 08.08.08 war with Georgia has convincingly shown, it is the lightening speed at which the 58th Army and the Black Sea Fleet were ready to go to war (and that even though it took the Kremlin quite some time to finally react).  It is quite clear that following the Russian successes in Chechnia and Georgia Moscow is most definitely not letting its guard down and that it will remain ready to engage in a wide spectrum of military operations ranging from local clashes to a full-scale regional war.

d) Islam through the prism of the "clash of civilizations"

This aspect of the "Islamic threat" is fundamentally different from all the other ones as it is predicated on a thesis which is never really tested, but only proclaimed: that there is a "clash of civilizations" taking place between, roughly, "Christian Europe" on one side and the "Eastern" or "Arab" Islam on the other.  Nevermind the fact that Europe has lost almost all signs of Christianity many years ago, nevermind that Islam is neither primarily "Eastern" nor  primarily "Arab", nevermind that Islam includes very different civilizations (from Morocco to Indonesia) and nevermind that no Muslim or Islamic "civilization" has attacked any Western interests since a very long time.  By the way- proponents of this theory will include a theocratic and racist country such as Israel in the "Western", if not "Christian European", camp while ignoring the key role Muslim Turkey plays in NATO.  Simply put - this view is 100% ideology, no facts are needed.  And yet, there are quite a few groups in Russia which are happy to promote this worldview:

a) The Communists.  In the bad old Soviet mentality, Islam is, as any other religion, an ideological enemy.  If Ziuganov & Co. do not speak of "opium of the people" it is because they are afraid to antagonize their Orthodox Christian members, in particular since nowadays being "Orthodox" gives you "patriotic" credentials.  But being Muslim gives you exactly *zero* credentials with the Communists.  If anything, they would be inclined to see Islam and Muslims as agents for foreign interests.

b) Zionists: contrary to the popular belief, there are still plenty of Zionists in Russia, including in the media, and they never miss the opportunity to fan the flames of Islamophobia.  One of their favorite tricks is to always and deliberately conflate all forms of Islam, with the deeds of any "Muslim" whether actually religious or not and draw the conclusion that "Islam is our common moral enemy".  For these people, Russia and Israel are natural allies against the common Islamic foe, and even Iran is not to be trusted.  Needless to say, the Israelis go out of their way to court these circles and promote an image of "you had the Chechens, we have the Palestinians".

c) Russian neo-Nazi racists: this is really a small group, but an extremely vocal one.  These are the famous Russian skinheads who feel that they are defending the "White Race" when they beat up a Tadjk in the subway.  Some of them claim to be Orthodox, though a majority like to seek their roots into some distant "pagan Russia" populated by blue eyed White warriors.  These groups exist mostly on the Internet, but they sometimes gather in remote places to "train" for the "conflict to come".

Recently a group of real Russian patriots got together and began quietly investigating these groups.  It turns out that the most vocal and racist of them all usually had IP numbers in the USA, Canda and Israel.  Russian security services strongly suspect that these groups are quietly supported by US and other Western intelligences services to create ethnic tensions in Russia.  Unsurprisingly, since Putin came to power most leaders of these groups have landed in jail, or are hiding abroad.

d) Roman Catholics and Orthodox Ecumenists: both of these groups share a common belief: whatever "minor" differences they "might" have had in the past, Orthodox Russia belongs with the "Christian West", if only because both are "threatened" by a "common enemy".  These people carefully avoid ever mentioning the undeniable fact that Russia has always chosen Asia over Europe or Islam over the Papacy, if only because of all the wars of conquest which were waged by the West against Russia.  This group has no traction in the masses of people, but it has some following in the pro-US circles in the big cities.

Individually, these groups are not very powerful, with the notable exception of the Zionist one.  And they do not officially work together.  But if there are no signs of a conspiracy, there is an objective collusion between these groups when it comes to demonize Islam in all its forms, even the most moderate ones.  This, in turn, means that there is a minority of the Russian population which will always view Islam as a threat, no matter what.

The good news is that these groups are counter-balanced by far more influential forces which see Islam as a potential (if  not yet actual) natural ally of Russia.  This will be the topic of the next installment.

The Saker

Friday, February 22, 2013

¡Salve Correa y Ecuador ! Cuatro lecciones

por Atilio A. Boron para El Correo

La aplastante victoria de Rafael Correa, con un porcentaje de votos y una diferencia entre él y su más inmediato contendiente que ya hubieran querido tener Obama, Hollande y Rajoy, deja algunas lecciones que es bueno recapitular.

Primero, y lo más obvio, la ratificación del mandato popular para seguir por el camino trazado pero, como dijo Correa en su conferencia de prensa, avanzando más rápida y profundamente. Sabe el reelecto presidente que los próximos cuatro años serán cruciales para asegurar la irreversibilidad de las reformas que, al cabo de diez años de gestión, habrán concluido con la refundación de un Ecuador mejor, más justo y más sustentable. En la conferencia de prensa ya aludida dijo textualmente : « O cambiamos ahora al país o no lo cambiamos más ». El proyecto de crear un orden social basado en el socialismo del sumak kawsay, el « buen vivir » de nuestros pueblos originarios, exige actuar con rapidez y determinación. Pero esto también lo saben la derecha vernácula y el imperialismo, y por eso se puede predecir que van a redoblar sus esfuerzos para evitar la consolidación del proceso de la « Revolución Ciudadana ».

Segunda lección
: que si un gobierno obedece al mandato popular y produce políticas públicas que benefician a las grandes mayorías nacionales –que al fin y al cabo de eso se trata la democracia–, la lealtad del electorado puede darse por segura. La manipulación de las oligarquías mediáticas, la conspiración de las clases dominantes y las estratagemas del imperialismo se estrellan contra el muro de la fidelidad popular.

Tercero, y como corolario de lo anterior, el aplastante triunfo de Correa demuestra que la conformista tesis tan común en el pensamiento político convencional, a saber : que « el poder desgasta », sólo es válida en democracia cuando el poder se ejerce en beneficio de las minorías adineradas o cuando los procesos de transformación social pierden espesor, titubean y terminan por detenerse. Cuando en cambio se gobierna teniendo a la vista el bienestar de las víctimas del sistema, pasa lo que ocurrió ayer en Ecuador : si en la presidencial de 2009 Correa ganó en la primera vuelta con el 51 por ciento de los votos, ayer lo hizo, con el recuento existente al momento de escribir esta nota (un 25 por ciento de los votos escrutados), con el 57 por ciento. En lugar de « desgaste », consolidación y acrecentamiento del poder residencial.

Cuarto y último
: con esta elección se supera la parálisis decisional generada por una Asamblea Nacional que se opuso con intransigencia a algunas de las más importantes iniciativas propuestas por Correa. Si bien hay pocas cifras disponibles al respecto, no caben dudas de que Alianza País tendrá la mayoría absoluta de los asambleístas y con chances de alcanzar una representación parlamentaria que le permita contar con una mayoría calificada de dos tercios.

Conclusión : los tiempos han cambiado. La ratificación plebiscitaria de un presidente que precipitó un formidable proceso de cambios sociales y económicos dentro del Ecuador, que protagoniza la integración latinoamericana, que incorporó su país al ALBA, que puso fin a la presencia estadounidense en la base de Manta, que realizó una ejemplar auditoría de la deuda externa reduciendo significativamente su monto, que le otorga asilo a Julian Assange y que retira al Ecuador del Ciadi, no es algo que se vea todos los días.

¡Felicitaciones Rafael Correa, salud Ecuador !

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Boycott Apartheid! Boycott Israel!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Russia and Islam, part three: internal Russian politics

In the first two installments of this series on Russia and Islam we have seen that the reasons why neither the modern European civilizational model nor the traditional Orthodox faith can, at this point in time, provide a viable and positive source of ideological or spiritual inspiration for post-Soviet Russia.  While in the past three hundred years the ideologically dominant philosophical and political paradigm has been the "Westernizing" one, the absolute disasters which inevitably resulted from any "liberals" coming to power in Russia (Kerensky, Eltsin), combined with the West's betrayal of all its promises made to Gorbachev (NATO would not move East) has finally resulted in a collapse of this model.  The vast majority of Russians today would agree on the following basic ideas:

a) The West is no friend to Russia, never was, never will be, and the only way to deal with it is from a position of strength.
b) Russia needs a strong government lead by a strong leader.
c) Russian "liberals" (in the modern Russian use of the word) are a small degenerate group of US-worshiping intellectuals who hate Russia.
d) Russia has to be a "social state" and the "pure" capitalist model is both morally wrong and fundamentally unsustainable, as shown by the current financial crisis.
e) The democratic system is a fraud used by the rich for their own interests.

So far so good, but what is the alternative?

Historically, there used to be a traditionalist model which said that Russia needed to be an Christian Orthodox country, where the highest secular power needed to be vested in a Tsar, whose power must be kept in check by a powerful and autonomous Church, and where the people's will would be expressed in a Zemskii Sobor, a "Council of the Land", something like a Parliament with a primarily consultative function.  This idea was expressed by philosophers and writers such as Khomiakov, Tikhomirov, Rozanov, Solonevich, Iliin, Solzhenitsyn, Ogurtsov and many others.

With many caveats and disclaimers, I would say that this would be the Russian Orthodox version of the type of regime we see today in the Islamic Republic of Iran.  Not a theocracy, of course, but a regime in which the fundamental structure, nature, function and goal of the state is to uphold spiritual values.  A regime with a strong democratic component, but whose popular will can, when needed, be vetoed by the highest spiritual authorities.  I would call such a system a "directed democracy", in which the tactical decisions are left to the will of the majority of the people, but whose strategic direction is set and cannot be replaced by another one.

The big difference between Russia and Iran is that in Iran the Islamic model is clearly fully endorsed by a strong majority of the population.  In contrast, in Russia even most nominally Orthodox Christians would have great reservations about attempting to establish such a "Orthodox Republic".  Its hard to come by any credible figure, but my personal gut feeling is that no more than 10% of Russians would feel comfortable with such a proposition.  In other words, the idea of the establishment of an "Orthodox Republic" would probably be opposed by 90% of the people.

I personally deplore this state of affairs, if only because this is the model which I believe would be best for Russia, but politics being the science of the possible, it makes no sense to stubbornly latch on an impossibility.

Then what?  What are the other options?

The currently "visible" choice of political parties is both reflective of the main currents in society and, at the same time, rather misleading.  Let's look at what these parties are:

1) "United Russia". Putin's party.  I would describe it as moderately patriotic (but not nationalistic), definitely committed to a strong Russia, "social" in economic terms, "independent" in international relations.

2) The "Liberal Democratic Party of Russia".  Lead by Vladimir Zhironovski, it is vehemently anti-Communist and anti-Soviet, nationalistic in a buffoon-like manner, also "social" in economic terms, plain crazy in international relations.

3) The Communist Party of Russia.  Lead by Gennadii Ziuganov, this is a pathetically reactionary party which openly claims to be the successor of the former CPSU, it is lead by a "boar" like politician who could be sitting right next to Brezhnev or Chernenko.  It has no real vision, except for nostalgia for the USSR.

4) "Just Russia".  Lead by Sergei Mironov, a former paratrooper turned Social-Democrat, it is a moderately "left center" version of "United Russia", its a 'nice' party which will never make any real difference.

5) All the pro-US parties which could no even make it into the Duma, and whose protests and demonstrations rapidly fizzled out.  They are fundamentally irrelevant.

What does all this mean in reality?

There is only one party in Russia - the "United Russia" party of Putin and Medvedev.  Both the Liberal Democrats and the Communists are just here to provide a safety valve function for the unhappy.  While these parties do absorb a big chunk of the people who oppose Putin and United Russia, in the Duma these parties always end up voting with the Kremlin.  This is also pretty much true for "Just Russia" which is so small anyway, that it does not really matter.  The other useful function of the Liberal Democrats and the Communist, is that it keeps the "crazies" away from the Kremlin.  The hysterical nationalists and the nostalgic Communists are absorbed by these two parties and that makes them instantly irrelevant.

I feel that it is important to stress here that there are smart, well educated and articulate nationalists and communists who do NOT belong to the Liberal Democratic or Communist parties.  I am thinking of nationalists like Dmitri Rogozin (who is currently the Deputy Premier of Russian Government in charge of defense and space industry) or Stalinists such as Nikolai Starikov (the head of the Union of Citizens of Russia).  Frankly, smart people say away from these two parties.

The reality is that there is only one game in town: United Russia and its non-party "All-Russia People's Front", created by Putin as a political movement for new ideas.  Everything else is pretty much a way of making the system look "democratic" and legitimate.

Let's sum it all up.

Russia is a multi-ethnic country which currently lack any kind of  unifying ideology or spirituality, lead by a single group of people whose ideology can be summed up by mix or pragmatism, patriotism, modern socialism, and multilateralism in international relations.  Most importantly,

Modern Russia is neither the Imperial Russia of pre-1917 nor is it the Soviet Union and it would be fundamentally wrong the seek parallels in the past to understand the current nature of the relationship of Russia and Islam.

This is a big temptation, into which the vast majority of western observers always falls: to seek parallels between current events and past events.  While it is true that an understanding of the past if often the key to the understanding of the present, in the case of Russia and Islam this is not an appropriate approach.  For example, to compare the wars in Chechnia under Eltsin and then Putin, to the way Stalin dealt with Chechens or to the way Russia invaded the Caucasus under Alexander I can only fundamentally mislead, bring to wholly inapplicable parallels, and result in deeply mistaken conclusions.

Modern Russia does not have a clear definition of itself.  Lacking that type of definition, it is unable to articulate some kind of consensual view on what Islam means for Russia.

Some Russians see in Islam a very dangerous enemy, others see Islam as a natural ally.  This is all made even more complicated by the fact that Islam itself is hardly a unified phenomenon and that each time we think of Islam we need to be specific on what type and even what aspect of Islam we are talking about.

For Russia, Islam represents a mix of risks and opportunities in many aspects, including spiritual, political, social, economic, historical and geostrategic aspects. To be fully understood, the topic of "Russia and Islam" needs to be looked at in each and every one of these aspects and what we will see then is that there are different "currents" inside Russia who very much disagree with each other on whether Islam is a risk or an opportunity in every single one of these aspects.  So rather than to speak of "risks and opportunities", I will refer to the spiritual, political, social, economic, historical and geostrategic "challenges" which Islam represents for Russia.  This will be the topic of the next installment.

The Saker

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Speech of Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah marking the anniversary of the Martyr Leaders on Saturday 16/2/2013

I take refuge in Allah from the stoned devil. In the Name of Allah, The Compassionate, The Most Merciful. Peace be on the Seal of prophets, our Master and Prophet, Abi Al Qassem Mohammad and on his chaste and pure Household and on his chosen companions and on all messengers and prophets. Peace be upon you and Allah's mercy and blessings.

Allah Al Mighty said in His Glorious Book: { But those who are slain in the way of ALLAH, He will never let their deeds be lost. Soon will He guide them and improve their condition. And admit them to the Garden which He has announced for them. O ye who believe! If ye will aid ALLAH, He will aid you, and plant your feet firmly} Allah, The Most High, The Most Mighty says the truth.

I welcome you all in this dear and precious anniversary – the anniversary of the Martyr Leaders. I salute you all. Special salutations to the families of martyrs and the families of the Martyr Leaders – the family of Martyr Leader Sayyed Abbass Mussawi (May Allah reward him in Heaven), the family of Martyr Leader Sheikh Ragheb Harb (May Allah reward him in Heaven), and the family of Martyr Leader Hajj Imad Moghniyeh (May Allah reward him in Heaven).

On the anniversary of the Martyr Leaders, we draw lessens and have inspirations and renew our oath and determination. We reserve the trust and remain the men who befit the position. These Martyr Leaders were and are still witnesses on all the stages of the Resistance until today. Martyr Sheikh Ragheb is the martyr who witnessed the stage of establishing, rising, arousing, launching, and definitely choosing the options that lead to the target. Martyr Sayyed Abbass is the martyr who witnessed the stage of steadfastness, consolidation, resoluteness, and deep-rooting the path of the resistance and its conduct. Martyr Leader Imad is the martyr who witnessed the stage of qualitative and quantitative development – humanistic, materialistically, technically – and on the stage of achievements and the victories which was paved for by the Martyr Leaders as well as all the martyrs. In the school of Martyr Leaders, the project was the resistance and not anything else. The absolute priority was the resistance. That's because the true specification – brothers and sisters – of the great danger which was and is still threatening Lebanon, Palestine, the region and the peoples of the region is Israel and the Zionist Project.

When we think from a national position or from an Islamic position, and when we think on the level of the region and the level of the nation, we reach this conclusion and this specification: The greatest danger is Israel and the Zionist project. When we think with a narrow mentality and about local struggles, the greatest danger would be something else. It might be this party, this organization, this faction, this sect and this side.

The only choice available before the peoples and the rational logical historic choice on which the biography of all the rational people all through history was based is the choice of popular resistance with all its forms and levels among which is armed resistance. Thus our Martyr Leaders believed in that. The founder of the resistance in Lebanon – Imam Sayyed Mussa Assader (May Allah restore him safe with his friends) had believed in the project of the resistance. They were loyal to this project and to this priority. They offered all their youths and all their lives and efforts for that. They lived for that. They worked industriously day and night, and they were martyred in this path. Our masters and leaders taught us to be loyal to this project and to work seriously to this priority. They entrusted us to that, and we preserved this will, and we will always preserve this will. After 30 years, the project of the resistance in Lebanon – more than any time in the past – stands on solid land and on a firm base of facts, events, equations, achievements, and victories and not only on mere dreams which are meant to become truth or slogans or emotions or speeches or acrobatics.

During 30 years, the resistance in Lebanon was one of the firmest and strongest facts and one of the clearest and most obvious events which toppled great projects and changed strategic equations and got deep-rooted through decades or centuries. The achievements of the resistance and its outcome are eyewitnesses. That does not need evidences or proofs. It starts with liberation with red blood to defending the country with vigilant and alert deterrence. Based on these achievements and events, we continue our long path and course which would lead to absolute victory Inshallah. We have no doubt in that at all.

Brothers and sisters! The slogan of the anniversary for this year is: "The Martyr Leaders on the path to Palestine". This slogan might appear strange at first consideration in this time. Instead of using this anniversary and the symbolism of the Martyr Leaders to address internal causes or to invest it internally, the party pushes the topic towards Palestine. I read and I will read tomorrow those who say: In which world are you living? You still talk about Palestine and think about Palestine.

Indeed, if we look at the situation in the region, that would be a natural question. Now when we view the region and the speeches, terminologies, interests, priorities and internal struggles, divisions, media campaigns, accusations, mutual accusations and abuses, sectarian and factional instigations, fighting and blood-shedding in every country, it becomes natural that there remains no place for Palestine. There are no more minds, hearts, and emotions for Palestine. That's because all emotions and feelings had gone to other places. There is neither concern nor speeches on Palestine apart from it being a priority.

Look at what is taking place today in Al Qods, what took place days ago near Al Boraq Wall, what is taking place with thousands of Palestinian captives in Israeli prisons, what is taking place on scores or hundreds of Palestinian prisoners who are carrying hunger strike – captive Issawi and his comrades. How does the Arab and Islamic world view all of that? Where is their place in the concerns of the governments and even the peoples and the media outlets? Where is the increase of settlement construction in Al Qods and even in the West Bank among all what is taking place as far as the Palestinian cause is concerned? In what place, in whose mind, in whose emotions and considerations, and in whose speeches are they mentioned?

The slogan is "The Martyr Leaders on the path to Palestine". In fact the resistance in Lebanon - the Lebanese resistance with all its factions including Hezbollah - with all its achievements formed a strong support to Palestine, the resistance of the Palestinian people, and the steadfastness of the Palestinian people. Was it destined for the Israeli-American occupation in 1982 to be accomplished, all hopes to restore one span of the land of Palestine would have been dispersed. However the resistance in Lebanon toppled the project of great Israel in 2000 and the project of Greater Israel in 2006. It revived all the expectations and founded the certitude to restore the land and the territories. There is unity of soul, unity of mind, unity of heart, unity of fate, unity of concern, and a unity of battle between the resistance in Lebanon and the resistance of Palestine.

The resistance in Lebanon supported and backed the Palestinian Intifada and the resistance factions of Palestine. It offered all what it can materialistically and morally and on all domains so that the Palestinian resistance becomes strong and able. We used to believe, and we still believe that the available, possible, and realistic strategy for Palestine, under the weakness of the Arab official regime, is supporting the Palestinian people so that they would be able through resistance to resist, fight, remain steadfast, confront, and be able to restore their land, sanctities, and rights. This experience worked. It worked in Lebanon when the Lebanese resisted, and support was offered to them. The Lebanese are those who resisted and were martyred. With their determination and will, they made victory in 2000. This experience worked in Palestine, in liberating Gaza Strip, and this experience is successful.

What is important is that the Palestinian people carry on and that we carry on our support to the Palestinian people in all possible ways.

In this framework, Martyr Leader Hajj Imad Moghniyeh had and still has roles away from the media. These roles might be revealed with days – conveyance, support, conveying experience, the common mind, and the effort between Lebanon, Palestine and the two resistances.

Yes, all those who support Palestine must carry on supporting Palestine. We thank all those who have always supported the resistance in Lebanon and we are grateful to them starting with Islamic Republic in Iran to Syria.

Here we must stand solemnly before the oppressed martyrdom of Martyr brethren Engineer Hussam Khoshnevis on his great efforts and considerable contribution through heading the Iranian Committee for Reconstruction of Lebanon. This is not the first sacrifice the Islamic Republic offers while supporting the resistance in Lebanon, liberating Lebanon and reconstructing Lebanon. We offer our condolences to the dear brethrens and officials in the Islamic Republic and to his honorable dear family.

Thus we consider that all the martyrs of the resistance in Lebanon on top of which are the Martyr leaders – Sayyed Abbass, Sheikh Ragheb and Hajj Imad – who were martyred in the path to Palestine were related to Palestine, the People of Palestine and the sanctities of Palestine by a relation of faith, loyalty, love, emotion and great concern.

Still in this point and before moving to another point, I hope that our Arab world would be cured and would step out of their crises and sharp struggles so that they may be able to transcend this stage on which Israel is betting.

When all the Israeli research centers – especially this year – reevaluated the strategic environment, they made some modifications to what they wrote a couple of years ago. Two years ago, they were very worried and alarmed as a result to the changes that are taking or took place in the Arab world. Unfortunately, during the past few months, threats started to dwindle while chances mushroomed in Israeli studies. They clearly talked the struggle in Syria, the struggle in Egypt, and the struggles in the region as well as factional ordeals and the preoccupations of the peoples of the region with their internal struggles and affairs. They viewed that as an increase in the level of chances.

We are working and hope we would all be able to step out of this ordeal.

Here we must recall that these days mark the second anniversary for the launch of the Bahraini people upraise, Intifada, revolution and peaceful action. We laud the ability of this people to tolerate, stand steadfast and remain firm on their peaceful action and on the national trait of these demands. We hope that the national dialogue table which was formed in the past few days be able to make Bahrain, the people of Bahrain – this dear country and this dear people which has always been and will always be a supporter to Palestine and the resistance movements – cross and reach the required results which this people as well as all the martyrs who passed in this path look forward to.

I will tackle now the last point concerning the Israeli status quo before moving to the local situation.

Concerning the Israeli status quo, under some accusations that took place lately or the developments that took place in the region, great intimidations on Lebanon and on the Lebanese and on you were made unfortunately by Lebanese and Arab political forces and media outlets to the effect that Israel is preparing to launch a war on Lebanon. There were expectations that Israel would stage a vast aggression on Lebanon within few days or weeks or in the near future. Unfortunately this intimidation was not Israeli in as much as it was Lebanese or Arab. That means that according to my follow up to what the Israelis say, I did not notice that they were talking about waging a war on Lebanon or staging an aggression against Lebanon. Some tackled plots of war against Lebanon to the effect that in case of war "we would do so and so".

However, those who were foretelling about an Israeli war and a great Israeli aggression on Lebanon unfortunately were Lebanese forces, Lebanese media outlets, and Arab forces and media outlets.

Today I do not want to approach the Bulgarian accusation. This is being followed up carefully and calmly. Later on, we will see how things will move.

However unfortunately, from the viewpoint of the bad investment of some parties to this accusation, I will tackle it for a while as a prelude to talking about the intimidations. That's why many people made haste to establish the accusation on Hezbollah and filed a case against us. They themselves – i.e. these Lebanese and Arabs - accomplished the stage of accusation. They tried us and judged us on behalf of the European Union and placed us on the Terrorism List and thus pushed Lebanon towards economic, security and political repercussions pursuant to their supposed dream of putting Lebanon on the Terrorist List. They supposed the government would be toppled, and they got ready to take the government. Why are you making haste? There is nothing taking place? How is this topic to be approached and addressed later on and what will be done are other points to be tackled later.

However the worst in all what was said is indeed talking about Israel getting ready to stage a war on the basis of this supposed accusation. This is what they are talking about, and I am sorry that in Lebanon there are people who nurture such expectations, dreams and bargains. This is unfortunate. However, I will comment on two points only:

The first comment is that when the Israelis want to stage an aggression against Lebanon, they don't need a pretext or an excuse. They can fabricate any accusation and stage an aggression instantly without waiting for any investigations.

Do you still remember that in 1982 the Israelis claimed or accused Palestinian sides of attempting to assassinate the Israeli Ambassador to London? The Ambassador did not die; the Israelis did not wait for a British accusation or investigation. They took the event as a pretext and staged an attack on Lebanon. So the story is not as such. When the Israelis want to make an aggression on Lebanon or stage a war on Lebanon, they may fabricate whatever pretext or accuse anytime.

The situation is different as far as the Bulgarian event is concerned and even before it took place. Since the first minutes – or let's say the first hours – following the incident, Netanyahu accused Hezbollah. What took place during these several months? Did he stage a war or an aggression?

Even before the incident in Bulgaria, in the past year or in the past couple of years, operations against Israeli targets in India, Georgia, and Thailand took place. The Israelis accused Hezbollah. What took place afterwards? Did a war take place? No war took place.

There is simplification. We - the Lebanese and the peoples of the region – have been living the so called Israeli nightmare for decades by now. There is too much simplification in saying that because of a definite incident, Israel will wage a war.

Israel is a state that has its own project. It has its own interests, considerations, circumstances, and situations. In any war, it looks forward to a decisive victory. It does not head to a war as a result to a simple – or whatever -incident or as a reaction.

A war has a project. A great aggression against any country has a project. Well, perhaps it may hit a definite target or stage a definite operation. As for going to war, that has its own considerations. We must step out of this simplification while dealing with the Israel as an enemy that is threatening Lebanon and the region.

The second point which we must remind all the Lebanese of is that there is a new fact following 2000 and especially following 2006 which is that when the Israelis think of a war on Lebanon, they take a thousand things into consideration. The proof for those who want a proof is the trials which assert that. Israelis do not make haste to wage a war on Lebanon following whatever incident.

Another proof is the Israeli declarations, arguments, studies, analyses, and research centers and institutes as well as lectures given by Israeli security and military leaders – especially former leaders. That's because when they leave office they would be more able to express their decisions and talk in a clearer way. They wouldn't have any legal problem. Moreover, the drills and training camps which are taking place on the level of air, land and sea force assert that they are getting ready to a real front and not a trip. So it is not a pleasure trip. It is rather a real front.

So far there is a conflict and an argument among the Israelis: If we get engaged in a war in Lebanon or with Lebanon, will the results be guaranteed? Will we win the war? Are we able to bear another loss like that of 2006 or a greater or a more afflicting loss? Such arguments are taking place in Israel.

Dear brothers and sisters! I assert to you and I assert to that enemy today during the anniversary of the martyr leaders that Lebanon is not anymore a scapegoat. Lebanon is not anymore a place where Israel makes a trip for pleasure. Lebanon is not any more a country which may be duped or occupied by a musical band from the Israeli Army. These are not words to show off.

The proof is what took place in 1982, 2000, and 2006. The situation in Lebanon now is totally different. I do not need to remind of what I said in previous occasions. However, I would like to highlight a point so that neither the enemy nor those who always live on betting on what takes place abroad would make miscalculations.

I will talk frankly. Perhaps some might consider that Syria now is engaged in a bloody conflict, and consequently, Syria is outside the equation or outside any battle that might take place with the Israeli enemy. Syria which was a support in July War now is preoccupied in its internal struggle. Consequently, it can't support or back or be a bridge to the resistance in Lebanon. So this is the moment that might be exploited to catch Lebanon alone. Perhaps some might make wrong calculations and consider the resistance in Lebanon at this moment as weak or perplexed, and consequently, believe that it is favorable to stage an aggression…. Well this is not the case at all whether it is an aggression or an attack or a war. On the anniversary of Sayyed Abbass, Sheikh Ragheb and Hajj Imad, I tell whoever thinks in such a way: You are totally mistaken.

I frankly tell him that today the resistance in Lebanon is fully-equipped. All what we need for is now here in Lebanon. We do not need to convey it from Syria or from Iran. I hope you understood this fully. All what we need for in any upcoming war – in case it takes place – is here in Lebanon and we guard it in Lebanon.

The resistance today is fully equipped. All what I talked about in the past is very well known by the Israelis. If I am to raise the level more, it might be understood that we need to raise the dose. Well, no. With utmost calmness we will turn the tables: I warn the Israelis and whoever stands behind them that the resistance in Lebanon will not remain silent on any aggression which might take place against Lebanon or on Lebanese territories.

They know that, but I will remind them of our threat to their airports, seaports, and power plants – as for our power plants they need to be changed anyway. I might have told you previously that they have a number of power plants. They need only a number of rockets and Israel will be drowned in darkness. There is a plant in the north of Israel and near the middle. Israelis say that in case this plant was hit, they need six months to repair it. Does Israel bear falling in darkness for six months? In Lebanon, we are accustomed to that. However, do Israel and the people of Israel bear that? Anyway, they know very well that whatever we have said and whatever we might say again – starting with Keryat to Eilat – is serious. So if we are working day and night, the reconnaissance planes and the attempts to violate us on the security level would be natural because they want to collect information. This is the real threat.

As far as this point is concerned, I will wrap up saying – so as to keep some time to tackle the local situation: By the chaste blood of Sayyed Abbass, the pure blood of Sheikh Ragheb and the dear blood of Hajj Imad – this is not a religious oath but rather a moral oath or a jihadi oath – the sons, pupils, and comrades of Sayyed Abbass, Sheikh Ragheb and Hajj Imad are now more determined and resolute to confront any aggression and to preserve the trust. The contest is open, and it will remain open.

I have a couple of words to say on the internal situation. I will usher into the internal situation too from the gate of the resistance and the arms of the resistance. A day ago there was a dear memory. It is the anniversary of the martyrdom of Martyr PM Rafiq Hariri and his companions. Speeches were delivered on this occasion. I do not want to comment on what was said and repeated again. I do not want to make an argument or a commentary.

I only have a quotation from the speech of the Head of the Future Movement which I find myself obliged to tackle. I find it my moral obligation to comment on this quotation as I felt that in it there is an insult to Martyr PM Rafiq Hariri as well as to other leaders, allies and partners.

We can bear any insult made to us. However, we have to pose and tackle this quotation for another reason which is that this quotation or few words also give us the chance to usher into some argumentative local topics in Lebanon now. I do not want to make an argument. I only want to comment.

What does the quotation say? It says: Hezbollah decisively refuses to acknowledge this status quo (concerning weapons) and adheres to the formula of all policies serve arms. Hezbollah is ready to make concessions and a ministerial bribery to the Premier at the expense of a portfolio for the party. (So first he is saying that PM Mikati was bribed) in exchange for forming a government that does not approach the topic of arms. Hezbollah is also willing to confirm with its ally Michel Aoun – while observing titles; however, I am saying what he said – on the election law of the Orthodox Gathering to guarantee that the parliament remain under the ceiling of arms. Hezbollah is also willing to pass funding the STL in the government and pretend to have forgotten the previous campaigns made by Walid Jumblat and his extreme stance from Assad's regime and Iran's role in suppressing the Syrian people in exchange for keeping arms away from circulation".

Well, this is the quotation. The speech has a continuation. Well the argument is quite clear. However, I want to pose on this point.

First, we start with bribing PM Mikati. First, I want to correct his information. The portfolio which was conceded wasn't the share of Hezbollah. It was rather the share of Amal Movement. The step took place upon an initiative made by Speaker Nabih Berri. We agreed on this blessed step. So first his information is incorrect.

This step meant to decrease the Shiite share for the interest of the Sunnite share. This step was meant to honor, esteem and show respect to a great national house and second to give this great national house a chance to partake in the current government. I mean by this house the family PM Omar Karami. This man and this family have always proved a high degree of morals, national feelings and sense of responsibility and loyalty. Some want to shut this house close.

PM Omar Karami proved noble manners again through his responsible and moral dealing with the events taking place in Tripoli and which were about to lead to the death of his son MP Faisal Karami. Was it not for the moral, national, and humanistic stance taken by PM Omar Karami, we all know what would have happened in Tripoli.

Allow me to say that if the Shiites decreased their share for the interest of the Sunnite share to have a minister from this house, would that be a shame or bribery? This is not true about PM Mikati.

Well, thirdly, I will carry on with the PM as far as the story of passing funding the STL is concerned. Well, is it a shame if Hezbollah came to understand the difficult circumstances in which PM Mikati is assuming responsibility – local and regional circumstances are hard nowadays – though we do not agree with him on some stances and decisions such as funding the STL? The fact is that we are totally confident that when we deal with this government, it is unthinkable that PM Mikati and the government of PM Mikati would connive against the resistance or stab the resistance in the back. This is the difference. Thus we might differ in one point pursuant to definite pressures or circumstances. Well PM Mikati does not work totally freely. We make arguments and carry discussions and reach somewhere. So he does not make us bear what we can't tolerate and vice versa. Anyway, we reach agreements.

Even all what was written in newspapers about disagreements or conflicts is groundless. That's not true. Well, we are accused of bribing PM Mikati to form a government. What is this expression? I am not talking about arms. I will come back to it later on when talking about MP Rafiq Hariri and the current Head of the Future Movement. We will return to it later on.

Let's move to the second section. Hezbollah is also willing to confirm with its ally Michel Aoun on the election law of the Orthodox Gathering to guarantee that the parliament remain under the ceiling of arms. Here too, we have two points to highlight. First, is it a shame if somebody confirms with his allies, takes them into consideration, listens to their fears, and observes their interests? This is something that somebody is praised for and not ashamed for.

One of the discrepancies between Hezbollah and the leadership of Future Movement – I am not talking about the party; I am rather talking about the leadership – is the issue of allies. Dealing with allies is not lately the talk of closed salons. No! In the past few weeks it has become in newspapers, magazines and on platforms. How does the leadership of this movement deal with its allies and how do we deal with our allies? We deal with them with the utmost tolerance while totally observing national interests and not at the expense of national interests.

Anyway, our allies know that on the moral level – I am talking about myself – I am one of the people who if able to give my allies my own eyebrows, I won't fail to do so. Is that a shame?

Second: We were convinced by the Orthodox Gathering Proposal. Indeed it's our priority that Lebanon be one district based on proportional representation, or proportional representation with Lebanon as one district or with broad districts as I have said in the previous time. However we accepted the Orthodox Gathering Proposal. The story is not that of dictation or of moving with my ally with closed eyes. No, I am convinced, and I see that there is interest in that. In the previous speech, I said that the Christians in Lebanon view this proposal as a chance to achieve true equality. So let's give them this chance. Why not?

Thirdly, I will tackle the section that has to do with General Aoun and not with the rest of the allies. That's because he talked about General Aoun. Since 2006, General Aoun decisively made his choices when he stood next to the resistance. Then some leaders in March 14 Bloc said that the war would end and General Aoun would be searched for in one of the insane asylums in Paris. They were living dreams and illusions of the defeat the resistance would be afflicted with. Then General Aoun did not take a position and wait for political awards by the Orthodox Proposal or others because it was not known who would stay and who would quite to be.

July War was a war of existence or annulment. In July War the world, the international community, most of the Arab states and the local forces lined together to crush Hezbollah. General Aoun took a decision. At the stage in which crushing Hezbollah was required, was he waiting to be awarded or thinking that a day would come in which we would agree on the Orthodox Gathering?

Thus I have preciously said that I categorize his stance as well as the stance of all our allies, leaderships, heads, forces and all those who took a decision in July War as a moral, national, humanistic stance and not a political stance or a stance based on profit or loss considerations. That's because then we were one band and the world wanted to crush us. Were we crushed, we would have been crushed altogether. However, because we remained, we remained altogether; because we gained victory, we gained victory altogether; because we towered, we towered altogether.

Even when we differ over local affairs and at times misunderstandings occur, media outlets might make haste. However, General Aoun would show up and say that the resistance is above any disagreement.

Now we come to MP Walid Jumblat. What does the head of the Future Movement want in particular? He says: "…pretend to have forgotten the previous campaigns made by Walid Jumblat and his extreme stance from Assad's regime and Iran's role".

You good people, political elites, scholars, religious and political leaderships, what do you understand from this speech except instigation?

Do you feel sad because we are not conflicting with Walid Jumblat – while observing titles? Do you want us to quarrel? Do you want Hezbollah to quarrel with the Progressive Socialist Party on the basis of the stance from Syria? We are not as such. There are political and religious forces in Lebanon who differ with us in the stance from Syria. They are not partners with us in the government. They do not meet with us. They do not sit with us. On the contrary, they daily curse us, abuse us, accuse us, provoke us, and block roads. What did we do to these forces? Nothing! We remained silent. Why?

Since 2008, MP Walid Jumblat took a clear position from the resistance and the arms of the resistance. He announces this daily. He even announced that at the eve of leaving to Saudi Arabia. This was before the events started in Syria. Does the person who cares for the country and for the civil state and for the Lebanese not to fight or quarrel talk in such a language which instigates political forces against each other?

There are two points to be highlighted. The first is staying apart – that means that the government stays apart. The second point which is more important than staying apart is that the Lebanese do not thrust the conflict taking place in Syria into Lebanon. This differs from the government staying apart.

We confess that we differ over the stance from Syria. If we differ over the stance from Syria, are we to ruin our country and set it on fire? If there is a war in Syria, are we to transfer it to Lebanon or to open fire on each other? What logic is this?

We are with keeping Lebanon apart from the struggle taking place in Syria. I back whatever position that suits me, and you back whatever position that suits you. You take the stance that you want, and I take the stance I want. However, anything that leads to the transfer of struggle to the Lebanese internal square or among the Lebanese is wrong and not to the interest of Lebanon at all. This is what we are seeking. Is that right or wrong? Is that a demerit or a shame?

In the same framework, we move to talk about PM Rafiq Hariri. Previously I have talked openly on TV screens on several occasions. I want to recall that to show that – according to the quotation of the Head of the Future Movement - they might be understood that we have bribed the Martyred Premier and that he was bribed.

Some witnesses are still alive. We sat with each other before February 14th. We had discussions and agreed on some points. There remained points to be discussed: the viewpoint on Lebanon, on the region, on authority, on Taif Accord, on elections, on the upcoming government, and on the resistance. The man asked what we wanted. We told the Premier that to us the resistance has the utmost priority. Other points are discussable – the administrative topic, the economic topic, the financial topic, the topic of election laws, forming the government, and the authority are not a priority. They are discussable. The resistance to us is the priority because we think that Lebanon is still in the sphere of danger. Israeli greed is still valid. If the resistance does not assume the responsibility, there is no one else to assume the responsibility. He told us: I am with you. There was no bribe offered. He said: I am with you. He even said more than that. He said: I am with the persistence of the resistance and the arms of the resistance not until the withdrawal from Shebaa Farms and Kafar Shouba Hills, not until the return of captives from Israeli prisons, but even more. I tell you frankly, I am with the persistence of the resistance and the arms of the resistance until a comprehensive and fair peace is inked. Here I interrupted him just to point at the terms we use. I told him you say a comprehensive and fair peace; I say a settlement. I do not say comprehensive and fair peace. A comprehensive and fair peace which I believe in and which Hezbollah believes in is achieved by the return of Palestine from the sea to the river to the Palestinian people. This is the comprehensive and fair peace. As for what you mean, it is a settlement. So he said: Well call it settlement. We will not argue over that.

PM Rafiq Hariri was very flexible and in many of the topics he used to trim ends. So there was not a problem should I say a settlement and you say comprehensive and fair peace. There is no problem. He even said – though I did not tell him to make this addition – more than that. He said that in case a comprehensive and fair peace was achieved, and I was the Premier, I would come to you and tell you: The Arabs inked an agreement; Syria reconciled; Lebanon reconciled, the Palestinians reconciled; all the Arabs agreed. There is no need for this resistance and for the arms of the resistance anymore. Let's find a solution for the arms. Either you hand arms to the state, or you sell them, or you return them to their sources. Do whatever appeals to you. If a day comes when you – O Sayyed – tell me: "No, I do not want to hand in my arms", I will resign and leave Lebanon as I am not willing to get engaged in a battle with the resistance.

This is your father.

Did Rafiq Hariri ever take bribe? The man was martyred. His son came to power. We sat together. What was said was repeated in his presence. He said I am committed to all what my father was committed to. Did you at that time when the quartet was formed take a bribe?

At that time we formed the quartet. We do not feel remorse for that. However, some of our allies were annoyed from us. We do not feel remorse. We then formed a quartet, and I will remind you why. That's because we wanted to reserve Lebanon and guard civil peace. We wanted to put an end for a sectarian ordeal between Shiites and Sunnites. That's because if we – the Shiites (Hezbollah and Amal Movement) were in one side and the Future Movement in another during the elections of 2005, the country would have been ruined. That's because the language which was used during the elections and particularly in the North where it was forcefully used mounted to calling those who vote for the rivaling list as voting for the killers of Rafiq Hariri. We would have gone to a Shiite-Sunnite conflict. In 2005, we made concessions. We agreed to make alliance via the quartet. We accepted to share in a government with no guarantees and without the guaranteeing one-third share. There were promises only. It was a verbal commitment. The Martyr PM used to tell me: I am ready to write down what I am saying. {If I had knowledge of the unseen I should have multiplied all good} If we knew the unknown, we would have told him to write that down. However, we told him: "O, no! Your Eminence! Your word is enough. Your word suffices.

Even in previous governments, on what bases the ministerial statement used to mention the equation of the Army, the People and the Resistance? Then his allies were annoyed. Was he bribed here too or what?

I end this argument in a word with him: When the problem took place and the former government was toppled, and an argument took place in the country on naming the new PM, the Qatari-Turkish Initiative was made. It made a discussion to address the topic. Then the Qatari minister and the Turkish FM – previously I have tackled this topic – met and wrote a draft on which the Head of the Future Movement agreed. They came to us. It was only required that we accept so that in the morning, the various sides ink the agreement and a great meeting would be held in Paris attended by countries which would sponsor this agreement.

Here I am somehow hesitant. Am I allowed to say for example that on that day we were bribed and we did not accept to be bribed? Or what is the correct term to be used?

Previously, I have told you that in that text there were things that have to do with the STL, withdrawing the Lebanese judges, and blocking funds. We said that before. I do not want to repeat. I will come to the topic of arms. As for arms the text which was presented to us had three conditions on arms. The Qatari minister was reading on me: Putting an end to the phenomenon of arms spread and security zones all over the Lebanese territories - Between parentheses there was written: "Hezbollah arms are not meant in that". I told him: Your Eminence! Are you aware of what you wrote? He explained to me that what is required is putting an end to the phenomenon of arms spread in all regions except for the arms of Hezbollah. I told him to be sure of what he wrote. It was I who was highlighting what he wrote. I told him that had he written the arms of the resistance that would have been narrower than the arms of the party. I told him that he may ask me whether the existence of arms in a definite geography is arms of the resistance or political arms. He told me there is no problem in that. We agree on this text and we accept it.

It was you who proposed on us keeping arms aside, reserving arms and guarding arms in exchange of agreeing that you become the Premier again, and we did not agree. The reason simply has to do with national interests. It has nothing to do with personal or party refrain. Then an argument took place with us. I do not go for presenting the argument on air. Well, the national unity government which was headed by him had gained the highest level of votes in the history of Lebanon ever. As they say things were made fully ready for him. Still what did that government do?

We want a Premier who resides in Lebanon. I told them we want a Lebanese Premier. We want a Premier who has time to sit with the ministers, listen to them, gather the ministerial committees and address causes. We want a Premier who has enough tolerance to follow-up. Here I am talking frankly. Any person can stand for an hour and make abuses. Well, these are facts.

Thus on that day we told them that we can't accept to keep our arms aside as well as the STL in return for handing this country for this person or that. As such I will be violating national interests for the sake of the interests of the party. Who would have bribed the other? Who would have taken a bribe from the other?

Here I would like others to be careful. Well, our policy requires offering concessions for allies, friends and partners for the sake of reserving the arms here. No! It is for the sake of reserving the resistance. Was these arms not for resisting Israel, it would have meant nothing at all to us. It does not deserve that we offer sacrifices for it.

Well, a resistance or a party might offer concessions in authority, in administration, in election laws…. It might offer concessions here and there. A party might tolerate and have patience on accusations, abuses, and daily insults for the sake of the resistance that protects the country and the resistance that is on its way to Palestine, the resistance which is a source of pride to Lebanon. Is that a merit or a shame?

Well, why do they say one thing and its opposite? Don't they daily say that the aim of arms is to gain power? Well, here you are acknowledging that we are conceding authority for the sake of reserving arms. Isn't that so? Well, you are reading a written text. You are acknowledging that we are conceding a Shiite portfolio in the government; we are confirming an election law; we are remaining silent here and there; we let funding the STL pass for the sake of reserving arms. Well, if the target of arms is to reach power, how is it that we are offering concessions in power to reserve arms? How am I to understand that?

Brothers and sisters! It is not now that justice has been revealed. Justice has been revealed for a long time. Justice is clear and evident. I would like to tell you: In this country, we believe in forming a state; we believe in Taif Accord; and we believe in developing this regime.

Indeed, if anyone tries to approach making amendments in Taif Accord he would be labeled a political infidel even if he was a Sunnite but not from Future Movement. Only one side is allowed to talk about amending Taif Accord without being labeled an infidel. It is the Future movement. However, if any other person from any other political track, or sect, or faction approaches the Taif Agreement, he would become a political infidel.

We are with Taif Accord. We are with developing Taif Accord. We believe in true partnership. We believe in true equity. Because the Orthodox Gathering is one of the choices that lead to true equity, we agreed on it, and if it is proposed at the parliament, we will vote for it.

We believe that in Lebanon – with its composition - there is no ability or possibility that a party or a movement, or a faction or a sect rule the country. Let no one confer a benefit upon others. Let's put good intentions aside. Whoever thinks in such a way would be putting Lebanon and himself at stake. Thus we say: Our project was never to rule Lebanon or gain authority in Lebanon.

Yes, we are with real partnership. We are with true national partnership because this country with its characteristics and human and political composition has this option available only. So if we want a secure, stable country that addresses its social crises, develop and guard its unity, the only way is partnership and not monopolization.

They say that we are a group who seeks monopoly. Never! When PM Najeeb Mikati was named, he stayed for a month waiting so that you agree to partake in a national unity government. You did not agree. On the contrary, you met and called on the entire world to boycott this government. You instigated the entire world against this government.

Now, in the past and in the future, we are with national unity, with national agreement, and with making concessions to each other. We have no problem in making concessions. Never! However, that must be under this title.

We look forward to reach an understanding in Lebanon and to live together in Lebanon with dignity. We look forward to a strong Lebanon that is able to protect itself away from any bargain whether on the international community, the Arab League, the Organization of Arab Cooperation, or anyone else in the world. We only trust in Allah and bargain on the hands of Lebanon's sons, resistance men, and honorable people – and they are numerous in Lebanon. We look forward to a Lebanon which is able to benefit from the blessings and wealth which Allah endowed in it – in its mountains, fields, waters, and seas – without any grudge from anyone or fear from anyone.

This is what we look forward to. These were the dreams of our martyr leaders, and we have the same dreams. We have the same expectations and targets, and we will carry on moving on their path with determination while being certain of the upcoming victory. Peace be upon you, and Allah's mercy and blessings.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Russia and Islam, part two: Russian Orthodoxy

Most people assume that Russia is a Christian Orthodox country and that the Russian Orthodox Church is the spiritual leader of the Russian people.  This is a very superficial view and, I would even say, a fundamentally mistaken one.  To explain what I mean by this, I will have to explain something absolutely crucial and yet something most fundamentally misunderstood by the vast majority of people, including many Russians.  The Russian Orthodox Church as an institution and the Orthodox spirituality of the Russian people have been severely persecuted since at least 300+ years.  So crucial is this phenomenon that I will need to make a short historical digression into the history of Russia.

From the moment Russia was baptized into Christianity by Saint Vladimir in 988 to the 17th century rule of Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich, the Orthodox Church was the organic core of the Russian civilization.  In the words of Alexander Solzhenitsyn:
In its past, Russia did know a time when the social ideal was not fame, or riches, or material success, but a pious way of life. Russia was then steeped in an Orthodox Christianity which remained true to the Church of the first centuries. The Orthodoxy of that time knew how to safeguard its people under the yoke of a foreign occupation that lasted more than two centuries, while at the same time fending off iniquitous blows from the swords of Western crusaders. During those centuries the Orthodox faith in our country became part of the very pattern of thought and the personality of our people, the forms of daily life, the work calendar, the priorities in every undertaking, the organization of the week and of the year. Faith was the shaping and unifying force of the nation.
The 17th century, however, saw an abrupt and violent change to this state of affairs.  Again, in the words of Solzhenitsyn:
But in the 17th century Russian Orthodoxy was gravely weakened by an internal schism. In the 18th, the country was shaken by Peter's forcibly imposed transformations, which favored the economy, the state, and the military at the expense of the religious spirit and national life. And along with this lopsided Petrine enlightenment, Russia felt the first whiff of secularism; its subtle poisons permeated the educated classes in the course of the 19th century and opened the path to Marxism. By the time of the Revolution, faith had virtually disappeared in Russian educated circles; and amongst the uneducated, its health was threatened.
By the time Tsar Nicholas II inherited the throne in 1896 the Russian society was suffering from a deep spiritual crisis: most of the ruling class was highly secularized if not completely materialistic, almost every single aristocratic family had joined the Freemasonry, while the rest of the country, still mostly composed of peasants, was nominally Christian Orthodox, but not in the deep way the Russian nation had been before the 17th century.

Russian Tsars often ended up being real persecutors of the Russian Orthodox Church, in particular those upon whom the Russian aristocracy and the West bestowed the title of "Great".  Peter I, the so-called "Great" decapitated the Russian Orthodox Church by abolishing the title of Patriarch from the head of the Church and replacing him by "Synod" run by a laymen bureaucrat with the rank of "Chief Procurator" who did not even have to be Orthodox himself.  De-facto and de-jure in 1700 the Russian Orthodox Church became a state institution, like a ministry.  Under Catherine I, also called the "Great", monastic were persecuted with such viciousness that it was actually illegal for them to possess even a single sheet of paper in their monastic cell, lest they write something against the regime.

Other Tsars (such as Alexander II, or Alexander III) were far more respectful of the Church and Tsar Nicholas II, who was a deeply religious and pious man, even restored the autonomy of the Church by allowing it to elect a new Patriarch.

And yet, by and large, the Russian Orthodox Church underwent a process of quasi-continuous weakening under the combined effects of overt persecutions and more subtle secularization from the 17th to the 20th century.

In the 20th century during the reign of Tsar Nicholas II,  Russian Orthodoxy saw a short but amazing rebirth immediately followed by a mass persecution under the Bolshevik rule whose viciousness and scale was previously unheard of in the history of the Church.  Again, in the worlds of Solzhenitsyn:
The world had never before known a godlessness as organized, militarized, and tenaciously malevolent as that practiced by Marxism. Within the philosophical system of Marx and Lenin, and at the heart of their psychology, hatred of God is the principal driving force, more fundamental than all their political and economic pretensions. Militant atheism is not merely incidental or marginal to Communist policy; it is not a side effect, but the central pivot.  The 1920’s in the USSR witnessed an uninterrupted procession of victims and martyrs amongst the Orthodox clergy. Two metropolitans were shot, one of whom, Veniamin of Petrograd, had been elected by the popular vote of his diocese. Patriarch Tikhon himself passed through the hands of the Cheka-GPU and then died under suspicious circumstances. Scores of archbishops and bishops perished. Tens of thousands of priests, monks, and nuns, pressured by the Chekists to renounce the Word of God, were tortured, shot in cellars, sent to camps, exiled to the desolate tundra of the far North, or turned out into the streets in their old age without food or shelter. All these Christian martyrs went unswervingly to their deaths for the faith; instances of apostasy were few and far between. For tens of millions of laymen access to the Church was blocked, and they were forbidden to bring up their children in the Faith: religious parents were wrenched from their children and thrown into prison, while the children were turned from the faith by threats and lies...
This is a complex and tragic history which I cannot discuss in any details here so I will insist on only one important consequence of these events: the Russian Orthodox Church eventually split into at least 4 distinct groups:

a) The "official" or "state" Orthodox Church, which eventually became the Moscow Patriarchate.  Largely composed of modernist clergymen, this "official" Soviet Church not only denied the reality of the persecution of Christians in Russia, it often actively collaborated with these persecutions (by denouncing "subversive" clergymen, for example).

b) The "Josephites" composed of the followers of Metropolitan Joseph of Petrograd, they openly refused to submit the Church to Bolshevik regime and were eventually martyred for their stance.  Some joined the following group:

c) The "Catacomb Church".  This was an illegal, underground, organization, lead by secret bishops, which rejected the right of the Bolsheviks to take over the Church and which went into deep hiding, practically disappearing from public view.

d) The "Russian Orthodox Church Abroad": composed of exiles, this was organization created by Metropolitan Anthony of Kiev who, with the blessing of Patriarch Tikhon, united around itself most of the Orthodox Russian who had fled the Soviet Union.

It is important to stress here that even though the Josephites, the Catacomb Church and the Church Abroad did have very few practical means to communicate with each other, they were all in communion with each other and recognized each other as legitimate branches of the One Russian Orthodox Church, although each one in unique and specific circumstances.  Not so with the first entity, the official "Soviet" Church which was denounced by all three groups as at the very least illegal and possibly even as the satanic tool of the Bolsheviks.

Why is all this so important?

Because the current official "Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate" is a direct descendant of this first group, which was unanimously rejected by literally tens of thousands of saints who were martyred for their faith by the Bolshevik regime.  In patristic theological terms, the Moscow Patriarchate and its members are "lapsed", i.e., those who did not have the courage to resist the persecutors of the Church and who therefore severed their communion to the Church.  The fact that they created an ecclesiastical entity in conditions prohibited by canon law makes them "schismatics".  The fact that they developed a specific teaching ("Sergianism": the idea that the Church can be "saved" by way of comprimise with evil) to justify such actions makes them "heretics" (please note that in a theological discourse terms like "heretic" are not insults, but simply indicators of a specifc spiriual condition/status).

The above is an extremely superficial and even simplistic mini-overview of a long an extremely complex topic and I ask for the understanding of those who know about this and who might be appalled at how much I have not discussed here.  I am aware of that, but this is simply not the time and place to write a halfway decent history of Russian Orthodoxy in the 20th century.  The only other historical detail I will add here is that during WWII, Stalin did very substantially ease some of the worst persecutions against the Church and that these persecutions did, in part, resume under Krushchev.  Again, I apologize for the extreme "shorthand" of the outline above, and I ask that you take only the following two important concepts with you:

a) Russian Orthodoxy has been continuously weakened for the past 300+ years
b) The organization currently officially representing Russian Orthodoxy has major legitimacy issues and is often viewed with deep suspicion, even by very religious people.

I now need to say a few words about the modern "Moscow Patriarchate" as it is today, over two decades since the end of any anti-religious persecutions.

First, it is by far the most "Soviet" institution of the Russian polity.  Or, to put it in other words, it is by far the least reformed "leftover" of the Soviet era.  To make things worse, it is also currently run by a notoriously corrupt individual, "Patriarch" Kirill I, a sly and utterly dishonest individual, known for his shady business dealing and for his rabid adherence to the so-called "Ecumenical Movement" (a heresy from the Orthodox point of view).  To top it all off, there is some pretty good evidence that Kirill I might be a secret Papist Cardinal, something called a "cardinale in pectore" which, if true,  is probably used against him by the Russian security services to make sure that he does whatever the Kremlin says.

For all its faults, the Moscow Patriarchate fulfills and extremely important role for the Russian state: that of ideological substitute for the now officially abandoned Marxist ideology.

One often can hear the statement that about 70% of Russians are Orthodox Christians.  This is wrong and highly misleading.  According to data published in Wikipedia, about 40% of Russians are Orthodox Christians.  Better.  But what does that really mean?  Mostly that these Russians identify with the Russian Orthodox traditions, that they try to live by Christians ethics and that they refer to themselves as "Orthodox".  But if we take the figures published annually by the Moscow city authorities on the attendance of the single most important religious service in the Orthodox tradition - Easter (called "Paskha" in Russian) we see that only about 1% of Moscovites actually attended it.  What about the remaining 39%?!

It is impossible to come by one "true" figure, but I would estimate that no more than 5% of the Russian population could be considered as "deeply/consciously, religious".  And yet, the Moscow Patriarchate plays a crucial role in the Kremlin's power structure: not only does it provide a substitute for the now defunct Marxist ideology, it serve as a "patriotic education" organization, it offers a series of well-recognized symbols (beautiful churches, religious singing, icons, crosses, etc.) which can all be used a national symbols (rather than spiritual symbols).  Those national symbols are recognized, if not necessarily fully endorsed, by far more than the 40+ percent of Russians which are nominally Orthodox.  To paraphrase the American expression "to rally around the flag", Russians are nowadays encouraged to "rally around the cross" even if on a deep internal level they don't really understand, or care, what the symbol of the Cross really means in Orthodox Christianity.

Let me give you an example of what all this ends up looking like.  Read the transcript of the speech which Vladimir Putin made at the Council of Bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate (click here).  It is all about patriotism, patriotism and more patriotism.  Not a single word in all this is devoted to spiritual topics.  Not one.  This speech could have been made to an assembly of officials of an ideological department of the CPSU.

For the Moscow Patriarchate, this tight collaboration with the Kremlin also has an immense advantage: it grants it a legitimacy which history so unambiguously denies it.  While there are still remnants of the Catacomb Church in Russia, and while outside Russia there still is an Orthodox Church Abroad, these organizations are tiny compared to the huge Moscow Patriarchate, with its 100+ bishops, 26'000+ parishes and 100'000'000+ official members.  And when any of these small groups succeeds in gathering the funds to open a small parish somewhere in Russia, the Moscow Patriarchate can always count on the local riot police to expel them and "return" the building to the Moscow Patriarchate.

I apologize once again for the extreme degree of over-simplification I had to settle for to write this (already too long!) overview.  What I have done is mention what I believe are essential background factors which must be kept in mind when looking into the topic of Russia and Islam. 

In particular, it has to be clearly understood that the official Orthodox Church, the Moscow Patriarchate, is not an important factor at all in the dialectical relationship between the Russian society and Islam, if only because inside the Russian society the status of the Orthodox faith is an extremely weakened one.  In other words, the topic of "Russia and Islam" should not be confused with the topic "Orthodox Christianity and Islam".  In many ways, modern Russia is neo-Orthodox, para-Orthodox or even post-Orthodox but most definitely not truly Orthodox.

This, however, begs the obvious question: if the dominant ethos of the Russian society is not Marxist any more, and if it is not really Orthodox Christian either, than what is it?  Other than being predominantly anti-Western or anti-capitalist, what does the Russian society today stand for (as opposed to against) and how does Russian society react to the values offered by Islam.  This will be the topic of the next installment of this series.

The Saker