ARABICA: Martyrs, Gitmo Rehab, Holy Site Surveillance

Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock under December snow
Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock under December snow
Laura Thompson

Morsi accused of "espionage"
Mohamed Morsi, the former Egyptian president deposed in a military-backed coup this past summer, is facing charges alongside 35 other defendants. The charges? Espionage and aiding terrorism.

Morsi was specifically accused of collaborating with the Palestinian political organization Hamas, in an alleged attempt to orchestrate what prosecutors characterize as an Islamist takeover. He was also accused of collaborating with Shia Iran — a rather bizarre accusation considering that the Muslim Brotherhood is a proudly Sunni Muslim organization.

Pro-Morsi Twitter users condemned, and mocked, the accusations.

One user tweeted an image of a sign reading, "Couldn't you come up with a less honorable accusation than colluding with Hamas!?"

الانقلابيين مش لاقين للرئيس مرسي..الا تهم تشرف #مرسي_رئيسى #ضد_الانقلاب

— مرسى رئيسى ياسيسى (@AMIREK1) December 18, 2013

Tunisia: where to turn when the 92 year-old won't take the job
Tunisia's troika of ruling parties and its divided opposition have finally come to an agreement, ending a major political stalemate that began this past summer. Fifty-year-old Mehdi Jomaa, the current minister of industry, has been named prime minister of the caretaker government, in place until the next elections are held. Jomaa is considered an independent technocrat with extensive experience in the private sector. He is considerably younger than other Tunisians nominated for the position, some of whom were well past retirement age, including 92-year-old Mustapha Filali, who'd served as minister of agriculture in the 1950s. Accordingly, Jomaa has promised a government of young ministers.

News outlets and Twitter reacted with surprise, as newspapers' front pages asked "Who is Mehdi Jomaa?" One responded with a rare photo in which Jomaa is seen having lunch with the German ambassador to Tunisia in the Western city of Beja.

Diplomatie du Méchoui :D visite à Béja, l'ambassadeur d’ #Allemagne Jens Plötner et ministre Mehdi Jomâa

— المسكوت عنه (@RymBN) December 11, 2013

Jordan to Israel: take down surveillance cameras at Muslim holy site
Jordan has demanded the removal of Israel surveillance equipment at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. The mosque sits on the Temple Mount, revered by both Jews and Muslims. Both the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Temple Mount are located in the contested city of Jerusalem, currently divided into Israeli-controlled West Jerusalem and Palestinian-controlled East Jerusalem.

Discussions on Twitter reflected the long uneasy cohabitation of Muslims and Jews in the context of Israeli presence in Jerusalem — what many Muslims view as an unacceptable occupation, while Israel considers an undivided Jerusalem its capital city.

An Egyptian Twitter user posted an image of Israeli soldiers posing in front of the mosque, arguing that the act constitutes a "desecration" of the holy site, as the soldiers simultaneously "are fighting Arab armies and seeking their downfall."

الخيانه أسلوب حياة المجندات الاسرائيليات يدنسن المسجد الاقصى لكن المجاهدون يحاربون الجيوش العربية ويسعون لاسقاطها

— ÐÒ‘. Ḳĥαâ„"εá¸" (@IIKRII) December 12, 2013

Still, recent snowfall in the region has brought out the playful side of many who frequent the site, regardless of political or religious affiliation.

لانحسدكم على الثلج ولكن نحسدكم على المسجد الاقصى وقبة الصخرة .. الحمدلله الذي رزقني الصلاة فيه

— حمد لحدان المهندي (@hamadlahdan) December 14, 2013

Saudi Arabia welcomes home Guantanamo detainees — with "rehab"
According to the Saudi Interior Minister, two Saudi nationals detained for over a decade in Guantanamo are returning home. Before reintegrating into society, however, the militants will go through a "rehab" program obligatory for all Saudis jailed for radical Islamist activity.

The rehab program reportedly features counseling, sports and art classes, as well as religious instruction that rejects interpretations of Islam that sanction violence.

The program claims a 90% success rate, according to the Saudi government. Those "patients' that did return to a life of political violence, however, often rose quickly in the ranks of Al-Qaeda, prompting criticism that when "rehab" did fail, it failed miserably.

One Syrian Twitter user, a supporter of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, published a sarcastic tweet suggesting the the ruling Saudi family would send the prisoners directly to Syria to wage jihad against President Assad.

"Pentagon: Two Guantanamo prisoners sent back to Saudi Arabia … Come on, they're waiting for them over here in Syria! Don't delay in sending them, Saudi family!"

البنتاغون ترحيل معتقلين من غوانتانامو الى السعودية ...... يالله ناطرينهم عنا بسوريا لا تتأخروا بارسالهم يا ال سعود

— lamloma (@lamloma3) December 16, 2013

Assad has long worked to portray the Syrian opposition as dominated by militant jihadists, while presenting himself as a secular ruler fighting terrorists.

British surgeon killed in Syrian jail
Abbas Khan, a 32-year old orthopedic surgeon from the UK, turned up dead in his jail cell in Syria this past week. Upon his arrest more than a year ago, Khan was on his second trip to Syria, where he had been operating sometimes day and night to save those sometimes critically injured in Syria's bloody civil war.

Syrian authorities reportedly told Khan's family that he had committed suicide.

Khan's brother told CNN that the Syrian authorities claims were simply efforts "to defend them against the indefensible. He's Abbas Khan been summarily executed without trial or due process ... I think he's been silenced for whatever he might have to say."

Following news of Khan's death, a number of Twitter users began publishing tweets concurring with Khan's brother's allegations. One Twitter user reposted a Facebook image of Khan with his son, writing, "The surgeon Abbas Khan is a tortured martyr, Abbas is British of Indian origin and he died of torture in the dungeons of the Assad regime."

الطبيب الجراح عباس خان شهيد تحت التعذيب وعباس بريطاني من اصول هنديه استشهد في اقبيه النظام الاسدي تحت التعذيب

— ذو الهمه العاليه (@alneeser777) December 17, 2013

A Palestinian writer similarly tweeted: "The despicable regime of Bashar says that the British Muslim surgeon "Abbas Khan" committed suicide in his cell. The killers speak with their own sick logic, wanting the world to believe them."

نظام بشار الحقير، يقول إن الجراح البريطاني المسلم (عباس خان) انتحر في زنزانته. يتحدث القتلة بمنطقهم السقيم، ويريدون من العالم أن يصدقهم.

— ياسر الزعاترة (@YZaatreh) December 18, 2013

His message was retweeted 75 times in one day.

Fifteen-year-old Egyptian boy remains in jail — over a ruler
In today's hypernationalist Egypt, journalists have been jailed, the country's "Jon Stewart" taken off air, and prominent athletes banned from playing for "criticizing" the military-backed government, in power since the summertime coup. Now, a high school kid has similarly found himself detained in an adult jail, for possessing a much more mundane object: a yellow and black ruler.

The ruler, along with two notebooks in the student's possession, bore the four-fingered Rabaa sign, which has developed into an international symbol of solidarity with the embattled Muslim Brotherhood, which was removed from power on July 3, and has since increasingly become the target of the state security apparatus.

The offending ruler, belonging to 15 year-old Khaled Bakara, was reportedly peeking out of his pencil bag. Upon spotting the ruler, Khaled's teacher contacted the school director, who contacted the police. Khaled has since been detained under suspicion of defaming the army, inciting violence, and belonging to a prohibited organization.

A Twitter user tweeted an image of a woman holding a poster, reading, "Khaled, oh hero, your imprisonment will free a country!"

الطفل ده محبوس في سجن الأحداث علشان كان شايل مسطرة عليها شعار رابعة !

— أخبار مصر ™ (@akhbaarmasr) December 18, 2013

Khaled's arrest comes as Egyptian students continue to demonstrate in support of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Three years after Tunisia revolution, first martyr's grave in ruin
The Tunisian Al Chorouk newspaper visited the grave of Muhammad Bouazizi, a Tunisian vegetable salesman who set himself on fire in December 2010, giving rise to a growing protest movement that would soon after reach the capital city. On Jan. 14, 2011, then president Ben Ali fled the country. Bouazizi, who had died from his burns, became the singular martyr of the revolution.

Al Chorouk was thus shocked to find Bouazizi's grave in a lamentable state, covered by weeds and thorny plants, in a cemetery difficult to find. Al Chorouk furthermore bemoaned the lack of any special indication on Bouazizi's grave of his status as a martyr who "shook the world" and "brought people to the revolution, refusing a policy of oppression and marginalization."

Still, Bouazizi's memory has been the source of some uneasiness and contention, perhaps in particular because his death is also considered a suicide, which is perceived as religiously prohibited. Efforts to commemorate him as a martyr with a public monument have so far been in vain.

More roadbumps for Geneva 2
Geneva 2 has faced more than its fair share of obstacles in its quest to end the bloody Syrian war that has forced more than 2 million Syrians to leave for neighboring states, while millions more remain displaced within the country.

Most recently, the Syrian Islamic Front has refused to participate in Geneva 2, giving no reason but clearly poised to challenge the political dominance of the more moderate Free Syrian Army, long recognized by the West as the representative of the Syrian opposition.

In the meantime, the powerful jihadi brigade Jubhat al-Nusra has claimed to Al Jazeera that "victory is near," in Syria, raising the possibility that the group could attempt to create an "Islamic state" in collaboration with other like-minded Muslims.

Geneva 2 is now scheduled for the end of January 2014, but the divided Syrian opposition has failed to produce a single unifying body, as more and more foreign jihadists have joined its ranks, frightening Western supporters. At the same time, the regime of current Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has variously expressed irritation with international intervention as well as courted global opinion to stand against an opposition it describes as terrorist.

In the meantime, secret talks reportedly continue using the Syrian government and rebel forces to further open channels for the transportation of humanitarian aid, desperately needed by the displaced population.

Iraqi policeman hugs suicide bomber, sacrificing self, saving others
An Iraqi policeman reportedly embraced a suicide bomber targeting a group of Shia pilgrims on their way to visit a holy site south of Baghdad.

According to Al Arabiya, the deceased police officer, named Ayoub Khalf, had two young children, aged six and nine. He was blown up when the attacker detonated his explosive belt, killing four other civilians. Khalf's courage is being credited with the low number of deaths in an attack that would typically be much more deadly.

Twitter users posted images of the young Ayoub, "the martyr who saved Shi'a visitors to Imam Hussein's shrine in Karbala, south of Baghdad."

@camary965 @alaanqqqaa @amer200992 @BatBatbh @SH_Karam الشهيد(ايوب خلف)الذي انقذ الزوار الفاتحة

— ابو محمد العنزي (@salbook20091) December 20, 2013

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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