“Drive them out!”
The speech President Trump gave to the assembled leaders of the Muslim world in Riyadh two years ago, was as necessary as it was inspirational. He challenged many of our allies in the Middle East to redouble their efforts at fighting jihadism in their own countries. He told them to more closely monitor some of the so-called “charities” they fund which are used for terror or indoctrination. He told them that they had more to risk in the battle with Islamic radicalism than anyone else—and that they’d better get started.
Some of our allies, especially Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, took the message to heart and began cracking down on Islamists who threaten the security of the Kingdom and countless lives in the West.
There was one leader in attendance, though, that smiled politely but never changed his behavior. Two years later, he and his royal family remain the most significant funder and promoter of the world’s most important anti-American jihadist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, or Ikhwan.
This week, President Trump has the opportunity to challenge that man—the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamin bin Hamad al-Thani—and his nation’s behavior in person when he receives him at the White House.
Qatar produces a stream of relentless anti-American, anti-Semitic and anti-Trump rhetoric. It is a chronic abuser of human rights and religious freedom, running migrant labor camps that represent far more than half the nation’s population.
Most importantly, though, Qatar’s support for Sunni terror groups like Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood ensures that millions of Muslims around the world are brainwashed and pushed toward lives of radicalization, extremism, and jihadism.
What happened to “drive them out”?
Qatar claims to be a friend and an ally in our struggle against Islamic terrorism. When the Emir visits you at the White House—like he has every year—he will be all smiles.
In April 2018, the president and Emir al-Thani discussed “ways to further strengthen American-Qatari coordination on counterterrorism and counter-extremism.”
When he returns to Doha, though, he will continue pressing his lobbyists and his media outlets to attack the president, the United States, Jews and our allies in the region in the most disgusting of ways.
Like Qatar and its leaders themselves, the country’s state-run media outlet, Al Jazeera, has a history of engaging in double-speak. In Arabic, its programming is radical, anti-American and anti-Semitic.
To its English-speaking audience, however, Al Jazeera presents itself as an outlet on the political left, obsessed with issues like racism, social justice, climate change—and anything that would persuade Americans on the left to support its cause.
In response to recent outcry from the public and some Members of Congress, Al Jazeera has taken to find legal loopholes and concoct clever accounting schemes to convince lawmakers and the Justice Department that it is an independent media entity. That’s nonsense.
Based on its leadership and its messaging, Al Jazeera clearly is the propaganda arm of the Qatari royal family. The Islamist network and its new, youth-oriented outlet AJ+ have yet to register under our Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA), despite ample evidence which indicates it is necessary for them to do so.
Some Republicans in Congress, notably Rep. Jack Bergman, have begun to press the Justice Department to force them to do so. Many in Congress, as well as some in the Trump administration, have been troubled by Al Jazeera’s relentless pro-Islamist programming, which isn’t conducive to peace in the Middle East.
“An open foe may prove a curse,” Benjamin Franklin cautioned, “but a pretended friend is worse.”
So long as Qatar continues to be rewarded without curbing its bad behavior, it will continue with its malign and malicious efforts in the region and on our very own soil at home in America, as it has through a vast and endless propaganda campaign to curry favor within this administration.
My friends, family and I in the Iranian-American community greatly appreciate Donald Trump’s toughness on Iran’s misbehavior, and his willingness to designate or sanction elements of the corrupt, evil regime and their Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as terrorist entities.
The Muslim Brotherhood is a similar type of evil. It’s engaged in acts of actual terrorism—most recently in Egypt and in the Sinai—but it’s most destructive because it serves as a conveyor belt for radicalization.
The Brotherhood’s ideology had a crucial, formative influence on every Sunni Islamic terrorist and group, including ISIS Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri of al Qaeda.
There is nothing that would more effectively “drive them out” and drain the jihadist swamp than to have your Treasury Department or State Department designate elements of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.
As its greatest patron, Qatar could distance itself from the Brotherhood, and the group would suffer greatly and gradually wither away. It has decided not to do so—the Islamist madrassas remain open, the jihadist literature keeps being pumped into Muslim communities, and international media networks like Al Jazeera continue to push anti-Americanism, rejection of peace and Holocaust denial.
We Americans are owed an explanation why.
Not all Shi’a-Majority Nations are the Same
The recent alleged arson attack on the Tomb of Esther and Mordechai, a Jewish holy site in Iran, was indicative of the ever-rising rate of anti-Semitism and broader religious intolerance in the Islamic Republic. The recently released United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) annual report had highlighted Iran’s anti-Semitic targeting of its small Jewish population as well as other minorities including followers of the Baha’i faith; the most persecuted faith in Iran.
The USCIRF described that it documented “a particular uptick in the persecution of Baha’is and local government officials who supported them in 2019. Iran’s government blamed Baha’is —without evidence — for widespread popular protests, accusing the community of collaboration with Israel, where the Baha’i World Centre is located. Iran’s government also continued to promote hatred against Baha’is and other religious minorities on traditional and social media channels.”
U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Elan Carr has said that “anti-Semitism isn’t ancillary to the ideology of the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is a central foundational component of the ideology of that regime, and we have to be clear about it, and we have to confront it and call it out for what it is.” After the Tomb of Esther and Mordechai was set ablaze last weekend, Carr reiterated these statements and called Iran the “world’s chief state sponsor of anti-Semitism.”
In 2016 I wrote, “According to Articles 12 and 13 of the Iranian Constitution, all branches of Islam and Christianity have the right to worship, as do Jews and Zoroastrians, within the limits of the law there. However, converting away from Islam to any other religion is considered haram, or forbidden, and in many cases, could result in execution.”
Anti-Semitism is a historical reality in Iran’s strict brand of Shi’a Islam, which emphasizes the separation between believers and non-believers, expressed in terms of purity versus impurity. The Jewish People Policy Planning Institute explains that in Iran, “under the influence of Zoroastrian traditions, the Jews were considered physically impure and untouchable (najasa). Jews were also prohibited from inheriting from Shiites, whereas the opposite was allowed. A Jew who converted to Islam was entitled to the entire inheritance. Shiites were not allowed to marry Jewish women, except for in temporary marriage (mut’a), which is an inferior and exploitative type of concubinage.”
It is also a little-known fact that the country name of Iran is derived from the ancient Persian word Arya, a linguistic predecessor of the modern European term Aryan. Further, Armenian Nazi collaborator Garegin Nzhdeh (1886-1955) is the founder of the racist Tseghakronism movement, whose ideology is reminiscent of the Aryan supremacy espoused by Nzhdeh’s Nazi comrades. Today, Nzhdeh’s brand of Aryan and anti-Semitic ideology is palpable in both Armenia and Iran, neighboring countries where the Anti-Defamation League has documented that more than half of the populations hold a series of anti-Semitic views — at even higher rate in Armenia (58 percent) than in Iran (56 percent).
At the same time, it is important to note that the majority of Iranians are secular and the regime does not necessarily represent them, or their values. In fact, the Iranian government persecutes its Azerbaijani, Arab, and other citizens from minority populations.
Yet a stark contrast with Iran is found in its Shi’a-majority neighbor, Azerbaijan, which has strong relations with Israel and protects its Jewish citizens as well as other religious and ethnic minorities.
Southern California-based evangelical pastor Johnnie Moore has elaborated on the telling differences in the realm of religious tolerance between Azerbaijan and Iran, noting that Azerbaijan is “a country where Sunni and Shi’a clerics pray together, where Evangelical and Russian Orthodox Christians serve together, and where thriving Jewish communities enjoy freedom and total security in their almost entirely Islamic country.” He has also called Azerbaijan “a model for peaceful coexistence between religions.”
During my own visit to Azerbaijan, I observed and documented this first-hand. I believe that Azerbaijan is a nation that bears the torch, and burden, of bringing religious freedom to its less tolerant neighbors in the region, like Iran.
Perhaps the most dramatic indicator of Azerbaijani tolerance is the post-Soviet state’s special relationship with its Jewish community and with Israel. Last November, Azerbaijan unveiled a statue in honor of the nation’s Jewish war hero Albert Agarunov (1969-1992). Although Agarunov was killed in battle, his legacy remains a powerful symbol of Jewish integration and pride for his Muslim-majority country.
Israel and Azerbaijan have closely cooperated for more than a decade in the realms of security, energy, and tourism. Most recently, Azerbaijan sent its Finance Minister Samir Sharifov to this year’s American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference, where Sharifov said that the country’s “cooperation with Israel is not limited to oil supply; we are interested in widening cooperation in defense and the transfer of technology.”
Sharifov also read remarks from a letter to AIPAC by Mehriban Aliyeva, the first vice president of Azerbaijan, who wrote, “It is gratifying that our former compatriots of Jewish origin, living nowadays in the United States and Israel, have maintained close ties with Azerbaijan and contribute to the strengthening of our relations with these countries. We are grateful to them.”
How can Azerbaijan govern and act so differently from its Shi’a neighbor? Iran is a theocracy that mixes religion and state more thoroughly than any other country in the world. In contrast, Azerbaijan’s constitution affirms the country as a secular state and ensures religious freedom for its citizens. Azerbaijan is also facing its own human rights issues and working on progressing as a nation. However, the fact of the matter remains, though Iran and Azerbaijan share a border, the similarities between their governments largely end there. Not all Shi’a-majority nations are the same.
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