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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Sunni clerics declare new Jihad

From the BBC (h/t Andre):
At a weekend meeting in Istanbul, 200 religious scholars and clerics met senior Hamas officials to plot a new jihad centred on Gaza.

The BBC's Bill Law was the only Western journalist at the meeting.

In a hall crowded with conservative Sunni Muslim sheikhs and scholars, in a hotel close to Istanbul's Ataturk Airport speaker after speaker called for jihad against Israel in support of Hamas.

The choice of Turkey was significant. Arab hardliners were keen to put aside historic differences with the Turks.

As one organiser put it: "During the past 100 years relations have been strained but Palestine has brought us together."

The conference, dubbed the Global Anti-Aggression Campaign, also gave impetus to Sunni clerics concerned about the growing power of Hezbollah, the Shia movement backed by Iran, which rose to international prominence in its own war with Israel in 2006.

"Gaza is a gift," the Saudi religious scholar Mohsen al-Awajy told me. He and other delegates repeatedly referred to the Gaza war as "a victory".

"Gaza," he continued, "gives us power, it solves our differences. We are all now in a unified front against Zionism."

In closed meetings after sessions delegates focussed on the creation of a "third Jihadist front" - the first two being Afghanistan and Iraq. The intensity of the Israeli attack had "awakened all Muslims," Mr Awajy claimed.

"Palestine is a legitimate theatre of operations for jihad (holy war)," he added.

Mohammed Nazzal, a senior Hamas leader based in Damascus, challenged Arab governments to "open their borders and allow the fighters to come."

Delegates from all over the Middle East, and from Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan and Indonesia applauded as he stabbed the air with a raised finger and declared: "There will be no agreement with Israel... only weapons will bring respect."

Gaza has opened a gulf between Arab people and their regimes, clerics say

Mr Nazzal told his audience: "Don't worry about casualties."

The 23 days of bombardment of Gaza, in which some 1,300 people, many of them civilians and nearly 300 of them children, are believed to have died, was "just the beginning" of the struggle, Mr Nazzal said.

To laughter in the audience, another speaker noted that twice as many babies were born as children were killed during the war.

Every death, I was told, was a martyrdom on the road to liberation.

For the hardline sheikhs, it was an opportunity to underline what they see as the growing gulf between Arab regimes who are hesitant to back Hamas and the people of the region who, they say, embrace Hamas as heroes fighting against overwhelming odds.

More importantly, this conference represented something of a coup for Hamas. They were promised weapons, money and fighters.
This is not particularly new - it is not as if Muslim clerics were ever moderate towards Israel, as many Friday sermons through the years show.

However, this is noteworthy because the fact is that some of what they say is correct - the people were far more pro-Hamas than the governments, which were more pragmatic. Even Hezbollah, which had promised to send rockets in support of Hamas, decided against it.

One of the ironies from the pro-democracy push that George Bush advocated is that if there were free elections in the Arab world today, chances are that they would be the only elections in history - because the Islamists would win and would never give up their power. Democracy is meaningless without freedom, and the clerics might say they want democracy now but they certainly don't want freedom.

Every "friendly" Arab country is only one bullet away from becoming another Gaza, ruled by Islamic extremists and ready to turn their nations into theocracies. Sure, there would be plenty of average Arabs who would not be happy about it but none of them are as fanatic about freedom as the extremists are about political Islam, making the chances of Arabs getting rid of the mullahs on their own are very slim.

So while there is no additional danger yet to Israel from the Sunnis in Turkey letting off steam and celebrating the deaths of 1200 Arabs, their words do indicate that they have power that can blossom in their own countries if their current leaders make a mistake. And if they take power, all the weapons that we have sold them will immediately be earmarked for Israel - and the West.