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Commentary: Inappropriate for U.S. State Department to send Muslim cleric to Arab countries

August 11, 2010 1 comment

By Shoshana Bryen

Shoshana Bryen

WASHINGTON, D.C. –The State Department has confirmed that Feisal Abdul Rauf – who wants to be the imam of a mosque at Ground Zero – is taking a State Department funded trip to the Middle East to foster “greater understanding” about Islam and Muslim communities in the United States.

“He is a distinguished Muslim cleric,” said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. “I think we are in the process of arranging for him to travel as part of this program, and it is to foster a greater understanding about the region around the world among Muslim-majority communities.” Rauf is reportedly going to Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Qatar.
 
What a load of hooey.
 
We know a lot of rabbis, some ministers and a few priests. We would be appalled to have the government of the United States, which by law favors no religion, sending a rabbi to Israel – or the former Soviet Union or France or Argentina, where there are communities of Jews – to talk about how Jews live in the United States. Having a priest travel to the Vatican, Honduras, Ireland or the Philippines to describe the lives of American Catholics would be outrageous. Likewise, ministers to Sweden.
 
What business is it of the American government to send a Muslim to Muslim-majority countries to talk about Islam? How offensive is it to think that the American government is using American tax dollars to fly a non-government person around the world to promote the activities and lifestyle of a particular religion? Better to send a non-Muslim American government official to talk about American religious freedom, cultural diversity and the virtues of the secular, democratic state. 
 
To the speculation that Rauf will engage in fund raising for the proposed mosque at Ground Zero, Mr. Crowley said, “That would not be something he could do as part of our program,” he said. 
 
We’re so relieved. And we’re so sure he will do only as the American government desires.
 
But Debra Burlingame, a 9/11 family member told The New York Post, “‘We know he has a fund-raising association with Saudi Arabia,’ … noting that the Saudis have contributed money to underwrite programs by the American Society for Muslim Advancement, a not-for-profit that Abdul Rauf runs with his wife and that is one of the sponsors of the Ground Zero mosque. ‘He’s going to the well, and how can they say they do or don’t know what he’s doing?'”
 
To be entirely clear, JINSA believes Ground Zero is a battlefield cemetery – the site of a battle for the liberal democratic state. We oppose the building of a Muslim sectarian monument there because regardless of what its supporters say, it will be widely understood in the Muslim world as a battlefield monument in the name of Islam. 
 
Does the State Department really think Rauf (who said in English that the United States bears responsibility for 9-11) will tell the Saudis, Bahrainis and Qataris that he is building a monument to cultural understanding, interfaith relations and peace in New York because America is a good, safe and decent place for Muslims as long as they understand the secular, democratic nature of the United States? And that he doesn’t want their money because Americans will fund the mosque?
 
And how will the State Department know?

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Bryen is senior director of security policy of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.  Her column is sponsored by Waxie Sanitary Supply in memory of Morris Wax, longtime JINSA supporter and national board member.

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U.S. bungles relationships with Turkey and Honduras

June 8, 2010 1 comment

By Shoshana Bryen

Shoshana Bryen

WASHINGTON, D.C. –Turkey and Honduras, in different ways, highlight the lack of effective leadership the United States currently is able to exercise in the world. 
 
Turkey: Turkish government support for the IHH ship in the Gaza flotilla is now well understood and the anti-Semitic ravings of both official Turks and the Turkish media have made Turkey’s intention to split from Israel clear. 
 
But it is a mistake to think this is only about Israel. Support for the flotilla was only the latest in a series of Turkish decisions designed to distance itself from the United States and move toward closer political relations with countries adversarial to us. Immediately after the bloody 2007 Hamas coup against Fatah in Gaza, the United States and the European Union reiterated that Hamas was a terrorist organization to be shunned. Instead, Turkey’s prime minister invited Hamas leadership to Ankara. The Hamas-Turkey relationship has grown as the Turkey-Palestinian Authority relationship, the relationship supported by the United States and the EU, has declined. Rapprochement with Russia, Syria and Iran, and the Iran-Brazil-Turkey enriched uranium deal are more of the same.
 
After his meeting with Secretary of State Clinton, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters, “Citizens of member states were attacked by a country that is not a member of NATO. I think you can make some conclusions out of this statement.” The implication was that Turkey would ask NATO for some satisfaction-or some slap at Israel.
 
Thank you for the reminder, Mr. Minister.
 
Turkey, as a member of NATO, is privy to intelligence information having to do with terrorism and with Iran. If Turkey finds its best friends to be Iran, Hamas, Syria and Brazil (look for Venezuela in the future) the security of that information (and Western technology in weapons in Turkey’s arsenal) is suspect.  The United States should seriously consider suspending military cooperation with Turkey as a prelude to removing it from the organization.
 
Honduras: The United States tried to have it both ways. The Obama Administration quickly jumped in with Venezuela, Brazil, Cuba and Nicaragua to denounce what it called a “coup” in Honduras. The United States voted with its new best friends to oust Honduras from the Organization of American States (OAS), and cut off various forms of diplomatic and economic aid to the small Central American country. After the Congressional Research Service (CRS) concluded that the Honduran Congress, Supreme Court and military had acted in accordance with the Honduran Constitution, the Obama Administration brokered a deal that permitted the previously scheduled election with previously nominated candidates to go forward.  When the new president was sworn in, the United States recognized the new government and withdrew its sanctions. 
 
All’s well that ends well, right? Not exactly.
 
At the OAS meeting in Peru this week, the United States tried to have Honduras reinstated. Guess who said no; Venezuela, Cuba, Brazil and Nicaragua refused to even to put the issue on the table. Hugo, Lula, Fidel and Danny were perfectly happy to let the Obama Administration join them in ganging up on a (former) American ally. But they still think they’re leading. 
 
Maybe they are.

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Bryen is senior director of security policy of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.  Her column is sponsored by Waxie Sanitary Supply in memory of Morris Wax, longtime JINSA supporter and national board member.

The Canary in Israel’s Coal Mine

November 30, 2009 Leave a comment

By Shoshana Bryen

WASHINGTON, D.C. — For those who have asked why JINSA has kept Honduras in the spotlight since June, this is why: small democratic countries trying mightily to exercise legitimate governance and self-determination deserve our vocal support even – or especially – when they do things the U.S. would prefer they didn’t.

Honduras is one of these countries, as is Israel.  We have been surprised by the lack of Israeli interest in the democratic exercise of sovereign rights by Honduras, and especially in the lack of interest in the pressure exerted by the U.S. government to force compliance with America’s wishes.

The presidential and legislative election held in Honduras on Sunday provides an opportunity for American administration to walk back its decision to punish the small, poor Central American country for ousting its then-president Manuel Zelaya last June as he tried to pave the way for multiple terms, in violation of the Honduran constitution.  The election included only candidates nominated long before Zelaya’s ouster – and the interim president, who was never a candidate, removed himself from public view in the last week of the campaign.

The first decision of Team Obama back then was knee-jerk support for the radical line – joining Chavez, Ortega and Castro calling the ouster, authorized by the Honduran Supreme Court and legislature, a coup.  Then, in swift succession a) agreeing to the suspension of Honduras from the OAS; b) withdrawing accreditation from Honduran Ambassador Roberto Flores; c) withholding foreign aid; d) threatening Honduran access to previously awarded Millennium Challenge grants; e) refusing a diplomatic visa to the interim president for his visit to the UN General Assembly (a violation of UN rules); and e) using the American Ambassador in Honduras as point man to threaten Honduras’s future relations with Washington.

It was distinctly more American pressure than was applied to the Iranian government as it stole an election and punished demonstrators with arrest, torture and death.

The interim Honduran government, plus most of the arms of authority in the country – the legislature, the Supreme Court, the Catholic Church and the Human Rights Commission – held fast to the belief that their constitution mattered.  And after Senate Republicans held up the nominations of two Obama appointees for State Department Latin America posts, the Administration was pressured into turning to Costa Rica’s Oscar Arias to try to hammer out an agreement between Zelaya and the interim government.

A four-point plan emerged, giving the Honduran legislature and Supreme Court the lead in determining their own country’s future and obliging the U.S. and the OAS to sanction yesterday’s election.  The legislature will meet on 2 December to determine the fate of Zelaya and his failed attempt to hijack the country.  The interim president has said he will respect the legislature’s decision – even if it brings Zelaya back to complete his term until the January handover of power to the newly elected president.

Oscar Arias told the AP that he believes other Central and South American nations will respect the Honduran vote – Costa Rica will, he promised.  Brazil, Argentina and others have said they may not – claiming the election would only ratify the “coup.”  This is blatant interference in the internal affairs of a neighboring country, and the U.S., still the most important player in the hemisphere, should be quick to declare where it stands.

If it stands on the side of Honduras, all could be well that ends well.

We often call Israel the canary in the coal mine of Western, liberal democracy.  Honduras may prove to be the canary in Israel’s coal mine.

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Bryen is special projects director for the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. (JINSA). Her column is sponsored by Waxie Sanitary Supply in memory of Morris Wax, longtime JINSA supporter and national board member.

Reasons for international thankfulness

November 25, 2009 Leave a comment

By Shoshana Bryen

WASHINGTON, D.C.– Last year at Thanksgiving, we noted that November 2008 was a moment of “tremendous upheaval, economic dislocation and a truly historic presidential election. As a country, we are exhausted and jittery, and nothing makes us think the way ahead will be any easier or calmer.”

We were right. On the security front, very little makes us feel better–the old threats remain, plus an increase in Iranian intervention in South America. The trend in Turkey is not good and the UN has proved–if it was still necessary –that there is no new depth to which it cannot find a way to sink. At home, the economy has stabilized somewhat, but American politics are still exhausting.

On the other hand, this Thanksgiving we are thankful that there is always another hand.

Honduras has proved that a government that believes in its own laws and its own constitution could withstand the pressure of its neighbors, including the colossus to the north. What began as a thwarted attempt by Manuel Zelaya to illegally pave the way to run for a second term as president should end Sunday with the previously nominated candidates for election, and with American and OAS approval. We are thankful for brave
democrats even, and especially, in small countries.

Iraq is moving-two steps forward and one back-toward its second open, multi-party national election. That makes two more than most Arab countries have had. We are thankful for brave nationalists even, and especially, in shaky new governments.

The Israel Test by George Gilder, and Start-up Nation by Dan Senor and Saul Singer are powerful antidotes to the negativism that sometimes pervades our thinking, and a powerful reminder of the economic, political and social miracle that is Israel. We bought both books and are thankful for authors who are looking at the same country we’re looking at, but turn the prism and see it from an entirely different angle-and write about it with grace and wit.

We are thankful, too, for the continuing closeness between the United States Armed Forces and the IDF. The Juniper Cobra joint exercise that finished a week ago was a model of high-level military cooperation, high-powered technology and shared attitudes among one very large democratic force and one rather small one–proving that size doesn’t matter where it doesn’t matter.

And we are most assuredly thankful for America and for Americans.

We are thankful for the blessings of our great country, our freedoms, our families, our friends, and our lives. We are grateful to servicemen and women, police officers, fire fighters, airport security screeners, border guards, FBI and CIA agents, the administration and members of Congress of both parties who believe and speak and vote with the understanding that our nation is still at war. We are grateful for heroes by choice and heroes by chance. We believe it is the combination of all these people working under difficult and often-dangerous circumstances–not a lack of trying on the part of the bad guys–that has have kept us safe for another year. We are grateful to the parents for raising the children who grew into the adults who serve America in so many ways at home and abroad, and grateful to their families for sharing them.

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Bryen is special projects director for the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. (JINSA). Her column is sponsored by Waxie Sanitary Supply in memory of Morris Wax, longtime JINSA supporter and national board member