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City of Brass

(This is a guest post by my friend and Islamsphere scion Ali Eteraz)

I woke up this morning and found a comprehensive Middle East peace plan being offered by Saudi Arabia in the pages of the Washington Post.

Putting aside whether or not the proposed Arab peace initiative of 2002 is viable or progressive, I couldn’t help but notice the four bullet points that conclude the article. Says the article:

Obama ought to pursue a comprehensive policy that deals with all the hot spots in the Middle East. He should:

Call for an immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces from Shebaa Farms in Lebanon. This would remove the issue of “national liberation” from the arsenal of Hezbollah’s propaganda and mitigate Syrian and Iranian interference in Lebanon.

Work with the U.N. Security Council for a resolution guaranteeing Iraq’s territorial integrity. This would dampen Iraqi politicians’ ambitions for dismembering Iraq and force them to negotiate for national reconciliation, putting their interests as Iraqis before their interests as Arabs, Kurds, Shiites or Sunnis. It would also stop any ambitions — economic or territorial — that Iraq’s neighbors may be considering.

Encourage Israeli-Syrian negotiations for peace. This would engage Syria and diminish Iranian obstructionism. It would also force Palestinian groups based in Syria to follow the Syrian example.

Declare America’s intention to work for a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, with a security umbrella and other incentives for countries that sign up and a sanctions regime for those that don’t. This would remove the issue of double standards that the Iranian government uses to raise support among its people for its nuclear policy. It would also resolve the security concerns with which Israel’s leaders justify their possession of nuclear weapons.

Notice something?

Each one contains either a direct or indirect reference to Iran. It is only the second bullet where Iran is not named but even there the “ambitions” of “Iraq’s neighbors” can only refer to one country.

Number three is interesting because Iran is redefined as the country engaged in “obstructionism.” Four, however, is crucial, because it directly criticizes Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

There has been a debate raging among academics whether it makes sense to understand the middle east in terms of this Saudi-Iranian competition. Vali Nasr, from the Naval Academy, who wrote the book on Shia revival and conflicts within Islam, has argued for this kind of evaluation. Hamid Dabashi, from Columbia university, believes that promoting conflicts within Islam is simply made up. I don’t think my views particularly matter in this debate but if I had to pick I would say that neither is correct since given the autocratic and oligarchic nature of Saudi Arabia and Iran, respectively, there is no way of knowing what is really happening.

Ali Eteraz is a writer and columnist for The Huffington Post and for The Guardian magazine.

This year is rare: the Islamic New Year and the Solar New Year are very close together. The first of Muharram, the Islamic New Year, was December 29. The passing of the New Year is a special time of celebration, when people revel in being alive to see the passing of a New Year.

Yet, it is also a time of reflection: reflection over what we have done over the past year and how we will be different in the coming year. That is the basis of the New Year Resolution, when many people resolve to do something or be someone they were not the year before. It is natural to do such things during a transition, such as one year to the next.

So, let us all – as we toast (with or without alcohol) the New Year – reflect over how we have been in 2008 and resolve to be better people and make the world a better place in 2009.

And, may each and every one of you have a happy, healthy, safe, and prosperous New Year.

As the bloodshed continues in the Holy Land, and the Israeli government says that what we have seen so far is the “first stage,” I am reminded of the Prophet Muhammad’s saying: “If you see something evil, try to change it with your hands. If you are unable to do so, then speak out against it. If you are unable to do so, then hate what is happening with your heart. That is the weakest level of faith.”

I am speaking out against the horrific violence that we have witnesses in the Holy Land. I am speaking out against rockets fired on innocent civilians. I am speaking out against bombs and missiles hitting crowded population centers. I am speaking out of the indifference of political leaders and “religious leaders” at the enormous toll of human suffering that the world is witnessing in the Holy Land right now.

I also am praying for the safety, security, of all who are in the Holy Land, and I ask the Precious Beloved to stop the violence. Blood is blood; an Israeli life is as precious as a Palestinian life. The tears of a Palestinian mother sting just as much as that of an Israeli mother.

Why can’t more people see this?

Usually, nothing coming out of Saudi Arabia surprises me. Yet, this story shocked me to the core. According to a report by CNN, a Saudi judge recently refused to annul the marriage of an “eight-year-old girl to a 47-year-old man.” The annulment petition was brought by the girl’s mother, and the judge dismissed it because, she “is not the legal guardian of the girl,” according to the mother’s lawyer Abdullah al-Jutaili.

The girl’s father arranged the marriage in order to settle his debts with the man. Bu–let us all breathe a sigh of relief here–the judge asked for a pledge from the husband that he would not consummate the marriage until after she reached puberty. After she reaches puberty, the judge ruled, the girl will have the right to request a divorce. But until then, it seems, she
is property of a man almost six times her age.