x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Civil war, or a holy one?

The Syrian revolution is turning from a civil struggle against a despotic regime to a holy war, an Arabic language columnist writes in today's roundup of regional opinion. Other topics: a bankrupt Netanyahu and Spider-Man at the White House.

The Syrian revolution is turning from a civil struggle against a despotic regime to a holy war

The Free Syrian Army fighters who regularly appear on news channels and YouTube videos are conspicuously Islamists, and yet they were not like that at the beginning of the Syrian uprising, argued Abdullah Nasser Al Oteibi, a Saudi columnist, in the pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat.

"You could easily tell by looking at how they use mosques as an assembly point for daily demonstrations, how they are always chanting 'Allahu Akbar' while firing their weapons during military operations, how they wear their beards long, and also by the names they choose for their commanders," he said.

"All these signs confirm that indoctrination is now running deep in the fight in Syria, but are these YouTube avatars new to Islamism, or have they indeed been involved with political Islam movements in the region prior to the revolution?" the author asked.

About 18 months ago, during the beginnings of the Syrian uprising, the Arabic satellite news channel, Al Arabiya, aired a documentary about Syrian rebels. The interviewed fighters insisted on the fact that they were not "Islamists", a label that the Syrian state media was trying to pin on them.

"To back up their claim, they mentioned in a bit of a radical and gross manner that they neither pray or fast in Ramadan," the author said.

But, just a few weeks ago, the British Sky News channel ran a report on a group of Free Syrian Army fighters detained by President Bashar Al Assad's regime. The attitude change was striking.

"All the detainees had long beards," the writer said.

"As part of their answers to questions from the officer, they mentioned the state of Jihad in Syria. They also said Spain was an expropriated Muslim country and that they would carry on the fight to regain Andalusia, and from there to Islamise the world."

Arabs in general, and Muslims in particular, feel "psychologically very close to their maker" even when their acts are contrary to religious precepts, the writer said.

"Like all Muslims, Arabs are innately emotional and have a constant need for a higher power to prop their earthly existence against. And because Arabs sit on the margin of history in this age, they tend to peg everything on fatality, their good deeds and wrongdoings, their successes and failures, their strengths and weaknesses."

So when an Arab fighter is facing death on a daily basis, thus the prospect of hell or paradise, he endeavours to secure Allah's blessing in the fastest way possible, the author observed.

"And the shortcut essentially consists of growing a beard, performing daily prayers and reciting supplications to dispel fear."

In a nutshell, this is how a secular rebellion has turned into a potentially uncontrollable holy war, the columnist said.

Netanyahu's ideas are politically bankrupt

The statements by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, where he scoffed at the United Nations' stance on Israel's settlements, represent political bankruptcy, noted the UAE-based newspaper Al Bayan editorially.

Mr Netanyahu, saying that he did not care about the international organisation, is not a sign of strength but rather of a state of confusion and an attempt to distract from the resounding defeat at the UN where most votes were supportive of a Palestinian statehood.

The UN last vote showed that only three states opposed the right of the Palestinian people: the US, the UK and Canada, in addition to four other countries that no one knows anything about except voting against the Palestinian rights.

There is a problem with the implementation of the resolutions at the UN. But legally and morally speaking, such resolutions are important to establish basic rights of Palestinians, long-neglected and reduced to humanitarian aspects, the paper added.

Relief and refugee agencies were created to cushion the blow for Palestinians in refugee camps instead of working towards finding a lasting political solution by implementing the relevant General Assembly resolutions.

Palestinians have tried every form of resistance to claim their rights. But Israel has always put obstacles to peaceful endeavours that could lead to a solution to the Palestinian cause.

Spider-Man, Obama and Arab rulers

Last week, while the US president, Barack Obama, was entering his office, a kid dressed up as Spider-Man suddenly appeared and tried to ensnare him in a web. The president played along with the child, feigning fear and raising his hands in surrender.

"What if an Arab child dressed in a Spider-Man costume does the same act with the ruler of his country," asked Hassan Al Zaabi in a satirical column in the UAE-based paper Al Emarat Al Youm.

"For starters, he will be rewarded with a kick from the ruler's bodyguards, making him enjoy flying at a lofty altitude before falling at a record that would break Felix's record," he said.

Then, the ruler's office manager and head of protocol will be dismissed, the advisors will be forced into retirement, all eyewitnesses will be referred to trial, and the state media will dismiss the incident as a "conspiracy" against the leader, he added sardonically. The Fatwa department will issue a fatwa banning people from selling or wearing Spider-Man costumes.

Unlike Mr Obama, some Arab rulers are not scared of Spider-Man, Batman, Superman or even Ninja Turtles. They are programmed not to react to impromptu gestures. All they can allow is to receive a bouquet or hear a poem from a child prematurely trained in hypocrisy.

* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk

translation@thenational.ae