The Virtues of Sham: The Place of Syria in the Muslim Sacral Imagination

The nature of the Syrian conflict, now in its fifth year, has become overtly sectarian and ideological. Undoubtedly the foreign fighters who continue to trickle in are coloured by this. There is also enough evidence to suggest that the presence of informal recruiters, usually through friendship networks, play an influential role in the choices they make. There seems to be a confluence of humanitarian, political and ideological factors that has led to a situation that looks and feels apocalyptic. However, what has often been ignored is the unique position that Syria occupies within Islamic tradition.

Worship, Jihad and Sham are entwined in the poster.

Themes of Worship, Jihad and Sham are entwined in the poster.

Keeping our focus on Sunni foreign fighters, Syria has attracted foreign fighters in a way that no other conflict has. Burma or Central African Republic certainly have not attracted Muslim foreign fighters. Not even the lands of Afghanistan or Yemen or Iraq for that matter, have drawn so many men and materiél in from all corners of the Muslim world. Admittedly, their remoteness is certainly one of the inhibitors. Syria after all is easy to get to. But now with Turkey tightening its border and Europe being more vigilant and punitive, they still seems to trickle through. If it was simply Salafi-Jihadi ideology that galvanised men, then many of these ideological fighters would flock to the aforementioned countries; but they do not. They are choosing to travel to Syria. Whilst William McCants has tried to explain the Islamic apocalyptic narrative that ISIS has to an English speaking audience, it does not deal with the role of Syria within the Muslim sacral imagination. Rather Syria or Sham- by Sham I mean modern day Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, parts of Turkey and parts of Iraq- is the meeting point not only for geopolitics, a terrible humanitarian crisis, but also for Jihad within in the Sunni tradition.

Map of greater Syria or Sham.

Map of greater Syria or Sham.

Arguably, Sham has become a destination for rootless Muslims already struggling with their place in Europe. Sham has become the land that transcends arbitrary borders and where they can belong. The powerful image of ISIS bulldozing the border between Iraq and Syria has demonstrated how transient the lines drawn in the sand by Sykes and Picot truly are. The name Islamic State has, despite its association with cruelty and terror, introduced an idea within the Muslim world that perhaps it is possible to have some sort of state ruled by Islamic law. It has also reignited the idea of Sham and offered up new questions. If an Islamic state should come to being what should it look like and how should it behave? The answers to these questions will undoubtedly lead to further tumult in the Middle East and Europe, long after ISIS or AQ or any other organisation which calls for it has faded away.

Certain parts of the Muslim world such as Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem and Syria have sacral importance in the Muslim imagination. These places entwine the eschatological traditions involving the past with the prophetic predictions made of the future. It is for no reason that ISIS calls its magazine Dabiq, the place where Muslims will have their final victory in the Islamic tradition. It is redolent with significance. The Syrian conflict cannot just be interpreted through the cold lens of geopolitics, for Syria is indivisible to faith by virtue of their sacral associations. To ignore this aspect will result in ill-conceived policy decisions that will last decades.

The very symbolism of Sham itself and what it promises, the return of the Shariah, has meant that foreign fighters can now attach themselves to a land which not only is intrinsically linked to their faith, but supersedes the Westphalian nation state. Their Hijra, their Jihad, their Ribat- all of it is blessed, as Sunni tradition seems to suggest. This is accompanied with a vision of an end game. Unlike CAR, Burma and others- Sham has an end game: victory for the believers. Admittedly, Afghanistan does too in the sense that there are prophetic traditions suggesting that the Black banners of Islam will come from Khorasan, modern day Afghanistan. But it does not have the potency of Syria. Syria is the place where, according to tradition, the caliphate will revive, where prophets walked, and where it shall all end in the Muslim imagination. Syria then, as a land, is bigger than nationalism and yet paradoxically has many affinities. Thomas Hegghammer in The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters: Islam and the Globalization of Jihad, is on to something when he says:

“Transnational militancy is obviously ideology driven, but the ideology in question—extreme pan-Islamism—arguably has more in common with nationalisms than with utopian religious constructions.”

Syria gives the rootless Western Muslim an identity, a purpose and also a glorious end game in a way that no other land will. Faith is intrinsic to the land. And so Turkey might close their borders but foreign fighters will continue to enter.

Jihadi ideologues like the late Abu Mus’ab al-Suri identified it as a crucial geopolitical chess piece in the Muslim world, but Syria isn’t just relevant to Jihadists. Syria’s importance exists within several axes: Islam’s martial tradition, within the prophetic past, within its historical past, and the future eschatological tradition. Salafi-Jihadis don’t own this tradition. Up to recent times the Syrian government boosted its tourism industry by encouraging the concept of Siyaha, that is Muslim spiritual travel to its sacred places. It is similar to the way Christian pilgrims travel to holy sites such as Santiago de Compostela in Spain or Lourdes in France.

To illustrate this point more clearly let us take a text that does not come from the Salafi-Jihadi tradition. The Excellence of Syro-Palestine -al-Sham- And its People by Gibreel F. Haddad, a sufi scholar, and a follower of the late Sheikh Nazim Haqqani of the Naqshbandi order and a vehement opponent of the Salafis. This text follows a common literary genre within Islamic scholarly tradition; that of collecting forty canonical sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. But here Haddad has focused on the virtues of Syria. This is not novel. Nasir al-Din Albani for instance, one of the scholars that Salafis follow, has also edited a text on the virtues of Greater Syria. Haddad’s text, it should be noted, was written in 2002, several years before the Syrian uprising.

The author draws on nine books of the canonical sayings of the Prophet in order to establish Syria’s paramountcy in the Muslim imagination. He draws on the Prophetic canonical collections of Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud, al-Nasa’i and Ibn Majah. He draws on the Musnads of Ahmad and al-Darimi as well as extracting traditions from ibn Hibban, ibn Khuzayma and al-Hakim. Moreover Haddad relies on the giants of Sunni Islamic tradition such as al-Nawawi, ibn Hajar and al-Suyuti, as well as on great Quranic exegetes such as al-Qurtubi, al-Bayhaqi and al-Tabari. He goes to great lengths to frame his work within the Sunni intellectual tradition. In other words this work is not just for Sufis but also for the orthodox with no Sufic inclinations.

Moreover Haddad points out his connection to the likes of Muhammad al-Yaqoubi in order to firmly ground his work within Sunni scholarship. To emphasise this point, he has a foreword written by some prominent religious scholars of Sham such as Shaykh Adib Kallas, one of the leading jurisprudents of Damascus, Salah al-Din al-Fakhri, the administrative director of Dar al-Fatawa in Lebanon and finally it is endorsed by ‘Abd al-Razzaq Turkmani on behalf of the Sufi sheikh Sayyidi ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Shaghuri.

These names are relevant to demonstrate that traditions around Sham are cultivated and are not just for those living in the rarified stratosphere of Islamic scholarship. The very existence of these traditions within Islam will draw foreign fighters to Syria despite the hardship that they may encounter. This author interviewed one foreign fighter who recounts how he met a battalion of Chechens who had left the fight against the Russians in their homeland, in order to fight in Syria due to the latter’s importance in the Islamic world. It demonstrates clearly that Syria is not owned by the Salafi-Jihadis, nor does it have more significance to them than to the rest of the Muslim world. But just like the Zengids and the Ayoubids during the Crusades, who utilised the symbolism of Jerusalem to propagate Jihad, so too has similar symbolism been used by the Salafi-Jihadi groups to encourage men to fight and come to Syria. Jerusalem after all is part of Sham.

Syria, according to Haddad, is mentioned ten times in the Quran and there are numerous hadiths that recount its virtues. The Prophet is said to have prayed for the land and it is considered blessed. Accordingly, God has put angels in charge of guarding Sham and the Prophet Muhammad has prayed for the country. It is cited by Syrians as proof that their country has a manifest destiny. Syrians know and often cite the hadith that says if goodness ends in Sham there will be no goodness in the world. Now it is doubtful that most foreign fighters know all of these traditions, but most at some point will be schooled by those already in Syria about its importance. And Syrians will certainly make you aware of its significance in the religious landscape as this author has experienced.

The Land of Faith

The land then, according to Haddad, is intrinsically linked to Islamic tradition. Al-Tabarani narrates a hadith by one of the Prophet’s Companions, Salama ibn Nufayl, that the Prophet said: “The heartland of the abode of Islam is Sham”. Another saying of the Prophet:

“[Sham] is the quintessence of the lands of Allah. There do the quintessence of his servants go for protection. Therefore whoever departs from Syro-Palestine earns [His] wrath, and whoever enters it from somewhere earns His mercy…” [see Haddad]

Thus blessing and the land are intimately connected in a way that other territories of the Muslim world are not, apart from Medina and Mecca.

The land, according to one prophetic tradition, is said to house seventeen thousand graves of prophets alone. Makhul, one of the earliest Islamic scholars, relates that there were five hundred prophets buried in Damascus alone. Some of these prophets visited locations in Syria. The Prophet Muhammed visited Bosra, Adam visited mount Qasyoun, Eve went to Ghouta, Seth went to the Bekaa valley in Lebanon, Lot passed by Barzeh in Damascus, John the Baptist was buried in the Umayyad mosque, Job in the Hawran, and Jesus and Mary sought refuge in al-Rabwa and so on.

A propaganda poster citing a hadith of the Prophet referring to Dabiq in Syria

A propaganda poster referring to a hadith of the Prophet that mentions  Dabiq in Syria

Thus blessing and the land are intimately connected in a way that other territories of the Muslim world are not, apart from Medina and Mecca.The land in between Damascus and Homs is known as the land of the thousand martyrs on account of the numerous anonymous Companions of the Prophet said to have died there whilst fighting the Byzantine empire. The land was visited by the Companions of the Prophet and early Muslims. It is well known that Hussein’s head, the grandson of the Prophet, is in the Umayyad Mosque, Khaled bin al-Walid, Islam’s greatest general is buried in Homs. Bilal, the Muezzin of the Prophet, is buried in Damascus. It is also said that both Abu Ubaydah, the conqueror of Damascus, Shurahbil bin Hasana, the famous warrior commander, are also buried close to Bab Sharqi in the Old City and so on. Numerous scholars have passed through Syria including the great ascetic and scholar al-Ghazali. Ibn Taymiyyah, the father of the Salafis, is buried in Damascus University grounds, as are Sunni Islam’s great heroes, such as Salah al-Din and Nur al-Din Zengi. One needs only to flick through the voluminous collection of the History of Damascus by the medieval scholar ibn Asakir to realise that the who’s who of the Islamic world all gathered in Damascus.

Moreover, Syria is mentioned by several companions including Ali, the cousin of the Prophet, and ibn Masu’d as the land of the Abdals, a group of forty awliya or saints, through whom people are given sustenance and victory. And it is these men and women who will aid the awaited Mehdi, the messianic figure who will restore the land on the methodology of Prophethood in the Final Days. Syria is also the place where Jesus will descend and slay the anti-Christ. In fact, the environs of Ghouta, which Jaysh al-Islam currently control, is the rallying place on the day of Armageddon and it is believed to be the land of Resurrection. In fact, in Ghouta’s history, Muslim communities fleeing persecution have settled specifically there to fulfil this prophecy.

 

Sh. Muheisini referring to tradition on Syria- he doesn't need to explain it to the audience.

Sh. Muheysini referring to tradition on Syria- he doesn’t need to explain it to the audience- it is understood.

As a Companion of the Prophet, Abu Darda, narrates:

“The Prophet said: The rallying place of the Muslims on the day of Armageddon is in al-Ghouta, next to a city called Damascus which is among the best cities in al-Sham” [see Haddad]

Syria’s role in Jihad and Hijra

Syria is also tied to Jihad and Ribat, Ribat here means guarding and fortifying front lines. There is a mass transmitted (mutawatir) hadith which says:

“a part of my community will remain in firm adherence to the Divine command, unharmed by those who betray or desert or oppose them, until the coming of the order of Allah, while they are victorious over all people…they are the people of al-Sham” [see Haddad]

The Prophet has described the outer borders of Sham as permanent frontiers. Who ever takes up residence there is a Mujahid, a fighter in the service of God. It suggests that those travelling to fight in Syria then, will be rewarded. As the Prophet has said:

“Now has fighting come! There will not cease to be a group in my Community that will remain victorious over all people. Allah will cause the hearts of some to go astray and those [the former] will fight them and receive from them His sustenance until His command comes to pass…Lo! Truly, the heartland of the believers is al-Sham! Immense good will remain tied to the forelocks of horses [i.e. Jihad] until the Day of Rising!” [see Haddad]

Another hadith related by Abu Hurayrah:

“A part of my Community will not cease to fight at the gates of Damascus and its surroundings, and at the gates of Bayt al-Maqdis [Jerusalem] and its surroundings. The betrayal or desertion of whoever deserts them will not harm them the least. They will remain victorious, standing for the truth, until the Final Hour rises.” [see Haddad]

There are also traditions which suggest that Syria is the place of Hijra- or emigration. For instance the Prophet advises people: if Fitna, [usually translated as civil strife] increases one should head to Syria. And this injunction is something that Muslims have done since Islam’s inception, whether that be the Kurds settling in Rukn ed-Din during the time of the Crusades or the Hanabila settling in Salihiyeh district in Damascus or the Circassian community escaping the push of the Russian empire.

There are two points here that feed the Jihadi’s call: that of Jihad and that of emigration. In the modern context, some Salafi-Jihadis interpret fitna- to mean shirk, associating partners with God, meaning that when shirk proliferates in the land then Sham is the place to head to. And since Shirk, in the puritanical vision of Salafi-Jihadis, has proliferated then it is best for people to emigrate to Sham. There is a Prophetic tradition mentioned in Haddad’s text which says:

“The Hour will not rise before the best of the people of Iraq first go to Sham and the worst of the people of Sham first go to Iraq. The Prophet said: “You must go to Sham!” [see Haddad]

This is why one Western Muslim woman was told by a foreign fighter to go against the fifth pillar of Islam the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, and make Hijra to Sham instead, because Shirk has even entered the holy city.

The Shami confluence

Whilst Haddad’s book does not negate Sham as a land of Jihad and Hijra, arguably, what he aims at are three things. Firstly to connect Syria’s paramountcy to the old tradition of Siyaha-that is spiritual travel. Secondly, to warn against the Najd vis-a-vis modern day Saudi Arabia- Haddad is indirectly criticising Salafism since the movement began there with Muhammad Abdul Wahab in the 18th century. Thirdly, he wants to raise the status of Syrian religious scholars over the Saudi scholars whose influence Haddad views in a negative light. Jihad, Ribat and Hijra, whilst important, are mentioned in the book as something that will come to pass. There is no indication that the reader has to act on it. But one should also remember that Sufis did act upon these injunctions in the past. Sufis played a major role in both the counter crusades of Salah al-Din and Nur al-Din as well as in the Ottoman armies. This author met graduates of Abu Noor University, established by the Damascene Sufi and Grand Mufti Ahmed Kuftaro, in the ranks of Syrian rebels. It is also worth noting that the Sufi militant group the Naqshbandi Army or JRTN and ISIS were allies once in Iraq.

What the Salafi-Jihadis and other Islamist battalions do with Sham is to connect the status of Sham to the martial tradition. This arguably is not an illegitimate thing to do as there is historical precedence, the Crusades being a good example. Carole Hillenbrand in The Crusades: an Islamic Perspective, points out that during the Crusades there was a close correlation between the rise of works extolling the virtues of Jerusalem and the works extolling Jihad.

A famous hadith mentioning Jihad used to encourage men to Jihad

A famous hadith mentioning Jihad used to encourage men to Jihad

Salafi-Jihadis may be very different from classically conceived Jihad but they believe that they are continuing in the footsteps of an old tradition which goes all the way back to the earliest days of the Prophet. Whilst it is noteworthy that Jihad occupied a very small part of the Prophet’s life, the first books written about his life was about his battles. From there a whole literary genre called maghazi developed. Moreover, there are historical compendiums such as Futuh al-Buldan of al-Baladhuri, one of the earliest surviving texts on how Islam conquered the classical world with offensive jihad. Apart from the jurisprudence dealing with the legal issues surrounding the concept of religious warfare, there are plenty of works written on the battles of the Companions, as well as books dealing with the concept of Futuwwa, martial and spiritual chivalry, and of course there are biographies of famous warriors such as ibn Shaddad’s Life of Salah al-Din and Abu Shama’s book on Nur al-Din Zengi and Salah al-Din. A recent example being a biography on Khaled bin al-Walid by Lieutenant General of the Pakistani army A. I. Akram. One should also not forget the numerous examples of Ummayyad to Ottoman poetry extolling Jihad and the love for martyrdom. In fact, even Ataturk, the secular founder of modern Turkey, was not averse to calling himself a Ghazi, a Mujahid, and neither was the Pan-Arab Baathist dictator Saddam Hussein. We should also remember that the statue of Salah al-Din in Damascus was unveiled by Bashar al-Assad’s father, Hafez, in 1993. Thus the elegiac poetry surrounding Abu Muhammad al-Adnani’s death, the nasheeds that emerge from many Jihadi factions, as well as the names chosen by the various battalions situate themselves in this tradition. To illustrate, look at the numerous eulogies that are emerging on al-Adnani: they reach back and touch the past. Below is an extract of Abu Shama’s eulogy of Nur al-Din, one could easily mistake it for a eulogy of Abu Muhammad al-Adnani.

“He displayed religious orthodoxy in Aleppo and changed the innovation (bid’a) which they had in the call to prayer and he tamed the heretics there and built there religious colleges, established endowments and dispensed justice… in war he was steadfast in going forward, good at shooting, hard in striking…he would run the risk of martyrdom…he often studied religious books” [see Hillenbrand]

Thus what the Salafi-Jihadi and other Islamist battalions do is to attach the traditions around Sham to Jihad in the same way that Salah al-Din and Zengi did with regards to fighting the Frankish Crusaders in the Levant.

Things that are attractive to young foreign fighters

Things that are attractive to young foreign fighters

What analysts and journalist must grasp is that many Muslims, even non-devout ones, are well aware of the glorious deeds of their predecessors. They name their sons Hamza, Khaled, Seifullah for this reason and are, however vaguely, aware of the sacred geography that countries like Syria occupy. Sham then, in the imagination of the prospective foreign fighter represents something that resembles to use St Agustines phrase, a kingdom of God. The very land is blessed, full of faith and the place where the history of Islam unfolded and the End of Time will be played out. It is an exciting and seductive prospect for an adventurous young man with a bellicose temperament. This, combined with the international community seemingly unwilling to stand up for Sunni Muslims being killed by barrel bombs in their thousands, means that all the ingredients are there to make the conflict thoroughly apocalyptic.

This article has sought to demonstrate that the very raw material used by Sufis to encourage spiritual peregrinations can equally be used by the various rebel factions to encourage their men to fight as well as to support. For they tap into a pre-existent martial tradition. Of course, it doesn’t exclude the role of identity politics in the seventies in the Middle East having an impact on the Muslim diaspora in the West. Nor does it exclude other reasons why young Muslim men go to Syria. But certainly grasping this idea as to what role Sham plays in the Muslim imagination makes it easier to understand why young, often rootless Muslim men continue to travel to fight in Syria despite the difficulties they face. For this reason it may be argued that foreign fighters will continue to go to Syria even if JFS, IS and other Islamist rebel groups fade away. Resolving the conflict will certainly reduce this trickle further.

Comments (45)


1. ALAN said:

/“If Bashar al-Assad continues to be obstinate and continues to drag his feet and continues to refuse to engage seriously, then obviously there will have to be a plan B which will involve more stepped-up military activity,” /

SAUDI ARABIA’s foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir
Come on, you’re a wimp. Go ahead with the utmost what you can do !!! If you are really a man, O frog.

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September 8th, 2016, 4:57 pm

 

2. SANDRO LOEWE said:

ALAN, dont forget to collect the salary from the russian embassy and take your pills to keep your pressure under control.

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September 9th, 2016, 2:14 am

 

3. Ghufran said:

Another attemp to liberate aleppo from jihadists is underway, it is a tall order but forcing foreign terrorists and Alqaeda thugs out may not be as hard as you think. Syrian fighters may not want to fight to death if their financiers tell them to surrender their weapons. This is a test for the fragile russian- turkish agreement, if Turkey intervenes the deal will be off and you will see actual attacks on turkish troops that invaded Syria 2 weeks ago. This is what the Syrian army is telling rebels:
«اقرأ وقرر، إلى كل من يحمل السلاح، الطوق حول مدينة حلب قد اكتمل نترك لك معبراً واحداً للخروج هو الأمل الأخير لك، إن لم تغادر المدينة خلال يومين سيتم القضاء عليك”.
The virtues of Bilad al sham came from things that have evaporated over the years, thanks to albaath and to Wahhabism. There was a time when moderate Islam was the king in Damascus, water was plentiful, corruption was not an epidemic, original and virtuous Damascenss were the majority and Damascus was a true gemstone especially when compared with the Beduinvilles of the GCC.
Pity the nation ..

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September 9th, 2016, 10:53 am

 

4. Uzair8 said:

Somebody kept trying to corner TARA for some reason asking repeatedly how she knew EHSANI was christian. Nothing wrong with being christian. Just thought this might be useful to the somebody. Seems TARA has a good sense and judgement.

In this BBC discussion programme it’s confirmed:

Listen at 26:45:

Aleppo: Syria’s Stalingrad?
Guests incl Prof Landis, Ehsani and others.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p046kf2s

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September 9th, 2016, 11:32 am

 

5. Ehsani2 said:

Tara was given permission to edit the site in the past by Professor Landis. She used that privilege to see my name and then took the liberty to speak publicly about my Sect. Shameful action that goes beyond basic protocol. She later used my sect to attack my writings. Naturally, I decided not to sink down to her level.

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September 9th, 2016, 1:42 pm

 

6. Jasmine said:

The significance of Syria in the Bible,history and civilizations .
This is not a call for Jihad,just a reminder.
http://www.arabicbible.com/for-christians/1827-the-significance-of-syria-in-the-bible-history-and-civilizations.html

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September 9th, 2016, 1:43 pm

 

7. Ghufran said:

The thawrajiyyeh thugs in charge of ” educating” syrian children in refugee camps and rebels held areas decided to remove the name of Saleh Al-Ali, an alawite, from the list of patriots who fought the French occupation of Syria in the 1920s !! Those thugs are the same people who want Syria to stay unified (under the Othmani flag). I told you this before, our thawrajiyyeh friends are Baathists on steroids, every time you think their filth has dried up new supplies start coming in.

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September 9th, 2016, 3:01 pm

 

8. Umm Abdullah said:

A lot of good information that, while common knowledge for Muslims, is not understood by most of the so-called ‘experts’. But then there are other things that are just wrong… VERY WRONG. For example: “the Prophet Ali”? WHAT?

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September 9th, 2016, 3:16 pm

 

9. Amir in Tel Aviv said:

I have to admit that I have underestimated the role that Islam plays in the Syrian society. I thought that Syria will be like Tunisia.

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September 9th, 2016, 6:20 pm

 

10. Tara said:

I attacked your sense of belonging to your sect . I did not attack your sect .

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September 9th, 2016, 9:35 pm

 

11. Tara said:

And your sect was a common knowledge way before the revolution started . One dose not get it from editing JL posts . You damn sure know that someone sect is not known to an editor . But you are twisting fact Tashbeeh Style just like your masters !

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September 9th, 2016, 9:41 pm

 

12. Ghufran said:

The boys with the biggest sticks have reached an agreement on Syria. Too early to celebrate because:
1. Obama has only few months left as president, Clinton has not yet given her take on the agreement. If trump wins he will abide by it.
2. Saudi Arabia and Turkey need to be on board, Turkey will probably play along but KSA
may try to stop it, Bani Saud are still living in the 20th century.
3. Rebels are in bed with Nusra, a divorce will be bloody and very difficult, many rebel factions will defect if they find that they will lose money and prestige.
Dr. Ehsani, what happened to you is not suprising, our thawrajiyyeh friends are unable to accept dissent especially from ” minorities”, my info was also exposed and I know as a fact that there are people out there organizing lists and sharing info to ” help this revolution”. At the end of the day the war will come to an end and most Syrians will realize that they were used and lied to.
They like to call this a revolution, I think it was a bloody fascist movement that used the slogans of freedom and democracy when the real intent was vengeance and the establishment of a theocracy that would have been worse that the Baathist- Assadist dictatorship.
يا امة ضحكت من جهلها الامم

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September 9th, 2016, 10:14 pm

 

13. Passerby said:

So, what’s different about this one? Well, seems Assad’s air force being grounded and the US and Russia working together to bomb Nusra, ISIS, etc. That the US and Russia have it all sorted out who to bomb, not arguing over that any more. And some big commitment to giving each other intelligence, after a couple days of truce.

I guess Erdogan admitting his humiliating defeat, in return for letting him crush the Kurds gives them more options.

Well, if want to try and pass for a moderate, might want to go stand at some distance from Nusra.

Well, good luck. It still takes boots on the ground. It’s the US flying combat missions for Assad’s army.

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September 9th, 2016, 10:40 pm

 

14. Passerby said:

Hmmm…from Russia Today, an official mouthpiece if I’ve ever seen one, it is only Nusra, all other rebels are moderates. Well, it is a minimum requirement for peace. The obvious place to start.

https://www.rt.com/news/358855-syria-ceasefire-plan-kerry-lavrov/

US planes, serving as Assad’s air force. Now that is an act of desperation.

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September 9th, 2016, 11:27 pm

 

15. Mina said:

It seems easier to expose ‘closet Christians’ (since some people here talk about them as if the concept exist in your ideal world) than to discuss what to do next to help the Iraqi and the Syrian societies in the ordeal they are enduring.
Reading the History of Tabari these days, it looks like very little has changed.Check especially the 9th and 10th c.

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September 10th, 2016, 3:59 am

 

16. Mina said:

Could someone point to me pictures of the Museum in Ma’arrat al-Nu’man during its occupation and after its bombing? Thanks

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September 10th, 2016, 6:36 am

 
 

18. Tara said:

Ghufran and Ihsani

People making list of your names ?! That what you said in you post Ghufran ?
They call that “self-importance”. Sorry but I couldn’t resist.

Even the master of all shabeehas, closet or not , had no worth . He is just a tool in a chess game . So please no one care a single bit of what or who you are . Additionally , if you think that your writings on JL posts or thousands tweets for the other guy helped the dictatorship – I just hate to break it to you guys! it only helped to inflate one ‘s self – worth

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September 10th, 2016, 7:44 am

 

19. Passerby said:

Ok, where are we at…

Assad gets to stay in power.

Others destroy ISIS for him unless he wants to get involved.

Everyone other than Nusra/ISIS will quit fighting him.

And he can concentrate all his forces for destroying Nusra, and anyone that doesn’t agree to the deal, with the Russian and American air force providing air support.

Assad wins.

—–

Ok, in the unlikely event they pull it off, what then? Chop up the country? Only one way works, the ISIS part goes to Iraq.

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September 10th, 2016, 8:37 am

 

20. Passerby said:

Ok, where are we at…

Assad gets to stay in power.

Others destroy ISIS for him unless he wants to get involved.

Everyone other than Nusra/ISIS will quit fighting him.

And he can concentrate all his forces for destroying Nusra, and anyone that doesn’t agree to the deal, with the Russian and American air force providing air support.

Assad wins.

—–

Ok, in the unlikely event they pull it off, what then? Chop up the country? Only one way works, the ISIS part goes to Iraq.

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September 10th, 2016, 8:37 am

 

21. Uzair8 said:

I very much regret making post #4. My target was solely a certain user and his/her usual tactic of badgering someone on one thing or another as a distraction. In a recent comment he/she even tried to push the term ‘Jihadi’ repeatedly on me which has less to do with reality (obvious by my contributions on SC) but more about his wish for me to be a ‘Jihadi’.

I sincerely apologise to TARA and EHSANI for bringing their names into this and raising the issue. I feel deep regret and shame and accept all fault.

Anyones religious or ethnic background doesn’t and shouldn’t matter.

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September 10th, 2016, 10:08 am

 

22. fayez chergui said:

Islam is a jewish creation. The issue of war in syria leads to eretz israel.

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September 10th, 2016, 11:31 am

 

23. Ehsani2 said:

I attacked your sense of belonging to your sect .
Tashbeeh style like your masters

Tara

Shame on you. My masters ? What kind of language is this? I am a US citizen. I am financially secure. My masters? Have you no ethics? Can’t you argue without calling names and getting involved in character assassination? I now know why I did not want to go down to your level. It is even lower than I thought.

P.s. Don’t bother to reply. I will be neither looking or responding.

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September 10th, 2016, 1:50 pm

 

24. Majedkhaldoun said:

Tara
I was in New Jersey at Naama convention , it would have been great to meet you there , you are such a wonderful person , You have high moral standard and very reasonable mind , you never had sectarian enthusiasm , not like others,
I read always Ihsani comments and he made clear that he is Christians long time ago, you do not have to be editor of Syria comment to realize that, it was not a secret , Ihsani you admitted that when you wrote about your visit to Aleppo , , 2012 or 2013, I used to think of you however as freedom loving person , and you disappointed me as I found just like Ghufran

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September 10th, 2016, 3:38 pm

 

25. Majedkhaldoun said:

The agreement between Kerry and Lavrov ,is not different from previous agreements, I doubt Assad and his supporters will abide with such agreement , and even Russia will not comply with what is written in it, the past experience is why I a pessimistic ,
However Turkey made bold move. by getting involved militarily, in the north , This could lead to confrontation with Iran, still the Russian Turkish relations are not clear, how far Turkey can go south without Russia objection? This is not clear,
Still get rid of ISIS is half way of getting rid of Assad , Turkey should continue to eject ISIS from Reqqa,

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September 10th, 2016, 4:39 pm

 

26. ALAN said:

5. EHSANI2
/Tara was given permission to edit the site in the past by Professor Landis. She used that privilege to see my name and then took the liberty to speak publicly about my Sect/.

You’re not the only person, who revealed about him by this company.
It had already been revealed about me, with the help of a womanizer Bill Scherk which works for secret services

Previously my PC has been attacked , and pulled its contents to the attackers device.

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September 10th, 2016, 5:20 pm

 

27. Tara said:

Ihsani ,

Yes your masters! Can not be more emphatic about it ! They do not have to pay your salary . In your mind , they paid their dues protecting and giving privileges to Christians, hence they deserve your loyalty . It is the illusion that Assad et al created, and you submitted to it completely totally and utterly . You are not 18 yo uneducated Alawi conscript with a brother , uncle, and cousin organically married to the regime . You are American citizen, well off, and western educated , You could have chosen better . You did not . Lots of Christians did not submit to this ideology . You did willfully and thoughtfully. You made them your maters and that was active choice

It is my pride that you are not at the same level .

And let my remind all readers one more time , your Christian status is known way before the revolution . You presented your case hoping for sympathy that by JL having me edit his post, I was privy to your sect and other private info while you damn know that there is no info available to the editor except the moniker and the email shown to all and the IP address and that is all! You twisted facts to vilify me . You failed and muserably so . And you still do not consider yourself Shabeeh ?

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September 10th, 2016, 11:08 pm

 

28. Majedkhaldoun said:

Intelligence and,or,eduction are not a barrier to cruelty or foolishness, further when educated and self proclaimed intelligents when they talk or behave foolish , all of us wonder if they are truly intelligents , ,they do not fool others , they make a fool of themselves

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September 11th, 2016, 6:10 am

 

29. Observer said:

Test

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September 11th, 2016, 8:32 am

 

30. Observer said:

I just finished reading two books the first is the life story of the prophet called the Sealed Nectar and the second is Thomas Jefferson the art of Power.

One thing struck me regarding the later as he is the author of the declaration of independence. This final text was edited as it also contained in its draft form provisions to abolish slavery that the Southern states objected to for example. Nevertheless the enumeration of the objections to the arbitrary rule of George III in the declaration are as important then as today. The Syrian people object to many abuses and the abuses are far more egregious than those of George III

Just read the grievances below and dare to tell us that the Syrian people is an Umma that others laugh at its ignorance.

“He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

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September 11th, 2016, 8:39 am

 

31. Observer said:

As for the Sealed Nectar of which I have both the Arabic and English versions what struck me about it is the utter complete opposite of what the prophet stood for in contrast to the ignorant fanatics schooled in both Wahhabi and Mahdi ideologies.

As for the Syrian National Identity it is clear that the concept of a nation state be it Syrian or Syrian Arab or Arab Syrian is a mirage. The concept did not take anchor at all.

Many continue to think of their identity as sect or ethnic based and here lies the quadrature du cercle: how do you insist on the majority being secular while the minorities want to retain their ethnic religious special status? how do you ask for democracy and refuse the rule of the majority without a constitution that abolishes special status for minorities? That is if you want a secular civil society where majority rule is democratic it has to insure with a bill of rights equal protection under the law and no crushing of the minority or abusing its status. But to do so one has to forgo the idea that the minority has to be protected no matter what the majority says or thinks.

The only way to do that is to agree to a real civic identity yet the very insisting by the minorities since independence on a special status will lead inexorably for the majority to also call in its religious or ethnic identity to the fore. The regime understood that if it paints the revolution in religious terms it will get the minorities to stick with it and it will fuel even further the religious divide. Unfortunately since 1963 the so called secular Baath party failed to usher in a civil society and the rule of the sect has only caused further rifts in the society that are impossible to heal.

Today if there is majority rule in Iraq it means exclusion and destruction of the minorities.
As a recent op-ed in the WSJ noted this phenomenon has led to the regime becoming ever more brutal: for the more brutal it is and fails in quelling the rebellion the more fearful it becomes and the more savage its fight becomes for it fears that it will have the same end or worse than what happened to minorities elsewhere.

Hence the unifying identity of the people of the Levant today is FEAR.

As for a truce: if it is a la Lebanon it will succeed only if Alawi politics is rendered similar to that of Maronite Politics: local and limited. Therefore the end of the security and graft house of cards of the Somaria Alassad.

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September 11th, 2016, 8:56 am

 

32. Ghufran said:

Freedom is stronger than fear but dictstorships whether using an Arabism or religious cover have inflicted a serious damage in arab societies, things will only improve when governments are restrained by laws and public opinion. It took 5 years for Douma council to realize that a cease fire is better than war:
أعلن المجلس المحلي في مدينة “دوما” دعمه وتأييده لمبادرة وقف إطلاق النار وفق الاتفاق الروسي الأمريكي الأخير والذي يبدأ سريانه صبيحة غد الإثنين، أول أيام عيد الأضحى.
وأشار المجلس في بيان له إلى أن هذا الموقف يأتي سياق حقن الدم والحفاظ على ما تبقى من سوريا، مؤكدا دعم أي مبادرة تساعد على وقف شلال الدم على كافة الأراضي السورية بما فيها قرار مجلس الأمن الدولي 2254.
The argument that the Syrian identity is fragile or non existing is not new, albaath used that to promote Arabism and the muslim brotherhood et al used that to promote the concept of Ummah.
Another problem is the fact that current boarders were drawn by the French and The Brits. People like to use the term Watan (homeland) but what they usually mean is their neighborhood, town or at best their region, it is unlikely to see a liberal guy from the coast thinking of a spot in aljazeera as his Watan. Here is the best part, none of that matters if you live in a society where the government and the people are held accountable and expected to abide by a set of laws written by legislators who were elected by their people. Cultural and racial conflicts exist in most societies including that of the U.S., that did not stop the U.S. from becoming a super power.
Freedom is the key and oppression is the prison.

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September 11th, 2016, 11:50 am

 

33. Akbar Palace said:

Majedkhaldoun,

I concur with you. I have much respect for Tara as well. I guess Prof. Josh too , or he wouldn’t give Tara the keys to the house.

However, I am sorry to see the bickering between Tara and Ehsani2. Christians were used by Assad as he put down Sunni Syrians.

Guys, you are all in the same boat. Work together for the benefit of everyone.

“I have to admit that I have underestimated the role that Islam plays in the Syrian society. I thought that Syria will be like Tunisia.”

Islam is the Middle East and the Middle East is Islam. You can’t deny this anywhere in ME. The people are mostly poor and conservative and despise the West. Minorities in the ME are in trouble.

And the Syrian civil war has morphed from a cry for freedom, to a bloody Sunni- Shia war. And now this war is sucking in the rest of the world. No small feat. A big round of applause to Iran and the KSA.

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September 11th, 2016, 9:00 pm

 

34. Amir in Tel Aviv said:

test

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September 12th, 2016, 3:18 pm

 

35. Ghufran said:

It does not look like the cease fire will survive. People with guns have the upper hand and they have received a green light from both Ksa and Iran. As usual arabs in the Middle East are tools and useful idiots. Again, if you can not destroy a house help residents fight each other and let them do the job for you. A just Peace will never come to the arab nations if they keep fighting each other and if their governments keep oppressing citizens.
يا امة ضحكت من جهلها الامم

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September 12th, 2016, 9:43 pm

 

36. Mina said:

AP
Oh really, Sunni Syrians like the ones in his family and the government?
Or the 1000+ of highly renamed doctors and other specialists? or among the engineers?

Any idea of where is a country where the governement does not favour some parts of the society on others de facto creating a rich class and a poor class? And in this case i really do not see an ethnic or sectarian bias that would be as strong as in other countries, such as yours by the way.

BBC wrote this report from Damascus
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37315875
It will make some here very sad to see how “biased” it is

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September 13th, 2016, 9:24 am

 

37. Majedkhaldoun said:

Akbar
Middle East people are strongly over enthusiastic about religion, Moslem Christian and Jewish , yet we all know that we all worship the same God, religion is code of ethics too, religious fight is stupid, we all are brothers in humanity, religion is personal, we must separate state from religion , we should respect each other, and learn from each other, to improve our lives

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September 13th, 2016, 1:16 pm

 
 

39. Akbar Palace said:

Majedkhaldoun,

You, of course, are exactly correct. However, the reality is that the governments that make up the Middle East and the clerics that practice there, are not preaching what you are saying.

Both the governments and the clerics are RESPONSIBLE for demonizing one sect over another. And their Shia-Sunni wars have ruined the whole region.

This is why freedom and liberalism needs to take hold at some point where leaders are educated in democracy.

Any idea of where is a country where the governement does not favour some parts of the society on others de facto creating a rich class and a poor class?

Mina,

Open your eyes and smell the kawa.

Explain to the participants here how the US favours the rich over the poor in the US?

The richest 1% of Americans pay nearly 50% of all federal taxes! That isn’t fair?? 47% of Americans don’t pay anything!

http://www.cnbc.com/2015/04/13/top-1-pay-nearly-half-of-federal-income-taxes.html

44 million americans (about 13%) are on food stamps.

http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2016/jul/21/donald-trump/trump-43-million-americans-food-stamps/

This is why people all over the world are flocking to the USA.

And in this case i really do not see an ethnic or sectarian bias that would be as strong as in other countries, such as yours by the way.

Yes, we’ve had black presidents, secretaries of state, black attorney generals, black cabinet members, black generals, and a country full of black mayors, including black congressmen (one of which is a muslim, who you
ll be happy to know is very anti-israel. Surprise!):

https://www.google.com/#q=black+congressmen

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September 13th, 2016, 3:22 pm

 

40. Ghufran said:

Israel propped Hamas to fight the PLO then bombed Hamas and put the PLO in a box. Now israel bombs the Syrian army and supports the Jihadis.
The Israeli-Druze member of the Knesset, Akram Hassoun, accused the Israeli regime on Sunday of aiding jihadist factions in Syria. According to a statement posted on his official Facebook, Hassoun accused Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman of coordinating with the jihadist rebels of Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham (formerly Nusra Front) to attack the Syrian Army and Druze villagers in the Golan Heights.

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September 13th, 2016, 8:59 pm

 

41. Majedkhaldoun said:

US priority has shifted, it is no more defeating ISIS, after the Turkish Coup, US lost leverage over Turkey , and Erdogan made independent bold moves in Syria , if US left Erdogan to continue taking part of Syria , he will be hero in Turkey, it will become impossible to get rid of him , so most likely US will not agree for Turkey to eject ISIS from Reqqa,
The ceasefire in Syria is hastily planned and instituted, the US gave Aleppo to Russia, so as to stop Turkish advance in Syria, US see Erdogan as a major threat, and Syria has so weak government it has lost control of many parts of Syria, it has become targets for regional or neibouring states , who want different parts of Syria.
Anyone who saw Assad praying in Darayya can reach one conclusion , the people around him are not but his slaves , ministers and intelligence security forces, no more Syrians crowded to see him, he is no more president , he is mafia man his fate is dependent on Iran not Syrians , Putin is fighting for his image, in Syria, and taking advantage of Failed US policy
Syria is going toward a divided country and the race to grab a bite by Turkey , Russia and Iran , is clear now, KSA will be lucky if they are allowed to take any part of Syria, Israel is more secure now than ever.

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September 14th, 2016, 1:16 am

 

42. Akbar Palace said:

US priority has shifted, it is no more defeating ISIS…

The priority for Obama’s administration is to keep the war contained to the ME. The jury is still out on Trump. He talks about defeating ISIS and, at the same time, reminds us that he was against the terrible war in Iraq.

My question is, how do you defeat anything like ISIS w/o breaking some eggs? You guys know my position…

Israel is more secure now than ever

Majedkhaldoun,

Is that a bad thing habibi? LOL! At least arabs are safe SOMEWHERE in the ME!

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September 14th, 2016, 8:25 am

 

43. Passerby said:

False, Akbar. The richest 1% do not pay 50% of the taxes. Not true. Those that declare the highest income pay 50% of the taxes. Anyone truly wealthy that pays any taxes does so voluntarily. Too many deductions and off-shore options etc. Large corporations for instance, never pay taxes, their division in Moldavia has all the profits.

We need a balance, and things are getting out of balance.

Why do all civilizations collapse? A few hundred years and they all fall. What is the fundamental underlying principle. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer , and society gets more degenerate, until the barbarians show up at the door. Rome started out as citizen soldiers picking up their swords for an army and ended with a few in Rome owning all the land and everyone else sharecroppers. The army was barbarians. Yeah, drought or whatever may finish them off, but it’s that universal rot that destroys them all.

There is no ancient document that stresses our obligations to the poor like the Torah. It stands alone. Yeah, to fellow Hebrews, but what was the choice 3000 years ago? And what one could, to strangers wandering by, they had the same charity as the widows and orphans.

Everyone has to work, but it’s immoral to hate the poor.

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September 14th, 2016, 7:50 pm

 

44. Akbar Palace said:

Sanctuary City NewZ

Passerby,

I’m not sure where you live, but the reality is, the top few percent of the highest wage earners in the US pay the vast majority of our federal taxes. There are NUMEROUS articles from reputable sources showing this.

It is a subject you will never hear about from democrats/liberals, because it doesn’t fit their narrative that “the rich” are NOT paying their “fair share”. The reality is, the rich ARE paying much more than their fair share.

http://taxfoundation.org/blog/top-1-percent-pays-more-taxes-bottom-90-percent

http://money.cnn.com/2013/03/12/news/economy/rich-taxes/

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/45-of-americans-pay-no-federal-income-tax-2016-02-24

So unless you accept reality, we cannot, unfortunately, discuss this further. Since President Obama has been in office the percentage of blacks on food stamps has increased and the percentage of blacks who own home decreased.

But that’s fine. The democrats want as many people as possible to be DEPENDENT on government hand-outs to assure they vote democrat and continue receiving their checks.

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/45-of-americans-pay-no-federal-income-tax-2016-02-24

Passerby,

No one “hates the poor”. The US government spends trillions to help poor Americans. Our poor would be considered rich in many countries, like those in the Middle East. They have cars, they have food, they have homes, they get medical care, and have schools.

But the government is now in the role of taking care of many people cradle-to-grave. The government needs to teach people not to have children until PARENTS can support them. Marriage is not longer an institution that many blacks consider. Babies are spit out, and no one takes the responsibility to raise these children except the US government.

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September 15th, 2016, 7:34 am

 
 

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