Syrian regime’s army starts assault on last Daesh stronghold

In this file photo taken on October 31, 2017 shows smoke rising from buildings following an air strike by Syrian government forces in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor, during an operation against Daesh group jihadists. (AFP)
Updated 08 November 2017
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Syrian regime’s army starts assault on last Daesh stronghold

BEIRUT/WASHINGTON: Syrian regime forces and its allies began an assault on the largest remaining stronghold of Daesh in Syria and Iraq on Wednesday, a local Lebanese TV channel reported, signaling the imminent fall of the militant group’s self-proclaimed caliphate.
Daesh has been all but destroyed over the past two years, remaining only in Bu Kamal in Syria, Rawa in Iraq, in a few neighboring villages and patches of desert, and some isolated pockets elsewhere.
At the height of its power in 2015, it ruled over an expanse of the two countries, eradicating their border, printing money, imposing draconian laws and plotting attacks across the world.
On Wednesday, the army and its allies surrounded Bu Kamal and started to enter it, the television channel said. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based war monitor, reported that Iraqi militias had crossed into Syria to join the assault, but they denied it.
Despite its losses, Daesh still has a territorial presence in Libya and elsewhere, and many governments expect it to remain a threat even after it loses the caliphate it declared from Mosul, Iraq, in 2014.
It has already carried out a series of guerrilla operations in both Iraq and in Syria, and it has continued to inspire lone militants to attack civilian targets in the West.
In Syria, the end of major battle operations against Daesh may only prefigure a new phase of the war, as the rival forces, which have seized territory from the terrorists square off.
The Syrian regime’s army, alongside its Lebanese ally Hezbollah and other Shiite militias, and backed by Iran and Russia, has seized swathes of central and eastern Syria in an advance against Daesh this year.
Russian official media have in recent weeks reported a surge of strategic bombing and cruise missile strikes on Daesh targets in eastern Syria as the army advanced.
A US-backed coalition has supported a rival campaign in Syria by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias that have pushed Daesh from much of the country’s north and east.
US mocks Syria joining climate deal
The US mocked Syria’s arrival in the Paris Agreement on climate change on Tuesday.
Syria had earlier told UN climate talks in Bonn that it will become the 197th country to join the accord, making President Donald Trump’s government the only one planning to pull out. But State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert fiercely dismissed suggestions that this means that Trump’s “America First” policy has in practice meant “America Alone.”
“I find it ironic that the government of Syria, OK, would say that it wants to be involved, and that it cares so much about climate and things like carbon dioxide gas,” she told reporters.
“If the government of Syria cared so much about what was put in the air, then it would not be gassing its own people,” she said, referring to the Damascus regime’s brutal civil war tactics.


‘Homegrown Islam project’ could lead to new Ankara-Berlin tensions

Updated 26 March 2019
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‘Homegrown Islam project’ could lead to new Ankara-Berlin tensions

  • Markus Kerber: “What we need now is an Islam for German Muslims that belongs to Germany”
  • Germany’s new plan aims to counter foreign influence on the Muslim community

ANKARA: Germany has reportedly initiated a campaign to push German Muslims to develop a new interpretation of Islam, the Financial Times reported on Monday. 

“What we need now is an Islam for German Muslims that belongs to Germany,” Markus Kerber, the government representative responsible for relations with the Muslim community under the German Interior Ministry, reportedly told the Financial Times.

The move of Europe’s economic powerhouse is expected to influence Turkey’s state-led diaspora engagement with German-Turks as well as its state-level relations with Germany. But experts do not anticipate relations to further deteriorate as they say they are already as bad as they can get. 

Turks, mostly from the conservative section of society, have been emigrating to Germany since the early 1960s; originally as guest workers during the economic boom. They have since become the largest Muslim community in the country. 

Germany’s new plan aims to counter foreign influence on the Muslim community and provide homegrown training to all imams preaching in Germany. 

The largest Islamic organization in Germany is the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs, which is affiliated to Turkey’s state directorate for religious affairs. Turkey is sending imams to Germany who are paid by the Turkish government and who are preaching in Turkish in 900 mosques funded by Ankara.

According to Yoruk Halil, a halal butcher living in Frankfurt, Germany’s new move will be beneficial for the Turkish Muslim community. 

“Those imams coming from Turkey do not benefit Turkish youth in Germany because these young people have been raised with a totally different culture and they mostly speak German, so they cannot establish a healthy dialogue with those imams,” Halil told Arab News. “In order to reach out to the Muslim community, including Turks, there is a need to use homegrown imams. 

My 15-year-old son has been going to the mosque for five years and he even told me that he has better communication with imams being trained and educated in Germany,” he said. 

There is also a continuing debate over requiring Muslims in Germany to pay a worship tax.

Turkey is against any “Germanification” of Islam and considers any redefinition of Islam for Germany against the universality of the religion. 

Germany’s move intends to further integrate Muslims’ daily routines into German society, to boost the loyalty of the 3 million members of the German-Turkish community.  It is therefore considered a move for breaking the Turkish community’s ties with their national and religious identity as well as their traditions.

Last year, German police recorded some 578 hate crimes against Muslims between January and September, while about half of Germans think that Islam is incompatible with the values of their nation, according to recent research by pollster YouGov.

“Turkey has been developing diaspora politics since the mid-2000s, and Turks in Germany have been put at the center of it,” Murat Onsoy, an expert in Turkey-Germany relations at Hacettepe University in Ankara, told Arab News. 

However, for Onsoy, the presence of imams in Germany who have been appointed by Turkey is a socialization factor for the Turkish diaspora — who show relatively low rates of crime — and to maintain their links with their home country. 

“If Germany rejects Turkish funding to these mosques, they will face serious difficulties in covering their expenses,” he said. 

Germany has a community of about 4.5 million Muslims worshipping at about 2,400 mosques, and the number is expected to rise with the refugee influx from Muslim countries such as Afghanistan and Sy The German federal constitution, called Basic Law, gives autonomy to Muslim communities to receive funding and religious officials from abroad to operate mosques in Germany. 

“It is unlikely that this article of the constitution would be easily amended. Various provinces would react to such a move, resulting in widespread protests. The Turkish government would raise the issue at the intergovernmental Islamic organizations, and the German government would be obliged take a step back,” Onsoy said. 

He, however, draws attention to the timing of the debate. 

“It coincides with the upcoming local elections in Turkey this Sunday, and in the past we witnessed that such potential crises with Western countries have been used by the ruling government to consolidate its voters through engaging in international polemics and assuming the role of the defender of external Turks and ‘Islam’ worldwide,” he said. 

Ayhan Kaya, professor at Istanbul Bilgi University, said that the move in Germany to bring a homegrown reading to Islam had already been on the table since Angela Merkel’s initiative in 2006. 

“Although it contradicts with the Sunni Islam rhetoric, what Germany did is a counter-move against the lobbying strategies of Muslim countries such as Turkey, Morocco or Algeria within German territories,” he told Arab News. 

Kaya also noted that in the past Germany and Turkey developed joint projects to train imams who would be appointed in Germany by providing them with linguistic and cultural-integration skills. 

“This latest move is a dialectic result of the political maneuvers on the diasporas by countries who are sending and receiving migration,” he said.