The jihadist insurgent group ISIS, or as it now prefers to be called, the Islamic State, appears well on the road to achieving its stated goal: the restoration of the caliphate. The concept, which refers to an Islamic state presided over by a leader with both political and religious authority, dates from the various Muslim empires that followed the time of the Prophet Muhammad. From the seventh century onward, the caliph was, literally, his “successor.”
The problem with this new caliphate, which, an ISIS spokesman claimed on Sunday, had been established under Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, an Islamist militant leader since the early days of the American occupation of Iraq, is that it is ahistorical, to say the least.… Seguir leyendo »
Equipped with the best team in a generation, Belgium has been infected by soccer mania in the run-up to the World Cup in Brazil, as I witnessed during a recent visit home to Ghent. The Red Devils, as the national team is sometimes known, seem to be everywhere: in the media, in sold-out sticker albums and even in a Red Cross blood donation campaign. In a country where flag-waving is generally anathema, the soccer version of the national banner is ubiquitous and its colors — black, yellow and red — are smeared on cheeks or dyed into wigs.
But the devil, as always, is in the details.… Seguir leyendo »
A fifth the size of Greater London, Malta is the smallest country in the European Union and one of the smallest in the world. Given its tiny proportions, it is no big surprise that Malta does not register high in the consciousness of most Europeans, some of whom actually believe that Maltesers come from there.
Having spent a week on the island, I can reliably report that it is no Charlie and the Chocolate Factory wonderland but it is nonetheless a fascinating place where many cultures have mixed to give Malta its own rather original flavour.
Take the language. Maltese, an official language of the EU and the only Semitic language to be written in Latin script, sounds almost as if it is a dialect of Arabic, with Italian and English vocabulary thrown in.… Seguir leyendo »
George Mitchell's reappearance on the Middle Eastern scene earlier this year has reignited speculation as to whether he'll be able, with President Barack Obama's more hands-on approach, to repeat his success in Northern Ireland and help mediate peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Given the parallels between the two conflicts, the Northern Irish peace process has been held up as an example of how Israelis and Palestinians can proceed on the road to resolution.
While I have expressed scepticism vis-à-vis Mitchell's chances of success – because the shift in US foreign policy has been mainly rhetorical, the Israeli position has hardened and the Palestinians are in disarray – there are certainly lessons to be learnt from Northern Ireland.… Seguir leyendo »
First, the good news. Arab countries have the lowest levels of malnutrition and hunger in the developing world, have made "striking progress" in extending the lives of their citizens, abject poverty is comparatively low and, surprisingly (for me at least), levels of income inequality are moderate across most of the region. These are some of the few silver linings contained in the latest disillusioning and disturbing Arab Human Development Report (AHDR).
Despite the bad international press the conflicts in the region draw, the Arab world is, based on its level of violent crime, just about the safest place in the world.… Seguir leyendo »
Whether al-Qaida is really working to set up a cell in Britain or this is simply a dose of psychological warfare, the best way to eliminate the threat on British soil is not to tighten security, which could be futile since any possible attackers are likely to be home-grown, but to strike at the root causes.The most spectacular act Britain can undertake to mitigate the terror threat would be to pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Hawks would dismiss such a move as a sign of moral cowardice, the less ideological will see it for what it is: an expression of moral courage, an admission of a monumental error, and the yielding to justice and reason.… Seguir leyendo »