Obama’s State of the Union and sad state of US foreign policy

By Claude Salhani |

Based on President Barak Obama’s State of the Union speech earlier this week, chances of peace in the Middle East remains bleak at best, if not a distant impossibility. Here are the reasons why.

Just as you cannot make an omelet without breaking eggs, you simply cannot resolve the problem of the Islamic State without committing the full power of a major military expeditionary force. Think of attacking the terrorists on the scale of the D-Day landings in Normandy in 1944.

Massive aerial and naval bombardment, airborne troops and special forces deployed inland, air cover for troops with armor and heavy artillery. Attacking the enemy on several fronts at the same time, cutting off his lines of communications and supplies. And as the lone super-sheriff nation on the planet the job befalls to the United States. Whether the Americans like it or not, that is the price of being the most powerful nation on earth.
The danger of ignoring the threat poised by the Islamists is very real. Allow them to get stronger and they will come to you. They have said so themselves.

Suffice to look at what they have done to Syria and Iraq and shudder. They intend to do the same to more countries unless they are stopped. Regrettably, the situation was allowed to deteriorate to the point where applying “Band Aids” will no longer work. What is needed now is major surgery.

Today ISIS has enslaved people by the hundreds. They sell young girls, some as young as eight or ten into sexual slavery. They methodically execute anybody not in agreement with them. They have killed people by the thousands. They decapitate hundreds of prisoners. They throw people accused of homosexuality off rooftops and stone to death women who commit adultery. They crucify others. Latest reports from the region speak of them now going after educated women and killing them. This week they executed 13 teenage boys by firing squad for watching a soccer game between Jordan and Iraq.

In his State of the Union speech earlier this week President Barak Obama said that the US would not commit ground troops to defeat IS or ISIL or ISIS, or Daesh, any of the multitude of names the most brutal terrorist organization goes by.

While Mr. Obama is ethically correct in not wanting to send US troops into the horrible muddle that Syria and Iraq have become, he is strategically mistaken to think that he can defeat this group without meeting two criteria.

1. Committing massive forces to the campaign in order to defeat the enemy once and for all, and

2. Implementing an immediate post-combat program to help the people of the region recover economically, so that they will not turn to such groups again in the future.

A military solution alone, even if initially successful, is doomed to fail. This is what happened the first time around. Having said that there is nothing that stipulates that all the combat troops have to be American. Other countries – America’s NATO allies, the Arab countries concerned by the presence of the Islamists should field the numbers needed to face down this menace, after all they are the ones who stand to loose the most if the Islamists gain ground. Egypt and Saudi Arabia, for example, could contribute several thousands troops each.

However, there are three things that need to happen if the Middle East is to be pacified, and before the campaign to oust the Islamists can have a chance to succeed.
1. the civil war in Syria must come to an end. A government needs to be formed that can impose peace and stability in the country, including in the zones now occupied by the Islamists, once those are liberated. The current war offers a perfect breeding ground for these terrorists, and an ideal staging area from where to train and dispatch jihadi fighters to Europe and eventually to the United States.

2. the long-standing conflict over Palestine must be resolved in a manner that is fair and adequate for the Palestinians and the Israelis. Allowing that issue to remain unresolved also provides fodder for Islamists and extremists.
3. Turkey must be reminded that it is a NATO member and as such its loyalty rests with the West, and not with the Islamists. And if Ankara is true to its word – that it is a full-fledged member of NATO — it should be duly rewarded. And what better reward than membership in the European Union?

By any stretch of the imagination this is a rather tall order for any president, let alone one who is now on his way out with two years left in the White House. President Obama began his first term determined to resolve the Middle East crisis. He won the Nobel Prize for Peace for it his efforts–– albeit somewhat prematurely. Perhaps now he can dedicate some time to really merit that peace prize.

Claude Salhani is senior editor with Trend Agency. You can follow Claude on Twitter @claudesalhani.

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Possibly up to 1,000 Islamists in Belgium

By Claude Salhani |

Sources close to French and Belgian intelligence services have told this reporter that there could be up to 1,000 Islamist “sleepers” currently hiding in Belgium, and waiting for the right moment to strike.

Belgian police killed two men and arrested a third during a raid last week in a town in southern Belgium. The men had been under police surveillance and the authorities were convinced they were about to move into the action phase of the operation when they launched their attack in a preemptive move.

More than half of them –possibly as many as 800 — are believed combat-hardened jihadis returning from a stint in Syria or Iraq where they received military training and experienced combat in the ranks of the Islamic State, ISIS or ISIL.

Many of those Muslim Europeans are second- and third-generation Belgians, making it harder for the authorities to detect.

Belgium is one of Europe’s smallest countries, yet one with the most strategic targets for a would-be terrorist. The unusual high number of diplomats accredited to Belgium and the many strategic targets concentrated over a relatively small territory made Belgium an ideal location from where a potential Islamist terrorists to strike.

Brussels is home to the European Union and the plethora of agencies and government groups affiliated with the huge EU bureau, the Belgian capital is also home to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and SHAPE, the Supreme Headquarters for Allied Powers in Europe.

As such Belgium hosts three times more foreign accredited diplomats on it soil than any other European capital as embassies have separate staff accredited to Belgium, to NATO and to the EU.

The small size of the country offers an additional benefit to the terrorists who can be out of the country in under two hours by car. Although most of the borders have disappeared, national police forces cannot cross borders into another country.
Add to the above the fact that Belgian security forces did not enjoy a strong
reputation, the porous borders with France, Luxembourg, Germany and The Netherlands, where crossing from one country to the other is similar to crossing from one US state to another.

Furthermore, the Islamists believed they could operate from Belgium easier that in the other countries because they thought the security services were not on the ball.

Communicating through the popular Internet social networking site Twitter, the Islamists arrogantly mocked the Belgian security services, calling them “stupid” and “idiotic.” That outlook may have been revised, however, since the Belgian anti-terrorist unit thwarted a possible attack by Islamists last week.

The source who has proven to be reliable in the past, asked not to be identified.
The source said there could be anywhere between 400 to 800 returning Belgian jihadis from Iraq and Syria, plus the ”veterans” of al-Qaeda and Iraq. The number could rise to as many as 1,000 “people of concern,” the source said.

In neighboring France the numbers are thought to be even higher with about 1,500returning fighters from the wars in the Middle East.

Germany believes they have about 50 new sleeper cells that could be operating in the country.

As previous incidents have demonstrated, large numbers are not needed to create havoc and mayhem. As an example, at the height of the clashes between the British and the Irish Republican Army, it is believed that’s no more than 150 people were involved on the IRA side. Those managed to keep almost the entire British army tied up for months at a time.

Claude Salhani is senior editor with Trend Agency. You can follow Claude on Twitter @claudesalhani.

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Islamists expand war to Europe

By Claude Salhani ]

The self-appointed caliph of the Islamist State had promised he would extend the war to the West and it appears that he is keeping his word. Abu Bakr al Baghdadi could be dispatching cells all across Europe, according to a Lebanese intelligence source cited in the French language daily, L’orient-Le Jour. European intelligence sources have corroborated that information.

After France, security services are on the lookout for sleeper cells in Belgium and Germany.

Communicating through the popular Internet social networking site Twitter, the Islamists arrogantly mocked the Belgian security services, calling them “stupid” and “idiotic,” but in the end, the Belgians had the last laugh.

For several weeks now and well before the Paris attack on the offices of the satirical weekly publication, Charlie Hebdo, Belgian authorities had the Islamists – who had recently returned from fighting in the ranks of the so-called Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq under surveillance. While there are no exact numbers regarding how many European Muslims have gone to fight in Iraq and/or Syria, it is believed that there could be about 1,500 in France alone.

Belgian police decided they should intervene and gave the assault. Two terrorists were killed and a third was captured and the Belgian intelligence services are not looking too shabby, “idiotic” or “stupid.”

Belgian authorities were still looking for clues early Friday after security services engaged in a gunfight with the suspected terrorists. A government spokesman later said that the terrorists had planned to launch a “Belgian Charlie Hebdo” attack.

“They were on the verge of committing important terror attacks,” federal magistrate Eric Van der Sypt said at a news conference in Brussels.

But after France and Belgium, Germany in on high alert this Friday amid reports that some 50 members of the Islamist State are reported to have infiltrated the country.

All across Europe, anxiety has grown as the manhunt continues for potential accomplices of the three Paris terrorists, all of whom were shot dead by French police. Authorities in Belgium signaled they were ready for more trouble by raising the national terror alert level from 2 to 3, the second-highest level.

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And if all this is not enough to scare you, then think about this: In another development, the Islamic State claims that it is now in possession of uranium from Mosul University, which it will use in a “dirty bomb.”

“O by the way Islamic State does have a Dirty bomb. We found Radioactive material from Mosul university,” a member identifying himself as Muslim al-Britani said on Twitter, the London daily newspaper, the Mirror had reported earlier.

“We’ll find out what dirty bombs are and what they do. We’ll also discuss what might happen if one actually went off in a public area.”

The Sunni radical then ruminated on what would happen if the terrorist group detonated such a bomb in London, saying it would be “be more of a disruptive than a destructive weapon.”

The news was further reported in The Washington Times on Thursday.

A dirty bomb is a conventional explosive device packed around nuclear material. It does not have the same devastating results as a nuclear bomb, but can contaminate the immediate area of the explosion, rendering inhabitable for decades.

In another report unrelated to the above, German security forces have reason to believe that up to 50 members of the Islamic State have infiltrated the country and are preparing to carry out attacks similar to the ones perpetrated in Paris earlier this month.

Reports in a Lebanese newspaper this month also reported that Lebanese security services had relayed intelligence to European countries of possible attacks being organized by the Islamic State against them.

Claude Salhani is senior editor with Trend Agency and a specialist in terrorism and politicized Islam. You can follow Claude on Twitter @Claudesalhani

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France weighs the tragic cost of appeasement

– – Thursday, January 8, 2015
This article was first published in The Washington Times.

The attack on the offices and staff of the French satirical paper, Charlie Hebdo, by three heavily armed men shouting out the name of God in Arabic is nothing less than a declaration of war by hordes of heathen barbarians against the civilized world. They would want us to think that they are acting in the name of God. They shouted the words “Allahu akbar,” God is great, every time they murdered one of their victims. Then, before getting into a getaway car, they were reported to have shouted, “The prophet is avenged.”

Do not be fooled — they are as distanced from Islam as can possibly be. There is a stark reality in the saying that truth is the first casualty of war. Indeed it is.

The gunmen may have believed they were acting in the name of God by slaughtering 10 members of the paper’s staff and two policemen, one of who was Muslim, but let us not fall into the same trap. The aim of the killings at Charlie Hebdo likely had nothing to do with avenging the prophet or seeking revenge for having poked fun at the prophet. Those who  ordered the Paris attack very possibly could care less about what a French satirical weekly rag has to say. Indeed, their aims could be far more ambitious and devious: to trigger a vast knee-jerk reaction from the French authorities and public that would generate a huge wave of ant-Muslim sentiment. This, in turn, would justify in the eyes of these extremists greater acts of terror.

What we saw happen in the French capital on Wednesday is only the beginning of what may well be the fallout effect of returning jihadis from the war in Syria. Eyewitnesses to the Paris massacre reported that two of the three gunmen spoke perfect French, an indication that they were not foreigners. The video footage that caught the gunmen in action reveals that they clearly had some sort of military training.

When three individuals walk nonchalantly down the streets of Paris in broad daylight killing innocent French citizens, something is terribly wrong. Something is also terribly wrong when so-called Muslims believe they are right in murdering innocent people in the name of Allah. In reality, every time such criminals utter the name of the Almighty, they blaspheme. No God would ever condone such barbarism, regardless of what an offending publication printed. Disagreeing with a point of view, no matter how critical, does not grant one a license to commit murder.

Charlie Hebdo is a satirical publication. Since its inception during the heyday of the great student uprising in France in May 1968, the editors of Charlie Hebdo have been on the forefront of making light of any and all controversy. Nothing and no one was considered too sacred.

France faces a dilemma. The government of President Francois Hollande needs to act decisively. That means more than rushing to the scene of the crime for a photo-op, as he did following the massacre on Wednesday. The policy of appeasement shown toward terrorists from all over the troubled world — Palestinians in the 1970s, Lebanese in the 1980s, Algerians in the 1990s and Iranians throughout — needs to be seriously re-examined and changed.

Successive French governments from the left and the right have been lenient toward terror groups, believing that France would be spared from terror attacks. That has been wishful thinking. French paratroopers were slaughtered in Beirut only moments after the U.S. Marine barracks was blown up at Beirut International Airport in October 1983, killing 241 U.S. servicemen. France lost 58 men in that explosion. In Lebanon more than a dozen French citizens, schoolteachers and journalists were abducted and held, some for several years, and some died in captivity. Neither were the country’s diplomats spared. The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs lost several ambassadors to terrorism. Nor were the streets of its cities spared the horrors of car bombs.

There are two levels of culprit in the Paris attack: those who planned the operation and those who pulled the trigger. Both should be made to pay. French security forces acted fast and within 12 hours of the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, anti-terrorist units had identified two brothers with ties to al Qaeda in Iraq and Yemen as belonging to the purported trio of perpetrators in Wednesday’s attack. A third man turned himself in. Meanwhile, France remains tonight under strict security conditions.

Those who ordered and planned the attack should be made to pay. There are not enough bullets in the world to silence the press in a free society. And those who carried out this ignoble act must come to the realization that they are living a double illusion: first, that they are can silence the media in a free society by bullying them, and second, that they are carrying out the will of Allah. They are mistaken on both counts.

Claude Salhani is senior editor with Trend News Agency and for many years a faithful reader of Charlie Hebdo.

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Oil is expected to continue playing a central role in global turmoil

– – Originally published in the Washington Times.

Double, double, oil and trouble, to paraphrase Shakespeare; those could be the key words for the coming year.

Oil and trouble, indeed. The two often go together well, and as the new year arrives, we traditionally look back at what we have accomplished and at what may be in store for the world over the course of the next 12 months.

Oh my, where to begin? There has been so much toil, oil and trouble during this past year that makes it hard to pick one series of events over the others.

Perhaps a good place to start would be with the most absurd story of the year. You guessed it — the brouhaha triggered by North Korea’s lunatic dictator, Kim Jung-un and his threats to unleash nuclear war if the film in which he is portrayed is released. Bending under the threats, Sony Pictures, the studio that produced the film “The Interview,” delayed its release. Talk about heavy-handed censorship.

Those who try to suppress the free flow of information fail to realize three things. First, as it’s been said, “To censor a nation is to insult it.” Second, in today’s day and age it becomes increasingly difficult to control the flow of information owing to the speed and reach of the Internet and social media. Third, every attempt to control or stifle an item, be it a book, a film or a cartoon, frequently ends up having the reverse effect on the intended target to be silenced. Such was the case with Salman Rushdie’s book “The Satanic Verses,” after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a fatwa, or a religious edict, calling for the killing of Mr. Rushie. The book, a mediocre and difficult-to-follow narrative, jumped to the top of the best-seller list as a result of the ayatollah’s fatwa.

Much the same scenario was applicable to the worse-than-mediocre film “Borat,” by Sacha Baron Cohen. His fictitious character, Borat, made it one of the most talked-about films after the president of Kazakhstan took “Borat” to task.

For inane dictators and insane wannabe caliphs, 2014 was a fruitful year in that sense. Carving a piece of real estate out of Syria and Iraq, the group calling itself the Islamic State set itself up and began an orgy of evil directed at anyone not supporting it. Militants targeted minorities such as the Yazidis, the Turkmen, the Kurds and the Christians. They killed thousands of people, including a number of Western hostages, whom they beheaded in front of video cameras.

The group has started to become a serious threat to the region, pushing Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the Western powers to take limited military action against the Islamic State. The level of violence has rarely been seen in a region where bloodshed is never in shortage. Yet once again, the Middle East has managed to surpass itself.

Where will the Islamic State (or as it is sometimes, called ISIS or ISIL) be in 2015? Very likely, they will continue to rise through bouts of terrorism and fighting. It will very likely make some inroads in Lebanon, or at least will try, and will edge closer to Israel along the Golan, which could draw Israel into a limited conflict with the Islamic State. Ultimately, though, the Islamists will be defeated.

On a constructive note, one of the more reasonable voices from the Middle East, Jordan’s King Abdullah, stressed that the Islamic State problem was primarily one that concerned Muslims and they had to take ownership of that problem.

The great surprise of 2014 was the declining price of oil on the international markets, from an all-time high of more than $100 per barrel to half that amount. This creates havoc in some oil-producing countries such as Russia. The Kremlin prepared its budget for 2015 based on revenue from oil selling at $100-plus. Now it’s hovering at around $50 a barrel.

Talk about missed opportunities: The Western allies had the perfect opportunity to win the Russians over and to dissipate any reservations Moscow might have had about NATO and the West. Instead of alleviating those fears, though, the West and, more specifically, the United States, treated Moscow as though the Cold War were still going on. Russia did not help its case by its actions in Ukraine and Crimea.

Finally, despite President Obama’s shortcomings in foreign affairs, his lack of a coherent policy on Syria, the failure of talks with Iran over the nuclear issue, the fiasco in Libya and the resurgence of terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan, 2014 nevertheless closed on a positive note: With Mr. Obama normalizing relations with Havana, Americans may soon legally smoke Cuban cigars.

Claude Salhani is senior editor at Trend News Agency and a political analyst specializing in politicized Islam and terrorism.

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Jordanian King Warns Of Impending World War III

By Claude Salhani |

When OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, imposed an oil embargo on the West for its support of Israel in the October 1973 Arab-Israeli war, the French came out with a series of public service announcements on how to save oil. The 30-second ads gave consumers advice on various ways to economize gas and oil consumption. And the announcements would end with a voice saying: “In France we don’t have oil, but we have ideas.”

Today, much the same can be said about Jordan. The country is the only one in the region not producing oil. Its neighbors – Iraq, Syria, Israel and Saudi Arabia, all produce oil to varying degrees, except for Jordan and Palestine.

And in the turbulent world that is the Middle East today, Jordan’s lack of oil may well be a blessing in disguise, rendering it financially uninteresting to groups such as the so-called Islamic State that has occupied large swaths of land from Syria and Iraq, where incidentally, oil is found. But that does not mean that Jordan is altogether off the Islamist’s radar. The country counts large numbers of sympathizers of the Islamic State and its “lighter” version, the Muslim Brotherhood. Many among them would very much like to see the Hashemite kingdom replaced by an Islamic state.

Related: Report Finds Gulf States Unstable Despite Resource Wealth

During his visit to Washington last week the King of Jordan said that the events unfolding in the region today were nothing less than the start of World War III.

“We have to stand up and say, ‘This is the line that is drawn in the sand,’” the king said in an interview that was broadcast on CBS’s This Morning.

“It’s clearly a fight between good and evil.”

Coming from one of the rare voices of reason in the Arab world this is certainly cause for concern.

“This is a Muslim problem,” said the king. The importance of this statement cannot be stressed enough. Until now, many in the Middle East saw the conflict as one opposing the United States and its Western allies to Islamist groups. The king’s statement in Washington sheds a whole new light on the problem and how to approach it.

“We need to take ownership of this. We need to stand up and say what is right and what is wrong,” Abdullah told CBS News’ Charlie Rose.

This is probably the most important declaration by an Arab leader; admitting that there is indeed a problem within the House of Islam.

Although the Western countries today are far less dependent on Arab oil than they were in the 1970s, nevertheless a serious disruption to oil markets from the Middle East – Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait – would be greatly felt in the West, despite the fact that other sources today are available, such as Russia, the Central Asia republics and Azerbaijan amongst others.

Abdullah II of Jordan, much like his late father King Hussein, is well placed to know what’s going on in his corner of the world, situated in what is today the most volatile piece of real estate on the planet. Jordan is wedged between Syria, Iraq and a hard place; the hard place being his own home-grown jihadi movements in Jordan who would like to see the establishment of an Islamist state in place of the Hashemite Kingdom. Jordan has a considerable number of Muslim Brotherhood adherents, and the intelligence service is doing a pretty decent job of keeping a very close eye on them.

Related: A Truce In The Holy Oil War?

Jordan may not have oil but as its king pointed out, it does have a number of very good ideas, such as the ones mentioned by Abdullah in Washington. Those and others were discussed with President Barack Obama, who could certainly use the Jordanian monarch’s wise council.

Jordan’ s lack of oil does not make it any less important strategically. It is one of the staunchest pro-American countries in the Middle East. And recent history shows that being an ally of the United States in this part of the world comes with certain risks.

In the past some Arab leaders tended to be more discreet in their relationship with Washington, often holding a two-tone dialogue. One for internal consumption, and the other for the benefit of the West. That, as we have just seen by Abdullah’s declarations is changing. Leaders in the Arab world have now come to realize that they can no longer continue to sit on the fence, or continue to appear undecided. This is a time of grave concern, and part of the danger lies in failing to recognize it as such. Now that would be a bad idea.

You can follow Claude on Twitter @claudesalhani

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Politics & Policies: Don’t fear Christmas

By Claude Salhani

(This story was originally posted on the UPI wire on Dec. 23, 2005.)

We are entering that time of year when the American chapter of the Taliban awakens and becomes most active. Yes, little boys and girls, they do exist, even in the land of the free and the home of the brave! (And of the Braves, too.)

I am talking about the ultra-orthodox, the extremists, the politically correct polizei — or in plain English — the PC police.

They are the ones that go around the country banning — or at least trying to impose a ban on any and all public displays of Christmas.

Except here, in the good ol’ U.S. of A., where “freedom rings,” more and more people are becoming afraid to utter the words “Merry Christmas.” They are Ebenezer Scrooges before his encounter with his multiple ghosts on Christmas Eve.

Some of these people can be just as extremist in their thinking as the Taliban. And just as the Islamist fundamentalists hijacked Islam to fit their cause, the anti-Christmas people too are hijacking political correctness to a new extreme, as they try to impose their unilateral ways and views on others.

That is exactly what the extremists in Afghanistan tried to do. (OK, they took it few steps further, but it’s never too early to nip these fanatics in the bud.)

Here is the tally of the Christmas cards I received this year at the office:

— Season’s Greetings: 8

— Best wishes for the holiday season: 5

— Not one had the word “Christmas” on it.

Do you know in what country Santa Claus, Christmas trees and any outward sign of Christmas are banned? Saudi Arabia.

It has become almost as though Christmas (or Hanukkah or Ramadan) has turned into a dirty word. People seem afraid to wish you Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah or Happy Kwanza. Instead, they settle on the safer and more generic, but totally meaningless shallow, empty phrase, of “Happy holidays.” Just what is that supposed to mean? Happy holidays? Its ring is superficial and does not convey the same warm, fuzzy feeling as the word Christmas does. Christmas carols, Christmas pudding, Christmas shopping. Will that all be done away with to be replaced with Holiday tunes, Holiday cake and Holiday purchases?

Nah! This doesn’t look like Kansas, Toto. It does not have the same ring to it.

Maybe while we’re at it, we should also change the wording on the U.S. currency from “In God We Trust,” to “We think we believe in a supernatural being, sort of.” (Actually, come to think of it, the atheists have asked to do this for a long time now.)

While Christmas does celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, it is also a time of tradition. Holidays is simply not the same.

Those who don’t appreciate Christmas, or feel offended by the religious aspects of Christmas, don’t have to participate, but there is no need for them to push their bah-humbug views on the rest of the world. That is what the Taliban tried to do — and failed.

I have many Jewish and Muslim friends who like to celebrate Christmas because of the tradition and because of their having been raised among Christians. They enjoy getting gifts for their Christian friends and enjoy receiving presents from their Christian friends.

And if you are not Christian and resent the whole concept of the over-commercialized Christian holiday, then ignore it. Turn off the radio when they play Christmas carols and turn your head every time you see a Santa Claus or hear the sound of jiggle bells.

Or, if you belong to no religion but feel you need to do something, emulate Kramer. Do what he did in an episode of the TV series “Seinfeld”: celebrate “Festivus.” Then, in lieu of a Christmas tree, you can have an aluminum pole as the sole decoration.

Otherwise, be bold and say it … “Happy Christmas to one and all.” You will feel better for it.

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