By Claude Salhani

Half of Americans asked said the United States will go to war with Iran “within the next few years,” a Reuters/Ipsos poll indicated.

The poll results stated that American respondents said they were more concerned about Iran as a security threat to the United States than they were last year; however, few said they would be in favour of a pre-emptive attack on the Iranian military.

Although, if Iran attacked US military forces first, about 80% said the United States should respond militarily in a full or limited way, the May 17-20 poll said.

Tense relations between Washington and Tehran worsened in May after US President Donald Trump hardened his anti-Iran stance and reimposed all sanctions on Iranian oil exports following his decision a year ago to pull the United States out of a 2015 international nuclear accord with Tehran.

Responding to what it said were very credible threats, the United States dispatched a US Navy task force, spearheaded by the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. Iran denied that it was planning attacks against US interests.

Nearly half — 49% — of poll respondents said they disapprove of how Trump has handled relations with Iran and 31% said they “strongly” disapprove. Overall, 39% of those asked said they approved of Trump’s policy.

The survey indicated that 51% of those asked said the United States and Iran would go to war within the next few years, up 8 percentage points from a similar poll published last June. In this year’s poll, Democratic and Republican participants were both more likely to see Iran as a threat and say war was likely.

Slightly more than half of the respondents (53%) said they considered Iran as either a “serious” or “imminent” threat, up 6 percentage points from a poll last July. In comparison, 58% of poll participants characterised North Korea as a threat and 51% characterised Russia as a threat.

Despite their concerns, 60% of those asked said the United States should not conduct a pre-emptive attack on the Iranian military, while 12% advocated for striking first.

If Iran attacked, however, 79% of those asked said that the US military should retaliate. The poll said 40% of respondents indicated they favoured a limited response with air strikes and 39% said they favoured a full invasion.

Both the United States and Iran have said they do not want war, although there have been bellicose statements from both sides.

Despite Trump’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear agreement, the poll indicated that 61% of those asked said they supported the 2015 deal between Tehran and world powers to curb Iran’s potential pathway to a nuclear bomb in return for sanctions relief.

Gulf allies and US government officials have said Iran-backed groups were responsible for recent attacks on shipping and pipelines in the Gulf.

Trump has said he would like to negotiate with the leaders of Iran but the country’s president, Hassan Rohani, rejected talks and said “economic war” is being waged against Iran.

What the poll reflects in part is the blame placed on Iran by senior US administration officials such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “It seems like it’s quite possible that Iran was behind the attacks,” he said.

Mid- to long-term wariness about the risks of war between the United States and Iran reflects the unease of Americans, beyond the attitude of the administration, about the nature of the regime in Tehran.

Perceived as religiously and politically extremist, Iran’s ruling mullahs and their revolutionary allies are not considered to be the best guarantors for peace at home and abroad.

Claude Salhani is a regular columnist for The Arab Weekly. and a senior fellow at the Institute of World Affairs in Wsashington, DC .

By Claude Salhani –

It is not difficult to acknowledge that we are living in precarious times. Around the world, men in prime positions of power are adopting policies that do not serve the collective good or the cause of democracy they pretend to represent.

Instead of seeking to unite people, these false prophets divide the countries they represent. They stroke their inflated egos, look to further empower themselves and solidify their seat of power.

Truth has become a casualty because these leaders feel no shame in lying to the world. They cannot bear to be portrayed negatively, so they attack the media as an “enemy of the people” and stamp any news item deemed unfavourable as “fake news.”

From Ankara to Washington and from Moscow to Pyongyang, not forgetting Damascus and Tehran, regimes adopted viewpoints that set back the cause of democracy and freedom. With the stroke of a pen and — in cases like Turkey — with repressive measures, decades of inching towards democracy have been undone.

What is frightening is that most people do not see what is happening or suspect that the changes are taking place, gradually eroding basic values of democracies. By the time they wake up, it is often too late.

Today’s threats to democracy come not only from its traditional enemies but from those who claim to be the West’s own allies.

Donald Trump in the United States, Vladimir Putin in Russia, Kim Jong-un in North Korea, Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey — what do these men have in common, given their diverse political leanings? They have all taken to calling media that dares criticise them the “enemy of the people” and referring to unfavourable articles as “fake news.”

This is not a novelty.

Joseph Stalin referred to anyone who opposed him — or was even suspected of opposing him — as an “enemy of the people.”

This focus recently has been on Erdogan, who, after having decimated the Turkish media that stood up to him, is now targeting international media. Erdogan occasionally cancels foreign journalists’ press credentials and sends them packing.

When Erdogan delivered his re-election victory speech, he spoke of “one nation, one flag, one state.” He could have taken it a step further and talked about one media and one voice — his. Because that’s the way the election campaign was reported.

The main state-owned TV channel TRT reported on the election like any state-run media channel in authoritarian countries would: devoting all coverage to a single candidate, Erdogan, of course. In the month leading up to the election, TRT devoted 67 hours of airtime to Erdogan. His rival received less than seven hours of coverage over the same period.

Since rising to power in 2003, Erdogan has orchestrated a restructuring of the country’s media space. Hundreds of journalists have been jailed and more than 100 media outlets have been shut down, accused of terrorism.

In some instances, Erdogan arranged to have prominent outlets, such as the Dogan Media Group, once the largest media conglomerate in Turkey, be bought out by the pro-government Demiroren family.

For many Turkish voters — especially the lower- and middle-class electorate, who are primarily concerned with making ends meet — press freedom remains somewhat of an abstract concept, a topic that matters more to the country’s intellectuals.

A free press is the cornerstone of a democracy but Erdogan said shortly after his re-election that the media and democracy are not compatible.

“You can’t have democracy alongside the media,” said Erdogan at an event marking the start of the academic year.

“Once the media were running our country, the fourth estate or what have you,” the Turkish president said, adding that he would rather take his cues from the public than the media.

“A politician can’t implement sound policies if he is in fear of the media,” he said as he slammed Western media, which he accused of running a misinformation campaign against his government.

Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman worldview, including his attitude towards the media, is terribly anachronistic and in need of an urgent update.

While observers may be taken aback by the president’s blunt admission of hostility towards the media, Turkey, under Justice and Development Party rule, has long been notorious for its heavy-handed approach to the media, earning it the title of the world’s leading jailer of journalists.

More than 100 media outlets have been shut down in Turkey under increased security measures since an attempted coup in July 2016. Many critical voices in the country’s media have been drowned out as businesses with links to the government took over the country’s major media outlets.

Reporters Without Borders ranked Turkey 157th out of 180 countries for press freedom in 2018. Freedom House declared Turkey as “not free” in its “Freedom in the World 2018” report.

The European parliament recently voted to cancel $70 million of pre-accession funding for Turkey due to its failure to meet requirements in seven areas, including freedom of the press.

Authoritarianism might be in the air but a lack of press freedom has Turks and everyone else choking.

-It is not difficult to acknowledge that we are living in precarious times. Around the world, men in prime positions of power are adopting policies that do not serve the collective good or the cause of democracy they pretend to represent.

Instead of seeking to unite people, these false prophets divide the countries they represent. They stroke their inflated egos, look to further empower themselves and solidify their seat of power.

Truth has become a casualty because these leaders feel no shame in lying to the world. They cannot bear to be portrayed negatively, so they attack the media as an “enemy of the people” and stamp any news item deemed unfavourable as “fake news.”

From Ankara to Washington and from Moscow to Pyongyang, not forgetting Damascus and Tehran, regimes adopted viewpoints that set back the cause of democracy and freedom. With the stroke of a pen and — in cases like Turkey — with repressive measures, decades of inching towards democracy have been undone.

What is frightening is that most people do not see what is happening or suspect that the changes are taking place, gradually eroding basic values of democracies. By the time they wake up, it is often too late.

Today’s threats to democracy come not only from its traditional enemies but from those who claim to be the West’s own allies.

Donald Trump in the United States, Vladimir Putin in Russia, Kim Jong-un in North Korea, Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey — what do these men have in common, given their diverse political leanings? They have all taken to calling media that dares criticise them the “enemy of the people” and referring to unfavourable articles as “fake news.”

This is not a novelty.

Joseph Stalin referred to anyone who opposed him — or was even suspected of opposing him — as an “enemy of the people.”

This focus recently has been on Erdogan, who, after having decimated the Turkish media that stood up to him, is now targeting international media. Erdogan occasionally cancels foreign journalists’ press credentials and sends them packing.

When Erdogan delivered his re-election victory speech, he spoke of “one nation, one flag, one state.” He could have taken it a step further and talked about one media and one voice — his. Because that’s the way the election campaign was reported.

The main state-owned TV channel TRT reported on the election like any state-run media channel in authoritarian countries would: devoting all coverage to a single candidate, Erdogan, of course. In the month leading up to the election, TRT devoted 67 hours of airtime to Erdogan. His rival received less than seven hours of coverage over the same period.

Since rising to power in 2003, Erdogan has orchestrated a restructuring of the country’s media space. Hundreds of journalists have been jailed and more than 100 media outlets have been shut down, accused of terrorism.

In some instances, Erdogan arranged to have prominent outlets, such as the Dogan Media Group, once the largest media conglomerate in Turkey, be bought out by the pro-government Demiroren family.

For many Turkish voters — especially the lower- and middle-class electorate, who are primarily concerned with making ends meet — press freedom remains somewhat of an abstract concept, a topic that matters more to the country’s intellectuals.

A free press is the cornerstone of a democracy but Erdogan said shortly after his re-election that the media and democracy are not compatible.

“You can’t have democracy alongside the media,” said Erdogan at an event marking the start of the academic year.

“Once the media were running our country, the fourth estate or what have you,” the Turkish president said, adding that he would rather take his cues from the public than the media.

“A politician can’t implement sound policies if he is in fear of the media,” he said as he slammed Western media, which he accused of running a misinformation campaign against his government.

Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman worldview, including his attitude towards the media, is terribly anachronistic and in need of an urgent update.

While observers may be taken aback by the president’s blunt admission of hostility towards the media, Turkey, under Justice and Development Party rule, has long been notorious for its heavy-handed approach to the media, earning it the title of the world’s leading jailer of journalists.

More than 100 media outlets have been shut down in Turkey under increased security measures since an attempted coup in July 2016. Many critical voices in the country’s media have been drowned out as businesses with links to the government took over the country’s major media outlets.

Reporters Without Borders ranked Turkey 157th out of 180 countries for press freedom in 2018. Freedom House declared Turkey as “not free” in its “Freedom in the World 2018” report.

The European parliament recently voted to cancel $70 million of pre-accession funding for Turkey due to its failure to meet requirements in seven areas, including freedom of the press.

Authoritarianism might be in the air but a lack of press freedom has Turks and everyone else choking.


Fighting in the Syrian and Iraqi deserts may be over for the foreign fighters and supporters of the Islamic State (ISIS) but many face a new set of challenges — legal battles — if they attempt to return to their former European homes. Several thousand Europeans, reports from the field indicate, have started an exodus from Syria as the last bastion held by ISIS fighters is expected to soon fall to anti-Islamists and pro-government Syrian forces. No one seems to know the exact numbers of European jihadis concerned but, regardless, there is bound to be a social issue that Western countries will have to face. Much has changed in the last year as renewed efforts by the Syrian government, supported by Russian and Iranian forces and the limited US, French and British troops, have radically reduced the territory once under ISIS control to a small pocket of resistance where the remaining fighters, mostly Europeans, are holding out. In many cases because they simply have nowhere to go. As the European jihadists trickle back to their home countries, they are bound to come up against legal issues that may prevent them from reintegrating into Europe. Aggravating the problem is the prevailing political climate in Europe, where there has been a veer to the far right in Hungary and Poland as strong anti-immigration sentiments persist. Take the case of Shamima Begum, a British woman who fled London as a teen in 2015 and was caught up in the frenzy of the Islamist movement, then in ascendance. Begum was found recuperating from her ordeal in a refugee camp on the Turkish-Syrian border. She has since given birth and was hoping to take her son to the United Kingdom. However, Britain stripped Begum of her UK citizenship, saying she ought to go to Bangladesh, the homeland of her mother. Except that she has never been to Bangladesh and does not have citizenship from that country and hardly speaks the language. Bangladeshi law says citizenship is passed down from the mother. Regardless, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Dhaka said Begum does not hold Bangladeshi citizenship and will not be allowed to enter. British law states that one can only be stripped of citizenship on condition the individual concerned is eligible for citizenship in another country. The British Home Office thought that Begum held Bangladeshi citizenship. It turns out she does not. The Bangladeshi Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the government was “deeply concerned” Begum had been “erroneously identified” as a Bangladeshi national. In a statement, it said Begum had never applied for dual nationality with Bangladesh and had never visited the country. It added that the country had a “zero tolerance” approach to terrorism and violent extremism. “I wasn’t born in Bangladesh, I’ve never seen Bangladesh and I don’t even speak Bengali properly, so how can they claim I have Bangladeshi citizenship?” she said. While he said he would not comment on individual cases, Home Secretary Sajid Javid has suggested Begum’s baby could be considered British. He told parliament: “Children should not suffer. So if a parent does lose their British citizenship, it does not affect the rights of their child.” Javid said the power to deprive a person of citizenship was only used “in extreme circumstances,” for example, “when someone turns their back on the fundamental values and supports terror.” Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott accused Javid of breaching the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of their nationality.” Begum changed her mind about ISIS after the group imprisoned and tortured her Dutch husband — an armed jihadist. Escape was impossible, she claimed: “They’d kill you if you tried.” Begum and thousands like her may or may not have been born in the United Kingdom but were radicalised in the United Kingdom and not in Bangladesh. Is it fair to force them to “return” to a country to which they have no connection, cannot identify with and where their animosity towards the United Kingdom and the West will only percolate over the years into outright hatred? There must be common ground to avoid a greater social conundrum. In the middle of Europe’s confused imperatives, common ground might not be an easy objective to define or achieve.
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