Archive for December, 2017

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards vow to crush dissent as protests extend into fourth day

(ZERO HEDGE) — by Tyler Durden

On the fourth day of “spontaneous” protests to sweep Iran just days after Israel, Saudi Arabia and the US reached a secret agreement to do everything in their power to destabilize the Iranian government by diplomatic means or otherwise, Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps vowed to “crush dissent” and take tough action if the unrest continued.

Protesters “must certainly know that improper behavior will be to their detriment, and the nation will come out and stand against these actions and throw a hard punch in their faces,” the Revolutionary Guard’s commander for security in Tehran, Brigadier General Esmail Kowsari, said according to the semi-official Iranian Students’ News Agency late Saturday.

The threat from the IRGC came a day after Iranian authorities blocked the nation’s internet, interrupted the main networks, and restricted access to the country’s most popular social media platform, Signal, in response to one of the biggest shows of dissent against its leadership in years, in which as we reported yesterday two people were killed in clashes with security forces in the western city of Dorud, the first casualties since anti-government protests erupted on Thursday. The deputy governor of Lorestan province blamed foreign agents for the deaths.

“No shots were fired by the police and security forces. We have found evidence of enemies of the revolution, Takfiri groups and foreign agents in this clash,” Habibollah Khojastehpour said on state television. Takfiri is a term for extreme Sunni militants such as Islamic State.

Protesters also attacked banks and government buildings and burned police vehicles.

Protesters defied the police and Revolutionary Guards who have used violence to crush previous unrest. The demonstrations could be more worrying for authorities because they seem spontaneous and lack a clear leader… Almost as if the protests were organized from abroad.

As Bloomberg notes, the rare public challenge to the government and the country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, “has erupted at a time of deepened strains between Iran and the U.S. President Donald Trump has imposed additional sanctions on Tehran and threatened to quit Iran’s 2015 nuclear accord with world powers.” It also “surprisingly” comes days after we reported that “US And Israel Reach “Secret Plan” To Counter Iran”, and one month after Israel said it was “Ready To Share Intel With Saudis “Against Iran” Ahead Of Possible War”, and also a “”Bombshell” Leaked Secret Israeli Cable Confirmed Israeli-Saudi Coordination To Provoke War with Iran.”

Almost as if the events are connected…

Meanwhile, in another Twitter post on the unrest Sunday, Trump said, “The people are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism.” The president also added that it “[l]ooks like they will not take it any longer. The USA is watching very closely for human rights violations!” Violations which the CIA may or may not have been itching to tweet it was sponsoring.

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US State Department hints at Iran overthrow: Are we witnessing the early stages of regime change?

(ZERO HEDGE) — by Tyler Durden

The US State Department has issued a formal condemnation of the Iranian government following two days of economic protests centering in a handful of cities, calling the regime “a rogue state whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed, and chaos” while announcing support for protesters.

It fits a familiar script which seems to roll out when anyone protests for any reason in a country considered an enemy of the United States (whether over economic grievances or full on calling for government overthrow).

The statement by spokesperson Heather Nauert, released late on Friday, further comes very close to calling for regime change in Iran when it asserts the following:

On June 14, 2017, Secretary Tillerson testified to Congress that he supports “those elements inside of Iran that would lead to a peaceful transition of government. Those elements are there, certainly as we know.” The Secretary today repeats his deep support for the Iranian people.

U.S. strongly condemns arrest of peaceful protestors in #Iran, urges all nations to publicly support Iranian people. As @POTUS said, longest-suffering victims of Iran’s leaders are Iran’s own people. #Iranprotests pic.twitter.com/mUTObTeHft
— Heather Nauert (@statedeptspox) December 29, 2017

Though most current reports strongly suggest protests are being driven fundamentally by economic grievances, the US has already framed this week’s events inside Iran as revolutionary in nature and as aiming for “transition of government”. On Friday evening White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted the following statement:

Reports of peaceful protests by Iranian citizens fed up with the regime’s corruption and its squandering of the nation’s wealth to fund terrorism abroad. The Iranian government should respect their people’s rights including their right to express themselves. The world is watching.

The media is already promoting a regime change narrative

As we noted during our initial coverage of Thursday’s protests, Israeli as well as Iranian opposition media commentators (and of course pundits in the US mainstream) have generally appeared giddy with excitement at the prospect that protests could spread inside Iran, potentially culminating in society-wide resistance and possible change in government. It goes without saying that Iran has been enemy #1 for the United States and Israel since the Islamic Revolution and embassy hostage crisis beginning in 1979.

Consider for example this major Israeli international broadcast network, which in an English language interview segment covering the very beginnings of (relatively small and limited) protests Thursday quickly linked the Tehran government with use of chemical weapons in Syria, supporting the “biggest butcher in this region Bashar al-Assad”, and facilitating the killing of civilians:

#Iran protests: this might be #Rouhani’s chance to force the economic reform he’s been long clamoring for, @MeirJa tells @talexander_i24 pic.twitter.com/Pog57xkKKU
— i24NEWS English (@i24NEWS_EN) December 28, 2017

Simultaneously the resident “expert” presents the protesters as condemning these things while yearning for freedom and democracy. He can barely contain himself while repeating “It’s spontaneous! It’s spontaneous!… and could be more spontaneous! …it inspires people to go out more! …Because it’s spontaneous these two are combustible mixtures”:

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3 dead as Iranian protests spread, calling for end to Islamic regime

(JERUSALEM POST) — By Michael Wilner

Three demonstrators were shot dead by the Revolutionary Guard Corps as protests spread across Iran for a third night on Saturday, intensifying their calls for an end to the government’s costly expansionist projects across the Middle East, the corruption within its ranks and the Islamic Republic itself.

The demonstrations marked the nation’s first wave of serious public unrest since a violent crackdown by regime forces quelled dissent in 2009.

Marches that began as annual state-sponsored events for the airing of public discontent took on a different tone as protesters in more than 1,200 cities and towns called for the removal of the nation’s supreme leader, whose position of absolute power in Iran has determined the country’s fate since Islamists took control of its government in 1979.
The three protesters were reportedly shot dead as posters of the current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, were torn and pilloried.

Supporters of the Islamic government characterized the protests as small, scattered and largely focused on high unemployment and a scourge of corruption that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is fighting himself.

Critics of the regime say protesters from 2009’s Green Revolution are returning to the streets with unfinished business – a reckoning for a theocratic dictatorship unable to deliver for its people.

While the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office had no comment on Saturday night regarding the protests in Iran, Public Security and Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan said they were no surprise.

“Iran is wasting billions of dollars funding Hezbollah, Hamas, the Assad regime and terrorism throughout the world, rather than investing in the Iranian people,” Erdan posted on his Twitter account. “It’s no wonder that many Iranians are bravely standing up and speaking out against the Iranian leadership,” he said.

The Trump administration warned Tehran not to arrest or attack peaceful protesters, as video emerged of the demonstrations featuring violence from Iran’s Basij militia and a heavy presence of armed forces.

The State Department said the Islamic Republic had robbed its people of its historic wealth, and US President Donald Trump tweeted that “The world is watching!”

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‘Time for REVOLUTION’ Iran regime is ‘doomed’ as riots erupt after warning from Trump

(DAILY STAR) — By Henry Holloway

Tear gas, water cannons and riot cops armed with clubs have been deployed today to streets of the Iranian capital as thousands of protests took to the streets.

Protests over unemployment and food prices quickly spiraled into widespread calls for the collapse of the ruling Islamic regime.

Videos and pictures erupted on social media from the tightly controlled state showing protests and violence amid chants of “death to the dictator”.

And now the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI) has outright called for revolution while speaking to Daily Star Online.

Shahin Gobadi, a spokesman for the group, told this website: “Their regime has no future, it is doomed to failure, and it is time for the international community to recognize the Iranian people’s resistance to overthrow that regime.”

US President Donald Trump has also waded into the protests, warning Iran “the world is watching”.

Mr Gobadi said: “People have been on the streets in large numbers across Iran for three days despite huge risks and the regime’s total mobilization of its suppressive forces

“This clearly indicates the pervasive sentiment of the Iranians. In a nutshell, the Iranian people have shown their desire for regime change.”

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Iran protests continue for a third day despite warnings

(BBC) — Anti-government protests have continued in Iran for a third day, with reports of demonstrations in many cities despite warnings from authorities.

At Tehran University, protesters called for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to step down and there were clashes with police.

Demonstrators ignored the interior minister’s warning that citizens should avoid “illegal gatherings”.

Meanwhile, thousands of pro-government demonstrators turned out for rallies.

These official rallies were organized in advance of the anti-government protests, to mark the eighth anniversary of the suppression of major street protests in 2009.

The current protests began in the north-east on Thursday over living standards and by Friday had spread to several major cities.

Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazli urged people not to take part “as they will create problems for themselves and other citizens”, but videos posted online suggest that protests were held on Saturday in at least nine cities across the country.

The Iranian authorities are blaming anti-revolutionaries and agents of foreign powers for the outbreak of protests. The communications minister has also urged Telegram, a popular mobile messaging app in Iran, to stop “promoting violence”.

In the US, the Trump administration warned Iran overnight that the world was watching its response. Iran’s foreign ministry called the comments “opportunistic and deceitful”.

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Egyptian Christians living in fear for the future

(BBC) — At the ancient Monastery of St Mina in the desert sands of Egypt, a low concrete tomb holds the remains of Christians slaughtered for their faith – not in Roman times, but earlier this month.

They were among almost 50 people killed in coordinated attacks at two churches. The bombings – on Palm Sunday – were claimed by the so-called Islamic State (IS).

Priests at the monastery say persecution is as old as the faith.

“The history of the Christians is like this,” said Father Elijah Ava Mina, his flowing white beard contrasting with his black robes. “Jesus told us ‘narrow is the gate, and difficult is the way’.”

The burial chamber now holds seven coffins but there is space for more. Future attacks look all but guaranteed. The Egyptian branch of IS has said Christians are its “favorite prey”.

The beleaguered minority accounts for an estimated 10% of the country’s population of 90m, which is predominantly Muslim.

Most Christians here belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church, which traces its roots to the Apostle Mark. IS struck at the historic heart of the faith. One of its targets was the oldest church in Egypt – St Mark’s Cathedral in the port of Alexandria.

When the bomber came to the wrought iron gates of the cathedral, Gergis Bakhoom had just left. Back at his tiny tailor’s shop the 82-year old got word of the explosion.

He rushed to hospital in time to witness his oldest son, Ibrahim, take his last breath.

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Egypt attack: Gunman targets Coptic Christians in church and shop

(BBC) — Nine people have been killed in two attacks on Coptic Christians in Helwan district, south of Cairo, Egypt’s interior ministry has said.

Six civilians and a policeman died when a gunman tried to storm a church but was intercepted and arrested, it said.

It said the man had previously attacked a Coptic-owned shop in the same area, killing two brothers.

The so-called Islamic State (IS) has claimed its “soldiers” carried out the church attack.

The interior ministry’s account differs from an earlier version of events given by Egypt’s health ministry.

The initial report said 12 were dead, and suggested there were two attackers. It said one had been killed, and the other fled but was later captured.

More than 100 Christians have been killed in Egypt in the past year, with most attacks claimed by the local branch of IS militants.

Security forces have reinforced checkpoints in place around the capital in response to the attacks.

They announced plans earlier this week to protect festivities around the New Year and, on 7 January, Coptic Christmas. They include the deployment of rapid-reaction forces, combat troops and jamming equipment.

According to the interior ministry statement, the first attack on Friday took place at a household appliances shop. Then the attacker headed to the Saint Mina Coptic church, where he attempted “to trespass the church’s perimeter security”.

“The security forces have dealt with the attacker and managed to arrest him after he was injured,” the ministry said.

But it said that seven people, including an auxiliary policeman, had been killed and four injured as the gunman opened fire at the church.

The attacker also had an explosive device, a machine gun and 150 rounds, it added.

The ministry suggested he was known to security services, saying he was “one of the most active terrorist elements and he carried out several terrorist attacks which resulted in the martyrdom of a number of policemen and civilians”.

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Chinese troops arrive in Syria to fight Uyghur rebels

(JERUSALEM CENTER FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS) — By Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah

The Syrian conflict has an endless capability to surprise analysts as seemingly every other day a new element, unprecedented in the Syrian civil war, comes to the surface.

Such is the case with the arrival of the first Chinese Army special forces unit, “the Night Tigers,” to Syria’s Tartous port on the Mediterranean, according to reports in Arab media close to the Assad and Tehran regimes (the Al-Mayadeen TV channel).2

The Night Tigers were dispatched by Beijing to fight the Uyghurs, the Muslim Chinese ethnic group fighting with the rebel forces against the Assad regime.

According to these press reports, Beijing planned to send two units from the Special Operations Forces – the “Tigers of Siberia” and the “Night Tigers” – to assist Assad’s regime against Chinese Uyghurs fighting with radical Muslim organizations in Syria. However, unlike the news reporting about the arrival of the “Night Tigers,” no confirmation has been received yet on the second unit.

According to the Syrian ambassador to China, some 5,000 ethnic Uyghurs from China’s Xinjiang province are presently in Syria. President Assad stressed the “crucial cooperation” between Syria and Chinese intelligence against Uyghur militants last year. Following the visit of Chinese Admiral Guan Yufi mid-2016 to Syria, the Chinese military has been present in Syria to train Syrian forces on Chinese-made weapons, intelligence gathering, logistics, and field medicine.3

Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria and Iraq, Uyghurs have flocked to the Middle East and joined the rebel forces fighting the Assad regime and the Iranian-backed Shiite regime in Iraq. The Uyghurs joined various jihadist militias, suchJabhat al-Nusra Front, Hayaat Tahrir el-Sham, as the and ISIS.

The first reports that Uyghurs returned home to Western China from Syria emerged in July 2013, revealing that Uyghurs were present in the combat areas long before. The Chinese government has alleged that “more than 1,000” Xinjiang separatists have received terrorist training in Afghanistan and claims to have arrested 100 foreign-trained terrorists who made their way back to Xinjiang.4

Fearing the irredentist currents provoked by the separatist Uyghurs and facing the increased violence in Xinjiang Province, the Chinese central government has pursued a policy meant to neutralize the separatist tendencies in that region of China.

It is obvious that the Chinese government has not succeeded in containing the Uyghur separatist threat in the Xinjiang province. The measures adopted against the Uyghurs have boomeranged to such an extent that more terrorist attacks occurred in the provinces and outside China since the end of 2016. Moreover, as reported in July 2016 by New America, a U.S. think tank, Chinese religious restrictions on Muslims in Xinjiang may have driven more than 100 to join ISIS.5

The attacks perpetrated by the Uyghurs follow almost the same patterns as those conducted by Islamic radicals (ISIS and others) in other places worldwide such as car-ramming, suicide bombers, and knife-wielding attackers. But, unlike other places on the globe, the attacks are not publicized by the Chinese government, which keeps a tight grip on the information. As a Reuters correspondent put it: “The government has delayed reporting some previous incidents in Xinjiang, and limits on foreign journalists working there make it almost impossible to reach an independent assessment of the region’s security.”6

The defeat of ISIS in Iraq and the recent successes of Assad’s troops in Syria against the rebels seem to have created a crisis to which Beijing is trying to find solution before hundreds of Uyghurs fighters return home after fighting in the ranks of the rebels, fully trained for guerrilla warfare. Their experience may have a great impact in the manner the separatist Uyghurs are waging their war today. Added to the latest Uyghur threats to“shed blood like rivers,”7 one can anticipate that the Uyghur problem has grown to a dimension unknown in the past.

With this in mind, these exceptional circumstances may have pushed Beijing to deploy its elite troops to Syria to contain the possible flow of Uyghur fighters back to China. In parallel and as a quid pro quo, Beijing has expressed to the Syrian regime its interest in participating in the reconstruction effort of Syria and its readiness to invest billions of dollars to that effect.8

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Thailand: Some 235 people died in 2017 as bloody Islamic insurgency continues in Muslim-majority southern provinces

(CREEPING SHARIA) — The death toll this year from an insurgency in Thailand’s Muslim-majority southern provinces was the lowest since the conflict began 13 years ago, monitors said Wednesday, as security improves under the ruling junta.

Thailand’s southernmost provinces abutting Malaysia have been in the grip of a low-level but bloody insurgency since 2004 and nearly 7,000 people have died.

The majority of the victims are civilians — both Muslim and Buddhist — caught up in near-daily bomb attacks and shootings.

Some 235 people died in 2017 as a result of clashes between the Muslim-Malay insurgents and Thai troops and police, according to figures collected by conflict analysts Deep South Watch.

That compares to 309 in 2016, continuing a downward trend since 2014 and a sharp drop on the peak of 892 deaths in 2007.

“We have seen the incidents going down for the past three years. And this year’s death toll is the lowest ever if no significant incidents happen in the coming days,” a Deep South Watch spokeswoman told AFP.

Thailand, which colonized the culturally distinct south roughly a century ago, has for decades been confronted by ethnic Malay fighters seeking more autonomy, but the conflict flared up into its bloodiest phase in 2004.

Rights groups have accused both the insurgents and security forces of widespread human rights abuses.

The junta which seized power in 2014 has continued peace talks but they appear to have made little headway.

Discussions to set up so-called “safety zones” have been held with an umbrella group that claims to represent the rebels, but no agreement has been made public.

Deep South Watch said the reduced death toll may be linked to continuing talks and government development schemes.

Don Pathan, a Thailand-based independent analyst, speculated the reduction was likely a combination of factors, including more government informants on the ground, a tighter security operation and more targeted strikes by insurgents.

“The bombs are bigger and more intense,” he said, adding that militants were essentially being told to “make it count” and be more careful to avoid collateral damage.

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When and why the West began to ‘demonize’ Muhammad (Hint: It started even before his death in 632 AD)

(PJ MEDIA) — by Raymond Ibrahim

To understand any phenomenon, its roots must first be understood. Unfortunately, not only do all discussions on the conflict between Islam and the West tend to be limited to the modern era, but when the past, the origins, are alluded to, the antithesis of reality is proffered: we hear that the West—itself an anachronism for Europe, or better yet, Christendom—began the conflict by intentionally demonizing otherwise peaceful and tolerant Muslims and their prophet in order to justify their “colonial” aspirations in the East, which supposedly began with the Crusades.

Bestselling author on Islam and Christianity Karen Armstrong summarizes the standard view: “Ever since the Crusades, people in the west have seen the prophet Muhammad as a sinister figure…. The scholar monks of Europe stigmatized Muhammad as a cruel warlord who established the false religion of Islam by the sword. They also, with ill-concealed envy, berated him as a lecher and sexual pervert at a time when the popes were attempting to impose celibacy on the reluctant clergy.”

That nothing could be further from the truth is an understatement. From the very first Christian references to Muslims in the seventh century, to Pope Urban’s call to the First Crusade more than four centuries later, the “Saracens” and their prophet were consistently abhorred.

Thus, writing around 650, John of Nikiu, Egypt, said that “Muslims”—the Copt is apparently the first non-Muslim to note that word—were not just “enemies of God” but adherents of “the detestable doctrine of the beast, that is, Mohammed.”[i] The oldest parchment that alludes to a warlike prophet was written in 634—a mere two years after Muhammad’s death. It has a man asking a learned Jewish scribe what he knows about “the prophet who has appeared among the Saracens.” The elderly man, “with much groaning,” responded: “He is deceiving. For do prophets come with swords and chariot? Verily, these events of today are works of confusion…. you will discover nothing true from the said prophet except human bloodshed.”[ii] Others confirmed that “there was no truth to be found in the so-called prophet, only the shedding of men’s blood. He says also that he has the keys of paradise, which is incredible.”[iii]

Muhammad is first mentioned by name in a Syriac fragment, also written around 634; although only scattered phrases are intelligible, they all revolve around bloodshed: “many villages [in Homs] were ravaged by the killing [of the followers] of Muhammad and many people were slain and [taken] prisoner from Galilee to Beth…” “[S]ome ten thousand” people were slaughtered in “the vicinity of Damascus…”[iv] Writing around 640, Thomas the Presbyter mentions Muhammad: “there was a battle [Adjnadyn?] between the Romans and the Arabs of Muhammad in Palestine twelve miles east of Gaza. The Romans fled… Some 4,000 poor villagers of Palestine were killed there … The Arabs ravaged the whole region”; they even “climbed the mountain of Mardin and killed many monks there in the monasteries of Qedar and Bnata.” A Coptic homily, also written around the 640s, is apparently the earliest account to associate the invaders with (an albeit hypocritical) piety. It counsels Christians to fast, but not “like the Saracens who are oppressors, who give themselves up to prostitution, massacre and lead into captivity the sons of men, saying, ‘we both fast and pray.’”[v]

Towards the end of the seventh and beginning of the eighth centuries, learned Christians began to scrutinize the theological claims of Islam. The image of Muslims went from bad to worse. The Koran—that “most pitiful and most inept little book of the Arab Muhammad”—was believed to be “full of blasphemies against the Most High, with all its ugly and vulgar filth,” particularly its claim that heaven amounted to a “sexual brothel,” to quote eighth century Nicetas Byzantinos, who had and closely studied a copy of it. Allah was denounced as an impostor deity, namely Satan: “I anathematize the God of Muhammad,” read one Byzantine canonical rite.[vi]

But it was Muhammad himself—the fount of Islam—who especially scandalized Christians: “The character and the history of the Prophet were such as genuinely shocked them; they were outraged that he should be accepted as a venerated figure.”[vii] Then and now, nothing so damned Muhammad in Christian eyes as much as his own biography, written and venerated by Muslims. For instance, after proclaiming that Allah had permitted Muslims four wives and unlimited concubines (Koran 4:3), he later declared that Allah had delivered a new revelation (Koran 33:50-52) offering him, the prophet alone, a dispensation to sleep with and marry as many women as he wanted. In response, none other than his favorite wife, Aisha, the “Mother of Believers,” quipped: “I feel that your Lord hastens in fulfilling your wishes and desires.”[viii]

Based, then, on Muslim sources, early Christian writers of Semitic origins— foremost among them St. John of Damascus (b. 676)— articulated a number of arguments against Muhammad that remain at the heart of all Christian polemics against Islam today.[ix] The only miracle Muhammad performed, they argued, was to invade, slaughter, and enslave those who refused to submit to him—a “miracle that even common robbers and highway bandits can perform.” The prophet clearly put whatever words best served him in God’s mouth, thus “simulating revelation in order to justify his own sexual indulgence”[x]; he made his religion appealing and justified his own behavior by easing the sexual and moral codes of the Arabs and fusing the notion of obedience to God with war to aggrandize oneself with booty and slaves.

Perhaps most importantly, Muhammad’s denial of and war on all things distinctly Christian—the Trinity, the resurrection, and “the cross, which they abominate”—proved for Christians that he was Satan’s agent. In short, “the false prophet,” “the hypocrite,” “the liar,” “the adulterer,” “the forerunner of Antichrist,” and “the Beast,” became mainstream epithets for Muhammad among Christians for over a thousand years, beginning in the late seventh century.[xi] Indeed, for politically correct or overly sensitive peoples who find any criticism of Islam “Islamophobic,” the sheer amount and vitriolic content of more than a millennium of Western writings on Muhammad may beggar belief.

Even charitable modern historians such as Oxford’s Norman Daniel—who rather gentlemanly leaves the most severe words against Muhammad in their original Latin in his survey of early Christian attitudes to Islam—makes this clear: “The two most important aspects of Muhammad’s life, Christians believed, were his sexual license and his use of force to establish his religion”; for Christians “fraud was the sum of Muhammad’s life…. Muhammad was the great blasphemer, because he made religion justify sin and weakness”; due to all this, “There can be no doubt of the extent of Christian hatred and suspicion of Muslims.”

Even the theological claims behind the jihad were examined and ridiculed. In his entry for the years 629/630, Theophanes the Confessor wrote: “He [Muhammad] taught his subjects that he who kills an enemy or is killed by an enemy goes to Paradise [Koran 9:111]; and he said that this paradise was one of carnal eating and drinking and intercourse with women, and had a river of wine, honey and milk, and that the women were not like the ones down here, but different ones, and that the intercourse was long-lasting and the pleasure continuous; and other things full of profligacy stupidity.”[xii]

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