Metropolitan Onuphry: “Consistency During Fasting Is More Important Than a Measure of Abstinence” | A Russian Orthodox Church Website

During Lent, one should try to exercise abstinence from certain types of food and encourage oneself to pray more than usual, said His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine in his homily at the evening service on March 1, 2020, the Information and Education Department of the Ukranian Orthodox Church reports.

“The Lord gave us fasting not so that we kill ourselves with fasting, but for us to kill our passions. The sinful “oncology” that we have is destroyed by fasting. And if a person fasts in a correct way and does not go to extremes, then they begin to feel better … and receive benefits for their soul,” said the Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

The metropolitan recalled that each person should fast according to his or her state of health. During a fast, he noted, consistency and diligence are more important than a strict measure of abstinence.

“There are such extremes during Lent that, as they say, some day a person eats so much that he cannot breathe, and the other day he eats so little that he cannot breathe. Extremes shake both the spiritual and bodily forces of a man. Consistency here is even more important than a measure of abstinence. … Even a small measure of fasting, observed with consistency, is beneficial for the soul,” said His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry.

“May the Lord help us during Great Lent to work to the best of our abilities, to abstain from certain types of food, to force ourselves to pray more. We should not wait when we want to pray, but we should push ourselves to go to church more and participate in a public church prayer, to do good, and to humble ourselves before people. It will be a feat that cleanses a person of spiritual and bodily defects and makes us worthy to see the light of the Resurrection of Christ,” concluded the Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

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Gunmen kill 24 people at protestant church in Burkina Faso | Daily Mail Online

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Gunmen have killed 24 people and wounded 18 in an attack on a Protestant church in a village in northern Burkina Faso where jihadists frequently target Christians.  

A group of ‘armed terrorists’ raided the village of Pansi, in Yagha province ‘and attacked the peaceful local population after having identified them and separated them from non-residents’, the governor, Colonel Salfo Kabore, said in a statement. 

The assault occurred on Sunday during a weekly service at a Protestant church, security officials said.

‘The provisional toll is 24 killed, including the pastor… 18 wounded and individuals who were kidnapped,’ Kabore said.

A resident of the nearby town of Sebba said Pansi villagers had fled there for safety. 

Both Christians and Muslims were killed before the church was set on fire, said a government security official in Dori who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak to the media. 

A 2008 file photo shows a congregation worshipping at a church in the district of Toleha in Burkina Faso 

A Burkina Faso soldier patrols at a district that welcomes Internally Displaced People (IDP) from northern Burkina Faso, in Dori on February 3, 2020

Pictured: A locator map showing the village of Pansi in eastern Burkina Faso, where militants killed worshippers at a Protestant church 

The mayor of Boundore commune, Sihanri Osangola Brigadie, said roughly 20 attackers separated men from women close to a Protestant church. At least 18 other people were injured.

‘It hurt me when I saw the people,’ Brigadie said after visiting some of the victims in the hospital in Dori town, 110 miles from the attack. The gunmen looted oil and rice from shops and forced the three youth they kidnapped to help transport it on their motorbikes, he said.  

Christians and churches in northern provinces have become frequent targets by armed Islamists.

On 10 February, suspected jihadists in Sebba seized seven people at the home of a pastor. Five bodies were found three days later, including the pastor, according to the local governor.

One of the poorest countries in the world, Burkina Faso is on the front line of a jihadist insurgency advancing in the Sahel.

Since 2015, around 750 people have been killed in Burkina and around 600,000 people have fled their homes.

A picture taken on October 30, 2018 shows Burkinabe gendarmes sitting on their vehicle in the city of Ouhigouya in the north of the country

Also in the north of the country, five soldiers were killed on Sunday when their vehicle struck an improvised explosive device near Banh, in Loroum province, security sources said.

‘Three of the five were killed instantly and the two others died later from serious injuries,’ one of the sources said.

Thirty people in Burkina Faso have died in four attacks by highway bombs since the start of the year, according to a reported toll.

They include seven schoolchildren in the northwest of the country who were among 14 killed aboard a bus that had taken a road that had been banned because of the security risk.

According to UN figures, jihadist attacks in Burkina and neighbouring Mali and Niger left nearly 4,000 people dead last year.

A man drives past a church in the city of Ouahigouya, northern Bukina Faso, on October 30, 2018

Their armed forces are weak, struggling with poor equipment and lack of training and funding.

In Niger, a policeman was killed on Sunday at a police post near Ayorou, in the western region of Tillaberi, in the second attack in the area in a week, a security official said.    

Analysts are concerned that attacks against civilians, including against Christians, are increasing ‘at an alarming rate,’ said Corinne Dufka, West Africa director for Human Rights Watch. ‘Perpetrators use victims’ links to government or their faith to justify the killings, while others appear to be reprisal killings for killings by the government security forces,’ she said.

More than 1,300 civilians were killed in targeted attacks last year in Burkina Faso, more than seven times the previous year, according to Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, which collects and analyzes conflict information. 

Gunmen kill 24 people at protestant church in Burkina Faso

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The Devil Devours His Own – Crisis Magazine

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The sordid life of Jeffrey Epstein serves to highlight the decadence of the deplorable epoch in which we find ourselves, as do the suspicious circumstances surrounding his death. The web of vice and viciousness that he had spun was widespread, serving to entrap not only underage girls but also the rich and famous who preyed upon them. Using the allure of underage sex to lure his wealthy associates into his web, Epstein secretly filmed them in the act of sexually abusing minors, thereby turning his “associates” into his blackmail victims.

Epstein seems to have believed that the powerful people whom he’d entrapped in his “insurance policy” would have a vested interest in keeping him safe from the law, a strategy which worked for a while. In 2008, Epstein was convicted in Florida of sexually abusing a fourteen-year-old girl, receiving a scandalously light sentence, but due to a plea deal he was not charged with sexually abusing thirty-five other girls whom federal officials identified as having been abused by him.

After a further ten years in which Epstein masterminded the trafficking of young girls to satisfy the pornographic and pedophilic appetites of his powerful network of friends, he was finally charged in July of last year with the sex trafficking of minors in Florida and New York. A month later, he was found dead in his jail cell. Although the medical examiner originally recorded the death as being a case of suicide, there are so many anomalies and mysteries surrounding the circumstances of Epstein’s death that many people agree with Epstein’s lawyers that the death could not have been suicide.

One thing that is certain is that Epstein’s death removed the possibility of pursuing criminal charges. There would be no trial, and therefore Epstein’s powerful associates would not be exposed by their victims in a court of law. Seen in this light, or in the shadow of this possible cover-up, it is tempting to see Epstein’s “insurance policy” as his death warrant. He was too dangerous to be allowed to live when the lives of so many others depended on his timely death. It is no wonder that “Epstein didn’t kill himself” has become a hugely popular meme, nor that HBO, Sony TV, and Lifetime are planning to produce dramatic portrayals of Epstein’s life and death.

One aspect of Epstein’s life which is unlikely to be the focus of any TV drama is his obsession with transhumanism. For those who know little about this relatively recent phenomenon, transhumanism is usually defined as the movement in philosophy which advocates the transformation of humanity through the development of technologies which will re-shape humans intellectually and physiologically so that they transcend or supersede what is now considered “human.” At the prideful heart of this movement is a disdain for all that is authentically human and a sordid desire to replace human frailty with superhuman or transhuman strength.

Transhumanism rides roughshod over the dignity of the human person in its quest for the technologically “created” superman. Its spirit was encapsulated by David Bowie in the lyrics of one of his songs: “Homo sapiens have outgrown their use…. Gotta make way for the Homo superior.”

Most of Epstein’s so-called “philanthropy” was directed to the financing and promotion of transhumanism. The Jeffrey Epstein VI Foundation pledged $30 million to Harvard University to establish the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics. It also bankrolled the OpenCog project, which develops software “designed to give rise to human-equivalent artificial general intelligence.” Apart from his support for the cybernetic approach to transhumanism, Epstein was also fascinated with the possibility of creating the “superman” via the path of eugenics. He hoped to help in a practical way with plans to “seed the human race with his DNA” by impregnating up to twenty women at a time at a proposed “baby ranch” at his compound in New Mexico. He also supported the pseudo-science of cryonics, whereby human corpses and severed heads are frozen in the hope that technological advances will eventually make it possible to resurrect the dead. He had planned to have his own head and genitalia preserved in this way.

In addition to his bizarre association with the wilder fringes of technological atheism, Epstein also co-organized a conference with his friend, the militant atheist Al Seckel, known (among other things) as the creator of the so-called “Darwin Fish”—seen on bumper stickers and elsewhere, it depicts Darwin’s “superior” evolutionary fish eating the ichthys symbol, or “Jesus fish” of Christians. Seckel fled California after his life of deception and fraud began to catch up with him. He was found at the foot of a cliff in France, having apparently fallen to his death. Nobody seems to know whether he slipped, jumped, or was pushed.

Apart from his unhealthy interest in atheistic scientism, Jeffrey Epstein was also a major figure amongst the globalist elite. According to his lawyer, Gerald B. Lefcourt, he was “part of the original group that conceived the Clinton Global Initiative,” which forces underdeveloped countries around the world to conform to the values of the culture of death. Even more ominously, Epstein was a member of the Trilateral Commission and the Council on Foreign Relations, two of the key institutions responsible for fostering and engineering the globalist grip on the world’s resources.

As we ponder the sordid and squalid world of Jeffrey Epstein and his “associates,” we can’t help but see his life as a cautionary tale, the moral of which is all too obvious. It shows that pride precedes a fall and that it preys on the weak and the innocent. It shows that those who think they are better than their neighbors become worse than their neighbors. It shows how Nietzsche’s Übermensch morphs into Hitler’s Master Race and thence to the transhuman monster. It shows that those who admire the Superman become subhuman. It also shows that the subhuman is not bestial but demonic. It shows that those who believe that they are beyond good and evil become the evilest monsters of all.

Those of us who have been nurtured on cautionary tales such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or C. S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength will know that fiction often prefigures reality. We see that the real-life figure of Jeffrey Epstein is a latter-day Viktor Frankenstein, reaping destruction with his contempt for his fellow man and his faith in the power of scientism to deliver immortality to those who serve it. We can also see that the transhumanism which Epstein financed is a mirror image of the demonic scientism of the secretive National Institute of Coordinated Experiments in Lewis’s prophetic novel. We may even be grimly amused by the fact that the “leader” of the demonic scientistic forces in Lewis’s tale is a severed head which has apparently been brought back to life.

There is one final lesson that the pathetic life of Jeffrey Epstein teaches us. It shows us that the adage “the devil looks after his own” is not true. It’s a lie told by the devil himself. The devil hates his disciples as much as he hates the disciples of Christ. Once he has had his way with them, he disposes of them with callous and casual indifference, much as Jeffrey Epstein disposed of his victims.

Photo credit: Getty Images

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Drugs, death and stock trading – what became of the Goonies child stars | Buzz.ie

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Produced by Steven Spielberg, and directed by Richard Donner, The Goonies has become a Sunday afternoon TV classic – but 35 years on, what has become of its amazing cast?

Child stars may seem to have it all but the pressures – and dangerous opportunities – of fame can be a toxic mix when you’re at an impressionable age.

Adventure comedy classic The Goonies was released in 1985, and the past 35 years have been something of a rollercoaster ride for its young stars Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Corey Feldman, Jeff Cohen, Jonathan Ke Quan, Kerri Green and Martha Plimpton.

And let’s not forget John Matuszak’s memorable turn as Sloth

Some Goonies alumni have managed to maintain steady showbiz careers, some have tasted the dark side of fame, and a few have turned their backs on show business altogether.

24 Martha Plimpton today is barely recognisable as the young girl who lost her glasses in the secret cave (Image: Dave Benett/Getty Images)

Sean Astin (Mikey)

Sean is a Hollywood baby, son of Valley of the Dolls star Patty Duke and adoptive son of her husband – Addams Family star John Astin.

The Goonies was Sean’s first film, and after that, he went on to appear in a string of movies, including War of the Roses, Memphis Belle and Toy Soldiers.

Abuse Sean Astin is still acting today (Image: Warner Bros.)

He achieved new levels of fame when he played Sam in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy forming a lasting bond with co-stars Elijah Wood and Billy Boyd.

Since Lord of the Rings, Sean’s main success has been in TV. He’s added a second string to his acting bow with a number of high-profile voice acting rifles in animated series as well as showing up in Stranger Things, Supergirl, 24 and The Big Bang Theory.

act Sean’s best known for his work in the Lord of the Rings saga (Image: FilmMagic)

Sean’s personal life seems to have been relatively trouble-free. he married former beauty queen Christine Harrell in 1992, taking her Lutheran Christian faith in 2013, and they have three daughters together.

While younger readers may have no idea what The Goonies even was, they’ll know Sean as the voice of Reginald from Minecraft.

Martha Plimpton (Stef)

Martha is another Goonies star who just kept going. As well as starring in hit US sitcom raising Hope she’s appeared in everything from The Good Wife to Frozen II.

She’s had her greatest successes on stage though, receiving three consecutive Tony Award nominations and starring in innumerable Broadway hits.

Like Goonies co-star Sean Astin, Martha also pops up as a character voice in Minecraft.

actor These days, Martha focuses on stage work (Image: Warner Bros)

Corey Feldman (Mouth)

Corey Feldman became an Eighties icon. Alongside his showbiz mate Corey Haim, he appeared in cult vampire movie The Lost Boys as well as its belated sequel The Tribe.

The pair also appeared together in a fictionalised reality show – The Two Coreys – where the pair pursued an Odd Couple relationship with Feldman coming across as relatively clean-living and Haim playing the slob.

age Corey Feldman struggled to cope with the pressures of child stardom (Image: Warner Bros)

Haim’s hedonistic lifestyle caught up with him in 2010 when he died aged just 38. Feldman too has had problems with booze and drugs. By the time he was 19, he’d been arrested three times for heroin.

Feldman has hinted, more than once that the reason he and Haim were driven to drink and drugs was a secret subculture of abuse in Hollywood.

All Corey says that dark forces in Hollywood are out to get him after he spoke out about a paedophile ring (Image: Getty Images)

In 2013, he told US TV’s The View (their equivalent of Loose Women) that a massive organised paedophile ring wielded massive power in the entertainment industry.

Feldman was also a close friend of Michael Jackson, who invited him to his Neverland estate and showered him with expensive gifts. But, he insists, the disgraced star never approached him sexually.

Josh Brolin (Brandon)

amazing Josh is the son of James Brolin, star of the original Westworld (Image: Warner Bros)

A Hollywood wild child, Josh Brolin ran with a rough crowd in his youth. He stole cars to pay for drugs, and had a flirtation with heroin.

He said: “I mean, I never got into it and I never died from it, which is a good thing. I’ve had 19 friends who died. Most of those guys I grew up with, they’re all dead now.”

avengers Josh Brolin grew up with a movie star dad, but had a troubled childhood before finding his feet as an actor (Image: Getty Images)

Brolin survived and went on to have a long and successful career in movies. Debuting in The Goonies he has appeared in No Country For Old Men, Sicario, Deadpool 2 and as Thanos in the massively successful Avengers series of films.

He also has a sideline trading in stocks and shares, and even considered giving up movies for the stock market at one point

Jonathan Ke Quan (Data)

Jonathan was already famous when The Goonies opened, having played Indiana Jones’s sidekick Short Round in the Temple of Doom.

While he continued to act for a while after Goonies, he increasingly used his martial arts knowledge to pick up work as a fight choreographer.

baby Jonathan was the highest-profile member of the Goonies gang when the film opened (Image: Warner Bros)

Kerri Green (Andy)

Kerri, like many of the Goonies stars, made her debut in Steven Spielberg’s treasure-hunting comedy thriller.

But, unlike some of her co-stars, she struggled to sustain her early success. She earned good reviews for her role in romcom Lucas, where she played opposite Cory Feldman’s partner in crime Corey Haim, but after that, the big roles dried up.

Beauty Kerri spends her time writing and directing these days (Image: Warner Bros)

She made a few appearances on TV shows such as Murder, She Wrote and ER, but hasn’t done much acting since the 1990s.

Kerri spends her time behind the camera these days, with her own production company and a series of writing and directing credits.

Jeff Cohen (Chunk)

Jeff was suffering from chickenpox when filing on The Goonies started but kept quiet about it to avoid being dropped from the production.

broadway Jeff worked hard to slim down after The Goonies (Image: Warner Bros)

After the film wrapped, Jeff got heavily into college football in a bid to shed some of Chunk’s weight. He made a few more movies but then, according to a 2014 profile, “puberty hit and forced Cohen into early retirement.”

He moved from acting to entertainment law. Partly, he says, “because I get to go to the parties but I don’t have to audition.”

business Today, Jeff is a hugely successful media lawyer (Image: Getty Images)

John Matuszak (Sloth)

Older than most of the other Goonies stars, Matuszak was already an established American Football player when the call came to play disfigured misfit Sloth in The Goonies.

camera John Matuszak (Sloth) Older than most of the other Goonies stars, Matuszak was already an established American Football player when the call came to play disfigured misfit Sloth in The Goonies.

The makeup, which took five hours to apply every day, disguised his appearance but Matuszak’s own face appeared in countless TV shows such as M*A*S*H, The Dukes of Hazzard, The A-Team and Miami Vice.

Tragically, Matuszak died young – succumbing to a mix of opioids and cocaine in 1989. He was 38.


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Persecution of Muslims in China and India Reveals Important Facts About Religion and Geopolitics

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India, China and Myanmar are three Asian countries currently engrossed in carrying out physical and cultural genocides on their Muslim populations. While the plight of Rohingya Muslims and Uighur Muslims is well known, the recent introduction of a new law expressly aimed at dispossessing Muslims of Indian citizenship has alerted many to the reality that India’s ruling BJP government sees itself as Hindu first and foremost.

Questions such as “Why aren’t the rich Arab countries saying anything?” have come up, with the implicit inference that Muslim-dominated countries are supposed to stick up for Muslims everywhere in the world. Others have pointed out that despite suffering oppression in some parts of the world, Muslims are also responsible for brutal acts of oppression against other minority groups elsewhere, which allegedly negates the sufferings of the prior group.

In this article, I will pick through these questions and viewpoints with a goal of isolating some useful truths about how religion, geopolitics and human nature constantly interplay and produce much of the world around us.

Oppression is a Matter of Perspective

Which religion is the most oppressed? I like to troll my Christian friends with the image below whenever the topic comes up about some religion or the other allegedly imposing its will at their expense.

The truth is however, that this image could apply to just about every religion on earth. As a general rule of thumb, the only limiting factor on whether or not a religion functions as an oppressive tyranny in a particular jurisdiction is the proportion of the population that practises it there. Similarly, the only thing stopping any religion from being an oppressed and downtrodden identity is whether it is a small enough minority for that to be possible.

While Muslims in India, Myanmar and China are going through untold degrees of horror because of their religious identities, Muslims in places like Bangladesh, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Malaysia and Northern Nigeria are simultaneously visiting very similar horrors on Bah’ai, Shia Muslims, Christians, Budhists and other minorities in those areas. It turns out that the mere fact of belonging to a religious identity does not in fact, confer unrestricted global victimhood.

This point is important because it disproves the notion held by every major religion that its adherents follow a single set of standards and do things in the manner of a global “brotherhood.” In reality, Islam according to a Rohingya Muslim hiding from the Burmese military, and the same religion according to an itinerant herder in Kogi State bear almost no similarity to each other save for the most basic tenets. Environmental factors in fact have a bigger influence on how religions are practised than their own holy books. 

The current antics of India’s ruling BJP and its Hindu fundamentalist support base provide an important case in point as to how this works. Looking at the evolution of Hinduism from a passive philosophy into an openly militant ideology gives an important insight into how religion is in fact, a thoroughly contrived and amorphous set of ideas that can be changed, adjusted, aligned and revised at a moment’s notice in justification of anything at all. 

Hinduism traditionally sees itself as a religion of thoughtful, considered spirituality as against the angry dogmas of its Abrahamic neighbours, but something interesting is happening. Some argue that it started in the days of Gandhi, and some ascribe it to current Prime Minister Nanendra Modi, but whoever started it is a side note. The key point to note is that based on political factors, i.e anticolonial senitment against the British and anti-Muslim sentiment fueled by India’s national rivalry with Pakistan, Hinduism has somehow been coopted into the narrative of a jingoistic, monotheistic, mono-ethnic state which is  historical nonsense.

India has always been a pointedly pluralistic society, and in fact the geographical area now known as “India” does not even cover the geographical area of the India of antiquity. That India was a place of Hindus, Budhists, Muslims, Zoroastrians and everything in between. Hinduism never saw a problem with pluralism because Hinduism itself is a very plural religion – it has at least 13 major deities. The conversion of the Hindu identity into a political identity movement is a recent and contrived phenomenon first exploited by Gandhi as a means of opposing British colonialism, and now by Modi to oppose the Pakistanis/Muslims – it is a historical falsity.

The creation of Hindu fundamentalist movements like the RSS (which PM Modi belongs to) is something done in response to environmental factors. Spectacles like the RSS march below are evidence of yet another religion undergoing constant and ongoing evolution into whatever suits its purposes.

Something similar happened when medieval Europe turned into colonial Europe and European Christianity transitioned into a peaceful and pacifist ideology after centuries of being a bloodthirsty doctrine. The environmental factors that created the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, book burnings and witch hunts went away with the introduction of an industrial society, and thus the religion too transitioned.

In plain English, what all this means is that nobody actually practises a religion in the pure sense they imagine they do. Everyone who subscribes to a religion merely practises a version of it that is subject to the culture and circumstances of their environment and era. This is directly connected to the next major insight raised by these events.

Geopolitics is all About Self-Interest…Everyone Gets it Except Africa

While anti-Muslim violence has continued apace for years in China, Mynammar and India, the question has often been asked: “Why are the wealthy Arab nations not saying anything?” There is a perception that since the Arabian peninsula is the birthplace of Islam and Arabs – particularly Saudis – are viewed as the global gatekeepers of the faith, they must be at the forefront of promoting the interests of Muslims worldwide.

To many, the fabulous wealth and international influence that Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE enjoy, in addition to the presence of two of Islam’s holiest cities – Mecca and Meddinah – in Saudi Arabia, means that they have a responsibility to speak for the global Muslim Ummah and stand up for them when they are unfairly targeted and mistreated. Unfortunately for such people, the wealthy nations of the Arab Gulf region tend to respond to such questions with little more than an irritated silence – and with good reason.

To begin with, these countries are not democracies led by the wishes of their almost uniformly Muslim populations. They are autocracies led by royal families who came to power in the colonially-influenced 20th century scramble for power and influence. Saudi Arabia, which houses Islam’s holiest sites, is named after the House of Saud, its royal family which came into power in its current form at the turn of the 19th century. The priority of the regimes in these countries first and foremost is self-preservation.

Self-preservation means that before throwing their significant diplomatic and economic weight behind any attempt to help out fellow Muslims, the first consideration is how doing so will benefit them. India for example, is a country that has close diplomatic ties with the UAE, and supplies most of their cheap labour for construction and low-skilled functions. India has even coordinated with UAE special forces to repatriate the dissident Princess Latika when she made an audacious escape attempt in 2018.

What does the UAE stand to gain if it napalms its diplomatic relationship with India by criticising Modi’s blatantly anti-Muslim policy direction? It might win a few brownie points with Islamic hardliners and possibly buy some goodwill among poor Muslims in South Asia, but how much is that worth? The regime and nation’s self-interest is best served by looking the other way, so that is exactly what they will do.

The Saudis make a similar calculation. At a time when they are investing heavily in military hardware to keep up with their eternal rivals Turkey and Iran, and simultaneously preparing for the end of oil by liberalising their society and economy, does it pay them to jump into an issue in India that does not particularly affect them? As the status of their diplomatic relationship with the U.S. remains unclear following the Jamal Khasshoggi incident, are they going to risk pissing off the Chinese because of Uighur Muslims?

In fact self-interest like that mentioned here is the basis of the considerations that underpin all international relations. Well I say “all,” but what I really meant to say was “all except African countries.” It is only African countries that take diplomatic decisions based on little more than flimsy emotions and feelings of religious affinity. Gambia for example, has dragged Myanmar before the UN and filed a genocide case against it on behalf of the Rohingya Muslims.

This would be commendable and great were it not that Gambia itself is hardly a human rights luminary, and generally has little business fighting an Asian battle when its own worse African battles lie unfought. The only thing Gambia stands to gain from fighting a diplomatic war that the rest of the world seems unwilling to touch is the temporary goodwill of a few Muslims in Asia and around the world – goodwill that cannot translate into something tangible for it.

To coin an aphorism from social media lingo, you could call it ”diplomatic clout chasing.’

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Volcanoes: Fires of Creation – 3D Nature Film | AMNH

[Overheard view of a smoking crater among clouds, then a volcano, viewed from the side as the Sun sets behind it.]

[POPPING, EXPLOSIVE SOUNDS.] 

[Bursts of lava, then views of lava flows down slopes.]

NARRATOR: Volcanoes are astounding forces of nature.

[A group of three people, seen from the back, observe a fiery scene below them.]

NARRATOR: They possess the power both to destroy

[Gusts of smoke and water during an eruption somewhere in the ocean] 

NARRATOR: and to create.

[An aerial view of the ruins of an ancient city below a bright blue sky.]

NARRATOR: Throughout the ages, we’ve built our cities

[The peak of a volcano rises, smoking, with several towers of a church-like building in the foreground.]

NARRATOR: In their shadows.

[A fly-over shot above green fields dotted with palm trees, with a volcano in the background.]

NARRATOR: Drawn to their rich soils. 

[An aerial view of a big crater at the top of a volcano, with a city spread out below.]

[EXPLOSIVE SOUNDS.]

[A view of another crater, spewing clouds of gas, rock, and smoke.]

[SECOND MUSICAL SCORE BEGINS] 

[An underwater view of an eruption.]

NARRATOR: From the depths of the ocean

[Scenes of an elephant walking, lions playing in a field, and a group of gorillas, including a silverback, among greenery.]

NARRATOR: to grasslands and tropical forests, volcanoes help shape 

[A view of a smoking volcano top, a view of a coast line.]

NARRATOR: vibrant ecosystems.

[A view of an explorer walking with bags away from a campsite dotted with tents.]

NARRATOR: Join National Geographic photographer Carsten Peter

[Two people, tethered with ropes, stand on the edge of a tall cliff.]

NARRATOR: and his team

[A view of two people descending down towards a lake of lava.]

NARRATOR: as they go where few would dare.

[A close-up of the boiling lava.]

CARSTEN PETER:  The whole Earth is rumbling, the whole Earth is shaking

[A view of the two climbers, tethered, raising their arms with their backs to the lake of lava.]

CARSTEN PETER: It’s absolutely incredible.

[Bursts of lava.]

NARRATOR: Discover the exciting science

[Two orbs, one large and one smaller, collide in space with a burst.]

NARRATOR: behind Earth’s origins.

[A view of a fractured surface, with moving pieces and in parts erupting with lava.]

NARRATOR: Every rock tells a story.

[A view of a person in protective gear, holding on to the edge of a rocky slope, above a lake of fiery lava.]

NARRATOR: So imagine what this one will reveal.

[Sparks and flying bits of lava. Text reads: Volcanoes. The Fires of Creation. Vocalnoesfilm.com. #Volcanoesfilm. Logos display at the bottom.]

NARRATOR: Now playing on IMAX and giant screens.

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The General’s Death Upsets Iran’s Plan

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Qassem Soleimani, who was Iran’s most hyped general, loved publishing “selfies” showing himself close to battlegrounds in the Middle East. He was never present anywhere near a battle but was always to come after the dust had settled, to take “selfies” and claim the credit. (Photo by Mehdi Ghasemi/ISNA/AFP via Getty Images)

While analysts and policymakers are busy speculating on ways that Tehran’s ruling mullahs might avenge the killing of their most hyped general, the real question that needs considering may be elsewhere.

The question is: what effect Soleimani’s death might have on the power struggle that, though currently put on hold, is certain to resume with greater vigor in Tehran.

Tehran’s propaganda tries to sell Soleimani as a kind of superman who, almost single-handedly, brought Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and parts of Afghanistan and Yemen under Iranian control while driving Americans out of the Middle East and crushing ISIS’s so-called Caliphate which tried to rival the Islamic Republic in Tehran. Soleimani himself did a lot to promote that image and, doing that, received much help from Western, especially American, and Israeli media that bought the bundle of goods from Tehran.

Facts, however, offer a different portrait of the late general. Soleimani joined the Islamic revolution in 1980, aged 27, at a time that the mullahs were busy putting together a praetorian guard to protect their new regime. A few months later, the ragtag army that Soleimani had joined was sent to help the remnants of a heavily purged national army fight an invading Iraqi force. With over 8,000 officers and NCOs of the national army purged by Khomeini, the new regime offered a fast track to people like Soleimani who had joined the military with no proper training and often little or no formal education. Thus, just three years after he had joined the military, young Soleimani found himself in command of a division of raw recruits. Under his command, Iranian forces suffered three of their biggest defeats in operations Al-Fajr 8, and Karbala I and Karbala II. Mohsen Reza’i, then chief of the Revolutionary Guard, describes the three battles as “a string of catastrophes” for Iranian forces.

However, Soleimani, who was to demonstrate his genius for networking and self-promotion, scored one lasting victory when he attached himself to Ali Khamenei, the mullah who was to become the Islamic Republic’s “Supreme Guide”.

Khamenei started as Deputy Defense Minister and rose to become President of the Islamic Republic. Soleimani, mocked as “the mullah’s bag-carrier”, was always at his side. In the 1990s, as Khamenei slowly built himself as the sole arbiter of Iran’s fate, Soleimani seized the opportunity to secure a fiefdom for himself.

That came in the shape of the project to “export” the Iranian Revolution to other Muslim countries. Initially, exporting the revolution, mentioned in the regime’s constitution as a sacred duty, had been regarded as a matter of propaganda and organizing sympathizers in Arab countries through outfits named Hezbollah. The task was handled by a special office in the Foreign Ministry headed by Ayatollah Hadi Khosroshahian. Partly thanks to lobbying by Soleimani, the task was taken away from the Foreign Ministry and handed over to the Revolutionary Guard. But even then Soleimani didn’t get the top job, which went to then Col. Ismail Qaani, the man who has now succeeded Soleimani as Commander of the Quds Force. Soleimani’s next move was to dislodge Qaani and get the top job himself. (Qaani was named as deputy). Even that configuration would not satisfy Soleimani, who had bigger ambitions. As long as he was part of the IRGC’s chain of command, he had to obey rules set by superiors whom he despised.

Thanks to Khamenei’s support, he succeeded in securing his independent fiefdom in the shape of the Quds Force which, though formally part of the IRGC, has its own separate budget and chain of command and is answerable to no one but Khamenei.

Next, Soleimani seized control of Tehran’s foreign policy in Arab countries, Afghanistan, North Korea, and South America and, in some sensitive areas, even Russia. The Islamic Republic’s presidents and foreign ministers have never had tête-à-tête talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, as Soleimani had.

It became a matter of routine for Soleimani to appoint Iran’s ambassadors to Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, Doha and several other Arab capitals.

A dramatic illustration of Soleimani’s “independence” came when he shipped Syrian despot Bashar al-Assad to Tehran in a special airplane without even telling the Iranian president, let alone the foreign minister, who were also excluded from the Syrian’s audience with Khamenei.

A control freak, Soleimani insisted on deciding even the smallest details himself. In his one, and now final, interview, last November, the general talks of how Lebanese Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah had to clear every move with him.

Inside Iran, Soleimani built a state within the state. According to the Islamic Customs Office, the Quds Force operates 25 jetties in five of Iran’s biggest ports for its “imports and exports” with no intervention by the relevant authorities. A levy on imports of foreign cars is reserved for a special fund, controlled by the Quds Force, to cover expenditures in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and help pro-Iran Palestinian groups.

Soleimani had his own network of lobbyists in many Arab countries and some Western democracies. Hundreds of Iranian and Arab militants have enrolled in Western universities with scholarships from the Quds Force.

The Quds Force has registered vast tracts of public land in its name, claiming the need for future housing for its personnel. It also runs two dozen companies and banks, several shipping lines and an airline.

Soleimani, who loved making and publishing “selfies” showing himself close to battlegrounds in the Middle East, was never present anywhere near a battle but was always to come after the dust had settled, to take “selfies” and claim the credit.

A master of self-promotion, Soleimani received the rank of major-general without having risen through the hierarchy of the top brass like the other 12 men on the list. (After death, he has been promoted to Lt. General).

Some analysts in Tehran believe that Khamenei was planning to promote Soleimani further by making him President of the Islamic Republic in 2021. An image-building campaign started last year, as Soleimani was marketed as “the Sufi commander”, a label given to Safavid kings in the 16th century.

A committee of exiled Iranians in Florida also started campaigning to draft Soleimani as president.

If that was Khamenei’s game plan, there is no doubt that Soleimani’s demise will lead to more uncertainty regarding the future course of Iranian politics.

Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. He is the Chairman of Gatestone Europe.

This article was originally published by Asharq al-Awsat and is reprinted by kind permission of the author.

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‘Death to America’: We will take hard and definitive revenge ― Iranians chant

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Iran is considering 13 scenarios to avenge the killing of a top Iranian military commander in Iraq by a U.S. drone attack, a senior Tehran official said on Tuesday as the general’s body was brought to his hometown for burial.

In Washington, the U.S. defense secretary denied reports the U.S. military was preparing to withdraw from Iraq, where Tehran has vied with Washington for influence over nearly two decades of war and unrest.

The killing of General Qassem Soleimani, who was responsible for building up Tehran’s network of proxy forces across the Middle East, has prompted mass mourning in Iran.

U.S. and Iranian warnings of new strikes and retaliation have also stoked concerns about a broader Middle East conflict and led to calls in the U.S. Congress for legislation to stop U.S. President Donald Trump going to war with Iran.

“We will take revenge, hard and definitive revenge,” the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, General Hossein Salami, told tens of thousands of mourners in Soleimani’s hometown of Kerman.

Many chanted “Death to America” and waved the Iranian flag.

READ ALSO: Iran threatens to ‘unleash Hezbollah’ in Israel and Dubai

Soleimani’s body has been taken through Iraqi and Iranian cities since Friday’s strike, with huge crowds of mourners filling the streets.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and military commanders have said Iranian retaliation for the U.S. action on Friday would match the scale of Soleimani’s killing but that it would be at a time and place of Tehran’s choosing.

Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, said 13 “revenge scenarios” were being considered, Fars news agency reported. Even the weakest option would prove “a historic nightmare for the Americans,” he said.

Iran, whose southern coast stretches along a Gulf oil shipping route that includes the narrow Stait of Hormuz, has allied forces across the Middle East through which it could act. Representatives from those forces, including the Palestinian group Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, attended the funeral.

Despite its strident rhetoric, analysts say Iran will want to avoid any conventional conflict with the United States but assymetric strikes, such as sabotage or other more limited military actions, are more likely.

Trump has promised strikes on 52 Iranian targets, including cultural sites, if Iran retaliates, although U.S. officials sought to downplay his reference to cultural targets.

Reuters and other media reported on Monday that the U.S. military had sent a letter to Iraqi officials informing them that U.S. troops would be repositioned in preparation to leave.

“In order to conduct this test, Coalition Forces are required to take certain measures to ensure that the movement out of Iraq is conducted in a safe and efficient manner,” it said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said there had been no decision whatsoever to leave Iraq.

“I don’t know what that letter is,” he said.

U.S. Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the letter was a “poorly worded” draft document meant only to underscore increased movement by U.S. forces.

The letter, addressed to the Iraqi Defence Ministry’s Combined Joint Operations and confirmed as authentic by an Iraqi military source, had caused confusion about the future of the roughly 5,000 U.S. troops still in Iraq, where there has been a U.S. military presence since Saddam Hussein was toppled in a 2003 invasion.

On Sunday, Iraq’s parliament, dominated by lawmakers representing Muslim Shi’ite groups, passed a resolution calling for all foreign troops to leave the country.

Iraq’s caretaker Prime Minister Abdel Abdul Mahdi told the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad on Monday that both sides needed to work together to implement the parliamentary resolution.

Friction between Iran and the United States has risen since Washington withdrew in 2018 from a nuclear deal between Tehran and other world powers.

The United States has imposed economic sanctions on Iran and Tehran said on Sunday it was dropping all limitations on uranium enrichment, its latest step back from commitments under the deal.

The U.S. administration has denied a visa to allow Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to attend a U.N. Security Council meeting in New York on Thursday, a U.S. official said.

“The United States will get the decisive, definite answer for its arrogance at the time and place when it will feel the most pain,” Zarif said in a speech broadcast on state television.

Trump’s U.S. political rivals have challenged his decision to order the killing of Soleimani and its timing in a U.S. election year. His administration said Soleimani was planning new attacks on U.S. interests but has offered no evidence.

U.S. general Milley said the threat from Soleimani was imminent. “We would have been culpably negligent to the American people had we not made the decision we made,” he said.

Trump administration officials will provide a classified briefing for U.S. senators on Wednesday on events in Iraq after some lawmakers accused the White House of risking a broad conflict without a strategy.

Reuters/NAN

The post ‘Death to America’: We will take hard and definitive revenge ― Iranians chant appeared first on Vanguard News.

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Iran Attacks U.S. Bases in Iraq; MSNBC Spews False Iranian Propaganda, Pelosi Attacks Trump From Party (Video) ⋆ Conservative Firing Line

As predicted, Iran has retaliated for the US attack that took out the terrorist Qasem Soleimani. Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) sent missiles at two Iraqi military bases used by American forces, al-Asad, and Erbil.

Per the Pentagon

At approximately 5:30 p.m. (EST) on January 7, Iran launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles against U.S. military and coalition forces in Iraq.  It is clear that these missiles were launched from Iran and targeted at least two Iraqi military bases hosting U.S. military and coalition personnel at Al-Assad and Erbil.

We are working on initial battle damage assessments.

In recent days and in response to Iranian threats and actions, the Department of Defense has taken all appropriate measures to safeguard our personnel and partners. These bases have been on high alert due to indications that the Iranian regime planned to attack our forces and interests in the region.

As we evaluate the situation and our response, we will take all necessary measures to protect and defend U.S. personnel, partners, and allies in the region.

That the missiles were fired from Iran is a major escalation. Usually, their attacks are conducted by one of their proxies and initiate from Iraq.

The White House said President Trump was monitoring the situation and consulting with his national-security team.

Both CNN and Fox are reporting there are casualties on the Iraqi side. No word on American troops

Iran’s Press TV has released a video of the attack:

UPDATE #1 7:40PM Iran’s Press TV reports

Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) has targeted the US airbase of Ain al-Assad in Anbar province in western Iraq after vowing to retaliate the US assassination of top Iranian anti-terror commander, Lt. Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

“Tens of surface-to-surface missiles” were fired at the strategic airbase and the attack was later confirmed by the US officials.

The IRGC has called for a complete withdrawal of US troops from the Arab country, asserting that it would not differentiate between the US and Israel in retaliating against the assassination of the Iranian national hero.

“We warn US allies providing bases for the [American] terrorist army… that any country serving as the origin of bellicose and aggressive attacks in any form against the Islamic Republic of Iran will be targeted,” read the IRGC statement

UPDATE #2 8:00 PM President Trump will address the nation tonight. Fox News has unconfirmed reports that there are no American casualties. This is a key moment for the President. His message to the country and the next steps against Iran may determine the future of his presidency.   

UPDATE #3 8:20 The IRGC says if the US responds by bombing on Iranian soil it will target the cities of Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, and Haifa, Israel, in the third wave of operations.

UPDATE #4 8:30 As Americans were being attacked Nancy Pelosi found time to attack President Trump.

Closely monitoring the situation following bombings targeting U.S. troops in Iraq. We must ensure the safety of our servicemembers, including ending needless provocations from the Administration and demanding that Iran cease its violence. America & world cannot afford war.

— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) January 8, 2020

Nancy Pelosi at Danny Meyer’s Maialino Mare opening in Navy Yard. pic.twitter.com/OMkVtxeEEk

— Anna Spiegel (@AnnaSpiegs) January 8, 2020

UPDATE #5 8:45 Trump will not deliver address tonight, White House official says

UPDATE #6 9:12 Things at the two bases seem to have calmed down but that doesn’t mean it’s over. Some sources are saying the attack was not as bad as first feared. Pentagon reports there were 15 rockets fired from Iran, four failed. The ten fired at Al-Assad did not directly hit the base. Possibly on purpose so they can say they fired back.  Pentagon is preliminarily saying no American casualties. MSNBC is reporting Iranian propaganda that 13 Americans died.

MSNBC is literally doing the work of the Iranians by airing completely unverified, untrustworthy Intel about US casualties

The Pentagon has not reported on any lives lost

Why would the Media air what is so blatantly Iranian propaganda?

— Charlie Kirk (@charliekirk11) January 8, 2020

CNN is reporting that two missiles hit near Erbil. One missile landed inside the perimeter of Erbil International Airport without exploding, the second missile hit an area 33 kilometers (about 20 miles) west of the city of Erbil without causing casualties.

Iran released the picture below which they claim is the launch of the first missile.

Update #7 10:10pm 

Iraq Foreign Minister said the attack is over for now.

Iran took & concluded proportionate measures in self-defense under Article 51 of UN Charter targeting base from which cowardly armed attack against our citizens & senior officials were launched.

We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression.

— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) January 8, 2020

President Trump just tweeted “All is Well” and he will address the nation in the morning.

All is well! Missiles launched from Iran at two military bases located in Iraq. Assessment of casualties & damages taking place now. So far, so good! We have the most powerful and well equipped military anywhere in the world, by far! I will be making a statement tomorrow morning.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 8, 2020

Per John Roberts of Fox News, the initial assessment is that the Iranian missiles struck areas of the al-Asad base not populated by Americans, according to a US military official and a senior administration official. Some in DC believe the misses were intentional. Iran needed to show a response to save face but intentionally did it in a way that would not hurt Americans.

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Ukraine passenger jet crashes in Iran, killing at least 170

airplane

TEHRAN: A Ukrainian airliner carrying at least 170 people crashed shortly after takeoff from Tehran on Wednesday, killing all on board, Iran state media reported.

The Boeing 737 had left Tehran’s international airport bound for Kiev, semi-official news agency ISNA said.

“Obviously it is impossible that passengers” on flight PS-752 are alive, Red Crescent head Morteza Salimi told semi-official news agency ISNA, adding that 170 passengers and crew had boarded the plane.

State news agency IRNA said 167 passengers and nine crew members had boarded the aircraft, which was operated by Ukraine International Airlines.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed all those on board the plane were killed.

AFP
People and rescue teams are pictured amid bodies and debris after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers crashed near Imam Khomeini airport in the Iranian capital Tehran. -AFP

“According to preliminary data, all passengers and crew members are dead,” he wrote on Facebook of the Ukraine International Airlines plane, which was bound for Kiev.

The Red Crescent said teams were assisted by soldiers and firefighters in the effort to recover bodies.

“After six o’clock (0230 GMT) this morning we were informed that a passenger plane crashed in the vicinity of Shahriar,” said Shahin Fathi, the head of its search and rescue unit.

“All operational teams were dispatched to the area,” he told state television. “Unfortunately… we haven’t found anyone alive.”

“Everyone is helping so that we can gather all the bodies that have been scattered in a wide area,” said Fathi.

aircraft
People walk near the wreckage after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers crashed near Imam Khomeini airport in Tehran. -AFP

Press TV, state television’s English-language news broadcaster, said the plane went down in the vicinity of Parand, a city in Tehran province.

The crash was likely to have been caused by “technical difficulties”, it reported, citing Ali Khashani, spokesman for Imam Khomeini International Airport.

“The plane caught fire after crashing,” said Press TV.

A video aired by the state media broadcaster appeared to show the plane already on fire, falling from the sky.

American airline manufacturer Boeing tweeted: “We are aware of the media reports out of Iran and we are gathering more information.”

The crash came shortly after Iran said it fired missiles at Iraqi bases in revenge for the killing of one of the Islamic republic’s top military commanders in a US drone strike on Friday.

airline
One of the engines of Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752, a Boeing 737-800 plane that crashed after taking off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport on January 8, 2020, is seen in this still image taken from Iran Press footage. – Iran Press/Handout via Reuters

Following the missile strikes, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it was banning US-registered carriers from flying over Iraq, Iran and the Gulf after rocket attacks on US forces in Iraq.

“The (FAA) issues Notices to Airmen tonight outlining flight restrictions that prohibit US civil aviation operators from operating in the airspace over Iraq, Iran and the waters of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman,” it said in a statement.

“The FAA will continue closely monitoring events in the Middle East.”

Iran launched the missiles after a US drone strike killed Qasem Soleimani, a hugely popular figure who headed the foreign operations arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Airliner
Emergency workers work near the wreckage of Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752, a Boeing 737-800 plane that crashed after taking off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport on January 8, 2020, in this still image taken from Iran Press footage. – Iran Press/Handout via Reuters

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed “severe revenge” for the assassination and declared three days of mourning following the assassination which shocked the Islamic republic.

The assassination of Soleimani set off an escalating war of words between Iran and the US.

In Tehran, President Hassan Rouhani on Monday warned Trump to “never threaten” Iran, after the US leader issued a US strike list of 52 targets in the Islamic republic. -AFP

Airlines
A Ukraine International Airlines plane crashed soon after taking off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport.

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