Discreetly but inexorably"
(Damascus) As recent developments in the Levant make plain, the Sunni-Shiite conflict is increasingly dominating political and strategic initiatives and calculations in Lebanon. In the twelve months since declaring its "caliphate" on June 29, 2014, the "Islamic State" (IS/ISIS/Da'ish), basically a political power movement as opposed to being a religious project, continues birthing international and local franchises. This, while employing fear and acts of extreme violence and "terrorism" as forms of political theater to draw adherents.
The IS vision is working as Da'ish metastasizes in Lebanon and in much of this region. A new political power chapter has arrived here of which the latest events in Yemen are only the most recent, but surely not the final, example.
It is not anymore a question of whether or when Da'ish and/or al Nusra will activate their sleeper cells in Lebanon.
They already have.
This now largely accepted reality materialized despite intense efforts by Hezbollah, and rather less intense efforts by the majority Sunni Lebanese army to stop them. North in Tripoli and its environs, South in Saida and East in the Bekaa around Arsal as well as other localities Sunnis are getting over their initial revulsion and taking a second look at Da'ish (ISIS). Meanwhile, the relatively tolerant "Lebanese model" is disappearing in view of the increasing sectarian tone of military interventions in Syria, Iraq and Yemen and it appears to be the case that Lebanon in now part of this devolution into intra-Muslim violence as "with us or against us" sides are becoming ever hardened.
Like most Muslims these days, Lebanese Sunnis are tending to see themselves as victims of centuries of backwardness, marginalization, and defeat while searching for signs, or actors, that might help reverse Sunni weakness. Thus following Shiite ascendance, many of Lebanon's Sunni expressed support when an ISIS offensive rapidly seized Mosul and a large swath of Iraqi territory in June 2014.
As is becoming convincingly documented, Da'ish (ISIS) influence among alienated and radicalized youth is growing in Lebanon for many reasons. Among them are poverty, perceived empty lives, revulsion at rising crime and disgust with perceived as corrupt Lebanese politicians and religious leaders. Sunni's increasingly are feeling oppressed by the Shia who are accused of blocking Lebanon's government, including Parliament and baring the election of a President under orders from a foreign country. Syrian refugees in Lebanon, mainly Sunni, who feel abused, harassed, and discriminated against by the government and with suspicion by Shia in areas where refugees have taken refuge.
In a report in an-Nahar (Beirut), June 27, 2014 one neighborhood leader in Tripoli explained that "Iraq witnessed a Sunni triumph against Shiite oppression. Forcing Tripoli's Sunnis to denounce ISIS amounts to coercing them to exercise political self-suppression." A political leader in Saida, claimed that "The truth of the matter is that hatred for Iran and Hezbollah has made every Lebanese Sunni heartily supportive of ISIS, even if it's brutal methods will eventually affect them adversely."
As American University of Beirut Professor, Hilal Khashan has recently reported, Lebanese Sunnis are willing to support whoever can defeat their enemies and restore their pride. Many of them find ISIS appealing for a number of reasons: the group has a strong aversion to Shiites and feel estranged from the Lebanese state while harboring nostalgia for the caliphate. Many admire power in any form and are seeking to regain it.
A vendor in Tripoli's city center explained the popularity of ISIS: "People like whoever is strong. Poor, angry and marginalized teenagers in Tripoli want "great victories." Even though public display of support for ISIS in Lebanon is a crime, "any young man in Tripoli, if asked, would confess how much he admired its power."
When challenged with the brutal and bloodthirsty acts of ISIS, its supporters often find some words in the Qur'an to justify their position. In the case of Da'ish young men hanging around the streets, they regularly offer: "Muhammad ... and those with him are firm of heart against the non-believers, compassionate among themselves." (Quran 48: 29).
One Sunni Sheik in Lebanon expressed to this observer his belief that Da'ish "is our (Sunni) extremist Islamists and Hezbollah's is Iran's. In fact, both are more similar than either would want to admit."
The Sunni Muslim community in Lebanon is also receiving various forms of support from abroad from coreligionists, as they move toward Da'ish (ISIS). Lebanon's As Safir daily newspaper, reported this week that the government of Saudi Arabia has requested that France freeze the delivery of weapons to the Lebanese army under the Saudi's $ 3 billion arms grant. The reason is reportedly because the new Saudi coalition and leadership believes the arms will end up with Hezbollah and thus under Iranian control. The Saudi government reportedly also requested that France not inform Lebanese authorities about the decision to freeze the delivery, "for the time being."
This observer tentatively concludes that what is happening among Lebanon's Sunni population is rather more complicated than the issues he cites above, powerful as they may be in pushing/pulling Lebanese to Da'ish. In fact, since Lebanese Sunnis are willing to support whoever can defeat their enemies and restore their pride, many of them find ISIS appealing for the reason that they feel hostility toward Shiites and feel estranged from the Lebanese state while openly expressing nostalgia for the return of the caliphate.
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