Political Salafism has failed Lebanon's Palestinians. Can Jihadist Salafism succeed?
Burj Barajneh refugee camp, Beirut
Following the June 6, 1982 Yawm an-Naksa ('day of the setback') of the Israeli aggression against the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, this observer began to notice that youngsters in the camps in Lebanon, and in the Palestinian diaspora, specifically in Washington DC where I worked, were identifying more with scholars from Egypt's Al-Azhar University and with Political Salafism. They would explain to me the appeal of the Muslim Brotherhood and of a new Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement called Hamas, which was created as a direct result of the 1982 Israeli aggression against Lebanon.
A few indicated that they wanted to study at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, which was established around 970 by the Fatmids as a center of Islamic learning and where students studied the Qur'an and Islamic law. Salafism was part of their education. For centuries the mission of al-Azhar was to propagate Islam and Islamic culture. Until today its Islamic scholars counsel students on Islam and even render edicts (fatwas) on disputes submitted to them. Requests for their fatwas come from all over the Sunni Islamic world regarding proper conduct for Muslim individuals and societies and how to achieve justice for all people of good will. Al-Azhar also trains Egyptian government-appointed preachers in the best ways to achieve proselytization (da'wa).
In light of the failure of Arab political elites, including Lebanese and Palestinian leaders, to provide an alternative model for peaceful political change and for acquiring elementary civil rights, including the right to work in Lebanon, many of the angry Palestinian youth in Lebanon are concluding that they have few options to achieve civil rights and are listening to the new chorus siren calls from Jihadist Salafism .
With respect to the differences between Political Salafism and Jihadist Salafism, all Salafists take the same basic approach to Islam, emulating the Prophet Muhammad and his earliest followers--al-Salaf al-Salih, (the pious forefathers) even to details such as facial hair. They reject religious innovation, or bida, and support the implementation of sharia law. However, non-Jihadist Salafist scholars are far from homogeneous, expressing different views on everything from apostasy to activism. Many Salafists in Lebanon now engage in politics despite a tradition of quiescence. But with little to show for their efforts some Political Salafis are beginning to withdraw from quiescence and are gradating toward Jihadist Salafism with its focus on war and terrorism to achieve equality and justice under sharia.
Moderate Islamic groups, proponents of Political Salafism have long had significant influence in the Palestinian community and have a long history in the struggle to liberate Palestine and resisting the occupation. But it is also the case that with respect to the Zionist occupation, Salafi Jihadist groups in Palestine and Lebanon do not have an impressive record in resisting and fighting against the occupation forces, when compared other Palestinian factions over the past 35 years
Their influence is being challenged by the Salafi Jihadists. The extent of anger and tension in Lebanon's camps, the appalling political and economic conditions, rising poverty, lack the most elementary civil right to work and banned from owning a home, repression, marginalization, harassment by security forces, create fertile ground for radicalization and violence.
Salafi Jihadism as an alternative model for Lebanon being promoted especially on social media recruitment sites as ISIS (Da'ish) which play the Palestinian card in Lebanon as many in the region do. ISIS is telling Palestinians in Lebanon and elsewhere that Arab regimes for more than half a century have repressed them, and that these regimes and claimed "Resistance" movements are irrelevant in achieving freedom for Palestine and have refused the Palestinians right to work and to own a home in Lebanon.