Why Are Some Lebanese Sunni Muslims Becoming Sympathetic Toward Da’ish (ISIS)?
by Franklin Lamb - Countercurrents.org
20 June, 2015
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.
The numbers of foreign fighters from diverse countries traveling to join Da’ish or Nusra increases after every victory. The US State Departments just released 2014 Country Reports (6/18/2015) spends considerably more time discussing the growth in popularity of the group's ideology than previous reports.
The extreme’ ideology of Da’ish and its embrace of brutal violence have allowed it to quickly attract the attention of millions worldwide and is estimated to have resulted in thousands of recruits, many being from Lebanon. The group's ability to effectively leverage social media and disseminate its message -- with near instantaneous global repostings -- has enhanced its success. Governments around the world-including Lebanon have been ineffective in significantly curtaining its actions.
The IS project 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. Da’ish (ISIS) and Nusra have been infiltrating Lebanese communities and offering poor youths cash to attack targets chosen for the political effect of increasing Sunni-Shia tensions.
For example, the young man who perpetrated the January 2015 suicide bombing of a café in a Shia neighborhood of Tripoli was paid just $ 60 according to a family member. Some in Lebanon believe that Nurse will kill the Lebanese army hostages in retaliation for Hezbollah attacks and that this will further galvanize anti-Hezbollah sentiment around Lebanon.
This now largely accepted reality materialized despite intense efforts by Hezbollah, and rather less intense efforts by the confessionalized Lebanese army to stop them. Like every other institution in Lebanon, the army is also-if to a lesser extent- partially poisoned by confessionalism. It disintegrated twice, in 1976 shortly after the beginning of the civil war and again in 1984 when it took sides against a majority of Lebanon’s citizenry.
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) and other extreme Islamist militia. 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 Islamist militia and Hezbollah’s is Iran’s. In fact, in some disturbing ways 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.
In Lebanon the tribes, like in Yemen, Syria, Libya, and Iraq that once acted rather secular, in line with trends of the time, are now Islamist in keeping with an underlying changing culture. One concludes that neither Da’ish nor Nusra are all that interested in the creation of an Islamic state, just as Hezbollah gave up its plans for creating an Iran-style Islamic Republic.
A Palestinian student from Yarmouk camp south of Damascus, now squeezed into Shatila camp in Beirut, summed up our discussion of this subject and left this observer sort of speechless.
Farah said: “Actually Mr. Franklin, what we are seeing is just a continuation of the Damascus-based Umayyads and their successors, still fighting against the Baghdad-based Abbasids from Medieval times.”
With no doubt, the young lady for sure has better political instincts than this observer and it may well be that the attraction of Da’ish for Lebanon’s Sunni’s is about political power and perceived dignity.
Meanwhile, as we begin the Holy month of Ramadan, there are signs pointing to a violent post Ramadan Lebanese summer. Which if any militia will benefit most is not clear—the losers, as always, will surely be the rest of us.
Franklin P. Lamb, LLB, LLM, PhD, Legal Adviser, The Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program, Shatila Camp (SSSP-lb.com). Volunteer with the Palestine Civil Rights Campaign (PCRC) Beirut and Washington, DC committed to help achieving the Right To Work and the Right to Home Ownership for every Palestinian Refugee in Lebanon. Beirut Mobile: +961-71-899-164 --Damascus Mobile: +963-940-448-625. Lamb’s recent book, Syria’s Endangered Heritage, An international Responsibility to Protect and Preserve is in production by Orontes River Publishing House, Hama, Syrian Arab Republic. Inquires c/o firstname.lastname@example.org.