A pro-ISIS rally last year in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second largest city. Some Salafi sheikhs have pledged allegiance to ISIS, including Abu Sayyaf al-Ansari and Ahmad Asir.
The claim by a recent public opinion poll that only 1 percent of adult Lebanese Sunnis are supportive of the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) must be taken with a large pinch of salt since “there is a vast gulf between how people say they behave and how they actually behave.” 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 quite a few reasons: They have an aversion to Shiites and feel estranged from the Lebanese state while harboring nostalgia for the caliphate. Many admire power in any form, and others have a predisposition to anomic terrorism.
Aversion to Shiites
The rise to preeminence of Lebanese Shiites began after the Amal movement evicted the Lebanese army from the southern suburbs of Beirut in February 1984. A year later, Hezbollah made its debut and formed a militia to fight the Israel Defense Forces and its Southern Lebanese Army surrogate.
After a long period of Shiite ascendance, the prominence of Rafiq Hariri (left) revived Sunni political hopes in Lebanon, but his assassination in February 2005 crushed expectations. In May 2008, Hezbollah stormed mostly Sunni west Beirut and liquidated the militia of the Future Movement, headed by Hariri’s son Saad (right).
The Sunnis thus lost political prerogatives that had accrued to them from the 1943 National Covenant with the Maronites. Having already lost the support of the Palestine Liberation Organization due to the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Sunnis suddenly found themselves giving way to a new Shiite contender that enjoyed strong regional support.
The appearance of Rafiq Hariri on the political scene in 1992 revived Sunni hopes, but his assassination in February 2005 put a damper on their expectations. In May 2008, Hezbollah stormed mostly Sunni west Beirut and, in a matter of hours, liquidated the militia of the Future Trend movement, headed by Hariri’s son Saad. So after a long period of Shiite ascendance, the Sunni street rejoiced when an ISIS offensive rapidly seized Mosul and a large swath of Iraqi territory in June 2014. As a neighborhood leader in Tripoli put it: “Iraq witnessed a Sunni triumph against Shiite oppression. Forcing Tripoli’s Sunnis to denounce ISIS amounts to coercing them to exercise political self-suppression.” The truth of the matter is that “hatred for Iran and Hezbollah has made every Lebanese Sunni heartily supportive of ISIS, even if its brutal methods will eventually affect them adversely.”
Estrangement from the Lebanese State
When Hezbollah shattered the main Sunni leadership, the Lebanese army watched but decided not to interfere. Weak Sunni leadership, both clerical and political, created a vacuum and caused the sect to drift apart and turn to radical Islamic leaders. One such leader was Salafi sheikh Ahmad al-Asir, whose movement had enjoyed the support and loyalty of hundreds of Sidon’s families. They were routed from the city by the Lebanese army and Hezbollah in June 2013. Going underground after the debacle, Asir transferred allegiance from an-Nusra’s Abu Muhammad Julani to ISIS’s Abu Bakr Baghdadi. This defection also underscored the eclipse of the Sunni clerical institution Dar al-Fatwa, which in recent years had been the subject of financial scandals and political weakness. The decimation of the office of the Sunni prime minister, to whom Dar al-Fatwa reports, rendered it rudderless, and it lost its traditional role maintaining the cohesion of the Sunni community.
Some government officials privately admit that ISIS has established itself in Lebanese Sunni areas, including Beirut.
In addition, some government officials privately admit that ISIS has established itself in Lebanese Sunni areas, including Beirut, and there are examples to support this belief. Government-salaried Sunni clerics in Sidon, the hometown of former prime minister Saad Hariri, were impelled to react angrily to the spate of pro-ISIS wall graffiti in that city and warned that unless the trend was arrested, “Sidon would become a fertile land for breeding terrorism.” The Lebanese army frequently implements large-scale security measures in Sidon, despite insisting that “there is no fostering environment for ISIS in the city.”
In Tripoli, Lebanon’s second largest city and its most important Sunni hub, Future Trend parliamentary deputies continue to refuse to admit publicly that ISIS is present in the city, but their denials have failed to hide “the existence of a radical Islamic environment in the city.” Several attacks on Lebanese army patrols and pro-Hariri activists in Tripoli succeeded in preventing formation of Iraqi-type awakening councils. But the city is fully controlled by the army, internal security forces, and military intelligence. ISIS supporters are mainly located in its at-Tibbane neighborhood and are well known to the authorities, which choose to ignore them. Pro-ISIS rallies outside mosques are commonplace in Tripoli after Friday prayers. The twin explosions in January 2015 that rocked Tripoli’s Alawite Jabal Muhsin sector were ordered by ISIS operatives in Rumye prison in the hills overlooking Beirut. It was only then that the embarrassed Interior Ministry decided to dismantle ISIS’s operations room in the prison’s Block-B. Even a cursory look at the situation leads to the conclusion that “ISIS does not need to come to Tripoli. It is already there.” Dealing with the threat posed by ISIS is probably why the Interior and Justice portfolios in Tammam Salam’s cabinet were given to Future Trend figures.
Rising Sunni anger and ISIS’s successes do not bode well for Lebanese political stability.
But despite its anti-Sunni orientation, the army is careful not to get embroiled in confessional politics. Mindful that it disintegrated twice (in 1976 and in 1984) when it unabashedly took sides, the army command is obviously not interested in a third upheaval and seems to be keenly aware that Sunni approval of ISIS is a function of public distrust of the state machinery, including the military. Even though several Sunni soldiers have defected to an-Nusra and ISIS, the army command dismissed these as isolated cases.
Local observers note that the “seed of ISIS terror is found in every depressed area of Lebanon.” Support for ISIS grows as Sunnis lament the sad state of their coreligionists in Iraq and Syria, comparing it to their own situation as Iranian-backed Hezbollah continues to exercise hegemony over Lebanese politics. Rising Sunni anger and ISIS’s successes do not bode well for Lebanese political stability.
Pining for the Caliphate
Unlike Shiites, who believe that the caliphate usurped the rights to the succession of Muhammad’s household, Sunnis have viewed the caliph as their legitimate leader for thirteen centuries. Yearning for a resurrection, the caliphate continued to live on after its 1924 abrogation by Turkey’s Kemal Atatürk as Sunnis “view it as the state of Muslim glory and justice.” Its reestablishment, for example, was the raison d’être of Hassan Banna’s Muslim Brotherhood, founded in 1928. Lebanese Sunnis also find the neo-Ottoman policies of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party appealing and are particularly fond of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Obsession with the caliphate has not spared Sunnis from delusional thinking. Arab fondness for Hitler is well documented, at times to the point of asserting that the tyrant viewed Islam and its culture with favor. As Daniel Pipes points out: “Nazis portrayed Islam as an ally and, accordingly, called for its revival while urging Muslims to act piously and emulate Muhammad.” It is also not rare for some Arabs to argue that Napoleon converted to Islam and sought to create a great Muslim empire. In June 2014, ISIS’s Baghdadi announced the formation of the Islamic State and designated himself caliph. Given his extreme bloodletting, even against fellow jihadists, the announcement did not generate wide approval. However, the sight of cruising motorists in Sunni areas blowing their horns—the Lebanese tradition of expressing happiness—after Baghdadi’s announcement sent a muted message of approval. The issuance of the Islamic State’s passport was another cause for pride. It is difficult for Sunnis to disavow the inscription on IS’s passport that reads, “We will deploy armies for the holder of this passport, if harmed.”
Shakir Wahiyib is one of the chief executioners for ISIS and one of the few willing to bare his face during executions. ISIS resorts to such ruthless tactics without regard to human cost. The group’s rationale considers the use of power, as gross and as graphic as possible, as requisite to the subjugation of enemies. A flag vendor in Tripoli explained the popularity of ISIS: “People … like whoever is strong.”
Islam literally means submission to legitimate religious authority: “Believers, obey God, His Messenger, and those charged with authority among you.” This imperative may well dispose believers to revere power and display intolerance for dissenting voices. Using Bin Laden’s famous strong-horse metaphor, Lee Smith argues that the “Sunnis have been a bloc of force that has never known accommodation or compromise, but has rather compelled everyone else to submit to its worldview.” Because of the central role of the caliph in enforcing the Shari’a and spreading the faith to all corners of the globe, the “Sunni figure has often been the able statesman, the hero of conquests, or the victory-maker.” In a study on Lebanese college students’ reaction to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, 82 percent of Sunni respondents chose Saddam Hussein as their preferred political leader. When U.S. president George Bush initiated Operation Desert Shield to prepare for the liberation of Kuwait, Hussein ordered the apprehension of several hundred Western nationals to deter U.S.-led military action. In response to a question on this, 98 percent of Lebanese Sunnis “thought the Iraqis were justified in taking Western hostages.” Even Venezuela’s late president Hugo Chavez’s “anti-Israeli pronouncements enamored him to an Arab public hungry for a charismatic leader in the mold of Nasser.”
ISIS is no exception to the customary approach of Muslim power projected through strong leadership. If anything, it has exaggerated the use of coercion and carried it to new heights. ISIS adopted Abi Bakr Naji’s gruesome publication titled The Management of Savagery as a means to apply Sayyid Qutb’s treatise Ma’alim fi-l-Tariq (Milestones). The rationale is that only extreme terror can help construct the Islamic state on the ashes of degenerate apostate regimes. The use of awesome power, as gross and as graphic as possible, is requisite to the subjugation of enemies. As the jihadist sheikh Hussein bin Mahmud once said, “Let them [our enemies] find ruthlessness in you.”
ISIS has had success in recruiting from a pool of alienated and radicalized Muslims as well as impoverished individuals. The Lebanese executioner Abu Asma al-Australi (above) abandoned his wrestling career to join the ISIS jihad. ISIS also succeeded in recruiting at least two Lebanese Christians from Tripoli to its ranks.
In its war in Syria and Iraq, ISIS resorts to ruthless tactics without regard to human cost. To win the battle for Tabaqa airbase in northeastern Syria, eventually overrun in August 2014, ISIS did not mind losing twice as many militants as government troops. What matters more for ISIS was to strip Iraqi and Syrian soldiers to their underwear and march them to their humiliating death in order to project invincible power. Kobani is another example of ISIS’s efforts to achieve spectacular triumphs regardless of the cost. ISIS lost more than one thousand fighters before admitting that it had been driven out of the town by coalition airstrikes, even as it promised it would return to attack. It avenged its defeat by burning a captured Jordanian pilot to death and parading Kurdish Peshmerga prisoners of war in metal cages.
Like most Muslims, Lebanese Sunnis see themselves as the victims of centuries of backwardness, marginalization, and defeat. They tend to favor any signs, however elusive, that signal reversing Sunni weakness. A flag vendor in Tripoli explained the popularity of ISIS: “[P]eople … 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 punishable by law, “any young man in Tripoli, if asked, would confess how much he admired its power.” When confronted with the brutality and viciousness of ISIS, its supporters often lean on the Qur’an to justify their position: “Muhammad … and those with him are firm of heart against the non-believers, compassionate among themselves.”
Menachem Begin in December 1942 wearing the Polish Army uniform of Gen. Anders’ forces with his wife Aliza and David Yutan; (back row) Moshe Stein and Israel Epstein
(photo credit: JABOTINSKY ARCHIVES)
During the inauguration of a memorial to the victims of the Siege of Leningrad in Jerusalem’s Sacher Park on January 24, 2020, before the climax of Holocaust remembrance events at which Russian President Vladimir Putin was given a central platform, we were stunned to hear a rendition of The Blue Kerchief (Siniy
Giant figures are seen during the 87th carnival parade of Aalst February 15, 2015
The annual carnival in Aalst, Belgium, is expected to take place on Sunday with even more antisemitic elements than in previous years.
Aalst’s organizers have sold hundreds of “rabbi kits” for revelers to dress as hassidic Jews in the carnival’s parade. The kit includes oversized noses, sidelocks (peyot) and black hats. The organizers plan to bring back floats similar to the one displayed in 2019 featuring oversized dolls of Jews, with rats on their shoulders, holding banknotes.
Pope Francis waves as he arrives at the Basilica of Saint Nicholas in the southern Italian coastal city of Bari, Italy February 23, 2020. Photo: REUTERS/Remo Casilli.
Pope Francis on Sunday warned against “inequitable solutions” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying they would only be a prelude to new crises, in an apparent reference to US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace proposal.
Francis made his comments in the southern Italian port city of Bari, where he traveled to conclude a meeting of bishops from all countries in the Mediterranean basin.
Palestinians walk past a shop selling fruits in Ramallah, Feb. 20, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Mohamad Torokman.
Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) have reached an agreement to end a five-month long trade dispute, officials said on Thursday.
The dispute, which opened a new front in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, began in September when the PA announced a boycott of Israel calves. The PA exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank under interim peace deals.
Antisemitic caricatures on display at the annual carnival in Aalst, Belgium. Photo: Raphael Ahren via Twitter.
Disturbing images emerged on Sunday of the annual carnival at Aalst, Belgium, showing an astounding number of antisemitic themes, costumes, displays and statements.
Israeli journalist Raphael Ahren documented people dressed as caricatures of Orthodox Jews, a fake “wailing wall” attacking critics of the parade, blatantly antisemitic characters and puppets wearing traditional Jewish clothes and sporting huge noses.
Feb 02, 2020 0The remarks from the US official came in wake of the Palestinian decision to reject the administration’s peace plan. US PRESIDENT Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrive to...
The stench of anti-Semitism always hovers over Switzerland’s Lake Geneva when the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is meeting there. The foul emanations reached a new nadir last week with UNHRC’s publication of a “database” of companies doing business in the disputed territories in Israel.
Following the publication of the list, Bruno Stagno Ugarte, deputy director for advocacy of NGO Human Rights Watch, stated, “The long-awaited release of the U.N. settlement business database should put all companies on notice: To do business with illegal settlements [sic] is to aid in the commission of war crimes.”
One of the many things that annoys me about politicians is how sure they are of themselves. Everything is black and white. Every idea is good or bad. Take globalism, for example. You either love it or hate it. It works or it doesn’t.
Another thing that annoys me is how so much of a politician’s life revolves around power: Do everything you can to get it, and everything you can to keep it.
Why am I ranting? Because, while our politicians have been consumed with power and the media with the fights over power, a threat to our nation has been virtually ignored.
Blue and White Party leaders Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid are establishing their diplomatic credentials in the immediate run-up to Israel’s March 2 election with an insult to a U.S. administration that has arguably provided Israel with more diplomatic gains than any previous administration.
The Times of Israel reported that at a campaign stop in front of English-speaking Israelis, Gantz accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “of neglecting bipartisan ties in favor of exclusive support from U.S. President Donald Trump’s Republican Party,” under the headline “Gantz pledges to mend ties with U.S. Democrats if elected.”
Bipartisanship was in short supply at the State of the Union address earlier this month—with one notable exception.
Nancy Pelosi had been looking dyspeptic, shuffling the papers she would later rip to shreds, when President Donald Trump reminded his audience that “the United States is leading a 59-nation diplomatic coalition against the socialist dictator of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro.”
Suddenly, the House Speaker applauded. Trump then introduced “the true and legitimate president of Venezuela: Juan Guaidó.”
The law professor Alan Dershowitz has thrown a legal hand-grenade into America’s political civil war by claiming to have evidence that former President Barack Obama “personally asked” the FBI to investigate someone “on behalf” of Obama’s “close ally,” billionaire financier George Soros.
He made his cryptic remark in an interview defending U.S. President Donald Trump against claims he interfered in the prosecution of his former adviser, Roger Stone.