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.”
A 2018 demonstration against antisemitism in Berlin. Photo: Reuters / Fabrizio Bensch.
A slight drop in the number of antisemitic incidents in Berlin during the first half of this year is no excuse for complacency, the city’s antisemitism commissioner emphasized on Thursday following the publication of statistics for hate crimes targeting Jews in the German capital from January-June 2019.
“Antisemitism remains a serious problem that we cannot tolerate in Berlin,” Lorenz Korgel — the city’s commissioner for combating antisemitism — told local news outlet Berliner Morgenpost. “The number of antisemitic incidents remains at a high level. ”
People wear kippas at a demonstration in front of a Jewish synagogue denouncing an antisemitic attack on a young man wearing a kippa, in Berlin, Germany, April 25, 2018. (photo credit: FABRIZIO BENSCH / REUTERS)
The population of the State of Israel has increased 2.1% since last year, according to a report released in time for Rosh Hashanah by the Central Bureau of Statistics.
Today, there are 9.1 million citizens of Israel, of which some 6.7 million (74%) are Jewish, the report shows. The country’s citizens also include 1.9 million Arabs (21%) and 0.4% of “others,” including Christians and those of other minority groups.
A women holds up a sign against anti-Semitism at a rally in New York City on Sept. 22, 2019. Photo: Rhonda Hodas Hack.
JNS.org – Hundreds of demonstrators rallied in front of City Hall in New York on Sunday, calling on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and other municipal leaders, as well as those on the national level, to act against antisemitism and the wave of antisemitic hate crimes taking place against the Orthodox Jewish community.
The beach in Tel Aviv, Israel, May 17, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Ammar Awad.
On the eve of the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, ushering in the Jewish year of 5780, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics released its traditional end-of-the-year findings.
Israel’s population now stands at 9.092 million people — 6.744 million (74.2 percent) of whom are Jews, with 1.907 million (21 percent) Arabs and 441,000 (4.8 percent) listed as “other.”
Drew Seigla and Stephanie Lynne Mason. Photo: Instagram.
Drew Seigla and Stephanie Lynne Mason play Pertshik and Hodl, whose love story takes them all the way to Siberia in the award-winning show by the National Yiddish Theatre.
Sep 30, 2019 0Jeremy Hunt, the British Foreign secretary, has recently commissioned a report on the persecution of Christians, most acutely occurring in the Muslim World, and especially in the Arab/Muslim...
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“There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.” — Sherlock Holmes, The Boscombe Valley Mystery
“Israel must, in the most blunt and clear way possible, illustrate to Washington that the prosperity of Jordan is a first-rate Israeli security and strategic interest.” — Former head of Mossad Ephraim Halevy at “Between Jerusalem and Amman: 25 Years Since the Signing of the Peace Agreement Between Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan,” Institute for National Security Studies, Sept. 25, 2019.
A thought came to mind the other day.
For all the bluster about Judaism and anti-Semitism in America, I am not convinced that far-out-left and liberal young Jews, who have been very strident and even threatening on Israel-related issues and local American political battles, have done much on the ground to confront and quash, one way or another, attacks on Jews. They have portrayed themselves as gliding along a moral highway but have permitted immoral actions to exist quite close to home, far from Gaza (did any of them recite a public Kaddish in the town square for murdered and injured Jews, or their damaged and desecrated property)?
One of the hallmark features of Yom Kippur are the communal sins which we need to repent for. Most Jews focus on what we have done personally towards G-d and towards others. Little thought is given to how we could be better as a community. Or the sins we bear as a community.
However, the communal recitation of the Al Chet, repeated over and over on Yom Kippur is to drive the point home that we are responsible for one another
Incoming freshman Member of Knesset from the leftist, Democratic Union list, Yair Golan, did it again. Golan’s constant delegitimization of his political opponents on the right, smacks of the same delegitimization that tyrants, dictators, demagogues and assorted totalitarians always use, just before the Putsch.
In that regard, he’s right when he said recently, “I’m reminding people that the Nazis came to power democratically, so we have to be careful, very careful, so that radicals with a messianic view won’t exploit Israeli democracy to replace the system of government.” Think “
As Israeli frustration mounts about violence coming out of Gaza, the idea of a ground invasion, and once and for all to finish with Hamas aggression, becomes more appealing. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has endorsed this approach, saying, “There probably won’t be a choice but to topple the Hamas regime.” While sympathetic to this impulse, I worry that too much attention is paid to tactics and not enough to goals. The result could be harmful to Israel.