I would have preferred today to write something about the Iraqi Kurdistan referendum and its likely consequences; as it presents a true landmark regardless how one looks at it. However, the sentences passed by Lebanon’s Military Court against the hardline sheikh Ahmad Al-Asir and his followers after convicting them of “confronting the army” is worth some deliberation.
For a start, I would like to say that I do not support sheikh Al-Asir, who has been sentenced to death, nor do I believe he represents the Sunni Muslims whether inside or outside Lebanon. I would even venture further to say that Sunni Muslims benefit nothing by being represented by the sheikh or those like him.
In fact, it is precisely because I regard sheikh Al-Asir an extreme sectarian phenomenon, I am deeply concerned that the above-mentioned sentence – directed exclusively at his person and his sectarian and political current – would recruit hundreds, perhaps thousands to his cause after he becomes a wronged martyr.
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The Lebanese, whether they are willing to admit it or rather continue with their acts of denials which they have mastered, know only too well the circumstances surrounding the verdict. They realize the present huge imbalance on the ground in Lebanon. They know where the “legitimate arms’ stand vis-à-vis the ‘illegitimate arms’.
Who rules the land and issues orders. Who is ‘guiding and directing the population’ in order to fit its conditions set for the homeland, citizenship, and its ‘certificates’ in patriotism and morals, including his teachings with regard to family life and upbringing. Who escapes justice thanks to its arms-backed power and influence… and who are those solely accused of extremism, ‘terrorism’, ‘takfirism’(i.e. religious extremism), and of course being ‘agents of Israel and America’.
The Lebanese are fully aware of all the above. Indeed, if one thing was missing, it was brought home through social media recently by the footage of a lecture given by sheikh Naim Qassem (the Deputy Secretary General of Hezbollah).
In this lecture, sheikh Qassem unequivocally uncovered his candid views about the Lebanon he seeks, its ‘Islamist’ society and politics … from ‘resistance’ (i.e., fighting against Israel and USA), to preventing divorced women from teaching children!
Lebanon’s Sunnis are not ‘extremists’, but there are certainly those who are keen to push them to that corner, without realizing that this is a double-edged swordEyad Abu Shakra
Suspects in assassination
Of course, in such a situation there is no need to ask whatever happened to the suspects in the assassination of Rafic Hariri and his colleagues sought by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL).
No need either to question why the killer of Lebanese air force officer Samer Hanna in 2008 was set freed on bail 10 months after the “manslaughter”; or what became of the ‘identified’ suspect in the assassination attempt against MP and ex-cabinet minister Butrus Harb, or those who carried out the massive explosions in the Taqwa and Salaam mosques in the city of Tripoli in 2013, in which 49 were killed and more than 800 injured.
Furthermore, is it not strange that Al-Asir was sentenced to death amid ‘doubts’ about the role claimed to have played by his armed adversaries in his case with the Lebanese Army?
Then, if defending the safety and security of the homeland were behind the death sentence, is it not strange that retired Brigadier Fayez Karam was only sentenced to three years imprisonment, later commuted to two, after being actually convicted of “giving information to Israel’ without any objection from Hezbollah which both is an ally of Karam’s party (the Aounist ‘Free Patriot Movement’) and the self-proclaimed sole enemy of Israel?
Is it not strange that ex-MP and cabinet minister Michel Samaha, a close friend of the Syrian regime, was only sentenced for 13 years imprisonment despite being convicted to transporting arms and explosives intended for use in a bombings and assassinations campaign aimed at inciting civil strife in Lebanon?
Worse still, is it not curious that many suspected Sunni ‘terrorists’ and ‘Islamists’ jailed in Roumieh Prison (East of Beirut), have never been legally accused, not even of crimes the sentences for which are shorter than the period they should serve had they been actually convicted?!
Facing a preposterous situation like this, I reckon this must be the surest way of recruiting new members for extremist organizations like ISIS. This huge injustice drives many into the bosoms of extremist and terrorist organizations and movements.
This has, in fact, been successfully tried before in Iraq and Syria. The Iranian leadership, whether directly or through its subservient agents in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, had striven to weaken the nationalist, liberal and moderate leftist Sunni Muslims through methodical marginalization and intentional humiliation in order to frustrate and dispirit them; and then accusing them of religious extremism and terrorism … to justify crushing them.
Former Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki used this method with the Sunnis of al-Anbar Province (western Iraq) thus creating an unwilling sectarian ‘incubator’ for al-Qaeda; however, after the ‘Sahwat’ (the Awakening Uprisings) rebelled and expelled al-Qaeda, al-Maliki carried on his policies of intentional marginalization and persecution until ISIS appeared on the scene.
The same ISIS al-Maliki’s government and Iran’s General Qassem Suleimani allowed to attack and occupy the (Sunni) city of Mosul and its environs, which were almost handed over without a shot fired in anger!
In Syria, al-Assad’s regime invested heavily, for years, in self-proclaimed (Sunni) Islamists, such as Mahmoud Qul-Aghassi “Abu Al-Qa’qa’”. Their task was to smuggle extremists across the borders into Iraq in order to hassle American troops and push for its withdrawal; thus, leaving Iraq an easy trophy for Iran and its subservient Shi’ite ‘Popular Mobilization Forces’ (PMF).
Last but not least, in Lebanon, the same strategy has been adopted to paint the Sunnis as ‘ISIS sympathizers’; although this is completely untrue. Lebanon’s Sunni Muslims are the furthest from religious and sectarian extremism.
One of their great ‘muftis’ (religious leaders) was the late Pan-Arabist prime minister Abdul-Hamid Karami, whose two sons Rashid and Omar also became prime ministers. Indeed, it is ironic that the statue of Abdul-Hamid Karami which stood in his city, Tripoli, for years was taken out by extremists nurtured by the Syrian intelligence agencies.
In addition to Karami, it is worth mentioning that at present one of Lebanon’s Sunni ‘muftis’ is the son of a Christian mother, and another has Shi’ite sons-in-law and daughters-in-law! Even as far as prime ministers go, Lebanon has had prime ministers who converted from Sunnism to Shi’ism for reasons connected to inheritance.
Yes, Lebanon’s Sunnis are not ‘extremists’, but there are certainly those who are keen to push them to that corner, without realizing that this is a double-edged sword. Those pushers betting on Isaac Newton’s ‘Third Law of Motion’ where “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction” are risking a lot.
They, through pushing Sunnis to extremism in order to incriminate and destroy them, are not only gambling with the fate of the Middle East and Muslim world; but are also cultivating within their own communities ills that will prove fatal sooner or later.
This article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat.
Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with Annahar newspaper in Lebanon. He joined Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in the UK in 1979, occupying several positions including: Senior Editor, Managing Editor, and Head of Research Unit, as well as being a regular columnist. He has several published works, including books, chapters in edited books, and specialized articles, in addition to frequent regular TV and radio appearances. Eyad tweets @eyad1949.