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The Lebanese, not the Sunni, Saad Hariri: New Age Islam's Selection, 18 February 2016

New Age Islam Edit Bureau

18 February 2016

The Lebanese, Not the Sunni, Saad Hariri

By Turki Al-Dakhil

What Has Happened Since Hariri’s Assassination?

By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Can A Ground Offensive End The Syria Conundrum?

By Maria Dubovikova

Where There’s a Will There’s a Way

By Dr. Zuhair Al-Harthi

The US Failure to Battle Home-Grown Terrorism

By Morwari Zafar

Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau


The Lebanese, not the Sunni, Saad Hariri

By Turki Al-Dakhil

17 February 2016

After being forced to stay out of Lebanon for a long time, Future Movement leader Saad Hariri returned to Beirut on Sunday to participate in a ceremony to commemorate the 11th anniversary of his father Rafiq’s assassination. Saad’s speech soothed the wounds of people who remain without a president, and suffer from economic problems and the deterioration of services such as electricity-provision and trash-collection.

His speech reminded us of Rafiq, Lebanon’s most prominent martyr who built a modern country and wanted it to be independent rather than under Syrian tutelage. Saad’s return to Lebanon will reassure his supporters, and serve the values of which he spoke during his speech, the most significant of which is the concept of a civil state.

He spoke out against militant behaviour, intervening in other countries’ domestic affairs - unlike what Hezbollah is doing in Syria, Iraq and Yemen - and practises that obstruct the holding of parliamentary sessions and elections.


The current challenges in Lebanon are not easy. Al-Nusra Front controls some Lebanese areas, and Hezbollah is engaged in a fierce and bloody battle in Syria. Meanwhile, sleeper cells of Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the Abdullah al-Azzam brigades will be a nightmare for security forces and the Lebanese people.

Uncontrolled borders and political divisions have helped attract several terrorist groups to Lebanon. Meanwhile, some Lebanese ministers seem to represent Iran rather than their own country. This makes them ministers of Hezbollah, not of the government of Lebanon, which includes more than 25 religious sects.

Saad’s return to Lebanon will reassure his supporters and serve the concept of a civil state

Saad’s speech represented moderation, as he did not make sectarian statements and addressed the entire Lebanese people rather than just his Sunni supporters or certain categories of society. This is why totalitarian parties were angry the next day.

For example, As-Safir newspaper accused Saad of worsening the presidential crisis. Rival parties seem to forget all his efforts to resolve the crisis. He first nominated Samir Geagea for the post, then talked about nominating Michel Aoun, and finally nominated Suleiman Franjieh. All these attempts yielded no results because Hezbollah wants to subjugate and silence other parties.

There is a huge difference between supporters of a state that unites people and respects democracy, the constitution and civil values, and militants whose hands are stained with the blood of innocent people in several Arab countries.

Turki Al-Dakhil is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. He began his career as a print journalist, covering politics and culture for the Saudi newspapers Okaz, Al-Riyadh and Al-Watan. He then moved to pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat and pan-Arab news magazine Al-Majalla. Turki later became a radio correspondent for the French-owned pan-Arab Radio Monte Carlo and MBC FM. He proceeded to Elaph, an online news magazine and, the news channel’s online platform. Over a ten-year period, Dakhil’s weekly Al Arabiya talk show “Edaat” (Spotlights) provided an opportunity for proponents of Arab and Islamic social reform to make their case to a mass audience. Turki also owns Al Mesbar Studies and Research Centre and Madarek Publishing House in Dubai. He has received several awards and honors, including the America Abroad Media annual award for his role in supporting civil society, human rights and advancing women’s roles in Gulf societies.



What Has Happened Since Hariri’s Assassination?

By Abdulrahman al-Rashed

 17 February 2016

The assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri 11 years ago robbed the country of one its most important leaders, and thwarted his national development plans. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his allies killed him because they failed to sabotage his plans via incitement.

Hariri’s ambition was to attract investors to Lebanon, build international institutions’ confidence in the country, and make all Lebanese feel that they are partners in construction rather than competitors over government and parliament posts. He even offered to help Hezbollah develop its areas of influence, thinking that his opponents would realize that they could also benefit from his plans.

He convinced prominent Lebanese expats and high-ranking officials in the Gulf, Egypt, Europe, the United States and Russia of his plans, and he even went to Iran more than once to reassure it. He was welcomed by most of these figures, governments and international institutions.

Aspects of his project’s success could be seen on the ground, but then Assad decided to kill him even though Hariri had agreed to leave the premiership post and extend the term of then-President Emile Lahoud.

Motives, Consequences

Hariri’s killers wanted to keep Lebanon as an open front with Israel in order to exploit the Lebanese people, and so Assad would not have to open the Golan front. Construction in Lebanon stopped since Hariri and other moderate Lebanese figures were killed. Hopes and dreams have died - this was the assassins’ goal.

Construction in Lebanon stopped since Hariri and other moderate Lebanese figures were killed. Hopes and dreams have died - this was the assassins’ goal

There is no longer a need to argue about the role of Assad and his allies in that crime, because six years later they committed a much bigger crime by murdering around half a million Syrians.

Although assassinating Hariri resulted in disastrous consequences for Assad, the latter still has not learnt the lessons of history. Proof of this is that he committed crimes in Syria when his victims’ blood in Lebanon had not dried yet. Instead of trying to please his citizens when protests against him erupted in 2011, Assad threatened and killed them en masse.

Although the Lebanese people bitterly recall Hariri’s assassination at this time of year, they have still not comprehended the importance of commemorating him by reviving his project, and uniting for positive change and against sectarianism.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.



Can A Ground Offensive End The Syria Conundrum?

By Maria Dubovikova

17 February 2016

The moment it seems that the crisis in Syria cannot get worse the greatest optimist among us becomes pessimistic. The country has been embroiled in an extremely complicated conflict the intensity and dimensions of which continue to escalate. It is no longer just about the domestic strife in Syria or even the rise of ISIS; it has also triggered the Turkish-Kurdish confrontation, which appears to be escalating as Kurdish militias strengthen their positions.

In other words, Syrian crisis has regional and global implications and has already got all major powers involved. This involvement is no longer merely political or diplomatic. The initial diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict sounded good in theory but in practice it has all led to an impasse.

Russia’s involvement in Syria marked a turning point in the conflict. It complicated the situation as the targets in Syria seemed far beyond ISIS. This gave an opportunity for Russia’s counterparts to discredit Kremlin in the eyes of the international community and accuse it of being an oppressor, invader, supporter of a brutal dictator and a country responsible for bombing and killing of innocent people.

Russia was also blamed for strikes that hit two hospitals in northern Syria even though it is still not clear who carried out those attacks. It seems that Russia was just the most convenient player to be blamed for it. Russia has also been at the receiving end of global media warfare and sophisticated geopolitical games.

Going by Putin’s saying “if fight is inevitable, throw the first punch”, it seems very likely that Russia and Iran have discussed strategies in advance

The conflict between Russia and Turkey escalated due to the downing of the Russian Su-24, which was followed by Russian accusations of elements within Turkey supporting ISIS. These developments had their impact on Ankara’s ambitions and perceptions. Since then Turkey has started to behave in a much more aggressive manner.

Turkey aspires to get back areas of Syria and Iraq that once belonged to it. For the country, the Kurds are a much greater evil than ISIS and they even seem ready to strike a bargain to exterminate the Kurds. Meanwhile, Kurdish militias remain one of the key forces in the fight against ISIS.

As a result, Turkish maneuvers seem largely predetermined not by the will to settle the mess in Syria but to solve its problems and address its ambitions. These ambitions do not seem to be in sync with the resolution of conflict within the current borders and with the preservation of Syria as a state. These motives have been extremely counterproductive and have complicated the matter.

Ground Operation

Concerns have also been raised about the ground offensive to fight ISIS. There are those who believe that such an operation will target ISIS in the same way Russia has already done with the difference being that the targets will not be rebels but forces loyal to the regime in Damascus. The collapse of Geneva talks and the reactions of mediators of the peace process suggest that diplomacy has been a total failure in Syria and the conflict can only be settled through military means.

Remarks made recently by Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir that Assad could be overthrown through military means makes the prospects of ground operation clear. On the other hand, Russia continuing to maintain that Assad is the legitimate leader of Syria and his stepping down will lead to chaos, as noted recently by its Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, also sounds exaggerated.

Nothing will be legitimate in Syria as long as there is chaos in the country. It is also too early to expect the international coalition members to settle the issue through a ground operation. Such a move may also increase the number of people fleeing the country, increase death toll dramatically and could also mean significant losses for all stakeholders. Instead of resolving an already complex conflict, this could also lead to a full-scale war.

Russia has made it clear that if the forces loyal to Damascus are attacked it will respond. Such a response would most likely not leave space for talks. We should also not forget about Iran, which is backing the Assad regime in Damascus, and will respond if the international coalition puts boots on the Syrian ground.

In recent days, there have been a buzz around Iranian Defense Minister meeting his Russian counterpart in Moscow, including Kremlin’s strong man Putin himself. The talks were held behind closed doors. The two sides have been discussing arm sales and military cooperation. Most likely Syria was also discussed in the light of Saudi Arabia and Turkey’s military drills and the intention to put boots on the ground.

Going by Putin’s saying “if fight is inevitable, throw the first punch”, it seems very likely that Russia and Iran have discussed strategies in advance. The Syrian conflict, manoeuvred by hot-headed leaders, is becoming even more dangerous. World powers, including Turkey, the U.S., Russia, Gulf states and Iran were supposed to be the cornerstones of the peace process, but their roles have become mangled.

Meanwhile, cool-headed experts stay mostly unheard, along with voices of the reason from all the sides of this mess. The hawks continue to shout louder than the doves.

Maria Dubovikova is a President of IMESClub and CEO of MEPFoundation. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations [University] of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia), now she is a PhD Candidate there. Her research fields are in Russian foreign policy in the Middle East, Euro-Arab dialogue, policy in France and the U.S. towards the Mediterranean, France-Russia bilateral relations, humanitarian cooperation and open diplomacy



Where There’s a Will There’s a Way

By Dr. Zuhair Al-Harthi

17 February 2016

Throughout modern history, national transformations have led to the emergence of new concepts and priorities in the global system. The Arab world, however, has not kept up with these. In fact, in the last five years, it has witnessed something not seen in the past.

In a historic moment, the people rose up in response to internal challenges such as tyranny, corruption and poverty. However, they did not necessarily agree on a unified definition of what happened in 2011; it does not really matter since we know that these uprisings established a historical sample that cannot be overlooked.

These revolutions and the resulting chaos and conflicts are still raging in some countries to this day and this sparks bitter questions: When will the situation be stabilized and when will change be achieved?

Revolutions definitely produce shifts but that does not necessarily equal an achievement. Therefore, in order to exit this phase, we need to absorb the meaning of the experience and rely on people’s awareness, though much of what we have witnessed has been negative phenomena. Perhaps the most prominent is the Tunisian experience; it is proof of the transformation.

It is fair to say that after the departure of colonial powers from some Arab states, nation states were established with slogans linked to land, freedom and independence. Soon, however, they returned to the practice of repression with the coming of military regimes. We managed to get rid of colonialism but then we fell for it again in different forms.

The most notable challenge faced by nation states in the Arab world is the lack of or delay in initiating internal reforms. Overcoming these obstacles is possible only through strong political will — a determination to achieve change, especially in the absence of constitutional institutions. In addition to that our region needs to understand the concept of citizenship, which calls for rising above differences.

Since the beginning of the Renaissance, there has been a long and arduous journey of cognitive and critical research with major philosophers like John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau, reaching the conclusion that social tolerance is the first and only choice in the search for value in life.

Transformations in the region have shown that we, as Arabs, are still living in a spiral of conflict and disagreements. These conditions within the political map of the Arab world are bound to push us to further fragmentation, which we have started to observe in Sudan, Iraq, Libya and Syria. All of these as political cases illustrate the inability of their systems to establish the basic components of a united and productive state.

The growing concern revolves around any problem that might hinder progress in Arab societies. There cannot be political stability in the face of the sectarian conflict that has spread in the Arab world. There are dangerous signs of ethnic and sectarian divisions that will surely impair democratization.

Historically, we find Copts in Egypt, Sunni Kurds in Syria, Sunni-Shiite tensions in Iraq and Lebanon, sectarian tribal conflicts in Yemen, Islamists’ disagreements with other forces in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt. We have not even mentioned Kurdistan, which demands self-determination for itself in Iraq and the Western Desert. Even though Somalia is in a very important geostrategic location, it has been dealing with conflict for over two decades and is now threatened with division. The question here is: What led things to become this bad?

There are two main reasons behind these problems: Inadequate socioeconomic development and the inability of leaderships in strengthening the concept of citizenship. Growing population is yet another issue. The population of the Arab world is now about 350 million; it is expected to exceed 500 million by 2050, which means a great deal of pressure on the resources. It is ticking time bomb and it is to be expected that people will protest when their demands are not met. Job opportunities should be created and standards of living should be improved. This problem will not go away since two-third of the current Arab population is under the age of 30.

The Arab world may continue with limited economic growth, but the indications are that its unemployment rate will remain the highest in the world. Whoever contemplates the political scene sees at once that there is a major movement in the region that has used its vigour to intervene and disrupt the political process in some countries.

Led by Tehran, Damascus, Hezbollah and the Houthis, this axis is trying to expand the scope of the conflict and to involve other countries in it. Apparently things cannot improve due to the complexities of their own internal situations on the one hand, and the return of radical interventions on the other.

There is no Arab plan to deal with this complex situation. Of course, external influence will not go unnoticed. Surprisingly, there are some who justify repeated failures by blaming others and calling them traitors and agents of foreign powers. It is high time that we stopped blaming others and introduced reforms in all spheres of life. We should devise a comprehensive strategy to face the current challenges.

Reformation process needs coordinated mechanisms and a timetable. This does not mean that the project should move one step forward and two steps back. To achieve this feat, religious, political and cultural elements need to be on the same page.

Arabs need the political will to believe in the process of reformation and openness to others. They should take the responsibility of admitting their mistakes.

Dr. Zuhair Al-Harthiis a member of the Shoura Council.



The US Failure to Battle Home-Grown Terrorism

By Morwari Zafar

17 Feb 2016

Threats from home-grown terrorism continue to challenge the outcomes of the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) paper almost half a year later. Incidents such as the San Bernardino shooting have reignited socially divisive responses similar to the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

But to strengthen United States' security posture, its administration needs to shift from unsustainable reactive responses to more proactive approaches in identifying, countering, and preventing home-grown terrorism.

Identifying Home-Grown Terrorists

National security efforts rest on the assumption that home-grown terrorists can be detected. This is not necessarily a fallacy. Promoting acts of violent extremism on social media, for instance, would be a valid indication of threats.

But the tactics to observe such behaviour disproportionately rely on racial profiling and perpetuate a "clash of civilisations" mentality that has increasingly focused on Muslims and Islamic extremism despite the fact that more people in the US have died from far right-wing attacks.

Responding to the identity of the San Bernardino attackers in a New York Times article, a former director of the National Counterterrorism Center noted: "What's really troubling is that they appeared to be a well-integrated and stable couple with a baby and a job."

It is unrealistic to assume that extremist violence can be forever eradicated. But the current strategy zeroes in on Muslim communities and links 'countering violent extremism' programmes with law enforcement agencies.

What is all the more troubling is the assumption that normative values such as marriage, children, and a job would deter certain ideologies from taking root. Such conceptions create a false threshold of risk for extremism and/or recruitment.

A better way to examine and understand home-grown extremism is as a "generational revolt". Olivier Roy's recent article pragmatically characterises the "opportunism" of Islamic extremism among second-generation immigrants in France.

He argues, as I have elsewhere, that second-generation youth often struggle to reconcile disparate cultures and subcultures. They negotiate nebulous boundaries, seeking belonging and relevance, and often end up frustrated by or falling short of societal and family expectations.

Roy points out that many extremists have past lives steeped in partying, sex, alcohol and drugs. Consider Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, who was no stranger to strip clubs in the Philippines.

But, according to Roy, they choose Salafism, "an Islam possessing of norms that allow them to reconstruct the self all by themselves. Because they want nothing of the culture of their parents or of the Western culture that has become a symbol of their self-hatred."

This view of extremism focuses on the formative nature of household dynamics, cultural environment, and the psycho-social impact on personhood rather than politically or religiously motivated ideologies. It more accurately situates home-grown extremism as an explosive mix of very human experiences and frustrations that lack outlets for self-expression.

Breaking the Brand

When extremism becomes an outlet, fighting a propaganda war is futile. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant's (ISIL) recruitment of foreign fighters online has spurred US counterterrorism officials to revise their approach.

Lisa Monaco, President Barack Obama's counterterrorism adviser, stated that the US government "can work with the private sector to get additional messengers with alternative voices out there. Frankly, we've got to do a better job of approaching this in a way that allows us to - the phrase has been used - break the brand of ISIL's message."

One suggestion, supported by presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, has been increased Internet controls. At a news conference in December, the director of the FBI, James B Comey, conceded that Internet controls could not sufficiently encompass recruitment via the Internet and social media.

Simply because extremists stop "tweeting" does not necessarily mean they stop talking. Shutting down internet technologies just shifts the conversation to another space - one that can actually be counterproductive in the government's attempts to keep a pulse on online recruitment.

A useful approach to "breaking the brand" is to look at extremist narratives as products that are packaged, marketed and sold to consumers. It is easy for the producers, such as ISIL or al-Qaeda, to redefine their brand and target it to their consumers because they know what their consumers want.

Much of the current strategy focuses on discrediting extremist narratives in the media with the objective of decreasing their impact. All it does is limit the market share of jihadist messaging. Understanding the demand or why some people buy such propaganda is a more proactive approach.

There is no need to confound blatant sociopathy and narcissism with, for example, an aberrant interpretation of Islam. Most foreign fighters are between 18 and 29 (PDF), and extremist propaganda caters to a demand among them that is much more intrinsic than any religious or political ideology.

Preventing the Problem

It is unrealistic to assume that extremist violence can be for ever eradicated. But the current strategy zeroes in on Muslim communities and links CVE programmes with law enforcement agencies.

Muslim leaders in cities such as Boston and Minneapolis that are running pilot CVE programmes have criticised the initiatives as opportunities for police monitoring and intelligence gathering rather than integration.

In Minneapolis, for example, grants for CVE programmes have introduced allegations of opportunistic crisis conflation among members of the Somali diaspora who want to secure government funding for their organisations.

For "Community Resilience Programmes" to be truly effective, they cannot be based on reactive ad hoc community mobilisations when a crisis emerges. Education is the best mechanism for social and structural integration across diverse populations. Education is also the key commonality among the cohort of home-grown extremist recruits in the US - most have been or will go through the US school system.

This is an opportunity for the US government to exponentially augment programmes for the children in mandatory school-sponsored community service initiatives. It is lamentable to have to spend millions of dollars on counterterrorism, when the government can cauterise the problem by investing that money, up front, in an overhaul of the education system.

Police brutality, racism, bigotry, and extremism are all rooted in insular mentalities and ignorance. And when they are chalked up to inherent violent tendencies among certain populations, it further fuels the animosity, segregation, and dehumanisation that characterises the US', if not the world's, political landscape at present.

Morwari Zafar is an international security consultant and a PhD candidate in anthropology at the University of Oxford.




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