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Middle East and Africa

The shadow of Daesh on the Cedars of Lebanon

The Lebanese do not like the self-proclaimed caliph: the country is in turmoil due to political and security issues, given the porous borders with neighbouring Syria, which is an open wound. Yet Lebanon is capable of overcoming this latest earthquake, according Shamseddine Ibrahim, who has confidence in his fellow citizens’ sense of responsibility.

An interview with Ibrahim Shamseddine, President of the Imam Shamsuddin Foundation for Dialogue (Beirut), by Chiara Pellegrino

 

 

How does the presence of Isis influence the internal politics of your country? Has the Lebanese government taken any special measures to stem the threat of the Caliphate?

 

 

The critical situation in Lebanon is not due to the Caliphate. Personally, I do not even fear it. Lebanon is in turmoil primarily for political and security reasons linked to the Syrian crisis. Syria is an open wound. The borders are open doors. People, especially the militants, shuttle back and forth between the two countries. Lebanon is experiencing an aftershock. I still believe that the government, despite the absence of an elected President of the Republic, has the ability to manage this very delicate and serious situation. Everyone in Lebanon is responsible and must strive to ensure that the situation does not get out of hand.

 

 

According to al-’Arabiyya, there is a widely shared view in Lebanon that, were it not for Hezbollah, the caliph would have already entered the Land of the Cedars. What is your opinion?

 

 

First of all, we do not recognise the caliph. The mere definition of “caliph” is an offense. Anyone can stand up and declare himself caliph, Imam al-Mahdi, or king, but that does not mean we have to give him credit. So I cannot speak of a caliph, not even in the journalistic sense. In any case, I believe that the involvement of Hezbollah in the Syrian crisis has caused problems in Lebanon. In fact, if they had not interfered in the Syrian issue, the question of Lebanon’s security would now be simpler. In an open battlefield, no one can prevent the militants from coming to Lebanon, not even Hezbollah.

 

 

How are the Lebanese Shiites living with the threat of jihadism?

 

 

Firstly, I would like to clarify the terminology. Jihad is an Islamic notion worthy of consideration, but almost everyone has distorted it. Killing is not jihadism. Killing Muslims, Christians or people of other religions, such as the Yazidis, whether people of the Book or not, is not jihad; it is contrary to Islam. It is murder pure and simple, human carnage. Wearing a long beard and saying “Allahu akbar” doesn’t make killer a faithful Muslim, a prophet or a jihadist. Faith and Islam are not based on the dagger.

 

 

Do you believe that the Shia-Sunni divide is a key to a proper understanding of what is happening in the Middle East?

 

 

The problem between Sunnism and Shiism is not exactly a religious one; it is political. They are two schools of Islamic thought and, despite their diverse views, neither of the two have sufficient reasons to push for a violent confrontation with the other. The violence is due to political reasons. Some Middle Eastern realities, such as Iran, are trying to exploit their strength to become the leading power in the region. They are seeking to remould the identity of every person and every group in Lebanon, in a manipulation that is not Lebanese. In the diverse range of identities, whether Muslim, Shia or Sunni, they have tried to turn one group against another. It is the manufacture of fear.

 

 

During his trip to Turkey, the Pope invited religious leaders to explicitly condemn terrorism. What can be the role of Muslim leaders in this sense? How do you assess their response to the threat of Daesh?

 

 

People identify primarily with the basic level of their identity: their nationality. In Italy, for example, Italian Muslims are Italians, in Lebanon, a Christian Lebanese is a Lebanese, and an Iraqi Christian in Iraq is an Iraqi. Therefore it is up to the state and the government to protect their citizens, of whatever ethnic or religious affiliation. Being a follower of one faith or another does not affect a person’s degree of citizenship and does not relieve the government of the obligation to ensure their protection. However, when we speak of “Muslim leaders”, to whom do we refer? Do we mean the political or the religious leaders? Religious leaders can speak, and I think they are speaking. The problem is that the troops do not listen to them, otherwise all this would not have happened. What is happening is the result of the failure of local national governments, the corruption of governments and the absence of freedom. People are very disillusioned. I do not think, therefore, that speeches by religious leaders can really affect people who are already converted and have chosen the path of violence and killing. This is a matter in which the various nations must intervene.

 

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