Early on a Thursday evening as I wandered around in Beirut’s predominantly Christian neighborhood Achrafieh messages began ticking in from Norway; an Egyptian friend residing in Bergen had seen the news before I had. Several bombs had gone off in the south of Beirut. As I made my way home I noticed people being invariably busy on the phone. Desperate voices and frantic texting, betraying that the fragile stability the city had enjoyed the last year once again was shaken to the core.
Lebanon is a country that has had more than its share of bombs. Car bombs, suicide bombers, bombs from aircraft and from grenade launchers. A fifteen year long civil war, several occupations, as well as the odd peace time bombs. This time the first explosion came from a motorcycle in the tight alleys crowded with street traders, shops and small cafes. On the radio back home we heard on the radio that they called for blood donors. When we went to a Red Cross hospital we were greeted by a queue of people. Lebanese, Palestinians and foreigners from various western countries. Health personnel sent all with positive blood types of home, as they had received more than enough during the first hours. It would later emerge that the aim of the bombings was a hospital and a mosque. Strict security measures impossible did strike against the original target made the bombers direct their vicious attention towards the crowded streets instead.
In the days after there was a story circulating in local and international media about the 32-year-old family father Adel Thermos who tackled one of the suicide bombers as he spotted him coming out of a crowd heading towards the mosque.Thermos died in the subsequent explosion. However,according to a shopkeeper near, the aspiring suicide bomber hit by the shock wave from the first explosion and beaten unconscious, or killed as he hit a metal rod with head. Nevertheless, independent of the act of heroism or fluke of good fortune, two bombs went off, some 48 people were killed, about 200 injured, and the fragile foundation that holds deep sectarian communities together, is once again creaking in the joints.
“I think they are waiting for me in the car.”
Two of the country’s television channels came under heavy criticism when they interviewed some the children who survived the bombings. Wounded in the hospital, one of the children who had lost both their parents were asked if he knew where they were. There is something inexpressibly heartbreaking over his tear-choked reply from his hospital bed:
“I think they are waiting for me in the car.” He is three years old. Another boy of the same age gave a brief description of the events:
“We were at home, they shot and we died.”
The strategy is chaos. The goal is the caliphate.
After a relatively stable period many I spoke with expressed composed fear. The Lebanese have been through this before, many times, but the uncertainty of tomorrow is yet again in the front of peoples minds. Lebanon is a sectarian split society. In Beirut even neighbourhoods are divided into Sunni, Shia, Christian and Palestinians live mostly in their own neighbourhoods often controlled by militias. The bombs went off in Dahyeh in the south, mainly inhabited by Shiites and controlled by Hezbollah.
Hezbollah is an Iranian backed militia group that besides being defined by including the US as a terrorist organisation engaged in a political party which is one of the country’s main power factors (EU only defines Hezbollah’s military wing as terrorists). Hezbollah is one of the Islamic most active opponents on the ground in Syria. The attack was explained as a direct response to this interference.
Despite the Islamic State after the attack emphasised that the attack was a retaliation for Hezbollah’s participation in Syria at Assad’s side and therefore against the terrorist state, there is an additional meaning hidden in the terrorists’ ideology. They want to exploit the sectarian divisions of Lebanon. As they did and continue to do with strategic success in Iraq.
Lebanon is a country where the authorities fail to reach agreement on even the most fundamental things like garbage disposal.There has not been chosen a president in the country since 2014.
Hezbollahs political opponents wanted to visit the scene to show solidarity, they were advised not to do so, as it was considered unsafe. What could have been a positive effort building to build bridges and show sympathy instead became revealing as to how deeply sectarian feelings are ingrained in the fibres of the city. During a football match in south Lebanon Sunday taunted parts of the public victims of sectarian battle cries.
Lebanon is not a particularly hospitable land for IS. Despite tendencies of fundamentalist currents in parts of the country, Lebanon is a relatively open and pluralistic society. Nowhere is this clearer than in Beirut, which before the civil war was marketed as “The Paris of The Middle East”.
When I began to read Norwegian and English newspapers, while I watched CNN from a hotel in Tripoli the day after the terrorist attacks in Paris, it became worrying how great attention the Syrian passport that was found at the scene received. How easy media let herself be drawn into becoming a part of the terrorists’ game. Now it must be said that when the first pursuit of “new angles” gave so many were little more sober in comparison to what this discovery actually entailed. It should be fairly obvious that there was a reason why this passport was found intact while the alleged owner had blown himself to smithereens.
Why does not IS attack the right wing populist or the extreme right in Europe? Why not Le Pen’s party National Front? UK’s UKIP? The Sweden Democrats? The method is similar but the answer is other than in Lebanon. Both places, as well as in Baghdad, attacking civilians, which for obvious reasons are easier targets, is part of the asshole states tactics, and part of its ideology. All who do not share their world view, and submits to the caliphate are per definition legitimate targets, Muslims as well as Christians, jews and atheists. There are regular attacks on the Shias of Iraq. The Jordanian pilot who was burned alive was sunni.
The tactic is chaos.
As such attacking freedom loving Frenchmen, many of them Muslims to sow distrust towards Muslims in general becomes a tactic, as attacking civilians in Beirut’s streets, they would not know wether the people killed where Sunni or Shia, Lebanese or Palestinian. I have repeatedly been told that Hezbollah’s biggest threat to its existence comes from within. Through attacks against civilians sow doubts about Hezbollah’s ability to protect their own while fighting a war in Syria. As in Paris is growing tension between ethnic groups a bonus of strategic importance.
To reject the terrorists’ warped ideology as being independent of Islam is not only naive, it is dangerous. They derive their ideological basis of an interpretation of Islamic texts to suit their interests.
The Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik’s first forensic psychiatric diagnosis led to a fierce debate about acknowledging a deeper ideological basis as motivation to slaughter people of a different view.Where it initially seemed easier to explain it with psychological problems, thus we also need to face up to the fact that rather many shared and does share his parts of his ideological mindset, without resorting to the same means. That there are different shades of this mindset, some considerably more reactionary than others also seems to be clear. The same must we do in terms of IS. We must also recognise that this is an ideology that basically have chaos and war as a strategy to achieve a warped patriarchal fascist state. However, where Breivik sourced his thinking from the extreme right and the cultural war-mongers online, IS bases its rhetoric on an interpretation of Islam, luckily condemned by most, muslims alike. It does not mean that all those who share elements of the source of some of them are either terrorists or fascists, potential or actual.
Lebanon is boiling, internal conflicts, sectarianism, and according to Lebanese organizations currently some 1.6 million Syrian refugees among a population less than that of Norway is a potential powder keg. Leaving Lebanon to explode will hurt all of us, more than any terrorist attack carried out by Syrian Refugees could (it is worth to note that it turned out that the Paris-attack that was carried out by European citizens).
Likewise, increased islam-hate, bombing of civilians, and perception that the West is willing to support Assad extremely brutal regime to bring about a ceasefire increase IS opportunities to recruit, in Syria as well as in Europe. The attacks in Beirut, Baghdad and Paris is petrol on a bonfire of sectarianism, conflicting ideals and different cultures. The strategy is chaos. From the ashes the alleged Islamic asshole-state seeks to establish itself.