Counter-Terrorism: Measuring the Pitch


May 28, 2007: To give you a better idea of how terrorism plays in the Arab world, consider how the current battle in Lebanon is being reported in the Arab media. The fighting in Tripoli (a northern Lebanese port) pits the Lebanese army (mostly Christians and Sunnis in that part of the country) against al Qaeda affiliated Palestinian Sunnis. The reporting has turned out to be an assortment of delusions, depending on what the reporter or pundit feared the most. Lebanese Shia see it as an American attempt to control Lebanon, via several plane loads of military equipment recently flown in for the Lebanese army. Since many of the soldiers up north are Christians, and the Lebanese Christians have always been seen as lackeys of the Christian West (and many Lebanese Christians look to the West for help in defending themselves from hostile Moslems), this pitch carries some weight. But many other reporters see the fighting as an attempt by Saudi Arabia to strike a blow against al Qaeda (which is really, really eager to take over Saudi Arabia.)

Many Sunnis in the region see the battle as an attempt by Shias, in the shape of Syria and Iran, to weaken Lebanese Sunnis. Syria did allow al Qaeda members to move from Syria to Lebanon, where they found refuge in several of the eleven Palestinian refugee camps. Palestinians are currently enthusiastic fans of al Qaeda, because of the terrorist attempts to restore the late Saddam Hussein, a generous champion of the Palestinian cause, to power. Most Lebanese wanted the Syrians out, but the Palestinians see al Qaeda as an ally, and seek Syrian protection from the Lebanese.

What makes this so curious is that al Qaeda is very anti-Shia, and Syrias patron is Shia Iran. The Shia minority in Lebanon also sides with Syria and Iran, and often tolerates an al Qaeda presence, if only because they have a common enemy in Israel and the West.

It's also suspected that the Lebanese government encouraged, or at least tolerated, some Sunni militant groups as a counterbalance to others. Many Arab countries play this dangerous games. Sometimes it works, but lately is mostly backfires. One thing is clear, no one likes the militants once the shooting starts. These guys are kind of cute when they are marching around with their AK-47s and RPGs, shouting "God is Great," and demanding that the women cover up and the men stop shaving. But it's one short step to using those weapons on police, or civilians believed to be "enemies of Islam." Once that happens, it becomes difficult to even tell whose side the fanatics are on.


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