Thursday, February 09, 2006

Let's admit to a growing Islamist problem

In the aftermath of the rioting Sunday that led to the ransacking of several neighborhoods in Ashrafieh and the burning of a building housing the Danish embassy, there was a consensus in official Beirut that Syria was to blame. Perhaps it was, in part, but many adopted that expedient line to cover-up something far more disturbing: There is a growing Sunni Islamist movement in Lebanon, some of whose members are violent, and no one has control over them.

It seems plausible that the Hariri camp and the office of the mufti at Dar al-Fatwa initially sought to take advantage of the Sunday demonstrations protesting the Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad. Both perhaps sought to reassert their Islamic credentials amid accusations from pro-Syrian groups that the parliamentary majority is in the pocket of Western powers; perhaps, too, they wanted to flex their sectarian muscles. Rioting was certainly not on the agenda, and from the statements of Prime Minister Fouad al-Siniora and Interior Minister Hassan al-Sabaa, the organizers offered assurances that they would control the marchers. That explains why there was wholly inadequate security around the Danish embassy, and why both the Hariri camp and the Lebanese Forces leader, Samir Geagea, were so quick to point a finger at outsiders: everybody would buy into that argument, though Geagea also had to demand Sabaa's resignation to assuage his angry Christian base and deflect attention away from his close alliance with an embarrassed Future Movement.

There were very likely agents provocateurs acting on behalf of the Syrians. However, this was to be expected and only made the government's laxity in providing an efficient defense cordon more incomprehensible. But it would be a mistake to miss the forest for the trees: the extent of the damage was too wide, the statements of some Lebanese demonstrators interviewed on television too enraged, for the destruction to have been solely the work of a few infiltrators.

Even Lebanon must fear more than the Shi'ite extremists.
The Daily Star - Opinion Articles - Let's admit to a growing Islamist problem

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