By Chris Odinaka Nwedo
The antagonisms between Lebanon and Syria resulted in strategic destabilization of the country by Syrians using all sorts of proxies including militants. Fatah al- Islam was formed by Syria from Fatah al- Intifada’s remnant after it pulled its army out of Lebanon in April 2005. The group is largely isolated from the other Palestinian factions. Fatah al- Islam hold fast to Salafist doctrine and has large jihadists from Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Yemen and even Bangladesh. Fatah al- Islam’s cadres are believed to number around two hundred and eighty fighters and receive their munitions and new recruits from Syria.1 There is a popular assumption that, ‘the expansion of Fatah al- Islam in the Nahr al-Bared camp led to serious power struggle among the Palestinians in Lebanon most of whom are not at all happy to see this new organization under Syria’s direction challenging them…2
The revelation that the leadership of Fatah al-Islam then, Shaker Abssi had links with al-Qaida leadership in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, now dead, intensified the repugnance and the determination to expunge the group in the camps by means of all manners of violence. ‘Along with al Zarqawi, Abssi was sentenced to death in Jordan for suspected involvement in the 2002 killing of a US diplomat in Amman. He served a three-year jail sentence in Syria and then moved into Nahr al-Bared to set up Fatah al- Islam. It appears Damascus helped facilitate Abssi new base of operations, and has used him as a point-man to manage the groups’ activities.3
It is speculated that the forceful takeover of Palestinian camps in Lebanon by Fatah al-Islam groups could not have been possible devoid of significant patronage by Syrian government and intelligent officers in the region. These fundamentalist groups are ‘are used more as mercenaries than as militants motivated purely by ideology. In fact, Fatah al-Islam is of use to Syria in variety of ways. The Alawite-Baathist regime in Damascus long has been adept at fuelling different shades of militants across its borders and using militant proxies in Lebanon for its own political aims, regardless of religious, ideological or political orientations.4 It is widely believed that Syrian intelligence and security forces in the region also have facilitated the movement of countless of these jihadists-oriented militants into Lebanon, this became ‘most apparent with the surfacing of Fatah al-Islam in November 2006. Syrian intelligence also facilitated an entrance of an Islamic fundamentalist named Khalid Najjar into Lebanon. Najjar allegedly was on ‘a mission on behalf of Syrian military intelligence to facilitate the arrival of Fatah al-Islam recruits from the Yarmuk refugee camp in Damascus to the Nahr al-Bared camp in Northern Lebanon.5 Some analysists opined that ‘Syrian cooperation in funneling Sunni militants across its borders helps Damascus keep jihadist attention off the Alawite-Baathist regime in Damascus. Syria’s militant management skill appeared to have paid off thus far in the eyes of Syrian president Bashar al Assad, but very well could end up creating a bigger militant threat for Damascus to deal with down the road.6
Hezbollah groups in Lebanon are by and large believed to be potent arms of Iran and Syria in the determination to thwart the country and maintain it in unwavering genuflection. ‘Though Syria’s Alawite rulers are more ideologically in tune with Hezbollah than the Palestinian factions are, the Syrian government understands that Hezbollah has its own political considerations and so Damascus cannot always rely on the Shiite militant groups to carry out all its politically motivated attack in Lebanon. A Palestinian faction such as Fatah al-Islam is seen as a more dependable insurance policy for Damascus, and better suited for this type of militant activity. ‘Many of Fatah al- Islam cadres have been waiting to go and fight in Iraq, but have been kept in Nahr al-Bared by their handlers, thus giving Syria substantial control over how it negotiates with United States regarding its ‘commitment’ to crack down on the flow of insurgents. It is believed that Fatah al-Islam members also had been trained to carry out attacks against the UN Interim Force in Lebanon should the need arise for Syria to aid Hezbollah in flushing out obstacles to Hezbollah’s operations in the south.7 The detrimental pressures of external forces in Lebanon recurrently manifest in the ferocious murder cases, assassinations and spates of violence rocking the country. Damascus is repeatedly held responsible for the assassination of Lebanese former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.
The former Prime Minister represented one of the strongest of the antagonisms to the violence and destabilizing influence of Damascus in Lebanon. ‘The continuous violence in Nahr al-Bared, car bombings in a predominantly Christian areas in Beirut and in Verdun, a predominantly Sunni district of the West of Beirut’, signify the determination of the potent forces of destabilization to constantly swing the country from bad to worse, to generate unrest and escalate reprisal violence and eventually knock off the bottom of Beirut’s administration.8 Analysists ‘have little doubt that the bombings and the up ticking military activity were linked to Fatah al-Islam’s role as a tool for Syria to demonstrate to its opponents in the Lebanese government the too-high cost of having former president, Siniora, get the UN Security Council to unilaterally establish an international tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafik al Hariri. For the reason that principal members of Syrian regime were most likely to be indicted in the assassination, forces were rallied to forestall meaningful cooperation with UN in disentanglement of limitless tie-ups behind the killing. As an illustration, ‘the Lebanese opposition, led by Syria’s allies in the Shiite Hezbollah and Amal movements blocked a tribunal decision in the Lebanese parliament by mass protest, but Siniora had placed the issue squarely in the hands of the United Nations.9
The efforts by the Syrians to destabilize and make Lebanon conflict prone and ungovernable in part succeeded because the stories of Lebanon then were chronicles of conflicts, violence, deadly assaults and deaths. Lebanon was not alone in the misfortune. Syria had hands in pulling the strings of violent conflicts in Palestine, Iraq and other surrounding states with profound difficulties in containment of rapidly spreading culture of violence and religious fundamentalism in the Middle East. Unfortunately and regrettably, Syria unconsciously ran into dangerous traps it perfected to completely ruin states. Today, the Syria is an epicenter of violence in the Arab world. Syria is in ruin and Damascus is a center gory sight, a ghost of her former self. At this moment of writing civil war in Syrian is active, intense and without truce. Tens of thousands of Syrians have died, probably more are living with permanent physical and psychological injuries in relation to the devastations of the civil war. Currently, millions of Syrians are living as refuges almost all over the world. Millions of Syrians live as refugees and baggers in Lebanon, a country they intensely made effort to crumble.
Iraq and Iran for many decades were entangled in relentless hostilities. The ‘easy’ war and mutual destructions were accomplished with steady supply fund from oil wealth which the countries were fortunate to have as back-ups in the atrocities. At present, overt expression of the perennial conflicts appear subsided in the wake of bigger war in Iraq and the unavoidable absence of Saddam Hussein, one of the principal figures in the inflexible brutality. In the larger picture, Iran-Iraq wars are lucid expressions and extension of regular fratricides between extremist Shia and Sunni Arabs. In the subtle continuation of the war in covert means, Iran is accused of arming and inspiring Shiite radicals and militia in Iraq in targeted killings, destruction of mosques, suicide bombs and varieties of terror linked activities. Iran wants undisputable influence in the now humiliated Iraq for major regional roles and particularly in empowering Shiite majority against the Sunni minority.
According to Ekaterina Stepanova (2008), ‘sectarian strife remains the form of inter-communal violence in Iraq in 2007. Sectarian violence had not been prevalent at the earlier stages of the invasion by U.S led allied troops but intensified following mass-causality terrorist attacks against Shia targets that were blamed on Sunni insurgents, especially after the bombing of a Shia shrine in Samarra’s Golden Mosque in February 2006.10 In further escalation of the violence, ‘Shia sectarian violence combined reprisal attacks by pro-government militia against Sunni insurgents with one sided violence against Sunni civilians. Sectarian violence on both sides mainly took the forms of sectarian cleansing, that is killing the members of one sectarian group or driving them out of a community, and a revenge attacks by squads affiliated with either Sunni or Shia militias, rather than involving the larger populations or mass violence. Areas with fixed populations, such as Baghdad, Northern city of Tel Afar and Diyala governorate, were the worse effected.11 United States Government’s accountability office notes that ‘the estimates of the dynamics of sectarian violence were complicated by the difficulty of establishing whether the perpetrators’ intents were sectarian in nature.12 Thousands of ethnic Kurds in northern Iraq were destroyed in their villages with chemical weapons under the former ruler Saddam Hussein in what was described as one of the most reprehensible bestiality by a ruler.
In reality, religion is a major active driving force in practically most of the violence in the Middle East. This is because of robust importance of religion in the region. Some studies believe that Middle Eastern conflicts are both frequent and intense. And often, religious factors particularly exacerbate the ethnic crises. The recurrent conflicts are traced to ever present incidences of religious discrimination and political behaviours that are particularly influenced by religious differences in the region. The unique impact of religion in the Arab world makes most of the conflicts it inspires more pronounced and more intractable. All known violent or militant groups have names of religious coinage. Generally,‘the diversity of violence reflects the range of motivations, identities and level of activity of armed actors. Predatory groups that engage in criminal violence and exploit opportunities offered by war economy continued to proliferate in conflict zones. Increasingly, states engaged in counter-insurgency are trying to mount symmetrical responses to symmetrical challenges from non-state actor relying on paramilitary groups, including ethnic, sectarian or tribal militias.13
However, in the African context, some strife-ridden ideological propensities and some socio-cultural and religious eccentrics methodically incite one community over another. It is not unusual to see one religious group overwhelmed with the hatred of the other or emblems denigrating the belief systems of the neighbours. It is detestable that some seemingly violent natured religious leaders overtly extol injustice, violence and oppression. It is easy to see this violent predispositions adapted in interpretation of the religious messages. The products of these dare-devils have remained the tragedy of many African states. The religious totalitarians constantly spark conflicts, serious violence, which their disciples made sure that heads roll and pain and sorrow reign. The rapidly intensifying war in Yemen is fuelled by Iran and Saudi Arabia. The perennial conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran has its origin in Islam. Interpretation of demands of Islam is the foundation of mortal enmity between Shia and Sunni Moslems. In the fight to completely decimate one another both Sunni and Shia Islamists claim inspiration from the same Allah. It is seeming that the war mongers and Lords of wars in these enclaves are not different from the leaders of the religious faith. All the comparatively small states and small economies in the Arab world have their frequent wars subsidized by their big brothers. The wars of absolute destruction in Yemen is bound to continue until the bigger brothers consider violence as something vicious.
In Nigeria, religion insinuated violence is progressively taking a turn for the very worst. This is substantially prejudicial to the stability and progress of this heterogeneous nation with exploding population. Today more time and resources are wasted in futile attempts to perfect strategies of averting imminent attacks of ‘infidels’ by religious fundamentalists than addressing the critical development needs. Nigerian economy is robust and spews enough riches for every Nigerian but deep rooted corruption and mismanagement proliferate, protract abject poverty and prevented development of basic infrastructure. The situation is now compounded with the need to put resources in confronting Taliban style refractory Islamists invading the country from northern horizon. There is no real possibility of differentiation in causes of conflict in Africa and Arab world. In these societies there are enough ‘holy book’ custodians who are the worst of the kinds, reprehensible.
I believe religious fundamentalists do the greatest havoc by deliberately bringing God to scene of their crimes of bloodshed and subversion of the justice and fairness in Nigeria. It is alright to invoke the name of the devil before and after committing sacrilegious sins of willful murder and destruction. God cannot be glorified in such action but Satan can, because he is great in evil doing.
The current Nigerian security authorities have not shown discretion by not divesting themselves of deep biases in the handling crimes relating to religion. The judgment is that they turn blind to abhorrence of Islamic fundamentalists. Regrettably, their officers and men have paid and still paying disproportionate prices for the imprudence. The authorities are failing to put differences aside in order to recognize the imperative of forcing some radical and self-styling religious leaders to limit damages they are doing to Nigerian people by means of violence and intolerant ideologies. Nigeria is a secular state with diversity of culture and religion, therefore there is need to maintain constitutional order as a fortification against unnecessary tension and civil strife. Religious radicals must be mindful of the fact that Nigeria is neither a theocratic nor mono religious state and that every Nigerian has inviolable right to security in places of worship. Security is an organic concept without which nothing works. Security is a condition that must be existent for other legitimate activities to take place. The constitutional freedom of every Nigerian includes freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom of speech and freedom of worship.
In some regions of Nigeria it is not uncommon to notice widespread drug use by youths and growing expression of terrorism aided by accessibility of easy-to-use deadly weapons. These weapons support and make inclination to violence easy. The arms are employed with confidence in inflicting injuries on innocent victims and multiplying agony of indirect victims. By illegally acquiring military-grade weapons, combatant religious fundamentalists or militias obtain the trappings and fire-power of a military force giving them confidence and invincibility as they invade and execute neighbours for their faith. Harbingers of violence always have enough reasons for destruction. When the reasons dry, they quickly invent one so far as there are abundant supply of bullets.
- See Ekaterina Stepanova in SIPRI Yearbook 2008: Armaments, Disarmament and International Security, Oxford University Press
- See David M. Walker (2008) in US Government Accountability Office ‘Securing, Stabilizing, and Rebuilding Iraq: Iraqi Government Has Not Met Most Legislative, Security, and Economic Benchmarks, a report to the US senate Committee on Foreign Relations, September 4 2007 in Ekaterina S. op.cit.
- See Ekaterina Stepanova op.cit.