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© 2021 Oriental Institute, The Czech Academy of Sciences, Kevin L. Schwartz, and Ameem Lutfi
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The Global War on Terror (GWOT) defined Western engagement with many places in the Global South over the last two decades. Trying to deal with elusive terrorist networks, Western countries have initiated numerous armed strikes, but also multiple development-oriented projects that were supposed to react to local governance failures and limit the space that terrorists can use. This piece looks at two such forms of engagement connected to GWOT campaigns initiatives oriented on strengthening sovereignty of failing states and those focused on preventing violent extremism. It looks specifically at the example of Lebanon a country that has been caught in the crosshairs of GWOT for more than a decade. By sketching how different initiatives identified the problems of Lebanon, this essay documents the mercurial nature of the War on Terror as well as the problems of viewing political and social developments solely through a security-oriented GWOT lens. From a failed state… “State weakness,” “state failure,” and “non-state armed actors” are among the new words that gained increasing popularity and prominence in the years following 9/11. Spurred by worries about the safe   haven al-Qaeda managed to establish in Afghanistan in the 1990s, the inability of some states to control their territory started to be perceived as a significant threat. As state weakness (or complete state failure) was thought to be   exploitable   by   terrorists , the U.S. and its allies initiated a range of so-called state building initiatives that were supposed to strengthen such weak states and “make them work.”1 During the 2000s, Lebanon was identified as one   such   country. While Lebanon was not perceived as being directly connected to al-Qaeda, the GWOT’s focus on a state’s capability to control non-state armed actors concentrated on Hezbollah and its armed wing. Elevating the issue of coexistence between the state and non-state armed forces from Lebanese and regional politics to the problem of international security, the undisturbed existence of Hezbollah a peculiar combination of Shia militia, terrorist group, and political party with a wide network of non-state governance institutions became   an   epitome of Lebanese falling sovereignty.2 Such a perception reached its climax in 2006 during the war   between   Hezbollah   and   Israel and in 2008 when Hezbollah used   its   armed   forces   to exert pressure on its political opponents. As the problem was identified in the weakness of the state that enabled the existence of non-state armed groups, the solution was to strengthen state institutions. While in the south of the country this led to the deployment of UN peacekeepers, who were tasked   to   ensure the “return of the authority of the state,” elsewhere it meant support for the Lebanese army and other security and governmental institutions. …to failing trust in the state In the mid-2010s the spectres of al-Qaeda and failed states were superseded by a novel   challenge   posed by the so-called Islamic State (IS) and its ability to recruit members worldwide. This brought increased attention to individuals and groups who were considered prone to the propaganda and recruitment of violent extremists. The reasons why these efforts succeed are   multiple , but as the   UN   study on preventing the spread of violent extremism stated “recruiters focus their attention on vulnerable alienated groups in society, and manipulate their feelings of frustration and anger.” As the threat shifted from the lack of the Lebanese state’s control over their territory to the population’s potentially negative feelings toward the state, the proposed responses changed too. The new global approach called for increased control of potentially risky parts of the population and their reconnection to the state. In the mid-2010s, with neighbouring war-torn Syria struggling with its own branch of the Islamic State, as well as other Sunni   extremist   movements , Lebanon was once again identified as being on the frontlines of a (new iteration of) the Global War on Terror. This time, the main problem in the country was not so much Hezbollah or a weak state. Rather, the problem   was   identified in the political and social fragmentation of the Lebanese Sunni community and its grievances, exacerbated by the shockwaves of the Syrian conflict. These factors resulted in Sunni political alienation   and the rise   of   radical   preachers , who were condemning state acquiescence to Hezbollah. These disparate issues were translated   into a narrative about the missing trust of the Lebanese population in the state. While part of the envisioned reaction lay in armed strikes against violent extremist groups, the response proposed by international donors also emphasized limiting the conditions that enable these groups to attract new members. Since the problem was related to Sunni communities as well as popular dissatisfaction with the Lebanese state and its performance, the solution was to be found in reconnecting the problematic parts of the population to the state once again. The key   Lebanese   national   document , wholeheartedly endorsed by Western donors, argued: “(p)romoting identity, citizenship and the sense of national belonging among all members of Lebanese society is a key goal for the strategy of preventing violent extremism.” Since 2015, numerous programs initiated in the name of this agenda aimed at improving state governance, but they also focused on vocational training or workshops that brought together representatives of the state and potentially risky communities so as to better connect the state, job market and wider society. Epilogue: Problems Seen and Not Seen The mass protests that engulfed Lebanon in October 2019, which called for the removal of the political regime, showed widespread   discontent   with corruption, bad governance, and the handling of a deepening economic crisis. With the subsequent   disintegration of the Lebanese economy, dependent for years on foreign investments, international aid, and financial engineering, the causes of actual   state   failure   might have been hidden in plain sight. While the gaze of the War on Terror was fixated on the problem of non-state armed actors lurking in ungoverned territories, or on marginalized communities susceptible to jihadist propaganda, it did not (or chose not to) see the slick   Western-friendly   political   and   financial   elite perpetuating a system   that brought about mass poverty and collapse of the country.
Source: Jan Daniel archive
September 8, 2021 Myopic Visions of the War on Terror Era: Lebanon as a Post-9/11 Security Problem
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HOME HOME THEMATICS THEMATICS Source: Jan Daniel archive
The Global War on Terror (GWOT) defined Western engagement with many places in the Global South over the last two decades. Trying to deal with elusive terrorist networks, Western countries have initiated numerous armed strikes, but also multiple development-oriented projects that were supposed to react to local governance failures and limit the space that terrorists can use. This piece looks at two such forms of engagement connected to GWOT campaigns initiatives oriented on strengthening sovereignty of failing states and those focused on preventing violent extremism. It looks specifically at the example of Lebanon a country that has been caught in the crosshairs of GWOT for more than a decade. By sketching how different initiatives identified the problems of Lebanon, this essay documents the mercurial nature of the War on Terror as well as the problems of viewing political and social developments solely through a security-oriented GWOT lens. From a failed state… “State weakness,” “state failure,” and “non-state armed actors” are among the new words that gained increasing popularity and prominence in the years following 9/11. Spurred by worries about the safe    haven al-Qaeda managed to establish in Afghanistan in the 1990s, the inability of some states to control their territory started to be perceived as a significant threat. As state   weakness (or complete state failure) was thought to be   exploitable   by   terrorists , the U.S. and its allies initiated a range of so-called state building initiatives that were supposed to strengthen such weak states and “make them work.”1 During the 2000s, Lebanon was identified as one such   country. While Lebanon was not perceived as being directly connected to al-Qaeda, the GWOT’s focus on a state’s capability to control non-state armed actors concentrated on Hezbollah and its armed wing. Elevating the issue of coexistence between the state and non- state armed forces from Lebanese and regional politics to the problem of international security, the undisturbed existence of Hezbollah a peculiar combination of Shia militia, terrorist group, and political party with a wide network of non-state governance institutions became   an epitome of Lebanese falling sovereignty.2 Such a perception reached its climax in 2006 during the war   between   Hezbollah   and   Israel and in 2008 when Hezbollah used   its   armed   forces   to exert pressure on its political opponents. As the problem was identified in the weakness of the state that enabled the existence of non-state armed groups, the solution was to strengthen state institutions. While in the south of the country this led to the deployment of UN peacekeepers, who were tasked   to   ensure the “return of the authority of the state,” elsewhere it meant support for    the    Lebanese    army and other security and governmental institutions. …to failing trust in the state In the mid-2010s the spectres of al-Qaeda and failed states were superseded by a novel challenge    posed by the so-called Islamic State (IS) and its ability to recruit members worldwide. This brought increased attention to individuals and groups who were considered prone to the propaganda and recruitment of violent extremists. The reasons why these efforts succeed are   multiple , but as the   UN   study on preventing the spread of violent extremism stated “recruiters focus their attention on vulnerable alienated groups in society, and manipulate their feelings of frustration and anger.” As the threat shifted from the lack of the Lebanese state’s control over their territory to the population’s potentially negative feelings toward the state, the proposed responses changed too. The new global approach called for increased control of potentially risky parts of the population and their reconnection to the state. In the mid-2010s, with neighbouring war-torn Syria struggling with its own branch of the Islamic State, as well as other Sunni   extremist movements , Lebanon was once again identified as being on the frontlines of a (new iteration of) the Global War on Terror. This time, the main problem in the country was not so much Hezbollah or a weak state. Rather, the problem was     identified in the political and social fragmentation of the Lebanese Sunni community and its grievances, exacerbated by the shockwaves of the Syrian conflict. These factors resulted in Sunni political alienation   and the rise of    radical    preachers , who were condemning state acquiescence to Hezbollah. These disparate issues were translated   into a narrative about the missing trust of the Lebanese population in the state. While part of the envisioned reaction lay in armed strikes against violent extremist groups, the response proposed by international donors also emphasized limiting the conditions that enable these groups to attract new members. Since the problem was related to Sunni communities as well as popular dissatisfaction with the Lebanese state and its performance, the solution was to be found in reconnecting the problematic parts of the population to the state once again. The key      Lebanese      national document , wholeheartedly endorsed by Western donors, argued: “(p)romoting identity, citizenship and the sense of national belonging among all members of Lebanese society is a key goal for the strategy of preventing violent extremism.” Since 2015, numerous programs initiated in the name of this agenda aimed at improving state governance, but they also focused on vocational training or workshops that brought together representatives of the state and potentially risky communities so as to better connect the state, job market and wider society. Epilogue: Problems Seen and Not Seen The mass protests that engulfed Lebanon in October 2019, which called for the removal of the political regime, showed widespread discontent   with corruption, bad governance, and the handling of a deepening economic crisis. With the subsequent     disintegration of the Lebanese economy, dependent for years on foreign investments, international aid, and financial engineering, the causes of actual   state failure    might have been hidden in plain sight. While the gaze of the War on Terror was fixated on the problem of non-state armed actors lurking in ungoverned territories, or on marginalized communities susceptible to jihadist propaganda, it did not (or chose not to) see the slick   Western-friendly   political   and   financial   elite perpetuating a system   that   brought about mass poverty and collapse of the country.
© 2021 Oriental Institute, The Czech Academy of Sciences, Kevin L. Schwartz, and Ameem Lutfi
© 2021 Oriental Institute, The Czech Academy of Sciences, Kevin L. Schwartz, and Ameem Lutfi
Myopic Visions of the War on Terror Era: Lebanon as a Post-9/11 Security Problem
Written by
Researcher at the Institute of International Relations, Prague.
If you are interested in contributing an article for the project, please send a short summary of the proposed topic (no more than 200 words) and brief bio to submissions@911legacies.com. For all other matters, please contact inquiry@911legacies.com.
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