A small demonstration in Beirut against Al-Qaeda has triggered a commotion because the flags of ISIS and the Nusra Front, which feature a phrase that is the cornerstone of Islam, were set on fire.
Politicians have stressed that these extremist groups have no connection to mainstream Islam and that such acts only enflame a dangerous situation. In reaction to the protest, anti-Christian phrases were painted on the walls of churches in the city of Tripoli, highlighting the explosiveness of the situation.
It should be clear to all that two “wars” are raging. One is being waged by professionals; the Lebanese military and security bodies are confronting ISIS and the Nusra Front on several levels, and their effort has received near-unanimous support.
But the other, political conflict is a wider one, and when amateurs get involved, the results can be disastrous. When people focus on religious symbols, with or without realizing the offense they are causing, the only groups that benefit are ISIS and Nusra. Lebanon isn’t immune to sectarian agitation and leaders are playing with fire if they try to exploit the explosive situation.
If Lebanese who are angry at ISIS do an Internet search, they’ll easily find images of dozens of anti-ISIS demonstrations in Syria over the past year – people crossed out the word “ISIS,” demanded that it leave the country, and creatively mocked or condemned the group for its many misdeeds, all without offending anyone’s feelings.
ISIS has targeted just about everyone – Kurds, Yazidis, Christians, Shiites, Turkmen, Sunnis, Westerners – meaning that the most effective way to confront its extremism is with unified acts of protest, which bring people together instead of pushing them further apart.