An Ever Deepening Rift


It’s evident that there is a significant spillover of conflict on the Lebanese-Syrian border. However, the question that brings worry to most people is: will Lebanon be engulfed in a sectarian civil war much like the conflict that Syria has become a witness to? In recent weeks “spillover clashes” have become more common in the northern area of Lebanon. The origin of these clashes can be traced back to the Syrian conflict, but more specifically they stem from the Syrian President himself: Bashar Assad. The population of Lebanon is split in support and opposition of the Syrian President’s regime, so much so that they are using “automatic rifles and rocket propelled grenades” on people who oppose their alliance. These people, more importantly, are people of two different sects; the Sunnis and the Alawis. The Alawis are individuals who follow “a branch of the Twelver school of Shia Islam.” Thus, if one views the clashes on a larger scale it is very possible that the spillover can lead to a much bigger conflict, possibly one that is similar to the conflict in Syria. I say this because the Sunnis and Shiites have been involved in conflict for decades and it seems they find it hard to come to a resolution based on the differences within their faiths.

Lebanese boy peeks through a hole cause by shrapnel.

Just this past August, 20 bus passengers from three busses were massacred by masked men 180 km from Gilgit, Pakistan. It was found later that all of the dead were people who adhered to the Shia sect of Islam. However, the more startling piece of information learned investigators about their deaths was that they were separated into two groups based on their identifications before the killings. The two groups were Sunnis and Shiites.

Such acts are not new in areas where Sunnis and Shiites coexist. However, the Lebanese Prime Minister, Najib Mikati, urged the population of Lebanon to “resist seeking partisan advantage from the violence.” He also warned that the country will “all drown together” if they allow Syria’s spillover to continue affecting them on the level which it is now. Mikati referenced the Lebanese civil war after a revenge kidnapping was successfully committed by the Meqdad Clan, “one of Lebanon’s powerful Shia Muslim families.” The Prime Minister stated that the kidnapping is a reminder of painful days of war that Lebanon has been attempting to move passed. The country is trying desperately to contain the clashes that have been popping up in Tripoli to avoid a resurgence of violence similar to the civil war that lasted fifteen years from 1975 to 1990.

A U.S. based group, the Syrian Support Group (SSG), has been cleared by the U.S. Treasury to assist in funding the Free Syrian Army. For over the past month this clearance has allowed Syrian rebels (Free Syrian Army) to purchase up to date weapons that can compete with the Assad Regime’s firepower. My concern is that in doing this the U.S is effectively funding sectarian violence in a rather direct manner. The Syrian rebels are Sunni Muslims while the Assad Regime is Alawi, which belongs to a branch of Shia Islam. With each penny the U.S. provides the Rebels they are deepening the sectarian rift that divides these two groups of people.

Syrian rebels pray at a military base.

The violence in Lebanon seems to have no end in sight at this point, in fact, as long as there is a conflict in Syria there will unfortunately be some sort of conflict evident in Lebanon due to pro-Assad and anti-Assad forces trying to gain an advantage from the Syrian Uprising.

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2 thoughts on “An Ever Deepening Rift

  1. Based on what our Lebanese counterparts said in class, do you think this conflict sound a lot like what happened in Yugoslavia? It seems to me that the religious sects are being politicized and that their problem with each other seems to stem more from a desire for political power than it does from religious differences. Did this really start with the Syrians or is the conflict older than that?

    1. I believe the conflict is certainly older than that, and there are definite parallels that can be drawn between this conflict and the conflict that occurred in Yugoslavia. Essentially, the two sects are in this conflict because of religious differences which the government seems to play upon. It’s almost as if the two sects have become political parties… But one can also draw similarities (on a much smaller scale) between the how religion influences politics in the Middle East and in America. Religion will unfortunately always be used as a political crutch because religion is such a strong idea that people will always be able to hold on to, even if a person has nothing they can still have faith. Politicians know this.

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