Lebanon: Media coverage brings radical Islam into every home

By Fadi Assaf.

On Lebanese television, Sheikh Ahmad al-Asir, Sheikh Omar Baqri Fustoq, Daïyatelislam Hassan Chahhal and Sheikh Bilal Doqmaq are the new stars of political talk shows. They represent radical tendencies of Sunni Islam and carry messages, deemed new in the socio-cultural and political context of Lebanon at least. They are increasingly tolerated and their audience gradually expands beyond the cores, on which they built their local and sectarian reputation.

They begin to compete with a star, which remains unbeatable. Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has succeeded, through a well-built message and a firm charisma, to enter into homes, slowly but surely, and to make his political and even socio-religious speech heard beyond his direct environment.

The Christian clergy is also very present in the media, through directly-controlled institutions such as Tele Lumière and NourSat. Yet, this presence is discreet, both politically and socially, as perhaps imposed by an unfortunate but demonstrable marginalization of the Christian community in political affairs. The Christian clergy generally benefits from a busy religious calendar to express its views in politics and seeks to benefit, more and more rarely, of a political event to expose ideas – not only of national reach -, although the community’s interest remains at the heart of its concerns.

This is no different for the representatives of official Muslim institutions, including Dar el-Fatwa (Sunni) and Majlis al-Islami al-Shii al-Aala (Shiite), which keep an official national speech, although this discourse often directly covers political affairs and those concerning the interests of religious communities.

Proponents of official religious discourse, whether Christians or Muslims, are now overshadowed by the propagandists of less political cant and a more radical discourse, especially as corruption and opacity, that could have affected certain official religious institutions, are naturally undermining their credibility … This is especially true for militant Islam, whether Sunni or Shiite.

If Shiite militancy, now embodied in its religious and political dimensions by Hezbollah, has managed to expand its audience thanks to its national resistance against Israel, it seems that Sunni activism, embodied by Salafi sheikhs today with all the nuances, is bound to continue trivializing its speech, even in environments that are not naturally receptive. In a religious context as tense in Lebanon and the region, in addition to a geopolitical context with major sectarian contradictions, one identifies more easily with their confession which suddenly becomes a safe haven … The internal political and regional geopolitical divisions make the scene a little less simple. Looking at the case of Lebanon and its regional implications (Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey), one can only understand how the speech of Hassan Nasrallah is easily followed by March 8 and Syrian-Iranian axis supporters, while the speech of a Salafi sheikh is increasingly accepted by March 14 and Sunni-Arab axis supporters opposed to the “Shiite crescent”. The Lebanese are drawn back, almost unanimously, to sectarianism, and are opening up to the most radical religious discourse.

The media play the game or follow the trend… Politicians, who can ride the sectarian wave faithful to their sickly opportunism, must recognize that religious movements with more credible political speeches are gradually taking over. It is a slow and certain radicalization of Lebanese society, especially since there is no distinction between politics and religion in Islam. In other words, the proponents of authentic Islam, now the Salafis, are invited to occupy the political arena, while politicians must settle for a religious and sectarian overbidding fallen into disrepute … Yet on TV channels which still tolerate it, pop singers, stripped dancers, and daring female presenters are the real stars, at any time and in the face of any political or religious competition as unfair as it can be,… A paradox that hides dangerous frustrations.

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