Between Shaykh Naim Qassim and Shaykh Al Assir

Shaykh Al Aseer has a message.

The message is that the "Iran party" or Hezbollah, in the name of resistance, has dominated the politics of Lebanon thereby upsetting the delicate sectarian balance that the Lebanese sectarian power sharing system, consociationalism, is built on. The hegemonic response to his message was to call him a sectarian fanatic who wants to create communal conflict between Sunnis and Shia. That was the end of the discussion. So thought his detractors and the objects of his verbal assaults.

He did not go away,

His message had resonance with Lebanese Sunnis and he was able to deliver it directly to the target audience. He bypassed the mainstream media by using Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. The man became a political movement on the cheap thanks to the ingenuity of America's silicone valley geeks.

The message has been consistent and the messenger has been stubbornly persistent. Many Lebanese agree with him but, for a number of reasons, are not willing to stand with him or openly agree with him. Saad Hariri, Samir Geagea and basically the whole 14th of March Movement have said the same things he said- without being tarred with the accusation of sectarianism.

His adversaries keep making his case for him. He should send them a thank you card and a fruit basket.

Recently, number two in Hezbollah, Shaykh Naim Qassim, helped Shaykh al Aseer by giving the Lebanese more proof of who has the ultimate power in Lebanon after the end of Pax Syriana. Qassem at a religious occasion, and all the party's occasions are Shia-specific occasions were political stands are taken, said that there will not be parliamentary elections using the 1960s electoral law even if the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, and the Interior Minister all want it that way.2 That is basically the political establishment that is legally and constitutionally in charge of conducting parliamentary elections. On which authority was Qassim relying on to make such an assertion? Al Aseer would say it is the "Iran party" war machine that is bigger and more lethal than the Lebanese state's war machine. This is in a nutshell the Al Aseer cause and reason for abandoning da'wa and turning to full-time protests against Hezbollah's hegemony over the Lebanese state as he sees it.

The media have been fixated on the sectarian identity of the messenger rather than on the message therefore, the media and not al Aseer, fanning the flames of sectarian strife even though everyone in Lebanon claims to be worried about such strife- as if talking about a perceived problem is the threat rather than the existence of the problem itself- which to al- Aseer is the "Hezbollah hegemony."

Journalist Sami Klaib visited the Shaykh in Abra and wrote in the pro- Hezbollah newspaper Assafir, whose editor in Chief is the Shia Lebanese Talal Salman, that the personal impression he had from meeting with al Aseer is not the one he got from the media.1 It depends what media Klaib has been watching- if it is al Manar and al Jadeed TV then the issue is his viewing habits and preferences. Has he been reading Assafir which has been shamelessly blatant in its coverage of al- Aseer? Other outlets- such as MTV, LBC and Aljomhouria have not been as misleading, outright fraudulent, harsh and negative in their coverage of the phenomenon. It is a fair observation that the reporting in Lebanese media is so heavy with commentary that watching the news reports does not educate but rather reinforces the biases and prejudices of the viewership without informing them.
 This has been the case with the adversary outlets' coverage of al Aseer.

Fact is Al Aseer's message is political and not religious- about policy and not about sects. Take Syria for example-  Hezbollah's involvement in Syria. Al Aseer's position is not that different from Hezbollah founder Sobhi Tofaili's position- Tofaili condemned the involvement of Hezbollah in the Syrian conflict, said that the Hezbollah members who die in Syria are not martyrs, and that Hezbollah is exposing the Shia of Lebanon to great dangers by standing with Assad against his people.

Aseer made all these points.

Tofaili, himself a brilliant speaker and analyst, is the father of Hezbollah- went beyond al Aseer. He said that the current leadership in Hezbollah is engaging in a Syria policy that threatens the very existence of the Hezbollah in the future and that if the people in Syria win against the regime the Hezbollah will have its back to the wall and will have to turn to Israel. Israel ! That's a huge deal to say Hezbollah, whose very creation and existence is predicated on enmity to Israel, would find itself in a position that pushes it to fall back on Israel! This is a far harsher prognosis than what the al Aseer ever offered.

Media outlets fail to make this comparison, between al Aseer and Tofaili- a comparison that in fact might take the sectarian edge out of al Aseer's position, reduce sectarian polarization, and open a door for dialogue. But dialogue is not what his opponents want since they think he is a minor player that should not be recognized and given the weight and the dignity of a dialogue with the 500- pound gorilla of Lebanese politics, the Hezbollah. The attitude seems to be who is this pipsqueak who dares raising his voice against Hezbollah and its leaders?

The dismissive attitude did not hurt the surprisingly brilliant and politically savvy Aseer. It has put his movement on steroid- helped his movement  immensely and made his case for him.  His argument is that the dismissive attitude toward him is in fact a dismissive attitude toward what he represents or is part of, the Lebanese Sunni community that he repeatedly says are ignored, disrespected and marginalized. His marginalization and disrespect are presented as validation of his positions and arguments and provide more rhetorical ammunition for him to sustain his verbal assault on the Hezbollah.  Assafir's coverage of Assir has been part of the problem. Assafir reported, as a mockery of Assir, that the Hezbollah supporters are so annoyed by al Aseer that they want to send their music band to finish him and his supporters. Interestingly, the Israelis made the same comment about the Arabs after the defeat of 1967- the Israelis said that in the next conflict with the Arabs they are going to send their army's music band to defeat Arab armies. Then came the October war and the near demise of the Jewish state.

The music band joke should by now be considered a bad omen of things to come.




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