August 17, 2017 Special Dispatch No. 7056

'Al-Sharq Al-Awsat' Editor Ghassan Charbel: Defeating ISIS Requires Learning To Coexist With The Other

August 17, 2017
Syria | Special Dispatch No. 7056

In an August 7, 2017 article titled "Coexistence or ISIS" in the London-based daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, the daily's editor Ghassan Charbel wrote that the Islamic State organization (ISIS) was not imposed on the Arab societies from without. Rather, it emerged from within them and was able to thrive and spread owing to their internal strife and division. Hence, in order to defeat ISIS for good, he said, there is need to confront its extremist ideology in the streets, the schools, the media and the mosques. In particular, Arabs must master the art of coexistence and acceptance of the other, and stop rejecting anyone who thinks differently from them, both within their countries and in the world. Unless this happens, their torn societies will continue to be perfect hosts for organizations like ISIS, Charbel concluded.

The following are excerpts from a translation of his article published in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat's English edition.[1]

Ghassan Charbel (image: Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London)

"...Today, the region rejoices [at] the series of strikes against ISIS, and it is within its right to celebrate. ISIS is a storm of blood and mud and a heavy chapter of injustice and darkness in [history]. Stories of those captivated or orphaned by ISIS are both heartbreaking and terrifying.

"But, what is more important than victorious celebrations are the lessons learned.

"This terrible organization wasn’t dropped over our societies but rather penetrated through cracks and [was] supported by experienced fighters driven by their grudges. ISIS couldn’t have violated borders if they hadn’t already been suffering, and it couldn’t have settled in the region if the national will hadn't been torn apart.

"[The] War on ISIS seems a difficult one, with suicide bombers, tunnels, explosives, and young men brainwashed until they became bombs searching for a chance to detonate themselves.

"Yet despite its importance, this war should be part of a more comprehensive war. Real victory is overcoming the idea of ISIS and the circumstances that facilitated the birth of the organization and its infiltration into one country or another.

"Without an encompassing confrontation against ISIS on the streets, in the club or school books, [and in the] media and mosques, the war on the terrorist organization remains incomplete and the results are endangered.

"ISIS militants can escape and live as lone wolves waiting for the right moment to explode anywhere.

"The most important thing about a broad confrontation is taking a difficult and probably painful decision to coexist. This doesn’t mean returning to the fake coexistence on television that failed its first test. The point is to have people within countries and countries live together.

"One must admit that ISIS leader Abu Baker al-Baghdadi couldn’t have emerged in Mosul, Iraq and open[ed] the door on this costly tragedy had the relations between [the] components [of] Iraqi [society] been healthy and normal. ISIS wouldn’t have been able to infiltrate into Syrian territories and take over the popular revolution, causing its failure, if relations between Syrian components had been natural within a normal state.

"We must make the decision to coexist with the world and [accept] the various different beliefs, ethnicities, and colors without thinking that we should impose our beliefs on the world or else destroy it. Believing that we have to subjugate the world into becoming like us is the shortest way towards becoming a ticking bomb in this world. We enter into a crushing clash [that is] more than we can handle if we fail to admit to [other people's] right to be different. Considering anyone different from us as an enemy or [as] someone who strayed from the right path consolidates demarcation which blocks any cooperation we need to achieve [the] progress reached by other countries.

"Those countries went through their own costly experiences and survived with the belief that being different can enrich them and is a right that should be respected. Thinking that it is our duty to [save] humanity based on a single concept that [is not open to] interpretation, or even without considering any other forms, puts us in front of a wall and pushes us towards disaster.

"Before making the decision to coexist with other people outside our region, [we must decide to] live with others within the region. Considering every different idea a crime and a threat is the first step towards civil wars, [the] termination of identities, and massacres. We must admit to other people’s right in a building, or a village, or a city to be different, and [that] it is within their right to be equal and feel safe in a state based on citizenship and not [based on their being] a majority, regardless of demographic percentages and modifications.

"There is no way out of this hellhole that created hundreds of thousands of casualties and millions of refugees unless we coexist. Without deciding that, every victory threatens to become another round in a war... Without true determination [to coexist], torn societies will be the perfect opportunities for ISIS and similar organizations to resurface again.

"Final triumph over ISIS can’t happen without the mission to build a truly modern state with rights and duties. It is not possible without citizenship in a country that respects the right to be different, a country of opportunities, comprehensive development, an [open-minded] curriculum, and open and responsible media.

"There is no way out of this hellhole if interventions and coups continue, and if elimination and hatred policies are still used. For ages now, we [have] tried these vindictive futile policies and retaliations that took us out of the race for the future [and] poisoned our states, capitals, and colleges. We can’t keep swimming in these turbid waters...

"Our problem didn’t begin with ISIS’ existence [and will not] end with a military victory over it. Our real issue is failing the test of time, [of catching up with] development and [the] modern age. Our problem is that we don’t want to pay for the train ticket heading towards the future."



[1] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), August 7, 2017. The translation has been lightly edited for clarity.

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