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Tom Fletcher

Tom Fletcher

Former British Ambassador to Lebanon

Part of UK in Lebanon

13th January 2015 Beirut, Lebanon

Keeping the ‘Islamic State’ out of Lebanon, and Lebanon out of the ‘Islamic State’

All of us share the sadness of the French people at last week’s terrorist attack in Paris, and of the Lebanese people at the weekend attack in Tripoli. In their condemnation of the deaths in Paris, the four Muftis of Lebanon sent a powerful message against extremism. It was a reminder that many in this region have paid the ultimate price for freedom of expression.

Just as the UK stands united with the French people, so we stand firmly with Lebanon as it responds to the threat from Da’esh and its allies. Neither Islamic nor a state, Da’esh are a threat to real Islam, as to other faiths. Across the globe, Muslim leaders have condemned their actions. The coalition of over 60 countries, including from the Middle East, is showing that the world will not tolerate Da’esh’s brutality.

The risk to Lebanon is that the new threat of Da’esh exposes old divisions. That’s what they want. So, as in France, the vast majority in Lebanon will need to show that they care as much about protecting Lebanon from this extremism as the extremists care about imposing it.

Victory inside Lebanon depends first and foremost on the Lebanese people. In the last few months, I’ve been asking them what can be done. Here are ten ideas based on what they have suggested.

  1. Back the security forces. More than ever, they are in the frontline. On the checkpoints, in the positions facing Da’esh fighters, some even held as hostages. The UK and others are getting kit and training to those confronting extremism. But many will feel exposed. They need to hear the full solidarity of the Lebanese people. Tell them why they matter so much.
  2. Do something anti sectarian. Da’esh and extremism succeed if they provoke enmity and conflict between confessions. Every time connections are made that defy their hope, we strike back. Lebanon knows all too well what happens when ‘the other’ side is stereotyped or ostracised. The vast majority do not want to go back to the destructive conflicts of the past. Those who understand that Lebanon’s diversity is its survival have to shout louder than those that don’t.
  3. Keep calm and carry on (or ‘keep calm and Lebanon’). Da’esh want panic and fear. As with terrorists anywhere, the best response is to continue as usual. Don’t let them intimidate us. The people getting on with their lives and jobs in the face of intimidation are everyday heroes. Fatalism is a gift to the extremists.
  4. Elect a President. It is over 200 days without one. The President should be planning, troubleshooting, rallying, anchoring, leading. He or she would be a vocal presence in the international debates about the future of the region. Every day without a President is a missed opportunity, a day when the forces looking to de-stabilise the country become stronger, a day without a Presidential voice arguing for the international community to help.
  5. Fly the Lebanese flag. It is surely better to focus on what unites than divides. This country is not part of the ‘Islamic State’, it is the Lebanese state. That is something worth marching for.
  6. Create jobs. There is a battle ahead for the hearts and minds of the poorest, those at most risk of radicalisation. Government and businesses have to break that cycle, and create hope. We have to show that there is a better option than the nihilism offered by Da’esh. Young entrepreneurs from Tripoli recently told me that they need security, a decent internet, hope. They’ll do the rest.
  7. Don’t try to exploit the Da’esh threat to make money. As the international effort develops, it is going to become even more risky to have any dealings with those behind this terror. So think twice if that includes you.
  8. Establish sovereignty on the border. I think that this is an idea whose time has come. If the Lebanese state moves to fully secure its own border at last, at a time of such a threat from Syria, can any faction disagree?
  9.  Junk the stale narratives. I’m struck by how many people on one side of the debate claim that Israel, Saudi or Turkey created Da’esh. And by how many on the other side tell me that, no, it was actually Iran. I’m sure that North Korea blames South Korea, and vice versa. We can have a legitimate debate about who, including the Assad regime, created the conditions in which Da’esh flourished. But we need to go beyond simply using Da’esh as just one more piece of evidence for our pre-existing world view or pet conspiracy. This baggage gets in the way of dealing with the problem, together.
  10. Don’t blame a refugee. 78% of Syrian refugees in Lebanon are women and children. Most are vulnerable, their lives already shattered by a brutal war. Winter is hitting them hard – try spending a night in a tent in the Bekaa if you think they have chosen to be there. The Lebanese people have already shown extraordinary generosity. Making refugees the scapegoats for what Da’esh are doing creates an even bigger problem. Don’t push them into Da’esh hands.

We must not underestimate the challenge. We must not underestimate the courage required. But if I have learnt one thing in three years in Lebanon, it is that no-one should ever underestimate the resilience of the Lebanese people. Da’esh is a threat to all of us. It can only be faced together.

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About Tom Fletcher

Tom Fletcher was appointed Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the Lebanese Republic in August 2011. Tom was born in Kent, and studied at Harvey Grammar School (Folkestone) and Oxford University (Hertford…

Tom Fletcher was appointed Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the Lebanese Republic in August 2011.

Tom was born in Kent, and studied at Harvey Grammar School (Folkestone) and Oxford University (Hertford College), graduating with a First class degree in Modern History. He has an MA in Modern History, and is a Senior Associate Member of St Anthony’s College for International Studies, Oxford.

He is married to Louise Fletcher and they have two sons, Charles (born 2006) and Theodor (born 2011). Tom enjoys political history, cricket (Strollers CC), and mountains, and is the co-founder of 2020 (a progressive think tank).

Tom was awarded the Companion of St Michael and St George (CMG) in the 2011 New Year’s Honours, for services to the Prime Minister.