External factors related to the war in Syria as well as developments in the wider region have strongly contributed to the recent wave of radicalization in Lebanon. Ultra-radical groups, such as Jabhat al-Nusra and the so-called Islamic State, have extended their mobilization and recruitment efforts on Lebanese soil, constituting an urgent threat to the political stability and social fabric in Lebanon, exacerbating additional pressure on Lebanese institutions. Yet domestic factors have also contributed significantly to the increasing social tension and more recent dynamics of radicalization. These include the structural weakness, and often absence of the Lebanese state, in providing basic services, security and rule of law, the growing socio-economic disparities and lack of economic and social prospects for youth as well as the prevailing sectarian strife.
Radicalization is by no means a phenomenon particular to certain communities, confessions or groups. Yet recent confrontations and escalations of violence in certain areas of Lebanon also involved radical Sunni-affiliated groups. With the election of the new Grand Mufti of the Lebanese Republic, Sheikh Abd Al-Latif Derian, in August 2014, there is a window of opportunity for Dar al-Fatwa to lead efforts to promote moderation and religious pluralism – a commitment the Grand Mufti expressed since his inception. Considering the historical role of Dar al-Fatwa as the main religious institution of the Sunni community in Lebanon, it has the potential to develop a strategy of de-radicalization capable of reaching the Sunni-Lebanese community, to enhance intra-Sunni dialogue to overcome fragmentation of moderate voices and to promote alternative narratives to violent extremism.
Our activities seek to support Dar al-Fatwa and influential social figures from the Sunni community in developing strategies to address religious and Sunni radicalization through strategy-building, internal dialogue support and capacity-building.
The cooperation project builds on the assumption that intra-Sunni dialogue is key to developing strategies and implementing de-radicalization efforts within the Lebanese Sunni community. We are convinced that increasing tension and feelings of marginalization within Sunni communities in the region need to be addressed by respected Sunni leaders, institutions and activists themselves. Efforts to strengthen religious tolerance, stability and pluralism have to be locally led and owned to be efficient and legitimate within local communities.
Building on an effective partnership based on trust, transparency and mutual learning, the cooperation project is therefore implemented by Dar al-Fatwa in a lead role with technical support and process advice from the Berghof Foundation building on our experience in inclusive dialogue formats and meditation support.
The project team consists of well-qualified Lebanese as well as international project staff based in Beirut and Berlin, assisted by experienced Lebanese senior advisors and facilitators.
Aims & Outcomes
Against the background of religious and especially Sunni extremism, the project starts from the consideration that an efficient, effective and sustainable response to this extremism requires the strong support of the Sunni community, its leadership and institutions. Therefore, the overall aim of the project is to strengthen the ability of the Sunni community in Lebanon to address the root causes of radicalization and to contribute positively to stability, religious tolerance and pluralism in the country.
In order to contribute to this larger purpose, the project has the following three more specific objectives:
- To contribute to and support the efforts of intra-Sunni dialogue to address the root causes of extremism, identify options to strengthen religious tolerance and pluralism and offer alternative narratives for those who are prone to violent extremism;
- To enhance the capacities of Dar al-Fatwa, and its main institutions and partners, to take a lead role in promoting moderation and to act as a support organization and knowledge hub;
- To develop coherent response programmes to counter extremism and local violence by involving a network of multipliers as well as through intra-institutional and intra-community efforts and enhanced partnership.
The activities include thematic round tables and workshops on root causes of radicalisation, religious media and religious education. Capacity-building activities are taking place in the areas of dialogue facilitation, mediation, communication and (media) outreach. Strategy-building activities have been defined in close cooperation with Dar al-Fatwa. The focus of these activities are in the areas of internal strategy building, media strategy development, religious education, welfare provision through Dar al-Fatwa and affiliated institutions as well as prisoners counselling.
We are working with the following key actors:
- The Mufti of the Lebanese Republic and his advisers, Dar al-Fatwa staff and representatives of its affiliated branches and institutions
- A wider network of influential Sunni community representatives including Imams, religious scholars, teachers and community leaders.
Through engaging with Dar al-Fatwa and a network of multipliers of active Sunni social figures, the project activities seek to benefit the Sunni community at large – also those sectors of Lebanese youth and within (Syrian and Palestinian) refugee communities that feel particularly marginalized and deprived due to political, social and economic exclusion.
A project office was established in 2015 in Beirut. While key activities with Dar al.-Fatwa are taking place mostly in Beirut, additional project activities are implemented all over Lebanon, including in Tripoli, Saida, Sur and the Beqaa valley among others.