In Lebanon One Man Fights Hezbollah To Forge A Future For His Nation

The Middle East is often seen as a region defined by war and sectarian strife. The factional violence between Shi’ites and Sunnis infects the relations between nations and sometimes even cities and towns and that divide is often fostered and promoted by powerful groups, such as Hezbollah.

If stability and peace is to be achieved, those powers must be challenged and that is exactly what moderate Shiite political leader Ahmad al-Assaad is doing in taking on Hezbollah in Lebanon at his camp where the young learn that Sunnis aren’t evil.

“Today, Hezbollah is a state within a state in Lebanon, and its fighters are the tip of Iran’s spear in Syria. But on any given weekend in Tannourine, a village in the snowcapped mountains north of Beirut, you will find young Lebanese defying Hezbollah. On the surface the Saving the Next Generation (SNG) outpost in Tannourine resembles any other recreational camp. About 75 boys and girls, ages 10 to 17, ride bicycles, hike, climb and practice archery. The older ones flirt innocently,” writes The Wall Street Journal’s Sohrab Ahmari, who sat down with the head of SNG for a recent interview.

Saving Next Generation Foundation (SNG) was founded in Lebanon in 2011 as an organization designed to encourage Lebanese youth to become world citizens and to help children from different backgrounds to better understand the world.

In addition to say trips and camps, the Foundation also finances scholarships which allow children to attend university in the US and Lebanon.

“There’s no magic wand for the Middle East to get better. You have to go to these underprivileged kids that form the basic strength of these fanatics, get to them before the fanatics get to them. If we leave these kids with no options, of course they’re going to join Hezbollah and Hamas,” says al-Assad, whose father and grandfather were speakers of Lebanon’s Parliament and part of one the most powerful Shiite families.

His philosophy is simple: fight extremism with opportunity.

“A young man with no education, no job and no hope whatsoever for his future would easily join and fight with any of these extremists groups if he is offered a few hundred dollars a month. But, instead, give the same young man a decent education that allows him to get a decent job with a decent income that enables him to raise a family. If a radical group asked him to join them, he would undoubtedly say, “the hell with you and your wars, I have something better to do with my life,” he wrote earlier this year in Huffington Post.

But if his goal to foster community and reconciliation is to be realized, he cannot do it alone.

“Mr. Assaad says that in the Middle East ‘there are a lot of people who think like I do.’ The problem is that ‘business leaders, community leaders speak this gray language that doesn’t confront these fanatics and makes these fanatics stronger,'” the WSJ concludes.

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