Tag Archives: Risk Management

12 years later: On Arab strategy, 9/11 and the “war on terror”

POST_17-IMG0Today marks the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 New York twin towers terrorist attacks that shook the world’s views on national security, safety, Islam, and the Middle East. Today, Islam remains tainted by terroristic definitions, and the Middle East as a whole, is still a threat to National security.

Since then, the US has attacked Afghanistan, Iraq and was getting ready for Syria.

The US’ defense mechanism has become to attack those who might threaten their national security and their economy, all the while hiding behind an initiative to spread democracy and rid people in emerging markets from things like oppression, injustice, but also loved ones and dignity.

There are people dying, all over my region. They are not dying for a reason, they are not Martyrs, but they are victims of an endless chess game. Their death did not help a cause, just like the 9/11 victims, they died simply because we failed to communicate otherwise, because we discriminate, because we separate, and because we hate. (i)

Fellow Arabs, we are not so different from the United States. Take for example us Lebanese who have been fighting each other for so long that we are not sure what we are fighting for anymore. We’ve used religion, political parties, and opinions as an excuse to be separated. We hate as passionately as we love, without realizing that all war is civil because we are all brothers and sisters. We use terror to get a message across; we punch holes into our national security forgetting that it is our only shield against international interference. All the lives, money, time, opportunities forgone, discrimination and hatred are the real costs of the war on terror, regardless of where it is. Is it efficient? No, it is counter productive because wars have only made a difference once the doors of communications are open. Let’s just skip to that part; let’s communicate because only the dead have seen the end of war. (ii)

Maybe there is a reason the US has left us alone… and it isn’t because we don’t have enough oil, because the country has a relatively high percentage of Christians compared to the rest of the region or because we are feared. After all the United States’ natural resources are not significant enough to attract terrorist attempts but their global power and actions are. So it must be because the US is confident that we will always do a better job fighting amongst ourselves than they would fighting us. Basically, we are so weak as a nation that we cannot cause any threat to another, how bad of a reputation is that? We can’t even play “chess” because we don’t have foresight, only bitterness from a past that should have been re-written on a fresh white page a long time ago, and it sits there in the forefront of our minds, dictating our future.

We need to think more strategically, and less emotionally. We have to be more rational and be held accountable for what we DON’T do just like we are for the things we DO. We need to evaluate the risks before we make a move and we need to take risks only when the opportunity it reveals is worthwhile. We must become more educated in the way we make our political decisions, and most importantly we have to learn from our mistakes.  Through proper risk management we can use past history to make better decisions for the future, we can insure it does not repeat itself, and we can work on doing it all with the least possible damage to security, society, infrastructure and economy. It is great to have passion and love for your country, but when people are dying, nations are weakening, and economies are hurting, what’s love got to do with it? (iii)

In remembering the 9/11 victims, I hope the US remembers victims of their own terror on the Middle East and learn to draw a new page. I hope that the Lebanese too, can remember theirs, and maybe finally admit that those who died were victims, not martyrs and that it didn’t help THE cause, because we don’t know what that cause is and if you ask around about it, chances are we don’t all agree on the same one.

(i) Inspired by my favorite Dr. Martin Luther King quote “Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they can not communicate; they can not communicate because they are separated.”
(ii) “only the dead have seen the end of war” – Plato
(iii) “what’s love got to do with it?” – Tina Turner

Lebanon, where Instability is the newly found Stability

POST_16-IMG0For months now, countries all over the world have been instructing their citizens (diplomats and civilians) to leave Lebanon due to the political instability. This continuous state of shaky grounds and uncertainty has left us wondering if an unstable Lebanon is the newly found stability.

We’ve grown accustomed to the political turmoil and civil commotion that it doesn’t tame us anymore. The whole country may be in a constant alert mode, mitigating its exposure to risk however it knows best, i.e. Lebanese citizens have been taking precautions by avoiding any major investment decisions, travel plans…etc. but are we really preparing for the worst and hoping for the best? What really is the worst that could happen? What measures have we taken to avoid it or reduce its impact?

Maybe that’s the problem with being labeled as the Phoenix. The city of Beirut has been destroyed 7 times in history (8 if you count the 2006 war, which you really should) and has since arisen from ashes, just like the phoenix in Greek mythology, rebuilt even better than ever… or has it?

We could be in denial, maybe the scars from all the “almost wars” and the actual wars are buried deep inside. Maybe that’s where the oxymoronic Lebanese personality springs from: Indeed, Lebanese manifest heartwarming patriotism in moments of crisis and on major holidays like independence day, Army day…etc. yet remain unmotivated to make a difference in their own country otherwise.  There is no doubt that the Lebanese love their country, so why does the love stop at social media rants, angry messages directed to the government and foreign opinions? Why is it when the country needs its youth’s brains, energy and patriotism the most, we go on and waste it on sarcasm, self-pity, despair and the urge to leave. A people with so much passion in its art, music, food, hospitality, its love of life, why can’t that passion be applied in a manner that is conducive to a greater good? Soon you will realize that you cannot escape your roots my fellow Lebanese, and no matter how much you try, (believe me I have) you cannot take them with you when you leave. This is not just your country, it is that of your children and their children, and if you don’t protect it from potential harm, who will?

Every one of us is a risk manager, our overprotective and caring moms (bless them) taught us that in their loving advices for us: Put on a jacket to avoid a cold, wear sunscreen, save your money, don’t drink and drive, study, don’t smoke, don’t get a tattoo (still questioning that one) and we know the basic steps of risk management already: Identify the risk, analyze it, measure it, identify controls for it, implement them, and monitor the process. Let me paint a familiar picture of an incomplete risk management process: think about when you first begin a romantic relationship and you know there is a potential heartbreak that may be inflicted upon you somewhere along the way. You essentially negotiate with yourself, weigh the opportunities, the fears, the benefits, picture a worst-case scenario, and measure its likelihood. If you can convince yourself that it can’t be worse than your first heartbreak ever, especially if your first wasn’t your last, you know you’ll get over it again, so why prepare for it or avoid it?

The same applies to our preparedness for disaster. Though we may hate how the west portrays us when they show bombs, camels, and deserts when we really want them to see beaches, nightlife, history and beautiful women, we are nevertheless extremely comfortable with feelings of pity being expressed about our country and put ourselves in the forefront of every middle eastern conflict, like we are victims of a bigger cause. The newsflash we missed is as follows though: The Arab spring has come and gone (maybe) and Lebanon is no longer just a “victim” of external regional conflicts that only involve us because we are in the way.  We are not victims of really bad neighbors; these are the same neighbors that put us on the map, but not being part of the solution, makes us part of the problem, and the worst part is, we point fingers at each other instead of seeing the fingers pointed at us. Right now, do yourself a favor and point your index at something, now take a look at your hand, see the three fingers pointing back at you?

They say practice makes perfect, but I think the exception to that rule is you have to actually learn from previous attempts and be better prepared for their potential reoccurrence for the saying to apply. Allow me to elaborate: a few Lebanese cities have had their share of terrorist activity, unjustified human and infrastructure losses, numerous immaterialized threats, chased by a plethora of negative externalities such as absence of tourists, overall weakness in national security, brain drain, to name a few, but once the dust settles how do we fix what’s broken? Better yet, do we even try to avoid the potentially reoccurring risk exposure? No, we don’t. The truth is, as Lebanese, we have no idea how to prepare for a disaster or how to act in one, we just run to the eye of the storm instead of preparing food, water, shelter, evacuation strategy, etc. So no, “practice doesn’t make perfect”, because our bruised memory tells us, that just like a heartbreak, we’ve been through it before, and we can get over it again.

Political instability has become the new norm, and I am concerned that if the illusion that nothing feels broken because it has never been otherwise remains, then no one will bother fixing it. You know, because normal is so mainstream.

Do you agree that we need more education in disaster risk management?