I am a Shia Muslim who came back to his home country of Lebanon in 2004. I immediately embarked on my political career by launching the Lebanese Option Party (LOP).
I twice ran unsuccessfully in parliamentary elections, together with fellow party members in 2005 and in 2009 (the last Parliament Election which was supposed to take place in 2013 has been repeatedly postponed). We chose to run against Hezbollah in the regions that are considered its strongholds, namely the South and the Bekaa.
Despite the intimidation and various physical attacks by Hezbollah -- including firebombed homes and cars -- against my party members, my supporters and myself, I received 35 percent of the votes in the 2009 election. If we had run elsewhere than in Hezbollah's strongholds, we would probably have picked up a couple of parliament seats. However, this is not what the LOP is all about and it is definitely not what I am made of. There is no hope and no future for Lebanon as long as it is controlled by Hezbollah. The only way to weaken this party, that has the audacity to call itself the "Party of God," is to weaken it from within.
No matter what their slogan or name is, be it Hezbollah, Isis, Hamas or Nosra, these extremists and terrorists are exactly the same.
The vast majority of the people that live in this part of the world want what good people everywhere want -- stability, jobs, a good education and economic growth. The extremists want the complete opposite. They want chaos, poverty and ignorance to reign.
They want to bring us back to the Stone Age because they know that this is the fertile ground upon which they can thrive.
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."
Extremists groups reign in areas where there is poverty and poor education. This is why these extremists do not exist in the United Arab Emirates. There, almost everyone is educated and has a decent income.
While I admire and respect the American people for having elected Barack Obama, I am very concerned about his agenda -- particularly his Foreign Policy agenda. When I listened to Mr. Obama speak during the election campaign of 2008, I heard a man with a good heart who knew very little about the world, especially about the Middle East. I also saw a man who went too far by over-promising the American people, tired at the time of the Iraqi War.
Today, the Obama administration is seeking to strike a nuclear deal with the regime in Tehran.
Any deal with these kinds of regimes is unsustainable. The Obama administration does not understand that tyrants care little, if at all, about the economic well-being of their people. All they care about is remaining in power. These tyrants need the West and the U.S., in particular, to remain their enemies in order to blame them and to justify their oppressive rule with hideous propaganda -- the so-called "Zionist, Imperialist and American" conspiracy against their country.
The Iranian Regime is actually part of the problem and not part of the solution in the Middle East. ISIS has become more powerful on the ground because, among other things, it is a way for Sunni people to counter the ever-increasing Iranian influence in the Middle East. From Iraq to Syria, from Lebanon to Yemen, more and more countries are falling under the influence and control of the regime in Tehran.
This is why groups like ISIS have become stronger in Syria and in Iraq. Sunnis there feel that they have to free their countries from the puppets who run it under the control of the Shia Iranian Regime.
Extremism on one side strengthens extremism on the other side.
By talking to the Iranian Regime that sponsors terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, Hamas, the Sadrists in Iraq and Houthis in Yemen, the American administration is sending a double standard message that's playing into the hands of groups like ISIS: "The US is ready to negotiate and strike a deal with the Shia Radicals led by the Iranian Regime -- however it wants to fight the Sunni Radicals."
The growth of extremists in our region motivated me. I had to devise and execute a plan to start countering the expansion of these fanatics.
In 2011, "Saving the Next Generation" was born.
SNG goes to the very same ghettos where these radicals operate to recruit kids who later become their fighters. We deal with the same kids. But we offer them a different -- and far better -- path.
We have in the SNG program 1,560 kids ages 10-to-17 and 156 scholarship students attending the finest private universities in Lebanon.
We advise our university students regarding their majors, based on the needs of the Lebanese labor market. Because, when they find a decent job, the extremists can no longer get to them.
In 2013, we began granting scholarships for the best students to study at colleges and universities in the U.S..
The reason we started this additional program is not only because of the great level of education that exists in the US universities, but also because we want to change the image of the US in the Middle East.
Once our U.S. students experience how great this country is, how fair and decent the American people are, they become great ambassadors for the United States. They know that whomever calls America "The Great Satan" is probably himself "The Great Satan."
The world needs a different foreign policy to fight these extremists. But this alone will not do it.
The world also needs foundations like Saving the Next Generation that can get to these desperate kids before the radicals do.
Ahmad El Assaad is founder of the Lebanese Option Party and Saving the Next Generation.