Stop Banging the Drums of the Lebanese War

6 Dec

The U.N tribunal on Rafik Hariri‘s death is due to give a verdict.  Ban-Ki Moon spoke of “rising political tensions” in Beirut; the media is sensing strife and casting pessimistic predictions; catastrophe is widely forecast for Lebanon’s future.  I disagree that such catastrophe, if it is to come, will be born from Lebanese seeds.

It is in the interest of Lebanon’s enemies to “bang the drums of war” (Ramzy Baroud,  By pointing out that Lebanon is a country of political and religious fractions, ever experiencing civil, governmental, denominational (and any other ‘al’ you can conjure up) friction, Lebanon can be used and deployed as a power pawn.  A crucial component in the tangle of the Middle East’s web! so tragic that it cannot resolve itself! others can declare, while stirring their spoons a little harder in the Hezbollah-Hariri pot; Lebanon will be ruined if it remains so sectarian! – while telling one sect that another insulted its mother.

What these powers – and if you’re thinking who: America, Iran, Syria? the unfortunate answer is all of them (and more) – do not want is a unified Lebanon with political stability and therefore the strength to say no to anyone who fancies a bite.  Otherwise, the small squabbles that happen between one part of the Middle East and another, and the larger-scale battles that take place between Arabs and Israelis would have to occur in a more explicit manner.  That would be far riskier for the participants.  Otherwise, the trouble between Israelis and Arabs could no longer be exemplified through a conflict such as that between Israeli and Hezbollah in 2006 – a conflict that either (1) nobody really notices; or (2) various people gasp at when the short bulletin appears on the news but soon after forget – after all, so many other countries are involved that it must be under control; or (3) people are horrified at and denounce, but can do little to curtail – after all, the powers reporting it so insouciantly (oh dear! trouble in Lebanon yet again) are the ones who have manoeuvred events, people and moods to bring this state-of-play into being.

A weak Lebanon is a bonus to other countries.  It is a battleground, a symbol and a scapegoat all at once.  And, fortunately, it is filled with a resilient people who seem to be able to continue each time there is conflict, whether it takes the form of a fifteen-year civil war or a massacre of 108 refugees at a UN base in Qana; a summer’s worth of bombings watched from your balcony, waiting for the next explosion of bombs to hit your house and your family, or a few days total shut-down in Beirut.

Each of these has happened in Lebanon.  Not throughout its history, not even over the last century, but in the last four decades.  The civil war ran from 1975-1990; the Qana bombings took place in 1996; the summer war in 2006, and the military takeover of Beirut in May 2008.  (Think of how much you have heard about these – in comparison, say, to 9/11, or even 7/7.)

For the outside world, the Lebanese have one overriding quality in their favour.  As a nation, they do not talk about problems.  They suffer; they wail and bemoan their suffering; they mourn  and shriek their dead.  And when their dead are buried and the war/bombing/city takeover is over, they close their mouths to complaints.  They indulge in the private lament or sparse political cursing, but they believe, above all, in the sanctity of having been given life, and the great blasphemy that it would be not to live it.  And so, they focus on laughing and celebration and dancing, and prefer not to speak of politics.  A stunning number of Lebanon’s youth – certainly most of the ones I’ve met – profess even to hating politics, believing it can only be a force for destruction.  Those who are politically active, choosing between Michel Aoun and Samir Geagea in their school elections, deliberately play down their choices.  Good, you might think; except that friends with differing views do not discuss them, debate, and agree to disagree.  They do not mention them.  The debate is too risky to begin.  So – silence.

The civil war did not happen.  2006 was a summer for mountain partying.  The Hezbollah occupation of Beirut in 2008 about which so little is written and about which even less is spoken did not happen.  The Lebanese have muted it into oblivion.  It is not that these events did not devastate them.  It is that they force a determined obliviousness to the fact that conflict took place.  It was so awful that they want to forget it; they would rather deny it or ignore it than acknowledge it*.  And so, the resilience of the Lebanese can be depended on if conflict should occur.  They will continue; they will rebuild their shattered Lebanon; they will welcome foreigners with the hospitality and generosity for which they are renowned; they will hope (against hope) that conflict will not recur.  But if it does, they will go on.  Lebanon is the ideal battleground.

Announcements of widespread unease in Lebanon are lies.  Such unease is the intention of Lebanon’s enemies, who hope that in saying something loudly and frequently enough, it will come to dramatic, even violent fruition.  War might arrive any day in Lebanon, yes, but that is not because of the tension brewing between groups.  If war arrives, it will be because the pellets of tensions have been carefully dropped in from above by a foreign power, like the few scatters of salt needed to perfect a stew.  They will have been inserted, and prodded and poked to boiling point, until they explode.

The most disruptive thing that can be done to the Lebanese right now – the thing most likely most likely to lead them to war – is to tell them that there is trouble in their country.  To emphasise the instability of the government and to repeat the gravitas of the situation, is to destabilise the government further and increase the situation’s gravity.  With Lebanon, to insist on highlighting these things is to generate them.  It plays on every Lebanese’s worst and most smothered fear, and such a fear will suddenly explode in dread and horror.  Such fear can lead to war.  That, at least, is what Lebanon’s enemies are hoping.

What do the Lebanese themselves want?

Look at the army.  In October, after international press was in uproar regarding Ahmadinejad’s Beirut visit, the Guidance Directorate of the Lebanese Army Forces issued a bulletin entitled “There is no Cause for Civil Strife.”

Look at Hezbollah, who provided hospitals, food and shelters in 2006 and were lauded for it across Lebanon. In 2008, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah, spoke of his willingness to work with Sa’ad Hariri for a better Lebanon: “when we see that [an] extended hand [from Hariri] is sincere, it will only be met by an extended hand.”

Look at the three year anniversary of Hariri’s death.  Two gatherings, one following the other: thousands of Lebanese filled Martyrs Square in central Beirut to pay tribute to Hariri; the Shia southern suburbs held a mass funeral to mourn Imad Mughniyeh, their murdered military chief.  At the time, Nadim Shehadi, a political analyst, said: “These two events taking place just a few miles from each other in Beirut symbolize the divisions that are paralyzing this country. But at least it has been peaceful.”  He was right about the divisions – perhaps wrong about the paralysis they cause.  Since 2008, the country has witnessed stunning growth.  Michel Suleiman had become president; parliament is operating.  Beirut was even given the accolade of being The New York Times number one tourist destination for 2009.  “At least it has been peaceful”; peace is quite an accomplishment, I think, and especially for groups as diverse as those that live alongside one another in Lebanon.

Look at other politicians.  Sa’ad Hariri retracted his 2005 statement blaming Syria for his father’s assassination.  Wallid Jumblatt said “If the tribunal is going to lead to strife, then let’s all agree on canceling it.”  Like the majority of Lebanese, they want to progress.

In Lebanon, peace is indisputably wanted.  Look, most of all, at the youth.  Look at the facebook groups calling for Lebanon’s peace and unity (and progression – there is even one called the Lebanon Improvement Movement. There are many more declaring how much they “love Lebanon!”) Look at the proud assertions that ‘I am Lebanese’ – not Christian, Muslim, Druze or multi-coloured.  The desire for peace and progression is uniting society, if nothing else is.

Over the next few weeks, the tribunal will return with a verdict on Rafik Hariri’s assassination on February 14th 2005.  Responsibility will, half a decade later, be distributed – though whether it will be the ‘haqiqa’ (truth) Robert Fisk has mentioned in his articles is another matter.  Let us hope that the reports around the world of “brewing tension” and the clamouring “drums of war” will not manipulate the Lebanese.  Let us hope that the attempts of any country – be it Syria, Israel, Iran, France, the US, the UK or anyone else – to sound the horn of Lebanon’s instability will fall on ears open only to moving on.  Let us hope that worldwide hearsay does not generate war.  As the Lebanese Forces pointed out to their soldiers, “statements encouraging divisiveness pose a real threat to the country.”

The drums of war, Lebanon, are just what they want from you.

* Of course, by ‘they’ I do not pretend to speak for the every member of the Lebanese population.  There are those who make every effort to remember and make remembering publicly more common.  But for the overwhelming majority I have encountered, it is better to focus on other things.

There are also those who endeavour to wage war against Hezbollah or Israel; or Aoun; or Muslims, Christians and any other of Lebanon’s 18 different officially recognised sects.  They, though, are a minority with an unpopular attitude.  They tend to be regarded as unpatriotic. They could not hope to account for, nor could they effect, the tension the outside powers hope for.


One Response to “Stop Banging the Drums of the Lebanese War”


  1. Go Ban Ki « emserrs - December 18, 2010

    […] […]

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