Will Lebanon Survive 2014?
Beirut. By Franklin Lamb.
Another week, another terrorist bombing. It’s beginning to look a lot like that here in Lebanon these days. Another apparent suicide bomber detonated a car rigged with explosives in the southern suburbs yesterday, killing at least five people and injuring at least 77. A Health Ministry statement just a short while ago reported 67 people were treated in hospitals for wounds and released, while 10 remain hospitalized with more severe injuries.
Many who thought their “team” and its local and international supporters were invincible appear to be rethinking recent events. More are realizing that their enemies are also skilled and fearless fighters and not at all afraid to die for their religion, or related causes, and may well be growing in number as they view the results of their handiwork.
Yesterday’s explosion is the fourth bombing since July in Beirut’s southern suburbs known as Dahiyeh. It targeted al-Arid Street, two blocks behind the office of the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program (SSSP), near the old building of Al Manar, which relocated after being repeatedly bombed by Israeli forces in 2006. Preliminary reports indicate that a 20 kilogram bomb was used—hidden and detonated in an olive green Jeep Grand Cherokee.
The latest information this morning comes from Hezbollah security guys who guard our building (and my motorcycle—bless them for both favors!) and who have been visibly present throughout Dahiyeh for the past six months (ever since the spate of neighborhood bombings began). People in South Beirut tend to believe that al-Qaeda-linked groups are responsible for this latest attack, pointing to recent reports from UPI and other media that Al-Nusra leader Abu Mohammad al-Golani and Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi have ordered their fighters specifically into Lebanon for the sole purpose of fighting and destroying Hezbollah.
Additional reports, albeit difficult to verify, also have it that scores of jihadists are arriving here from Syria, Iraq, and other countries. In any event, the last half of 2013 saw a dramatic rise in the number of young male fighters from North Africa and the Levant, many joining Al Nusra and ISIS rather than choosing more “moderate” groups. Six-week training camps are attracting a majority of the wannabe jihadists, who come for a number of religious and non-religious reasons and who want to join the better established and most widely admired “winning teams.” Additionally, the Golani and Baghdadi groups reportedly offer the best food, the most “inspiring” jihadist ideology, newer and more powerful weapons, heavy winter clothing, including gloves, and salaries of up to $ 450-500 per month depending on potential exhibited during the 45-day training camp, with credit given to applicants with vetted previous experience.
Reports suggest that the current “slow war” will intensify in Lebanon following the assassination of former Finance Minister Mohammad Chatah, rumored to have been a candidate for prime minister. His murder comes at a very critical time. It is difficult to identify a period during the past three decades during which divisions and tensions among Lebanese have reached such dangerous levels. Verbal attacks and thinly veiled threats from the pro-Western alliance known as March 14 against the National Lebanese Resistance lead by Hezbollah (March 8) have intensified. Commonly heard now are calls to confront Hezbollah “by all means in order to save Lebanon.” The anti-Assad groups are blaming the pro-Assad March 8 coalition for the Chatah assassination, which occurred near the spot in central Beirut where Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 25 others were killed by a massive car bomb on Valentine’s Day 2005. The Hague based Special Tribunal for Lebanon is due to start trying that case later this month.
One can see it in the streets—the depressed expressions on the faces of even apparently well-to-do women these days, trudging along fashionable Hamra street, as well as the young from across the confessions, who seek to depart Lebanon, and the sooner the better—many of these often will cite a laundry list of reasons they think Lebanon is not, never has been, nor never will be, a real country.
Some of the locals habitually blame outsiders for most, if not all, of their current problems, with the Sykes-Picot agreement, the French, the USA, Saudi Arabia, “the West”, Iran, Syria, the Gulf countries—all these and more being identified as the culprits. Still others are quite sure, for a hodge-podge of commonly elaborated reasons, that it’s the Lebanese themselves who created the current mess. The reasons are many but a short list would include no functioning government, no armed forces worthy of the name, and corrupt politicians who regularly sell out their constituents but who for some unfathomable reason keep getting voted back into power (not entirely dissimilar to America). But perhaps most of all are the poisonous sects and confessions that give even ethno-nationalism a bad name. It is a defective character exhibited daily among the general population—from cheating others at the slightest opportunity; insane, selfish, aggressive driving, creating the highest auto accident rates per capita in the world; to considering it one’s birth-right to disparage the religion of others while threatening death to those who dare criticize one’s own. And this is just for starters.
The gifted writer Michael Young of Beirut’s Daily Star wrote recently that—“Everywhere, it seems, the Lebanese are swindled, and feel it. Restaurants charge European-standard prices, but the vast majority serves mediocre food. Many contractors will demand the highest fees for their work, but take no pride in it. They will bring in cheap laborers to save money, so that one must pay nearly double to repair the myriad errors.”
Young continues, “Every day, it seems, Lebanon has become a vast con game, an unprincipled country where violence is given free rein, where charlatanism is rewarded, where incompetence is generalized and where legalized theft is widespread – a country which it is easy to leave and from which the young understandably seek escape.”
On a related subject, some of this observer’s friends in Syria articulate a solution to the problem that Lebanon has become, one they feel “would be best for all concerned!” Whatever the outcome of the “current situation,” at a minimum, they insist, stolen Syrian territory—territory that was wrongfully and unnaturally ripped away by the French and British colonists and that is now referred to generally, but not exclusively, as “Lebanon”—should be returned to “Mother Syria.” And indeed, whatever else, it is true that upon crossing over into Syria and arriving in Damascus and engaging with people, there comes over one, including this observer, a palpable feeling of being in a “real country,” one with laws and standards and, well, civilization. Moreover, this feeling hits one even despite the tragic situation in Syria. It is there. Not only have I never felt such a feeling in Lebanon, but I have never encountered any foreigners, or even very many locals, who have.
Well, it’s not this observer’s business. And of course my own country has its own infinite supply of problems—problems that most countries, including many in this region, would likely not want to face. What I can say for sure is that it is not the will or intention of this ‘damaged goods’ observer to challenge the Almighty’s nuances or game-plan these days. There is way too much on my own soggy paper plate now to be entering the New Year with her (or him) scowling at me too.
What I will share, though, is this message sent to me by a cherished Lebanese friend, a message offering some thoughtful insight not only into the national dilemma, but also into some of what has gone awry with her own life:
“When God created Lebanon he said to the angels nearby that it will be a land of terrific natural beauty with tall majestic mountains full of snow, beautifully sparkling rivers cutting through forests filled with many types of trees and high cliffs over-looking sandy beaches and waters with an abundance of sea life. I shall make the land rich and make the people prosper!”
One angel intervened and said, “Lord, isn’t that unfair to the rest of the world?”
“Actually no” God replied, “Just wait and see the neighbors I shall give them.”
Hopefully God will review and amend his work so Lebanon survives 2014. It is not apparent that the Lebanese are capable of doing so.
Franklin Lamb is a former Democratic National Committee Member representing Oregon. He volunteers with the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program (sssp-lb.org)