Saturday, October 06, 2007

Lebanon: The Missing Ingredients

I keep thinking of Charles Malik's post from late last year:

A core problem, and one of the reasons why Shia are so dead set against 14 March and support Hezbollah even though they don't support their entire agenda, is because of the sectarianism, classism, and tribalism of the 14 March parties. Sure, the Democratic Left is non-sectarian, but Future, the PSP, and the LF - the power 3 - carry the sectarian battle standards high and make no effort at winning the support of Shia on the ground. Despite popular opinion, the Shia are not driven solely by edicts from leaders.

I find it striking that none of you March 14 guys has anything to offer the Shia (as represented by Lover/Romeo in the previous two threads). What do Hezbollah supporters have to look forward to if they give up on Hezbollah? Will it be charges of exile and treachery, followed by fleeing abroad, as happened to the SLA? Will Sabra and Shatila occur in Shia communities? Everyone knows Hezbollah did nasty things during the last war, and the enmities of the civil war bubble just under the surface.

Is it too much to ask M14 to provide some sort of reassurance or program for the Shia so they can be comfortable with a disarmed Hezbollah? Maybe amnesty and a South African-style truth-and-reconcilation commission? Apparently it is too much to ask. This seems to guarantee that Lebanon is heading for a train crash.

However, I deem that striking a middle course right now is tantamount to asking for assassination. Whoever is propping Hezbollah with targeted assassinations certainly doesn't want anyone else to appeal to the loyalty of its captive population.

So what can be done? As near as I can figure, the thing to do is to ride it out until the next prez is elected, or executive authority by default passes to the cabinet. At that point, the executive must do a very un-Lebanese thing: he/they must act immediately and exercise their authority to the fullest possible extent immediately, without negotiations with the other side. Anything less and the new prez will soon become another martyr, but with matters in abeyance until (and if) a new executive can be selected. The president may still become a martyr, but if he exercises his authority before he is murdered - say by appointing new Army commanders, kicking out offensive "diplomats", etc. - he may make it much harder for Lebanon's enemies to kill his successor.

Bad Vilbel:


"Us March 14 supporters" (as you call us), DO have something to offer the shia: A sovereign, independent, democratic state. Where their voices would be equal to those of other Lebanese. A state where the rule of law applies to all: Shia and non-Shia alike. A state where everyone's loyalty is to Lebanon, first and foremost. Not Iranian mullahs, Syrian presidents or Saudi Kings. A stable and peaceful state, where they can turn their attentions to jobs, families, education, rather than being obsessed with fighting Israel or whatever other bogeyman they're told to focus on.

Does the entire M14 leadership get that? Probably not.
Does the shia population actually WANT that? I am not entirely sure.

BV, if I was a Shia, that might not be enough. I would wonder: once we have a law-and-order society, will I be punished for all the "bad" things I did for Hezbollah? If not, I might as well support Hezbollah to the very end, because the chance of me or my family losing property or life might be less.

I think an applicable historical comparison here is the Soviet Union. Even after Stalin was dead, tyranny remained, for just about all his henchmen had the blood of innocents on their hands. Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich appeared and that freaked everyone out, and they recoiled from facing themselves, fearing they, too, would be strung up on lamp-posts.

The South Africans had a much more sensible approach, with their truth commissions and very selective prosecutions. All that was part of the negotiation process that led to full democracy. The South Africans are available for consultation, and I understand they have been a major influence upon the Irish peace process.

Justice, as much as we desire it, must be tempered with mercy, lest greater injustices result. Nor is justice always a matter of fair and equal treatment for everybody at all times and places. These are the missing ingredients of the Lebanese political debate.


I don't think you grasp how things work in Lebanon. I can't for the life of me imagine anyone "punishing" the Shia for supporting Hezbollah.

Just look at the post-civil-war era. Nothing changed. Did anyone punish the LF? The Druze? or any of the other factions or sides involved in the civil war? Not at all.
They all got rewarded for agreeing to stop fighting (except Geagea, but that's a different matter, and that was teh Syrians, not other Leb factions).

Lebanon doesn't work anything like the Soviet Union or South Africa. Trust me.

And i have to parrot Ghassan's endless comments here: If a stable, loyal and democratic state is NOT enough for the Shia community, then I don't think they (or anyone else with similar agendas that are in complete contradiction to the idea of Lebanon) can be offered anything by anyone.

I mean, you can only offer something to someone if it's in the general ballpark of what they're interested in. You guys in Israel can offer a peaceful and stable and independent Palestinian state to those Palestinians who are amenable to peace. Right?
But can you offer a peaceful stable and independent state to those who refuse your right to exist, for example? Does offering a sovereign state make sense to someone who's shouting about throwing you into the sea?

I think you understand my point.



A agree with your approach in principle, but the Lebanese have proven too immature for your suggestions. We had the Amnesty Law after the civil war, and it became absurd everytime something happened and folks got arrested and the usual solution from some pols was to extend the date of the amnesty law. I don't recall the specific incident, but 3 years ago or so the way to help heal after some kids demonstrated and were arrested (someone help me out here) was to say, "How about we make the amnesty law that forgave all crimes through 1991 go through 2003 so we can get these kids out of jail." The absurdity of that idea is beaten only by Lebanon's creed of No Victor/No Vanquished.

Again, I don't disagree with you. It's just that everytime someone has a good idea for a problem, we say, "Yeah, but in Lebanon we can't because..."

"I can't for the life of me imagine anyone "punishing" the Shia for supporting Hezbollah."

That's probably because you are not a Hezbolli who has to rationalize in his heart why his sectarian group has weapons whereas the others do not. You are asking him to give up weapons that if they don't protect him much from Israel, at least protect him from addressing any accusations leveled by non-Hezbollah Lebanese.

"Lebanon doesn't work anything like the Soviet Union or South Africa"

Probably the best historical analogy is the England of King Alfred: a small country split into many different ethno-sectarian factions, the power of each varying with the degree of foreign support to its fighters, and threatened by periodic invasions to boot. Sound familiar?

"A agree with your approach in principle, but...we had the Amnesty Law after the civil war, and it became absurd...the usual solution from some pols was to extend the date"

Then why not try again? Now you know one thing that shouldn't be done the next time. I'm not recommending specifics here, yet one of King Alfred's strangest stratagems was the repeated conquest, pardon, and conversion of his defeated enemies, even when everyone knew it was a sham. A joke that survived over a millenium that I recall from Churchill's The Birth of Britain was of the experienced warrior who complained that the ceremonial alb wasn't as good in quality as those from his previous "conversions".

Alfred and his successors fought many battles, but Churchill maintains it was partly by turning the hearts of his enemies that he became known as "Alfred the Great".

Always, always beware reinforcing a key Lebanese weakness of character: the willingness to accept paralysis, trust blind hope, and do nothing, leaving your declared enemies free to maneuver unopposed. The short-term risk to the individual or group is lessened, yes, but at the cost of long-term well-being.

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