Will Lebanon survive 2014? Should it?
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. The health ministry released a statement just a short while ago reporting that an additional 67 people were treated in hospitals for wounds and released, while 10 people remained 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 last July in Beirut’s southern suburbs known as Dahiyeh. It targeted al-Arid Street two blocks almost directly behind the office of the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program (SSSP) near the old Al Manar building which re-located after being repeatedly bombed by US funded Israel forces in 2006. Some preliminary reports indicate that a 20 kilogram bomb was used in the explosion hidden and then detonated inside 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 in a series of attacks and some point to the 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.
There are reports, whose accuracy is difficult to verify that scores of jihadists are arriving here from Syria, Iraq and other countries. The last half of 2013 has seen a dramatic rise in the number of young male fighters from North Africa and the Levant. Many are joining Al Nusra and ISIS rather than choosing more “moderate” groups. The 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 days training camp with credit given to applicants with vetted previous experience.
Reports suggest that the current “slow war” will intensely in Lebanon following the assassination of a rumored candidate for Lebanese Prime Minister, when and if a new government is formed around here, the former Lebanese Finance Minister Mohammad Chatah. That murder came at a very critical time in Lebanon. It is difficult to identify a period during the past three decades during which divisions and tensions among the Lebanese have previously 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. Common now are open calls to confront Hezbollah “by all means in order to save Lebanon.” The anti-Assad groups blame the pro-Assad March 8 coalition for last month’s assassination of Mohammad Chatah 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 (STL) is due to start trying that case last this month.
People in the street, from the depressed expressions on the faces of even apparently well to do women these days trudging along fashionable Hamra street–to the young from across the confessions who seek to depart Lebanon and the sooner the better, often cite a laundry list or reasons they think Lebanon never has been a real country, is not and likely never will be.
Indeed, to some foreigners living in Lebanon, it often seems that locals habitually blame outsiders for most, if not all, of their current problems. The Sykes-Picot secret process of creating nations, the French, the USA, Saudi Arabia, “the West”, Iran, Syria, the Gulf countries are among others being identified as the main culprits.
Others are quite sure, for a long list of commonly elaborated reasons that it’s the Lebanese themselves who created the current mess of this claimed ‘non-country.’ The reasons are many but a short list would include that there is no functioning government, no Armed Forces worthy of the name, corrupt politicians who regularly sell out their constituents who for some unfathomable reason keep voting them back into power. In addition, the poisonous sects and confessions that even give rising ethno-nationalism a bad name, defective character that is exhibited daily among the general population from cheating others at the slightest opportunity, insane, selfish, aggressive driving creating the highest auto accident rates per capital in the world, and considering it their birth-right to disparage others religions while threatening death to those who dares to criticize theirs. This, 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 these observers’ friends in Syria articulate a solution to the problem that Lebanon has become and that they claim “would be best for all concerned!” They sometimes insist that whatever the outcome of the “current situation” at a minimum and for sure stolen Syrian territory, now referred to generally but not exclusively as “Lebanon” that was unnaturally and wrongfully ripped away and patched into a country by the French and British colonists must be returned to “Mother Syria”. It is true than whenever this observer crosses over into Syria from Lebanon and arrives in Damascus and engages with people, that despite the current tragic situation there, one feels that Syria in a “real country” with laws and standards and well, civilization. Not only have I never felt that to be the case when in Lebanon I do not recall discussing the subject with any foreigner who does feel that Lebanon is a ‘real country’ or even with many locals in Lebanon who do.
Well, it not this observers business and not only does my own country appear to have more problems than few in this whole region would want to face, the Lebanese do have some good qualities—one imagines.
And for sure this damaged goods observer has no will at all to challenge the Almighty’s creation wisdom these days as there is way too much now on my soggy paper plate without entering the new year with her or him scowling at me too.
For New Years a cherished Lebanese friend, a sweet complainant of what her life has become, sent me this thoughtful message and insight about her personal dilemma and what went wrong with her 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.