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Wednesday, March 16, 2005

What's the Matter with Lebanon?

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Other than bad taste in music, I mean. Judging from what little I've heard in the media, you'd think that a great wave of democratic resistance had risen up against an opressive regime, inspired by the elections in Iraq and the wisdom and courage of President Bush. Or something. Is that what's up?

Not really. Lebanon's been some form of "democracy" for years. They have an elected Parlaiment, President, Prime Minister, the whole nine yards. In fact, the man whose assassination sparked this month's uproar, Hariri, was Prime Minister for most of the time since the civil war ended in 1990.

And there's the problem. Lebanon's haunted by the ghost of a horrible civil war. The reason nobody talks much about Lebanon when talking about democracy in the middle east is that it hasn't, historically, worked out so well there. It's a very diverse country, split along sectarian lines, and in recent decades those groups haven't been so good at getting along together.

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Actually they have demanstrated quite a talent for blowing each other for pieces. For those of you too young to remember, the US sent Marines there (to keep the peace or to help one side or the other, I can't remember and can't be bothered to do basic research before spouting off - what the hell, Rush doesn't research, why should I?) and they got blown up. Then we ran away and invaded Grenada instead, to prove we were still pretty tough.

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But this is America. Nobody cares about ancient history like the 80's. You want to know about half a million people flooding the streets with their faces painted like it was St. Patty's Day on the South Side. And why wouldn't you? You're supposed to. These people are trying to communicate with you. Why else would their signs be in English?

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Here's the deal as far as I can tell. Not wanting to overgeneralize, but people in the Middle East love a good conspiracy theory. The economy? Bad Weather? Car bombing? People who get interviewed in cafes (always in cafes) will tell you it's always shadowy forces behind the scenes, the government, the Israelis, the CIA, the Masons, the Bilderbergers, whatever. So when Hariri resigned after having a public feud with the Syrians, and then got blown up, it was assumed to be the work of the Syrians. So half a million of his supporters (a shaky coalition of Sunni Muslims like Hariri, Christians, and Druze - a fourth monotheistic religion most Americans have never heard of) have taken to the streets to demand Syria withdraw from Lebanon. Half a million supporters of the pro-Syrian government showed up in another square across town, to oppose Syrian withdrawal.

Now we've all heard by now that the counter-demonstration was organized by Big Bad Hezbollah. True. But two facts you need to be aware of; first, there are only about three million people in all of Lebanon. Second, Hezbollah gets about ten percent of the vote for Parlaiment. In other words, if every Hezbollah voter showed up, and every Lebanese was a voter, there would only be 300,000 people there. So who were these people? They're Shiites. Remember our friends in Iraq? In Lebanon, we're apparently on the other team, or something.

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Actually the Shiites have a good reason for liking Syrian intervention. The Syrian regime is headed by Allawites, who are kinda sorta Shiites if you squint real hard. So in a country like Lebanon where there is no majority, it helps to have your distant cousin and his army around if a fight breaks out.

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So where do I stand on all this?

I was relieved when Syria took control in 1990 because it stopped the slaughter. About whether it's time for them to leave now, I don't know enough to have an opinion. But while it's delightful to see all these young people involved in politics and wanting to shape their own national destiny, I'm actually finding a situation in which something like a third of the country is out in the streets demonstrating - against each other - in a country so recently torn by civil war . . . disturbing. I'd hate to see them start blowing each other up again. And as for Hezbollah, I don't buy the hype. They were a violent resistance movement, now they're political has beens. Kinda like a Middle Eastern IRA. But I do see them representing a threat - I'd hate to see radical religious people of any stripe take over Lebanon.

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I mean here we have this fabulous country, wonderful weather, oceanfront property, and a country that is obviously full of beautiful people - and I mean that in the most shallow way possible - and yet another group of religious wackos are threatening to take power. Think about it. Probably the first thing they'll do is ban bikinis. All that beach and no babes.

Now that would be tragic.
Comments:
I hate to be a "homer" on this one C, but the fact is that like all occupied peoples, the Lebanese people need self-determination. It's ugly, it will be hard, it will involve deaths. The Syrians have run the country for a long time, and that has brought a bit of stability; certainly not democracy though. So, either you give it to the Syrians or you let the country with a long, proud, history take over its own destiny. I have no idea how that is going to work, but he goal here is less democracy as it is acknwoledgment of the rights of minority Christians to live and work alongside with muslims and Palestinians without the fear that their infrastructure might be blown up by the Isrealis. Plus, when they are more in to waving their flag, they are less likely to burn our flag.
 
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