Save Lebanon to Save Democracy in the Middle East

July 18, 2008 at 4:41 pm | Posted in Security | Leave a comment

For the last fifteen years, Hezbollah has been trying to convince the world that they are the shield of their nation, the defenders of the Lebanese people. They forced the Lebanese to call them “the resistance” and to accept that the group deserved ever increasing allegiance and authority. But Hezbollah’s thirst for power left the group’s leadership blind, unable to perceive the moment when their “resistance” narrative would fail. The world now sees the real Hezbollah: a group that wants power and wants it now. Allowing Hezbollah to realize its desires will mean the ends of democracy in Lebanon and the fragile democratic revival taking place in the Middle East.

When Israeli forces were still in southern Lebanon the Hezbollah “resistance” narrative was easy to sell. The Lebanese were forced to agree with Hezbollah leader Nasser Allah that there was a foreign enemy that needed to be fought. However, when Israeli forces left, the group did not disarm and found itself in the advantageous position of being far more powerful than the national military. It was only a matter of time until Hezbollah would turn against the people they claimed to protect.

Last week Hezbollah stopped trying to fool the Lebanese people, the masquerade was over. Hezbollah gunmen dropped their “resistance” narrative and showed themselves for what they truly are: an Iranian-back terrorist group. They went into homes and offices, and attacked non-Hezbollah TV stations. The assault was all the more devastating because it came from the group that claimed for so long to be the guardians of Lebanese democracy.

Lebanon has never been an ideal democracy or a stable government, but it has been freest and most democratic country, other than Israel, in the Middle East. It has been a pocket of liberty in the region with the highest number of dictatorships and military regimes in the world. Lebanon’s freedoms made it the refuge of intellectuals in exile and political dissidents and also the hope of common people throughout the region.

Lebanon is also a fragile country. Its government has to keep a delicate balance between more then twenty deferent ethnic, religious and denominational groups, making it too divided to prevent invaders and rise of radical ideologies. These are the reasons why so much violence has been attracted to this sad country. Its enemies have been threatened by its freedoms and lured by its weaknesses.

Hezbollah’s cynicism had led it to believe that it can take over Lebanon by force. The group has the support of Iran and Syria, two of the region’s most powerful regimes. Backed by such strong allies, Hezbollah believes that the highly divided Lebanon will be able to muster little defense. This is the same feeling Hamas had when it too took over its national government and literally through its opponents out the window, leaving them to crash to their deaths on the harsh reality of the Gaza sands.

But Hezbollah’s attempt at conquest will fail. The pro-Iranian Islamic extremists will learn that Lebanon is not an easy place to conquer. It has been proved time and again that the country is manageable only by consensus. No internal or external parties have managed to change that; no matter how strong they were or how long they tried.

The diversity that is all too often Lebanon’s weakness is also its safeguard against tyranny and occupation. There is nothing that unifies the Lebanese like a common enemy. Hezbollah might gain some land, but it will suffer heavy casualties. It might burn down a TV station, but the views it opposes will simply be broadcast from elsewhere.

Most importantly, Hezbollah has lost its self-proclaimed title of “resistance group” and gained apt title of “militia.” Some Lebanese have gone so as to risk their lives by openly renaming Hezbollah the “party of Satan,” the direct opposite of the translation of the group’s name in Arabic, which means the “party of God”.

It is no longer possible for Hezbollah to invent enemies when Lebanon’s two neighbors are Israel, a country that remains behind its internationally recognized border, and the other is Syria, Hezbollah’s closest ally.

The Lebanese people have made it clear; they are no longer willing to be the victims everyone is willing to sacrifice in their war against Israel. They are sending a plain message to Hezbollah’s leaders that endless wars on their southern border must not continue. The “resistance” narrative that Hezbollah needs fifteen thousand rockets, one hundred thousand lines of communication, and thousands of armed gunmen to liberate one small farm in Shebaa is no longer expectable.

It is imperative that international community helps the brave Lebanese people hold onto their freedom and fragile democracy. The time has come to support them in any way possible, and by doing so send a clear massage to all extreme Muslim groups in the region: the world might protect their right to practice their religion freely in a democratic country, but it will not allow them to murder democracy in the name of their holy wars.

Article appeared in the Atlanta Jewish Times on July 4th, 2008

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