Across the Bay

Friday, May 11, 2007

Selling the Myth of Division

Here's an editorial from a sharp new Lebanese website called NOW Lebanon. The site has published excellent material and interviews with leading experts, such as Bill Harris, who commented on the Brammertz report and the international tribunal.

After reading the editorial, you might want to revisit this post of mine, where I also addressed this propaganda line which was hawked by a regime apologist and flack.

Selling the Myth of Division
NOW Lebanon Staff, 11 May 2007

There is a freely-hawked notion that Lebanon is a "divided" country. This is a myth. Lebanon is not any more or less divided than other nations over key issues: the difference is in the way these divisions are treated. America and Britain are "divided" over their involvement in Iraq, but political life carries on.

It would have been most irregular if, after Bush vetoed legislation to set a timetable for troop withdrawals last week, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had put congress on hold and instructed democrats to camp outside the Capitol until the troops came home. Democratic institutions are founded on dialogue, not the abandonment of the very forum upon which a nation's political dynamic was founded. Yet this is what happened in Lebanon, where it has been blamed on "division" and political life hijacked as a result. One could even argue that democratic, multi-party systems are only made necessary by such divisions: an imaginary division-less society, where everyone embraced a common position on issues, would have no need for democracy.

The political impasse in Lebanon today did not emerge from an intractable political divide; rather, it is the result of a lack of respect for democratic institutions from some Lebanese actors, a weak state incapable of enforcing the rule of law, and most significantly, outside interference in the country’s affairs.

The concept of division, of a so-called national split, has a long tradition in Lebanon's modern history as an instrument of foreign intervention. In another age, Muslim opposition to Syria was answered with a bullet (we remember, among others, the murders of Tripoli Mufti Sheikh Sobhi Saleh, Grand Mufti Sheikh Hassan Khaled, Druze leader Kamal Jumblatt and most recently ex-Prime Minister Rafik Hariri) while Christian resistance – a more united movement – was met by and large with containment and isolation. Both tactics were employed to encourage the idea of a split and the need for a steady rule from our stronger neighbour.

In the two years since the 2005 Cedar Revolution drove the Syrians out of the country, those assassinated in a bid to destabilize and ultimately “divide” Lebanon were exclusively Christian; terrorist bombs only exploded in predominantly Christian neighborhoods. No one wanted to risk upsetting the Sunni community (in either Lebanon or Syria), while Tehran, currently exporting its own brand of pan-Islamic resistance to the Sunni Palestinians, could not afford a Sunni-Shiite schism.

Attempts to stir sectarian strife, however, failed: all Lebanon mourned the victims of terror together, and Christians were not fooled into lashing out at their countrymen.

Nonetheless, today, a similar idea of a national split is being sold to the international community as it ponders the establishment of an international tribunal to try those accused of killing Hariri and others. Those peddling the notion of division argue that Lebanon is not a country at odds over the establishment of the court, but a nation irretrievably divided politically along a sectarian fault line. This time, the battle lines are being presented as not Muslim-Christian, nor even Sunni-Shiite, but as a multi-faith coalition – Michel Aoun, Suleiman Frangieh, Omar Karami and Hizbullah – that is facing off against an obstructionist and allegedly illegitimate government – March 14.

Meanwhile, a sideshow to all this was the recent peace overture to Israel delivered to the Knesset by Syrian-American Ibrahim Suleiman, a stunt seized upon by Damascus to suggest that Syria is worthy of a “reward” in a region where it has only been a spoiler. But this apparent new willingness to enter into dialogue (and the hint of compliance) must be recognized for what it is.

Syria’s attempts to sow – and sell – “divisions” in Lebanon and low-level diplomatic gestures are nothing more than a smokescreen to create doubts over the wisdom of any tribunal at this time and further Damascus's ultimate cause – to wield influence anew in Lebanon.

NOW Lebanon is an independent, non-sectarian organization based in Beirut, Lebanon. Its goal is an independent, democratic, liberal and prosperous Lebanon, with equal rights and opportunities for all its citizens. For more information, please visit