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Hassan Nasrallah’s guide to memory loss

Monday 16 August 2010



Marvel at the contempt Hizbullah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, must feel for us all, that he would expect us to believe his presentation last Monday telling us that Israel was behind the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the former prime minister. But that contempt may also in some ways be justified, because far too many Lebanese actually believed him, even as they observe the rapid erosion of their slender sovereignty with lethargy.

Do we Lebanese deserve independence? You have to wonder. Israel has killed many people in Lebanon, and will doubtless kill many more, but we would only be abasing ourselves by abruptly reinterpreting the Hariri assassination in the light that Nasrallah chose to shine on the crime. We would have to believe that Syria did not threaten Hariri in 2004, was untroubled by Resolution 1559, for which it held Hariri partly responsible, did not control Lebanese security in 2005, and did not appoint or approve all senior officials in the security and intelligence agencies. We would have to disregard that these agencies tried to cover up the scene of the assassination, that Hizbullah sought to stifle the emancipation movement by organizing an intimidating demonstration on March 8, 2005, to defend Syria’s presence in Lebanon, and that virtually all of those assassinated after Hariri (not to mention Marwan Hamadeh, who barely escaped assassination before) were critical of Syria.

And, of course, we would have to forget that Hizbullah and its Amal allies twice left the government because it was preparing measures to establish the tribunal – the second time kicking off an 18-month Downtown sit-in to bring down Fouad Siniora’s government.

Nasrallah now offers an explanation for this: the tribunal was politicized. Yet that was not the excuse Hizbullah and Amal used in 2006 when they withdrew their ministers. At the time, their beef was that Siniora and March 14 had undermined governmental procedure by not consulting properly with them. But we can conveniently forget that, too, as well as Syrian President Bashar Assad’s warning issued to the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, at a meeting in Damascus on April 24, 2007. According to a detailed account leaked to the French daily Le Monde, Assad told Ban that approval of the tribunal under Chapter VII authority “might easily cause a conflict that would degenerate into civil war, provoking divisions between Sunnis and Shiites from the Mediterranean to the Caspian Sea.”

Perhaps Nasrallah had not yet shared his information about Israel with the Syrian president, who, with amazing prescience, found himself echoing revelations about a Shiite connection in the Hariri assassination more than two years before Der Spiegel made a similar reference – one that Nasrallah now sees as proof of an Israeli plot.

It would take an awful lot of forgetting to buy into Nasrallah’s theory, but that is precisely what the secretary general is demanding. He wants Lebanon, above all its prime minister, to forget the overwhelming evidence from the past and bury the Hariri tribunal for good. Let’s just blame Israel, Nasrallah is telling us, so that we can all live in amnesic harmony.

The politics of this message are complicated enough. Prime Minister Saad Hariri is not about to surrender so useful a card as a possible accusation against Hizbullah. From the moment he visited Damascus last December and shook Assad’s hand, Hariri confirmed he was willing to negotiate over the tribunal. That is precisely what Nasrallah seeks to avoid, and his Power Point display was designed to push Hariri into a corner, shift the terms of the debate on the tribunal, and force an end to Lebanese cooperation with the institution.

However, beyond the politics, what does the maneuvering over the tribunal tell us about ourselves as Lebanese? In a system and society committed to the rule of law and justice, Nasrallah’s spectacle would have been impossible, as would have been Hariri’s visit to Damascus and the conflicting statements of Walid Jumblatt about the tribunal (which still holds his affidavit). A system and society committed to the rule of law and justice would not have allowed the second UN commissioner, Serge Brammertz, to waste two years doing next to nothing and conceal this in a battery of evasive reports. Such a system would not have allowed his successor, Daniel Bellemare, to inform us even less about his progress, even though we Lebanese pay a substantial share of the prosecutor’s salary.

In other words, we Lebanese never deserved the tribunal, and I suspect even less the sovereignty and rule of law it was supposed to bolster. Lost in our conspiracy theories and factionalism, we are willing to believe everything ridiculous and reject anything backed up by hard facts. There are those, and they are not few nor are they all Hizbullah followers, who honestly believe Nasrallah made a compelling case this week. When gullibility descends into stupidity, it’s time to admit that Lebanon merits no better than to be run by an armed militia or an autocratic foreign power.

Here is Assad again during his encounter with Ban, offering up this assessment of Lebanese society: “In Lebanon, divisions and confessionalism have been deeply anchored for more than 300 years. Lebanese society is very fragile. [The country’s] most peaceful years were when Syrian forces were present. From 1976 to 2005 Lebanon was stable, whereas now there is great instability.”

If the Lebanese can stomach such disparagement – in fact if they can embrace the man who made that statement – then Assad may have been right to hark back approvingly to the years of Syrian military rule. We’re on the eve of a Syrian comeback, and the Lebanese seem blithely unaware of what this means, so busy are they following the pied pipers who have taken the measure of our society’s foolishness.

Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR and author of “The Ghosts of Martyrs Square: An Eyewitness Account of Lebanon’s Life Struggle” (Simon & Schuster).


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