Symposium: Lebanon: The Spark of Liberty in the Middle East
By Jamie Glazov
FrontPageMagazine.com | November 3, 2005
A new UN resolution being hammered out this week will attempt to force Syria to turn over suspects to the world body's inquiry into the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister who had opposed the 30 year-long presence of Syrian troops in his country. The al-Hariri murder last February set off a spate of killings against anti-Syrian figures. On June 2, anti-Syrian newspaper columnist Samir Kassir was killed in a car bombing. That same month, George Hawi, another critic of Syria, was murdered in another car explosion. In late September 2005, May Chidiac, a prominent anti-Syrian Christian news anchor, was seriously wounded when her car exploded in Lebanon. Her left leg was blown off beneath the knee, and her left hand suffered extensive damage.
Syria has denied any role in these murders, but the Damascus hand is transparently evident. The UN inquiry into al-Haririís assassination has already led to the arrest of four pro-Syrian generals on charges of murder.
All of these developments reveal that Lebanon is paying a heavy price for the freedom and independence it is now gaining. Lebanese citizens are clearly no longer afraid of the Syrians and are moving quickly toward regaining their independence and becoming a truly democratic society. This phenomenon obviously poses a huge threat not only to Syria, but also to Islamists throughout the Middle East terrified of liberty in their midst.
Today, FrontPage Magazine would like to discuss this first true pro-democratic revolution in the Arab world. We would like to focus on one key central question: is this incredible development connected to the same reason why Lebanon was destroyed as a country in the Middle East? Does Lebanon have promise for modernity and freedom because it is a Christian nation? Is that why, in the last quarter of the 20th century, the Islamic-Arab world suffocated Lebanon -- because it couldn't, at that time, digest freedom?
Thanks to two successful elections in Iraq, the tide of for freedom in the Middle East has clearly turned, and it appears that the forces of authoritarianism and terror can no longer prevent the crumbling of the Arab Berlin Wall. At the same time, it must asked: does the large Christian contingent of the Lebanese Arab population mean that this country's democratic revolution may not be readily repeatable elsewhere in the Middle East?
To discuss these and other questions with us today, FrontPage has assembled a distinguished panel. Our guests today are:
Joe Baini, Speaker of the World Lebanese Cultural Union (WLCU) Senate and the immediate past World President of the WLCU. Has been active in the struggle to liberate Lebanon from foreign occupation and restore its sovereignty for over 28 years;
Ret. Colonel Charbel Barakat, a Former Officer of the Lebanese Army, Vice President of the World Lebanese Organization and a former International Security Advisor to the President of the Lebanese Diaspora. He is a terrorism analyst for the Canadian Lebanese Council and testified on Terrorism and Hezbollah to the US Senate in 1997 & 2000;
Tom Harb, the Chairman for Media and Director for Foreign Affairs at the World Lebanese Cultural Union, the legitimate representative of the Lebanese Diaspora. The Vice President of the American Lebanese Coalition for Political Affairs, he has served as a President of the American Maronite Union. Mr. Harb is also the coordinator of United Nations activities on behalf of the Lebanese Diaspora. He has been a leading contributor in the introduction of the UNSCR 1559, which called on Syria to withdraw from Lebanon;
Brigitte Gabriel, a survivor of Islam's Jihad against Lebanese Christians. She's the former news anchor of World News for Middle East television and is now an expert on the Middle East conflict who lectures nationally and internationally on the subject. She is the founder of AmericanCongressforTruth.com;
and
Joe Farah, an Arab-American Christian journalist whose grandparents came from Lebanon and Syria. The founder of WorldNetDaily.com, he served as a correspondent covering the Middle East in the 1980s and has reported about and analyzed the region ever since.
FP: Tom Harb, Brigitte Gabriel, Joseph Farah, Col. Barakat and Joe Baini, welcome to Frontpage Symposium. Mr. Baini, let us begin with you. Letís start on a general theme. Tell us why you think Lebanon was at one time the Paris of the Middle East and why other Arab nations werenít.
Baini: Perhaps it is easy to oversimplify the reasons in light of events of the last 30 years, however the real reasons firstly stem back in the history of Lebanon, to the era of our ancestors the Phoenicians. Renowned throughout history for their endless talents of Skills, Architecture, Craftsmanship, astuteness in business, merchandising and the ability to draft legal agreements as in establishing the first school of law in the world.
Secondly, we saw the advent of the Maronites, a Christian Church who are the followers of Saint Maroun; a Catholic Church with Eastern Rites who brought with them a sense of stability and balance through their strong faith, intellect and inner strength of character. Who also had an ability to plan and develop communities and build for the future. They ultimately became the most dominant yet progressive and highly productive force in the land that we now know as Lebanon. They withstood many challenges to their supremacy but always managed to remain the main power base. Their strong desire for education gave rise to incentives and stimulated the people of Lebanon onto greater endeavours and achievements in social reforms, politics and the process currently known as democracy.
These basic historical facts plus many more since, have given the people of Lebanon a fundamentally strong foundation for the development of a balanced outlook on life. Notwithstanding their experience of the last 30 years, the Lebanese will never lose their passion for freedom, democracy and independence; a characteristic not seen or experienced anywhere else in the Middle East. There is no doubt that it stems from the influence of Christianity which teaches us that every one is born free and is equal in the eyes of God and the law and has the right for self determination.
FP: So in many respects, militant Islam had to destroy this light of freedom within its midst? Lebanon could not be allowed to live?
Barakat: I am afraid so, yes, but it is important to stress that Lebanon had different names and slogans every time. In 1920 it was the Arab Kingdom of Damascus under Faysal, the son of Sharif Hussein of Hijjaz. All the Christian villages South of the Litani river were attacked in the same terrorist way, the orders and the main bands came from Damascus. But Lebanon survived and the freedom light was kept alive.
The second time was with Nasser of Egypt who wanted to "export" his revolution everywhere in the Middle East and united Syria with Egypt. For sure Lebanon had to suffer the "Brotherhood" approach of the new situation and a flow of weapons to destabilize it. Nasser, who did "monopolise" the power and "nationalize" the economy in Egypt, couldn't accept having on his "new borders" a free country with an open market and a democratic regime. But as progressive as he use to call himself, he did exploit Islam to popularize his image and have some Lebanese followers.
The third time the source of the problem was Syria again. Assad wanted to wage a war against Israel from Lebanon using the Palestinians as tools. He trained and armed them, he took advantage of the free opinion and the free press in Lebanon, he used all means to create instability in the country. This led to a real war and a "brotherly" occupation that we have suffered for 30 years now. Even though he did terminate all existence of the Muslim Brotherhood of Syria, he did create and support the Terrorists of Hezbollah in Lebanon which are the main problem for the return of stability and progress to the country now.
With all the pressures and the problems Syria caused, Lebanon managed to survive and keep freedom its main target. The weakness and strength of Lebanon is always its multicultural society. This society cannot be ruled but with democracy, which will give the country its strength, but when the dictatorial regimes of the neighbouring countries are strong or the fanatic movements are rising, Lebanon will always be put to the test and the results will be more sufferings.
Gabriel: In so many respects, Lebanonís Christian influence and culture clashed with militant Islamís intolerance of anything western.
At the heart of the Middle East and the crossroads of three continents, Lebanon is where the East meets the West. DH Lawrence described Beirut as "a chromatic Levantine screen through which foreign influences entered". It is that western influence adopted by the Christian Lebanese, the largest concentration of Christians in the region that turned Lebanon into the Jewel of the Middle East. It is that western culture and Judeo Christian values which dominated Lebanon that went against the grain of Islam, its traditions and teachings.
Lebanon, also known as the land of the alphabet, is the Middle Eastís most liberal country, an oasis of tolerance and easy-going enjoyment in a turbulent region. On Hamra Street, Beirutís equivalent of Oxford Street, micro-skirted young Lebanese women brush shoulders with Muslim women covered head to foot in black hijab.
It had been in Lebanon that celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, Charles Aznavour and Johnny Halliday entertained high-rolling Arab sheikhs and European jet-setters, among them film stars such as Brigitte Bardot and Sophia Loren. It was also in Lebanon where Europeans and Arab tourists alike came to see the likes of Rudolf Nureyev, Margot Fonteyn, Joan Baez and Herbert von Karajanís Berlin Philharmonic perform beneath the floodlit splendour of Balbackís exquisite Roman temples.
The backbone of Lebanese culture like Mr. Baini mentioned is education . The Lebanese, have the highest literacy rates in the Arab world. Most Lebanese speak three languages Arabic, French and English and hold the most college degrees than any other Arabic country in the region.
Democracy can only thrive in a society that values education, human rights and treats its citizens men and woman as equals in the eyes of the law. All concepts central to Christian Lebanese. With the civil war decrease of the Christian population and subjugation of those remaining to somewhat of a dhimitude status and the rise of international Islamic fundamentalism, hope for Democracy hinges on U.S. and world support for those remaining Christians and the creation of an atmosphere of stability and security encouraging expatriate Christians to return.
Farah: Brigitte is so right. I don't see a real return to self-government, in the truest sense of the word, without incentives for the vast Lebanese diaspora to return. The "revolution" in Lebanon this year was very encouraging, very inspiring. But it will not fully blossom into an expansion of freedom and security unless the demographic balance, so key to the "Lebanon difference" in the Middle East, is re-established. I know many, many Lebanese Americans, Lebanese-Canadians, Lebanese-Australians and others around the world who would like to return to their homeland. But it's not likely to happen unless they see more progress -- unless they see that this is real, that this is permanent. I don't think we're there yet.
We may not be there yet until Syria is held accountable for its crimes.
Right now, Assad is biding his time. He's watching Cindy Sheehan and these other idiots in America characterizing the terrorists in Iraq as "freedom fighters." He is being advised that, while the war in Iraq may have gone very well for the Americans, the lesson of Vietnam is that the war ultimately will be waged at home in the U.S.
Do the American people have the intestinal fortitude to stay the course?
That, I believe, is the real question for Lebanon.
After all, it was Walid Jumblatt, the Druze leader who was a staunch opponent of American involvement in Iraq who ultimately conceded that it was the free election in that country that inspired the Lebanon Revolution. If that revolution is to continue, there needs to be continued progress in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.
Harb: Lebanon's historical problems started with the rejection by Syria and the PanArabists of the very existence of the country. In 1920, after the liberation of Lebanon from the Ottoman occupation by France and Britain, the League of Nations decided that a Lebanese independent state would be created and guaranteed. Even though Syria was under the French mandate as was Lebanon, the Arab nationalist forces and the Islamic Fundamentalists refused to recognized the independence of Lebanon and waged multiple campaigns to stop Lebanese sovereignty. As soon as the French withdrew from the region in 1945, and after the country of Lebanon became independent, the new Syrian state, even before the Baath, put enormous pressures on the Lebanese Republic.
In 1948, thousands of Palestinian refugees were admitted into Lebanon. Syria started to arm them as of the 1950s to attack the Lebanese Government. In the early 1960s, Damascus helped Syrian nationalists in Lebanon to organize a coup d'etat, which failed. In 1969, Damascus supported the PLO to take the control of enclaves inside Lebanon. They wanted to drag Lebanon further in the Arab Israeli conflict. And in 1970, after King Hussein of Jordan defeated them, the followers of Yassir Arafat moved to Lebanon and launched attacks against the Lebanese army. Followed by wider operations in 1973. Finally, in 1975, a generalized war took place between the Lebanese army and its supporting popular militias on the one hand, and the PLO, leftwing and Islamic militias on the other hand. In June 1976, Hafez Assad ordered an invasion of Lebanon. By 1977-1978 his troops were battling the Lebanese resistance. A Syrian-PLO-Jihadist alliance was trying to defeat the Lebanese resistance Forces and regular Army till 1982 without success.
In 1982, Israel invaded from the south to fight the PLO and push back the Syrian army. But in 1985, Hizbollah, the pro-Syrian militias and the Syrian forces took back most of the country except the East Beirut enclave. In 1990, and as Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, Assad invaded the last free and independent enclave of Lebanon. Since then, the Syrian occupation, backed by the Iranian-supported Hizbollah controlled the country. Lebanon's civil society tried hard to free itself without success for a whole decade. The 1990s were very difficult, as neither Washington nor Paris were interested in liberating their old friends the Lebanese.
But after September 11, the US Congress and Administration realized the importance of Lebanon in the War on terror. The Lebanese Diaspora became active and called for an initiative to free their mother country. In the US, we were working along with other Mideast free communities from Iraq, Syria, Egypt etc. The Congress voted the Syrian Accountability Act in 2003 and in September of 2004, thanks to the "Lebanese lobby," a United Nations resolution was voted asking Syria to withdraw. After the assassination of Prime Minister Hariri, demonstrations exploded in Beirut, and the Cedars Revolution was on. President Bush and his European allies pressed Damascus for withdrawal. Most Syrian forces left the country and legislative elections took place. However, we know that Syrian intelligence is still inside the country, Hizbollah has thousands of fighters and democracy is still threatened. The Cedars Revolution is not over yet.
Barakat: The main problem for Lebanon now as Mr. Harb mentioned still the full implementation of the UNSCR 1559 which calls on the disarmament of the Lebanese and non Lebanese militia (or armed groups). We have to remember that all the Palestinian camps still armed and form a safe heaven for many of the outlaws like the killers of the four judges in Saida or the famous Abu Mohjen and the killers of the American nurse, not to name the Terrorists like Fatah, Hamas and all the pro-Syrian organizations. Along the Syro-Lebanese borders also we still have many military positions fully armed and occupied by the pro-Syrian Palestinian organizations and which were left behind after the Syrian withdrawal. The United Nations observers and Mr. Larson may be consider those as part of the armed groups to be disarmed according to UNSCR 1559. Also the Sunni terrorist groups in North Lebanon connected in some way to Al Qaeda remain armed and spread hatred in their so called Islamic schools. Mr. Hariri and his party were not able to content them -- yet?
The main problem to the return of stability and security to Lebanon which are two of the pillars of the democracy, is Hezbollah. Why?
As Shiite as this party is and while the Shiite community is one of the major Lebanese communities, it was forced by Iran, Syria and its own terrorist ways to become the main player, the most armed and the well organized faction in the Lebanon of the Syrian Era. It was Mr. Terry Rod Larson, the special envoy of the UN secretary General, who helped making of him The Liberator in the year 2000.
Now and after all what happened (the killing of Hariri, the Cedar revolution, the elections, the new government and the number of terrorist attacks), no body can assure the return of the stability into Lebanon before reaching an end to Hezbollah's arsenal.
No one can accept to have in the same country and in a multi-cultural society different classes of citizens where a minority of militant is forming a state within the state and having its own security system and its own army.
While the Christian militias and security system were dismantled and the new government can not, until now, change the state security system (made by Syria to just hold any opposition to their occupation), we are assisting to a security vacuum in the Christian areas which lead to a series of attacks and killing of opposition figures.
The government is claiming that it is fighting a "Ghosts" because it does not have until now a clear decision about the future, it did not yet choose a position, it did not, for example, accept the UNSCR 1559 fully or reject it. Hezbollah is part of the government and is an ally to Syria in the same time. Syria is behind the instability, behind all the explosions and the killing and the government do not dare to name it.
Lebanon needs in this period a full involvement of the international society. The borders with Syria should be sealed against infiltrations of terrorists and weapons. All the communities and specially the Shiite suppose to agree on the full implementation of UNSCR 1559 and the disarmament of Hezbollah. Syria shouldn't be allowed to return to the old ways of disturbing its neighbor's security. Then we can have the time to think and review our democratic system which could need some changes or upgrades.
Gabriel: There have already been some changes taking place concerning democracy and I am not referring to the system. Hezbollah itself has been changing. Not that its terrorist side has changed but its new face of being a political party is emerging. With its recent political gains in Lebanon, it is learning how to use the democratic process as a cover of respectability while still being one of the most lethal terrorist organizations in the world operating freely and suppressing and terrorizing the Christians. This threat does not stop with the Christian Lebanese. It is in the international communityís best interest, while concerned about the threat of radical Islam and terrorism, to stop Hezbollah in its tracks.
Hezbollah and its radical Shiite militia is financed and armed by Iran, supported and protected by Syria. It was a one year old organization when they bombed the marines in Lebanon in 1983. Today Hezbollah is leading the training of the insurgents in Iraq, including Al-Qaeda members in their training centers in the Bekaa valley in Lebanon under the protection of Syria. It is Hezbollahís technology and weapons, supplied by Iran, tested in Lebanon, that are used against the allied forces in Iraq to drive the hope of democracy from taking place. And we think that a handful of Lebanese who demonstrated in the Cedar revolution who donít possess any weapons are going to triumph over this goliath of a terrorist organization, armed to the hilt and backed by most Muslim countries in the Middle East? Letís get real.
If the world would have paid attention to the struggle of the Christians against the Islamic revolution 30 years ago in Lebanon, the world would not be suffering now from a plague of terrorism from New York to London, from Bali to Madrid, from Beslin to Turkey. The world justified the unrest in the Middle East as an Israeli/Arab problem. But after the Muslims started massacring the Christians in Lebanon the world had no excuse to turn their head away and justify Islamic aggression against Christians as anything other than what it really is: A war by the non compatible Islamic culture with the democratic, educated Judeo Christian culture be it in Christian Lebanon or Jewish Israel. After all it was the Christian influence in Lebanon that propelled it into the Paris of the Middle East and the Jewish influence in Israel that made an oasis out of the desert.
Lebanon, without a doubt, has no chance of achieving peace and returning to its days of being a beacon of education and free democracy for all without the whole hearted support of UN members standing up behind UNSCR 1559 with the military force to disarm Hezbollah. After all, how many times is the United States going to warn Syria to stop supporting such terrorism and doing nothing about it before becoming fools in the eyes of the Arabic world for not taking action to back their words? Meanwhile, this cancer of terrorism is spreading around the world, becoming harder to deal with and to kill before it kills us.
Farah: It strikes me that one of the things we need to do is recognize Christians in the Middle East as a minority group that needs to be protected. I don't know that the new constitution in Iraq goes far enough in that direction. Lebanon is the only country in the Middle East with a still large group of Christians. Their interests, their freedoms, their rights need to be protected. This is essential. Lebanon is unlike any other country in the Middle East because of the diversity of its population -- large numbers of Shiites, Sunnis, Christians of different denominations and persuasions, Druze, etc. This makes Lebanon different than any other nation in the region -- which has been and can continue to be a strength.
Because it's a tiny country, it cannot be divided up -- any more than we should seriously consider the proposals to strip Israel of any more land. Instead, Lebanon's borders must be protected from further intrusion by foreigners trying to disrupt the country. Immigration laws need to be strictly enforced.
This is no time to be looking backward -- except, as Brigitte has said, to learn the lessons of the past. Lebanon needs to get on its feet and become a truly functioning free republic -- not a democracy. It needs to be a constitutional republic with full protections for minority rights. It needs to get its economy on track again. I believe many Lebanese, perhaps millions in the diaspora, will return if that happens. That will be a great step forward for the country, the region and the world.
Harb: Letís recap: Lebanon has been occupied by Syriaís Baathist regime for many decades. The occupation wasnít limited to tanks and troops. The most lethal dimension of that occupation was the deep security and intelligence penetration of the country: Government, bureaucracy, diplomatic affairs, ťmigrť affairs, education, economy and social fabric. In addition, and to solidify their hegemony, the Syrian Baathists established an array of control over political parties from all religious backgrounds: From the Lebanese branch of the Baath Party, to the Social-Nationalist Syrian Party, to Nasserite organizations, Sunni, Shiite, Druze and Christian politicians, Assad created a shadow power in Lebanon in addition to his control of the Lebanese regime. He even created pro-Syrian versions of traditional anti-Syrian Christian parties such as Karim Pakradouniís Phalanges and Fuad Malekís Lebanese Forces.
But obviously, the most significant allies of Damascus are Hizbollah (and Amal) and the Palestinian terror groups. Hence, even though UNSCR 1559 was voted last year and Syrian regular units withdrew last April, the bulk of Syrian power is still infesting the country. The Syrian Mukhabarat, their allies within the Lebanese security, Hizbollah and the Palestinian Terrorists are roaming Lebanon and involved in the many political assassinations that took place even after the killing of Hariri. We have to face it, the international community needs to put teeth to the UNSCR 1559. President Bush and European leaders have certainly pressured Assad to pull his soldiers out of Lebanon. But we all know that he left tremendous Terror power behind. Our concern is that this Terrorist army is not only deployed to obstruct Lebanese independence and resume the assassinations and intimidations, but also to be used in the global war between the US led coalition against terrorism and the Syrian-Iranian-Jihadi axis.
President Bush in his last speech made it clear that Syria should be made accountable for these terror activities. France, the UK, and even some Arab countries, whose missions we visited few weeks ago at the UN Security Council concur: Those who killed Hariri and are brutalizing the Lebanese people have to be brought to international justice. Nothing less than an international multinational force in alliance with the free Lebanese army, can protect the liberty and sovereignty of Lebanon.
FP: Tom Harb, Brigitte Gabriel, Joseph Farah, Col. Barakat and Joe Baini, thank you for joining Frontpage Symposium. Weíll see you again soon.
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***Jamie Glazov is Frontpage Magazine's managing editor. He holds a Ph.D. in History with a specialty in Soviet Studies. He edited and wrote the introduction to David Horowitzís new book Left Illusions. He is also the co-editor (with David Horowitz) of the new book The Hate America Left and the author of Canadian Policy Toward Khrushchevís Soviet Union (McGill-Queens University Press, 2002) and 15 Tips on How to be a Good Leftist. To see his previous symposiums, interviews and articles Click Here. Email him at jglazov@rogers.com.