A Lebanese dilemma: to fight or leave.
Summary: The dangers of Lebanon's subversive political order and its chronic invitation to conflict were brought to the forefront in early May, only to be eclipsed by euphoria following the Doha agreement and the election of a new president. This interplay between these opposite realities again proved that Lebanon suffers from a case of amnesia.
The dangers of Lebanon's subversive political order and its chronic invitation to conflict were brought to the forefront in early May, only to be eclipsed by euphoria following the Doha agreement and the election of a new president. This interplay between these opposite realities again proved that Lebanon suffers from a case of amnesia.
With the memory of the war seemingly forgotten, we Lebanese and our political leaders yet again may fail to learn the price of conflict, and this risks leaving the question of sectarianism without any clear solution. My experiences during the recent fighting demonstrate that although tensions may have been contained thanks to the Doha agreement, sectarian identity will supersede Lebanese statehood so long as the population remains uncertain about calls for change.
My parents grew up in Lebanon and I returned here a year ago to pursue a career in international development. Prior to my arrival in Beirut, I wrote a thesis about Lebanon studying the need to incorporate Hizbullah and Shiite aspirations more appropriately into the confessional system. Convinced that I was aptly prepared to contribute to the progress of Lebanon, I began working at a civil society institution concerned with reform.
As the fighting erupted in May, I watched what was unfolding in the streets below my apartment. Rare silence was broken by the sound of shooting and explosions. Beirut had once again slipped back into civil war. The bustling city was brought to a standstill and tormented by masked men and youths who, bereft of the memory of the previous civil war, were itching for a fight.
I spent much of the first night listening to the crackle of gunfire and awoke in the morning to a battle taking place one block away. I watched intently, then decided to go to my home village of Aley, located east of Beirut. There I thought I would be safer, but I quickly saw how wrong I was. Within hours of arriving in Aley, I heard gunshots and the sound of heavy weapons less than 50 meters away from my home. A few hours of quiet, a couple of skipped heartbeats, and a night of family members holding hands; the movie was over and I had survived my first war experience.
One day passed with relative calm, but the following day, a Sunday, was everything but. The fighting resumed on the mountain, and it became clear that there was a real threat. Unwillingly, I found myself stuck between two impulses: one informed by my educational background and upbringing, which taught me to use logic and reason instead of violence; and the other which recognized that my home, my family, and my people were under attack and that it was my duty to defend my land.
It was a disturbing transformation. I came to Lebanon with the idea of helping reform the society and threatened to leave it a militiaman. I had reached a crossroads. I was told I might have to kill the very people I had earlier recommended be better incorporated into the system. I was scared. That night the situation appeared irreversible. I was a fighter in a civil war, militia versus militia, and I had no choice. On that unforgettable night I put aside everything that I knew to be right and contemplated my capacity to kill.
Thankfully, the answer to that daunting dilemma was left unanswered as news came that our attack had been called off and an agreement reached. But if attackers had come to my home, what would I have done? Such questions can haunt us for a long time. To think that I might have picked up arms reveals the desperation I felt, left alone and unprotected by the state, willing to swap my humanity and my aspirations of reform for a weapon.
My transformation, like that of many others, is a chilling prospect for Lebanon's future. It illustrates the hostility that resurfaces with the passing of time and our capacity to forget what this may lead to. That night I found myself standing up for my coreligionists, my sect, before the interests of a collective people. I found myself adopting the obtuse mentality I was disgusted with when I first arrived in Lebanon. I found myself consumed by displeasure with this country, enraged that it had forced me to become a product of hatred.
Now I ask myself: Where do I go from here? I can only hope that this question is being asked by each and every citizen of Lebanon. However, I fear it is not. The often celebrated Lebanese spirit - one credited for enduring difficult circumstances and enjoying life even in the face of uncertainty - seems to be no more than a faiade. Disappointment shrouds my thoughts; not with the often-blamed politicians but with the people of this country. The silent majority that wants change and seeks a life free of conflict, free of communal bias, remains mute and unwilling to take action against Lebanon's crooked political dynasties.
Lebanon has lived a lie for too long, marked by the apathy of a majority of the population and a devious effort of the minority in power to manipulate our trust. Without recognizing that a state that offers no accountability in governance also offers little hope for mutual security, the Lebanese will increasingly be faced with the dilemma I experienced last month: to pick up arms and fight or to simply leave Lebanon.
Rabeh Ghadban is a recent graduate of the University of California, San Diego, and works as a researcher in public policy in Beirut. He wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR.
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