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Lebanon… The Bullets of Conflicting Dictionaries

Lebanon… The Bullets of Conflicting Dictionaries

Monday, 18 October, 2021 - 09:30
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

How difficult it is to write amid pain and agony! The weeping of a mother who lost her son, the grief of those who lost their brother, and the tears of children who joined the procession of orphans.

Every bloodshed inside the homeland is equal to the killing of the homeland itself. Regardless of the circumstances, the blood of every citizen is part of the blood of the country, and wasting it is a crime that deserves severe punishment, but through justice.

How difficult it is to write! Because we are talking about the land of fear and the fearful. A country, in which the current powerful is unable to reassure the frightened, and the fearful is not good at resorting to sanity and alleviating damage. Tragedies are repeated whenever the identity of the powerful and the name of the terrified change.

I know very well the scene of the recent painful events in Lebanon. I have experienced it many times during my visits to the country, as if I were inspecting the theater from which the first bullet was fired in the Lebanon War on April 13, 1975. I have often been to the road that separates Ain al-Remmaneh from Chiyah. I came up with several excuses to visit the small shops on both sides of the divide, examining the pictures hanging there and scrutinizing the shop owners’ dictionaries and their expressions. I was writing about the war and was drawn to its cradle.

Poor or low-income Lebanese workers, junior employees, soldiers and retirees crowded on both sides of the street. They came to Beirut after the conditions of living became difficult in the South, the Bekaa, or the North. Among them are those who are bearing the bitterness of displacement unleashed by the war. They are ordinary Lebanese, who dream of dignity, earning a living, and the security of sending children to school.

Chiyah is predominantly Shiite, while Ain al-Remmaneh is mainly inhabited by Christians. Among the Chiyah youth were those who were attracted by the leftist parties before they were fascinated by the aura of Imam Mousa al-Sadr. Many of them joined the Amal movement, especially after the Feb. 6, 1984 uprising, which was led by Nabih Berri. The youth of Ain al-Remmaneh, on the other hand, were drawn to the Kataeb Party and the Free Nationalist Movement before the Lebanese Forces, led by Bashir Gemayel, took control.

It did not occur to the residents of Ain al-Remmaneh and Chiyah that an unfortunate event would soon occur forcefully on both sides of the road. It was the Iranian revolution led by Khomeini in 1979.

In 1982, following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, while the people of Ain al-Remmaneh were celebrating the election of Gemayel as president, and then laid him to rest before he could enter the presidential palace, Iran was laying the first building blocks for the Lebanese Hezbollah.

Hezbollah is the major turning point that has occurred in the Shiite arena and the Lebanese scene, especially in wake of its role in liberating the South from Israeli occupation. While the party was strengthening its political presence and its military and security machine at the beginning of this century, Samir Geagea was in prison and Michel Aoun in French exile. It soon became apparent that the party that inherited Syria’s role in Lebanon, after its forces withdrew from Lebanon following the assassination of Rafik Hariri, is a project greater than the Lebanese state’s ability to contain.

This impression was consolidated when Hezbollah, by military force, broke the will of the Sunni and Druze players in the developments of May 7, 2008. It was also confirmed when the party left Lebanon to play military and security roles in Syria and elsewhere.

The conclusion drawn by the visitor of these frontline areas, such as Ain al-Remmaneh, Choueifat, Qasqas, Sidon, and others, highlights a deep crisis that the country is experiencing and seems unable to confront. It is impossible to build a normal state in light of the reality on the ground, and the evidence is the collapse of what is left of the state institutions. A ruined economy, Arab and international isolation, and mounting anxiety among Lebanese groups, as they witness the fall of their country and are anxious about their future. Added to this is the feeling of the rest of the sects that Hezbollah removed the Shiite community from the national fabric to build a strict and closed model that threatens to permanently clash with other components in a country founded on pluralism.

Chiyah was separated from Ain al-Remmaneh by a road that could easily be crossed when the shooting stopped. Now the distance between the residents of the two areas is widening. In a shop in Chiyah, you can see a picture of Imam al-Sadr and Berri, or photos of Hassan Nasrallah and the members of Hezbollah and the Islamic Resistance who fell in battles.

In the shops of Ain al-Remmaneh, you can find a picture of Gemayel and Geagea, and sometimes of the late Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir, as well as badges of the “Christian resistance.”

Five years ago, there were those in Ain al-Remmaneh who were hoping that the minimum level of state authority would be restored with the election of Michel Aoun as president. Many expected that the general, after his ambiguous position on the Hariri assassinations and the international tribunal, and his alliance with Hezbollah, would receive gifts that favor the state and its dignity. The exact opposite happened. In Ain al-Remmaneh and elsewhere, you hear people slamming Aoun, “who took what he considered his right to the presidency and abandoned the republic.”

They strongly criticize the man “who participated in the disruption of state affairs, entered the presidential palace and is preoccupied with arranging the future of his son-in-law, not the future of the country and coming generations.”

Five years ago, there were those who believed that Aoun would not miss the opportunity, and that he would seriously try to be the bridge between rivals. There were those who believed that upon entering the presidential palace, Aoun would take off his party uniform and the grudges of the past, and that he would dedicate himself to rebuilding the state and trust among its people.

Many were surprised that the president’s term was spent embroiled in small, unconvincing wars, and conspiracies that weakened his relationship with most components. This was compounded with his unfriendly relationship with his old foe, Berri.

The great and unprecedented collapse during Aoun’s term and the president’s behavior as an opposition observer weakened his credibility and popularity, especially after the Beirut port explosion. This has also strengthened Geagea’s position, who has become a major player involved in confronting Hezbollah’s agenda.

Do the Lebanese people want to live together? If the answer is yes, then they have no choice but to make concessions. Shootings, dictates and imposing a status quo is very dangerous in a pluralistic and fragile country.

It is necessary to return to a common vocabulary and to a just state that is not based on domination, oppression, or breaking wills. It is necessary to make a thoughtful revision so that the road that separated two neighborhoods, Ain al-Remmaneh and Chiyah, does not turn into an abyss separating two different worlds.

Those who killed must be brought to justice. But it is also necessary to return to the spirit of Lebanon, respect the right to disagree, and collect the fragments that can rebuild the country.

It is no longer a secret that distance destroys coexistence. The gap between neighborhoods is widening, so is the conflict of dictionaries.

It was painful to hear new bullets resounding near the scene of the first spark. Nasrallah and Geagea are using different dictionaries, while Aoun is lost in the hollow separating the two sides.

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