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Beyond 43 or 48

Beyond 43 or 48

Wednesday, 1 December, 2021 - 08:45

People’s memories fade over time. That is obvious. Numbers, dates, and names speak to this fading more than anything else. With that, it is nonetheless strange for a pillar of politics to forget the date of his country’s independence. At the very least, remembering these occasions is considered part of a politician’s toolbox. What, then, are we to say when the politician being referred to pledges, day and night, to protect this country and safeguard its dignity, to say nothing about him having the final say about military and judicial affairs, as well as economic and foreign policy decisions...

For that reason, what happened a few days ago remains important and is not a fleeting moment. It will continue to be indicative for a long time. Its indications go beyond the superficial, and it was more than a lapse.

What the Hezbollah secretary-general did in his speech, twice in a row, before receiving a small paper saying that Lebanon had gained its independence in 1943, not 1948, shows that his country is not part of this politician’s toolbox. The date he missed is one every student who has completed primary school is familiar with, and he is a man who, to be fair, does not lack knowledge in many fields and is certainly among the most knowledgeable of Lebanon’s politicians, as well as being among those most dedicated to his toolbox.

Still, Lebanon’s independence is not among the things he knows about.

The above could be understood as a call for excessive patriotism, for lyrical attachment to national folklore, from holidays to flags, commemorations and songs. That is not the case in the slightest. Such forgetfulness, if it stems from a personal mood, individualistic inclination, hatred for politics, or a humanist and internationalist view of the world, is commendable and encouraged. However, what the secretary-general, who is extremely politicized, did is not forgetting, but replacing: he said 48 when he had been referring to 43. 48 is the year in which Israel was established, calling it the year of its independence, at the expense of the Palestinian people who suffered Nakba.

This replacement continues a tradition that came before Hezbollah, which sees Lebanon’s independence only from the lens of the conflict with Israel and the West. Lebanon and its independence, according to this tradition, are meaningless in themselves, and both could always be forgotten. They are outside the political toolbox. The only thing that makes them memorable is the extent to which they serve that conflict, that is, the extent to which Lebanon serves as an arena for this conflict and its political holidays and commemorations are part of a radical and militant narrative of history.

However, this tradition, which goes back to the days of the independence obtained eight decades ago, used to go further than this: deriding this independence itself. For, first of all, it is not among the histories celebrating militancy in the region, keeping in mind that these histories, from those of the ‘gangs’ in South Lebanon, to the Revolt of 1920 in Iraq, the Battle of Maysaloun in Syria, and the successive wars in Palestine, were, unfortunately, nothing but defeats that followed defeats. It is, secondly, an independence that was not accompanied by bloodshed and processions for martyrs that militants boast of- keeping in mind that the experiences of innumerable countries teach us that the more blood is spilled in battles for independence, the more tyrannical the regime that governs the nation that had obtained its independence. Thirdly, and also fortunately, this independence did not cut Lebanon off from the West. Would it have been a respectable independence if it had left behind a state that only traded with Comecon countries and only had friendly relations with countries in the Soviet camp that has become a thing of the past?

This tradition lost, with time and its bitter experiences, many of those who had believed in it. They reevaluated their positions, walked back on them, and woke up to their need for a country. However, one of Hezbollah's secrets, one of the sources of its unique appeal to some, lies precisely here:

It did not only refrain from backing down. It fortified and entrenched the old tradition with alternative rhetoric and framing: instead of the event, in this case, independence, having been peaceful, it was flooded with martyrs and martyrdom in such a way that threatened to drown daily life. And instead of the event being loose, untied to militant political histories, it was tied anew to those histories, to which epic religious and sectarian histories were added. And instead of the event’s weak link to Sovietism and its block, its link to Khomeini’s Iran, Assad’s Syria, and their axis of resistance was strengthened.

Here, we find the most prominent shortcoming of the phrase “all of them means all of them ” that was raised by the October revolution. While the others are corrupt, part of the regime and so on, they know the date in which Lebanon obtained its independence, and they consider political engagement, including their looting and corruption, to be on a national basis that had been established by this independence. Hezbollah is alone in not knowing that date, and it doesn’t care to know. Thus, if we were to use Mao Zedong’s language, we could say that the primary contradiction is with it, while the secondary contradictions are with the others.

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