Hazem Saghieh

On Going over the Lebanese Positions Regarding the War

The Lebanese have divergent opinions on what “intervention” is apt in Gaza amid the calamities that Israel’s brutality is giving rise to. At least on social media, some of the opinions from across the spectrum seem to reflect the sectarian backgrounds of those voicing them and their political and intellectual experiences.

One segment, for example, believes that what happens outside our borders should be of absolutely no concern to us; another has the opposite opinion, calling for full and immediate engagement in the war taking place there. A third segment has gone beyond expressing support for Gaza and also supports Hamas, but nonetheless does not want Lebanon to become entangled in this war.

And, of course, there is a segment that wants “whatever the Sayyed wants,” meaning Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, who is, according to them, the only person who knows what should and should not be done; and all we have to do is act on that knowledge.

Those saying that the “matter is of absolutely no concern to us” are clearly driven to take this stance by the civil strife that the country has seen since the 1970s and their fears of becoming entangled in a new open-ended conflict. Nonetheless, their crass rhetoric demonstrates an insensitivity to others’ pain. These claims are made lightly, as the outcomes of this war will clearly have repercussions for Lebanon, as well as the broader region.

As for those pushing for total and immediate engagement in the war, they pay no mind to anything but entering the fight: they pay no mind to the history of the country and its conflicts, the current state of relations between its communities and their future, Lebanon’s military and economic weakness, or the notion that it should be run by a sovereign elected state that makes this dangerous decision... Regardless of whether they are Lebanese or reside in Lebanon, to them, the country is nothing more than a pathway for fighting Israel.

However, the least coherent argument is that of those who share Hamas’s goal of wiping out the Jewish state and liberating all of Palestine, but do not want to see Lebanon entangled in the conflict. Indeed, for Hamas’s goals to be achieved, the entire region, including Lebanon of course, must enter the fray. If, that is, those making this argument mean what they are saying.

These opinions and examining them is made more important by the fact that “stumbling” into this war is a real possibility, be it through a conscious decision or as a result of the “contained” military operations going beyond their bounds, especially since state paralysis has rendered UN Resolution 1701 expendable.

The fact is that the vast majority of Lebanese (even if their public statements do not always suggest it) are deeply sympathetic to the suffering of the people in Gaza and are convinced that establishing a Palestinian state is a pressing need; however, they are even more convinced that the country must avoid any involvement in the fighting.

This view - even if not all those who advocate it affirm this fact - is an extension of a Lebanese tradition that had allowed the country to avoid involvement in the wars of 1967 and 1973, as well as allowing it to avoid falling into the grip of military rule, while also granting the Palestinian cause an important platform from which it could be defended and brought closer to the outside world.

The truth is that this opinion is made far more compelling by the tribulations Lebanon has endured over the past two decades, which have left it poorer and widened the schisms between its communities, to say nothing about the fact that the destruction that would ensue from any involvement in the war would surpass, by a very wide margin, the damage Hezbollah could inflict on Israel by joining the conflict.

It seems that going over these positions is also important for another reason tied to the future of the Lebanese and their ability to continue living together as the common ground they share shrinks. The scale of the sectarian cleavages apparent on social media, within the front that claims to be united and is supposedly behind the resistance and wants to join the fight regardless of the costs, has been quite telling. In many instances, these schisms have taken the form of scouring through contested histories, be they recent, like the revolution and civil war in Syria, or distant, like early Islamic history.

While what has been called the “ambiguous” position of Hezbollah regarding its engagement in the war gave rise to clashes on social media, fears are growing that we could see a strengthening of the inclination to impose a single view and position on the pluralism of Lebanon. The continuation of the Israeli war and its brutality are valid reasons for such fears, as is the fact that the climate of conflict with Israel does not suffice to unite the un-unitable; usually, that kind of climate pushes matters in the opposite direction, reinforcing divisions and fueling tensions.

This discovery, which we are seeing with our own eyes for the thousandth time, undercuts a theory dear to the hearts of those who called for open-ended conflicts that “unite us.” The more apparent it becomes that this “unity” is actually an illusion, the stronger fears become that “unity” will be imposed on society, if not on its thoughts, then on its expression. This, in turn, has been an inveterate aspect of our experience, and we have a long history of circumventing our actual problems by opening the floodgates to slander and accusations of treachery.