Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Lebanese anger at both US, Hizbullah grows after truce

Some Lebanese feel they were used as pawns in the conflict.

By Tom Regan

As many families in Beirut and southern Lebanon began to return to what was left of their homes Monday, the shock of the past few weeks was giving way to anger at all of the parties involved in the conflict. While many reports from traditional media reflect Lebanese hostility towards the US, Lebanese bloggers are accussing Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hizbullah, of using the country, and its people, to further his own agenda.

McClatchy Newspapers reported last week that Lebanon is in the grip of anti-American sentiment. One example of this, reporter Leila Fadel writes, is a huge banner showing Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice with vampire fangs that "looms over the now nearly empty streets of downtown [Beirut]." The change in attitude towards the US comes less than a year after many Lebanese saw the US as a friend on their road to democracy.

"You cannot see the Middle East only through the eyes of Israel," said Misbah Ahdab, a Sunni Muslim member of parliament who was in the political movement that forced Syria to leave Lebanon last year.

"Either this is settled immediately and we hurry and work to rebuild, or it will be a mini-Iraq and all the extremists will come to Lebanon to fight Israel."

Ahdab is disappointed in what he considers to be a pro-Israel policy, which he says has forsaken a Lebanese government that once saw the United States as a friend and protector. "This is a picture of democracy that has been used by the US. You don't want it to be a failure," he said.

"This is where the US has an opportunity to show a new inclusive Middle East and not only Israel's Middle East."

The Christian Science Monitor reported last week that many Lebanese are skipping over anger at the Israelis to place the blame squarely at the feet of President Bush.

"Thank you, George Bush. Thank you for those 'smart' bombs," says Hassan Dirani, whose wife and surviving son were injured in the attack. [Three of his children were killed.] "I want to ask George Bush: 'What did our children do to him?' Even with this, we love the American people. We love peace and respect Americans," continues Dirani, differentiating individuals from official policies. Unprompted, shell-shocked Lebanese now often skip accusations against Israel, and lay blame on its chief patron.

"I beg Americans not to vote for another butcher and criminal like George Bush," says Dirani, who works at the environment ministry. Tearfully, he says his small daughter, now entombed, had been sharing her excitement about her upcoming sixth birthday party next week; she wrote out an invitation list of 20 school friends. "Why does your system and White House do this to us ... give smart bombs to throw on our people?" asks Dirani. "What are you going to tell your kids [to explain it]?"

The New York Times reported Monday that sometimes the anger comes mixed with a threat.

Four hours after the cease-fire with Israel started Monday morning, Dr. Abdel Munaim Mansour stood staring in disbelief at the mountainous hash of rubble that was once the apartment building where his family lived.

"We will kill every American for this!" Dr. Mansour shouted, his voice cracking with rage. "Every Shiite Muslim will kill Americans! We will grind them under our shoes!"

Columnist Patrick White, writing in the conservative Daily Telegraph, believes that for all "claiming of victory" by both sides, the truth is that "everyone lost," particularly the Lebanese. But the leaders of the US and Britain have lost in a larger political sense.

George W. Bush and Tony Blair do not come out of the conflict well. You do not have to be an Arab or a Muslim to conclude that, for men who present themselves as big-time Christians, they seem little inclined to turn the other cheek. They accepted the Israelis' breezy assertions that Hizbullah was ripe to be smashed and delayed attempts to stop the fighting, even when it was obvious that the campaign was faltering.

Their stance will have reinforced the already dominant conviction among ordinary people in the region that America and Britain will always side with Israel. Talk about bringing peace, justice and democracy to the Middle East is therefore rubbish, just as the radical Islamists have been saying all along.

But in the Lebanese blogosphere, there also has been a strong outpouring of anger aimed at Hizbullah. After Mr. Nasrallah gave a speech Monday where he "declared victory" over Israel, the anti-Nasrallah sentiment was particularly visible.

A Lebanese blogger, identified as Raja [currently living in the US], wrote on Lebanese Bloggers, that as much as he might want to claim a victory, Hizbullah has lost just as much as the Israelis.

It is true that Hizballah survived this onslaught, and in so doing, was able to achieve an unprecedented feat. However, it failed to accomplish anything else, and no matter how much better it prepared for this war, could not have accomplished more.

On that note, I have a message I wish to convey to Nasrallah (and I think I speak for the majority of Lebanese when I say this): ENOUGH!

You are not my leader. You have just been handed your "epic battle" with the Israelis and you could not have wished for a better outcome. Of course, the price WE ALL had to pay for that "victory" of yours was astronomical. Your insistence on keeping your weapons and stubbornly tagging the Syrian-Iranian foreign policy line has brought our country to the brink of oblivion.

ENOUGH, Nasrallah. ENOUGH.

At Cedars Awakening, a Lebanese blogger who identifies himself as 'Vox,' wrote that people are paying too much attention to "military objectives" when they should be paying more attention to political objectives.

From my Lebanese perspective, I have little to gain from this conflict. While I would certainly be happy to get rid of Hezbollah, the cost of this war far outweighs the benefits – especially that, at the end of the day, Hezbollah might still be there. In this case, there won't be any benefits for me, only costs ... I say to the Israelis that they should follow [New York Times columnists Tom Friedman's] advice and make Hezbollah lose – by stopping this war. Israel cannot attain its military objectives, but it has already won the political war. This offensive is not harming Hezbollah anymore, but Lebanon's attempt to establish a democratic – even if feeble – state. There's more to Lebanon than weirdos: don't forget that there's plenty of decent Lebanese who also want to destroy Hezbollah, through peaceful, but more efficient means. To do that, we need peace, we need prosperity, and we need time.

Faysal Itani, blogging Tuesday from Beirut on "The Thinking Lebanese," says both Lebanese and Israelis are left to "contemplate the outcome for which they have paid such a high price."

I have always been ambivalent about the West's recent approach to fighting Islamic fundamentalism. I am no longer ambivalent: if this war was anything to go by, the West is on the wrong track, its policies motivated by a dangerous combination of ignorance and hubris.

The only thing worse than a disasterous outcome is a disasterous outcome so utterly, totally and sickeningly predictable. Earlier I wrote that the outcome of this war would affect the status of the whole region. I also predicted a Hizbullah-Syria-Iran victory. The latter has come to pass. God help the Middle East.

God help Lebanon.


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