Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Death of Hope!

When you look at the numbers, which inform us that only 300 Lebanese civilians have been killed so far, the current crisis in Lebanon doesn’t look so serious. But when you look at the pictures of the devastation in Beirut, in the South, and elsewhere, a different story emerges, that of the death of hope, a reality that represents enough victory for those whose basic industry is to prey on despair.

Indeed, the Nasrallahs, Assads, Ahmadinejads and Meshaals of our world seem to have won. So did the Israeli leaders who just demonstrated to us how destructive their wrath can be.

Wrath! Everybody is preoccupied with wrath over here, everybody likes to play God. Give people a little power and they would immediately seek to give it divine proportions. Give them a lot, and you have a Battle of the Titans on your hand, with us, mere mortals, serving as food and fodder to the divine appetites and lechery involved.

Over 200,000 people died in Darfur, as Muslims killed fellow Muslims, Arabs massacring Africans, but the world, especially our world did not shudder as much. Is it racism that was involved here? Or is it hypocrisy? And didn’t Arab media seek to undermine that entire episode just like western media is trying to do now with this particular one? Yes, yes and yes. We never really accepted the Arabness of “these people,” in our heart of heart, and their blackness has always outweighed the importance of their Islamness in popular imagination, so the possibility of generating popular sympathy for them in their plight on the basis of Islam was and is severely undermined.

Is this shameful? Without a doubt. But it is also the reality with which we have to contend. For most peoples in the Gulf, the Levant and North Africa, Beirut will have a far greater significance and relevance than al-Fashir.

But the trend that we are monitoring here is not restricted to our part of the world, it is universal. International media might have paid more attention to developments in Darfur and Somalia than Arab media have done, but coverage still fell far short both in terms of its scope and duration and in terms of its consistency in comparison to the attention that the situation in the Middle East continues to receive.

The reasons behind this state of affairs are too complex to analyze here and it is not my intention to discuss them, my point is to stress the relevance of what is currently taking place in Lebanon to Arab imagination and the impact of the destruction of Beirut on Arab psyche. Social, political, economic and psychological realities in our part of the world are such that the destruction of Lebanon is sufficient to destroy hope for change in the entire Arab World. Whether this was Israel’s objective or not, this is what Israel ended up accomplishing nonetheless, a feat that the combined efforts of all our corrupt regimes, for all their authoritarianism, have not been able to achieve in decades.

But I still put the greater burden of blame on us in this regard. Why? Because all of us, both peoples and ruling elites alike, are always so cavalier in our willingness to confront Israel and the international community and to supply them with all the necessary excuses and justifications for their acts of aggressions against us. Yes, we do have occupied lands that we need to get back and prisoners that we need to free and families that we need to unite, but no, military confrontation is not the only way to do it. The price of military confrontations in both human and material terms is simply too enormous and cannot be born by our failing economies and increasingly fragile states. Lebanon’s debts are in the tens of billions of dollars, and they are about to increase ten folds.

Are the Shebaa farms worth it in pure material terms? Are they worth it even as far as the principle of sovereignty is concerned? Before you answer that, just bear in mind as well that Israel is still in control of the Shebaa Farms, for all of Hezbollah’s “daring” raids and operations, and might end up controlling even more of Lebanon soon, and Lebanon’s prisoners of war are still in Israeli prisons. So, once again, let me ask, was it all worth it?

But then, is this really what is at stake here? Or is Nasrallah simply trying to fill the power vacuum that Hariri left behind and trying to improve his own position in the emergence regional alliance of the radicals? We should never dismiss the role that such personal ambitions tend to play in these matters. After all, ours is an authoritarian culture, in both the political and socio-religious sense, and the personal ambitions, avarice and temperaments of the leaders and rulers involved tend to be the final and most decisive factors in setting the main guidelines for the state’s policies, both domestic and foreign.

So long as authoritarianism and wishful thinking remain basic facts of our lives, so will disappointment and defeat. But our states will soon collapse under the strain of it all, and the hopes of the many generations in both Lebanon and across the region have just been dashed. Unless we can work out a miracle soon, we are looking at 30-50 years of mayhem in the region.