In Lebanon, We Dance in a Minefield

There could be war tomorrow. Until then, life goes on.

Saad Hariri 

This week, during Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Lebanon, many Lebanese realized that keeping a tight grip on their sense of humor is the only way to stay sane. I received many e-mails and text messages making fun of the “troublesome guest,” but only one managed to make me laugh and cry at the same time: “Guess what the official language of Lebanon is now? Options: English, Turkish, or Farsi.”

If not for humor and a miraculous resilience, many Lebanese would have gone crazy by now. We liberated our land from both the Israeli and Syrian armies. We thought we had achieved democracy and independence after the Cedar Revolution of 2005 that followed the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and we managed to win the support of the international community through the U.N. Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which was set up to investigate Hariri’s murder.

Today all that is lost, and the Lebanon we hoped for is slipping away. What went wrong? And why are we still here, in this mad country, fighting for it?

Ever since the war of July 2006, I have felt that the conflicts that followed the 2005 uprising have nothing to do with the Lebanese people. Our two enemies, Israel and Iran, are fighting each other on our land. Even more infuriating, we are playing their game.

We stopped listening to each other, and all the initiatives designed to settle the lingering issues of the 1975 civil war went down the drain. Now I can only sense hate and a desire for revenge.

Ahmadinejad came to Lebanon to say one thing: Iran won Lebanon, and it will not let go.

Democracy didn’t mean a thing to the Iranian and Syrian proxies in Lebanon. The Western-backed March 14 coalition won the 2009 parliamentary elections, but Prime Minister Saad Hariri wasn’t able to form a government. Instead, a “national unity government” was imposed on Lebanon.

No one could resist this reality, because Hezbollah’s guns and missiles have been pointed to our heads since May 7, 2008, when Hezbollah-led militias invaded and attacked the citizens of Beirut and Mount Lebanon. That was the first blow to Lebanon’s sovereignty and democracy.

Internally, the state was rendered ineffective, but many Lebanese still hoped that international institutions like the special tribunal could achieve justice.

But hope is not an option in the land of consensus. Hezbollah officials have made their position clear: Anyone who supports the tribunal will be considered to be—and treated as—Israeli agents. So now more than half of the Lebanese people are traitors, while the rest are honorable heroes blessed by the resistance. How can a country divided along these lines survive? We can only hope—there’s that word again—for another miracle.

Beirut is a city of paradoxes. If you stop watching the news, ignore the tense political conversations, and focus on fun, life can be extremely pleasant. The city’s nightlife and culture are booming.

Despite the tension, the fiery statements, and violent rhetoric, we seem to be blessed with the ability to live our lives one day at a time. Then again, it would be absurd to plan for the future, because nobody knows if another war will break out tomorrow.

Civil strife is likely, because if Prime Minister Hariri refuses to resign or to reject the U.N. tribunal’s findings, there will be demonstrations. Our collective memories of the events of May 2008 are still fresh, and the urge to avenge the deaths of almost 100 citizens has not been extinguished. On the contrary, the inflamed rhetoric and mobilization of crowds has reached dangerous levels.

On the other hand, Israeli warplanes still fly over Lebanese territory, mainly the Shiite south, to remind people that another war is always possible. The “divine victory” that Hezbollah achieved in 2006 does not seem to have wiped fear from people’s hearts. Shiite and non-Shiites, Hezbollah supporters and critics, everyone is scared.

The Shiites who support Hezbollah, the people who gathered in the streets this week to welcome the “godfather of resistance,” know that eventually they, more than anyone else, will have to pay the price. It is their blood that will be spilled if Israel strikes again, and they will be Hezbollah’s instruments if it decides to use violence to topple the government.

The Lebanese state is fragile. The streets are boiling, and the future looks bleak. Meanwhile, life goes on. And we try to laugh despite the tears in our eyes.

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