By Max Sano || Contributing Writer
الثورة سيسكنون في لبنان
The revolution will live in Lebanon
As a Lebanese-American, I noticed that the unrest and instability in Lebanon over the last year has reached a peak that has not been seen since the end of the civil war in 1989. Leading Shiate political parties Amal and Hezbollah have blamed the protests on foreign intervention rather than addressing the divisions themselves. This misinformation campaign has led party followers to attack and suppress the protests.
Last fall, all seventeen factions of society came together to protest long-standing government inaction, corrupt institutions, and limited public services such as food, water, electricity, and internet access. What started with opposition to a tax on What’s App messages burgeoned into a popular grassroots movement throughout the nation as it rallied for a new political system.
In a similar way, American citizens are uniting under the Black Lives Matter movement as the national consciousness focuses on police brutality, community investment, police divestment, and racial discrimination. What began as a public outcry against the grotesque murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmoud Arbery, and George Floyd erupted into mass demonstrations demanding institutional reform to remedy the systemic and historic injustices.
Both Americans and Lebanese are at a crossroads in establishing their national identity. Will we continue to remain stagnant with our prejudices, or can we learn to take a step back and avoid this unnecessary and endless cycle of violence?
My father has always known Lebanon to be in a constant upheaval and violence. He was born in Beirut in 1970, several years before the conflict with Israel along the southern border erupted into a full-scale civil war. Hezbollah, originally a Shiate spiritual movement among the working class, turned into a paramilitary organization that enforced Lebanese sovereignty against Israeli forces and posed domestic threats.
(My grandfather had gambled with moving to Lebanon from Syria just a few years beforehand. He was born in Damascus and grew up to be a banker and an economic advisor to the United Arab Republic– a political experiment uniting Syria, Egypt and Gaza under a centralized socialist republic model from 1958 to 1961.)
I cannot help but worry that the past decades of chaos in Lebanon could be the United States’ future as Americans lose faith in our institutions: infrastructure, law enforcement, media, health care, mass transit, public education, and Congress. Rather than discussing the merits of reopening schedules and balancing economic and moral responsibilities, American citizens and policymakers squabble over whether or not the crisis itself exists.
Even more troubling is the rise of right-wing, anti-government militias like the Boogaloo movement that attack law enforcement and incite violence during peaceful BLM protests in order to take advantage of the chaos and serve the white supremacist agenda. Meanwhile, the problems do not go away and people continue to die.
The same phenomenon has occurred in Lebanon, yet to a more eerie end, through the rise and consolidation of Hezbollah. Many Lebanese view Hezbollah, which expanded to have a political wing after the civil war, as crucial to national security. Fast forward to today, Hezbollah’s paramilitary presence overpowers that of the Lebanese army and they have representation in the cabinet and parliament. The Hariri government could not act in the people’s best interest because many of the leading cabinet members were implicated in the civil war, and Hezbollah’s policy reigns supreme due to political and logistical support from Syria and Iran.
Why is this happening? Richard Spencer, founder of the alternative right movement in the United States, proves this point: “ I don’t think the country will come together and I don’t want it to. Maybe we can’t be a nation anymore.” I believe that the American alt-right and Hezbollah use increasingly violent and drastic methods to maintain their power, because they fear the power of plurality and multiculturalism. They fear the progressive trends of the younger generation, and so they capitalize on the existing divisions even if they are increasingly obsolete, as is the case for Lebanon.
Even though the Boogaloo movement may not lead to the hostile takeover of the American government and political process, their innate violence is something that concerns me, as did a small militia in southern Lebanon that developed into an international paramilitary and political organization. By reestablishing faith in institutions, we can prevent this. Misinformation campaigns become impossible when an engaged citizenry can see through the noise.
ان شاء الله سندرس
Max Sano is a contributing writer. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org