Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Heart-to Heart with Israel/ Cont'd

Of Facts and Truths (Part Three)

Nini Nini Ka’ Ka’ (as in Ne Ne Nee Ne Ne)

As I was heading towards the Syrian-Lebanese border last August, three days after the ceasefire took hold, I received a phone message from a Palestinian acquaintance: Since you are the closest thing to a Shiite I know, I want to congratulate you on this victory. Allah yl’aan Abu Ammar (God curse Abu Ammar, aka Yasser Arafat). To which came my reply: Shiite? Humm… Victory? Really? Glad to inform you we are one on Abu Ammar.

Interesting how a congratulatory message from a self-proclaimed cosmopolitan secular man should unknowingly indulge one of this region’s worst habits: an ugly sectarianism that is constantly insisting it can make itself look pretty. He saw Hezbollah’s triumph as Shiite, he automatically assumed that I, as a Shiite by birth, would identify with it, he himself saw me as a Shiite but, as a Sunni Palestinian, he still took pride in this “Arab” deed, lamenting Arafat’s failure to claim for his people a similar feat.

So Israel, after all, did get its sectarian reaction but in reverse: For a moment there, when the debris had barely had time to settle over the wreckage, the spectacle of Arab parochialism cheering the war’s designated baddie—and a Shiite, no less—must have been a sorry sight for a dumbfounded Israel. The idea was to boost the stock of violence but to destabilize the stage upon which an overconfident Hezbollah and its Persian friends were so freely playing; to punch the whole silly and breathe fervor into its feuding parts. As I wrote in that letter to my American journalist friend towards the end of the fighting:

Bludgeon the country, [Israel] decided, and make it pay for cradling a boastful, cheeky ingrate. Kill it, it even thought, and let its orphans, including Hezbollah, fight over the charred bits and pieces. In either case, let Iran crow like a plucked rooster over the trash heap that would have become Lebanon.

But try as Israel might in thirty-three days of combat, events would not stir as scripted. Its indiscriminant strikes infuriated even those extremely unsympathetic to Hezbollah’s cross-border raid, Christian homes welcomed Shiite refugees, the Resistance’s performance shamed its detractors into enthusiastic (if disingenuous) endorsements, while Maronite Aoun’s alliance with it injected resilience into the country’s fraying national fabric.

Yes, for a little while there, the facts were laughing themselves silly at a fuming Israel. So many of us were overtaken by the hype and so very few felt the chill of the ill winds that were coming. Slow down when reading these next few lines because what transpires between them is far more telling than what occupies the surface: We forgot that Lebanon’s delicate constitution was not made for such pricy victories; that Hezbollah may have won this round but that Lebanon did not; that cunning on the battlefield is an imp without the support of grit in the political arena; that with the people’s sympathy Resistance is a hero but without it it’s a bully; that Hezbollah cannot pack such muscle and expect its envious sisters to stay so scrawny; that it cannot weigh itself in gold while the rest are trading in cents and dimes; that Arabhood is for our poetry books and sectarianism is for real; that arrogance is every smug victor’s Achilles’ heel; that deterrence against Israel involves much more than nini nini Ka’ka’.

Our victory, divine that it was, brought with it a time of reckoning: Scores had to be settled, chips were being called in, loyalties were being put to the test, choices were being called into question. Lebanon begged for foresight and magnanimity but instead, as our he-men were pounding their chests, the smallest of calculations by the pettiest of leaders were shaping the most momentous of happenings (details are always awaiting you in Piss and Hassounah).
Today, exactly one year after, from this balcony smack in the center of Beirut, this is the landscape that my eyes see: A Shiite-Sunni drift into a nasty rift, a battered South up to its ears from a life of endless sacrifice, around 20,000 Lebanese and foreign troops dotting a terrain where the Resistance alone used to have free reign, a Party of God which can’t seem to tell the difference anymore between a halo and a hula hoop. Meanwhile, our politics has become even more smarmy, our government is barely functioning, our parliament is shut down, our people cannot quite decide what kind of life they want to live, our sects can’t quite agree on the nation they want to be, our friends and foes can’t quite figure out the game they want us to play, graduates are booking the first flight out while Al Qaeda’s are slithering in…

Now tell me: Who do you think won last summer?

For some of this, of course you would be right to thank Israel (and while you’re at it send a note to the Syrians, the Americans, the Iranians…) but the make, I’ll have you know, is vintage Lebanese.

The fact is Hezbollah won last summer but the truth is it lost.

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