November 2, 2010
BEIRUT — Who would have thought that a gynecologist’s office in the Hizbullah-dominated southern Beirut suburb of Dahieh would be the symbolic place where the colonial and anti-colonial struggles of the past century would reach their confrontational peak and bring to a head this long-simmering war? Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s call Thursday night for all Lebanese to stop cooperating with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), which is investigating and will soon indict those it believes killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 22 others five years ago, followed an attempt by STL officers to examine patient files in the doctor’s office in Dahieh a few days ago, presumably because the STL has evidence it believes implicates some Hizbullah personnel in the assassinations. Hizbullah supporters, mostly women, beat back the STL party and quickly heightened the political confrontation that has been brewing in the country for months.Nasrallah’s open call to boycott and actively oppose the STL marks an historical moment of reckoning that is as dangerous as it was inevitable. This is because Hizbullah and the STL represent perhaps the two most powerful symbols of the two most important forces that have defined the Middle East for the past century or more: On the one hand, Western (including Israeli) interests and interventions that seek to shape this region in a manner that suits Western aims more than it suits indigenous rights, and, on the other hand, native Arab-Islamic-nationalist resistance that seeks to shape our societies according to Arab-Islamic worldviews as defined by a consensus of local actors, identities and forces. Stripped to its core, this tension between Hizbullah and the STL is a microcosm of the overarching fact of the modern era in which Western-manufactured Arab statehood has generally failed to gain either real traction or sustained credibility; thus it has fallen on groups like Hizbullah to play a leading role in confronting Israeli and Western power in a manner that most Arab governments have been unable or unwilling to do. Therefore, we live through this historic but frightening moment when a century of confrontation reaches a pivotal juncture: The collective will of the Western-dominated world (the Security Council-created STL) confronts the strong rejection and public resistance of the only Arab group (Hizbullah) that has forced an Israeli military withdrawal and confounded the Israeli armed forces, while transcending Arabism and Islamism, religiosity and secularism, Arabs and Iranians, Shiites and Sunnis, and assorted Lebanese Christians and Muslims. The confrontation now playing itself out in various public milieus between Hizbullah and the STL is made more complex and difficult to resolve because of deep links with other regional actors, especially Israel, Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia. The STL is unlike anything that the Arab world has witnessed or experienced in its entire modern history, because it represents something frightening to many Arabs: the unanimous decision of the Security Council of the UN to probe deep into the inner fibers of Arab societies — mostly Lebanon and Syria, in this case — in order to stop the political assassinations that shocked the world five years ago (but that have also plagued the modern Arab world for the past half a century or more, without anyone caring). The majority of Lebanese want to know who killed Rafik Hariri and would like to see such assassinations cease once and for all, but they have proven unable to do this on their own. The Security Council stepped in forcefully in early 2005 to do the job, and it did so partly because some powers who dominate the council saw an opportunity to hit the Syrians and Hizbullah hard. At a moment when the neoconservative-controlled United States thought it could frighten any Arab party into compliance with its dictates simply by brandishing the threat of an Iraq-like assault, the move was made to push Syria out of Lebanon and to disarm Hizbullah. The scenes that followed did not conform to the script the Bush-Cheney White House and their pro-Israeli zealot friends had envisaged, because Syria, Hizbullah, Iran and others pushed back and resisted the moves against them. That dynamic has now reached its climax in events centered on Lebanon. Two powerful forces confront each other now in public: American-dominated Western colonial intervention in the Arab region, and Islamist-dominated Arab-Islamic resistance from within that same Arab region. Three options present themselves: One of these two forces has to back down, both have to compromise and postpone the day of reckoning in their epic struggle, or they will soon settle this on the battlefields of Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Iran, American-dominated Iran and Afghanistan, and the oil and gas fields of the Gulf Arab states. Armageddon will look like a kindergarten cookie dance if the third option materializes, which is now a bit more likely than it was a week ago — because of the past century, more than the past week.
Rami G. Khouri is Editor-at-large of The Daily Star, and Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, in Beirut, Lebanon.