There's a central preoccupation in Milan Kundera's work that revolves around the theme of the small nation experiencing the uncertainties of such a precarious condition. His superb intermingling of love and politics often crosses the boundaries between both, asserting once that we are witness to much larger forces than ourselves and often that we are capable of creating a path and a persona that are uniquely ours. What's true of the individual is also true of the small nation. In many respects, Lebanon's modern history has primarily been defined by being a small nation. Too often though, it seemed that Lebanon accepted that it is small, but never figured the nation part out. In what follows are some thoughts on how this failure continues to place the country in a perpetual state of emergency.
'tdawalit, so went the favoured Lebanese expression during the long years of the civil war. The word had become a daily incantation that summed up all that was wrong with Lebanon: having started their war the Lebanese were now incapable of stopping it on their own. Tdawalit meant that the crisis has been 'internationalised', the world has not forgotten about us and help is on its way. Not for once did the Lebanese think that they should take control of their own destiny and solve their problems on their own. This strange fatalism from an otherwise very enterprising people persists until today, and is a better explanation for the country's woes than any other factor. When the civil war ended in 1990 it was as a result of an agreement sponsored by a multitude of foreign powers and negotiated in Saudi Arabia, where the remaining members of the parliament where assembled to give some sense of legitimacy to an agreement that the Lebanese people had nothing to do with.
Twenty years later and nothing seems to have changed. Weeks ago, the Lebanese awaited the arrival of their latest saviours with baited breath. A joint visit by the Saudi and Syrian leaders had them hoping that a regional 'understanding' would somehow navigate them through the latest predicament they found themselves in. The predicament in question was the expected indictment of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, investigating the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, of some members of Hezbollah. This indictment, not due till September, raised the prospect of civil infighting and the collapse of the fragile political arrangements put in place after the last parliamentary elections. As it happened, the visit had very little impact leaving the Lebanese frantically looking for an arrangement that would avoid such prospects.
Then two days ago the leader of Hezbollah Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah held a press conference in which he provided evidence that pointed to the possible involvement of Israel in the assassination of Hariri. As I argued in another posting, this was not meant as an accusation to be pursued by the STL but a face-saving initiative that would show the supporters of the tribunal, primarily prime minister Saad Hariri and his political allies, a way of out of the indictment prospect directing the accusation away from Hezbollah. I am not being dismissive of the evidence nor am I denying the possibility of Israel's involvement, but the political reading of the highly-dramatised event seems to indicate that Nasrallah was genuinely interested in avoiding the fallout resulting from an indictment of Hezbollah members.
There were many good articles written about Nasrallah's speech, both from supporters, opponents and a significant number of undecideds. The one common factor among all is the immediate and tactical nature of the analysis. There is a persistent tendency among Lebanese commentators to overlook the bigger picture and obsess about the details. Most mistakenly confuse the bigger picture with an annoyingly geo-political mode of analysis that draws heavily on realpolitik. Inadvertently, such analysis places Lebanon at the very heart of international politics rather than the small marginal nation that it actually is. It is not surprising then to see the large number of conspiracy theories that spin out of this caricature of geo-politics rendering all discourse empty and banal.
The reality in fact is much simpler, Lebanon's problems are but symptoms of its inability to govern itself and its willingness to hand out this power to external agents. I called this once political juvenility, a state of constant being in need of external assistance and guidance. Michael Young wrote in the Daily Star today: "In other words, we Lebanese never deserved the tribunal, and I suspect even less the sovereignty and rule of law it was supposed to bolster." Young seems to be completely unaware of the paradox within his statement, that sovereignty could be delivered by an external agency is a mockery of the very concept itself. Similarly, his opposites across the political divide insist on understanding Lebanese patriotism as the willingness to surrender control over the country to trusted regional powers such as Syria and Iran who would ensure that we stay committed to the righteous way.
Both sides are wrong of course. Politics is based on the exercise of autonomy, a fact that we've ignored for too long. Sovereignty matters because we can be responsible for our destiny and ensure accountability and proper representation. Why is it much easier to trust foreign powers than our fellow Lebanese? Furthermore, let's bear in mind that all concessions to foreign powers have consistently yielded unpalatable arrangements: war criminals being rehabilitated simply for switching sides, corrupt politicians being kept in power out of expediency and their stronghold on the electorate being reinforced as a result. All political sides in Lebanon are guilty of the above, both before and after 2005. It is blindness not to see that reform is not possible without severing all forms of dependency.
But let's be realistic, I am not asking for utopia. Any political agreement between the Lebanese factions that excludes foreign powers will only be the beginning of political reform. It will still be an agreement between confessional powers, but at least it will be a national agreement free from foreign meddling. The process of moving towards secular politics will start then, but without sovereignty all attempts at reform are just a pretence and a parody of what politics is. Who can forget the spectacle of Walid Jumblatt in his 'sovereignty' phase arguing for regime change in Syria, seemingly unaware that this was blatant interference in Syrian affairs? Such a transition would necessarily mean that we will also have to butt out of the affairs of other countries, and not least of all stop lecturing the Palestinians on how to conduct their struggle.
What does all of this mean in the context of the Hariri tribunal? If we want to avoid another decade of anxiety and deferred reform, the political powers should agree on the following: all the Hezbollah evidence should be handed to the Lebanese judiciary allowing it to exercise the right to question anyone and follow any lead. Lebanon withdraws its support from the STL and stops funding it, allowing the Lebanese judiciary full control over the investigations. Everyone commits not to protect any suspects and to hand them to the authorities. We deserve to find out the truth, but more importantly we deserve to find it out for ourselves. It will take a supreme act of trust on all sides in Lebanon to overcome this impasse, and only such a commitment would pave the way for sovereign politics. This is not fantasy, but a necessary condition for Lebanon's transition to nationhood. Time to grow up.