Monday, August 19, 2013

Post-Dahiyeh denial

[Originally posted at NOW]

The attack was the first of its kind (Reuters/Mohamed Azakir)

“At my favorite Mar Mikhael resto. Owner says place kept full since last explosion as Lebanese decided NOTHING will stop them loving life. :)”

So read a tweet on my Twitter timeline Saturday night. Though clearly intended as a much-needed boost to the spirits after an appalling and horrifying tragedy, it only compounded the unease I’ve felt for Lebanon since Thursday’s attack.

The significance of what happened in Dahiyeh doesn’t seem to have sunk in. Have the Lebanese grown so accustomed to the sight of black smoke rising above their neighborhoods that they no longer differentiate between one blast and another – no longer try to discern what the latest disfiguration of the skyline might mean, or portend?

Certainly it seemed so when, in the hours following the blast, politicians across the board rushed to confidently declare it the handiwork of Israel. They must have felt almost as ridiculous as they sounded when none other than Hassan Nasrallah – not normally the kind of guy to give the Zionists the benefit of the doubt – later accused what everyone knew were the more likely culprits.

It’s precisely this that makes the Ruwais attack – the deadliest car bomb since the civil war – a first of its kind. To put it frankly (and to shy from sectarian terminology here would only be another indulgence of self-delusion): this is the first time in Lebanon’s history that a bombing has been carried out by religious extremists purely for the purpose of murdering civilians from a rival sect. For all its infamous faith-based frictions, the country has never before witnessed anything comparable to the outright jihadist slaughter that has so devastated Iraq, and is now in the process of devastating Syria. (Indeed, as Michael Young noted not long ago, Sunni-Shia violence in Lebanon is in fact a very recent phenomenon, having no real precedent prior to 2008.) And yet, if the claim of the ‘Aisha, Mother of the Believers Brigade’ to have carried out Thursday’s attack is true, then this most terrifying brand of violence has indeed now arrived.

What’s worse, there is every reason to believe it’s here to stay for the foreseeable future. When Nasrallah addressed the nation the following evening, he had a unique opportunity to conciliate his antagonists. Instead, he took the option of maximum provocation; declaring an open-ended fight to the death, arrogantly pledging to double the number of his fighters in Syria and boasting that he himself would kill opponents of the Assad regime if it came to that. Rather than admit the slightest contrition for his complicity in a war in which – it must be conceded – all sides have committed atrocities, he portrayed his cause as one of unblemished virtue, in which not an inch of compromise or restraint was acceptable.

The manner in which these sentiments will have been received by al-Qaeda and its many imitators is only too easy to imagine, and the discoveries of things like cars packed with a quarter of a ton of explosives are evidently going to become increasingly frequent. The US State Department now believes Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Iraqi al-Qaeda franchise that is still killing hundreds of Shia every month, has relocated his operational headquarters to Syria. How difficult will it be for his mujahideen to cross Syria’s almost non-existent western border and set up shop in the Levant’s weakest state?

It’s probably still possible for Lebanon to halt its national descent into sectarian carnage, but it will require a radical change of course from everyone. First, the country’s feuding security agencies should agree that, whatever their differences on other matters, they will cooperate fully with one another as far as these kinds of attacks are concerned. Second, Sunni powers must use all the leverage at their disposal to contain the extremists among their ranks, including ceasing whatever financial and political patronage they provide to armed groups. Finally, at the risk of stating the utterly obvious, Hezbollah should immediately and completely withdraw from Syria.

No comments:

Post a Comment