Infighting, civil wars, armed conflicts, destroyed cities, political crises, social disagreements, occupations, attacks, massacres, bombardments, assassinations, riots and terrorism…
These summarize the short history of Republic of Lebanon that was founded in 1943; in other words, after 400 peaceful years under the compassionate and protective rule of the Ottoman Empire, pain and suffering became a regular part of Lebanese history.
Except for a very short period of peace when the capital city Beirut was called the ‘Paris of the Middle East’, the mention of Lebanon brings only painful memories to mind. The country sits on a very important junction between the Mediterranean and the Middle East. It also has a very rich history, a heritage of great civilizations, a breathtaking 300 km long coastline, fertile lands, rich underground resources, ethnic richness and a unique cultural diversity. Yet, its name is now associated only with violent incidents.
With the decline of the Ottoman Empire in the late 19th Century, nationalist sentiments rose in the Middle East and fueled by disagreements between different groups over their faith, the long-lived environment of peace and stability in the region was deeply shaken. And when the imperialist powers turned their greedy gaze to the rich underground resources of the Middle East, the bells of war began to toll.
A Short but Bloody Recent History of Lebanon
The Lebanese Civil War that started in 1975 and continued through 1990 is one of the bloodiest civil wars in world history: Various religious groups active on Lebanese lands, the PLO, Syria and Israel were all parties to this war which claimed the lives of more than 150,000 people, injured or disabled 350,000 and displaced more than 1 million. Considering that Lebanon only has a population of 4 million, those figures become even more significant.
The civil war entailed complete destruction for Beirut, causing billions of dollars in damages, and turning vast swathes of the city into a ghost town.
One of the bloodiest and most painful memories regarding the Lebanese civil war was the Sabra and Shatila massacres. Thousands of innocent Muslims in the Palestine refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in Western Beirut were massacred in September 1982, and most of them were women, children and the elderly.
Since the 1970s, many Lebanese premiers, ministers, minority leaders and opinion leaders were assassinated. These killings of leaders from different backgrounds only added fuel to the fires consuming the country, and escalated the terror and anarchy.
The tensions between the PLO, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Israel led to the Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon, and prompted more attacks and military incursions by Israel into Lebanese soil.
All of these heartbreaking incidents shaped Lebanon into what it is today, but many have failed to draw the proper conclusions from the disturbing events of the past. The continuing tension between various Lebanese groups, the anger and rage and the deeply rooted problems between Lebanon and Israel could easily lead one to conclude that there is a high possibility of a repeat of the painful events of the past. Any provocation staged by circles with evil agendas can lead to new conflicts, bloody clashes and wholesale destruction.
Reasons for these problems
There are two main reasons lying behind the problems of Lebanon: First is social disagreements and conflicts resulting from the structure of Lebanon. The second is Lebanon’s relations with Israel and Syria. Lebanese society is a cultural mosaic of different faiths and backgrounds; interestingly enough, there has been no census since 1932 in Lebanon yet it is known that the number of Muslims increased after the migration and demographic changes brought about by the Lebanese Civil War. The Palestinian refugees and the Syrian refugees, who fled from the tyranny of the Assad regime, are constant topics of discussion in the world media. Although Muslims constitute 60% of the population, they are divided into two main groups: the Shias and Sunnis. Shias are devoutly loyal to Iran and Iran supports them; Sunnis, on the other hand, usually ally with Arabic countries. The third major group in Lebanese society is the Christians, who stand at 30%, and has had close relations with Western society for centuries. They are also divided into various sects amongst themselves. Other than these groups, there are also minorities, most notably the Druze, Armenians and the Copts.
Another interesting fact about the groups in the Lebanon is that more than 90% of them are of Arabian origin, even though some of them do not consider themselves Arabs.
The truth is that Lebanon never experienced any meaningful unity after the Ottoman period and its people never achieved acting like a country as a whole. This failure made it an easy target for foreign powers with agendas, and the cost was - and still is - paid by the Lebanese people.
Lebanon-Syria and Lebanon-Israel relations
Syria, one of the two neighbors of Lebanon, has always seen Lebanon as its hinterland. The cruel Ba'ath regime of Syria has never refrained from constantly interfering with the internal affairs of Lebanon; it has persistently made sly moves to exert influence over Lebanon and staged open and disguised events, often quite bloody, in Lebanon to achieve its purposes.
The neighbor that played the greatest role in the near history of Lebanon has been Israel. Technically, since 1948, Israel and Lebanon have been at war; they have no official relations and the hatred is so intense, there is no Israel on the maps drawn in Lebanon. Centuries on, the children of the Prophet Ishmael and the children of the Prophet Jacob are fighting for land. Even though there is more than enough land for everyone in the Middle East, the lands of the Prophet Abraham have become a sphere of unceasing warfare amongst his grandchildren. Clearly, an atmosphere of peace, love, union, friendship and brotherhood embracing Lebanon, Israel and Syria would greatly benefit the Middle East. To ensure this, the members of the three Abrahamic religions who believe in the same God, the same prophets and who have common moral values, similar cultures and similar tastes, should gather around the principles of love, respect, understanding, harmony and cooperation. The pain, hatred, feuds and anger from the past should be put behind, because only then can a loving environment be built. With this atmosphere of friendship, the utmost levels of democracy, the highest levels of liberty, freedom of thought and faith can be achieved while art, science, and tolerance rise to unprecedented levels of success, leading to the long-awaited East-West friendship.
Adnan Oktar's article on Al-Hadath: