Commentary Magazine

The Truth about March 14

The “March 14” movement is a political vehicle for Lebanon’s liberals, democrats, free-market capitalists, human rights activists, and those who want an exit from the seemingly endless war with the “Zionist entity.” Unfortunately, that is not all it is. It’s also a political vehicle for hard-line Sunni Arab Nationalists and other political retrogrades who only oppose Hezbollah and the Syrian Baath regime because they hate Shias and Alawites as much as they hate Jews.

My colleague Noah Pollak is rightly horrified by the death worship on display in Beirut this week after Israel released the child-murdering terrorist ghoul Samir Kuntar to Hezbollah in exchange for the dead bodies of two kidnapped soldiers. “Lebanon’s March 14th movement cast itself into an abyss of moral depravity that the bloc’s supporters — myself included — never thought possible,” he wrote. I’m sorry to say this–I’m a March 14 supporter, too–but I’m a bit less surprised, if not less repulsed, by this recent turn of events.

Such March 14 stalwarts as Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Seniora and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt participated in the gruesome festivities and gave Kuntar–who smashed in the head of a four year-old girl on a rock after murdering her father in front of her–a warm hero’s welcome.

I don’t know if Seniora and Jumblatt sincerely believe Kuntar is a hero for those deeds. Frankly, I doubt it. He won’t be joining the March 14 movement. There is no question that he belongs to the “March 8” bloc led by Hezbollah, and that he will be perfectly willing to murder the children of the “wrong” kind of Lebanese when civil and sectarian violence explodes in his country again.

But Seniora and Jumblatt feel they have to triangulate, so to speak, and publicly throw their support behind a man who is their enemy because he is also Israel’s enemy. Anti-Zionism trumps everything, even in Lebanon where the violent Jew-hatred endemic to the modern Middle East is weaker than it is most other places.

I didn’t exactly see this coming, but I probably should have. My first trip to Lebanon was shortly after March 14, 2005 – the date that gave Lebanon’s revolutionary anti-Syrian and anti-Hezbollah movement its name. Around a million Lebanese citizens, a quarter of the entire population, demonstrated in downtown Beirut’s Martyr’s Square and demanded the immediate evacuation of the occupying Syrian military after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Hundreds of activists then built a tent city in the square, and they steadfastly refused to leave before the Syrian soldiers and intelligence agents were out.

I visited that tent city almost every day for a month and saw first-hand what that movement was all about. They agreed on only one thing: rule by the Syrian Baath Party was over. There was no consensus whatsoever on anything else. Movements like this are of course bound to expire, and the only reason it hasn’t yet is because Hezbollah is a Syrian proxy militia– which makes the revolution only half finished.

I spoke to just about every type of person imaginable in Beirut’s anti-Syrian tent-city: teenagers who wore Che Guevara t-shirts, human rights lawyers, sectarian Christians who demanded the release of former militia leader Samir Geagea from prison, liberal intellectuals indistinguishable from their Western counterparts, Arab Nationalists who still swoon over Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, countless Lebanese who opposed Syrian occupation for the same reason they opposed Israel’s, and a handful of die-hards who wanted the American military to park an aircraft carrier in the port city of Jounieh. It seemed that half the people down there thought I worked for the CIA. Some thought that was terrific. One later hoped I would recruit him. Others were suspicious and wary.

It was obvious that this movement had the potential to bring Lebanon out of the darkness once and for all and transform the country into a model for Arab democracy that it once (sort-of) was. Lebanon’s liberal democrats were lucky, I thought, that less democratic-minded Lebanese were willing to more or less follow their lead instead of forming their own stand-alone splinter factions based on outdated and destructive ideas.

What happened this week reveals the limits of that alliance. If internal war begins in earnest again–and it increasingly looks like it will–the alliance likely will rupture and the liberals will find themselves isolated in their own sectarian cantons again as they did during the last civil war.

Two and a half years ago I met the Egyptian blogger known as Big Pharaoh in Cairo. I told him I was disturbed by Egypt’s darkening politics, that his country felt to me like Iran in the 1970s must have felt before the revolution brought Khomeini to power. “You want to feel good?” he said. “You want to be optimistic? Go back to Beirut.”

I don’t think any sensible person would say that anymore.

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