Monday, April 18, 2005

The Green, Green Trees of Hope

After the Orange Revolution in Ukraine was followed by a variation in Rose for Georgia and purple fingers in Iraq, Gates of Vienna wondered where on the color spectrum the next uprising would appear.

But it has turned out to be more than merely color, something even more elemental: a green cedar -- the mythical cedars of Lebanon, beloved for millennia by Jews and Christians everywhere.

Lebanon is infamous for its myriad sectarian and civil wars but actual political protest is not considered in character. Now political destiny is an absolutely necessary focus if Lebanon is to transcend its past religious strife and division.
    I for one, believe that as a Lebanese citizen my relationship with my country should be a direct one, and not through the intermediary of the religious denomination I belong to. My rights and obligations as a Lebanese citizen should be established directly between myself as a simple tax-paying individual and the State as my representative, provider of public services, and the protector of my safety and security. The Lebanon of 1943 was defined as a set of religious communities who divided power and privileges amongst each other, but made no pledge whatsoever of any obligation towards the country as a collective. Consequently, the Lebanon of 1943 did not provide for your or my rights and obligations as individuals, but only as members of our religious communities. As a Lebanese citizen, I have no individual rights and obligations except those that the religious leaders of my community define for me. I have no direct connection to my government or the institutions of my State, and I have to go through the church or the mosque in every aspect of my daily life. That is not the stuff of a modern nation. This is medieval, archaic, anachronistic and, in times of crisis, deadly. When Lebanon needed us in 1975, we turned to our religious communities and we betrayed our country for all these other groups. Today, we have an opportunity to change all that, so that when the next crisis comes about, we stand like you today, united by what makes us one, and not divided by what makes us many.
Written by a Lebanese exile in New England these sentiments encapsulate the driving energy behind the tent city erected next to the crater of Rafik Hariri's annihilation. His destruction proved to be the tipping point for the young and restive Lebanese, eager to enter the 21st century under their own power rather than under the thumb of Syria.

From here the Cedar Revolution does not seem planned. It's more organic than that: a gut response to a horrific event, an event which was preceded by years of terror and oppression. Who knows at which point a people will rise up and say "enough"? It is only ever apparent after the fact.

The tent city doesn't seem planned either. It seems more likely that after the huge demonstrations no one wanted to go home; home was no longer enough to contain all that energy and ambition. The inhabitants are young people; they have to be to stay up all night strategizing:
    The tent-city is Lebanon's crucible. Here is where the hard work of reconciliation and the forging of national unity is taking place. These kids are the future civic and political leaders of Lebanon. Their countrymen look upon them with the deepest, most profound, admiration. They stay up all night strategizing about what they can do to oust the Syrian agents and clear the way for free elections. But just as importantly they stay up all night getting to know each other for the first time. They are building the bonds of trust that will, or so they hope, last the rest of their lives and lead to a permanent solution to Lebanon's long-simmering and sometimes explosive fratricidal conflict. The invisible Berlin Wall in their minds is disintegrating.
This is Michael Totten's view, up close. Having gone to Lebanon to see for himself and to report back to Spirit of America, he finds himself unable to leave. There is a countdown now, an immediate goal on which the factions in Lebanon can agree: the government must announce elections to be held in May. In order to be in compliance with this demand, the announcement would have to happen at least thirty days prior -- in this case, April 29th. The tent city leaders have erected a large electric sign with the number of days remaining. It is an electrifying sign, one which galvanizes those who see it. Amazing that government doesn't dare take it down.

As Totten notes on his own blog,
    the tent-city is ground zero for the Cedar Revolution. These people quit their jobs and dropped out of school to make it happen. They are not making money, but they desperately need it.
Who would've anticipated that the green cedars of Lebanon would be the next stop in the spectrum of liberty?


But then again, who would've credited the Syrians with enough stupidity to get the parade rolling with the massively brutal assassination of Hariri and his body guards? Why not just hand the keys to the kingdom back to the Lebanese and leave town? It would've been cleaner, easier, and much, much smarter. A lot less humiliating, too.

But if the lessons of history teach anything, it is that dictators are tone deaf. They are not adept at reading between the lines, either, or acting in their own self-interest. Like Miss Havisham, they hang on past all possible hope of recovering their former position.

To help make it "faster, please" click on the flag to donate to the inhabitants of tent city.