The apparition in the Levant
Here's the smell of the blood still:
All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh, oh, oh!
William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act V, Scene 1
Lady Macbeth could never believe that Duncan, the murdered king, could have "had so much blood in him." The assassins of Lebanon's former prime minister, Rafiq Hariri, who took the life of this good man who had done his best for his captive country, are now in a world familiar to those who know Shakespeare's great tragedy. They had struck down Hariri, on February 14, in broad daylight and seemingly thought that the matter would be done and forgotten in the course of a few days. But the apparition of Hariri haunts the servile regime in Beirut and its puppeteers in Damascus. Syria's tyrannical rulers are at a loss. Who would have thought that another murder in Lebanon would become a crisis of the Damascus regime and would signal the beginning of the end of its lucrative dominion in Beirut? No one could have foreseen the mass grief of the captive country. No satrap on the scene could have anticipated the coming together a fortnight ago of the largest demonstrations in Lebanon's history. The terrible secrets and workings of a system of plunder and fear are now laid out for all to see.
Lebanon had been, in the past, a land of relative freedom--a freedom born of the multiplicity of its religious communities, of the anarchic nature of its people and their exposure to commerce and the sea. But slowly and methodically, over the course of two decades, the Syrians snuffed out the independent life of the land. The Syrian hegemony over Lebanon grew brazen and unapologetic. Under Hafez Assad, the old and ruthless Syrian ruler who led this steady assault on Lebanon's independence, there were all sorts of political pretexts: Syria had to be in Lebanon, as a balance to the power of Israel, as consolation for Syria's loss of the Golan Heights to Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967. In recent years, under Assad's heir, his son Bashar, the pretexts had fallen away. Lebanon had become an extortion racket for Syria's military rulers and for the Lebanese who rode with them. A supplicant of Syria, President Emile Lahoud did Syria's bidding. A noble and solitary opposition held on to a memory of a country that had once been a refuge for minorities and dissidents and a break from the autocracies of the other Arab states.
Truth. Hariri's historic role, the gift that his cruel murder gave the Lebanese people, was the knitting together of a country given to communal feuds. The "cedar revolution" had been gathering force; it now had its martyr and a simple rallying cry held atop banners in Beirut's plazas-- al-haqiqa , the truth. The Lebanese wanted the truth of their world: the truth about Hariri's assassination, the truth about the secret services that disposed of their public life, the truth about a young, inexperienced Syrian ruler who had come to believe that Lebanon was his personal inheritance. People bullied into submission, or simply indifferent to the call of political causes, wanted their country back. Arabs had always viewed Lebanon as an "easy," frivolous land. Now the Lebanese were treating the other Arabs to a spectacle of peaceful revolt. There is much that is wrong in the Arab world--the willful refusal by modern-day Arabs to accept responsibility for their history, the schizophrenia of a world in the orbit of western culture but always accusing the West of all that is wrong. But these young people of Beirut, who had come together around the national cult of Rafiq Hariri, embody a desire for genuine change.
In a radically different era, America was "burned" in Beirut and quit the city under the gaze of Arabs who took the withdrawal as a sign of American abdication. There had been that searing October 1983 attack on the Marine barracks , which took the lives of 241 Americans. The U.S. Embassy was targeted by terrorists, and American missionaries and educators were murdered or taken as hostages for a cruel trade with Syria's and Iran's rulers. For good reasons, America gave up on Lebanon. But now the world is different, and there is in America a willingness to come to the aid of the Lebanese. It is Damascus and its tyranny on one side and the cedar revolution of the vast majority of Lebanon's people on the other. For once, there is an easy and good choice in an Arab land.
This story appears in the April 4, 2005 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.