Saturday, March 12, 2005

Another Species of Cedar

Despite Robert Fisk's acclaimed coverage of the conflict in Iraq, he appears most at home (for a foreign correspondent) when in Lebanon, where his finger remains well and truly on the political pulse. I naively believed that I had somehow passively secured a grip on Lebanese politics but recent events have rapidly remined me of the intricacies of the scene. I might dig out Pity the Nation and give it another go.

It was a warning. They came in their tens of thousands, Lebanese Shia Muslim families with babies in arms and children in front, walking past my Beirut home. They reminded me of the tens of thousands of Iraqi Shia Muslims who walked with their families to the polls in Iraq, despite the gunfire and the suicide bombers.

...But only 100 yards from the Lebanese opposition protests, the half-million - for that was an approachable figure, given Hizbollah's extraordinary organisational abilities - stood for an hour with Lebanese flags, and posed a challenge to President George Bush's project in the Middle East. "America is the source of terrorism", one poster proclaimed. "All our disasters come from America".

...The Beirut demonstration yesterday was handled in the usual Hizbollah way: maximum security, lots of young men in black shirts with two-way radios, and frightening discipline. No one was allowed to carry a gun or a Hizbollah flag. There was no violence. When one man brandished a Syrian flag, it was immediately taken from him. Law and order, not "terrorism", was what Hizbollah wished. Syria had spoken. President Bashar Assad's sarcastic remark about the Hariri protesters needing a "zoom lens" to show their numbers had been answered by a demonstration of Shia power which needed no "zoom".

...Either way, Lebanon can no longer be taken for granted. The "cedar" revolution now has a larger dimension, one that does not necessarily favour America's plans. If the Shia of Iraq can be painted as defenders of democracy, the Shias of Lebanon cannot be portrayed as the defenders of "terrorism". So what does Washington make of yesterday's extraordinary events in Beirut?
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