THE explosion that rocked Beirut last Friday morning, when a car bomb killed Mohammed Shatah, former finance minister of Lebanon and ambassador of his country to the United States, carried an ominous resonance of past strife.
Shatah had also been a financial adviser to Rafiq Hariri, the Lebanese prime minister similarly assassinated in 2005, and was still close to his son Saad Hariri, leader of the Sunni faction known as the Future Movement.
Suspicion of responsibility for the killing attaches to Hezbollah, the powerful Shia militia that controls much of Lebanon and is engaged in the Syrian conflict in support of Bashar al-Assad. It has been Lebanon’s misfortune to have been constantly embroiled in Middle Eastern wars, often when it had no direct interest in the conflicts. Lebanon dramatically illustrates two key features of the Middle Eastern crisis: the geopolitical illiteracy of Western policy towards the region and the extravagant fatuity of the media and politicians in the West who lauded the so-called “Arab Spring”.
To any moderately discerning eye, Lebanon was the jewel in the crown: it should never have been abandoned, decades ago, to the forces of anarchy. For almost two millennia it was an oasis of civilisation amid encroaching savagery, an ancient haven of Christianity. They named the land after the snow-crested peaks of the guardian mountains, from the Aramaic “laban” for white: Lebanon. Its cedar forests were used by the Phoenicians to build their fleets, the antiquity of the tree that is the nation’s emblem hymned in Psalm 91: “The just shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow up like the cedar of Libanus.”
The Maronite Christians of Lebanon have had a chequered history, beginning in 518 when they defended the doctrine of the Council of Chalcedon on the two natures of Christ, human and divine. Allies of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, they had a fitful connection with Rome that was finally stabilised in the 16th century. After living under Ottoman dependency until 1914, then under French mandate until 1943, Lebanon grew rich as a consequence of the entrepreneurial skills of the Maronites. In the 1950s and 1960s Beirut was celebrated as the Paris of the Middle East. That prosperity and elegance was destroyed by the civil war from 1975 until the early 1990s.
The West stood supinely by while Yasser Arafat’s PLO, Fatah, the Syrian army, the Israelis and all comers ravaged a civilised, pro-Western country. When an international force of US, French and Italian troops finally moved in, it proved ineffectual. The bombing of the US Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 was the first spectacular terrorist success against America, killing 298. With typical geopolitical ignorance the Western media insisted on imposing on the conflict irrelevant terminology taken from their own political lexicon, with the BBC prating of “right-wing Christian Phalangist militia” in a style calculated to discredit the West’s natural allies.
This was a rehearsal for the similarly illiterate lauding of the “Arab Spring”, when the supposed forces of “democracy” revolted against Middle Eastern strongmen. Despite the descent into anarchy of Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam, Western idiots remain fixated on the notion that dictators – the only people capable of imposing order in the Arab world – must be removed, in favour of murderous anarchy. There is no conceivable future for democracy in the Middle East (it has declining credibility even in the West); nobody apart from a tiny minority of Western educated elites has any interest in such a system. The Egyptian election perfectly illustrated the irony that democracy in that region can only produce Islamist tyranny.
If Barack Obama and David Cameron had had their way, the same fatal course would have been pursued in Syria. As it is, that conflict has spilled over into Lebanon. Its recovering economy has been badly damaged. This month the Fitch ratings agency downgraded Lebanon’s outlook from Stable to Negative; its public debt-to-GDP ratio is forecast to rise to 138 per cent of GDP. The country’s worst problem, however, has been the havoc wreaked on its demography, first by an invasion of 400,000 Palestinians after their defeat in Jordan in “Black September” 1971, more recently by an influx of Iraqis and Syrians, though many of them are Christians.
If the West were not paralysed by a secularist antipathy to that faith, it would see the necessity of establishing a Christian state in Lebanon. Instead of blundering into Iraq and then into Libyan airspace, the West should have supported its natural allies. Christians are being massacred in Iraq, Egypt and Syria; it is time to hold the line on the mountain of the cedars. Such a guarantee would bring many thousands of Maronites back from exile. We must make a stand in Lebanon.