On February 14, Lebanon will commemorate two years since the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Lebanon has only known a semblance of peace a few years at a time. But even in its tragic history, not many periods have been as violent and unsettled as the last two years.
In the course of this very short period, Lebanon has known 15 targeted bombings and 9 attempts at political assassination, 6 of which succeeded and 3 that led to maiming. Interspersed were the toppling of two governments, endless demonstrations, and sit-ins. To top it all, a 34-day Israeli military aggression beginning last July led to the near-total destruction of a freshly rebuilt infrastructure and the displacement of more than a quarter of the population. Now the entire country is ripped in half in political disagreement and once again on the brink of civil war.
One wonders how that is even possible. Did we not learn anything in our bloody, 16-year civil war (1975-1990)? Have we not learned that there are no winners in civil strife, only losers that end up weeping amid the ashes? Only last week, the escalation of opposition-led demonstrations reaped a handful of deaths and over a hundred wounded.
The issues are, of course, complex, and one could enumerate many causes behind the current deadlock, all of which would incriminate most of our Lebanese politicians. (I use the term "politician" only metaphorically, since it is quite obvious that our honorable "feudal lords" have forgottenor perhaps never learnedthat political office is a calling to accountability and civil service rather than to the exercise of despotism and partisanship). But I want to turn instead to a more profound and fundamental reality, which I believe to be at the root of the current situation.
Since the end of the civil war, successive Lebanese governments have applied themselves to rebuilding the stonesthe flesh of Lebanon, rather than its soul, its people. The struggle has been to restore the economy by reviving the glory of Lebanon, the "tourist attraction," the Disneyland of the Middle East.
There is a seductive and compelling argument going around, which would have us believe that pouring billions of dollars into a country's economy will stabilize it politically. I point this out because the same erroneous belief is still the basis of the thinking behind Paris III, the economic summit for Lebanon held January 25 in France. The same fallacy is being perpetrated in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The reality is that drenching the economy of a post-war nation with fresh dollars manages to maintain a semblance of peace for a decade, during which the financial investments are so significant and the stakes of investors so high that economic voices are able to keep more revolutionary voices in check. However, the strata of society that have historically felt underprivileged will continue to feel so, never too invested in an economic stability with benefits they will hardly ever reap.
The results of this economic strategy have been unfolding in Lebanon between a more affluent Sunni-Maronite-Druze bloc striving for peace and economic stability, and a primarily Shiite opposition (represented by Hezbollah and Amal) that has little to gain from government economics. This time, however, the Shiite bloc is also joined by a considerable portion of the Maronite Christian population under the leadership of General Michel Aoun and his "Free Patriotic Movement" Like the Hezbollah and Amal parties, the Maronite position centers on an indictment of the government, which is seen as corrupt and representing the wealthy.
In this context, I read the words of Jesus:
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has:
(1a) anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
(2a) He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
(3) and recovery of sight for the blind,
(2b) to release the oppressed,
(1b) to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (Luke 4:1819, NIV).
With these words, Jesus defined his calling at the start of his ministry in Luke's Gospel with what one might call the "Jesus Manifesto." I have arranged the text above in order to emphasise Jesus' use of a story-telling device called inclusio. It indicates that he is, in fact, defining "preaching the good news" (1a) as his proclamation of the "year of the Lord's favor" (1b), which is God's open invitation of humanity into relationship with himselfparticularly those who recognize their own poverty. The proclamation of "freedom for the prisoners" (2a) he defines as his mission to "release the oppressed" (2b). And the restoration of sight for the blind stands at the center of the statement to define Jesus' both physical and spiritual ministry (3). Not only is this an affirmation that Jesus would carry out this tripartite manifesto during his lifetime, but these three statements can also be seen as his very down-to-earth invitation for us as well to fight poverty, strive against oppression, and minister to physical brokenness.
Jesus was not lured by what political power and stability-based economics had to give individuals of the world. In fact, he rejected the devil's offers during his forty-day fast (Luke 4:1 - 13). He was not interested in the self-serving power of transforming stones into bread (vs. 3 - 4), or in the authority and splendor that riches could bring him (vv. 6-8), or in indulgently demonstrating his own importance in the political order of things (vv. 9-12). Instead, he was getting ready to engage with individuals, to help them realize in word and deed that poverty is only fatal when it is poverty in spirit, that a person that has experienced freedom of the spirit can never again be shackled with chains, and that what we should fear ultimately is not the decay of our bodies but the loss of our souls.
It is time for the community of Jesus in Lebanon, together with its worldwide friends, to carry out its unique mission. It is not one that can be accomplished by politicians or religious leaders or through traditional establishments.
This is an era of engaged and bold activism, of individuals and groups who, in line with the model of Jesus, will not be satisfied so long as poverty, oppression, and poor health continue to breed anger, bitterness, and despair. There is no more fertile soil for these illnesses than Palestinian refugees living in the appalling conditions of camps in Lebanon and other neighboring countries, or among populations that have been oppressed by despotic rulers enjoying the support of Western governments.
It is perhaps not too late, though we have been witnessing the catastrophic consequences of ignoring these dynamics in the microcosm of Lebanon. But with every passing day, we are approaching a red line beyond which the entire situation will get out of hand, with a global cost.
Martin Accad is academic dean of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Lebanon.
Copyright © 2007 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
For another view of the crisis in Lebanon, read Riad Kassis' 'The Colors of Lebanon.'
Martin Accad has also written 'Who Is My Neighbor' in the Lebanon-Israel Conflict?' and 'Another Point of View: Evangelical Blindness on Lebanon' for Christianity Today.
Recent news from Lebanon includes:
Fears of Lebanon civil war increase as gun sales tripled | Gun sales in Lebanon have tripled since the current standoff between the government and the Hezbollah-led opposition began, prompting concern that political factions are rearming. (Ya Libnan)
Students return to Lebanon's universities | Classes resumed Monday at a university in the heart of Beirut where a cafeteria political spat mushroomed into street riots that killed four people in the worst sectarian violence since Lebanon's civil war. (Ya Libnan)
Lebanon going through an alarming brain drain | Beirut- Two years ago, Ossama Kabbani was the poster boy for the newly rebuilt downtown Beirut. (Ya Libnan)
Lebanon's Sunni Clerics Issue Fatwa | Fearing a slide into civil war, Lebanon's top Sunni Muslim clerics published a religious edict on Friday prohibiting Muslims from killing their fellow countrymen, particularly other Muslims. (The Associated Press)