Two wire stories reflect the different directions that freedom and tyranny have taken in the Middle East since the free elections in Afghanistan and Iraq. After Syrian intelligence personnel abandoned their stations in all but the easternmost part of Lebanon today, the Lebanese can now give voice to the frustrations and degradations of living under the Syrian thumb for decades:
Syrian intelligence agents ended their 18-year presence in Beirut on Wednesday, and emboldened residents of the capital came forward to celebrate. Some kissed the ground and others wept, wandering the basement cellblock at the headquarters and describing torture there. … Others were forthright. “It’s a feast and great joy for me today because they’re gone. I consider that Lebanon was born today with its liberation from Syrian forces,” said Imad Seifeddine, a 47-year-old blacksmith.
Seifeddine said he was imprisoned by the Syrians for four years in the 1990s. “They tortured me with beatings, electric shock,” he said. …
Ali Abdullah Tayeh, a 54-year-old Palestinian taxi driver, knelt in the compound and kissed the ground. The thin, unshaven man has been passing the compound every day for a week in hopes of seeing the withdrawal.
“It is a great moment for me. I am for independence and freedom,” said Tayeh, standing a few yards from the basement where he said he was jailed and tortured.
Remember, this is what Reuters yesterday called Syrian “tutelage.” Western realists have long written off the Lebanese, figuring that any removal of Syrian forces would only result in an eruption of sectarian violence. Better to have stability and oppression than touch off a civil war, as the Scowcroftians thought. Of course, no one asked the Lebanese if they minded the imposition of a foreign Ba’athist dictatorship or the institutionalized torture and oppression it meant.
Not everyone in Lebanon sheds tears of joy at the exit of Syrian intelligence. Hezbollah has decided that it needs its guns more than it needs to participate legitimately in a democratic Lebanon:
Pro-Syrian Hizbollah guerrillas will keep their weapons despite U.S. pressure and the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, the group’s chief said on Wednesday. “I’m holding on to the weapons of the resistance because I think the resistance … is the best formula to protect Lebanon and to deter any Israeli aggression,” Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said in a live television interview with Hizbollah’s al-Manar station.
Asked for how long the group would keep its weapons, he said:
“As long as Lebanon is threatened, even if we remain threatened for a million years, our will to our children, grand children and great grand children is that their national, human, moral and religious holy duty is to protect their people.”
They need their weapons now, because they know what fate awaits collaborators with a foreign enemy. The Lebanese Army will not view kindly their attempted continuation of the Syrian dictatorship, and the Lebanese people will remember that stab in the back for years to come. In short time, a membership in Hezbollah will make life dangerous enough to reduce the group to a shadow of itself as the Lebanese will grow impatient to shake off the attempted influence of Syria and Iran.
Tyranny dies hard, but it dies eventually. Freedom is rooted in hope – and as the Arabs have begun to prove, that hope exists in all human hearts, no matter the culture or the history involved.