Requiem for Lebanon
Lebanon is dying. Once again, it is being flooded with refugees; this time from Syria, many of whom will never leave. The usual explanation is that Sunni-Shia rivalry is causing the present imbroglio, Nonsense! The real cause is Islam.
To understand Lebanon, one has to admit that Lebanon is a Christian, particularly Maronite Christian, creation.
Many Maronites do not even consider themselves Arabs. They call themselves Phoenicians, the descendents of the seafarers who colonized Sicily, Spain, Italy, France, and even made it out to the British Isles. They have historically looked westward, even affiliating with Roman Catholicism, rather than local Eastern Christian sects.
When the Islamic invasion hit in the seventh century, many Eastern Christians folded like a deck of cheap cards; but the Maronites, ensconced in the snow-clad mountains of Eastern Lebanon, held out. When the Crusaders arrived, the Crusaders were stunned to find Western Christians still surviving. The Pope considered it a miracle of God. Unlike the Muslims, or the present crop of benighted historians, the Maronites saw the Crusaders as liberators. A degree of intermarriage occurred, which is why a few Maronites carry West European genetic markers, which are rare in Muslims.
In the 1840s, the Maronites, who had been oppressed as dhimmis for centuries, rose up to declare their freedom. In response, the Muslims and Druze started genocidally massacring Christians in Lebanon and Syria.
Only when reports hit Europe that the Christians were about to be totally eradicated did the European powers finally agree, in 1860, to permit a French force to land and save the Christians. Two influential Jews, Moses Montifiore (Britain) and Adolph Cremieux (France) were instrumental in arranging the rescue. The Maronites would not forget.
However, British-French and later German rivalries would prevent Europe from insisting that the Ottomans give the Lebanese independence. Instead, the Mutasarrifate (district) of Mount Lebanon, roughly corresponding to Central Lebanon today, was given autonomy. In Mount Lebanon (about one-third of present day Lebanon) the Christians were about 80% of the population.
Freed of the immediate threat of extinction at the hands of Muslims, the Maronites quickly rose to wealth, fame, and prestige. They moved down to coastal Beirut, where their Western outlook gave them an edge. They acquired university educations, and became the elite of the Mideast.
All the while, there was a massive exodus. There are over 15 million Lebanese Christians in the Americas, particularly in Brazil, the USA, Argentina, and Venezuela. In South America, they are often elite, along with Syrian Christians who add another ten million or more.
There are possibly ten times or more as many Maronites outside Lebanon as in Lebanon. Only the Irish -- and the Jews, prior to Israel -- were so completely and thoroughly dispersed.
One cannot chalk up this exodus merely to the economic opportunities in the West. Lebanon is a gorgeous subtropical paradise with soaring snow-clad mountains visible from palm-lined beaches of Beirut. Imagine the slopes of the Rockies only an hour's drive from Malibu and you have an idea of the paradise they left. No one leaves this for frosty Detroit, where many settled, unless driven out.
In 1943, the Maronites were desperate to be free; to have their independent state. They cut a deal with the Muslims, both the Shia and the Sunni. The Muslims had been opposed to a Lebanese state; many wanted to be part of a Greater Syria, with its promise of the glories of a Caliphate. A few Arabized Eastern Orthodox Christians were pro-Syrian and deluded themselves that Christians could prosper in a Greater Syria with an Islamic majority -- an idiocy being presently rebuked today in Syria.
The Maronites, however, were Westernized. The nation-state is a Western concept; and it was the Maronite Christians who pressed for it. Lebanon is a Maronite invention.
The Maronites made a Faustian bargain. In return for the acquiescence of local Muslims to a free Lebanon, independent of Syria, the Maronites agreed to define Lebanon as an Arab state, and not to align Lebanon with the West.
This was to be their undoing. The Christians had denied their heritage, and Western outlook, to form an unstable state. The Maronites would have been better to have accepted a smaller Lebanon confined to an area where Christians were a clear majority; but they did not want to abandon Christian communities at the fringes. In any event, Beirut was going to be a problem. The city itself was half Muslim. If the Christians were not going to abandon their fringe communities, the Muslims were not going to abandon Beirut. Lebanon was doomed from the start.
Émile Eddé, one of Lebanon's founders, had warned the Christians about this. He had told them to make the sacrifice, and go for a smaller but securely Christian Lebanon. Move the Christians from the fringes into the Christian areas. But reason did not prevail.
The first test of national unity was the creation of Israel.
A number of Maronite leaders had remembered the Jewish-Europeans who had saved them from extinction in 1860. These were not opposed to Israel. In fact, the Maronite Patriarch, Anthony Arrida, firmly opposed Lebanon's affiliation with the Arab League, and officially welcomed the Jews to the Mideast in 1946.
Émile Eddé was of a similar opinion. Eddé had actually tried to work out an alliance with the Zionists. But many Christians were terrified to publicly speak out. The prospect of Muslims calling for fraternal Syrian assistance against the infidel leaders in Beirut, who would betray the Islamic Ummah to the Zionists, was quite real.
Maronite Archbishop Ignatius Mubarak was not so easily cowed. He sent a memorandum to the United Nations in 1947 and demanded a homeland for the Christians in Lebanon and for the Jews in Palestine. (Click Here). The uproar was enormous. To quell the Muslim street, a few Maronite politicians disowned Archbishop Mubarak; even though in private, many agreed with him.
In 1948, in order to prevent a civil war, the Maronite-run government reluctantly agreed to fight Israel. As a matter of fact, Lebanese involvement was very minor -- in spite of Israeli histories which tend to portray all of Israel's foes as major enemies. Many of the so-called Lebanese soldiers were actually Muslim volunteers -- over which Beirut had no control -- attached to Syrian units. Many Lebanese Army units, run by Christian officers, were sent to the border and told to do nothing; just appear hostile to appease the Muslims. There are rumors that the soldiers were not issued bullets, since the Christian officers did not trust the Muslims. Only one battle was fought and it is not clear how much the Lebanese Army was involved or if the Syrian Arab Liberation Army was the chief combatant. If one thinks about it: why would wary Christians want to conquer a territory full of Muslims?
During the Israeli-Arab wars of 1956, 1967, and 1973, when Lebanon was still run by Christians -- and was prosperous and democratic -- Lebanon remain neutral. This enraged the Arab world. These Christian dhimmis were traitors to the Ummah. In fact, the Christians were prospering as Israeli Jews hid their money from the then socialist government in Jerusalem in Lebanese banks to avoid taxes. While the rest of the Arab world was expelling Jews, Christian Lebanon took in Arab Jews. When the Lebanese Civil War started, the Jews would leave; but they were never expelled.
In 1975, the Lebanese Civil War was started by PLO outrages and a Muslim street that was furious at Lebanon's pro-Western outlook. Yes, the Muslims had some legitimate grievances against a heavy-handed Christian administration; but the real trigger was that the PLO has set up a second state within Lebanon and was waging war on Israel from Lebanese soil, against Beirut's wishes -- and all with the support of the Muslim community in Lebanon. The PLO was better armed than the Lebanese Army, and abused the locals. Murders and robberies were common.
In the end, the Christians lost the Civil War. By 1990, the Taif Agreement was forced on them.
To this day, many Maronites are supporters of Israel, except for those times Israel retaliations hit their neighborhoods
"'The Christians were supporting Israel in 2006 until [Israel] started bombing their bridges ...'" Haaretz
If there is anything the Christians are upset with Israel about, it is that Israel will not take back the Palestinians in Lebanon, whom they blame for destroying their country. In this, the Maronites may have a legitimate complaint. The Israelis knew the precarious position of the Maronites; and maybe they should have cut Lebanon a deal.
Right now, Lebanon's government is powerless, as it has been for most of its history. Hezb'allah runs the country, against the wishes of the majority, who are powerless to get rid of it. The Christians generally detest Hezb'allah, but in public must declare it as a force for liberation, or suffer the consequences, like Prime Minister Rafic Hariri who was murdered by a Hezb'allah suicide bomber.
Today, the remaining Lebanese Christians are wedged in between warring Sunni Salafi extremists in North Lebanon and Iranian-backed Hezb'allah Shia in South Lebanon. They detest each other, but the Christians are stuck in the middle. Christian numbers may be dwindling. Some controversial statistics say the decline has reversed, but the overall trend is not good.
This did not start with the Syrian Civil War. The problem is not Shia vs. Sunni. The Muslims never gave a damn about Lebanon. Only the Christians did.
Mike Konrad is the pen name of an American who is neither Jewish, Latin, nor Arab. He runs a website, http://latinarabia.com/ where he discusses the subculture of Arabs in Latin America. He wishes his Spanish were better.