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    Look Who Is Injecting Politics into Justice

    When those opposed to caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri, unhappy with his refusal to disavow the as-yet-unannounced findings of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, toppled the government last week, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pointed out that no country should have to choose between justice and stability. Yet it is precisely that choice that Hezbollah has sought to foist upon Lebanon. The ensuing dilemma is painful, but also reveals two important things about the party.

    First, a party renowned for its discipline and vise-like hold on Lebanon’s Shia is so desperate to scuttle the tribunal that it has been willing to pretend that it cannot control the members of its own sect, whom it portrays as liable to carry out acts of mass disruption should they take umbrage at the tribunal’s findings. Second, despite its claim to oppose the politicization of justice, that is precisely what Hezbollah is engaging in.

    For all its supposed political savvy, Hezbollah is an ideological movement with a distorted and paranoid view of the world. As such, its members often straight-facedly hold forth on the alleged control and manipulation by the United States of the United Nations. (Never mind that conservative American politicians have been trying for years to get their country to pull out of the U.N., precisely because the US has repeatedly seen its aims frustrated by broad alliances of developing nations, such as the Group of 77.) Hezbollah’s frenzied denunciations of the Special Tribunal, given its mandate by the U.N., have often featured a strong dose of conspiracy mongering, of the kind that has the US and Israel running virtually the entire world – with a steadfast Iran and Hezbollah’s unofficial cantons in Lebanon the only arenas beyond their reach.

    But in its more sober moments, Hezbollah (together with its junior partners Amal and the Free Patriotic Movement) has been surprisingly – almost refreshingly – blunt in explaining its opposition to the Special Tribunal. Rants against nefarious US-Zionist machinations are replaced by seemingly measured statements on the need to avoid sectarian discord. On several occasions Hezbollah warned Hariri that if he failed to dissociate himself from the tribunal, which is now reviewing a draft indictment that many expect accuses Hezbollah members, he would plunge the country into a sectarian conflict. The message was clear: supporting the Special Tribunal would unlock the gates of Shia fury and Hezbollah would be unable to rein in their coreligionists.

    Yet this argument is weakened by the fact that some form of sectarian strife is almost inevitable either way. True, if March 14 goes along with the Special Tribunal, this would infuriate the Shia, who would view Sunnis as conspiring with the US and Israel against Hezbollah. But if March 14 and Hariri take their distance from the tribunal, Sunnis would become enraged and would regard Hariri as having sold out to Hezbollah.

    The notion that the sectarian fallout would be worse if the Shia were the ones who considered themselves the aggrieved party defies common sense. Precisely because Hezbollah is a disciplined organization able to control the “Shia street,” it could prevent popular anger from disrupting public order. Hariri, on the other hand, could probably not control dangerously disaffected Sunnis, and would likely fail to prevent outbreaks of violence against Shia and even the state.

    Even more worrisome than Hezbollah’s pretending to be unable to restrain Shia wrath has been the party’s cynical manipulation of the idea of sectarian dissension, so that an admittedly disturbing possibility has been transformed into a bogeyman to be avoided at all costs.

    Depicting sectarianism in such an exaggerated manner obscures Lebanon’s priorities. The Lebanese must accept that true justice punishes the perpetrators of crimes without regard for sectarian sensitivities. This is crucial to the integrity of the judicial process, because once a tribunal issues its ruling, that ruling must be enforced. And in order to be enforced by the appropriate authorities in Lebanon or elsewhere, there must be firm recognition among citizens that the Special Tribunal ruling cannot be ignored because it is inconvenient for a specific group.

    “May justice be done though the heavens fall,” goes the saying. Indeed, callous as this may sound, the projected socio-political ramifications of the Special Tribunal’s findings are irrelevant. The irony here is that Hezbollah purports to oppose the politicization of the tribunal’s judicial process. Yet placing sectarian harmony over and above the institution’s findings would itself politicize the process irrevocably and subvert both the concept and the course of legal justice.

    Rayyan AL-SHAWAF
    NOW Lebanon

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