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    Xanax for the Arabs

    The reaction to the investigation into the February 2005 killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in general, and in particular the indictments handed down to the four alleged Hezbollah members accused of carrying out the crime, is arguably the most exquisite distillation of the Arab obsession with the conspiracy.

    Last year, Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, began sowing the seeds of doubt, deploying all the tools at his disposal to convince us that the killers could not have been anyone from his party. His most famous sleight of hand was to show us dubious, not to mention out-of-date, aerial footage of Beirut’s road network and offer it as proof that Israel had been tracking Hariri’s movements so as to best plan its attack. By the time the envelope was unsealed last week, the spell had long been cast. It was Israel. Nasrallah told us so.

    Had there been video footage of Nasrallah and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad jointly flicking the detonator switch as Hariri’s motorcade sped past the St. Georges Hotel on that fateful day, we would still believe they were Israeli lookalikes. Israel is our security blanket, our Xanax—call it what you will. We are a people who don’t want to consider any alternative to a safe but ultimately stunting worldview that casts Tel Aviv as the villain. Buying into Israel as the bogeyman is the drug we take to assure ourselves all is well.

    When the March 14 coalition demands that Hezbollah surrender its weapons because it wants to move forward and build a country in which the state controls all arms, at best it is accused of hiding behind a clearly naïve argument—one that connects Lebanese security from Israeli attack to the deterrence created by the party’s armed wing—and at worst of being a key pawn in a fiendish Western stratagem to destroy the Resistance.

    Anti-Western conspiracy theorists will say that the million Lebanese who took to the streets on March 14, 2005 did not force the Syrian army out of their country; the Americans did. It couldn’t have happened without them. And yet they will have no truck with an argument that suggests that Hezbollah would not be the party it is without Iran. Both are true to a greater or lesser degree, but the latter is perceived as morally stronger because it has Israel in its sights.

    The Resistance is a pure, noble and brave institution, committed to Lebanon’s national integrity, ready to defend its southern border from foreign—read: Israeli—infection. The party and its supporters will laugh off suggestions that it is first and foremost a powerful asset in Iran’s regional standoff with Israel and the West. This is nonsense, we are told. It is a theory the West would have us believe, a conspiracy within a conspiracy, if you will. As one NOW Lebanon reader commented last week in defense of Nasrallah and his party, “Hezbollah is our pride, our Honor, and our [sic] Lebanon’s Liberators.” It is a mantra that tells part of the story.

    Who needs the rest? Who cares about the decades of Arab authoritarianism, corruption and repression? This is explained away as our chronic condition, our lot in life, one that is somehow easier to deal with if the ever-present specter of Israel hovering in the wings is ready to rush on stage like a pantomime villain. To look inside ourselves would be too painful, and this is why the Special Tribunal for Lebanon is a double-edged sword.

    The Arab League has moved against Israel faster than it moves against its own. Israeli troops killed five Egyptian border guards on Thursday, and an ambassador was withdrawn. This is how it should be, but the Arabs need to move from their obsession with the “plot.”

    The “plot” will no doubt play a major role in the aftermath of the Libyan revolution. There will be claims that the rebels could not have done it without the firepower of NATO ships and planes. But to focus on the foreign assistance is to ignore the aspirations of the Libyan people. The same can said for the Syrians who are dying on the streets every day and, of course, the millions of Lebanese who want justice and an end to a culture of killing as policy.

    Maybe when that happens we will start to see things clearly.

    NOW Lebanon

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