November 25, 2006
The Independent (UK)

Lebanon: A French Colonial Legacy of Despair

by Robert Fisk

I couldn't help a deep, unhealthy chuckle when I watched the French foreign minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy arrive outside the wooden doors of Saint George's Maronite Cathedral in Beirut this week. A throb of applause drifted through the tens of thousands of Lebanese who had gathered for the funeral of murdered industry minister Pierre Gemayel. Here, after all, was the representative of the nation which had supported the eviction of the Syrian army last year, whose president had been a friend of the equally murdered ex-prime minister Rafiq Hariri, whose support in the UN Security Council was helping to set up the tribunal which will - will it, we ask ourselves in Beirut these days? - try the killers of both Hariri and Gemayel.

. . . the French wanted the Maronites to run Lebanon and thus after independence bequeathed them the presidency. Sunni Muslims would hold the prime ministership and the Shias, who are today the largest community, would be compensated by holding the speakership of parliament. The French thus wanted Lebanon's "independence" - but they wanted it to be in France's favour.

Two problems immediately presented themselves to the Lebanese. By claiming the largest area which it was possible to rule with the tiniest majority - the Maronite religious leader of the time, Patriarch Hayek, was responsible for this - the Christians ensured that they would soon be outnumbered and thus rule their country from a position of minority power. . . .

The other Lebanese problem - which the people of Northern Ireland will immediately spot - is that a sectarian state, where only Maronites can be the president and where only Sunnis can be the prime minister, cannot be a modern state. Yet if you take away the sectarianism France created, Lebanon will no longer be Lebanon. The French realised all this in the same way - I suspect - as the Americans have now realised the nature of their sectarian monster in Iraq. . . .

Amid such geopolitical uncertainties, it is easy for westerners to see these people in the borders and colours in which we have chosen to define them. Hence all those newspaper maps of Lebanon - Shias at the bottom and on the right, the Sunnis and Druze in the middle and at the top, and the Christians uneasily wedged between Beirut and the northern Mediterranean coast. We draw the same sectarian maps of Iraq - Shias at the bottom, Sunnis in the middle (the famous "Sunni triangle" though it is not triangular at all) and Kurds at the top. . . .

But we do not draw these maps of our own British or American cities. I could draw a map of Bradford's ethnic districts - but we would never print it. I could draw a black-white ethnic map of Washington - but the Washington Post would never dream of publishing it.

And thus we divide the "other", while assiduously denying the "other" in ourself. This is what the French did in Lebanon, what the British did in Northern Ireland and the Americans are now doing in Iraq. In this way we maintain our homogenous power. . . .


Robert Fisk is the author of "The Great War for Civilisation"

"Diplomats Doubt That Syria Would Kill Hariri," The Wisdom Fund, July 13, 2006

"U.S.-Backed Israel Pounds Lebanon, Thousands Flee," The Wisdom Fund, July 13, 2006

"Israeli War Crimes in Lebanon," Human Rights Watch, August 3, 2006

Jonathan Cook, "Syria: Convenient but Unlikely Fall Guy for Gemayel's Death,", November 24, 2006

Robert Fisk, "Who's running Lebanon?," Independent, December 15, 2006

Robert Fisk, "Opposition demonstrations turn Beirut into a violent sectarian battleground," Independent, January 24, 2007

[The country is not on the brink of another "civil war", but has been subsumed in an "imperial war" engineered in Tel Aviv and Washington. He's also mistaken in thinking that the Paris 3 Conference is designed to "save" Lebanon from the mountain of debt which piled up after Israel's destructive 34 day war. The real purpose of the $7.6 billion in loans is to shackle Lebanon to the international lending institutions that are demanding additional taxes on the poor, more privatization of state-run industries, and restructuring the economy to meet the requirements of the global banking elite.--Mike Whitney, "Why Fisk is wrong about Lebanon," Information Clearing House, January 28, 2007]

Robert Fisk, "Please spare me the word 'terrorist'," Independent, February 3, 2007

Antoun Issa, "The Lebanese Dilemma: A Primer,", February 3, 2007

Robert Fisk, "US power games in the Middle East," Independent, March 19, 2007

Robert Fisk, "Who killed Mr Lebanon?: The hunt for Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri's assassins," Independent, January 11, 2009

Robert F. Worth, "Suspects in Hariri's Death Released," New York Times, April 30, 2009

"Blackwater- Xe Involved in Bhutto and Hariri Hits: Former Pakistani Army Chief,", September 14, 2009

[The US-Israel plan includes the expectation that members of Hezbollah, possibly even Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, will be indicted, tried and convicted, in absentia of course, of involvement in the February 14, 2005 murder of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. The US State Department Office of the Legal Adviser has proudly assured the White House that because its office insisted back in 2005 that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon be established under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, anyone who the STL convicts will face sure UN sanctions. Chapter Seven allows for the use of unlimited international armed force to implement any verdict that the STL hands down.--Franklin Lamb, "Attacking Nasrallah: How the US and Israel Hope to Destroy Hezbollah,", November 19, 2010]

Avi Issacharoff, "Saad Hariri says Lebanon will ask UN to stop investigation of international tribunal into 2005 assassination of his father 'for the interests of the country'," Haaretz, December 22, 2010

[The STL is widely expected to implicate Hezbollah members in the February 2005 assassination of late premier Rafiq Hariri despite evidence pointing to Israel's complicity in the crime. Saad Hariri's Western-backed ruling March 14 coalition backs the tribunal while the opposition March 8 coalition has called for its boycott.--Rannie Amiri, "The Well-Deserved Collapse of Lebanon's Government: Blame Hillary, Not Hezbollah,", January 14, 2011]

[ . . . prosecutors acknowledged they have no smoking gun in the case.--Nadia Bakri, "Indictment in Hariri Assassination Is Published,", August 17, 2011]

Gareth Porter, "U.S. Wants to Finger Hezbollah, So . . . Tribunal Concealed Evidence Al-Qaeda Cell Killed Hariri,", September 1, 2011

back button