Hisham Bou Nassif wrote:
The debate over the role of Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea in the Lebanese civil war matters for reasons beyond Geagea himself. Hezbollah and its allies have recently embarked on a campaign to block Geagea’s presidential ambitions by emphasizing his image as a former warlord. Geagea’s defenders retort that the antagonists of the Lebanese Forces perpetrated numerous crimes in the war and can thus hardly claim the moral high ground in their tug-of-war with Geagea.
But the rhetoric of the anti-Geagea party is problematic for more reasons than just short-term political dynamics: the latest Hezbollah-sponsored anti-Geagea campaign seeks to rewrite the history of the civil war by portraying Hezbollah’s opponents as bloodthirsty criminals, with dire repercussions on the future of Lebanon if it succeeds. If Lebanon is to avoid tragic replays of its turbulent past, the Lebanese must agree that subduing their country’s interests to regional expansionist schemes always ends in tragedy. Geagea seems to have internalized this insight; it is very questionable whether his detractors have.
The atrocities that the Assad regime has been perpetrating in Syria since 2011 recall the violence it unleashed on Lebanon throughout the Lebanese civil war. In 1975, the Lebanese state proved too weak and dysfunctional to disarm the Palestinian armed factions which had progressively taken root in various parts of Lebanon since 1969. Soon after the beginning of the war between the Palestinians and their opponents, the Lebanese state collapsed. This opened the door to Syrian invasion in 1976. It is important to remember that the roles of the Palestinian guerillas, and Syrian occupation forces, have always been legitimized by invoking “sacred causes” transcending Lebanese borders and politics (e.g. the liberation of Palestine; the so-called “special relations” with Syria; the necessities of Arab solidarity; the imperatives of defying American and “imperialist” schemes). Hezbollah currently reproduces the same rhetoric and politics. Yesterday, it was acceptable that Lebanon’s needs be relegated to Palestinian liberation, or for the Assad regime to grow stronger in regional power plays. Today, it is still unproblematic for Lebanon to be denied its sovereignty – this time in order to promote the regional agenda of the Iranian regime.
No other challenge has been greater to Lebanon’s very existence since 1975 than, in chronological order, the Palestinian, Syrian, and Iranian roles within its borders. The Lebanese Forces have been bitter enemies of all three. The idea behind the vociferous attack on Geagea is unmistakable precisely because it pits local cronies of the Iranian and Syrian regimes against their most determined Lebanese adversaries, the Lebanese Forces. What is at stake, beyond the immediate political clash, is the memory of the war, and mutually exclusive understandings of Lebanon.
If the Lebanese Forces indeed stood for an independent Lebanon, then their struggle against Palestinian, Syrian, and Iranian-sponsored elements in the war was justified. Furthermore, the Lebanese are right to refuse surrendering their country’s political independence and prioritizing the interests of regional hegemons over their own.
By contrast, if Geagea is nothing but a war criminal, which is how his foes portray him, then his group of partisans represented little more than a violent armed faction that grew in the chaos of the war. Their ideological message is meaningless, and that of their opponents can then occupy center stage – alone. This means that additional Lebanese generations will grow up socialized into thinking that their country’s destiny is to be an appendage of any would-be regional hegemon in their neighborhood – yesterday Syria, and today Iran. Lebanese patriotism, the only platform which could provide Lebanese communal groups with a sense of shared belonging, will then collapse as an idea.
It stems from the above that it is essential to distinguish the role of Lebanese Forces during the war from that of their opponents. To be sure, all parties perpetrated acts of violence which claimed the lives of innocent civilians. The Lebanese Forces are not an exception in that regard, nor is any of their disparagers.
By contrast, it is very difficult to defend – from a Lebanese perspective – those factions that did not mind the Palestinian organizations building a state inside the Lebanese state, or Hafez al-Assad reducing Lebanon into a satellite nation, or the Iranian mullahs exporting a fundamentalist Shiite ideology into a country with a sizable Christian and Sunni presence. From a moral standpoint, violence is always reprehensible; from a political one, however, lumping groups who fought to safeguard the Lebanese state along the same category of those who contributed to its breakdown is simplistic and unfair – let alone singling out the Lebanese Forces as the only culprits in the war.
The clash of the Lebanese Forces and their allies with Hezbollah transcends strict political interests. Hezbollah’s attempts at rewriting Lebanon’s contemporary history should be countered because Hezbollah’s role in the war, as well as its current drive to subdue Lebanon to Iran’s regional strategy, should not be legitimized. The ideological dimension of the conflict matters because the very soul of Lebanon is at stake. For the falsification of Lebanon’s recent history not to become more entrenched and widespread, it is essential that Hezbollah be denied the discursive and ideological hegemony it seeks.