Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Think outside the box

Robert Fisk

Well, Mr Siniora claimed it was an attempt to destabilise Lebanon - a good guess, to put it mildly - and Saad Hariri, son of the former prime minister murdered here more than two years ago, called the armed men "evil-doers who had hijacked Islam". This is the same Saad Hariri whom at least one American reporter - I refer to Seymour Hersh - suggested was indirectly helping to funnel Saudi money to these same gunmen in a recent article in The New Yorker. The Shia Muslim Hizbollah are supposed to be the bad guys in this scenario, not a Sunni group.
But Tripoli is the most powerful Sunni city in Lebanon - so powerful that not a drop of alcohol wets its restaurant tables - and the men and women running in terror across Tripoli's streets yesterday were also Sunnis. So are the Syrians really concocting an "al-Qaida" in Lebanon? And who are its enemies? The Nato army of the UN force in southern Lebanon, perhaps? But surely not the Lebanese army, the very same army which bravely prevented civil war last January? Yet in 2000, an al-Qaida-type group also ambushed the Lebanese army in northern Lebanon. Was this, too, supposed to be a Syrian invention?

Robert Fisk

The soldiers are polite, courteous with journalists. This must be one of the few countries in the world where soldiers treat journalists as old friends, where they blithely allow them to broadcast from in front of their positions, borrowing their newspapers, sharing cigarettes, chatting, believing that we have our job to do. But more and more we are wondering if we are not cataloguing the sad disintegration of this country. The Lebanese army is on the streets of Beirut to defend Siniora, on the streets of Sidon to prevent sectarian disturbances, on the roads of southern Lebanon watching the Israeli frontier and now, up here in the far north, besieging the poor and the beaten Palestinians of Nahr el-Bared and the dangerous little groupuscule which may - or may not - be taking its orders from Damascus.

One thing is for sure, if Fatah al Islam is an Al Qaeda group backed by Syria, that would surely be a novelty. It may not be an impossibility, but we should be wary of the language of politics and media which throws wild accusations around.


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