Friday, September 08, 2006

Lebanese Youth Call on US to Respect Democracy

By Rima Merhi

Friday, September 08, 2006
First person by Rima Merhi

In an ugly world where we can no longer distinguish between terror and the so-called war on terror, Lebanese youth take courage and energy from the real values of democracy, freedom, justice and human rights as taught at our universities, particularly the leading American universities in Beirut.
There is a real pressing danger that despite our commitment and passion for American ideals, Lebanese youth are becoming more and more isolated from the US in light of its foreign policy in the Middle East. "Israel's right to defend itself" has left us with a country in ruins amid a humanitarian crisis and environmental catastrophe that has taken our country back at least 20 years.

The whole world witnessed Israel's right to defend itself at the heartbreaking repeat massacre in Qana at the end of July. The apology of the Israeli government will not bring back the dead. It will not erase from our memories the sight of children and women agonizingly being pulled out of the rubble.
We acknowledge with equal sadness and regret the loss of innocent civilians in Israel. Lebanese youth watch in horror as the leading superpower and role model in the world sets a very dangerous precedent for allowing skirmishes across borders to escalate into full-blown disproportionate wars and crimes against humanity. Generation after generation are fed more hatred, poison and anger.

The universal principle of "human rights" in the Arab world have come to symbolize American double standards, if not blatant racism against Arabs, lack of respect for our culture and traditions, and ignorance of the socio-political realities that form our political systems. Lebanese youth urge the US government not to push us to the point of despair by giving us and our governments a fair hearing. The Bush administration must not doubt that the marginalization of one-and-a-half million Shiites, constituting more than one-third of the Lebanese population in a highly volatile region, will only lead to civil war in Lebanon and more terrorism in the world.

For years we witnessed first-hand the pain that angry, marginalized groups inflicted on each other. That pain and anger runs deep and has sadly inflicted a new generation.

Last year in democratic elections, Hizbullah was awarded seats in the Lebanese government. The Lebanese government sought to build a more representative form of government that fosters national identity through allegiance to the state.

Lebanese youth urge the US government to respect our democracy and help our government empower the Lebanese Army to take control over every inch of Lebanese soil. Despite the cease-fire, Israeli planes continue to hover over Lebanon, making it impossible for the Lebanese government to call for the disarmament of Hizbullah.

We would like to remind the Bush administration that Lebanon is not Afghanistan or Iraq. Lebanon is not governed by a dictator, nor is our society made up of tribes or clans. We have a nascent democracy that is representative of 18 sects in one of the smallest geographic countries in the world. Lebanese youth are one of the most educated in the Arab world. Two months before the July war, our government approved a bill in Parliament calling for the establishment of a youth shadow government - the first of its kind in the Arab world - to give youth a real voice in the country.
We are the same youth that led the Cedar Revolution, bringing an end to the Syrian occupation of Lebanon in March 2006. The dream of an independent, sovereign and democratic Lebanon was turning into a reality. We felt empowered to make our mark on history. With pride we watched the Arab masses turn to Lebanon as a potential beacon of true democracy in the Middle East. Bush applauded the partial fulfilment of Resolution 1559 and promised the Lebanese that "Freedom shall prevail in Lebanon. The American people are on your side!" Four months later, Bush gives Israel the green light not to destroy Hizbullah, but the whole of Lebanon.

We can not help but feel truly disappointed by the Bush administration. We are no different from American or Israeli youth. We share with all youth a desire for peace, democracy and sustainable development. Last July Lebanese youth expressed faith in the US government when I testified in the US Congress on our aspirations for national reform. The July war is a devastating blow to our morale. The big powers gamble with our futures once again by using Lebanese soil to fight non-Lebanese wars.

Lebanese youth refuse to live in the past. We refuse to survive in fear. We refuse to be robbed of our future. The "New Middle East" has to be a place where we work together to learn from the lessons of history. First and foremost, we must address the roots of Islamic fundamentalism in the region. No one will deny that Israel is no more secure today than it was 40 days or 40 years ago! By fighting the war on terror with more terror and imposing conditions that lead to the further marginalization of minority groups, the US is neither bringing security nor democracy to the region.

It is setting the scene for future disaster by turning moderate law-abiding peace-loving Muslims who are neglected and abused by the system into harsh vengeful radicals that cause a threat to the world at large. No amount of propaganda to the contrary will be effective so long as the facts on the ground speak for themselves. The "New Middle East" has to be a place where we respect our borders with one another and break the vicious cycle of hatred and revenge with tolerance and forgiveness. It has to be a place where we embrace our common humanity.

Rima Merhi is a Lebanese youth activist. She wrote this article for The Daily Star.