On collaborators and other traitors.
I watched this passage of Marcel Ghanem’s Kalam en-Nass yesterday and it made me think. First of all, I would like to salute Marcel’s boldness in raising awareness about such an important issue, and his commitment to bringing up the problems of the ordinary people.
This post does not discuss the misfortunes of 18-year old Antonios al-Hasruni, a Lebanese-Australian whose family fled to Israel in May 2000, before settling in Sydney. Antonios was arrested recently at Beirut Airport for having transited in Israel ten years ago, when he was 7.
This post is about the misfortunes of Antonios’s father, former SLA member (South-Lebanon Army) who seems to appear as the only culprit in this whole affair, for some kind of consensus in Lebanon takes for granted that the families of the collaborators be not collectively blamed, punished, or sued because of the choices of their father/husband/brother, etc.
How guilty is really Antonios’s father?
There was no political and economic presence of the Lebanese state in South-Lebanon from 1920 until 2000 (and still…). There was no sovereignty either. In the 1970s, before the beginning of the 1975 war, hundreds of Lebanese crossed the border on a daily basis to go work in Israel. They had been working there for years, and possessed work permits. The Israeli economy offered the best, and closest, professional opportunities in the region. For others, emigration was the only horizon. Isn’t it ironic that Israel and remote immigration countries seemed closer to Lebanese citizens than Lebanon itself?
The cornerstone of Lebanese popular culture is summed up in one multi-purpose expression, which explains it all: wayna el dawlé?! (“Where is the state?”) All the Southerners used this expression; SLA members and Hizbullah supporters. The discourse is by all odds quite identical: the state is absent, the politicians could not care less about the situation in the South, we are left alone to manage by our own means… so we manage with what we have. What some had was the political, military and economic assistance of Zionist Israel; what others had was the political, military, ideological, and financial assistance of Baathist Syria and Khomeinist Iran.
These choices yielded slightly different consequences, however: in the politically correct discourse, those who chose the Israeli option are humiliated and called traitors, while those who chose the Syrian/Iranian option are not. In short, in the politically correct discourse, collaborating with the Syrian and Iranian regimes is morally preferable to collaborating with Israel. Has anyone been sued or de-legitimized for such an act?
The definition of the term “collaborator” is that of an individual who works for any outside enemy against the interests of his own group. The reason why this definition is a mess is because no Lebanese agrees on what lies under the terms “outside enemy” and “group.” Do the 2 terms refer to the members of other religious sects within the same nation, or to a foreign power, and in any case, which one? Sometimes you feel that your fellow-citizen is more foreign to you than your foreign neighbor.
So yes, due to several factors, our enemy-meters strongly diverge. But back to our topic, who ought to be found guilty, the failed Lebanese state or Antonios al-Hasruni’s father? The uncaring central authority or the Southerners? Could anyone in South-Lebanon, from 1970 until 2000, choose to stay in the land he belonged to, without seeking foreign assistance; what else could he do? And why are some found guilty while others are not? Perhaps this blog is better at asking questions rather than providing answers.
Another multi-use term in the Arab political culture is the term traitor. It’s random, user-friendly, could mean anything, and is more or less efficient. Anyone could be called a traitor anytime.
So, on a traitor-meter of 1 to 10, how much of a traitor are you?