TOPICS : Hizbullah doesn’t speak for Lebanon

Ignorance is bliss. But you can only be content with what you have until you get a glimpse of something better, or until you are struck by a harsh reality that makes it impossible to continue living comfortably with the knowledge you now possess. As part of a younger generation of Arab Americans, I have no firsthand memories of the 1975-90 Lebanese civil war.

Until recently, my experience of conflict in Lebanon was limited to the stories I’d heard and a look at the occasional bullet-scarred building in downtown Beirut. Juxtaposed against the new infrastructure, the jarring effect of these wartime relics did not escape me. It was difficult to picture a Lebanon without the joie de vivre that defines its character.

Sadly, it is no longer hard. I imagine that the horrifying images from Lebanon elicit a surge of emotion in most of us. While I personally find it difficult to sit idly by, I understand why others around me might not. Our daily lives are not often affected by events elsewhere, so it makes sense that we might not feel personally compelled to take action in response. This applies to Americans and Lebanese alike.

Given this reasoning, I am puzzled by the widespread misperception that Hizbullah has always represented the Lebanese majority. Until recently, Lebanon was a market economy with a per capita income of $5,000. Its society was liberal, sophisticated, and intellectually refined. Regardless of their sentiments toward Israel, most Lebanese did not wish to take up ideological battles that would hinder their economic and cultural prosperity. Just as we each have our individual causes, we do not usually seek to champion them in ways that disrupt our own lives.

However, Israel’s military campaign has certainly galvanised significant support for Hizbullah within Lebanon, leading this misperception to become the reality. The assumption that most Lebanese identify with Hizbullah is symptomatic of the preexisting stereotypes that characterise the Middle East and thus comes as no surprise. As a Palestinian, an American, and a rational being, I can confidently say that the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, which occurs in violation of numerous UN resolutions and is upheld through gross human rights abuses, is now, and has always been, the root cause of conflict between Israel and Hizbullah. Hizbullah may very well have triggered the recent violence. Its actions were foolish, as they provided the impetus for Israel to launch a full-fledged attack on Lebanon. But this provocation by Hizbullah does not justify Israel’s brutal and disproportionate response.

My perspective may be especially jaded, and thus unfairly pessimistic. I sincerely hope so. Ignorance is bliss, but it is costly. Among those who are already aware of the realities of this conflict, yet choose to eschew them, feigned ignorance is simply inexcusable.

I hope that the devastation that has struck Lebanon will eventually shatter the facade of ignorance upheld by those who clearly know better. — The Christian Science Monitor