Lebanon: The kidnapped peace! |
Saudi Gazette - 04 September, 2012
Author: Khaled M. Batarfi
I just came back from a social trip to Lebanon. My dear Lebanese friends, Gilbert and Miriam Khaleel, were going to wed and a beloved couple among my Lebanese friends fell ill.
I was warned that it wasn’t safe for Gulf citizens to visit Lebanon at this time. A Shitte tribal family in the North threatened to kidnap visitors from Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar if the Free Syrian Army didn’t free their son. They assumed that Turkey and Gulf countries supported the army and thus had the clout to free him.
The Free Syria Army, on the other hand, insisted that the Lebanese they arrested in Damascus were Hezbollah military officers supporting the Syrian government’s military campaign against its own people.
A kidnapped Turk was released after a high Turkish delegation arrived to pressure the Lebanese government, but the Syrians did not have much luck.
The Lebanese government was determined to resolve the issue.
Politicians and businessmen called these kidnappings a spillover from the Syrian crisis and was a political and business disaster for Lebanon.
The Gulf tourists provide the most valuable source of income for the country’s vital tourism industry. The Eid holiday was the most lucrative season, and the issue could not have occurred in a worse of time. Syria, they say, is releasing its hot steam into its small peaceful neighbor, like it wasn’t enough that refugee camps on the Lebanese border are swelling with increasing number of Syrians fleeing the raging wars in their towns and villages.
Thankfully, the issue was resolved quickly. The Lebanese government, dominated by the Hezbollah, pressured the tribe; the Shitte parties, including the Amal movement, took the government side; and the tribe leaders announced “we will no longer take any ‘military actions’ on the Lebanese proper”.
I felt safe shopping, dining and conducting meetings in Beirut, moving around in my rented car alone or with my Lebanese friends.
People who knew where I came from would do their best to please me, and eagerly ask about my experience in Lebanon. When I approved, they would say: “Please tell that back home. Lebanon cannot be Lebanon without the Gulf people. What wrong have we done? Why do we have to pay such a hefty price for a crazy action from a non-responsible family? Besides, troubles have been happening far away from here — in Tripoli, the capital of the North, and some Syrian border areas. Beirut, Beit Al-Dine, Sour, Sidon and the rest of the country are safe and as welcoming as ever. The media is making too much an issue of a single incident and small fire! Don’t believe them! Come see for yourself.”
Still I was cautious. I stayed close to my hotel, and only went to known safe places and areas. I met with friends, and wouldn’t mix or show my real identity to strangers. Because I felt safer every day, and since a couple of my Lebanese friends were still ill, I decided to extend my week-long visit three more days.
Suddenly, I received many calls from my worried family and friends. It was just announced that a Kuwaiti was kidnapped during a visit to his Lebanese wife’s town in the Shitte Beqaa Valley, near the Syrian border. The kidnappers were after money this time. They figured a Kuwaiti ransom would be worth a fortune.
Again, a political issue developed from a common crime. The Lebanese government moved quickly to free the man and punish the criminals. But the damage was already done. Now it is official in Gulf countries, Lebanon is not safe for us.
I had to leave, not because I was afraid — life was as normal and delightful as ever in Beirut, but because my beloved family in Saudi Arabia wouldn’t understand. Even some of my Lebanese friends started to worry. The unknown is man’s worst fear. We may accept known risks, but when it is all about feelings, brains are overwhelmed with emotions and logic cease to be the guide.
Instead of Friday, I took the Wednesday flight. On the way to the airport, I took the highway through the Southern Suburb, a Hezbollah stronghold. My Shitte friend was so worried when I called to ask for directions. He tried to direct me to another confusing route. That was overreaction. When I arrived in Beirut I went though the same route, and took directions from many people on the way, one even rode with me and took me to the hotel, in a mainly Christian area. He adamantly refused a ride back even to the nearest main street.
After I returned the car to the rental office at the airport, I found that I had to refuel at the nearest gas station, which happened to be in the heart of the Southern Suburb. A couple of friends who knew where I was were panicking. I wasn’t even worried — not then and not throughout my visit.
The friendly, accommodating, peaceful, beautiful Lebanese were never sweeter. They expected my concerns and did their best to make me feel at home. They damned politics and politicians, sectarians and foreign agents — the merchants of hate, war and distruction. Lebanese just wanted to go about their lives, chase their dreams and live in peace.
May Allah bless Lebanon`s souls and hearts, and save them from the Angels of Death and Agents of Evil. They had enough! They deserve better.
— Dr. Khaled Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. He can be reached at Kbatarfi@gmail.com Follow him on Twitter:@Kbatarfi.