Syria and Lebanon

In the late 1950s, my family went to a film festival in Damascus. We were in Beirut, and I was too young to remember. Difficult to imagine, but Syria and Lebanon were progressive, open and comfortable, made up of diverse Christian communities dating back to the time of Jesus, a thriving Jewish community, Sunni and Shia Muslims, Druze, and many athiests who expressed their beliefs in prose and poetry. We were Lutheran, but it didn’t matter. The area was not religious, and everyone lived on top of everyone else. Very few women wore hajab, though people dressed modestly, except on the beach. There was a relatively free press and free discourse. Poets and writers flourished. There was no real border between Syria and Lebanon—borders were a European invention, which upset the world much more than it helped. The Lebanese and Syrian governments spent very little on their military. I believe Lebanon had the most representatives at the convention for the United Nations in San Francisco.

I know I’m painting too rosy a picture, but the area had neither Europe’s destruction from WWII nor the hatred and militancy that brought it about. The Arab world in general had no anti-Jewish hatred. Just the opposite: Jews took refuge in Islamic countries during the many periods of European Christian malice.

What went wrong? It seems like the region has been spiraling down inexorably into war, sectarian hatred, and economic hardship. How did they end up with a repressive dictatorship commanding Syria and a long civil war in Lebanon.

I’m not going to attempt to answer this question in a short phrase because the answer involves the changing world, the increase population, the creation of Palestinian refugees, and the intervention of so many other countries. I do know that weapons is a central reason for decline. It’s similar to a depressed person having a gun in his house. It increased many fold the chance of suicide. Also, climate change played a part in the recent brutal Syrian civil war as the area became more arid and led to economic problems which the dictatorship did not handle.

It is so crazy that a country, which can’t really afford the luxuries of life, has an array of very expensive weapons. I can’t list one weapon that has made life better for anyone in Syria or Lebanon. None of these weapons are made locally, so those that sell them on the backs of the farmers and storekeepers pocket the money. Weapons come from the US, Russia, and Europe. Are they guilty of an unspoken crime?

If my hypothesis of various groups living in harmony is at least partly accurate, how did the divisions open up and become explosive? And if it can happen in Syria, can it happen in other countries that are currently stable and liberal?

4 Comment

  1. George Talant says: Reply

    What you’re saying, Kameel, is important because you are asking why. I believe that meddling from foreign powers brought about the negative changes in the Middle East, but the obvious question is why the Arab world allowed them to meddle. Why did Europe and the US become so powerful and the developing world so weak as to allow intervention–political, financial, and military–from thousands of miles away.
    I was in Lebanon before their civil war, and I loved the place. The people were friendly and personable.

  2. Jaime O'Connor says: Reply

    When I was a kid, Lebanon was thought to be the Switzerland of the Middle East. I think it’s really interesting your assertion the climate change had a hand in the Syrian Civil War. That would have never occurred to me. More so, the rapid increase in population, which ruins a country’s economic growth.

  3. Jared, Rhode Island says: Reply

    I wonder how much religion plays a role in all this. People seem to divide themselves up according to what they believe, which I don’t think is helpful. I believe that parts of the Islamic world are repressed by religion, probably less so in Lebanon and what used to be Syria. I am very sorry for all the

  4. George Protasian says: Reply

    It’s the big powers, first England and France, and then the USA that have invaded the Middle East and made it unstable, and not just Syria and Lebanon, but all the countries in the region. Let’s not forget the French in Algeria. Even before the US invasion of Iraq, the British were there and put down a revolt with brutal force. Let’s not forget that the US an UK overthrew the democratic government of Iran in 1953. Or the Italians in Libya.

Leave a Reply

*