Breaking the rules

Posted in Broader Middle East | 18-Feb-05 | Author: Thomas Friedman| Source: International Herald Tribune

A Lebanese man signs his name to show his support on a mural of lebanon's slain former prime minister Rafik Hariri near his grave in Beirut, Lebanon, Friday Feb. 18, 2005.
About two weeks ago, a friend of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri stopped by my office to update me on Lebanon and pass on a message from Hariri, whom I have known since reporting from Beirut in the late 1970s. The message was that the Lebanese opposition to the Syrian occupation was getting united - inspired both by the example of Iraq and by the growing excesses of the Syrian occupation. Hariri, his friend said, was planning to use the coming Lebanese parliamentary elections, and a hoped-for victory by the opposition front, to send a real message to the Syrians: It's time for you to go.

There is no excuse anymore for Syria's occupation of Lebanon, other than naked imperialism and a desire to siphon off Lebanese resources. If the U.S. government and media really care about democracy in the Arab world, Hariri's envoy said, then the United States has to get behind those trying to rescue the oldest real Arab democracy, Lebanon, from the Syrian grip.

Well, Rafik, this one's for you. I am sorry you won't be able to read it.

It will be difficult to prove who killed Hariri. But the gang ruling Syria had all the ability, experience and motive to murder the Lebanese statesman for the way he had teamed up recently with Paris and Washington to pass UN Security Council Resolution 1559, calling for Syria's immediate withdrawal from Lebanon. Hariri pressed for that UN resolution, and resigned his office, after Syria perverted Lebanese democracy by forcing Lebanon's Parliament to accept a three-year extension for a Syrian puppet, Emile Lahoud, as Lebanon's president.

When Syria's Baath regime feels its back up against the wall, it always resorts to "Hama Rules." Hama Rules is a term I coined after the Syrian Army leveled - and I mean leveled - a portion of its own city, Hama, to put down a rebellion by Sunni Muslim fundamentalists there in 1982. Some 10,000 to 20,000 Syrians were buried in the ruble. Monday's murder of Hariri, a self-made billionaire who devoted his money and energy to rebuilding Lebanon after its civil war, had all the hallmarks of Hama Rules - beginning with 650 pounds of dynamite to incinerate an armor-plated motorcade.

Message from the Syrian regime to Washington, Paris and Lebanon's opposition: "You want to play here, you'd better be ready to play by Hama Rules - and Hama Rules are no rules at all. You want to squeeze us with Iraq on one side and the Lebanese opposition on the other, you'd better be able to put more than UN resolutions on the table. You'd better be ready to go all the way - because we will. But you Americans are exhausted by Iraq, and you Lebanese don't have the guts to stand up to us, and you French make a mean croissant but you've got no Hama Rules in your arsenal. So remember, we blow up prime ministers here. We shoot journalists. We fire on the Red Cross. We leveled one of our own cities. You want to play by Hama Rules, let's see what you've got. Otherwise, hasta la vista, baby."

It is a measure, though, of just how disgusted the Lebanese are with the Syrian occupation and Hama Rules that everyone - from senior Lebanese politicians, like the courageous Walid Jumblatt, to street protesters - is openly accusing Syria of Hariri's murder.

What else can the Lebanese do? They must unite all their communities and hit the Syrian regime with "Baghdad Rules," which were demonstrated 10 days ago by the Iraqi people. Baghdad Rules are when an Arab public does something totally unprecedented: It takes to the streets, despite the threat of violence from jihadists and Baathists, and expresses its democratic will.

Rafik Hariri stopped playing by "Lebanese Rules" - eating any crow the Syrians crammed down Lebanon's throat - and openly challenged Syrian imperialism. If the Lebanese want to be free, they have got to take the lead. They have to summon the same civic courage that Hariri did and that the Iraqi public did - the courage to look the fascists around them in the eye, call them in the press and in public by their real names, and confront the European Union and the Arab League for their willingness to ignore the Syrian oppression.

Nothing drives a dictatorship like Syria's more crazy than civil disobedience and truth-telling: when people stop being intimidated, stand up for their own freedom and go on strike against their occupiers. The Lebanese can't play by Hama Rules and must stop playing by the old Lebanese Rules. They must start playing by Baghdad Rules.

Baghdad Rules mean the Lebanese giving the Syrian regime - every day, everywhere - the purple finger.