Courtesy Reuters

Lebanon: The Prospects: Lebanon and its Inheritors

In the Shia vision of history, born of centuries of oppression and marginality, a time comes when the mighty are humbled; the lowly who kept the faith rise up and inherit the earth free from oppressors. From this vision has come consolation. It sustained an embattled minority faith through the eras of worldly and political dispossession.

Something of this vision has come to pass in our time in Lebanon. The country has turned into a slaughter ground, but an inheritance as well. Passion, demography and chance have raised a once-marginal community above the insularity and fears of the past.

In the south of Lebanon, two and a half years of Israeli occupation have given the Shia a new and sustaining myth of resistance. In Beirut, Shi‘ite squatters and urban newcomers have crossed once-forbidden lines. The western half of the city, traditionally home of the more privileged Sunni Muslim community, has all but fallen to the downtrodden Shia. In the Bekaa Valley, under the shadow of Syria, extremist elements in the loosely joined Party of God, known as Hizbollah, proclaim their intention to "cleanse the country" and to transform this fractured polity into an Islamic republic: a seeming parody of the realm established in Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran.

The Shia phenomenon arises from the accumulated resentments—and achievements—of a quarter-century. But the midwife of the current resurgence was none other than Israel, which came into Lebanon in June of 1982 both to destroy a Palestinian dominion in West Beirut and the south, and also to restore Christian Maronite hegemony over the country. The first mission was relatively easy to achieve. Over the course of a decade the Palestinian armed presence in Lebanon had been emptied of its exalted claims and had turned into an affair of caprice and showmanship.

Israel’s second mission was not to be fulfilled. The time of the Maronite ascendancy had passed. Demographic realities had caught up with the Maronites; no amount of Israeli or American support

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