Tips On Living With Terrorism
By Chris Ritchie
Coastal township of Byblos
Photos Of Christian Heartland By Jeremy Rose
Lebanon’s villages awake daily to the loud chorus of domesticated roosters’ collective morning calls.
This is a nation that must house a combined army of tens of thousands of chickens, providing households with a ready
supply of fresh eggs.
But all attempts to get Lebanese to talk about global bird flu, or its possible human implications, seem to draw
Public health officials may be doing their strategic planning behind the scenes, but for ordinary citizens in this
small Arabic-speaking country bordering the Mediterranean there seems to be no danger of public over-reaction, let alone
panic, to an as-yet unrealized public health hazard.
It is perhaps an understandable psychological response for a nation that has had, in its not-too-distant past, its fill
of fully-realized daily challenges to deal with in the form of a 16-year civil war that ended in 1991.
The unwillingness to fret about potential future danger also manifests itself in the field of terrorism, surely a
potential risk to parents and their children in the wake of a string of individual bomb blasts averaging about one a
month since last October.
After experiencing over a decade of relative political calm and frenzied post-war reconstruction, the
politically-motivated terrorism of the past 13 months has come in the form of both targeted, as well as apparently
The first, in October of last year, injured an Opposition Member of Parliament affiliated to the Druze religious sect, a
critic of the Syrian government’s interference in Lebanese domestic affairs.
In February, the de facto leader of the Opposition and former PM Raffik Hariri was killed in a massive blast in the
re-constructed downtown area of Beirut - an area of post-war psychological importance because it stands between the
predominantly Christian eastern suburbs and the mainly Moslem western ones and is therefore a neutral meeting place for
all sects in the new, post-war society.
Since the murder of Hariri, a Sunni who had also fallen foul of the Syrian dictatorship next door, the bombings between
March and September of this year have affected the mainly Christian-inhabited areas of the country - perhaps the most
fertile region for anti-Syrian sentiment in all of Lebanon.
Lebanese law officially recognizes seventeen religious-based communities - eleven Christian, by far the largest of
which is the Maronite Catholic community, five Muslim and one Jewish.
Because the attacks between March and September have taken place within the areas historically home to the ancient
Maronites, that is Mount Lebanon, and in east Beirut which is where a majority of Christians in the capital live, I
asked people in these areas about their own views and feelings on the bombings and how it affects their lives.
Family home of the Bou Saab family, Dhour Choueir village, Mount Lebanon
Peoples’ individual responses struck me as remarkably bereft of personalized fear. People offered their own analyses of
the likely political motivations behind the explosions as if they were putting their thoughts together for an essay on
some faraway country’s political challenges.
Some rejected completely the idea that this was a concerted attack on Christians, noting that a number of the bombings
appear to have been designed to deliver maximum commercial damage, to hurt morale in the country as a whole as well as
to try and intimidate critics of Syria into silence - be they Moslem or Christian.
But the most interesting aspect of peoples’ responses to the question of who has been behind the bombings was, for me,
not so much individual analyses, but the common refusal to be personally fazed by the actual bombings themselves.
Of course, it is true, that the combined toll from the recent bombings, averaging about one a month, have not been
anything like as injurious to life and limb as a single bad day during the long 1975-1991 period.
But the message to the bomb planters can’t be very encouraging to date if the intent of the bombs had been primarily
intended to intimidate anti-Syrian sentiment into silence.
If anything, views in Lebanon against the Syrian dictatorship, a hang-over from the Cold War and dominated as it is by
members of the Alawite branch of Islam which is a minority sect in Syria, are hardening.
The Syrian regime, internationally isolated in the face of a unified Security Council demanding answers for any senior
Syrian role in the Hariri murder and with few friends among the Sunni establishments that dominate political power in
the Arab world, may in any case be on its last legs.
Some Christians even dare to hope that the lack of any bombings in the month of October may be a sign that the
administration in Syria now realises that it has a far more immediate task at hand, namely ensuring its own survival in
the face of international hostility, a task that would surely only be harmed were the international community to uncover
any evidence of Syrian involvement in any Lebanese bombings.
Chris Ritchie is a former AP Dow Jones reporter