A calamity that is a product of reckless negligence can take place everywhere on earth. The tragedy that has beset Beirut goes beyond the terrible blast last week. In fact, the sad truth is that even after the recovery takes place, the country will not have a path forward that would ensure this would not happen again.
The tragedy is not just a product of the combustible substances in the port, but of the toxic environment within the collective Lebanese mindset. The famous Lebanese singer Fairuz once lamented that her beloved city has become a place of fire and smoke, and asked, “Why has it shut off its lights?”
The partial answer can be found in her songs, including Bells of Return, on how she would make her way between Jaffa and Beit Shean and her admiration of the late Gamal Abdel Nasser. Her son has recently claimed that she likes Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah.
During the 1950s, Israelis talked about Lebanon as the Switzerland of the Middle East. But it soon became the region’s Somalia.
After Beirut was rebuilt in the physical sense, it was once again destroyed, but this time economically and politically. The damage the second time around has far exceeded any real conflict. In hindsight, it is clear that Beirut could have flourished as a Levantine cosmopolitan oasis.
The tolerant and accepting posture of the city could not survive the rising wave of Arab nationalism that came along with independence. Once the Lebanese and other Arab nations decided to shape their own destiny, the city was doomed to become a radical hotbed.
Lebanon reflects the tragedy of Arab nationalism that wanted to restore the former pre-colonial glory rather than build a society that would adjust to modern challenges.
In the 1920s and 1930s, the seeds of destruction were sowed when the Shiites in the south, the Sunnies in the north and east, and the Christians in the mountains were cobbled into one political entity. This led to Beirut, which was a hub of free thought and universities, becoming a free-for-all for radicals who called for the liberation of Palestine and pan-Arabism.
The nationalist movement founded in Beirut produced the enthusiastic messianic activists and later the terrorists who joined various pro-Palestinian movements. Lebanon’s weakness in the 1970s invited regional players, including the Palestine Liberation Organization, Syria, and others, which led to a drawn-out civil war that ultimately led to the Israeli invasion.
Ultimately, after the recovery, another radical element took control: the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement. This led to the socioeconomic collapse of the state.
There are many excuses that can be given to this systematic destruction, ranging from Syria’s prowess to the PLO’s violence, Israel’s aggression, and Iran’s plots.
But the real reason is that over many generations, faction leaders have refused to engage in nation-building that would produce a functioning modern state.
If they don’t step up to the plate now, the tragedies will continue. But unfortunately, they are not likely to do so.
This commentary was published by Israel Hayom, under the title: The Beirut blast symbolizes the tragedy of Lebanon, on August 11, 2020.