Judges and Jurors in Beirut

Violence has long been a part of the Lebanese landscape.

On Friday morning, my Beirut apartment shook to the sound of an explosion. My roommate and I made our way to the site of the blast downtown with the help of a man on a street corner who, pointing in two different directions, remarked drily: “If you want to see the bomb go that way. If you want to go shopping go that way.”

To be sure, such violence has long been a part of the Lebanese landscape. So too have the self-appointed tribunals that spring up in the aftermath of political assassinations.

In this particular instance, former prime ministers Fouad Siniora and Saad Hariri of the March 14 coalition have once again showcased their omniscience by extrajudicially indicting Hezbollah for the bombing, which killed, among seven others, ex-finance minister Mohammad Shatah, a former adviser to both men.

Conveniently, Shatah had criticized Hezbollah on Twitter shortly prior to his death.

In their post-mortem assessments, Siniora and Hariri deployed incendiary rhetoric encouraging sectarian unrest. Accusations of terrorism on the part of the alleged killers become a tad more complicated, however, when one considers the presence of al-Qaeda fans at Shatah’s funeral — not to mention traditional Hariri-Siniora support for Sunni extremists as a counterweight to Hezbollah.

Of course, no possibility can be discounted as to the identity of the perpetrators of Friday’s attack. But the high-speed issuance of guilty verdicts by politicians should at least be accompanied by a recollection of the ease and expediency of the practice of framing.

As for who stands to benefit from continued instability in Lebanon, it goes without saying that many domestic and international forces have stakes in this business. In his book Beware of Small States: Lebanon, Battleground of the Middle East, historian David Hirst writes:

Several states, from inside the region and beyond, have impinged on Lebanon — wooed, bullied or sought to subvert it from within, attacked, invaded, occupied, or otherwise maltreated it . . . But none has done so more strenuously and disruptively than the state of Israel.

Given Hezbollah’s function as the only effective resistance to Israeli disruptions in Lebanon, one is less than encouraged by the following bit of Sinioran logic presented at the funeral ceremony for Shatah:

We have decided to liberate the country of the occupation of illegitimate weapons [i.e., those belonging to Hezbollah] to preserve its independence, its sovereignty and its civil peace.

It’s not quite clear how the preservation of nonexistent conditions will be achieved, but it’s safe to assume it will require further bloodshed.