Consider Lebanon


To the Editors of The Crimson:

In his essay, "Unite and Conquer," which appeared on the editorial page of The Crimson Friday, June 28, Joseph Kahn interprets the hijacking of TWA flight 847 as a "calculating, anti-Semitic" act designed to weaken U.S.-Israeli relations. Mr. Kahn urges that U.S. foreign policy must not be considered responsible for the incident and calls for "swift and severe" retaliation, presumably against the Lebanese Shiites as a group. I would like to offer another interpretation of the hijacking in light of certain facts about the recent history of Lebanon which Mr. Kahn seems to have ignored.

Without in any way condoning the action of the hijackers of flight 847, I question Mr. Kahn's attribution of highly strategic and politically sophisticated motives to the hijackers. Originally inhabitants of the southern rural regions of Lebanon, the Lebanese Shiite community was disrupted by the influx of Palestinians into southern Lebanon following the establishment of Israel, and by the mounting violence between Palestinians and Israelis in that region which reached its climax with the Israeli invasion in 1982. Since that time, Lebanese Shiites have been forced to move in increasing numbers to urban slums. The rural economy which the population of southern Lebanon had relied upon, for the most part suffered and finally collapsed with the fighting in that region and Israeli occupation of what had been Shiite land. Thus the majority of Lebanese Shiites have been reduced to conditions of economic and social hardship by the militry operations Israel has carried out in Lebanon; combined with the political unrest of the region in general, prospects for the Shiite population of southern Lebanon in the last few years have looked rather bleak.

With these facts in mind, Mr. Kahn's contention that the actions of the hijackers reflected considerable political sophistication, in that the hijacking was "calculated and perfectly planned" to interfere with U.S. policy and U.S.-Israeli relations, seems questionable. His pronouncement that "the Shiites are simply out to destroy those nations [that prize freedom] in any way possible for their own fanatical reasons" smacks of paranoia. Given the political turmoil, economic collapse and physical hardship the Shiites have withstood in the recent past, the terrorist actions of the hijackers more likely reflect extreme desperation and fear, instead of the well thought out political maneuvering Mr. Kahn attributes to them. Finally, Mr. Kahn's call for the U.S. to "unite with Israel and other supporters and crush those who threaten our security" strikes me as a pathetically unnecessary goal. The Shiites of Lebanon as well as most other Lebanese seem to be already pretty thoroughly crushed.

The actions of the Shiite hijackers must not only be considered in light of the conditions of the Shiites of Lebanon in the recent years, but also within the overall context of the political situation in Lebanon and Eastern Mediterranean region. Mr. Kahn's description of Middle Eastern history is often misleading and sometimes factually incorrect. First, the American Marines entered Lebanon in the late summer and early fall of 1982, not in 1983, as Mr. Kahn states. Further, the goal of the American presence was not, as Mr. Kahn insists, "to end a bitter war which threatened Israel..." or to stem the "geographical and religious destruction of Israel" which he believes to be the "ultimate goal" of the war in Lebanon. Instead, the Americans entered to diffuse a complex political situation which Israel helped to bring about by occupying southern Lebanon, coming into conflict with the Soviet client Syria, besieging the heavily-populated Lebanese capital, and entrapping thousands of Palestinian guerillas in that city. The Israeli invasion of summer 1982 resulted in some 20,000 Lebanese and Palestinian deaths and countless more injuries, and could hardly be justified as an act of self-defense, as Mr. Kahn seems to want to do when he says that Israel "is certainly not an instigator." Despite the fact that the PLO had fully honored an American-sponsored cease-fire that had been negotiated in July 1981, and not a single incident had occurred across the Lebanese-Israeli border since the agreement was reached, Israel initiated its aggressive and devastating invasion of Lebanon.

Second, Mr. Kahn speaks dramatically of violent conflict in the Middle East between Christians and Moslems "since the beginning of history." Historical facts about the rise of Islam and its relationship with the various other religions of the Middle East aside, it is naive and erroneous to characterize the current strife in Lebanon as the legacy of age-old religious conflict. Many of the ancestors of today's Lebanese population settled in the Shuf Mountains to take refuge from the religious persecution elsewhere in the Middle East. Lebanon developed, in the 18th and 19th centuries, into a state where members of different social, religious and ethnic groups coexisted in relative peace and co-operation. The minor outbreaks of violence in 1860 and 1985 obviously reflected the difficulties of managing a heterogeneous population; but given these difficulties the history up to 1975 appears admirable and even inspiring. The present unrest in Lebanon has come about not only because of its heterogeneous population but also as a direct result of foreign influences and intervention, particularly on the parts of Israel and Syria.

Clearly, the politics of present-day Lebanon and of the Middle East as a region are extremely complex. For this reason, any single incident that takes place cannot be viewed as an isolated occurrence, but must be interpreted as it emerged from a larger context of conditions and causes. The hijacking of flight 847 by Lebanese Shiites is an event which must be evaluated from the broad perspective. I do not suggest the interpretation that Mr. Kahn is so quick to reject, that U.S. foreign policy is directly responsible for the hijacking; nor do I in any way condone or defend the actions of the hijackers. But I do insist that we must attempt to fully understand the incident, realistically evaluating both its causes and its repercussions, if we are ever to make progress in preventing terrorism in the Middle East. The "swift and severe retaliation" which Mr. Kahn suggests and which so many Americans have called for would only be foolish and counterproductive in this situation. Jennifer Plane '86-7   Harvard-Radcliffe Society   For Lebanese Affairs