Thursday, November 4, 2010

“The Gates Of Hell”

By Ghassan Charbel
This comment was published in al-Hayat on 4/11/2010

What we are facing is not a problem, a crisis, or a complicated or thorny issue. We do not stand before a deadline that can be postponed, ignored, or left to a doctor called time. We are not faced with a momentary conflict that can be overcome with admonition – which is the cleanser of hearts; or with hugs and a gathering around a greasy banquet; or with a general statement from an Arab summit; or a sentence by the secretary general of the Arab League laden with insinuations. We are not faced with a cloud that is rapidly blown away by the winds of solidarity, and the emergence of amiability among the members of the same family after a knife fight; or forcing newspapers to change their headlines; or pumping optimism and smiles on TV. If only we were faced with such a crisis.

A few years ago, I used to be startled and horrified when an organization’s statement threatened to open “the gates of hell”. I used to have the same feeling whenever I heard a fervent politician calling his opponent to yield to his will to avoid opening the “gates of hell”. I used to consider this type of threats to be a scare tactic and an exaggeration. Indeed, opening the “gates of hell” requires unusual abilities and tragic circumstances. Moreover, holding this type of keys does not serve a cause or enhance an image.

I do not wish to say at all that I have applied to join the camp of those who promise people with the “gates of hell”. However, I feel that the region is susceptible to slip towards climates of this kind. I write this because my profession makes me follow the news in this pleasant part of the world known as the Middle East. It also makes me sometimes sleep in troubled capitals and not be satisfied with the official answers to my questions. My profession makes me sound out the ordinary citizens in the countries I visit. Unfortunately, happy countries do not attract journalists and are not on their to-visit lists.

I have a feeling that we are in the worst Arab situation our generation has known. It is more serious than what it was when the Iraqi-Iranian war started in 1980; more serious than what it was in 1982 when Israel invaded Lebanon and occupied an Arab capital for the first time; more serious than what it was the day Saddam Hussein’s regime invaded Kuwait and the Desert Storm blew. It is also more serious than what it was when the US military machinery uprooted Saddam’s regime in 2003 with a mixture of conceit, recklessness, and ignorance. We are in a more serious situation than the one we went through during the “New York and Washington invasions” in 2001.

My dear reader, it is your right to accuse me of exaggerating a little or even a lot. But let us interpret some events. Didn’t you pause at the festival of booby-trapped cars in Baghdad two days ago? Didn’t you wonder about its security implications, timing, and dangers linked to awakening sectarian violence amidst the existing political stalemate? What about the carnage at the church and the decision to punish the Iraqis because of their religious adherence and under the pretext of responding to the Copts in Egypt? Didn’t you also pause at the luxury of Iraqi politicians, who have spent eight months searching for a government as though they were living amidst Swedish institutions rather than in the middle of the Iraqi volcano?

My dear reader, didn’t you pause at the news of Yemeni packages and the images of al-Awlaki on TV screens around the world, and the isolation that might affect Yemen, and the catastrophe that might strike the region, if Al Qaeda manages to entrench itself in the harsh terrain caves and the caves of difficult demographic and social structure? What if the US chose for example to confront the danger coming from Yemen on the Yemeni territory itself? Doesn’t this herald the opening of the “gates of hell”?

The talk about the “gates of hell” is also open in Lebanon. There are those who announce that the issuance of the indictment won’t open the gates of justice but rather the “gates of hell”. It is obvious that the various Lebanese institutions are under unbearable strong pressure. There are those who say that these same gates will open if the opponents of the issuance of the indictment resort to force and the Lebanese army stands by. They also say that the army could lose its unity and status, and this would facilitate Al Qaeda’s appearance on the Lebanese scene, carrying with it a plan to open the “gates of hell”.

We can talk about other arenas where collapses and dangers lurk. The tragedy is that we are dealing with an extremely serious situation with ordinary means. We might say that we are treating cancer with aspirin, and the results are known.

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