When I was a child, no more than two or three years old, I remember hearing my grandfather’s voice on the phone. I was far too young to understand his words, let alone the Arabic being uttered from his lips, but I still have a vague sense of his voice.

He was taken from me shortly thereafter, the product of a Palestinian car bomb in the center of Beirut. It was in the heart of Lebanon’s atrocious civil war, a combination of a religious conflict and an opportunistic boxing ring for Israel and Syria.

The war has been over for almost 15 years, and each side tells a different story.

If you came up to me and solicited my opinion, my status as a Maronite Catholic would condition a different tale than, say, would come from a Sunni or Shi’ite Muslim.

All parties involved suffered a bitter defeat, with Al-Assad of Syria and his Ba’ath buddies the real winners in a conflict that tore apart a place once called the “Paris of the Middle East.”

But something strange happened a few weeks ago.

I, nor any political analyst or Lebanese American, could have seen what was to come.

In one of their characteristic muscle-flexing exercises, the “KGB wannabe” Syrian secret service targeted billionaire Sunni ex-Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.

This is not a new occurrence. They took out Maronite strong-man Elie Hobeika not too long ago because he was about to testify before the International Criminal Court.

Now, I never liked Hariri much, but for Syria to take out the man who bankrolled Beirut’s reconstruction was among the dumbest moves ever made by the fragile regime.

A clich begs to be employed in this situation – this was the straw that finally broke the camel’s back.

For weeks now, I have seen rightist Christians, Communist Druze, faithful Sunnis and devoted Shi’a praying together and marching together, with one voice against the Syrians and their stooges in the Lebanese government.

What is more, the Lebanese are not backing down. When Hezbollah – financially bankrolled by Syria’s ally Iran – organized a large 200,000-man counter-protest in favor of Syria, the rest of the religious groups responded with an 800,000-man gathering in Beirut the following Monday.

This came just two days after Lebanese President Emile Lahoud told protestors they should stop.

In short, the Lebanese are committed to their freedom and it appears that not even tanks will stop them.

This is a lesson for the entire West, and the whole world for that matter.

In one of the most deeply divided nations in the world, where centuries of feuds and bloodshed characterize common knowledge and history, liberty and freedom penetrate the hearts of all and enkindle in them an unbreakable unity.

We struggle to get half the people in this country to do as much as vote on election day – almost one-fourth of Lebanon’s entire population risked their jobs and lives by moving into the heart of Beirut to protest the tyranny of Syria.

They did not care about being abducted and beaten by the Syrian secret service.

They did not fear a rekindling of the violence that tore their nation apart for decades.

Hatreds as old as the Middle East itself were put aside overnight for the first time in favor of a higher goal.

It appears Isaiah knew this would happen millennia ago when he wrote, “Gloria Libani Data Est” – the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto her.

As a true dark age of human history subsides, the Lebanese people present all of us with a paradigm of what it means to be free and to cherish our freedom with great fervor for all the days of our lives.

Ramey can be reached at aramey@campustimes.org.



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