Bekaa's Christians consider taking up arms

Many in Lebanon feel uneasy about the expansion of the Islamic State over the border in Syria. But now, the decision by some to carry arms has turned political as the different parties condemn or condone the move.

al-monitor A Lebanese Catholic fighter rests at a lookout point on the outskirts of Arsal, Sept. 1, 2014. Photo by REUTERS/Alia Haju.

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syria, lebanon, islamic state of iraq and al-sham, islamic state, christians in the middle east, christian minorities, bekaa valley

Sep 9, 2014

With the exacerbation of the threat of terrorist extremists and its spread to Lebanon, talk has escalated about Lebanese people’s increased inclination to carry weapons, especially in regions that might be targeted by the Islamic State (IS) and Jabhat al-Nusra, as is the case in the northern Bekaa Valley. There has been a lot of talk about the phenomenon of armament and whether it's justified or not. This discussion is especially heated in the Christian community, first because of considerations about the pronounced alignments and second due to the increased sensitivity among Christians to self-security.

Since the political conflict between the Free Patriotic Movement and the Lebanese Forces is deep and intense, the armament issue quickly turned into a subject of debate. The Lebanese Forces (LF) clearly accused the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) of encouraging Christians generally and in particular their supporters, to carry arms under the pretext of fighting the threat of IS. The March 14 General Secretariat formally made this accusation and recently included it in one of its weekly statements.

Although the FPM understands the concern of Christians regarding the existential threat that the growing extremist wave poses and although it is trying to address this threat in its own way, a source in Rabieh confirmed that General Michel Aoun is still warning against calls for armament. He clearly told some people close to him that he opposes this issue but that, “People who already have a rifle at home and use it to protect their families are a different issue.”

It seems clear that the acts by Christian inhabitants in northern Bekaa (Qaa, Ras Baalbek, Jdeidet al-Fakiha) who are carrying arms and deploying at night in guard spots fall primarily in the framework of ‘personal initiatives’ and instinctive self-defense.

Nevertheless, Hezbollah, which hasn’t been involved in any [general] armament operation outside the framework of "Resistance Brigades," reassured the worried people that it won’t allow any abuse in Qaa, Ras Baalbek or Jdeidet al-Fakiha, whether their inhabitants are armed or not. This reassured the inhabitants of those towns that are located near the heated borders.

A prominent Christian figure in northern Bekaa say that the Christians in that region believe that if they were offered the protection of the NATO they would refuse and insist on Hezbollah’s presence. “They see the party as a real guarantee and they trust its performance and ability to deter any jihadist expansion, as facts on the ground have proven. Whoever would like to know more can just ask the Christians of the Syrian Rableh town about their experience with the party,” the figure added.

What’s more, informed sources confirmed that Christians in east and west of Baalbek, who have different political views than Hezbollah’s, stated that they will not hesitate to carry arms alongside the party to defend their existence if need arises. “We want to stand our ground so that we can exercise our right to be different,” they said.

Some are saying that the attitude of some public supporters of March 14 oppose the aggressive stance of this group’s leadership regarding Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria. These supporters stated that this stance is unrealistic and does not address the ‘existential crisis’ that March 14 should have drawn inspiration from in its rhetoric, instead of insisting on using its traditional jargon that is not line with the challenges of this decisive stage.

A prominent March 8 Christian MP noted that the political rhetoric of March 14 is sort of arrogant and essentially suicidal because it ignores the facts and goes beyond them, merely out of stubbornness and spite for the other party. “Some members of March 14 are secretly whispering that the IS threat is already there and does not require a pretext. They are also wondering what Hezbollah has to do with the displacement of Christians in Mosul. However, they do not dare express their opinions publicly,” said the MP.

He also noted that a celebration will be held in Baalbek on Sept. 12 to unveil a monument to the Virgin Mary in the city. Meanwhile, extremists are destroying such monuments and Christian-related forms in the regions under their grip in Syria and Iraq. What do the people comparing Hezbollah to IS have to say about this?

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