Will Amin Gemayel, (left) the new Lebanese leader be able to secure a better deal for the country's Christians? Here, Terence Prittie questions the slant of the foreign press.
WHILE THE future of Lebanon as state, society and economic entity, remains riddled with problems and doubts, there is a growing consensus least in neighbouring Israel — that it is the Lebanese Christians who must shoulder the burden of responsibility.
Admittedly, there are fewer of them than ever before to tackle the task. Fifty years ago they constituted an actual majority of the population, 52 per cent, and were able to give their country democratic government, cultural progress and material prosperity.
Today the Christians have been reduced by emigration and a grim struggle for survival to 35 per cent of the population. But the Moslem community is roughly equally divided between mutually hostile Jusai and Shi'ite, and there is no slightest chance of them combining effectively to carry out the desperately needed reconstruction of the country.
To do this themselves, with at least a degree of Moslem collaboration, the Lebanese Christians need the sympathy and co-operation of the outside Christian world.
It is imperative that they get this, yet never has a Christian community been so signally abandoned by its co-religionists than Lebanon's.
To many observers, this has been a mystery. The Moslems, after all, had the support of the Arab world and of the disruptive PLO.
Why were the Christians denied any support whatever by Christian countries — even those which, like France and the United States, have come to their aid in the more distant East? The Lebanese Christians, who had made Beirut into the sophisticated capital of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Levant, were labelled right-wing, reactionary, even fascist.
Hardly a voice was raised when whole Christian cities, like Damour, were destroyed and others, like Zahlo, put under desperate seige.
Lebanon's ex-Foreign Minister and elder statesman, Dr Charles Malik, has his own explanation. He believed that the PLO, with a substantial part of Arab oil-wealth put at their disposal, was very well-organised and bolstered by foreign support.
Then left-wingers and liberals in the western world joined forces with the pan-Arabist movement, so coming into direct conflict with both the Israelis and the Lebanese Christians. This drove them both to support each other, and the Lebanese Christians were tarred as traitors to the Arab world — irrespective of the fact that they were not Arabs at all and had been many centuries longer in the country before any Arab state existed anywhere else.
Malik has pointed out that Lebanon's Maronite Christians were hardly known or recognised outside France, which is constrained by its own, selfimposed strait-jacket of carefully steered pro-Arab policies.
To the Vatican. the Maronites are as unacceptable as the Greek Orthodox Christians. How otherwise could the Pope have failed to say a word about their plight — while he was ready to lament the sufferings of the Palestinians? Malik, of course, has blotted his copybook in the eyes of the Arab world by stating that there can be "a creative interaction between the Lebanese and the Israelis, which will stun the world, on all levels of human endeavour".
To the PLO, preaching disruption and revolution, this implied political stability and equilibrium which had to be blocked at all cost. It led to the PLO war-cry of "First the Saturday people! Then 'the Sunday people!".
It is possible that, in the Middle East imbroglio, concrete considerations weigh more than moral precepts with the Christian churches. Their representatives in the Middle East trot out a well-worn argument; there are Christian flocks all over the Arab world and unlike the Lebanese Christians they have no power-base.
The Copts of Egypt have already suffered bitter persecution; so have the Assyrians of Iraq and Syria. The Christian churches, then, must not be seen to espouse the cause of the Lebanese Maronites, for Christians elsewhere must not be put at risk.
The Anglican Church, after all, carried appeasement to the point of removing their British Archbishop from Jerusalem and replacing him with an arab Bishop, who has observed a veiled hostility towards Israel, refused to co-operate in joint Christian-Jewish ventures and has dabbled instead in commercial interests.
Perhaps the "mystery" of the abandonment of the Lebanese Christians is not so mysterious after all, and there is an additional reason for saying that.
This is that the foreign press in Lebanon found it politic to denounce the Lebanese Christians. They had very good reasons for doing so.
PLO terrorism has posed a personal threat to foreign correspondents in Beirut. Consider the following:
The owner of the newspaper Al Hawadith, Salim Bawzi, denounced the PLO and their oil-rich backers. He was kidnapped in July 1978, brutally tortured and murdered. His eyes were gouged out and his body dismembered and strewn around the terrorist base at the mountain village of Aramoun.
The editor of L'Orion du Jour, Edouard Saleb, had called for the destruction of "Establand" in southern Lebanon and for a break in relations with outside Arab states which financed terrorism. He was murdered in September 1976. So was Riyadh Taba, the President of the
Lebanese Newspapers Publishers Union, four years later.
His mistake had been to act as intermediary in bringing Christian and Moslem leaders together in an effort to restore Lebanese independance and get rid of the PLO. He was mown down by machine-gun fire at the entrance to the Carlton Hotel in Beirut.
There are Lebanese journalists who claim that many members of the foreign press were either bribed or intimidated, and that the smallest price they were asked to pay was to ignore the plight of the Lebanese Christian community. One of them,
the editor of L'Orion du Jour, has openly declared that the
foreign press joined in a conspiracy of silence while Christian towns and villages were being sacked, their male inhabitants butchered and their women raped.
He and others, who prefer to remain anonymous at this stage, are preparing a "black book" of the PLO terror in Lebanon. Its publication may end the "mystery" of the desertion of the Lebanese Christians for good and all.
There is a view that raking over the embers of Lebanon's funeral-pyre can do no good. One must return to the original premise; it is the Christians who must deploy their initiative and expertise in order to restore purpose and prosperity.
And it is high time for the rest of the Christian world to understand what has really happened, in order to give unstinting aid in the task of material reconstruction.