Suicide truck bombing of the US Marines barracks in Beirut

Life After Death

By Joseph Hitti—— Bio and Archives--October 24, 2007

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On the occasion of the 24th commemoration of the bombing of the US Marines Barracks in Beirut (October 23, 1983) by Hezbollah, we re-post the 2003 piece below since it captures the mood of the transformation in US foreign policy that took place after 2001.


Syria and Hezbollah are no longer the “factor of stability” that Richard Murphy and Edward Djeredjian of the US State Department were so fond of telling the Lebanese between 1975 and 2003; it became an “occupation”.

And the US no longer runs away out of fear of Syria and Hezbollah, like Ronald Reagan did in 1983; today the West is fighting tooth and nail to rein in the Iranian appendage Hezbollah and restore normal life to Lebanon.

The Lebanese people are tired of the wars of others on their soil; Western intervention through the UN is Lebanon’s only hope.

To the neo-Lebanese nationalists who have embraced Hezbollah as a “national resistance”, we say that no one wants to eliminate the Shiites of Lebanon. They are a pillar of Lebanese society and a full-fledged community among those that constitute the Lebanese nation.

But there is a huge difference between Hezbollah and the Shiite community. Hezbollah, the killer of peacekeepers, the kidnapper and murderer of ministers, journalists, teachers, priests, nuns and nurses, the bomber of embassies, universities and cultural centers, the hijacker of planes, the usurper of national Lebanese institutions, the assassin of university presidents, the Iranian and Syrian agent, the Islamic fundamentalist movement, the hater of the West, of Christians and Jews, and all of Hezbollah’s other constitutive attributes, cannot be swept under the rug. Hezbollah may have transformed itself in 20 years from a terrorist organization into a terrorist political organization, but it remains a terrorist organization that negotiates with its declared enemy Israel but denies the sovereign State of Lebanon the right to do so; it uses its 20,000 missiles as a negotiating instrument; and it occupies large swaths of Lebanese territory where the State is denied entry. Hezbollah must be held accountable for its actions, those of today and those of 20 years ago. Hezbollah’s actions in the early 1980s as the proxy of Syria and Iran to cleanse Lebanon of any Western presence and deliver the country to the Syrian occupation have indeed delayed a solution to the Lebanese crisis for another quarter of a century. Hezbollah does not represent the true aspirations of the Lebanese Shiites; it is a caricature of that community which it imposes on them with Iranian money and ideology, and Syrian criminality. Cut the Iranian purse and sever the Syrian link, and the Lebanese Shiite community will finally be itself to discard the Hezbollah anomaly.

October 23, 2003

It has been 20 years this October 23d since the suicide truck bombing of the US Marines barracks in Beirut. There is nothing sacred about the number 20 but we humans like round numbers, and so this 20th anniversary of Islamic bombing of the US Marines Barracks in Beirut on a Sunday morning in 1983 is more special than, say, last year’s 19th anniversary. Not that the event is less important than the anniversary. I actually remember it every year, because it left a deep scar in me.

But beyond the anniversaries, this year the memory has indeed a very special place because it has mutated from one of complete, hopeless, bottomless sorrow and sadness to one in which the sorrow, for the first time in 20 years, has in the words of Khalil Gibran showed us its other face, its alter ego, hope! As Khalil Gibran said “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” And as the West slowly but surely makes a U-turn, comes to terms with its often-stated but rarely practiced convictions, and begins to seriously fight terrorism, Lebanon and the people of Lebanon cannot help but feel gleeful. Yes, we told you so.

For 30 years the Lebanese people were alone, with bombs in their streets and shrapnel in the bodies of their children, with massacres and destruction, shelling, kidnapping, and sniping. They tried to tell the world that theirs was not a civil war, but the war of terror on gentility, the war of backwardness on civility, of anarchy on stability, of totalitarianism on democracy, of darkness on enlightenment. They tried to tell the world that their land and their history were, for better or for worse, the fault line where the seeds of coming wars were being sown that will come knocking at their doors in the not so distant future. But no one listened, even when the US Marines and the French paratroopers were blown to shreds, or when the US ambassador Francis Meloy and the French Ambassador Louis Delamare were gunned down in the streets of Beirut under the watchful eyes of the Syrian “peacekeepers”, or when their own journalists, clergymen, teachers, and diplomats were being snatched off the streets of Beirut to be chained for years in dingy basements. The world insisted that this was a “civil war”, even as every symbol of global East-meets-West decency that Lebanon harbored for decades was being shredded to pieces through the terror grinder of Syria, Iran, and their many proxies. Even as embassies were being shut down, Western civilians were being evacuated, schools were being closed, and peacekeeping armies were being blown up, it was the fault of the Lebanese people for being so close to Palestine, and for having borders with Israel and Syria. It was the fault of the Lebanese for being the proxy victims, the scapegoat, the accidental actors in a play not of their making. Lebanon was even accused of being an artificial nation, made of so many tribes - since when was diversity a shame, and pluralism a sin? - Because its history and geography did not allow a single group from “ethnically-cleansing” the others, or converting them to one religion. Lebanon was a Bosnia-Herzegovina a couple of decades too early for the sensibilities of the West to wake up from their comfortable slumber.

And so now the hens have come home to roost. Things have changed and the tables have been turned. For the first time in 20 years, the US Administration is calling the Syrians occupiers. For the first time in 20 years, the US is not running away from the suicide bombings and the acts of terror, but is pursuing them in every far corner of the world. For the first time in 20 years, there will be no retreat from Beirut or Baghdad, because the message is no longer “Bomb them and they will retreat”. The message today is “No matter the body bags or the bombs, we will hound you till the end.” For the first time in 20 years, State Department did not object to an anti-Syrian piece of legislation and the US Congress is voting a law to hold those behind the terrorists accountable for their acts. For the first time in 20 years the West has finally recognized that what happened in Beirut that Sunday morning had nothing to do with the liberation of Palestine or with what Israel was doing to the Palestinian people. Rather, that Sunday morning was a pure act of hatred, seated deep in the civilizational clash that makes certain people afraid of the modern world. That truck bomb was a pure act of terror, distilled of all the excuses and pretexts that are uttered these days to justify and promote another retreat in front of the terrorist threat. That Sunday morning bombing was a direct precursor for that Tuesday Sept 11 bombing.

For we need to remember why the Marines came in the first place to Beirut that year, accompanied by their Allies, the French, the Italians and the British as the Multi-National Force (MNF). We need to remind Jacques Chirac of France that 56 of his own paratroopers were also blown up at exactly the same time as 241 US Marines were being killed in their sleep, about half a mile away. The MNF was not a force of occupation. The MNF was not there looking for weapons of Mass Destruction. The MNF was not fighting any war. In fact, the soldiers of the MNF were forbidden from loading their guns. The MNF was there to supervise the evacuation of Yasser Arafat’s PLO from Beirut, after he had declared that the road to Palestine goes - with much looting, raping, pillaging, killing, mass-murdering - through Beirut. And when the time came to face up to reality, no Arab brother was there to help him out, not even the Syrians. Not even the Saudis. And not even the Iranians. And that is why the Americans and the Europeans had come to Beirut. To save the hide of an Arab. To save a city from the Israeli siege that no Arab “brother”, especially Syria, dared to oppose.

And so Lebanon is today the winner. Lebanon was right and everyone else was wrong. The Lebanese people now can, but may choose to have the decency not to, engage in academic debates and make moral judgments about the appropriateness of invading Iraq as a component of the war against terrorism. Or the effectiveness of targeted assassinations as a means to fight Yasser Arafat. Or whether a country such as Israel that cannot control its Palestinians is, like Lebanon of the 1970s and 1980s, an artificial or uncivilized country with many tribes that just can’t “sit down and agree” on how to deal with a mortal threat in its midst. Or whether the US government’s restrictions on the civil liberties of its citizens is the moral equivalent of General Aoun’s government trying to enforce the law by shutting down the illegal harbors of the warlords along the Lebanese coast. Or whether Syria’s behavior in opening its borders to Jihadists flocking into Iraq to fight the imperialist American crusaders is really exactly the same as Syria’s opening its borders in the early 1970s to Al-Saika, the Yarmuk Brigades, or the Palestine Liberation Army to enter into Lebanon and destabilize the isolationist Lebanese government and kill the indigenous crusaders of Lebanon.

It took 30 years and September 11 for the West to comprehend what Lebanon had gone through, place its tragedy in the right context and stop the condescending sermonizing. Baghdad, you owe Beirut a big thank you because the US has learned a lot from its retreat that year. The Lebanese people were alone that year, and so were the Marines when their government withdrew in the face of their killers. Today, they are no longer alone. Their pain is everyone’s pain, and the end of the tunnel, even if it remains distant, is now bigger and more crowded. But most of all we owe the Marines who died in their sleep on that Sunday morning in Beirut a huge debt. The debt of having being the accidental victims, and like Lebanon, they were the canaries in the mine. But no one was listening then. Today the whole world is listening.


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