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Opinion: One man does not make a nation - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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My attention was drawn to a headline last Sunday, November 10, but I was distracted from reading the content of the news report. Then when I went on Google two days later to look for details on the story, I was not surprised that the article was published on hundreds of news websites under the same headline: “Sunni cleric: But for Nasrallah, Lebanon would not have survived.”

The details were as follows: Islamist cleric Ahmad Qattan, one of the most prominent Lebanese Sunni clerics, has said that save for the existence of the Secretary-General of Lebanese Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, Lebanon would not have survived. The official Lebanese news agency published a report that quoted Qattan as saying, “If it had not been for a man called Hassan Nasrallah, Lebanon would not have survived, because many people strive for sedition.”

There is no doubt that the head of the Qawluna Wal’Amal (“Our speech, Our work”) Association has the right to say what he believes, and Qattan is not the first to reduce an entire country down to one man, whether with Lebanon or elsewhere. This syndrome affects many of those who are occupied with politics, especially those who confuse individual leadership ambitions with rigid ideological perceptions, or—and this is worse—those who use religious beliefs that belong to the relationship between the individual and their creator in order to impose what some think is the better recipe to reform the country’s present and decide the future of its people. I am not adding anything new when I say that this is a recipe for oppression, but I can, as others have done before me, ask whether the situation in Lebanon has reached a point of no return, just like other countries before it, because of the mistake of staking the existence of a country on one man.

It may be safer to leave the exact answer to that query to the experts in Lebanon. But that should not prevent us repeating the saying brought back to mind by Qattan’s statement: most Lebanese politicians, from all sects and creeds and at various points, have not found it embarrassing to let others interfere in their country. This is much the same as Palestinian leaders, who did not only allow others interfere in Palestinian affairs but who also became involved themselves in serious political, sectarian and ideological issues, in Lebanon and elsewhere, and got hurt. When matters got worse, those leaders packed their bags and moved between Amman, Beirut, Tunis and Sana’a—but ordinary Palestinians everywhere were the ones who really got hurt.

I lived the changes in Lebanon and the tragedy of its people–caused by the deeds of its politicians–from afar, through my journalism. I have never visited it firsthand. When I was on a journalism assignment in the spring of 1974, I almost crossed the Syrian–Lebanese border at the Masna’a border point. Syrian officers stopped me, because I insisted on entering with my Egyptian travel document given to Palestinian refugees—as a mark of respect from an independent journalist to the sovereignty of Lebanon and its independence—and not with what was known as the Fatah Movement Permit. Nasrallah’s party did not exist back then, but Lebanon did, even if its independent presence was threatened.

Is there a link between my refusal to enter Lebanon with a permit issued by the Fatah office in Damascus and a statement made by Ahmad Qatttan? There is, in my view. I may be wrong, but I will risk it and say briefly that the link is in individuals taking the place of homelands. There is no justification at all to say that an entire country would cease to exist if it was not for the existence of a certain individual, whatever the country and whomever the individual and however great the issue. In reality, what is the importance of an issue without a people? How can the Lebanese resistance have any meaning if its existence—just like the existence of Lebanon—is tied to Hassan Nasrallah?

Logic alone says that there is a wide gap between the Qattan’s enthusiasm about Nasrallah and the reality that Lebanon’s existence is not tied to the existence of any individual. Lebanon will exist for as long as its people defend the unique diversity that helps it stand out from its Arab neighbors. Is it logical that Mr. Ahmad Qattan could miss a simple fact like this?

It must be said that the difference with the policies of Hassan Nasrallah should not underrate the role of the man and affect his presence, noting that more and more Lebanese people believe the opposite of what Qattan does. Some even go further, accusing Nasrallah of responsibility for what had happened to Lebanon since the 2006 war. This happens as the exaggeration of his role and giving him the aura of sanctity is on the increase and has taken eye-catching forms, such as addressing the public on huge display screens or the audience to standing up as he appears. These things indicate a fault in the relationship between a leader and his people. It is a fault that, in the end, is in the interest of neither the leader nor the country.

The examples are numerous, whether in the distant past, the not-so-distant past, or even the very recent past. What remains for me to do is to wish that the day of Ashura will be celebrated at a time when all the ills of all the people are gone, in Lebanon and elsewhere, and forward to the better.

On this occasion, I find myself remembering the words of Imam Ali: “O Allah, I seek refuge in You from the distractions of the demons, the lapses of the tongue, and the devil’s temptations. O Allah, I seek refuge in You to spare me the loss of my mind.”