Text of General Michel Aoun's Lecture
The Foundation For the Defense of Democracies
Washington DC, March 7, 2003
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is both a privilege and a pleasure for me to participate in this symposium, where we can together think out loud about some of the most important subjects of our time, namely human rights, democracy, economics, and development. The fate of these issues has become increasingly worrisome in many regions of the world that are in a state of a global and fateful confrontation with terrorism.
I say “global” because terrorism, by its very nature, reaches into several aspects of public and private life and knows no limit, and I say “fateful” because the outcome of this confrontation will lead to one of two critical directions and set of consequences for human civilization: either terrorism will be defeated under the leadership of the United States, and thus a foundation for positive interaction will be built among diverse societies, or, God forbid, terrorism prevails and humanity enters into an age of darkness and decline.
Given the importance of the issues at hand, and their significance in the current world situation, none of us can, in the limited time allowed, give these topics due analysis and draw exhaustive conclusions. Therefore, what I will present today is a synopsis of acquired knowledge, studies and experiences, and I will make available the remaining time at the end for questions and clarifications.
After the founding of the United Nations at the end of World War II, and the declaration of the Charter of Human Rights and the Charter of the United Nations, the hopes of the humanity were high for a new world order based on new foundations that would uphold rights and provide justice.
Without debating the successes and failures of the United Nations, one can certainly make the case that the progress achieved by the UN did not live up to the hopes that humanity put into it. This is especially true in the area of supporting the rights of peoples to self-determination and in reducing the threat of wars in the world.
As soon as it was born, the right to self-determination was in most cases hijacked by many regimes that adopted or continued dictatorial or theocratic systems of governance. These regimes rejected the Human Rights Charter, marginalized their people, and crippled their ability to develop and advance by engraining in their societies antiquated customs that were inherited from primitive and backward mentalities. These regimes are today fertile ground for the sponsorship and incubation of terrorism, and the use of it as a strategic instrument of influence in their foreign policies.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Lebanon, a small country by size but much larger in mission, was the first victim of terrorism. At the end of the sixties, Lebanon, a multicultural society, began to absorb the shocks of the conflict between the East and the West. In the early eighties it found itself at the frontlines of confrontation with Islamic fundamentalists.
As a democracy and free market economy surrounded by autocratic regimes and directed economies, Lebanon strived to live under its secular and democratic constitution. In addition, Lebanon contributed to the drafting of the Human Rights Charter and it is the only Arab country that has signed it as of today. From their daily lives to their intellectual and cultural discourse, the Lebanese people lived and practiced tolerance and moderation. Lebanon became a model for all Arab intellectuals and a shelter for the persecuted among them, and was in fact commonly known then as the “Switzerland of the East.”
Indeed, Lebanon was an oasis of freedom in the midst of the human desert that surrounded it. It was a cultural bridge between East and West, which savored the value of freedom in all its dimensions, from the freedom of creed, to the freedom of speech, the right to differ, political plurality and diversity, and all the way to economic freedom.
These universal values cherished in Lebanon presented a threat to the single-ideology theocracies and dictatorships that dominated the region. Lebanon became a target for these regimes which believed it imperative to kill its pioneering role in the region. At the time, some regional and international parties believed that some benefit could be drawn from the demise of Lebanon. They remained silent and refrained from helping it. The Syrian regime played the major role in this conflict. It first claimed to protect the Palestinian Revolution against the Lebanese, and so it allied itself with the Palestinian movement until it was able to undermine the stability of the Lebanese society and destroy the country’s security institutions. At that point, it changed direction and claimed to protect Lebanon from the Palestinians, and it legitimized its entry into the country under the banner of the Arab Deterrence Force in 1976.
Between 1976 and 1982, the Arab Deterrence Force was under the authority of the Lebanese President, but the Syrian contingent – which was the largest – operated independently of the other contingents and of the President. The Syrians shelled the residential areas and carried out massacres; they imposed censorship on the press and began shutting down some of the media. They assassinated politicians, clergymen, reporters and diplomats. They bombed embassies and chased out virtually all diplomatic missions from Beirut. They kidnapped people, both individuals and groups, and liquidated them. They incited massacres in some areas of the country and executed military prisoners. Many Lebanese nationals remain incarcerated in Syrian jails even as we speak.
For all these reasons, the other Arab contingents of the Deterrence Force left Lebanon, and the Syrian regime managed to achieve an exclusive solid grip over the majority of Lebanon. The Syrian regime transformed Lebanon into a refuge and a breeding ground for all types of international terrorist groups operating in areas under its control. It was in this environment that a massive drug cultivation, processing, and distribution industry prospered, and the Lebanese coast became peppered with illicit harbors controlled by various militias that used them as a launching pad for terrorist activities and other illegal activities.
In 1982, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon evicted the PLO from Beirut. The Lebanese government abolished the mandate of the Arab Deterrence Force and requested Syria to withdraw its forces. However, the Syrian regime ignored the Lebanese request in violation of UN Charter, and instead of withdrawing it re-armed the Palestinian organizations and its allied militias and political parties in Lebanon. This caused a return to the situation that preceded the Israeli invasion, namely military clashes, kidnappings and killings. It was at that time that the embassies of the United States and France were bombed, twice each by the Syrian protected and supported terrorists, and that the French and American contingents of the Multi-National Force were attacked.
The Multi-National Force withdrew in the aftermath of these suicide attacks, leaving Lebanon to confront its fate alone. Syria then forced Lebanon to abrogate the May 1983 Accord that Lebanon had negotiated with Israel. Israel pulled back to the border zone, and Syria returned to its task of gnawing, destabilizing and disintegrating Lebanon. This period climaxed with the Syrian invasion of the last free bastion in Lebanon on October 13, 1990 and the resulting eviction of the constitutional government. Syria had thus completed its takeover of Lebanon.
Since 1990, the Syrian regime has been undertaking the systematic destruction of the very infrastructure of Lebanese society. Throughout all political and administrative institutions of the state, Syria has installed puppets that take their orders directly from Syrian intelligence officers. These minions are required to execute their wishes and justify their policies. Syria has broken up each political party into numerous sub-entities and imposed on them a single ideology.
In addition to falsifying election results to ensure the success of Syrian allies, a new law prior to each round of election was put in place in order to custom-tailor the boundaries of electoral districts in favor of Syrian allies.
Syria has enforced a policy of self-censorship on the media. For example, the MTV television station was shut down because it did not always abide by the non-constitutional directives of the authorities and the ban imposed on covering certain political figures.
The authorities have converted the judiciary into an instrument of revenge against its opponents and subjected it to its security apparatus. The justice system has become selective, pre-suppositive, presumptive, and defamatory, as accusations preceded investigations and verdicts are issued based on political decisions. Arbitrary arrests, beatings, and torture of detainees have become ordinary in the life of Lebanese citizens, in addition to the fabrication of judicial files to be used as threats against targeted individuals.
The Syrian regime has all but eliminated Lebanon from the international political map. It has halted all bilateral negotiations between Israel and Lebanon, thus bypassing the bilateral nature of peace negotiations. It rendered the prospect of peace between Lebanon and Israel contingent upon the dragging and slow process of the Syrian track with Israel. It forced the Lebanese government to submit to its will and not implement UN resolution 426 which calls for the deployment of Lebanese Army Forces alongside the United Nations Forces following Israel’s implementation of resolution 425 and its withdrawal from South Lebanon. On the issue of the Shebaa Farms, the Syrian regime created a pretext not to disarm its allied militias, which it has used to maintain tensions at the Lebanese southern borders and terrorize those Lebanese citizens demanding the withdrawal of the Syrian army from Lebanese soil.
In addition to the sad reality of the political and security aspects of their lives, the economic reality for the Lebanese people is even worse. A haphazard fiscal policy has been imposed on Lebanon that is modulated according to the interests of a corrupt ruling class, and which has no basis in any modern or sound economic and scientific standards and rules. This economic policy is based on financing unproductive projects and programs and accumulating debt at unnecessarily high interest rates, and then spending without any transparency, accountability, or oversight. In addition to approaching a state of bankruptcy, the public sector has crowded out the private sector and the level of productive economic activities and productivity has diminished. Privatization has stalled with empty promises. Government interference in the market has drastically increased. The middle class has all but vanished, and the ranks of the poor have swelled. Illiteracy has soared even after being nearly eliminated in the past. One third of the Lebanese people have been forced to emigrate due to the government’s economic policies, which incidentally twenty years of war could not accomplish. While some societies have organized crime as one element of corruption to deal with, Lebanese society has indeed become, thanks to the Syrian occupation, totally owned and ruled by a Mafia class to which most corruption in the country can be attributed.
It is difficult to understand how Syria could have in the first place marketed itself to the world as a stability factor in Lebanon, when the reality is that it has subverted and destroyed that stability!
We are at a loss to understand how the world allows Syria to remain in Lebanon when Syria has failed to meet any of its commitments!
Syria demands the application of Security Council resolutions pertaining to the recovery of its occupied territories but refuses to implement resolution 520 that requires its withdrawal from Lebanon!!
Syria claims to sponsor reconciliation between the Lebanese, when in fact it prevents them from dialoguing and meeting. Syria continues to play the role of the pyro-maniac fireman, sowing discord between the Lebanese in order to secure the perpetual need for its presence.
Syria has created restricted zones inside Lebanon where security forces are not allowed. These areas, primarily the Palestinian camps, have become shelters for terrorists and the heroes of organized crime where radical Islamic organizations thrive, and where sectarian hate-crimes against Christians and others opposed to this lawlessness continue to take place. For example,
On July 31, 2002, an employee at the Teachers Mutual Insurance Fund in Beirut killed eight of his fellow employees and injured another six. He admitted to the judge that his attack was religiously motivated.
On November 25, 2002, an American missionary was assassinated in Sidon. The crime was attributed to a religious motive having to do with her missionary work.
On December 30, 2002, in one of the Lebanese Army barracks, an enlisted soldier opened fire on five of his fellow soldiers in their sleep killing one and injuring four. Subsequent investigation revealed that he was attending religious course at a Koranic madrassa inside one of the camps, where he allegedly learned that the killing of Christians and Jews would set him on the road to paradise.
This brief overview of the situation in Lebanon is a reflection of the larger context of the region. Its roots are ideological, economical, and psychological. And if we are to manage the present state of affairs and avert future mistakes, we must address these roots.
If we examine the origin of terrorists, it is evident that they come from states and countries with dictatorial and theocratic regimes that do not recognize or respect human rights.
A second point is the religious dimension of the suicide operation considered as martyrdom that opens the gates of paradise to those committing it. The autocrats, whether theocrats or dictators will not admit any wrongdoing because theocrats consider that divine law is infallible and dictators will not admit that their ideological discourse is at fault. In both cases, these autocrats pre-empt the people’s quest for the reasons behind their failure by shifting responsibility on their political opponents whose liquidation becomes justified, or on external enemies to which the people’s hostility is channeled, thus shielding the autocrats from it.
If we are to effectively fight terrorism, we have to understand that it is inseparable from the regimes that harbor it. Terrorism is an internal safety valve for these regimes and a key instrument of their foreign policy applied as blackmail to others. Therefore, the eradication of terrorism must by necessity begin with the toppling of non-democratic regimes that teach people to hate and kill and that push people to acts of suicide.
Only democratic regimes that respect human rights can provide individuals with the opportunity for positive self-fulfillment, free from hatred and violence. This is accomplished by guaranteeing their freedom of speech and creed, and by holding them personally responsible and accountable for their behavior, both in this world and the after-world.
Our security concerns about terrorism should not blind us to the importance of democracy in building free economic systems, because it would be naïve to think that free economies could thrive under political systems that are not free, or under a justice system that is subservient to the ruler instead of the rule of law that guarantees people’s rights.
As I say these words in the capital of the most deeply rooted and ancient democracy in the world, I cannot but see the magnitude of the difficulties of implementing the democratic system in countries that have never known democracy; countries that never had the kind of political culture that helps develop in people the ability to live in freedom. That, Ladies and Gentlemen, seems to me to be much harder to achieve than victory in the battlefield, the outcome of which can be sealed in days or weeks.
Indeed, democracy is not an infrastructure that one builds in few months. It is not a topography that one draws on paper. And it cannot be achieved through a simple voting exercise. It is first and foremost an education of concepts. This is why any regime change must be accompanied by a fundamental change in the system of education to facilitate the learning of new concepts and applying them to public life. Democracy cannot survive in the same environment as schools that call for the annihilation of others. It is no longer sufficient to denounce the crime and arrest the criminal. We must close the schools that are teaching the criminals.
If democracy is the key to liberate the individual from fear, economic development is key to liberate the individual from need, and a means to promote international trade, investment and economic cooperation among nations.
We welcome and appreciate all American initiatives to help establish and strengthen democracy. We would like to offer our support to ensure their success, something we were unable to do in Lebanon because of the tutelage of the Syrian regime that is the antithesis of democracy.
Lebanon’s experiment with democracy started in 1926 when the constitution of the first Lebanese Republic was declared. That constitution was secular in its letter and spirit, and was inspired from the Third French Republic. The Lebanese immersed themselves in constitutional governance under the French Mandate until they gained their independence in 1943. Following World War II and the end of the French Mandate, the Lebanese practiced democracy as a sovereign nation; adding to their written secular constitution an unwritten National Pact of power-sharing between the country’s constituent communities. Lebanon became a founding member of the United Nations. Yet today, it is the only country in the world that remains under occupation.
In spite of all the repression by the occupying regime and its collaborators in the ruling apparatus; And in spite of the international community’s neglect for the cause of Lebanon and its repeated admonitions to submit to the role of the Syrian occupation; we have built a peaceful resistance consisting of university students and civil and professional organizations at its core, which enjoys the support of the majority of the Lebanese people. This Free Patriotic Movement comprises members from all the communities in all regions of Lebanon.
Although the Lebanese regime has been willingly submissive under the yoke of the Syrian occupation, the Lebanese people have not yet given up and have rejected dictatorship in all of its forms. The Lebanese people remain highly competent to play a pioneering role in promoting freedom and democracy in the Middle East. They possess the required experience and culture and cherish the right values and principles.
By calling for the liberation of Lebanon and ending the Syrian occupation through the implementation of UN Resolution 520, the United States can reunite the international community as such initiative will gain a full international support.
I am personally convinced that the return of free democracy to Lebanon is also the return of the true image of the United Sates of America. This will pay genuine homage to the memory of the fallen Americans who gave their lives for the defense of freedom and democracy in Lebanon. They came to Lebanon for peace and real peace must be achieved; God bless their souls.
Thank you for your attention.