LETTER : How Lebanon fell victim to its own liberal democracy

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Sir: Your letters today (18 April) move me, as a resident of Beirut in happier times, to offer a response, in particular to Professor Waterman of Haifa, who correctly sees the statehood and sovereignty of Lebanon as the core dilemma.

What the Lebanese had preserved up to the 1970s was a prosperous self- regulating liberal democracy with a precariously representative parliamentary structure. This was widely regarded - notably by American businessmen - as living proof of what could be achieved by an enterprising people subjected to a minimal burden of government.

Unfortunately, Syria never recognised its independence, never agreed to an exchange of ambassadors, even though both countries became, as sovereign states, members of the United Nations on the same day. As for control over territory, I need not recapitulate the process by which such control was eroded, from the time when Nasser sought to draw Lebanon as well as Syria into the United Arab Republic. The country became the victim of its laudably open mental and physical borders, the corollary of its anti- dictatorial system of government.

But Israel must make up its mind what it wants on its northern borders. A permanent extension of the most obdurately hostile of the dictatorships mentioned by Daniel A Shine (Letters, 18 April) or a truly independent Lebanon devoted to its traditional art of minding its own profitable business? It is, of course, too late to hope for the friendly neighbour that Lebanon might have become if its recognition of possessing shared interests with Israel had not been squandered by countless demonstrations that Israel regards Lebanese lives and interests as inferior in value.

The US must also look into its heart and its history. America has been significantly engaged in Lebanon for well over a century. Its prolonged blindness to the value of Lebanon as a pro-Western bulwark has been revealed once again by its present treatment of Syria as the only "peace partner" worthy of courtesy. Washington's message continues to be: put me through to your strong man - if you haven't got one, don't waste my time. Can the British government possibly endorse this attitude?

The only, absurdly tiny gleam of hope I see here is that fewer English- speakers refer nowadays to "the" Lebanon (reflecting a quirk of French grammar) as if it were a mere geographical region like "the" Weald or "the" Dordogne. Lebanon is just Lebanon in the standard English Bible, but then Israel is just Israel and the temple was built of cedarwood.

Bernard Noble

Former Deputy-Registrar

International Court of

Justice

The Hague, Netherlands

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