ANYONE who can see beyond the obvious would be able to scan the invisible manufacturer’s seal embossed on the chassis of the lorry that killed too many in Nice on a day they were celebrating a great milestone in the history of human freedom. Looking closely, one could decode the chassis’ cryptic claim of pedigree: built by Saudi Crown Prince Fahd in 1981, under licence from the Thatcher-Reagan duo, at the failed Arab League summit in Fez, based on a model smuggled out of Iran.
Everyone knows that Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, the mass murderer of Bastille Day, was born in Tunisia in 1985. Few will remember that the spiteful ideas, which drove the derelict drug addict to the unspeakable crime, were put on a plaque and screwed on to a convoy of killer lorries on the fateful day. That was four years before Bouhlel was born in a Tunisian hamlet. To unravel this Kafkaesque riddle you may try a Lebanese grocery shop I visited in Africa recently.
The member of Lebanon’s controversial Nasrallah family you may get to meet here is the owner of the provision store, a close cousin of the Hezbollah chief himself. Apart from selling Indian and Pakistani kitchen stuff like garam masala, dal, pickles and rice he is a gym-goer who sports a large tattoo on his muscular arm. It says ‘Om’ in the Sanskrit script, the popular religious Hindu mantra, written, I was pleasantly surprised know, at a friend’s behest.
My Lebanese friend — I think I can call him that — said the Hindu gentleman asked him to wear the tattoo to add sparkle to his eclectic spirituality, and he likes his friend for that. The deal reminded me of Sahir Ludhianavi’s lines, the progressive poet wrote for Dhool ka Phool, a liberal movie ahead of its times: “Tu Hindu banega na Musalmaan banega/Insaan ki aulaad hai insaan banega” (Oh this fuss about Hindu and Muslim/ Just be human when the lamp goes dim).
The Daesh agenda was set into motion in Fez — the agenda to build suicide lorries, figuratively and literally.
What a brilliant reason to share a bit of someone else’s religion! And what an unlikely person to be revelling in its syncretic appeal! After all, the common understanding is that the Lebanese Shias are waiting to gore Israel with Iranian missiles. The Lebanese grocer was unperturbed. “We want Israel to become like America, inclusive, where a black man can become president, where Muslims, Christians, Jews live in amity as they did before the advent of Adolf Hitler and Arthur James Balfour. Israel wants all Arabs to become like Saudi Arabia.”
My friend observes the Ramazan fast every year; prays a certain number of times a day; and watches TV regularly, mostly soccer. He supports the French team though they lost the European Cup to Portugal. President Hollande whose predecessors’ military interventions in Lebanon contributed to the rise of the Hezbollah would be surprised to find out that Nasrallah’s doting cousin supports the French soccer team.
Hollande might also be surprised to know, though I did stop short of disbelief, that my Lebanese friend feels outraged and depressed by the tragic events in Paris, Nice, Kabul and Baghdad, the list grows. He says he has been saddened also by the fatal shootings of white policemen, black youngsters and gay pub-crawlers in the United States. “God created this beautiful and varied world. He gave man the charge to look after the splendorous creation. Whoever gave us the right to defile that divine purpose?”
If killing was not the purpose of Hezbollah, what was the militia all about? He said fair explanations were usually lost in acrimony. He pointed to the recent history of Lebanon’s Shias. They had mostly lived in the slums around Beirut until the 1982 massacres in the Sabra and Shatila camps by Israel and its Lebanese allies. “We were really happy together as Lebanese brothers if with different religions. Then someone sowed discord among the brothers. But we are not about killing. I would rather give my life to save a friend than to kill for him.”
I told my friend about my travels in Lebanon, on one occasion with Yasser Arafat’s sister Madiha. Vanessa Redgrave and IRA leaders had joined Arafat and his Christian, Muslim and Jewish supporters to speak up for Palestine. The moderate liberal Amal Party represented the Shias at the time. Nasrallah, my friend said, was an open-minded liberal cleric. I couldn’t figure out how. He said without Nasrallah and the Hezbollah, Lebanon would have been the hub of the Daesh. Religious proselytising was never its objective.
And it was this Daesh agenda that was set into motion in Fez. The agenda to build suicide lorries, figuratively and literally, and the blueprint to indoctrinate the Bouhlels of the arriving world was licked into shape with two or three obvious goals.
The first was to secure the Gulf monarchies by diverting the pro-democracy chants, set off by Iran, into a Shia-Sunni schism.
A second purpose was to harness the energies of religious mobilisation to undermine the secular and socially liberal regimes in Iraq, Libya and Syria as they threatened the Saudi rulers and Israel alike. And that’s what happened. Neither Saddam Hussein, nor Qadhafi or Hafez al-Assad attended the Arab League summit where the Saudis pushed an agenda to provide security to Israel in lieu of municipal rights for Palestinians.
All three countries were targeted for destruction, the splinters of which are hitting Europe as it continues to play both sides of the street, thereby taking a daily toll on whatever remains of liberal hope.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.
Published in Dawn, July 26th, 2016