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from issue no. 06/07 - 2010

The alliance that stunned the world

Interview with Ibrahim Kanaan by Davide Malacaria and Lorenzo Biondi

Ibrahim Kanaan is a leading spokesman of the Free Patriotic Movement, a party led by General Michel Aoun, who won the majority of Lebanese Christian votes. The alliance between Aoun’s party and Hezbollah stunned the world.

Ibrahim Kanaan [© Lorenzo Biondi]

Ibrahim Kanaan [© Lorenzo Biondi]

It’s said that the last war with Israel has brought Christians and Muslims closer together...
Ibrahim Kanaan: It’s not the only factor, but certainly, when a society is subject to wholesale attack, solidarity is created among the parts of the society. It’s a sign that there is a sense of national belonging beyond the specifics of religion. Lebanon’s unity and multiplicity make it a unique place in the Middle East.
In a world gripped by the idea of the ‘clash of civilizations’, the alliance between the Free Patriotic Movement, which is Christian, and Hezbollah goes against the current...
Kanaan: Political alliances are made on political agendas, quite apart from religious differences. The inter-denominational relations resulting from the understanding help to strengthen the sense of national belonging.
How did the alliance between your party and Hezbollah come about?
Kanaan: It was a natural convergence, not an alliance against other communities. It was born as an ‘understanding’ based on a spirit of reconciliation, which we hoped would extend to all political groups. It was in February 2006: General Aoun had predicted that after the Syrian withdrawal Lebanon would go through difficult times. There was a need to reach out to the parties closer to Syria, one couldn’t think of just seeking victory on the domestic plane: it would have been enormously dangerous for national stability and unity. It was an act of peace and the general’s prediction proved correct.
At all events, Hezbollah is a singular party, both in its relations of conflict with Israel and in being an armed force. Some people say that’s a problem for Lebanese democracy...
Kanaan: Democracy means accepting a diversity of positions: can one call oneself a democrat and refuse to recognize a party like Hezbollah? The Christian message – as John Paul II gave it to us – is the opening to another, without being afraid.
Hezbollah is accused of being a terrorist group...
Kanaan: In Lebanon, everyone, even those who don’t agree with Hezbollah, recognize its nature as a party participating in elections and representing almost the entire Shi’ite community. Hezbollah is part of the government and of parliament: those accusations, which come from abroad, only create division. It’s unacceptable: we’re not going to let anyone tug at our lapels, be it the East or the West.
There’s widespread call for Hezbollah to disarm.
Kanaan: Speaking of laying down weapons has the flavor of military defeat. We must seek a regional peace based on the rights of the Lebanese, the first being that of not suffering constant and arbitrary attack. We want stability, a united country and a single army, but we must get there through a shared process: demagogy is useless, it hides other objectives.
What is it that complicates detente between Israel and the Arab world?
Kanaan: Israel’s lack of respect for the rights, natural and international, of all the peoples of the region. There is no real intention of creating a Palestinian state. The beginning must be respect for those rights, including that of refugees to return in their own land. The refusal by Israel is explicit. Their goal is not peace but conquest achieved on the divisions of others.
The West fears Islamic fundamentalism.
Kanaan: Fundamentalism is dangerous in itself, whether Muslim, Jewish or Christian. A policy of aggression fuels all fundamentalisms and uses it to fuel further divisions. Peace and regional stability will only be arrived at through unity and tolerance.

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