The media are unconcerned about accuracy in such cases, as they give themselves the right to broadcast something different a few seconds or minutes later. They do not bother to clarify or seek clarification, or wait a little while, as that would allow a rival outlet to take advantage and break the news first.
The people in charge of these killer channels do not pause to put themselves in the place of the viewer when they read an urgent news ticker declaring: “A gunman belonging to sect A opened fire on a person named B who belongs to sect C. There are unconfirmed reports (note the “unconfirmed”) that he died from his wounds.”
The broadcaster wants more news to follow up with. But the brother, husband or son of the person whose death was reported, though perhaps not confirmed, does not need confirmation to feel provoked and react. The usual result is that something even worse happens. A relative of the person whose unconfirmed killing was reported kills someone else in revenge. The same channel then reports the second crime as confirmed news, and boasts of having foreseen it by broadcasting the first item – which it has no qualms about repeating later, with the added clarification: “we have confirmed that the person who was fired on is still alive.”
What further confirmation are the Lebanese waiting for that they are heading down the path towards civil war?
The same habits and practices have reappeared. They avoid using certain roads. There are places there’s no need to visit or discover. A person’s full identity must be confirmed before they are given the simplest job to do. Plans are put on hold pending some stability. People only want to live where they are afforded social safety by virtue of area of origin, sect, denomination, or clan.
Yesterday, people in Tripoli were busy following the news of the respite they were given by the mad, out-of-control gunmen. But all they could keep busy with was preparing for the next round of violence, which they know is coming. They do whatever they can get done before hurrying back to where they think they’ll be safe from the insane hail of bullets. Meanwhile no politician, security chief, diplomat, official or ordinary person dares predict more than a couple of hours ahead. For the rules of anarchy are in play, under which decisions to initiate bloodletting are fully decentralized.
Any intelligence agency with even meagre resources and capabilities could set the entire country ablaze. It can rely on the support and free publicity provided by the killer channels and on hordes of people with inflamed passions against the “other” who must be overcome at all costs.
It is enough for the neighborhood bully to be angered by something he saw on TV or some news he did not like from Syria for him to declare war. He will vent his spleen, in solidarity with his side in Syria, by targeting the home of the “other,” even if they have been neighbors for decades. Can anyone explain to us how families are informed they should leave their places of residence because they are of the wrong sect or confession for the neighborhood’s other residents? What if these families decide not to heed these warnings? Can anyone assure them that they’ll remain safe? Or will they have to recruit their own military wings in the belief that they can be protected from the spreading madness?
Amidst all this, meetings, gatherings and contacts continue to be held aimed to search for sustainable solutions. But they invariably end up with each side blaming the others for what is going on, so tensions are kept on the boil. A quarrel over a parking space is enough to trigger an explosion. Then the analysts working for the world’s intelligence agencies, who abound in the Beirut press, can continue telling us about the great conspiracy and the foreigner’s bid to foist his crisis on Lebanon, as though Lebanese are completely innocent.
All these are signs of large-scale civil war. The Lebanese may try to imagine a different kind of war, which might not resemble what we experienced in the past. It will still have one feature in common with the old one: Gratuitous Death.
Ibrahim al-Amin is editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.