Interview: Right to Nonviolence Board Member
You are political heir of your uncle Raymond Eddé – known as the ‘conscience of Lebanon’ – who was leader of the Lebanese National Bloc. You have graciously accepted to join the Board of Right to Nonviolence; we are extremely honored to have you working with us and thank you again for taking the time to speak with us today.
Q. On the one hand you promote modernity in Lebanon, on the other you came to this position by way of succession, catapulted into the political leadership of Lebanon. Isn’t there a contradiction?
Absolutely, but then Lebanon is a country full of contradictions. Actually, when my uncle died, I was living in Brazil, working in the private sector, and had never thought of getting involved in politics. Raymond Eddé had been living away from Lebanon for 24 years. He had the dubious honor of having been the first personality that the Syrian regime tried to eliminate in 1976. He escaped three attempts against his life being injured on each occasion. Upon his death, I was elected to lead the party by the assembly composed of 129 members, by a majority of 128 to 1. So, as you see, nepotism is doing very well indeed. At their insistence I accepted for a transitional period to help out, but one has to always be careful for what one signs on for in Lebanon. I stayed because I believe that Lebanon needs a contrarian approach to its politics. The challenges and the importance of what is at stake –sovereignty, independence, human rights, democracy, dignity, peace – made it difficult to walk away from it all.
Q. Before we move on, you recount a delightful story that took place in the family home in 1943 that offers some contextual insight to the ‘shifting alliances’ of more recent times in Lebanon. Would you share the story with our readers?
It is one of our best family tales: The result of the Lebanese parliamentary elections of 1943 secured a majority of MPs in favor of Emile Eddé in the coming elections for President of the Republic. The house was full of politicians, businessmen and notables, who as always wanted to be on the winning side. However, and as it has been the case since, the election of a Lebanese president has more to do with external factors and in 1943 Lebanon was occupied by the British army even though civil administration was still under the supervision of the French. The English minister to Syria and Lebanon, Sir Edward Spears, was keen to oust the French and establish an Arab Federation under the influence of the British government and disapproved of Emile Eddé who was suspicious of the British intent. One day, when the house was packed, information came discreetly that Great Britain; represented by General Spears, would refuse to recognize the election of Emile Eddé. The first to know left discreetly, then the others started noticing and soon the word was out so rapidly that in less than fifteen minutes, the house was empty. My father told me that the well-wishers were almost storming the door, and it was very strange to see grown-up men racing each other in order not to be the last to reach the house of the future President Bechara el-Khoury, who lived 400 meters away. The same terms used earlier to flatter Emile Eddé were now being used for Bechara el-Khoury. Those who appeared to have been the closest to Emile Eddé were those who became the most hostile to him later. Some departed so quickly that they left behind their coats and hats and did not have the courage to come back out of fear of being seen entering the house of Emile Eddé, who had the elegance of discreetly sending them back to their owners.
Q. On the issue of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, the STL, the competing narratives are widely divergent. Briefly how would you deconstruct the main argument of those who have steadfastly opposed the process?
Hezbollah and consequently all its allies, have developed a theory that the STL is “a plot by US and Israel to divide Lebanon and weaken those who oppose Zionism, that it is a choice between security and justice, and that it has been rigged to serve political objectives”. I believe it was Benjamin Franklin who said that if you have to choose security at the expense of justice, you end up having neither. When you are being accused you have the following choices for defense: either you prove that you are innocent by proving that you cannot have done it and that the evidence against you is wrong, or you have to discredit the tribunal, and refuse to collaborate. The fact that they chose the latter does not say much about innocence. Besides, one has to remember that at the time of the assassination of Hariri, Lebanon was suffocated by the omnipresence of the Syrian mokhabarat, the innumerous Lebanese security services, the very efficient Hezbollah intelligence, and all the informants running around. Not one phone, email or communication was beyond their control. The fact that an assassination on that scale took place on their watch without their involvement is beyond comprehension, and that they are not only incapable of bringing to light any shred of evidence of someone else’s guilt, much worse, that they have systematically tried to eliminate evidence or have refused to conduct any investigation in the aftermath, is, to say the least, highly suspicious. I have faith in independent justice and in the notion that every accused is innocent until proven otherwise, but I think the usual suspects have an uphill battle to prove their innocence.
Q. Setting aside for a moment the issue of whether there will ultimately be convictions in The Hague, is the STL of symbolic or practical importance or both?
The STL was put in place because it is impossible to have an investigation and a fair trial in Lebanon, when you have an organization like Hezbollah, armed to the teeth, which refuses to recognize the authority of Lebanon or the results of its election, threatening every single institution, and public servant. Lebanon is hostage to Hezbollah and those who control it. The STL is the best thing that has happened to Lebanon, as long as you are, of course, on the side of true independent justice and want to see the end of terrorism and impunity. If we stay the course, accept to pay the heavy price and are not abandoned by the international community for the sake of a regional bargain, justice will prevail, and it will create a new political culture. Most of all it will be a clear message to tyrants and would be dictators that the days of impunity are over.
Q. It is an extraordinary time of upheaval in the Middle East and yet Lebanon has been notably absent – with the exception of a few voices including your own who have dared to speak out for human rights in Syria amidst the ‘deafening silence’ of the majority – in practically every way. To what do you primarily attribute this to, fear, indifference, the tacit acknowledgement that the future will be determined elsewhere so a collective wait to see ‘where to leave one’s coat and hat’?
Among those who oppose the Syrian intervention in Lebanon, some are silent because they fear – and may be right to do so – a nasty reaction from the long arm of the regime in Lebanon. Others prefer the “wait and see” attitude while many think it is counterproductive to make a stand as it might antagonize uselessly the regime and give it an excuse to claim that the Syrian opposition is nothing else than an instrument of foreign intervention. As for me, my attitude toward the repression of Syrian civilians by a totalitarian regime is no different than it would be for any other similar case in the world, except that it is closer to home, and I have more sympathies towards our “next door neighbor”. But injustice is injustice in whatever shape or color, and I really believe in the idea of Edmund Burke that “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”. I also think that of sins, the ones made by omission are the worst because they are often associated with a dose of cowardice or at best selfishness. And often it doesn’t take much to make a difference. To say nothing is in a way to condone.
 Interview with RN Director Trudi Hodges, Beirut, Lebanon,July 2011