Since the Feb. 14 assassination of Rafiq Hariri, former prime minister of Lebanon, University students of Lebanese background and professors alike have held their breath as the political crisis in the country risks spiraling into violence.Hariri’s murder sparked a public outcry against the Syrian occupation of Lebanon, which has lasted since the Lebanese Civil War that raged from 1975 to 1990. Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the street to protest the Syrian presence, which today amounts to approximately 14,000 troops. As a result, Syria recently announced it would pull out its troops in the near future, escalating hostilities between pro-Syrian and anti-Syrian Lebanese factions. “Every single Lebanese owes thanks to the role Syria had in the civil war and, given the Israeli presence in southern Lebanon and the volatile region, one could see some justification for Syrian presence,” said University alum Mahmoud Fadlallah. “The Middle East is still volatile, but the fact that they are leaving is also justified.”Israel entered the civil war in 1982 when hostilities with southern Lebanon reached their peak, and its troops remained there for 12 years. Hezbollah, the militant Islamic group residing in southern Lebanon, is part of the pro-Syrian camp in Lebanon and has orchestrated protests in favor of the Syrian presence.One concern expressed by faculty members is that the United States will use the current political crisis to lash out at Hezbollah, which is on the U.S. State Department’s list of terrorist organizations for terrorist attacks, including a suicide bombing at a U.S Marines barracks in 1983 that killed 241 soldiers.President Bush recently urged Hezbollah to disarm but the group has stated that it will not do so until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is over.“Hezbollah must disarm, but the U.S. resorting to rhetoric threatening to disarm Hezbollah is not helping and risks throwing off the delicate balance of power between the different Lebanese factions,” said communication studies lecturer Lawrence Pintak. “Hezbollah is a part of the system; Hezbollah remains part of the political process.”“Hezbollah is, from what I know, is simply reactionary,” said Lebanese Student Association President Ryan Jaber, an LSA sophomore. “It only retaliates after it’s been provoked. I don’t consider it a terrorist organization. I think they work to keep the peace in Lebanon.”LSA freshman Ameera David, expressed different views toward Hezbollah. “I feel mixed about Hezbollah because they have liberated south Lebanon from Israel and have set up schools. But they have engaged in terrorists activities.”Hope that the factions would settle their disputes peacefully was shattered Saturday when a bomb exploded in a Christian neighborhood, injuring 11 people. The bombing was the first violent episode since the explosion that killed Hariri.“The outlook is looking more bleak, and violence is more a reality than it was before the recent violent explosion just happened,” Jaber said. “Hopefully this doesn’t lead to a retaliation. All it takes is one violent act, and a series of retaliation, to cause a war.”Still, for faculty and students, the outlook for Lebanon remains mixed. On the one hand, Lebanon’s future is bright if the mostly peaceful nature of the protests is an indication of things to come. But some students also added that Lebanon is a deeply divided country, and any disturbance to the fragile status quo could escalate into another civil war.“Lebanon is a beautiful country that has done tremendous building since the 1990s due to Rafiq Hariri. His assassination comes as a shocking blow and is demoralizing for people who had a lot of hope,” said Marcia Inhorn, director of the University’s Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies, who lived in Lebanon two years ago. “My hope is that there is no more violence. I honestly think that Lebanon has had enough violence and people there are tired of the violence, and the fact that it stayed fairly peaceful is a positive sign, but no one can predict what is going to happen,” Inhorn added.Jaber expressed optimism about the future of Lebanese self-rule. “I hope for Lebanon to become the symbol of liberal and free thought in the Arab world, because it’s full of … different religions and different ethnic groups. And if Lebanon can continue to survive, other countries in the area will follow its lead.”

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