We speak of red lines all the time as if they are hard, well-defined not-to-be-crossed lines because they will certainly bring undesirable consequences. We forget that the red line is a virtual line that often lives only in the head of its beholder, and can have any color of the rainbow or all its colors at once. It’s just agreed upon by society that we refer to it as the red line to suggest a halt, a “STOP!” It hardly ever brings this result; as people say it but rarely mean it if any.
With time, it has become so flexible indeed, maybe we should call it the rubber line as it shifts, moves, expands or shrinks depending on the situation and the developments. There are millions of scenarios to end a conflict or to escalate it and millions of ways to negotiate a settlement or reach a deadlock. It’s always a choice -- our choice -- no matter what role we play in the equation. So, this week, I beg you to spare me the red line business when it comes to Syria and northern Lebanon. Tripoli has always been and will always be a flashpoint to release pressure off Syria, to smuggle weapons and fighters, and to play the usual political cards in support of the Assad regime or its opposition. This has always been and is not waiting for anyone’s approval or condemnation to go on or cease.
The virtual red lines cause concern and anxiety to some for no particular or real reason. I’m not even sure people understand the meaning of a “red line” anymore. It’s an expression thrown casually to indicate a possible threat as a consequence of an event or action.
Watching the most recent bloody events in Tripoli, I was reminded of all the red lines involved there – the old, the new and the ones yet to come.
What I consider to be a true scary red line is how long it took the local media to report the latest deadly clashes. Some critics even went to say local media ignored the story far too long. This could be due to fatigue from the redundancy of a story that always ends as it starts, abruptly and for no particular logical reason. When we consider that all Lebanese media serve a political master, it becomes obvious that Tripoli is nothing but the translation on the ground of the politics involved in the Syrian legitimate uprising that turned into a civil war, before becoming a giant mess with no real aim or central command against an organized, brutal and ruthless Baath Regime. Syria’s quagmire and the Lebanese politics involved there will keep spilling over to Lebanon in general and the northern city of Tripoli in particular over and over again as needed by the conflict and its players. The death toll that rises with every spillover, the bravado show that the government puts on every time, the phony praise of the army that always gets its orders to act late, the fake peace that is restored and the surreal normal life that returns to the streets that media outlets slap in our face. All of these are as unreal as the red line the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. has warned of. This latter just uttered his concern about chemical weapons crossing from Syria to Hezbollah via the latest conflict in Tripoli. Really? He said that is considered.. What else? A red line! Would Syria be waiting till this week to share its chemical arsenal with its staunchest ally, its direct benefactor and adopted child? Well, thank you for the warning or threat, however you meant your “red line,” but yours is one in the race to the millionth red line reference.
To me, like many others, Tripoli is the conduit used to exchange messages among governments, organizations and politicians. At the end of the day, the people suffer. The same people politicians are supposed to represent and protect etc..
As always, I mostly felt the pulse of people on social networks and I can tell you this: A headline such as, “Tripoli is starting to look like Syria” causes panic among people. Once the headline is shared, you can feel the collective heartbreak – breathless and voiceless – as the collective memory recalls events we wish we never went through and we pray will never come back.
If you care to, consider this the concerned Lebanese citizens’ Red Line!