Two-thirds of my students and their families attended last Monday's massive anti-Syria demonstration after school closed early, and they arrived the next morning decked out in red-and-white opposition scarves, relating details of speeches they had heard. It's any teacher's dream: collective gusto to start a meaningful discussion. But this level of political engagement is particularly startling for my class. It's hard to believe this is the same collection of 12-year-olds who, when Yasser Arafat died four months ago, had been puzzled about who the Palestinian leader was and seemed uninterested in what he represented for Arab independence.However, the teacher has qualms because her students like George Bush and don't hate Israel.
Many of these young protesters are inspired not only by Ukraine's Orange Revolution, on which they have modeled their so-called Cedar Revolution, but by the conviction that George W. Bush's approach to redesigning the Middle East is generally the right one. A 20-year-old man named Awtel reminds me that "Bush is strong against Syria. Besides," he adds, "he is so clear when he speaks." I can't dispute that. Still, I begin to explain to Awtel, I worry about convictions that seem too clear, too black and white. But I slowly realize that this crowd is the wrong audience for my argument.I'm not sure if the author is worried about Hezbollah's influence in Lebanon or thinks that they're a legitimate voice. Somehow, she seems more disturbed by Israel's occupation of Lebanon than by Hezbollah's occupation. She is happy that her students want to study Lebanon's Civil War. What is she going to teach them?
So are these the United Colors of Lebanon? I'm unconvinced. At the Hezbollah-sponsored counter-demonstration earlier this month, a protester confided to me that his friends call the crowd who've been occupying Martyrs' Square "the resistance of Monot Street" -- referring to Beirut's upscale nightclub district. He had a point. The square has been full of idealists rather than realists. These bright-eyed protesters, with their guitars and flags, had never suffered Israeli occupation on their family property. The young student who told me he had no fear speaking out because the "world is watching" might not have felt that way if for years he'd been subjected to Israeli bombing in southern Lebanon -- with the most vocal American objections reserved for Hezbollah's retaliations. Sure, some of the pro-Syrian demonstrators were likely bused in from Syria. Many may not have a wide range of news sources at their disposal. But when I saw the way the crowd throbbed with joy when Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah took the stage, I had to wonder: What does this say about Lebanon today? Can several hundred thousand fervent pro-Syrian protesters all be ignored?