By HICHAM HAMDAN, former Lebanese ambassador to Mexico
Has the world forgotten Lebanon? Perhaps those who are too young to remember the Land of Cedars before 1975, when the civil war began, do not know of its glorious past.
But those who are older and who follow world history will recall that Lebanon was once known as the Switzerland of the East.
Indeed, Lebanon was a Mecca of the Western and free world for all those fleeing persecution in the neighboring dictatorial countries. Lebanon was a refuge for families eager to offer the highest standards of education to their children, or seeking the best medical hospitals in the East, or wishing to know the meaning of true cultural openness and freedom of religion and ideas.
Has the West forgotten that Lebanon was once its cultural bridge into the Arab world? Did it forget the Evangelical School, founded there in 1862, that evolved into the most important American university in the East?
In the 1960s, Robert Kennedy observed that the number of graduates from the American University of Beirut working in the United Nations exceeded the number of graduates from any other university in the world, including Harvard. Has the world forgotten that Beirut was the Francophone center of the East?
Where else in the world can you a Christian church that shares a wall with a Muslim mosque, and only 400 meters away, a Jewish synagogue? Where, other than in Lebanon, are churches, mosques and synagogues located in the same part of town and remain active peacefully for hundreds of years?
Throughout its long history, Lebanon has been the seat of a plethora of schools, cultural centers and universities from almost all types of educational stances.
Has the Western world forgotten that democratic Lebanon and its public freedoms were its primary pathway into Arab thought and literature, and that its banks were the engine that allowed Arab money to reach Europe and the Americas?
Has it forgotten that Lebanon’s beaches, mountains and plains are full of evidence of early human development, and that its historical landmarks. dating back to the early Phoenicians 5,000 years ago, hold the secrets of nature, history and mankind himself?
Or that the Old Testament referred to Lebanon and its cedar trees more than 75 times? The cedar tree was praised in songs of the sacred books, and its wood was the material that sailed the seas as the first indication of the importance of global trade and world peace.
Perhaps the West has forgotten what Pope John Paul II said in 1997, that Lebanon is more than a homeland; it is a message to humanity. Or what former U.S. President George Bush Jr. and then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in their conference in Washington in 2007, that a free Lebanon is necessary for a democratic West?
Did not U.S. President Bill Clinton say at the 2015 Dulles Conference on leadership that sound leadership in Washington must include the ability to help restore stability to this small, model country in the Middle East?
In case the West has forgotten, Lebanon has faithfully adhered to an armistice agreement with Israel since 1949. It has not entered into any war against Israel since then.
So why should Lebanon continue to be a proxy battlefield for other nations and have to keep paying such a high price in terms of human suffering, a loss of national dignity and a squandering of our children’s future?
Lebanon was one of the founding nations of the United Nations in 1945. It helped write the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
Lebanon today is in crises, and it is screaming out to the world for help.
In just a few months, the country’s currency has spiraled downward, losing more than 90 percent of its worth, and nearly 77 percent of Lebanese households have been left without enough food to feed their families, according to United Nations figures.
Lebanon is on the brink of imploding into a failed state.
Lebanon’s security and survival are now at stake.
The most crucial issue at this time is to retain Lebanon’s sovereignty in the face of aggressions by Iran, which is threatening the countries of the entire Middle East, distributing weapons and financing terrorist acts.
Urgent international action is direly needed to stop Lebanon’s descent into total state collapse.
Overlapping fiscal, banking, economic, health and political crises are tearing at the threads of its social fabric.
Without immediate intervention by the United Nations and outside countries, Lebanon could very well become a failed state in just a question of weeks, and it would take decades to undo the damage, opening the door for a resurgence of terrorist groups such as ISIS and al Qaeda, as well as an expansion of Hezbollah.
This would have dire consequences for the region and the world as a whole.
Lebanon’s inherent sovereignty and traditional democracy must be protected and defended against from outside intervention.
The people of Lebanon have the political will and moral capabilities to return their country to its traditional role and prosperity, but it cannot do this alone.
Lebanon appeals to the world to save its people and all humanity from all forms of military occupation and violated human rights that are now committed daily in its territory. Lebanon is asking the world to protect our democratic system, which was seized by a corrupted authority, backed by Iran, that fully supports Hezbollah.
It is not too late for the international community to act, but it could soon be.
HICHAM HAMDAN served as Lebanese ambassador to Mexico from March 2013 to July 2016. Previously, he served his government’s ambassador to Argentina and as a legal counsel to the Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was his government’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations in New York and Geneva from 1987 to 1999. He is currently a visiting scholar at the University of Texas in Austin and founder of a forum in Beirut to seek justice for Lebanon and its people.