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Why tensions between Lebanese and Syrians are being stoked

Wars do not just suddenly erupt; massacres do not occur without a prelude; blood is never shed without provocation and incitement. Hence, are we on the brink of a war between Lebanese and Syrians within Lebanon?

The question is a little dramatic, perhaps but understandable given we have been left grappling to understand what is happening and who will benefit from the Syrian-Lebanese agitation. One rumor, a suspicious Facebook page or even a single comment can be enough to spark verbal wars, incitement and counter-incitement.

There are parties that want to exploit the critical political and security status quo in Lebanon.

For example, news went viral on social networking websites stating that a demonstration will be held by Syrian opposition members in Lebanon in solidarity with the refugees and in condemnation of the “racist” practices in the camps, like what happened and is still happening in Arsal.

In response, there was a call for a counter-demonstration to support the army. A heated online dispute broke out between supporters of the two demonstrations, with social networking websites flooded with hatred and violent comments, in which politicians, artists and journalists took part. The outcome was the prohibition of both demonstrations, in addition to a Syrian-Lebanese confrontation that might lead to a disaster.

The hatred this exposed is unprecedented in terms of the harsh words directed toward Syrian refugees. Attempts to shift the debate from what happened in Arsal — the killing of Syrian detainees by the Lebanese army — ended as a reprehensible campaign against Syrians in Lebanon under the guise of supporting the army.

Such hatred campaigns have dismissed demands for accountability of the army, along with any criticism of the army’s role. A false equation has been established, in which one can either be with the army, or with the terrorists.

One rumor, a suspicious Facebook page or even a single comment can be enough to spark verbal wars, incitement and counter-incitement.

Diana Moukalled

Counter messages have emerged, the most dangerous of which encourage Syrian hostility against Lebanese and provoke Lebanese against Syrians, both civilians and insurgents. This was mainly promoted by Hezbollah to provide the greatest possible consensus regarding the need for a battle against terrorism.

Another factor is the desire to encourage Lebanese public opinion against the Syrians, and coordinate with the Syrian regime over sending refugees back to their homeland.

There is a danger that such attempts, especially by the Hezbollah-led opposition axis, seek to exploit the current imbalance.

Slogans like “ruling with an iron fist” are in fact mere justifications for internal repression, and the elimination of the remaining public freedoms Lebanese people can enjoy with their neighbors.

• Diana Moukalled is a veteran journalist with extensive experience in both traditional and new media. She is also a columnist and freelance documentary producer. She can be reached on Twitter @dianamoukalled.