The fire of fear and political opportunism

It has only been hours since the mysterious torching of a priest’s library in Tripoli and politicians have already descended upon the town condemning the act. Two press conferences interrupted regularly scheduled programing on LBC today as the head of the March 14 party (bottom left) led a contingent of MPs to visit with the priest and local officials. But was the politicians’ main mission to appear before cameras?

Initial newspaper reports do not suggest anything conclusive about the arsonists, yet many influential writers and thinkers have already made up their mind that this has been an attack on Christianity, based largely it seems on the speculation of a former police chief. 
Prominent journalist Kareem Shaheen was one of the first to share the news on Twitter.

The library of father Ibrahim Sarrouj in Tripoli. Now burned by extremists. Shame on you. pic.twitter.com/2SwTr4FOfA
— Kareem Shaheen (@kshaheen) January 3, 2014

The story quickly went viral on social media. Wrote popular blogger Elie Fares: 
I’m not Muslim but I’m more Muslim than the lunatics who torched that library and so are most of the people of Tripoli…”
Another very popular blogger, Gino Raidy, shared this graphic on Facebook:


A similar argument –the assumption that Islamists “savages” reject knowledge– was also carried by the media watchdog page “Stop Cultural Terrorism”


And mocked by Lebanon’s greatest and most famous satirist:

Reactionary scumbags burned an old library in Tripoli. So 1258 AD. These people need a time machine. #Lebanon
— Karl Sharro (@KarlreMarks) January 4, 2014

But since we are all guessing at this point–no investigation details have been released– a possible factor that is getting much less attention is the priest’s long-standing struggle with real estate developers. In this MTV report from last year he describes a “conspiracy” to kick him out of the Ottoman-era building, where he has been renting at heavily discounted, decades-old rate.


   
Now perhaps there is no connection between the developer’s zeal to demolish the building and the torching of his library. But one wonders where those politicians were when this priest was under attack, not from extremists, but by their fellow businessmen. 

And despite my respect and admiration for my colleagues mentioned above, I worry that we are too often jumping to conclusions before any tangible details emerge about the assailants of this crime and the previous explosions that rocked Lebanon this week. I worry that this is also creating an equally dangerous storm of knee-jerk reactions and visceral, often Islamophobic, stereotyping, that could have long-term divisive effects. Just because a person or group considers itself to be Islamist, does not necessarily mean they cannot read, value knowledge or tolerate others. Hezbollah for example, is in some sense an Islamist party, and yet it broadcast endless tributes to Jesus and Mary on Christmas day, as I reported last month.

Whoever the culprits, be the Muslim, Christian or Hindu, there is no benefit in stereotyping an entire political ideology as the cause of a single event. There is also no benefit in speculating–angrily and with much conviction–without providing any detailed information that will help ameliorate the situation. The focus should be on the individuals that committed this crime and what exactly the police are doing to track them down. Will the politicians help with that? And where have they been when equally dangerous “non-extremist” developers have torn down so much of historic Beirut, often abetted by alleged acts of sabotage and corruption? 

Finally I am now reading that a spontaneous group of volunteers (of all faiths I’m assuming) are helping the priest rebuild his library. Perhaps it is this non-politicized positive work that could use more attention:

THIS IS REAL CIVIL SOCIETY! Volunteers in #TripoliLB working now 2 save books from Father Sarrouj burned library. pic.twitter.com/7ZVYTHGjaB
— Sara Assaf (@SaraAssaf) January 4, 2014