Beirut simmers after weekend violence

By October 23, 2012

Lebanon (MNN) — Lebanon is on edge after an assassination Friday and protest violence over the weekend spilled into Monday.

The car bomb was a bold, broad-daylight move that killed the nation's intelligence chief, Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan. Although the attack came in a largely Christian district, Chief Executive Officer for SAT-7 International Terry Ascott, says, "It was not intended to provoke general mayhem in a community with whom another community is having a conflict. It was a targeted political assassination."

It was the country's highest-profile assassination in more than seven years. And while no one has claimed responsibility, Al-Hassan was an outspoken opponent of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The government declared Saturday a day of national mourning in decrying the "abominable crime" in a statement.

After Sunday's funeral, protestors clashed with the government and called for the Prime Minister Najib Mikati's dismissal. The protest grew violent when the army was called in to quell the unrest. Violence spread from Beirut to Tripoli in the north, and Sidon in the south.

Opposition leaders want Mikati to resign, saying he is too close to Assad and his Lebanese militant ally, Hezbollah. Mikati tendered his resignation, but President Michel Suleiman asked him to stay on until the makeup of a new Cabinet is decided, which put an end to power vacuum concerns. However, proximity concerns are growing. "The Lebanese do not want to be sucked into a proxy war. They've learned from 15 years of civil war in the past that war leads nowhere except everybody ending up with a bloody nose."

With tensions so high, there are valid fears that Lebanon could split over Syria and devolve further into chaos. Ascott says, "It doesn't help for things to escalate, so I think there's a lot of commitment to keeping the lid on it. But at the same time, every time something like this happens in Lebanon, it reminds people of the gloom and the violence and the losses that they faced during the civil war."

Lebanon's civil war is still fresh in the memories of the current generation. It ended in 1990, after 15 years of fighting, 120,000 deaths, and casualties of a million. Fighting displaced another million, and the country is still dealing with 76,000 Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs).

The scars have not healed quickly. "This general psyche of gloom and doom descends on everybody–including our own staff. They're not immune to it. A lot of them went through the civil war and have such bad memories of that experience."

However, SAT-7, a Christian satellite television ministry to the Middle East and North Africa, will be responding through their programming, Ascott explains. "How we try to address it: to put things into perspective, to call for reconciliation, to take a Christian attitude to this murderous act. That doesn't mean justice shouldn't be sought, but you don't go out and indiscriminately kill people."

While the production team takes no political side, they do offer a public forum to talk about fears and concerns, always answered by hosts through a biblical worldview. In cases like these, "Usually our best efforts come when people begin to cool down and are less focused on the hard news and more focused on reflecting on what has happened," says Ascott. "Obviously, the peace that Christ brings to each and every believer is a key factor in the way people can deal with the situation."

Programming themes begin to take on a common theme: calls for moderation and reconciliation. It's one way to address the anger expressed by some viewers. Ascott says while their programs aren't overtly evangelistic, they do have a specific focus. "You can talk around the subject, but ultimately it does come back to that personal relationship with God and that simple trust in Him that nothing can happen to you without it being allowed by God. I think that's quite a powerful message to people in situations like this."

Ascott urges other Christians to pray for and with the production team in the days ahead. "Pray for them as individuals that they will be encouraged, that they will have this hope, that they will have this peace, that it will be reflected not only in the office but onscreen, that they won't lose their joy in Christ, and that this joy in Christ will be shown in the programming that comes out of Beirut in this next week."

As Beirut simmers, Ascott asks prayer for peace "because it does provide a platform for much Christian work and witness across the Middle East. It is key. It is the country with the largest single Christian population in percentage terms in the region."

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