More than a quarter century ago Lebanon’s name was synonymous with, among other things, kidnappings and hostages. Some of the incidents were carried out by criminal gangs but many had to do with sending “political messages.”
Back then, a given militia would want to send a message to a given foreign country, so it would kidnap one of its nationals. The Civil War was raging, and the Lebanese authorities could do little to nothing when such incidents took place. The negotiations would be conducted via the Syrians, who exercised control over much of the country, and the eventual release of some hostages would take place in Damascus.
These days, the war is over but the authority of the Lebanese state is in little better shape than it was during the earlier era of kidnappings. The phenomenon is back in force, and the authorities are unable to keep up.
When kidnappings take place these days, the family of the victim usually gets the ransom money ready and hopes that the criminals will abide by the deal that is struck. Some families immediately begin to contact certain political leaders; they don’t depend on state authorities if they want a speedy solution. The recent kidnapping of two Turkish pilots has seen Ankara reach out to Iran for help in securing their release, in another depressing case of déjà vu.
The head of the Progressive Socialist Party, Walid Jumblatt, has warned that Lebanon is headed for the rule of the jungle, but the sad thing is that the country has already arrived in such a state. More than 25 years after the heyday of kidnapping, Lebanon is back to square one, as the developments in various cases of kidnappings across the country have become a daily staple of the news.
Even worse, Lebanese were treated Monday to the spectacle of a live television broadcast in which a woman – albeit angered by the fact that her loved ones were being held against their will in Syria – made a blanket threat against all Turkish nationals in Lebanon. She vowed that none of them would be safe from now on, and yet the authorities have ignored such a blatant threat to public order.
Kidnapping is the kind of terror that targets innocent civilians and destroys the reputation of the place where it happens. The authorities should act immediately to show that it will not be tolerated, and not engage in wishful thinking that somehow, things will turn out all right. The rampant practice of kidnapping is doing irreparable harm to Lebanon’s reputation, chasing away people who entertain the thought of coming here, and enshrining the law of the jungle.
The government is currently running advertisements on satellite stations, encouraging people to visit Lebanon – perhaps it should make a short addition to these spots, along the lines of “your stay with us might be longer than you think.”