Chronic crime

Members of Lebanon's Internal Security Forces. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)

Political and religious leaders make daily pleas for national unity in Lebanon, as the country faces the threat of sectarian tension and spillover from the crisis in Syria. But perhaps good old-fashioned crime is the one sure sign that the Lebanese are united – in misery.

Robberies take their daily toll on every single part of the country, and the more worrying phenomenon of kidnapping for ransom is also proving to be a cross-sectarian and cross-regional affair. Whether it’s the north, south, Bekaa Valley, Mount Lebanon or Beirut, people live under the threat of abduction, leaving behind anguished loved ones and friends, and a jumpy public.

When it took office in the summer of 2011, the Cabinet of Prime Minister Najib Mikati pledged to “get to work.” The slogan was meant as a pledge that the executive branch might not be able to solve thorny, divisive political issues, but it could at least handle a series of pressing items that concern average citizens.

But not even street crime appears to be a manageable issue, even though it is usually unconnected to the turbulent regional situation. The government launches its inevitable “security weeks” and “security months,” but the phenomenon of lawlessness not only refuses to go away, but also exhibits alarming growth.

Officials might offer the argument that they have little in the way of funds to boost the ranks of police and other security bodies, but they should bear in mind that every “kidnapped in Lebanon” news item does irreparable harm to the country’s reputation.

Lebanese in the diaspora are well aware of such incidents, thanks to today’s media and communications explosion, and understandably think twice before committing themselves to coming home for a visit. One can only imagine what non-Lebanese tourists think when they hear the news of violent crimes and kidnappings.

There are two ways to go about tackling the problem of crime. The short-term, immediate solution is to author a plan to deter criminals, by boosting the effectiveness of security bodies. Not every solution has to come from the top, since some municipal governments have shown they take such matters seriously, and have deployed enough police and night watchmen to deter criminals in their jurisdictions. The central government authorities such as the Internal Security Forces should be praised for the attempts to crack down on crime, but if these bodies don’t have enough resources or manpower, a solution must simply be found for this pressing, “everyday” issue.

But over the long term, everyone knows that fighting poverty and launching a long-awaited process of judicial reform are essential in the fight against crime. Accelerating the trial process, instituting rehabilitation programs and a whole host of measures must be adopted, immediately – unless crime is to be added to the list of problems that are “too sensitive” to be addressed.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 09, 2013, on page 7.




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