Why we support Bruce Balfour in his ordeal?
By: Elias Bejjani
We learned that the support voiced by numerous Lebanese Canadian NGOs to Mr. Bruce Balfour's arrest in occupied Lebanon was not fully comprehended by some Canadian communities and politicians. Their question was, how could these Lebanese Canadians step in to defend an individual who is accused of collaborating with Israel against their homeland Lebanon?

While this reaction is in general genuine, stemming from good intentions and, most importantly, is couched in Canadian criteria and norms, we believe with all due respect that those who questioned our position are not knowledgeable enough in the intricacies of the oppressive tactics used by Middle Eastern dictatorships.  Many of us are here in Canada because we lived and experienced firsthand these regimes'  manipulative political, judicial and falsely patriotic games. We can only cite, in reference, the record of the regime of Saddam Hussein as it is being unearthed in the aftermath of the Iraq War.

On behalf of the Eight Canadian Lebanese NGOs that went public in their staunch support of Mr. Balfour, I would like to shed some light on certain painful realities that are imposed on the peoples of the Middle East in general and on the Lebanese in particular:

1- After invading Lebanon in 1976, Syria completed its occupation of the country in 1990 by using military force to expel the country's legitimate government into exile, murdering hundreds of Lebanese civilians, and installing a puppet subservient regime. The Syrian Baath regime, no different from its clone in Iraq - then embarked on transforming Lebanon from a vibrant, prosperous, and dynamically open society into a subdued, terrified, and hungry one. It did this primarily by infiltrating its Intelligence Services - the Mukhabaraat - into all of Lebanon's state and social institutions, spreading fear of retribution among its opponents and rewarding its collaborators with government positions and lucrative deals.

2- In particular, Lebanon's judiciary completely lost its independence and credibility and became yet another tool of repression and revenge against those Lebanese who oppose the status quo of the Syrian occupation.  Lebanon's judiciary is today indeed politicized and biased, and lacks impartiality on account of it having being Syrianized and, by proxy, Iranized as well. Meanwhile hundreds of innocent Lebanese citizens remain detained arbitrarily in Syria's notorious jails deprived of their most basic rights. Most of them were handed over to the Syrian authorities by the Lebanese puppet regime itself - some are even feared to serve as experimental guinea pigs in Syria's chemical weapons testing camps - while thousands of Lebanese who oppose the Syrian occupation of their country are imprisoned in occupied Lebanon and intimidated through false charges like the one laid against Mr. Balfour.

3- The charge of "collaborating with the enemy" is a standard false charge that dictatorships use against dissidents and opponents when they have no other legal grounds to prosecute them. In the Arab world, this charge is often more specific as "collaborating with Israel" or "collaborating with the Zionist entity", etc.  The judiciary bodies in these countries, especially in Syria and occupied Lebanon, use these accusations ad libitum. To be accused of "collaborating the Israel" is a death sentence, even though the rulers themselves sporadically engage Israel in negotiations, overt or covert as the case may be. Merely speaking with or otherwise engaging Jewish Canadian members of parliament is frequently used to levy accusations of "dealing with the enemy" on the grounds that any member of the Jewish faith is Israeli by extension. Thousands of otherwise innocent citizens, politicians, dignitaries, journalists, clergy and academics in many Arab countries are detained, jailed and executed under this charge.

How can anyone believe with any seriousness that such a charge could be levied by the Lebanese regime against a non-Lebanese national, Mr. Balfour in this case, who most innocently may have traveled to other countries? Are we to conclude that any Canadian, including Canadian members of government or MPs, who visited Israel in the past are de facto persona non grata in Lebanon because they have "collaborated with the enemy"?

4- Rulers of these dictatorships in the Middle East are in power against the will of their people. They honor no democratic principle, respect no human right, and do not represent their own people. They only represent themselves and those foreign countries who appoint them to serve their own interests. Both the Syrian Baath regime and its puppet regime in Lebanon are two textbook examples of the worst such regimes. The parallels are uncanny between these two regimes on one hand, and the German Nazis and their puppet Vichy regime in occupied France during WWII on the other.

5- In this context, we, the Lebanese Canadian NGOs, will continue to defend Mr. Balfour in his ordeal, convinced that the charge laid against him by the Lebanese authorities of "collaboration with Israel against Lebanon", is not credible, has no basis in fact, is drummed up, patently false, and a mere fabrication.  We believe that Mr. Balfour's arrest is a payback to Canada for having banned the terrorist organization Hizbollah last year, and a message of retaliation from both Syria and Iran in regards to the unresolved cases of the two Canadian citizens, Maher Arar (imprisoned in Syria) and Ms. Zahra Kazemi (murdered in Iran).  Mr. Balfour's case is no more than an arm-twisting Syrian-Iranian tactic against bold anti-terrorism Canadian foreign policy.

6- We all regretfully recall the humiliating and threatening comments made last year by Beirut's ambassador to Canada after it slammed a ban on the terrorist group Hizbollah that the Lebanese and Syrian regimes sponsor and support. Although his comments were a frontal attack on Canada's democracy and civil peace, as well as against the Lebanese-Canadian community, the ambassador was never expelled and his case was handled very leniently. The problem with dictatorships and terror-sponsoring regimes is that they are encouraged by the appearance of weakness. Any leniency on the part of the Canadian government will unfortunately be viewed by the Syrian and Lebanese regimes as a propensity to buckle under the threat of blackmail and scare tactics, and on the long run, will invite more threats and attacks.

In conclusion, we urge the Canadian government to adopt a more aggressive and principled policy towards the Syrian-appointed Lebanese regime in regards to the violations it is committing against the Canadian citizen Mr. Bruce Balfour. Dictatorships respond only to serious and uncompromising firmness.  The Canadian government must use all available means and resources to secure the immediate and unconditional release of Mr. Bruce Balfour, now in his fourth week of illegal detention, and to start dealing with the Syrian-appointed Lebanese regime for what it is, a mere collaborator puppet that does not represent the decent people of Lebanon, but rather the interests of its puppeteer in Damascus, the Baath regime of Bashar Assad.  

The Lebanese Canadian community embraces people like Mr. Balfour whose purpose in going to Lebanon was a gesture that is dear to all Lebanese, namely to help that country restore its national symbol, the famed Biblical Cedars of Lebanon. To do otherwise would be against the traditions of diversity, universality, and eastern hospitality of which we and the Lebanese people will always be proud.

Elias Bejjani
Human Rights activist, journalist & political commentator.
Spokesman for the Canadian Lebanese Human Rights Federation & Media Chairman for the Canadian Lebanese Coordinating Council. phoenicia@hotmail.com