Our Heroes Denied Our cinemas are replete with champions and legends. Drama or comedy; our greatest heroes are often misjudged, maligned, and initially labeled as villains or tyrants. From Spiderman, Batman, and Alfred Hitchcock’s, Roger Thornhill from North by Northwest, to the Green Mile’s John Coffey, provision of the public good is firstly greeted with government persecution and condemnation. It’s a formula plot line in which the protagonist confronts a harsh and often authoritarian antagonist. Typically, the story follows our hero engaging in an act that saves or redeems another, only to fall victim himself of autocratic persecution. This oppression frequently is enacted by a totalitarian or authoritarian government, resulting in the loss of civil liberties. Now, as too often is the case, life imitates art and Kassem Hejeij finds himself ostracized and unjustly condemned, without due process.
Since 1998, Hejeij has been a beloved member and leader in the south Lebanon town of Deir Ntar. Unique in the Nabatieh province as in all of Southern Lebanon, Deir Ntar has remained free of Hezbollah and Amal control and influence. Through his personal wealth, Hejeij has fended off the militant despots by providing food, medical care and jobs for the people of his village. Additionally, Hejeij has re-built bridges, roads, electrical infrastructure, and schools frequently destroyed by militia actions. He has fought for years to prevent Hezbollah from taking over the region. Today, instead of being honored for his efforts, Mr. Hejeij has been falsely accused of being a terrorist sympathizer. His personal, political and financial battle against Hezbollah and the lesser Amal, has been rewarded by the United States in his recent designation as an OFAC – Specially Designated National (SDN). After a generation in time and an untiring battle against the oppression of Hezbollah’s terrorism, Hejeij has now being condemned by the oppression of U.S. totalitarianism.
Void of Due Process Without judicature, hearing or appeal, and with scant explanation, the US Department of the Treasury which administers and enforces economic and trade sanctions through The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated Hejeij a Hezbollah “facilitator”. The U.S. Treasury is short on details announcing in three sparse sentences.
“Hejeij is a Lebanese businessman that maintains direct ties to Hezbollah organizational elements.”
“In addition to his support to Adham Tabaja and his affiliated companies in Iraq, Hejeij has helped open bank accounts for Hezbollah in Lebanon and provided credit to Hezbollah procurement companies.”
“Hejeij has also invested in infrastructure that Hezbollah uses in both Lebanon and Iraq.”
The OFAC’s argument seems to lack credence. Every financial institution in Lebanon is likely to have some tangible link to Hezbollah, along with the Lebanese armed forces, and obviously the 12 Hezbollah members of the Lebanese Parliament. As for investments in infrastructure, it’s no secret that Hejeij has paid to build roads and bridges. Roads and bridges that had been destroyed by Hezbollah, and rebuilt by Hejeij for the aid, comfort, and safety of innocent civilians. It’s puzzling that OFAC does not describe the alleged “support” that Tabaja and his companies received. And it’s suspicious when you consider that Tabaja and his companies were “designated” on the same date as, but not before Hejeij. Therefore, any alleged support of Tabaja or his companies would have occurred before any designation or prohibitive band on either.
Selling the Story So, how does this phenomenon of hero denunciation manifest and propagate? We may observe Professor Lawrence Kohlberg’s stage-one of moral reasoning, (usually found in young children), where decisions and actions are based on self-gratification and jealousy, without regard for the cost to others. And so it was, for the fictional character basis of J. Jonah Jameson, the antagonist, and propagandist of the Spiderman stories. But for Jameson as well as, and all instances of real-life authoritarian oppression, the audience or citizenry becomes as much of a victim as the autocrat’s primary target.
In Mr. Hejeij’s case, the Treasury and OFAC’s skeletal information restrict society to deal with only the limited information they would provide as if it were all there is to know. Therefore, we (the audience) build the best possible story from the information available, and if it is a good story, we believe it. Paradoxically, it is easier to construct a coherent story when we know little and when there are fewer pieces to fit into the puzzle. The autocrat’s comforting conviction is that its ability to make sense rests on a secure foundation of which the general public is consumed by an almost unlimited ability to ignore its ignorance. The amount of evidence and its quality do not count for much because poor evidence can make a very good story. For some of our most important beliefs we have no evidence at all, except that people we respect and trust hold these beliefs. Considering how little we know, the confidence we have in our beliefs is preposterous.
Nevertheless, our intellectual sanctity is preserved with the undeniable redemption of our hero. It’s how these stories go; we return to the original plot line as good triumphs over evil and at the length truth will out. Maybe not today or as soon as tomorrow, but Kassem Hejeij will find deliverance. The U.S. if not the Treasury itself will come to embrace Hejeij as the ally he is and he will be exonerated. Hejeij is the front-line fighting a personal battle against a U.S. enemy. As the catch phrase goes; he has “boots on the ground”, and they are his boots, literally under fire and at risk every day he aids his region and constituents. As any revered character in heroic epic poetry or champion of contemporary scripting, Hejeij serves without expectation of reciprocity or tribute. Kassem Hejeij fights unsung day after day, to create a peaceful, healthy, and secure homeland for his people. A hero for our times.
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“جنة دير إنطار” التكافلية : لماذا لا تعمم تجربة قاسم حجيج في كل لبنان )؟