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Monday, December 24, 2007

Fabulist quits NRO

Via Chris, NRO fabulist W. Thomas Smith Jr. quits doing freelance work for NRO. Kathryn Jean Lopez has this to say in an editor's note.

This is what I had to say about the affair earlier this month when it broke.

Good riddance, I say.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Rosen on Palestinians in Lebanon

Nir Rosen has a piece on Palestinians in Lebanon in the Post. It doesn't mention the economic discrimination against Palestinians here, who make up around 10% of the population in Lebanon. Nor does it go much into the politics of the camps (NGOs, PLO, Damascus and jihadi groups). But it does give a good overview of Palestinian scapegoating, which reminds me of a conversation with a friend during the Nahr el-Bared fighting when we wondered why it is that whenever Lebanon wants to come together as a country, it's usually at the expense of the Palestinians.

Recent lectures

In the last week or two, I've seen talks given by Juan Cole and Bernard Rougier. I wasn't sure what to expect from either, because of the sometimes shrill tone of the former and the sensationalist title of the latter's book. (I've got an aversion to books with the word "Jihad" in them.)

In both instances, I was pleasantly surprised. Cole was well spoken and interesting. And although the first part of his talk, which was just a recapping of the last 6 years, was pretty dry and unnecessary for a Middle Eastern audience, his comments during the Q&A were worth listening to the first part of the lecture. One point kind of bugged me, though. He made a point of pointing out Egypt's success in combating Islamist terrorist groups, even going so far as to imply that authoritarian governments might be as good as democratic ones at fighting terrorism. I'm not sure how I feel about that idea, except that my gut instinct is that while authoritarian governments might have more success at crushing these groups due to their freedom of action (not being tied down by human rights concerns, for example), I'm convinced that authoritarian rule is one of the causes of terrorism in the first place. So Egypt's "success" might be only short-term and might end up biting Cairo in the ass later.

As for Rougier, I found his participation on a panel about Palestinian identity and citizenship very interesting. He was accused of being an orientalist and of ignoring who was obviously to blame in the Nahr el-Bared conflict. (It's hard to know what to say when someone tells you that neither Fatah al-Islam nor the Lebanese Army were to blame for Nahr el-Bared, but that rather it was the Americans' fault. Incidentally, this was a comment made by a participant in the talk, not a random crank who'd wandered in because he heard there'd be food.) In any case, Rougier convinced me to go out and buy his book, despite the horrible weakness of the dollar and thus the Lebanese pound compared to the mighty euro. I'll be reading it as soon as I finish the books that are currently on my plate. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Ceci n'est pas un pays

Roger Cohen has an interesting little piece on Belgium in the Times:

In their grumpy way, Belgians — a majority Dutch-speaking, many French-speaking and a few German-speaking — have been posing a delicate question: does postmodern Europe, where even tiny states feel secure, really need a medium-small nation cobbled together in 1830 whose various communities dislike one another?

Moreover, does a country whose economy is largely run by European central bankers in control of the euro really need a government?

Gerrit Six, a teacher, suggested Belgian obsolescence when he put the country, complete with its busy king and ballooning debt, up for sale on eBay. It drew bids of close to $15 million. That was on day 100 of the political crisis. Belgium is now close to day 200. Italian politics suddenly look stable.

Little Belgium has become too conflicted to rule. It has three regions, three language communities that are not congruent with the regions, a smattering of local parliaments, a mainly French-speaking capital (Brussels) lodged in Dutch-speaking Flanders, a strong current of Flemish nationalism and an uneasy history.

Dutch-speakers, long underdogs in a country without a Flemish university until 1922, are tired of subsidizing their now poorer French-speaking cousins. A successful anti-immigrant and separatist party, Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest), is the odious expression of a wider desire to go it alone.

Flemish demands for greater decentralization and control (most recently over French-speaking schools in the Brussels periphery) have raised distrust to a poisonous level. “I am pretty sure Belgium will split eventually,” Caroline Sagesser, a political scientist, told me.

If it holds together, it will be because Brussels, with 10 percent of the population and 20 percent of gross domestic product, is too mixed to unravel. Like Baghdad, like Sarajevo, the capital is improbable but unyielding glue. Unlike them, it has avoided bloodshed. It also houses a modern marvel, the E.U. — and there’s the nub.

I often look at Lebanon and think, in the style of the Belgian surrealist: "this is not a country." Or state or nation, for that matter. Belgium has been without a government for almost 200 days, and Lebanon has been without a president since late last month. But who needs a government anyway?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Axis of Evil in Beirut

Last night I went to the Casino du Liban to see Showtime's Middle Eastern-American comedy tour, the Axis of Evil.

The venue was packed, and from what I've heard, it also did very well in Jordan. According to Ahmad Ahmad, even King Abdullah went to see the show in Amman. I'd never been to a comedy show before, so the only point of reference I had was what I'd seen on television, and it was pretty much like that. The jokes ranged from average to hilarious and seemed catered to a westernized Middle Eastern crowd. I'm not sure how many people were familiar with Bob Barker, and I'm sure that jokes on the debkeh would have been lost on much of an American audience. Those who were int he position of being familiar with both cultures were able to laugh at both American and Middle Eastern jokes.

Some of the Bush jokes seemed a little bit like pandering and a little hackneyed for an American audience. And some of the Lebanese jokes were pretty facile (bargaining, driving, "hi keefak, ça va," etc.), but people never seem to get tired of that sort of thing here. The message was, overall, a good one: Arabs are normal people who are capable of poking fun of themselves. For the most part, there was also a nice ecumenical message that welcomed Muslims, Christians and Jews. A nice example of this was the half-Palestinian comedian Aron/Haroun who made it a point of pointing out the similarities of Jews and Arabs, saying that "we're pretty much the same fucking people." (There was one disappointing moment, however, that made me cringe. At one point, Egyptian-American Ahmad Ahmad said that Arabs should be doing more in the entertainment business and that Hollywood was run by... Here he paused to let the audience yell in unison: "Jews!" Unfortunately, it didn't seem to be a joke making fun of people who believe in Jews-run-the-world conspiracies.)

Overall, it was a really good time, and I'm glad I went. The Middle East could use some more comedy, and if my hunch is right, this is the sort of thing that's likely start a stand-up fad in Beirut. Let's hope it's funny.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Not knowing Shi'ite from Shinola

I generally try to stay away from the National Review. This explains why I didn't see the inane and meretricious "reporting" done by W. Thomas Smith Jr. until today. I've commented here before on ridiculous and sensationalist accounts of Lebanon, but this guy really takes the cake. Smith wrote last September:

Hezbollah is rehearsing for something big here. Not sure what or when. But a few days ago, between 4,000 and 5,000 HezB gunmen deployed to the Christian areas of Beirut in an unsettling “show of force,” positioning themselves at road intersections and other key points throughout the city.

It just so happens that I live on the East side of town in one of the "Christian areas of Beirut," and I can guarantee that Smith's account is laughably untrue. On the day that Smith says Hezbollah "deployed" to East Beirut, I was doing some shopping. I live on the border of Gemmayzeh and Mar Mkhail and went to Sassine and ABC that day (all of which are Christian neighborhoods), and rest assured, there were no Hezbollah militants, much less armed ones, to be seen anywhere.  Had what he described been true, there would most likely have been a civil war, or at the very least isolated street fighting. As it was, not only was there no fighting, but not a single journalist in Beirut, foreign or Lebanese, picked up on Hezbollah's alleged "show of force." There's a very simple reason for this: it never happened. If Hezbollah were to deploy a dozen armed militants to Achrafieh, that would be crossing one of Lebanon's red lines. Saying that there were 4,000-5,000 gunmen here is beyond farfetched; it's in the realm of the outlandishly comic. 

I've had neither the time, nor the stomach, to wade through all of this guy's Lebanon "coverage," but the few pieces I've opened are risible in their ridiculousness. Here's another example:

Hezbollah are not the only terrorists operating here in Lebanon: There are also Al Qaeda affiliates like Fatah Al Islam (they were not totally wiped out at Nahr al Bared), as well as Jund al Sham (Soldiers of Damascus), Jundallah, Hamas, and — though few Americans are aware of this — operating elements of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps on the Lebanese side of the Lebanese-Syrian border. These are just a few of the problem groups here: All operating under the auspices of Hezbollah.

Despite his mistranslation of "Sham," which in this context means Greater Syria (Syria, Lebanon and Palestine) and not Damascus, this little excerpt is absurd in that it explicitly says that all of the al-Qaeda-affiliated groups operating in the Palestinian camps, as well as Hamas and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard are "operating under the auspices of Hezbollah." First of all, no one knows who is connected to the various groups operating in the Palestinian camps. And second of all, anyone who believes that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is "under the auspices" of Hezbollah, and not the other way around, obviously knows nothing about either organization.

Smith's scattergun approach to various armed groups in Lebanon is symptomatic of a larger, mostly American, approach to the Middle East, where al-Qaeda equals Hezbollah equals Hamas equals al Qaeda in Iraq equals Jund al-Sham ,etc. This is the kind of thinking that led most Americans to believe that Baghdad had something to do with 9/11 and leaves the defenders of the free world (see also: Reyes and Sarkozy) incapable of distinguishing between Sunnis and Shi'a.

Another fun read is this post, in which Smith brags about doing "reconnaissance" in the Dahiye, the suburbs where Hezbollah is based in Beirut. Or rather this would be funny if it were a satire and I were reading it to friends in Beirut. This guy seems to think that he's in a Chuck Norris movie, which would be fine except for a couple of things. First, this "journalism," in which Smith writes about spying on Hezbollah for pro-Government groups not only makes him sound like a macho asshole, it also casts a shadow of doubt on legitimate journalism done by actual reporters in a country where foreign correspondents are already viewed with an air of suspicion. Second, it makes Beirut sound like a war zone, which it's clearly not.

And then there's this gem. According to Smith, there were "some 200-plus heavily armed Hezbollah militiamen — positioned between the parliament and the Serail." As it happens, I've spent a fair amount of time downtown, and this is not the first time I've written about Americans talking about the sit-in protest without knowing what they're talking about. For the last few months, it's been hard to find more than a couple of dozen people at the protest, much less hundreds of armed militants. I have never, I repeat: never, seen any Hezbollah weapons downtown. They may have them down there, but if they do, they're hidden so well that someone who regularly strolls through the camp would not see them. To suggest that he surprised 200 armed militants out in the open while driving over the bridge that connects East and West Beirut is ridiculous.   

Finally, Jack Bauer -- I mean W. Thomas Smith Jr. -- gives us a post from an "undisclosed neighborhood":

Lebanon is extremely dangerous for Americans right now. In fact, some top officials within the 1559 Committee (essentially the heart and soul of the Cedars Revolution ... for a free Lebanon) believe some sort of dramatic terrorist event is going to take place here in Lebanon between now and mid-October. This is not a gut feeling, but a calculation based on intelligence analysis and chatter from the street.

Tony Nissi, the 1559 Committee chief here in Beirut (whom you'll recall from previous entries), has reason to believe Hezbollah knows who I am. So I am deliberately not staying in hotels: Instead, I'm spending nights in friends' houses — safe houses if you will — and always with bodyguards.

This one is the funniest of the bunch. If there are only half of the number of Americans in Lebanon now as there were during the July war, there'd still be over 10,000 Americans here, myself included. Beirut is decidedly not unsafe for Americans, unless of course they decide to go play G.I. Joe by arming themselves and doing "reconnaissance." But even if Smith were to get picked up by Hezbollah or the Army for spying (which is basically what he claims he's doing), they'd immediately recognize him for the  buffoon that he plainly is. He sounds more like a hapless character out of a Harry Mathews novel than an actual spy, or, God forbid, a journalist.

I could go on for pages about the factual inaccuracy of Smith's reports, but it would just be more of the same. It's amazing to me that NRO published any of Smith's "reports." They are so obviously bullshit that someone must have been asleep at the wheel over there. One of my pet peeves is the writing of partisan hacks who only travel for rhetorical flair, and Smith seems to be more of the same. The difference is that his case is so egregious that he's getting called out on it. There are well respected journalists here in Lebanon and elsewhere who not only know the country intimately but are good writers to boot. Anthony Shadid, Annia Ciezadlo and Mohamad Bazzi are only a few of the names that come to mind. So why is there a need to send Chuck Norris wannabe hacks like Smith who evidently don't know anything about the countries they're ostensibly covering? If NRO wants coverage of Lebanon, there's no dearth of talent already here in Beirut. Insisting on publishing Smith's fabrications in order to toe an ideological line that pays no heed of Lebanon's complex politics only makes NRO look stupid and dishonest.

If you're interested in NRO's response to similar allegations, you can see that here and here.



UPDATE: Kathryn Jean Lopez, online editor of the National Review has another statement up about Smith (emphasis mine):

With regard to the two posts in question, it is my belief, based on an investigation in which NRO discussed the matter with three independent sources who live and work in Lebanon (as well as other experts in the area), that Smith was probably either spun by his sources or confused about what he saw.

...the context that Smith was operating in an uncertain environment where he couldn't always be sure of what he was witnessing, and the caveats that he filled in the gaps by talking to sources within the Cedar Revolution movement and the Lebanese national-security apparatus, whose claims obviously should have been been treated with the same degree of skepticism as those of anyone with an agenda to advance.

As one of our sources put it: "The Arab tendency to lie and exaggerate about enemies is alive and well among pro-American Lebanese Christians as much as it is with the likes of Hamas." While Smith vouches for his sources, we cannot independently verify what they told him. That's why we're revisiting the posts in question and warning readers to take them with a grain of salt.

So let me get this straight. Lopez publishes Smith's ridiculous posts that betray a fundamental ignorance of Lebanon and the political situation here, posts which were either made up entirely or fed to him by pro-Government forces, and the problem here is the "Arab tendency to lie and exaggerate."

Wow. I almost don't even know where to start with this one. Maybe she should just throw in another couple of lines about America's mission civilisatrice and the white man's burden and be done with it.

In any case, someone should send her message to Tom Harb, a rabid March 14 supporter in the US, who's supporting Smith wholeheartedly (from Florida, no less) and accusing all of the journalists who have contradicted Smith of being on the Hezbollah payroll. Someone should remind him that his neo-conservative comrades in arms at NRO and elsewhere are fair weather friends to whom, at the end of the day, a wog is a wog, regardless of his political usefulness.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Weekend in the Chouf

I spent this past weekend in the Chouf mountain, otherwise known as the personal fiefdom of Walid Jumblatt. I was looking forward to visiting the Moukhtara and its beautiful castle, and given the tense situation, I was surprised when my friend told me that conforming to Druze tradition, I could go have tea with and briefly meet Jumblatt -- or even ask him for something. Saturday morning is the time when the Moukhtara is open, and all are given tea while they wait for an audience with Walid Bek.

My timing was off, though, because it seems that US ambassador to Lebanon, Jeffrey Feltman, was due to arrive shortly for a lunch with Jumblatt and no amount of wasta with Jumblatt's private security detail was going to get us in.

One thing that bothers me about Lebanon is the checkpoints. They're a hassle, but given the situation, they seem necessary. What really gets to me though are those run by militias. Any journalist covering the south or Bekaa, or even parts of the Dahiye, are familiar with Hezbollah's stops, although I've never personally had to show my ID to anyone from Hezbollah, and despite my frequent trips to and through the sit-in downtown, I've never seen a member of the party armed.

Now March 14 and its allies are fond of complaining about the "state within a state" that is Hezbollah, but what you hear less about are their own states within a state. (Incidentally, I'm not fond of the expression, because in order for it to be true, there'd have to be a state within which to have a state -- something that just isn't true here.) While there are army checkpoints all around the Moukhtara, the guys with machine guns at the gate are PSP militia. They've got neither badge nor uniform -- their gun and the confidence of Walid being their only license for checking my ID. But these are the higher ranked guards, down the street, working at the local mechanic and sitting in a little booth are kids with walkie talkies.

When we decided to take a walk around the Moukhtara, we were immediately stopped by a kid who couldn't have been over 20 years old. I think he was intimidated by us, so when we refused to show any ID and only gave our first names, he called someone else as we were walking away. The second guy was only a little older and looked like he should be working second spatula at a saj stand. But there he was, asking for our ID. My friend looked him in the eye, immediately getting angry, and asked him where his ID was. After some prompting, the young and round boy opened his wallet and flashed a normal ID without letting us take it out or look at it too long. When we asked what gave him the authority to stop us, he lifted his shirt and showed us his walkie talkie. The Chouf, it seems, isn't so different from the south after all.

The rest of my trip, barring an embarrassing run-in with the way-too-friendly (and touchy!) tour guide at Beiteddine, was a welcome change from the city. Like true mountain men, we ate heartily and shot guns, and the clean air cleared my persistent cold right up.

Also, the Cedar reserve reminded me of something out of a fairy tale:

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Shobbing in Damascus

I was in Damascus last week for a long weekend of shopping, and the trip gave me the chance to talk to some Syrians about the political situation in Lebanon. Not a single person I spoke to believed that Syria was responsible for killing Hariri. They all thought it was a plot hatched by Israel and the US in order to kick the Syrians out and use Lebanon as knife in Damascus's heart. Many Syrians asked why the Lebanese hated them and seemed generally supportive of Syrian policies overall. Of course during such a short trip it's hard to truly judge Syrian opinion, since although things have gotten better since Hafez died, the average Syrian is still somewhat hesitant to criticize the government to a stranger in public.

Another thing that I noticed this time, was that Damascus is like an oriental Prague: a beautiful and impressively old city in the center surrounded by the hideously drab and gray monstrosities that only the people's architecture is capable of constructing.

Otherwise, Damascus is full of Iraqis, and the rise in prices is noticeable, even in comparison to just a year ago. The Syrian capital now has an Aishti in addition to the United Colors of Benetton stores that are sprinkled throughout the city. Overall, there's been a lot of progress since the last time I was in the Arab Republic a year ago.

I love Syria, but it's got a long way to go, and as the taxi crossed the border back into Lebanon, I remember sighing a breath of relief and feeling glad to be back home.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Confusing Musharraf and the people

Ezra seems to be confusing Musharraf with the people of Pakistan:

If we flip from Musharraf and begin supporting other candidates, Musharraf will flip on us. If we stick with Musharraf and he's ousted in a revolution, we will be identified as allies of the dictator. This isn't a situation where we must pick the best of two bad options. Rather, it's a situation where we should show some humility, let the Pakistanis make their own decisions, and pledge to deal openly with whomever emerges. This isn't a situation where we must pick the best of two bad options. Rather, it's a situation where we should show some humility, let the Pakistanis make their own decisions, and pledge to deal openly with whomever emerges.

This suggests first, that the US isn't already actively supporting a dog in the Pakistani fight and second, that "the Pakistanis" as a people will be in a position to make any sort of a decision. First, Musharraf is already propped up by financial and military aid from the US, and second, when he indefinitely postponed elections, he squashed any possibility the Pakistanis had of making their own decisions.

Perhaps the US shouldn't explicitly support the opposition, but it should support the process of democracy, even if that just means making elections a condition for continued US military and financial aid.

Ezra quotes Ignatious in order to draw a parallel between US support for the opposition in Iran (a policy that has seemed to have backfired on the US, not least because there is a credible threat that the US might attack Iran) and US support for the Pakistani opposition.

Vali Nasr, on the other hand, makes a more astute comparison of the two countries:

Musharraf's interests are no longer those of his military, and the two are now on a collision course. Generals can still end this crisis by going back to the deal Washington brokered with Ms. Bhutto, but only if it does not include Musharraf. Removing Musharraf will send demonstrators home and the Army to its barracks.

The longer Musharraf stays in power the more Pakistan will look like Iran in 1979: an isolated and unpopular ruler hanging on to power only to inflame passions and bring together his Islamic and pro-democracy opposition into a dangerous alliance.

A disastrous outcome in Pakistan, a nuclear-armed state with weak institutions and rife with extremist ideologies, violence, and deep ethnic and social divisions, will be far worse than what followed the Iranian revolution.

The West cannot afford to let this political crisis spiral out of control. Western leaders must keep the pressure on Musharraf, reach out to the Pakistani Army, and seriously plan for a post-Musharraf Pakistan.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Bush's "freedom agenda"

This week has made it clear to the world that the US isn't too terribly interested in democracy in Pakistan. There has been a lot of talk about Bush's retreat from talk of liberty and freedom and a lot of frowning on the administration's decision to continue supporting Musharraf financially and militarily while he trades prisoners with the Taliban and jails lawyers and judges, ostensibly as part of the "war on terror." Journalists and pundits are quick to show the gap between Bush's actions and his rhetoric.

Sure, this may be the case, but where have these people been? Is this actually news to anyone? One has to look at Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Thailand or Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan to see how serious this administration ever was about the "freedom agenda."

Pakistan is just the most recent, if not the most egregious, example of how lip service to democracy and human rights is little more than so much hot air. Let's not be naive here. The Bush administration talks the talk about democracy when it comes to Iraq and Afghanistan -- and maybe applies some sanctions when it's not inconvenient, like in Burma -- but at the end of the day, the freedom agenda obviously comes in second place when fossil fuels are concerned.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

A nuclear Middle East

Akiva Eldar has a very non-explicit opinion piece in Ha'aretz about the nuclear weapons in the Middle East. I have the feeling that Israeli laws on its "secret" nuclear program prevent him from being more explicit, but he nonetheless poses a question that I've been asking for some time now:

How can a country, which according to endless foreign reports has kept secret for years several atomic weapons, manage to rally the international community in a struggle against a neighboring country that insists on acquiring nuclear energy? What do Israeli politicians answer to those asking why Iran should not be allowed to acquire the same armaments that are already in the arsenals of neighboring countries, like Pakistan and India? The common response is that "Iran is the sole country whose president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, declares openly that he intends to destroy the state of Israel." This argument is a double-edged sword, par excellence, used by a country that sports a radiant nuclear glow (according to foreign press reports, of course), and who has a senior minister, one assigned to dealing with strategic threats, who has threatened to bomb the Aswan Dam.

Again without being explicit, he calls for a nuclear weapons-free Middle East, but he says that this should be done "when the conflict is resolved," which seems a little too much like waiting for Godot to me. History has shown that countries that get the bomb are very unlikely to give it up (with the exception of South Africa). So if Israel waits until Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan all have the bomb, a nuke-free Middle East will never happen, because while the chances of Israel giving up the bomb seem slim, the chances of getting all those other states to give it up are nil.   

Monday, November 05, 2007

Jewish refugees

The Times has a article on a Jewish group that's doing its best to spotlight the plight of Jews forced from Arab countries after the war in 1948. Ordinarily, I'd applaud such an act, because it's always a good idea to shed light on lesser known historical events.

In this case, however, the entire enterprise seems possibly less interested in history than in using history as a rhetorical bludgeon to undermine the Palestinian refugees' internationally recognized right of return:

Another objective is to push for early passage of resolutions introduced in the United States Senate and House that say that any explicit reference to Palestinian refugees in any official document must be matched by a similar explicit reference to Jewish and other refugees.

The American-sponsored peace conference in Annapolis is planned to take place before the end of the year to address core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict like borders, the status of Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugees.

"We want to have this meeting now, in advance of the Annapolis conference, to ensure that this issue is front and center in the international awareness as it should be," Mr. Urman said.

I've always maintained that both morally and politically speaking, the choice of countries like Libya, Iraq and Egypt to push out their Jewish citizens was a huge mistake. I also believe that Lebanon, for example, where the Jewish population actually increased after 1948 but all but disappeared during the civil war, should actively pursue the return of its Jewish citizens, most of whom seem to be in Paris and Montreal. This could be done with a law of return and an active rebuilding of the Jewish quarter, including the Synagogue downtown and the Jewish cemetery.

Today's article in the Times gives little nuance to the question and neglects to mention the principle difference between Palestinian refugees and Oriental Jews forced from Arab countries: many of the former remain stateless and continue to live in refugee camps, whereas the latter were successfully resettled and given citizenship in Israel or North America.

I came across another article in the Times, this time from 2003, that gives a much more nuanced discussion of the issue:

"This is not a campaign against Palestinian refugees," said Stanley A. Urman, executive director of Justice for Jews From Arab Countries, a coalition of 27 groups that includes the powerful Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. "On the contrary, we believe the legitimate rights of the Palestinian refugees must be addressed in any peace process." He added, "We've got to make sure Palestinian refugees receive rights and redress, and Jewish refugees receive rights and redress."

Rashid Khalidi, a professor of Arab studies at Columbia University, disagrees. "This is a bait-and-switch tactic that does not serve either Palestinians or Oriental Jews or a just peace," he said, using the umbrella term for Jews from Arab countries. "Leaving both of these groups aggrieved guarantees that whatever quote, unquote settlement results would be unstable. There are just claims here. They should be addressed by the Arab states. But it shouldn't be a bait-and-switch that will make Oriental Jews pay the price for Israel's confiscation of a very large amount of Palestinian property."

[...]To Professor Khalidi, the very notion of making Palestinians citizens of Arab countries ignores significant distinctions between the Jewish and the Palestinian refugee experiences. "The idea of comparing them to Palestinians isn't valid," he said of Jewish refugees. "In a Zionist narrative, they should've wanted to go to Israel in the first place. The Palestinians didn't want to leave and weren't going back to their homeland. But some people have tried to tell Arabs what their nationalism should be and have tried to tutor the Palestinians in the proper understanding of their own national identity."

Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat professor of peace and development at the University of Maryland at College Park, said it was legitimate to consider the claims of both sets of refugees simultaneously in the peace process. But for Israel, he warned, the strategy might lead to unintended consequences.

"Putting the issue of Jews in the Arab world on the table helps in the compensation arena, but not the resettlement arena," he said. "In that arena, exposing the issues of Jewish refugees could be a kind of drawback. It can give the Arab countries a political edge, a rhetorical edge over Israel. They can say, instead of compensation, you're welcome to come back. Jews will always be a minority in those countries. And Jewish refugees won't want to come back to them. So it can be a negative by highlighting the fact that Israel will not accept Palestinian refugees."

Politically speaking, of course, Telhami is correct. The only way that Arab regimes are likely to invite their Jewish citizens back is as a political maneuver to morally outflank Israel on the refugee question.

This is unfortunate, because everyone I talk to in Lebanon who remembers a time when the Jewish population lived openly in Beirut, remembers the time and their connections to their Jewish neighbors very fondly.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

"United in our diversity"

I was just reading the preamble of the South African constitution, and I couldn't help dreaming of a similar constitution for Israel/Palestine:

We, the people of South Africa,

Recognise the injustices of our past;

Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;

Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and

Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.

We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to ­

- Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;
- Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;
- Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and
- Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.

May God protect our people.

Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika. Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso.

God seën Suid-Afrika. God bless South Africa.

Mudzimu fhatutshedza Afurika. Hosi katekisa Afrika.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Debating the one state solution

I've been debating, if you can call it that, some Israelis and a Palestinian about my firmly held belief in a one state solution

One of the Israelis has already called me an idiot and all Arabs monkeys. I highly recommend skipping his replies and reading Lirun's and Nizo's.

UPDATE: I've been locked out of the thread. So much for for an honest and respectable exchange of ideas. The exchanges I've had with Israelis in the blogosphere have left me more depressed than anything else.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Thinking orange

I haven't had much to say in this space about Lebanese presidential politics -- mostly because I haven't had much to say about the subject, full stop. A recent interaction with a well-placed Aounist, however, has made me question some of what I think about the situation. Up till now, the only interaction I've had with Aounists, like with most other political parties here, has been with the rank and file, the man on the street who has no more inside information than I do. And the orange man on the street seems pretty practical. While he really wants Aoun to be the president, wishful thinking aside, he doesn't really believe that it's possible any more. He'd be content with a compromise candidate along the lines of General Michel Sulaiman. 

Recently, though, I had a discussion with someone higher up in the hierarchy, someone who had inside information. Although this person didn't give me many specifics, he did stress that Aoun would be president. I asked him if he meant that Aoun should be president or that Aoun would actually be president. He replied, "both." Then I asked if I should consider that remark to be from him personally or him as a party member. Again the answer was "both."

There are three possibilities here. First, it's possible that there is information to which I'm not privy, information which will assure an Aoun victory and prove my general sense of Lebanese politics to be wrong. I don't think this is the case, but that's partially why my general sense of Lebanese politics is as it is. Second, it's possible that I wasn't getting a straight answer and that this person was just giving me the party line. This seems logical and likely, but judging from the intensity and earnestness of his discourse, I don't think it's the case. Finally, I think it's most likely that this person was so personally and emotionally invested in the campaign that he couldn't really see straight anymore. This seems to be a common symptom of junior partisans who have neither the clear sighted detraction of the man on the street nor the cynical wisdom of the senior apparatchik.

In any case, not only did this person tell me that Aoun would definitely be president, but he also said that the Aounists would not accept anything less. I have the sneaking suspicion that when all is said and done, and the presidential deals have been done in smokey back rooms in Paris, Washington and Damascus, the orange upper echelons and the rank and file will be unsurprised, leaving the more zealous junior party members with inside information completely disillusioned.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Congress and Israel

I was watching CNN last night while hanging pictures and folding laundry, when Wolf Blitzer came on. All in all, it was actually fairly interesting. He interviewed El Baradei from the IAEA, Jordan's Queen Rania, the Turkish ambassador to the US, Barbara Boxer and Trent Lott. The last two were on after everyone else to respond to the issues being discussed.

Boxer was pretty well spoken and moderate about everything until she was asked about the Israeli bombing of Syria last month. El Baradei mentioned that neither the US nor Israel had provided the IAEA with any evidence of a Syrian nuclear program. He then rebuked the Israelis for shooting first and asking questions later instead of using the appropriate organization for such issues: the IAEA. So while Lott and Boxer disagreed on pretty much everything from the Armenian genocide bill to the rhetoric being used by the White House about a possible war against Iran, the one thing that they could agree on was that Israel has "the right to defend itself."

It's really uncanny. Neither said that they had been fully briefed on any intelligence concerning the Israeli strike in Syria, but both of them unequivocally supported it without any reservations. It's to be expected from Lott, but Boxer, who spends much of her time chiding the Bush administration for talking about war in Iran and having gone to war in Iraq has nothing critical to say about Israel's act of war.

Democrats seem to believe that politically speaking, they can be harder on the US, the country they're ostensibly representing, than they can be with Israel, a foreign nation. The more stories I hear about Capitol Hill and the more performances like Boxer's that I see, the more I think that there's truth in Buchanan's remark that Congress is Israeli-occupied territory.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Every once in a blue moon

It's not very often that I can say that I agree with American policy in Lebanon, but for the first time that I can remember, someone at the Pentagon seems to have gotten it somewhat right. Eric Edelman, undersecretary of defense for policy, had this to say in a recent interview broadcast on Lebanese television:

What we've been trying to do consistently is to create circumstances in which Lebanon can have a strong state, strong army, a democratic system with the military accountable to civilian control and to the government and to the people's representatives in the parliament. ... We believe it's in our interest to have a strong democratic state in Lebanon ... That's what we're working toward.

The problem, of course, is that the opposition doesn't trust the US at all (some would say with good reason). So of course, there are plenty of rumors that the US is building military bases in Lebanon, etc. Ideally, the Lebanese state would be built up by a more neutral country, like Sweden, but I doubt that will be happening anytime soon.

Chauffeuse de taxi

The other night I was going to meet up with a friend to watch The Kingdom, which, to my mind, was all right for an action movie, but not nearly as clever as it thought it was. I flagged down a cab and when it stopped I did a double take. The driver was a woman.

When I was a kid, I remember there being a riddle that went like this: A boy is wheeled into the emergency room, and the surgeon takes one look at him and says, "I'm sorry, I cannot operate on this boy. He is my son." The doctor is not the boy's father. Who is the doctor, then? The answer, of course, is, his mother. But at the time I remember hearing this riddle, the answer was not so obvious, and people would give answers like "his uncle" or "his grandfather," because they simply couldn't imagine the fact that a doctor would be a woman.

These days, the idea that a doctor or a lawyer or a chemist could be a woman seems obvious. For some reason, though, I was really shocked by seeing a woman cab driver. She acted just like her male counterparts: cursing, mumbling about traffic and trying to rip me off. 

Obviously, there's nothing about driving a cab, as opposed to say delivering refrigerators, that would prohibit most women from doing the job. But I suppose it's just a question of habit, and I'm not used to seeing women cabbies, not even in Europe or the States. (The only other one I've seen was an African woman in Paris.) After talking to friends about it, I've been told that there are a few in Beirut, and one even wears the hijab.

Coincidentally, a few months ago, I was near a police headquarters close to the periphery of Beirut when I suddenly saw two women soldiers walking down the street. Since then, I've run into a couple more. While I've seen plenty of women soldiers and police officers in my life, I'd never seen any in Lebanon, so I was really (pleasantly) surprised.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Wrestling with Zion

I recently came across an excerpt of a text by Ahad Ha'am (born Asher Ginsberg), a Zionist who went to Palestine for the first time in 1891. It's called "A Truth from Eretz Yisrael," and I found it in the collection edited by Tony Kushner and Alisa Solomon called Wrestling with Zion:

We who live abroad are accustomed to believe that almost all Eretz Yisrael is now uninhabited desert and whoever wishes can buy land there as he pleases. But this is not true. It is very difficult to find in the land [ha'aretz] cultivated fields that are not used for planting. Only those sand fields or stone mountains that would require the investment of hard labor and great expense to make them good for planting remain uncultivated. [...]

The Arabs, especially the urban elite, see and understand what we are doing and what we wish to do on the land, but they keep quiet and pretend not to notice anything. For now, they do not consider our actions as presenting a future danger to them. They therefore do their best to exploit us, to benefit from the newly arrived guests as much as they can and yet, in their hearts, they laugh at us. The peasants are happy when a Jewish colony is formed among them because they get better wages for their work and get richer and richer every year, as experience has shown us. The big landowners also have no problem accepting us because we pay them, for stone and sand land, amounts they would never have dreamed of getting before. But, if the time comes that our people's life in Eretz Yisrael will develop to a point where we are taking their place, either slightly or significantly, the natives are not going to just step aside so easily. [...]

If we have this ambition to settle in a new country and radically change our way of life and we truly want to achieve our goals, then we can't ignore the fact that ahead of us is a great war and this war is going to need significant preparation. [...]

It is not our way to learn nothing for the future from the past. We must surely learn, from both our past and present history, how careful we must be not to provoke the anger of the native people by doing them wrong, how we should be cautious in out dealings with a foreign people among whom we returned to live, to handle these people with love and respect and, needless to say, with justice and good judgment. And what do out brothers do? Exactly the opposite! They were slaves in their diasporas, and suddenly they find themselves with unlimited freedom, wild freedom that only a country like Turkey can offer. This sudden change has planted despotic tendencies in their hearts, as always happens to former slaves ['eved ki yimlokh]. They deal with the Arabs with hostility and cruelty trespass unjustly, beat them shamefully for no sufficient reason, and even boast about their actions. There is no one to stop the flood and put and end to this despicable and dangerous tendency. Our brothers indeed were right when they said that the Arab only respects he who exhibits bravery and courage. But when these people feel that that the law is on their rival's side and, even more so, if they are right to think their rival's actions are unjust and oppressive, then, even if they are silent,and endlessly reserved, they keep their anger in their hearts. And these people will be revenged like no other.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Utilities

Sometimes I wonder why Cyprus, a country that is still divided despite its recent membership in the EU, can be so successful compared to Lebanon, which has, to my mind, better food, friendlier people and equally nice weather. Then the electricity gets cut for a few hours and the water goes out, leaving me unable to shave or bathe before going into work.

I asked an Ethiopian acquaintance of mine yesterday if they had similar problems in Addis Ababa. She told me that while the electricity situation was worse than in Beirut, they always had more than enough water.

Shaving from a bottle of mineral water and having to hold it until I get to work because I can't flush the toilet remind me that Lebanon has a long way to go despite my occasional bouts of optimism.

In any other country, candidates on both local and national scales would be winning elections based on campaign promises to fix, or at least improve, these problems. It seems that this is not a major part of anyone's political platform in Lebanon.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Back/Update

For those few of you who have noticed, I haven't written in a while. This was mostly due to a change in jobs, a more permanent move (everything has been sent from Paris to Beirut and should now be on a boat somewhere in between) and the end of a big project.

When it rains it pours, I suppose. But so far so good.

In any case, I'm more or less settled into my new schedule and my new office. Time's going to be a little thin here at the beginning, but I think once I get into the groove of things, I'll find the time to post on a regular basis again.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Reminder

As a good friend of mine oft reminds me: writin' is fightin'. The bell's about to ring, and I'm almost done.

I should be back here soon.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Update

I'm not dead, I've just been really busy lately. I should be done with the project I'm working on soon enough, though, and spending a couple of weeks in Paris.

Hopefully, blogging will resume in a matter of days.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Prominent genocide deniers

It's already unfortunate that the ADL had to be shamed into calling the Armenian Genocide by its proper name (and this only in a qualified and circuitous fashion). And I also find it disconcerting that what is ostensibly an American anti-racism organization should cite Turkey's status as a "staunch friend of Israel" as a reason why not to recognize the Armenian genocide. (The open letter that states this has since been removed from the ADL website and replaced with the new open letter that uses the word genocide. It can, however, be found in Google's cache.):

We believe that legislative efforts outside of Turkey are counterproductive to the goal of having Turkey itself come to grips with its past. We take no position on what action Congress should take on House Resolution 106. The Jewish community in Turkey has clearly expressed to us and other major American Jewish organizations its concerns about the impact of Congressional action on them, and we cannot ignore those concerns. We are also keenly aware that Turkey is a key strategic ally and friend of the United States and a staunch friend of Israel, and that in the struggle between Islamic extremists and moderate Islam, Turkey is the most critical country in the world.

But I'm somehow even more disappointed that people billed as serious historians of the Middle East like Michael Rubin, using rhetoric that is strikingly similar to Ankara's, have taken to reducing the historical reality of the Armenian genocide to "the narrative of Diaspora communities," giving the impression that the latter is at odds with the accounts of respected historians.

The Anti-Defamation League has decided to label the events surrounding the deaths of Armenians during World War I as 'genocide.'

There can be absolutely no argument that a million or more Armenians died during World War I.  But, on issue of whether genocide—a deliberate plan to eradicate a people—occurred or not, there is a big gap between the narrative of Diaspora communities and that of prominent historians.  The historical debate is more complex. 

It is a shame that Abraham Foxman has made such a decision on political rather than historical grounds.

It's then particularly ironic that Rubin laments that Foxman has made this decision on "political rather than historical grounds," when the stated reasons that Foxman originally gave for opposing the label were explicitly political in the first place.

Why is there no backlash from genocide scholars against people like Rubin? He has a prominent perch at the American Enterprise Institute and as editor of the Middle East Quarterly, which is published by Pipes's Middle East Forum. He should be publicly outed as a negationist, in the way that he would likely do to anyone who denied the Jewish genocide.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Pulling the ladder up

(Via Neil/Ezra) I wonder if Mark Krikorian recognizes the irony of an Armenian-American arguing against offering asylum to a people that's being targeted in a genocide. Had all countries followed his lead a hundred years ago, his family probably would have died in the deserts of Syria at the hands of the Young Turks:

Zionism Is Not a Suicide Pact   [Mark Krikorian]

Good for Israel in announcing it will turn back all Darfur refugees sneaking across the border from Egypt — thousands of Muslims claiming asylum would present an existential threat to the Jewish state. But here’s what the government has to deal with: the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, what appears to be the country’s equivalent of the ACLU, said that it is "Israel's moral and legal obligation to accept any refugees or asylum seekers facing life-threatening danger or infringements on their freedom." That last bit is great – “infringements on their freedoms.” So, apparently anyone, anywhere who doesn’t enjoy complete political freedom and manages to sneak into Israel should be allowed to stay. This kind of post-nationalism is bad enough in Europe and the U.S., but we at least have some strategic depth, as it were – the very existence of such sentiments in a country as small and insecure as Israel doesn’t bode well for its long-term viability.

There's nothing like pulling the ladder up once you and yours have made it to safety.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Terrorism and resistance

Over the last few days, I've debated the actions of revolutionary groups, particularly those in the Levant, during the 70s, with some friends of mine. I've taken the stance that no matter how just their cause might be or how injust the actions of their enemies, the deliberate targeting of civilians is beyond the pale.

Following the brutal and inexcusable attacks against Kurdish Yazidis in northern Iraq, the Economist has a wonderful little piece about not confusing terrorism with resistance

Even in the hell of Iraq, however, it is important to look at some things straight. And one of those things is that not all kinds of killing are equal. Some are less acceptable than others. This is not a callous or nit-picking legal point: it concerns a vital distinction between legitimate and illegitimate violence that has long been spelled out under the laws and moral requirements of war and must not be fudged.

George Bush is rightly criticised for lumping together as “terrorists” anyone who takes up arms against America or its allies. This is a simplistic formula that blurs necessary distinctions and makes for clumsy policy. Yet some opponents of the superpower's occupation of Iraq make an equal mistake when they lump together—and condone—as “resistance” all of the violent acts committed by America's foes in Iraq.

No excuses

This is profoundly mistaken. Military attacks against foreign soldiers who have come uninvited into your country can certainly be classified as resistance, whether you think such resistance justified or not. But the mass murder of Iraqi civilians can make no such dignified claim. The most lethal atrocities are those carried out by suicide-bombers, most of them from Saudi Arabia, who have imbibed some version of the al-Qaeda idea of war to the end against the unbelievers, who in their minds include Iraq's Shia Muslims. Many Iraqi Sunnis have in their turn been killed—for revenge or as part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing—by Iraqi Shias, sometimes acting alone and sometimes at the bidding of organised militias, often with links to a political party or to Iraq's government.

Under all established norms and laws of war (and by most accounts under Islamic law, too) the deliberate targeting of civilians for no direct military purpose is just a crime. This remains true regardless of the justice of the cause, and whether the killing is done by states, armies, groups or individuals. The world should never tire of condemning such deeds.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Darfur mortality rates: A debate

Eric Reeves has taken down a recent op-ed piece by Time's Sam Dealey. The Reeves rebuttal is detailed and lengthy, so there aren't any really pithy quotes to add here. In other words, read the whole thing.

Stones and glass houses: or pots and kettles

The Bush administration has just recently decided to designate a large chunk of a sovereign nation's armed forces as a terrorist organization. The choice doesn't seem to be final and hasn't been put into effect yet, so it might just be saber rattling to pressure the Iranian government, although it's hard to see what effect this would actually have on the Iranian regime, which is already the target of US economic sanctions.

What's interesting about this is that it's the first time the US has decided to label a state actor as a terrorist organization. The current definition contained in Title 18 of the US Code, Section 2331 is as follows:

Section 2331. Definitions

      As used in this chapter - 
(1) the term "international terrorism" means activities that -
(A) involve violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that
are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of
any State, or that would be a criminal violation if committed
within the jurisdiction of the United States or of any State;
(B) appear to be intended -
(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
(ii) to influence the policy of a government by
intimidation or coercion; or
(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass
destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and

(C) occur primarily outside the territorial jurisdiction of
the United States, or transcend national boundaries in terms of
the means by which they are accomplished, the persons they
appear intended to intimidate or coerce, or the locale in which
their perpetrators operate or seek asylum;

What is interesting is that this definition, contrary to many others, does not exclude state actors. As such, every time the CIA or IDF kidnaps or assassinates someone, those organizations are committing acts of international terrorism, according to US Code. People like Noam Chomsky have held the US to its definition for a very long time, but until now, there has been a hesitancy about designating any state actors as terrorist organizations, presumably because that opens the US Government, and those of its allies, even more so to charges of terrorism.


If I were part of the Iranian government, I would bring this up and make a similar designation of the US Government. After all, at a time when CIA agents have been indicted by an Italian judge for kidnapping, it's a charge that is difficult to rebut. 

Sunday, August 12, 2007

How to live without a solution

Henry Siegman, the director of the US/ Middle East Project, who served as a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations from 1994 to 2006, and was head of the American Jewish Congress from 1978 to 1994, has an excellent piece on Palestine and Israel in LRB, "The Middle East Peace Process Scam."

He comes out and says that the impediment to peace is Israeli stalling while slowly chipping away at Palestinian land with the wall, roads and settlements, while the international "peace process" gives it cover. He says that Palestinian statehood has been put in formaldehyde, which is to say that it is given the appearance of still being alive while not allowed to visibly decompose.

Siegman quotes Moshe Dayan, who says "The question is not 'What is the solution?' but 'How do we live without a solution?'" He then goes on to quote Geoffrey Aronson,who has this to say:

Living without a solution, then as now, was understood by Israel as the key to maximising the benefits of conquest while minimising the burdens and dangers of retreat or formal annexation. This commitment to the status quo, however, disguised a programme of expansion that generations of Israeli leaders supported as enabling, through Israeli settlement, the dynamic transformation of the territories and the expansion of effective Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan River.

He opens with this sober and depressing assessment of the peace process, which he calls a scam and a spectacular deception:

In [Bush's] view, all previous peace initiatives have failed largely, if not exclusively, because Palestinians were not ready for a state of their own. The meeting will therefore focus narrowly on Palestinian institution-building and reform, under the tutelage of Tony Blair, the Quartet’s newly appointed envoy.

In fact, all previous peace initiatives have got nowhere for a reason that neither Bush nor the EU has had the political courage to acknowledge. That reason is the consensus reached long ago by Israel’s decision-making elites that Israel will never allow the emergence of a Palestinian state which denies it effective military and economic control of the West Bank. To be sure, Israel would allow – indeed, it would insist on – the creation of a number of isolated enclaves that Palestinians could call a state, but only in order to prevent the creation of a binational state in which Palestinians would be the majority.

The Middle East peace process may well be the most spectacular deception in modern diplomatic history. Since the failed Camp David summit of 2000, and actually well before it, Israel’s interest in a peace process – other than for the purpose of obtaining Palestinian and international acceptance of the status quo – has been a fiction that has served primarily to provide cover for its systematic confiscation of Palestinian land and an occupation whose goal, according to the former IDF chief of staff Moshe Ya’alon, is ‘to sear deep into the consciousness of Palestinians that they are a defeated people’. In his reluctant embrace of the Oslo Accords, and his distaste for the settlers, Yitzhak Rabin may have been the exception to this, but even he did not entertain a return of Palestinian territory beyond the so-called Allon Plan, which allowed Israel to retain the Jordan Valley and other parts of the West Bank.

These days, it's hard to find a piece about the peace process as a whole that has anything new to say, and this one is no exception. What is different, however, is that more and more American and Israeli Jews (Burg, for example) are asking hard questions of Israel and its brutal occupation and making piercing observations about the situation as a whole, including international complicity. These are not questions and observations that went unasked and unobserved before by Arabs and Europeans; they're just gaining credibility in the international discourse because it's hard to paint the former head of the American Jewish Congress as an anti-Semite for asking them.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Arming Libya

Most of the coverage about the arms deal between France and Libya has focused on the quid pro quo (officially denied) of offering arms for the release of the Bulgarian nurses and the Palestinian doctor. One aspect of the piece that's been overlooked is the fact that offering arms to Tripoli might be at odds with the stated policy of France and the UK in Darfur. Libya has a long history of arming the "Arab" side of the region's racial war, which has involved Darfur and Chad, in hopes of creating a united pan-Arab state in the region.

So although its author doesn't seem terribly familiar the region's decades-long war, I was glad to see this article in the Guardian on the possibility of a conflict arising from the arms deal between their policy in Libya and their policies in Darfur and Chad.

This is an important question, and those who wish to read about the conflict in the Sahara and Sahel would do well to check out the new and updated edition of Burr's and Collins's book on the subject.

Daily Star gossip

Following the Solidere story in the Daily Star, there has been some gossip, most notably from the Angry Arab (here and here), that the US Government was very unhappy with the piece and pressured to print a full rebuttal. He says that the Examiner section of the paper, which is for investigative journalism, is funded by USAID in order to promote transparency and accountability in the Arab media.

I have no idea whether or not the accusations are accurate or not, but it makes for interesting gossip, nonetheless. Maybe I'll ask around to some friends and acquaintances who work at the Star.

Election choices

Via Ezra, I found a website that lets you select quotes from presidential candidates that you agree with without telling you who they are until the end. You have to check the boxes of issues that interest you, so I tried it out on foreign policy (general), Iraq War, Iran, Israel and Palestine and finally, Health Care.

Since most of the quotes I chose to respond to were about foreign policy, it's not surprising that I agree the most with Bill Richardson. After him, Mike Gravel (about whom I know next to nothing), Kucinich and Obama were tied for second place. There were six Republican candidates whom I agreed with on one quote, and one Republican (Ron Paul) whom I agreed with more than a Democrat (Biden) by a score of 4 to 3. I'm pretty sure that if I had done the whole test, including the other domestic quotes, that probably would have switched around. Totally absent from the list of people whom I can agree with about a single thing is Guiliani.

Otherwise, it's interesting to me that on the issue of Israel/Palestine, there weren't very many quotes I agreed with by any of the candidates. I clicked to agree with some of the fairer sounding two-state comments, although deep down, I don't believe a two-state solution is viable in the long term. There were exactly zero candidates who came out for cutting funding to Israel or a one-state solution and only one quote, from Gravel, about negotiating with Hamas:

The US must sponsor negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, including Hamas, with the goal of a two-state solution guaranteeing demilitarized borders, Israel's right to survive and raising Palestinians economic standards.

Of those who took the test, more than half (52.8%) agreed with this statement.

The two most popular quotes that I agreed with were by Richardson and Kucinich, at 80% and 72.86% respectively:

Richardson: "In recent years, American foreign policy has been guided more by dogma than by facts, more by ideology than by history, more by wishful thinking than by reality."

Kucinich: "I support normal bilateral trade with Cuba. Farm communities throughout the U.S. are being denied a natural market in Cuba, and Americans are being denied products from Cuba."

Of course it's hard to generalize these percentages, because like me, most people probably only responded to quotes in the areas that are the most important to them, and so I can imagine that issue like abortion, for example, were ranked as the most important by more conservative people.

In any case, it's an interesting exercise nonetheless, and I've been able to work out that while I agree with Richardson more than anyone else about the issues that are the most important to me, I agree enough with Obama to back him instead since Richardson has nearly no chance of winning the primaries. (I hope he will accept being a vice presidential candidate or nomination as secretary of state.)

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Tous les jours, c'est kebab party!

I got a link from a friend of mine to a new music video done by a Turkish kebab waiter, Lil'Maaz, at a kebab shop in my favorite neighborhood in Paris. The song is called....wait for it.... "Mange du Kebab" (Eat Kebab). It's pretty fun, so much so, in fact, that after hearing him rap while working, some regular customers who work in a production studio decided to help him make a video. It seems be a big hit, so go check out his website (in French). In the meantime, watch the video:

 

Tsunami weapon strikes again!

The news here is that the Levant is due for a tsunami, which reminds me of reactions that I got after the big one in Indonesia. It was obviously an American/Jewish underwater tsunami bomb, I was told by one Pakistani guy. When I asked why "the Jews" and "the Americans" would do that, he looked at me as if I had just asked the stupidest question on earth: "To kill Muslims, obviously!"

According to the Algerians (via the Arabist), things are just warming up:

La protection civile algérienne a annoncé, mercredi 8 août, la mort de douze baigneurs emportés par une vague géante sur une plage de Mostaganem, dans l'ouest algérien, vendredi. L'origine de la vague est inconnue et nourrit les débats des scientifiques et de la population locale.

L'hypothèse d'un essai scientifique en Méditerranée effectué par des pays de l'autre rive, comme l'Espagne, l'Italie ou la France est avancée. "On peut supposer qu'il s'agit d'une expérience scientifique d'armes conventionnelles", explique le professeur Loth Bonatiro, spécialiste d'astronomie et de planétologie au Centre algérien de recherche en astronomie, astrophysique et géophysique (Craag), cité dans les colonnes du quotidien algérien L'Expression.

L'hypothèse d'un mini-tsunami avancée par les habitants semblait peu plausible, dans la mesure où la vague n'a touché qu'une seule plage, celle dite du Petit-Port.

Une secousse sismique d'une magnitude de 4,6 sur l'échelle ouverte de Richter avait été enregistrée vendredi à 21 h 08 en plein milieu du bassin méditerranéen par le centre de Strasbourg, mais pas par le Craag, qui évoque un possible problème technique.

Sometimes I wonder if I've become too acclimated to the local weather of conspiracy theories, but when things like this come up, I know that I've still got a long way to go. 

Solidere's "illegal expansion"

The Daily Star has a relatively lengthy piece about Solidere and some of its legal battles with former downtown property owners, most of whose property rights are now owned by Solidere. The issue is a fairly complicated one, and I don't pretend to fully understand it, although this latest suit seems to have been sparked by Solidere's decision to start expanding into Dubai whereas most of its work downtown remains unfinished.

In any case, the article is worth a read, and it'd be nice to see more of such substantive reporting being done by the Star. If anyone else has any links to more information about the Hariri empire and downtown property rights, I'd love to see it.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Super Hajja

My friends over at Grey Mog here in Beirut sent me a link for the first scene teaser for the upcoming movie Super Hajja. Their website should be up and running in a few days, so keep an eye on that. Otherwise, I can't find the original short film that they did for Super Hajja during the war, but if I find a link to it, I'll be sure to post it.

In any case, and without any further ado, here is the opening scene to the upcoming Super Hajja:

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Politics and the Diaspora

Lately, we've been hearing an awful lot about the Iranian threat to Israel. Much of this has been couched in alarmist rhetoric that implies (or even sometimes explicitly says) that Iran is the new Nazi Germany. One of the more problematic facts for this narrative is the existence of the Middle East's second largest Jewish community. After Israel, more Jews live in Iran than in any other country in the region.

It seems, however, that Jewish groups are trying to entice Iranian Jews into moving to Israel -- but without much luck, it seems:

Iran's Jews have given the country a loyalty pledge in the face of cash offers aimed at encouraging them to move to Israel, the arch-enemy of its Islamic rulers.

The incentives - ranging from £5,000 a person to £30,000 for families - were offered from a special fund established by wealthy expatriate Jews in an effort to prompt a mass migration to Israel among Iran's 25,000-strong Jewish community. The offers were made with Israel's official blessing and were additional to the usual state packages it provides to Jews emigrating from the diaspora.

However, the Society of Iranian Jews dismissed them as "immature political enticements" and said their national identity was not for sale.

"The identity of Iranian Jews is not tradable for any amount of money," the society said in a statement. "Iranian Jews are among the most ancient Iranians. Iran's Jews love their Iranian identity and their culture, so threats and this immature political enticement will not achieve their aim of wiping out the identity of Iranian Jews."

The Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv reported that the incentives had been doubled after offers of £2,500 a head failed to attract any Iranian Jews to leave for Israel.

Iran's sole Jewish MP, Morris Motamed, said the offers were insulting and put the country's Jews under pressure to prove their loyalty. "It suggests the Iranian Jew can be encouraged to emigrate by money," he said. "Iran's Jews have always been free to emigrate and three-quarters of them did so after the revolution but 70% of those went to America, not Israel."

Similar efforts have been made to attract French Jews, with Sharon's remarks that they should move to Israel because of anti-Semitism in France. That call, however, was met with similar results (translation mine):

Jewish associations in France also announced their indignation and expressed unequivocal disapproval of Ariel Sharon's remarks. Haïm Korsia, the representative of the Grand Rabbi Joseph Sitruk declared that the question of the Jews of France is "a moot point" because, for him, to speak of "the Jews of France doesn't mean anything; there are French citizens who are Jews, like others have another religion." Richard Prasquier, member of the executive office of CRIF (Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France) affirmed that the call to immigration made by Ariel Sharon threw "oil on the fire in an unacceptable way." Patrick Klugman, former president of the Union of Jewish Students of France (UEJF) and vice president of SOS Racism said that the Israeli Prime Minister was "very ill informed of what is happening in France." As for Theo Klein, the vice president of CRIF, he concluded with a message to Ariel Sharon: "He should let the Jewish community in France deal with its own problems." 

As far as efforts to get European Jews to emigrate to Israel, it seems that, if anything, the current trend is in the opposite direction. With 20% of Israelis eligible for an EU passport, more and more are applying for the bordeaux-colored passports. Ironically, the Jewish Agency for Israel has been pressuring the German government to stop making it easy for Jews from the former Soviet Union to settle there. (In 2003, for example, more Russian Jews chose to go to Germany than to Israel.)

The attempt to encourage Diaspora Jews to make aliyah in general is fairly normal and linked, to my mind, to Israeli and Palestinian demographics. The attempts to target Jews in Iran and France in particular, however, might be an attempt to disprove that Muslims and Jews can live together. In addition to having the largest Jewish community in western Europe (600,000), France, after all, also has the largest Muslim community in the region, making up 10% the French population (mostly from Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Senegal). And the claims that Iran is equivalent to Nazi Germany seem kind of silly when it has its own 25,000-strong Jewish population that resists emigrating to Israel and which has a Jewish representative in the Iranian Parliament.

In addition to endangering the case for war with Iran, the Jewish Diaspora weakens the argument for the need for a Jewish state in the first place. Because if Jews can live without fear in the US and Europe, or even in Iran, why shouldn't there be a binational state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean where Jews and Arabs can live with equal rights, regardless of race or creed? 

Preeminent Holocaust scholar dies

Raul Hilberg, one of the greatest Holocaust scholars, has died. Genocide scholars the world around are indebted to his tireless work.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Metn Parliamentary by-elections

Last night, after going to the cinema and having some dinner in Sassine with my roommate, we decided to go check out what was going on at our local Aounist headquarters. While we were having our dinner and 'arguileh, supporters of Hariri's Sunni-based Future Movement, the Lebanese Forces and the Phalangist party kept driving by honking their horns and waving party flags. Sassine, which is mostly Christian and next to the ABC Achrifieh mall is mostly for Geagea and Gemayel. This is why we decided that it would be interesting to go see what was happening in the Aoun camp.

The headquarters were blocked off by the Army to prevent any political street fighting. I was given an orange Free Patriotic Movement t-shirt and a bottle of water with an orange cap, as well as a cup of coffee, which was about the only non-orange thing there. Everyone was outside watching the results on Orange TV, the FPM's unofficial television channel. There were more orange wigs, shirts, shoes, socks and pants than at a faculty meeting at an American elementary school on Halloween.

The Parliamentary by-election in the Metn region was called by the government (and opposed by the opposition, which makes Aoun's participation contradictory if perhaps also cunning) in order to replace MP Pierre Gemayel, who was assassinated earlier this year. The election is an important one, since it acts as a bellwether for Christian support, which will be helpful for predicting who the next president will be. Former president and father of Pierre, Amin Gemayel ran against Aoun-backed and lesser-known Kamil Khoury.

Orange TV announced Khoury's victory relatively early in the evening, but it wasn't until this morning that I saw more definitive accounts of the results. When Orange TV made the call, the Aounists immediately started cheering, with more than a few heaving a large sigh of relief. Large and loud fireworks soon followed, at which point I took my leave. As I was leaving the headquarters, the Aounists told me that I should put the t-shirt they gave me in a bag, fearing that I might get harassed on my back home since the neighborhood was so fiercely pro-government.

According to CNN, the Ministry of the Interior officially called Khoury the winner by 418 votes in an election with some 80,000 ballots cast. In every account I've read so far, it seems that the deciding vote was what LBC is calling "the Armenian Voice." No one I talked to last night could tell me how many votes had been cast so far, but everyone could quote how many Armenian votes their side had received. As is usual in Lebanon, allegations of voter fraud are coming from both sides, and as is also usual, they're both probably right.

The run-up to this election has been interesting to me, because it's been marked by two very anti-democratic forces. On the one hand, the only reason the election is happening at all is because there was a political assassination. On the other hand, supporters of the Gemayel family and the Phalangist and Lebanese Forces parties have had a a worrisome attitude of entitlement about the whole affair. According to many of them, the Parliament seat belongs to the Gemayel clan, and it's just bad form for Aoun to contest it. Others, including Michael Young and the Maronite Patriarch, have been arguing (undemocratically, I needn't add) that Gemayel should run unopposed, because a real election would split the Christians (as if they weren't already split).

In any case, one thing that seems certain is that this has put the last nail in the Gemayel clan's coffin. If the former president couldn't beat a little-known Khoury, then the Gemayels have finally gone the way of the Chamoun clan. Overall, I think it's a good thing when a political dynasty ends in a country like Lebanon (by non-violent means, that is), but if Lebanese history is much of an indicator, the political (and physical) death of a clan doesn't necessarily imply the fall of feudal politics, but rather the rise of another political clan in this country of the Godfather where things are run by various tribes with flags.

Shi'a fatwa against honor killings

Last week, Lebanese Shi'a cleric Grand Ayatollah Fadlallah issued a fatwa banning honor killings, or honor crimes as he is calling them:

Lebanon's most senior Shiite Muslim cleric issued Thursday a fatwa, or religious edict, banning honor killings, calling the custom of murdering a female relative for sexual misconduct "a repulsive act."

The fatwa by Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah was a rare condemnation by a prominent cleric of the practice. Fadlallah's office said he issued the statement in alarm over reports on an increase in honor killings.

"I view an honor crime as a repulsive act condemned and prohibited by religion," Fadlallah, the most revered religious authority for Lebanon's 1.2 million Shiites, said in a statement faxed to The Associated Press.

"In so-called honor crimes, some men kill their daughters, sisters, wives or female relatives on the pretext that they committed acts that harm chastity and honor," said Fadlallah, warning that the practice was on the rise in region.

"These crimes are committed without any religious evidence, and mostly on the basis of suspicions," added Fadlallah.

This, and Egypt's recent hymen fatwa, are the kinds of religious edicts that I like to see.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

African Polls

The Times has an interesting and interactive map (I'm a sucker for these) showing the results of a poll taken on attitudes in several sub-Saharan countries: Senegal, Mali, Uganda, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa.

Some of the results are obvious, and others are not. The poll covers national issues, the economy and personal well-being, as well as international views. The most pressing national concerns seem to be "HIV/AIDS and other diseases," "corrupt political leaders," "crime" and "illegal drugs." Ethnic/religious conflict was seen as a problem by more than half of those polled in Kenya, Ivory Coast and Nigeria, with the latter polling particularly high.

Despite this, those polled seemed fairly optimistic, and those polled in every country overwhelmingly thought things would be better for their children than they have been for them.

Opinions vary pretty widely on the UN, US and AU, depending on the country, with Ethiopia unsurprisingly showing the most support for the AU, which is headquartered in Addis Ababa and the EU scoring particularly low overall for Africans' confidence that it can "help solve Africa's problems." 

In would have been interesting to have added more countries with one foot in "Arab Africa" and the other foot in "black Africa," particularly Sudan, Chad and Mauritania. Out of all the countries polled, the only two where the majority don't think that "Arabs and blacks in North Africa can live peacefully together" were Uganda and Tanzania.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Tancredo: Attack Mecca and Medina

This is so incredible that I don't think I can even comment on it. I'll let Tancredo speak for himself:

WASHINGTON: Republican presidential hopeful Tom Tancredo says the best way he can think of to deter a nuclear terrorist attack on the U.S. is to threaten to retaliate by bombing Islamic holy sites.

The Colorado congressman on Tuesday told about 30 people at a town hall meeting in the state of Iowa that he believes such a terrorist attack could be imminent and that the U.S. needs to hurry up and think of a way to stop it.

"If it is up to me, we are going to explain that an attack on this homeland of that nature would be followed by an attack on the holy sites in Mecca and Medina," Tancredo said at the Family Table restaurant. "Because that's the only thing I can think of that might deter somebody from doing what they otherwise might do."

Listen here.

UNIFIL and Hezbollah

There have been rumors circulating since last Spring that UNIFIL had met with Hezbollah in order to get the latter's cooperation for protecting international troops in the south. Blanford confirms that with a recent article in the CS Monitor:

The growing threat of attack by Sunni radicals apparently spurred the leading European troop-contributing states to seek the Shiite Hizbullah's cooperation. According to UNIFIL sources, intelligence agents from Italy, France, and Spain met with Hizbullah representatives in the southern city of Sidon in April. As a result, some Spanish peacekeepers subsequently were "escorted" on some of their patrols by Hizbullah members in civilian vehicles, the UNIFIL sources say.

A day after the six peacekeepers were killed last month, Spanish foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos spoke with Manucher Mottaki, the foreign minister of Iran, Hizbullah's main patron. According to a Hizbullah official in south Lebanon, there has been at least one meeting between the Shiite party and Spanish UNIFIL officers since the bombing.

UNIFIL has long had quiet channels of communication with Hizbullah stretching back to the late 1980s, a recognition of the Shiite group's clout in the south. But UNIFIL commander General Graziano says that although troop-contributing governments may talk to Hizbullah, the peacekeeping battalions are only authorized to liaise with the Lebanese Army. Contacts with Hizbullah or any other Lebanese political party is not permitted, he says.

"I highly forbid any relation that is not authorized by this headquarters for any contingent that is dressed in the blue beret to have contact with any party without my authorization," he says.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Fallout from Israeli "journalists" in Lebanon

Nicholas Blanford, the Beirut correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor was recently arrested and detained on suspicion of being a spy in a Lebanese village near the Syrian border (emphasis mine):

We ended up at a nearby house in Yahfoufa where we were offered cups of Turkish coffee. Soon, more Hizbullah men arrived and we were escorted to an office in the village of Nabi Sheet. Ali and I handed over our cellphones, wallets, and my small backpack of journalistic gear for their perusal. That didn't help the situation.

In the eyes of our captors, my GPS device and a satellite phone – intended to aid our trip to remote Toufeil – only marked us as spies. Still, I was not unduly worried. I had been detained by Hizbullah before. It usually meant sitting with them for two or three hours while they verified my identity. I reeled off a list of names of top Hizbullah officials whom they could contact.

However, the Hizbullah men of the Bekaa are a tough, suspicious breed and unused to foreigners tramping around their areas.

Furthermore, Hizbullah has grown more wary of foreign journalists since the recent revelation that two Israeli correspondents had entered Lebanon on foreign passports and reported from the party's strongholds in Beirut and the south, an act that has made life more difficult and potentially dangerous for Western journalists operating here.

I recently wrote about my exchange with Lisa Goldman, one of the Israeli journalists who came here, and she recently tried to defend her lack of journalistic ethics on CNN in a debate with a local professor of journalism from the Lebanese American University. In this interview and on her blog she keeps mentioning all of the positive feedback she's gotten from Lebanon. Strangely missing from her blog comments is much negative feedback, which would lead one to believe that the only Lebanese responses she's gotten have been positive.

I know this to be patently false. For example, she refused to validate my comments on her blog as well as those of a Lebanese NGO worker who does projects on conflict resolution. So if those two comments aren't on her blog, I presume that she's been filtering many of the comments she doesn't agree with as well. For someone who claims to be writing about Lebanon in order to bridge the gap between Israelis and the Lebanese, it seems ironic that she would reject comments by those with a different opinion than hers.

On her blog, she dismisses the charges leveled by a foreign correspondent based in Beirut that she has "caused alot of problems for legitimate professional reporters who report from Lebanon (and who actually try and make an effort to understand the situation.)" Nicholas Blanford's recent jail time should put to rest any doubts that anyone had about this one. (Obviously, Hezbollah is at fault for being so paranoid and not allowing journalists free reign, but the stunts of Goldman and her Brazilian/Israeli friend have only made a bad situation worse.)

She then says that western reporters are doing a bad job of covering Lebanon since Israelis seem to know little of the current situation there:

As for the "countless foreign correspondents who work tirelessly" in Lebanon to "try and bring an accurate and fair picture to the world" - well, perhaps you should try harder to be accurate and fair. Because given that most non-Lebanese people seem to have the impression that the majority of Lebanese are either homeless, impoverished victims of the summer war, or militants running around with rocket launchers on their shoulders, it seems that you are not doing a very good job at all in presenting an accurate and fair picture of Lebanon.

Of course, this is absolutely ridiculous for several reasons. First, as anyone with access to Google can easily see, there are plenty of accounts of Beirut nightlife. A Lexis Nexis search for articles in the North American press in the last three years with the words "Lebanon" and "nightlife," for example, come up with 40 articles. The same search for English-language European sources yields 83 results. If Israelis don't know what normal life in Beirut is like, it's because they don't want to know, not because the information isn't out there.

So when Goldman says "I had a lot of knowledge of Lebanon from the internet," I can't help but wonder if she knows how to use the internet at all. In any case, it seems clear that as far as Lebanon goes, Lisa Goldman does not, in fact, know Shi'ite from shinola.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Fabulist quits NRO

Via Chris, NRO fabulist W. Thomas Smith Jr. quits doing freelance work for NRO. Kathryn Jean Lopez has this to say in an editor's note.

This is what I had to say about the affair earlier this month when it broke.

Good riddance, I say.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Rosen on Palestinians in Lebanon

Nir Rosen has a piece on Palestinians in Lebanon in the Post. It doesn't mention the economic discrimination against Palestinians here, who make up around 10% of the population in Lebanon. Nor does it go much into the politics of the camps (NGOs, PLO, Damascus and jihadi groups). But it does give a good overview of Palestinian scapegoating, which reminds me of a conversation with a friend during the Nahr el-Bared fighting when we wondered why it is that whenever Lebanon wants to come together as a country, it's usually at the expense of the Palestinians.

Recent lectures

In the last week or two, I've seen talks given by Juan Cole and Bernard Rougier. I wasn't sure what to expect from either, because of the sometimes shrill tone of the former and the sensationalist title of the latter's book. (I've got an aversion to books with the word "Jihad" in them.)

In both instances, I was pleasantly surprised. Cole was well spoken and interesting. And although the first part of his talk, which was just a recapping of the last 6 years, was pretty dry and unnecessary for a Middle Eastern audience, his comments during the Q&A were worth listening to the first part of the lecture. One point kind of bugged me, though. He made a point of pointing out Egypt's success in combating Islamist terrorist groups, even going so far as to imply that authoritarian governments might be as good as democratic ones at fighting terrorism. I'm not sure how I feel about that idea, except that my gut instinct is that while authoritarian governments might have more success at crushing these groups due to their freedom of action (not being tied down by human rights concerns, for example), I'm convinced that authoritarian rule is one of the causes of terrorism in the first place. So Egypt's "success" might be only short-term and might end up biting Cairo in the ass later.

As for Rougier, I found his participation on a panel about Palestinian identity and citizenship very interesting. He was accused of being an orientalist and of ignoring who was obviously to blame in the Nahr el-Bared conflict. (It's hard to know what to say when someone tells you that neither Fatah al-Islam nor the Lebanese Army were to blame for Nahr el-Bared, but that rather it was the Americans' fault. Incidentally, this was a comment made by a participant in the talk, not a random crank who'd wandered in because he heard there'd be food.) In any case, Rougier convinced me to go out and buy his book, despite the horrible weakness of the dollar and thus the Lebanese pound compared to the mighty euro. I'll be reading it as soon as I finish the books that are currently on my plate. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Ceci n'est pas un pays

Roger Cohen has an interesting little piece on Belgium in the Times:

In their grumpy way, Belgians — a majority Dutch-speaking, many French-speaking and a few German-speaking — have been posing a delicate question: does postmodern Europe, where even tiny states feel secure, really need a medium-small nation cobbled together in 1830 whose various communities dislike one another?

Moreover, does a country whose economy is largely run by European central bankers in control of the euro really need a government?

Gerrit Six, a teacher, suggested Belgian obsolescence when he put the country, complete with its busy king and ballooning debt, up for sale on eBay. It drew bids of close to $15 million. That was on day 100 of the political crisis. Belgium is now close to day 200. Italian politics suddenly look stable.

Little Belgium has become too conflicted to rule. It has three regions, three language communities that are not congruent with the regions, a smattering of local parliaments, a mainly French-speaking capital (Brussels) lodged in Dutch-speaking Flanders, a strong current of Flemish nationalism and an uneasy history.

Dutch-speakers, long underdogs in a country without a Flemish university until 1922, are tired of subsidizing their now poorer French-speaking cousins. A successful anti-immigrant and separatist party, Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest), is the odious expression of a wider desire to go it alone.

Flemish demands for greater decentralization and control (most recently over French-speaking schools in the Brussels periphery) have raised distrust to a poisonous level. “I am pretty sure Belgium will split eventually,” Caroline Sagesser, a political scientist, told me.

If it holds together, it will be because Brussels, with 10 percent of the population and 20 percent of gross domestic product, is too mixed to unravel. Like Baghdad, like Sarajevo, the capital is improbable but unyielding glue. Unlike them, it has avoided bloodshed. It also houses a modern marvel, the E.U. — and there’s the nub.

I often look at Lebanon and think, in the style of the Belgian surrealist: "this is not a country." Or state or nation, for that matter. Belgium has been without a government for almost 200 days, and Lebanon has been without a president since late last month. But who needs a government anyway?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Axis of Evil in Beirut

Last night I went to the Casino du Liban to see Showtime's Middle Eastern-American comedy tour, the Axis of Evil.

The venue was packed, and from what I've heard, it also did very well in Jordan. According to Ahmad Ahmad, even King Abdullah went to see the show in Amman. I'd never been to a comedy show before, so the only point of reference I had was what I'd seen on television, and it was pretty much like that. The jokes ranged from average to hilarious and seemed catered to a westernized Middle Eastern crowd. I'm not sure how many people were familiar with Bob Barker, and I'm sure that jokes on the debkeh would have been lost on much of an American audience. Those who were int he position of being familiar with both cultures were able to laugh at both American and Middle Eastern jokes.

Some of the Bush jokes seemed a little bit like pandering and a little hackneyed for an American audience. And some of the Lebanese jokes were pretty facile (bargaining, driving, "hi keefak, ça va," etc.), but people never seem to get tired of that sort of thing here. The message was, overall, a good one: Arabs are normal people who are capable of poking fun of themselves. For the most part, there was also a nice ecumenical message that welcomed Muslims, Christians and Jews. A nice example of this was the half-Palestinian comedian Aron/Haroun who made it a point of pointing out the similarities of Jews and Arabs, saying that "we're pretty much the same fucking people." (There was one disappointing moment, however, that made me cringe. At one point, Egyptian-American Ahmad Ahmad said that Arabs should be doing more in the entertainment business and that Hollywood was run by... Here he paused to let the audience yell in unison: "Jews!" Unfortunately, it didn't seem to be a joke making fun of people who believe in Jews-run-the-world conspiracies.)

Overall, it was a really good time, and I'm glad I went. The Middle East could use some more comedy, and if my hunch is right, this is the sort of thing that's likely start a stand-up fad in Beirut. Let's hope it's funny.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Not knowing Shi'ite from Shinola

I generally try to stay away from the National Review. This explains why I didn't see the inane and meretricious "reporting" done by W. Thomas Smith Jr. until today. I've commented here before on ridiculous and sensationalist accounts of Lebanon, but this guy really takes the cake. Smith wrote last September:

Hezbollah is rehearsing for something big here. Not sure what or when. But a few days ago, between 4,000 and 5,000 HezB gunmen deployed to the Christian areas of Beirut in an unsettling “show of force,” positioning themselves at road intersections and other key points throughout the city.

It just so happens that I live on the East side of town in one of the "Christian areas of Beirut," and I can guarantee that Smith's account is laughably untrue. On the day that Smith says Hezbollah "deployed" to East Beirut, I was doing some shopping. I live on the border of Gemmayzeh and Mar Mkhail and went to Sassine and ABC that day (all of which are Christian neighborhoods), and rest assured, there were no Hezbollah militants, much less armed ones, to be seen anywhere.  Had what he described been true, there would most likely have been a civil war, or at the very least isolated street fighting. As it was, not only was there no fighting, but not a single journalist in Beirut, foreign or Lebanese, picked up on Hezbollah's alleged "show of force." There's a very simple reason for this: it never happened. If Hezbollah were to deploy a dozen armed militants to Achrafieh, that would be crossing one of Lebanon's red lines. Saying that there were 4,000-5,000 gunmen here is beyond farfetched; it's in the realm of the outlandishly comic. 

I've had neither the time, nor the stomach, to wade through all of this guy's Lebanon "coverage," but the few pieces I've opened are risible in their ridiculousness. Here's another example:

Hezbollah are not the only terrorists operating here in Lebanon: There are also Al Qaeda affiliates like Fatah Al Islam (they were not totally wiped out at Nahr al Bared), as well as Jund al Sham (Soldiers of Damascus), Jundallah, Hamas, and — though few Americans are aware of this — operating elements of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps on the Lebanese side of the Lebanese-Syrian border. These are just a few of the problem groups here: All operating under the auspices of Hezbollah.

Despite his mistranslation of "Sham," which in this context means Greater Syria (Syria, Lebanon and Palestine) and not Damascus, this little excerpt is absurd in that it explicitly says that all of the al-Qaeda-affiliated groups operating in the Palestinian camps, as well as Hamas and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard are "operating under the auspices of Hezbollah." First of all, no one knows who is connected to the various groups operating in the Palestinian camps. And second of all, anyone who believes that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is "under the auspices" of Hezbollah, and not the other way around, obviously knows nothing about either organization.

Smith's scattergun approach to various armed groups in Lebanon is symptomatic of a larger, mostly American, approach to the Middle East, where al-Qaeda equals Hezbollah equals Hamas equals al Qaeda in Iraq equals Jund al-Sham ,etc. This is the kind of thinking that led most Americans to believe that Baghdad had something to do with 9/11 and leaves the defenders of the free world (see also: Reyes and Sarkozy) incapable of distinguishing between Sunnis and Shi'a.

Another fun read is this post, in which Smith brags about doing "reconnaissance" in the Dahiye, the suburbs where Hezbollah is based in Beirut. Or rather this would be funny if it were a satire and I were reading it to friends in Beirut. This guy seems to think that he's in a Chuck Norris movie, which would be fine except for a couple of things. First, this "journalism," in which Smith writes about spying on Hezbollah for pro-Government groups not only makes him sound like a macho asshole, it also casts a shadow of doubt on legitimate journalism done by actual reporters in a country where foreign correspondents are already viewed with an air of suspicion. Second, it makes Beirut sound like a war zone, which it's clearly not.

And then there's this gem. According to Smith, there were "some 200-plus heavily armed Hezbollah militiamen — positioned between the parliament and the Serail." As it happens, I've spent a fair amount of time downtown, and this is not the first time I've written about Americans talking about the sit-in protest without knowing what they're talking about. For the last few months, it's been hard to find more than a couple of dozen people at the protest, much less hundreds of armed militants. I have never, I repeat: never, seen any Hezbollah weapons downtown. They may have them down there, but if they do, they're hidden so well that someone who regularly strolls through the camp would not see them. To suggest that he surprised 200 armed militants out in the open while driving over the bridge that connects East and West Beirut is ridiculous.   

Finally, Jack Bauer -- I mean W. Thomas Smith Jr. -- gives us a post from an "undisclosed neighborhood":

Lebanon is extremely dangerous for Americans right now. In fact, some top officials within the 1559 Committee (essentially the heart and soul of the Cedars Revolution ... for a free Lebanon) believe some sort of dramatic terrorist event is going to take place here in Lebanon between now and mid-October. This is not a gut feeling, but a calculation based on intelligence analysis and chatter from the street.

Tony Nissi, the 1559 Committee chief here in Beirut (whom you'll recall from previous entries), has reason to believe Hezbollah knows who I am. So I am deliberately not staying in hotels: Instead, I'm spending nights in friends' houses — safe houses if you will — and always with bodyguards.

This one is the funniest of the bunch. If there are only half of the number of Americans in Lebanon now as there were during the July war, there'd still be over 10,000 Americans here, myself included. Beirut is decidedly not unsafe for Americans, unless of course they decide to go play G.I. Joe by arming themselves and doing "reconnaissance." But even if Smith were to get picked up by Hezbollah or the Army for spying (which is basically what he claims he's doing), they'd immediately recognize him for the  buffoon that he plainly is. He sounds more like a hapless character out of a Harry Mathews novel than an actual spy, or, God forbid, a journalist.

I could go on for pages about the factual inaccuracy of Smith's reports, but it would just be more of the same. It's amazing to me that NRO published any of Smith's "reports." They are so obviously bullshit that someone must have been asleep at the wheel over there. One of my pet peeves is the writing of partisan hacks who only travel for rhetorical flair, and Smith seems to be more of the same. The difference is that his case is so egregious that he's getting called out on it. There are well respected journalists here in Lebanon and elsewhere who not only know the country intimately but are good writers to boot. Anthony Shadid, Annia Ciezadlo and Mohamad Bazzi are only a few of the names that come to mind. So why is there a need to send Chuck Norris wannabe hacks like Smith who evidently don't know anything about the countries they're ostensibly covering? If NRO wants coverage of Lebanon, there's no dearth of talent already here in Beirut. Insisting on publishing Smith's fabrications in order to toe an ideological line that pays no heed of Lebanon's complex politics only makes NRO look stupid and dishonest.

If you're interested in NRO's response to similar allegations, you can see that here and here.



UPDATE: Kathryn Jean Lopez, online editor of the National Review has another statement up about Smith (emphasis mine):

With regard to the two posts in question, it is my belief, based on an investigation in which NRO discussed the matter with three independent sources who live and work in Lebanon (as well as other experts in the area), that Smith was probably either spun by his sources or confused about what he saw.

...the context that Smith was operating in an uncertain environment where he couldn't always be sure of what he was witnessing, and the caveats that he filled in the gaps by talking to sources within the Cedar Revolution movement and the Lebanese national-security apparatus, whose claims obviously should have been been treated with the same degree of skepticism as those of anyone with an agenda to advance.

As one of our sources put it: "The Arab tendency to lie and exaggerate about enemies is alive and well among pro-American Lebanese Christians as much as it is with the likes of Hamas." While Smith vouches for his sources, we cannot independently verify what they told him. That's why we're revisiting the posts in question and warning readers to take them with a grain of salt.

So let me get this straight. Lopez publishes Smith's ridiculous posts that betray a fundamental ignorance of Lebanon and the political situation here, posts which were either made up entirely or fed to him by pro-Government forces, and the problem here is the "Arab tendency to lie and exaggerate."

Wow. I almost don't even know where to start with this one. Maybe she should just throw in another couple of lines about America's mission civilisatrice and the white man's burden and be done with it.

In any case, someone should send her message to Tom Harb, a rabid March 14 supporter in the US, who's supporting Smith wholeheartedly (from Florida, no less) and accusing all of the journalists who have contradicted Smith of being on the Hezbollah payroll. Someone should remind him that his neo-conservative comrades in arms at NRO and elsewhere are fair weather friends to whom, at the end of the day, a wog is a wog, regardless of his political usefulness.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Weekend in the Chouf

I spent this past weekend in the Chouf mountain, otherwise known as the personal fiefdom of Walid Jumblatt. I was looking forward to visiting the Moukhtara and its beautiful castle, and given the tense situation, I was surprised when my friend told me that conforming to Druze tradition, I could go have tea with and briefly meet Jumblatt -- or even ask him for something. Saturday morning is the time when the Moukhtara is open, and all are given tea while they wait for an audience with Walid Bek.

My timing was off, though, because it seems that US ambassador to Lebanon, Jeffrey Feltman, was due to arrive shortly for a lunch with Jumblatt and no amount of wasta with Jumblatt's private security detail was going to get us in.

One thing that bothers me about Lebanon is the checkpoints. They're a hassle, but given the situation, they seem necessary. What really gets to me though are those run by militias. Any journalist covering the south or Bekaa, or even parts of the Dahiye, are familiar with Hezbollah's stops, although I've never personally had to show my ID to anyone from Hezbollah, and despite my frequent trips to and through the sit-in downtown, I've never seen a member of the party armed.

Now March 14 and its allies are fond of complaining about the "state within a state" that is Hezbollah, but what you hear less about are their own states within a state. (Incidentally, I'm not fond of the expression, because in order for it to be true, there'd have to be a state within which to have a state -- something that just isn't true here.) While there are army checkpoints all around the Moukhtara, the guys with machine guns at the gate are PSP militia. They've got neither badge nor uniform -- their gun and the confidence of Walid being their only license for checking my ID. But these are the higher ranked guards, down the street, working at the local mechanic and sitting in a little booth are kids with walkie talkies.

When we decided to take a walk around the Moukhtara, we were immediately stopped by a kid who couldn't have been over 20 years old. I think he was intimidated by us, so when we refused to show any ID and only gave our first names, he called someone else as we were walking away. The second guy was only a little older and looked like he should be working second spatula at a saj stand. But there he was, asking for our ID. My friend looked him in the eye, immediately getting angry, and asked him where his ID was. After some prompting, the young and round boy opened his wallet and flashed a normal ID without letting us take it out or look at it too long. When we asked what gave him the authority to stop us, he lifted his shirt and showed us his walkie talkie. The Chouf, it seems, isn't so different from the south after all.

The rest of my trip, barring an embarrassing run-in with the way-too-friendly (and touchy!) tour guide at Beiteddine, was a welcome change from the city. Like true mountain men, we ate heartily and shot guns, and the clean air cleared my persistent cold right up.

Also, the Cedar reserve reminded me of something out of a fairy tale:

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Shobbing in Damascus

I was in Damascus last week for a long weekend of shopping, and the trip gave me the chance to talk to some Syrians about the political situation in Lebanon. Not a single person I spoke to believed that Syria was responsible for killing Hariri. They all thought it was a plot hatched by Israel and the US in order to kick the Syrians out and use Lebanon as knife in Damascus's heart. Many Syrians asked why the Lebanese hated them and seemed generally supportive of Syrian policies overall. Of course during such a short trip it's hard to truly judge Syrian opinion, since although things have gotten better since Hafez died, the average Syrian is still somewhat hesitant to criticize the government to a stranger in public.

Another thing that I noticed this time, was that Damascus is like an oriental Prague: a beautiful and impressively old city in the center surrounded by the hideously drab and gray monstrosities that only the people's architecture is capable of constructing.

Otherwise, Damascus is full of Iraqis, and the rise in prices is noticeable, even in comparison to just a year ago. The Syrian capital now has an Aishti in addition to the United Colors of Benetton stores that are sprinkled throughout the city. Overall, there's been a lot of progress since the last time I was in the Arab Republic a year ago.

I love Syria, but it's got a long way to go, and as the taxi crossed the border back into Lebanon, I remember sighing a breath of relief and feeling glad to be back home.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Confusing Musharraf and the people

Ezra seems to be confusing Musharraf with the people of Pakistan:

If we flip from Musharraf and begin supporting other candidates, Musharraf will flip on us. If we stick with Musharraf and he's ousted in a revolution, we will be identified as allies of the dictator. This isn't a situation where we must pick the best of two bad options. Rather, it's a situation where we should show some humility, let the Pakistanis make their own decisions, and pledge to deal openly with whomever emerges. This isn't a situation where we must pick the best of two bad options. Rather, it's a situation where we should show some humility, let the Pakistanis make their own decisions, and pledge to deal openly with whomever emerges.

This suggests first, that the US isn't already actively supporting a dog in the Pakistani fight and second, that "the Pakistanis" as a people will be in a position to make any sort of a decision. First, Musharraf is already propped up by financial and military aid from the US, and second, when he indefinitely postponed elections, he squashed any possibility the Pakistanis had of making their own decisions.

Perhaps the US shouldn't explicitly support the opposition, but it should support the process of democracy, even if that just means making elections a condition for continued US military and financial aid.

Ezra quotes Ignatious in order to draw a parallel between US support for the opposition in Iran (a policy that has seemed to have backfired on the US, not least because there is a credible threat that the US might attack Iran) and US support for the Pakistani opposition.

Vali Nasr, on the other hand, makes a more astute comparison of the two countries:

Musharraf's interests are no longer those of his military, and the two are now on a collision course. Generals can still end this crisis by going back to the deal Washington brokered with Ms. Bhutto, but only if it does not include Musharraf. Removing Musharraf will send demonstrators home and the Army to its barracks.

The longer Musharraf stays in power the more Pakistan will look like Iran in 1979: an isolated and unpopular ruler hanging on to power only to inflame passions and bring together his Islamic and pro-democracy opposition into a dangerous alliance.

A disastrous outcome in Pakistan, a nuclear-armed state with weak institutions and rife with extremist ideologies, violence, and deep ethnic and social divisions, will be far worse than what followed the Iranian revolution.

The West cannot afford to let this political crisis spiral out of control. Western leaders must keep the pressure on Musharraf, reach out to the Pakistani Army, and seriously plan for a post-Musharraf Pakistan.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Bush's "freedom agenda"

This week has made it clear to the world that the US isn't too terribly interested in democracy in Pakistan. There has been a lot of talk about Bush's retreat from talk of liberty and freedom and a lot of frowning on the administration's decision to continue supporting Musharraf financially and militarily while he trades prisoners with the Taliban and jails lawyers and judges, ostensibly as part of the "war on terror." Journalists and pundits are quick to show the gap between Bush's actions and his rhetoric.

Sure, this may be the case, but where have these people been? Is this actually news to anyone? One has to look at Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Thailand or Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan to see how serious this administration ever was about the "freedom agenda."

Pakistan is just the most recent, if not the most egregious, example of how lip service to democracy and human rights is little more than so much hot air. Let's not be naive here. The Bush administration talks the talk about democracy when it comes to Iraq and Afghanistan -- and maybe applies some sanctions when it's not inconvenient, like in Burma -- but at the end of the day, the freedom agenda obviously comes in second place when fossil fuels are concerned.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

A nuclear Middle East

Akiva Eldar has a very non-explicit opinion piece in Ha'aretz about the nuclear weapons in the Middle East. I have the feeling that Israeli laws on its "secret" nuclear program prevent him from being more explicit, but he nonetheless poses a question that I've been asking for some time now:

How can a country, which according to endless foreign reports has kept secret for years several atomic weapons, manage to rally the international community in a struggle against a neighboring country that insists on acquiring nuclear energy? What do Israeli politicians answer to those asking why Iran should not be allowed to acquire the same armaments that are already in the arsenals of neighboring countries, like Pakistan and India? The common response is that "Iran is the sole country whose president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, declares openly that he intends to destroy the state of Israel." This argument is a double-edged sword, par excellence, used by a country that sports a radiant nuclear glow (according to foreign press reports, of course), and who has a senior minister, one assigned to dealing with strategic threats, who has threatened to bomb the Aswan Dam.

Again without being explicit, he calls for a nuclear weapons-free Middle East, but he says that this should be done "when the conflict is resolved," which seems a little too much like waiting for Godot to me. History has shown that countries that get the bomb are very unlikely to give it up (with the exception of South Africa). So if Israel waits until Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan all have the bomb, a nuke-free Middle East will never happen, because while the chances of Israel giving up the bomb seem slim, the chances of getting all those other states to give it up are nil.   

Monday, November 05, 2007

Jewish refugees

The Times has a article on a Jewish group that's doing its best to spotlight the plight of Jews forced from Arab countries after the war in 1948. Ordinarily, I'd applaud such an act, because it's always a good idea to shed light on lesser known historical events.

In this case, however, the entire enterprise seems possibly less interested in history than in using history as a rhetorical bludgeon to undermine the Palestinian refugees' internationally recognized right of return:

Another objective is to push for early passage of resolutions introduced in the United States Senate and House that say that any explicit reference to Palestinian refugees in any official document must be matched by a similar explicit reference to Jewish and other refugees.

The American-sponsored peace conference in Annapolis is planned to take place before the end of the year to address core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict like borders, the status of Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugees.

"We want to have this meeting now, in advance of the Annapolis conference, to ensure that this issue is front and center in the international awareness as it should be," Mr. Urman said.

I've always maintained that both morally and politically speaking, the choice of countries like Libya, Iraq and Egypt to push out their Jewish citizens was a huge mistake. I also believe that Lebanon, for example, where the Jewish population actually increased after 1948 but all but disappeared during the civil war, should actively pursue the return of its Jewish citizens, most of whom seem to be in Paris and Montreal. This could be done with a law of return and an active rebuilding of the Jewish quarter, including the Synagogue downtown and the Jewish cemetery.

Today's article in the Times gives little nuance to the question and neglects to mention the principle difference between Palestinian refugees and Oriental Jews forced from Arab countries: many of the former remain stateless and continue to live in refugee camps, whereas the latter were successfully resettled and given citizenship in Israel or North America.

I came across another article in the Times, this time from 2003, that gives a much more nuanced discussion of the issue:

"This is not a campaign against Palestinian refugees," said Stanley A. Urman, executive director of Justice for Jews From Arab Countries, a coalition of 27 groups that includes the powerful Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. "On the contrary, we believe the legitimate rights of the Palestinian refugees must be addressed in any peace process." He added, "We've got to make sure Palestinian refugees receive rights and redress, and Jewish refugees receive rights and redress."

Rashid Khalidi, a professor of Arab studies at Columbia University, disagrees. "This is a bait-and-switch tactic that does not serve either Palestinians or Oriental Jews or a just peace," he said, using the umbrella term for Jews from Arab countries. "Leaving both of these groups aggrieved guarantees that whatever quote, unquote settlement results would be unstable. There are just claims here. They should be addressed by the Arab states. But it shouldn't be a bait-and-switch that will make Oriental Jews pay the price for Israel's confiscation of a very large amount of Palestinian property."

[...]To Professor Khalidi, the very notion of making Palestinians citizens of Arab countries ignores significant distinctions between the Jewish and the Palestinian refugee experiences. "The idea of comparing them to Palestinians isn't valid," he said of Jewish refugees. "In a Zionist narrative, they should've wanted to go to Israel in the first place. The Palestinians didn't want to leave and weren't going back to their homeland. But some people have tried to tell Arabs what their nationalism should be and have tried to tutor the Palestinians in the proper understanding of their own national identity."

Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat professor of peace and development at the University of Maryland at College Park, said it was legitimate to consider the claims of both sets of refugees simultaneously in the peace process. But for Israel, he warned, the strategy might lead to unintended consequences.

"Putting the issue of Jews in the Arab world on the table helps in the compensation arena, but not the resettlement arena," he said. "In that arena, exposing the issues of Jewish refugees could be a kind of drawback. It can give the Arab countries a political edge, a rhetorical edge over Israel. They can say, instead of compensation, you're welcome to come back. Jews will always be a minority in those countries. And Jewish refugees won't want to come back to them. So it can be a negative by highlighting the fact that Israel will not accept Palestinian refugees."

Politically speaking, of course, Telhami is correct. The only way that Arab regimes are likely to invite their Jewish citizens back is as a political maneuver to morally outflank Israel on the refugee question.

This is unfortunate, because everyone I talk to in Lebanon who remembers a time when the Jewish population lived openly in Beirut, remembers the time and their connections to their Jewish neighbors very fondly.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

"United in our diversity"

I was just reading the preamble of the South African constitution, and I couldn't help dreaming of a similar constitution for Israel/Palestine:

We, the people of South Africa,

Recognise the injustices of our past;

Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;

Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and

Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.

We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to ­

- Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;
- Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;
- Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and
- Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.

May God protect our people.

Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika. Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso.

God seën Suid-Afrika. God bless South Africa.

Mudzimu fhatutshedza Afurika. Hosi katekisa Afrika.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Debating the one state solution

I've been debating, if you can call it that, some Israelis and a Palestinian about my firmly held belief in a one state solution

One of the Israelis has already called me an idiot and all Arabs monkeys. I highly recommend skipping his replies and reading Lirun's and Nizo's.

UPDATE: I've been locked out of the thread. So much for for an honest and respectable exchange of ideas. The exchanges I've had with Israelis in the blogosphere have left me more depressed than anything else.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Thinking orange

I haven't had much to say in this space about Lebanese presidential politics -- mostly because I haven't had much to say about the subject, full stop. A recent interaction with a well-placed Aounist, however, has made me question some of what I think about the situation. Up till now, the only interaction I've had with Aounists, like with most other political parties here, has been with the rank and file, the man on the street who has no more inside information than I do. And the orange man on the street seems pretty practical. While he really wants Aoun to be the president, wishful thinking aside, he doesn't really believe that it's possible any more. He'd be content with a compromise candidate along the lines of General Michel Sulaiman. 

Recently, though, I had a discussion with someone higher up in the hierarchy, someone who had inside information. Although this person didn't give me many specifics, he did stress that Aoun would be president. I asked him if he meant that Aoun should be president or that Aoun would actually be president. He replied, "both." Then I asked if I should consider that remark to be from him personally or him as a party member. Again the answer was "both."

There are three possibilities here. First, it's possible that there is information to which I'm not privy, information which will assure an Aoun victory and prove my general sense of Lebanese politics to be wrong. I don't think this is the case, but that's partially why my general sense of Lebanese politics is as it is. Second, it's possible that I wasn't getting a straight answer and that this person was just giving me the party line. This seems logical and likely, but judging from the intensity and earnestness of his discourse, I don't think it's the case. Finally, I think it's most likely that this person was so personally and emotionally invested in the campaign that he couldn't really see straight anymore. This seems to be a common symptom of junior partisans who have neither the clear sighted detraction of the man on the street nor the cynical wisdom of the senior apparatchik.

In any case, not only did this person tell me that Aoun would definitely be president, but he also said that the Aounists would not accept anything less. I have the sneaking suspicion that when all is said and done, and the presidential deals have been done in smokey back rooms in Paris, Washington and Damascus, the orange upper echelons and the rank and file will be unsurprised, leaving the more zealous junior party members with inside information completely disillusioned.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Congress and Israel

I was watching CNN last night while hanging pictures and folding laundry, when Wolf Blitzer came on. All in all, it was actually fairly interesting. He interviewed El Baradei from the IAEA, Jordan's Queen Rania, the Turkish ambassador to the US, Barbara Boxer and Trent Lott. The last two were on after everyone else to respond to the issues being discussed.

Boxer was pretty well spoken and moderate about everything until she was asked about the Israeli bombing of Syria last month. El Baradei mentioned that neither the US nor Israel had provided the IAEA with any evidence of a Syrian nuclear program. He then rebuked the Israelis for shooting first and asking questions later instead of using the appropriate organization for such issues: the IAEA. So while Lott and Boxer disagreed on pretty much everything from the Armenian genocide bill to the rhetoric being used by the White House about a possible war against Iran, the one thing that they could agree on was that Israel has "the right to defend itself."

It's really uncanny. Neither said that they had been fully briefed on any intelligence concerning the Israeli strike in Syria, but both of them unequivocally supported it without any reservations. It's to be expected from Lott, but Boxer, who spends much of her time chiding the Bush administration for talking about war in Iran and having gone to war in Iraq has nothing critical to say about Israel's act of war.

Democrats seem to believe that politically speaking, they can be harder on the US, the country they're ostensibly representing, than they can be with Israel, a foreign nation. The more stories I hear about Capitol Hill and the more performances like Boxer's that I see, the more I think that there's truth in Buchanan's remark that Congress is Israeli-occupied territory.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Every once in a blue moon

It's not very often that I can say that I agree with American policy in Lebanon, but for the first time that I can remember, someone at the Pentagon seems to have gotten it somewhat right. Eric Edelman, undersecretary of defense for policy, had this to say in a recent interview broadcast on Lebanese television:

What we've been trying to do consistently is to create circumstances in which Lebanon can have a strong state, strong army, a democratic system with the military accountable to civilian control and to the government and to the people's representatives in the parliament. ... We believe it's in our interest to have a strong democratic state in Lebanon ... That's what we're working toward.

The problem, of course, is that the opposition doesn't trust the US at all (some would say with good reason). So of course, there are plenty of rumors that the US is building military bases in Lebanon, etc. Ideally, the Lebanese state would be built up by a more neutral country, like Sweden, but I doubt that will be happening anytime soon.

Chauffeuse de taxi

The other night I was going to meet up with a friend to watch The Kingdom, which, to my mind, was all right for an action movie, but not nearly as clever as it thought it was. I flagged down a cab and when it stopped I did a double take. The driver was a woman.

When I was a kid, I remember there being a riddle that went like this: A boy is wheeled into the emergency room, and the surgeon takes one look at him and says, "I'm sorry, I cannot operate on this boy. He is my son." The doctor is not the boy's father. Who is the doctor, then? The answer, of course, is, his mother. But at the time I remember hearing this riddle, the answer was not so obvious, and people would give answers like "his uncle" or "his grandfather," because they simply couldn't imagine the fact that a doctor would be a woman.

These days, the idea that a doctor or a lawyer or a chemist could be a woman seems obvious. For some reason, though, I was really shocked by seeing a woman cab driver. She acted just like her male counterparts: cursing, mumbling about traffic and trying to rip me off. 

Obviously, there's nothing about driving a cab, as opposed to say delivering refrigerators, that would prohibit most women from doing the job. But I suppose it's just a question of habit, and I'm not used to seeing women cabbies, not even in Europe or the States. (The only other one I've seen was an African woman in Paris.) After talking to friends about it, I've been told that there are a few in Beirut, and one even wears the hijab.

Coincidentally, a few months ago, I was near a police headquarters close to the periphery of Beirut when I suddenly saw two women soldiers walking down the street. Since then, I've run into a couple more. While I've seen plenty of women soldiers and police officers in my life, I'd never seen any in Lebanon, so I was really (pleasantly) surprised.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Wrestling with Zion

I recently came across an excerpt of a text by Ahad Ha'am (born Asher Ginsberg), a Zionist who went to Palestine for the first time in 1891. It's called "A Truth from Eretz Yisrael," and I found it in the collection edited by Tony Kushner and Alisa Solomon called Wrestling with Zion:

We who live abroad are accustomed to believe that almost all Eretz Yisrael is now uninhabited desert and whoever wishes can buy land there as he pleases. But this is not true. It is very difficult to find in the land [ha'aretz] cultivated fields that are not used for planting. Only those sand fields or stone mountains that would require the investment of hard labor and great expense to make them good for planting remain uncultivated. [...]

The Arabs, especially the urban elite, see and understand what we are doing and what we wish to do on the land, but they keep quiet and pretend not to notice anything. For now, they do not consider our actions as presenting a future danger to them. They therefore do their best to exploit us, to benefit from the newly arrived guests as much as they can and yet, in their hearts, they laugh at us. The peasants are happy when a Jewish colony is formed among them because they get better wages for their work and get richer and richer every year, as experience has shown us. The big landowners also have no problem accepting us because we pay them, for stone and sand land, amounts they would never have dreamed of getting before. But, if the time comes that our people's life in Eretz Yisrael will develop to a point where we are taking their place, either slightly or significantly, the natives are not going to just step aside so easily. [...]

If we have this ambition to settle in a new country and radically change our way of life and we truly want to achieve our goals, then we can't ignore the fact that ahead of us is a great war and this war is going to need significant preparation. [...]

It is not our way to learn nothing for the future from the past. We must surely learn, from both our past and present history, how careful we must be not to provoke the anger of the native people by doing them wrong, how we should be cautious in out dealings with a foreign people among whom we returned to live, to handle these people with love and respect and, needless to say, with justice and good judgment. And what do out brothers do? Exactly the opposite! They were slaves in their diasporas, and suddenly they find themselves with unlimited freedom, wild freedom that only a country like Turkey can offer. This sudden change has planted despotic tendencies in their hearts, as always happens to former slaves ['eved ki yimlokh]. They deal with the Arabs with hostility and cruelty trespass unjustly, beat them shamefully for no sufficient reason, and even boast about their actions. There is no one to stop the flood and put and end to this despicable and dangerous tendency. Our brothers indeed were right when they said that the Arab only respects he who exhibits bravery and courage. But when these people feel that that the law is on their rival's side and, even more so, if they are right to think their rival's actions are unjust and oppressive, then, even if they are silent,and endlessly reserved, they keep their anger in their hearts. And these people will be revenged like no other.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Utilities

Sometimes I wonder why Cyprus, a country that is still divided despite its recent membership in the EU, can be so successful compared to Lebanon, which has, to my mind, better food, friendlier people and equally nice weather. Then the electricity gets cut for a few hours and the water goes out, leaving me unable to shave or bathe before going into work.

I asked an Ethiopian acquaintance of mine yesterday if they had similar problems in Addis Ababa. She told me that while the electricity situation was worse than in Beirut, they always had more than enough water.

Shaving from a bottle of mineral water and having to hold it until I get to work because I can't flush the toilet remind me that Lebanon has a long way to go despite my occasional bouts of optimism.

In any other country, candidates on both local and national scales would be winning elections based on campaign promises to fix, or at least improve, these problems. It seems that this is not a major part of anyone's political platform in Lebanon.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Back/Update

For those few of you who have noticed, I haven't written in a while. This was mostly due to a change in jobs, a more permanent move (everything has been sent from Paris to Beirut and should now be on a boat somewhere in between) and the end of a big project.

When it rains it pours, I suppose. But so far so good.

In any case, I'm more or less settled into my new schedule and my new office. Time's going to be a little thin here at the beginning, but I think once I get into the groove of things, I'll find the time to post on a regular basis again.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Reminder

As a good friend of mine oft reminds me: writin' is fightin'. The bell's about to ring, and I'm almost done.

I should be back here soon.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Update

I'm not dead, I've just been really busy lately. I should be done with the project I'm working on soon enough, though, and spending a couple of weeks in Paris.

Hopefully, blogging will resume in a matter of days.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Prominent genocide deniers

It's already unfortunate that the ADL had to be shamed into calling the Armenian Genocide by its proper name (and this only in a qualified and circuitous fashion). And I also find it disconcerting that what is ostensibly an American anti-racism organization should cite Turkey's status as a "staunch friend of Israel" as a reason why not to recognize the Armenian genocide. (The open letter that states this has since been removed from the ADL website and replaced with the new open letter that uses the word genocide. It can, however, be found in Google's cache.):

We believe that legislative efforts outside of Turkey are counterproductive to the goal of having Turkey itself come to grips with its past. We take no position on what action Congress should take on House Resolution 106. The Jewish community in Turkey has clearly expressed to us and other major American Jewish organizations its concerns about the impact of Congressional action on them, and we cannot ignore those concerns. We are also keenly aware that Turkey is a key strategic ally and friend of the United States and a staunch friend of Israel, and that in the struggle between Islamic extremists and moderate Islam, Turkey is the most critical country in the world.

But I'm somehow even more disappointed that people billed as serious historians of the Middle East like Michael Rubin, using rhetoric that is strikingly similar to Ankara's, have taken to reducing the historical reality of the Armenian genocide to "the narrative of Diaspora communities," giving the impression that the latter is at odds with the accounts of respected historians.

The Anti-Defamation League has decided to label the events surrounding the deaths of Armenians during World War I as 'genocide.'

There can be absolutely no argument that a million or more Armenians died during World War I.  But, on issue of whether genocide—a deliberate plan to eradicate a people—occurred or not, there is a big gap between the narrative of Diaspora communities and that of prominent historians.  The historical debate is more complex. 

It is a shame that Abraham Foxman has made such a decision on political rather than historical grounds.

It's then particularly ironic that Rubin laments that Foxman has made this decision on "political rather than historical grounds," when the stated reasons that Foxman originally gave for opposing the label were explicitly political in the first place.

Why is there no backlash from genocide scholars against people like Rubin? He has a prominent perch at the American Enterprise Institute and as editor of the Middle East Quarterly, which is published by Pipes's Middle East Forum. He should be publicly outed as a negationist, in the way that he would likely do to anyone who denied the Jewish genocide.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Pulling the ladder up

(Via Neil/Ezra) I wonder if Mark Krikorian recognizes the irony of an Armenian-American arguing against offering asylum to a people that's being targeted in a genocide. Had all countries followed his lead a hundred years ago, his family probably would have died in the deserts of Syria at the hands of the Young Turks:

Zionism Is Not a Suicide Pact   [Mark Krikorian]

Good for Israel in announcing it will turn back all Darfur refugees sneaking across the border from Egypt — thousands of Muslims claiming asylum would present an existential threat to the Jewish state. But here’s what the government has to deal with: the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, what appears to be the country’s equivalent of the ACLU, said that it is "Israel's moral and legal obligation to accept any refugees or asylum seekers facing life-threatening danger or infringements on their freedom." That last bit is great – “infringements on their freedoms.” So, apparently anyone, anywhere who doesn’t enjoy complete political freedom and manages to sneak into Israel should be allowed to stay. This kind of post-nationalism is bad enough in Europe and the U.S., but we at least have some strategic depth, as it were – the very existence of such sentiments in a country as small and insecure as Israel doesn’t bode well for its long-term viability.

There's nothing like pulling the ladder up once you and yours have made it to safety.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Terrorism and resistance

Over the last few days, I've debated the actions of revolutionary groups, particularly those in the Levant, during the 70s, with some friends of mine. I've taken the stance that no matter how just their cause might be or how injust the actions of their enemies, the deliberate targeting of civilians is beyond the pale.

Following the brutal and inexcusable attacks against Kurdish Yazidis in northern Iraq, the Economist has a wonderful little piece about not confusing terrorism with resistance

Even in the hell of Iraq, however, it is important to look at some things straight. And one of those things is that not all kinds of killing are equal. Some are less acceptable than others. This is not a callous or nit-picking legal point: it concerns a vital distinction between legitimate and illegitimate violence that has long been spelled out under the laws and moral requirements of war and must not be fudged.

George Bush is rightly criticised for lumping together as “terrorists” anyone who takes up arms against America or its allies. This is a simplistic formula that blurs necessary distinctions and makes for clumsy policy. Yet some opponents of the superpower's occupation of Iraq make an equal mistake when they lump together—and condone—as “resistance” all of the violent acts committed by America's foes in Iraq.

No excuses

This is profoundly mistaken. Military attacks against foreign soldiers who have come uninvited into your country can certainly be classified as resistance, whether you think such resistance justified or not. But the mass murder of Iraqi civilians can make no such dignified claim. The most lethal atrocities are those carried out by suicide-bombers, most of them from Saudi Arabia, who have imbibed some version of the al-Qaeda idea of war to the end against the unbelievers, who in their minds include Iraq's Shia Muslims. Many Iraqi Sunnis have in their turn been killed—for revenge or as part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing—by Iraqi Shias, sometimes acting alone and sometimes at the bidding of organised militias, often with links to a political party or to Iraq's government.

Under all established norms and laws of war (and by most accounts under Islamic law, too) the deliberate targeting of civilians for no direct military purpose is just a crime. This remains true regardless of the justice of the cause, and whether the killing is done by states, armies, groups or individuals. The world should never tire of condemning such deeds.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Darfur mortality rates: A debate

Eric Reeves has taken down a recent op-ed piece by Time's Sam Dealey. The Reeves rebuttal is detailed and lengthy, so there aren't any really pithy quotes to add here. In other words, read the whole thing.

Stones and glass houses: or pots and kettles

The Bush administration has just recently decided to designate a large chunk of a sovereign nation's armed forces as a terrorist organization. The choice doesn't seem to be final and hasn't been put into effect yet, so it might just be saber rattling to pressure the Iranian government, although it's hard to see what effect this would actually have on the Iranian regime, which is already the target of US economic sanctions.

What's interesting about this is that it's the first time the US has decided to label a state actor as a terrorist organization. The current definition contained in Title 18 of the US Code, Section 2331 is as follows:

Section 2331. Definitions

      As used in this chapter - 
(1) the term "international terrorism" means activities that -
(A) involve violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that
are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of
any State, or that would be a criminal violation if committed
within the jurisdiction of the United States or of any State;
(B) appear to be intended -
(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
(ii) to influence the policy of a government by
intimidation or coercion; or
(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass
destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and

(C) occur primarily outside the territorial jurisdiction of
the United States, or transcend national boundaries in terms of
the means by which they are accomplished, the persons they
appear intended to intimidate or coerce, or the locale in which
their perpetrators operate or seek asylum;

What is interesting is that this definition, contrary to many others, does not exclude state actors. As such, every time the CIA or IDF kidnaps or assassinates someone, those organizations are committing acts of international terrorism, according to US Code. People like Noam Chomsky have held the US to its definition for a very long time, but until now, there has been a hesitancy about designating any state actors as terrorist organizations, presumably because that opens the US Government, and those of its allies, even more so to charges of terrorism.


If I were part of the Iranian government, I would bring this up and make a similar designation of the US Government. After all, at a time when CIA agents have been indicted by an Italian judge for kidnapping, it's a charge that is difficult to rebut. 

Sunday, August 12, 2007

How to live without a solution

Henry Siegman, the director of the US/ Middle East Project, who served as a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations from 1994 to 2006, and was head of the American Jewish Congress from 1978 to 1994, has an excellent piece on Palestine and Israel in LRB, "The Middle East Peace Process Scam."

He comes out and says that the impediment to peace is Israeli stalling while slowly chipping away at Palestinian land with the wall, roads and settlements, while the international "peace process" gives it cover. He says that Palestinian statehood has been put in formaldehyde, which is to say that it is given the appearance of still being alive while not allowed to visibly decompose.

Siegman quotes Moshe Dayan, who says "The question is not 'What is the solution?' but 'How do we live without a solution?'" He then goes on to quote Geoffrey Aronson,who has this to say:

Living without a solution, then as now, was understood by Israel as the key to maximising the benefits of conquest while minimising the burdens and dangers of retreat or formal annexation. This commitment to the status quo, however, disguised a programme of expansion that generations of Israeli leaders supported as enabling, through Israeli settlement, the dynamic transformation of the territories and the expansion of effective Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan River.

He opens with this sober and depressing assessment of the peace process, which he calls a scam and a spectacular deception:

In [Bush's] view, all previous peace initiatives have failed largely, if not exclusively, because Palestinians were not ready for a state of their own. The meeting will therefore focus narrowly on Palestinian institution-building and reform, under the tutelage of Tony Blair, the Quartet’s newly appointed envoy.

In fact, all previous peace initiatives have got nowhere for a reason that neither Bush nor the EU has had the political courage to acknowledge. That reason is the consensus reached long ago by Israel’s decision-making elites that Israel will never allow the emergence of a Palestinian state which denies it effective military and economic control of the West Bank. To be sure, Israel would allow – indeed, it would insist on – the creation of a number of isolated enclaves that Palestinians could call a state, but only in order to prevent the creation of a binational state in which Palestinians would be the majority.

The Middle East peace process may well be the most spectacular deception in modern diplomatic history. Since the failed Camp David summit of 2000, and actually well before it, Israel’s interest in a peace process – other than for the purpose of obtaining Palestinian and international acceptance of the status quo – has been a fiction that has served primarily to provide cover for its systematic confiscation of Palestinian land and an occupation whose goal, according to the former IDF chief of staff Moshe Ya’alon, is ‘to sear deep into the consciousness of Palestinians that they are a defeated people’. In his reluctant embrace of the Oslo Accords, and his distaste for the settlers, Yitzhak Rabin may have been the exception to this, but even he did not entertain a return of Palestinian territory beyond the so-called Allon Plan, which allowed Israel to retain the Jordan Valley and other parts of the West Bank.

These days, it's hard to find a piece about the peace process as a whole that has anything new to say, and this one is no exception. What is different, however, is that more and more American and Israeli Jews (Burg, for example) are asking hard questions of Israel and its brutal occupation and making piercing observations about the situation as a whole, including international complicity. These are not questions and observations that went unasked and unobserved before by Arabs and Europeans; they're just gaining credibility in the international discourse because it's hard to paint the former head of the American Jewish Congress as an anti-Semite for asking them.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Arming Libya

Most of the coverage about the arms deal between France and Libya has focused on the quid pro quo (officially denied) of offering arms for the release of the Bulgarian nurses and the Palestinian doctor. One aspect of the piece that's been overlooked is the fact that offering arms to Tripoli might be at odds with the stated policy of France and the UK in Darfur. Libya has a long history of arming the "Arab" side of the region's racial war, which has involved Darfur and Chad, in hopes of creating a united pan-Arab state in the region.

So although its author doesn't seem terribly familiar the region's decades-long war, I was glad to see this article in the Guardian on the possibility of a conflict arising from the arms deal between their policy in Libya and their policies in Darfur and Chad.

This is an important question, and those who wish to read about the conflict in the Sahara and Sahel would do well to check out the new and updated edition of Burr's and Collins's book on the subject.

Daily Star gossip

Following the Solidere story in the Daily Star, there has been some gossip, most notably from the Angry Arab (here and here), that the US Government was very unhappy with the piece and pressured to print a full rebuttal. He says that the Examiner section of the paper, which is for investigative journalism, is funded by USAID in order to promote transparency and accountability in the Arab media.

I have no idea whether or not the accusations are accurate or not, but it makes for interesting gossip, nonetheless. Maybe I'll ask around to some friends and acquaintances who work at the Star.

Election choices

Via Ezra, I found a website that lets you select quotes from presidential candidates that you agree with without telling you who they are until the end. You have to check the boxes of issues that interest you, so I tried it out on foreign policy (general), Iraq War, Iran, Israel and Palestine and finally, Health Care.

Since most of the quotes I chose to respond to were about foreign policy, it's not surprising that I agree the most with Bill Richardson. After him, Mike Gravel (about whom I know next to nothing), Kucinich and Obama were tied for second place. There were six Republican candidates whom I agreed with on one quote, and one Republican (Ron Paul) whom I agreed with more than a Democrat (Biden) by a score of 4 to 3. I'm pretty sure that if I had done the whole test, including the other domestic quotes, that probably would have switched around. Totally absent from the list of people whom I can agree with about a single thing is Guiliani.

Otherwise, it's interesting to me that on the issue of Israel/Palestine, there weren't very many quotes I agreed with by any of the candidates. I clicked to agree with some of the fairer sounding two-state comments, although deep down, I don't believe a two-state solution is viable in the long term. There were exactly zero candidates who came out for cutting funding to Israel or a one-state solution and only one quote, from Gravel, about negotiating with Hamas:

The US must sponsor negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, including Hamas, with the goal of a two-state solution guaranteeing demilitarized borders, Israel's right to survive and raising Palestinians economic standards.

Of those who took the test, more than half (52.8%) agreed with this statement.

The two most popular quotes that I agreed with were by Richardson and Kucinich, at 80% and 72.86% respectively:

Richardson: "In recent years, American foreign policy has been guided more by dogma than by facts, more by ideology than by history, more by wishful thinking than by reality."

Kucinich: "I support normal bilateral trade with Cuba. Farm communities throughout the U.S. are being denied a natural market in Cuba, and Americans are being denied products from Cuba."

Of course it's hard to generalize these percentages, because like me, most people probably only responded to quotes in the areas that are the most important to them, and so I can imagine that issue like abortion, for example, were ranked as the most important by more conservative people.

In any case, it's an interesting exercise nonetheless, and I've been able to work out that while I agree with Richardson more than anyone else about the issues that are the most important to me, I agree enough with Obama to back him instead since Richardson has nearly no chance of winning the primaries. (I hope he will accept being a vice presidential candidate or nomination as secretary of state.)

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Tous les jours, c'est kebab party!

I got a link from a friend of mine to a new music video done by a Turkish kebab waiter, Lil'Maaz, at a kebab shop in my favorite neighborhood in Paris. The song is called....wait for it.... "Mange du Kebab" (Eat Kebab). It's pretty fun, so much so, in fact, that after hearing him rap while working, some regular customers who work in a production studio decided to help him make a video. It seems be a big hit, so go check out his website (in French). In the meantime, watch the video:

 

Tsunami weapon strikes again!

The news here is that the Levant is due for a tsunami, which reminds me of reactions that I got after the big one in Indonesia. It was obviously an American/Jewish underwater tsunami bomb, I was told by one Pakistani guy. When I asked why "the Jews" and "the Americans" would do that, he looked at me as if I had just asked the stupidest question on earth: "To kill Muslims, obviously!"

According to the Algerians (via the Arabist), things are just warming up:

La protection civile algérienne a annoncé, mercredi 8 août, la mort de douze baigneurs emportés par une vague géante sur une plage de Mostaganem, dans l'ouest algérien, vendredi. L'origine de la vague est inconnue et nourrit les débats des scientifiques et de la population locale.

L'hypothèse d'un essai scientifique en Méditerranée effectué par des pays de l'autre rive, comme l'Espagne, l'Italie ou la France est avancée. "On peut supposer qu'il s'agit d'une expérience scientifique d'armes conventionnelles", explique le professeur Loth Bonatiro, spécialiste d'astronomie et de planétologie au Centre algérien de recherche en astronomie, astrophysique et géophysique (Craag), cité dans les colonnes du quotidien algérien L'Expression.

L'hypothèse d'un mini-tsunami avancée par les habitants semblait peu plausible, dans la mesure où la vague n'a touché qu'une seule plage, celle dite du Petit-Port.

Une secousse sismique d'une magnitude de 4,6 sur l'échelle ouverte de Richter avait été enregistrée vendredi à 21 h 08 en plein milieu du bassin méditerranéen par le centre de Strasbourg, mais pas par le Craag, qui évoque un possible problème technique.

Sometimes I wonder if I've become too acclimated to the local weather of conspiracy theories, but when things like this come up, I know that I've still got a long way to go. 

Solidere's "illegal expansion"

The Daily Star has a relatively lengthy piece about Solidere and some of its legal battles with former downtown property owners, most of whose property rights are now owned by Solidere. The issue is a fairly complicated one, and I don't pretend to fully understand it, although this latest suit seems to have been sparked by Solidere's decision to start expanding into Dubai whereas most of its work downtown remains unfinished.

In any case, the article is worth a read, and it'd be nice to see more of such substantive reporting being done by the Star. If anyone else has any links to more information about the Hariri empire and downtown property rights, I'd love to see it.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Super Hajja

My friends over at Grey Mog here in Beirut sent me a link for the first scene teaser for the upcoming movie Super Hajja. Their website should be up and running in a few days, so keep an eye on that. Otherwise, I can't find the original short film that they did for Super Hajja during the war, but if I find a link to it, I'll be sure to post it.

In any case, and without any further ado, here is the opening scene to the upcoming Super Hajja:

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Politics and the Diaspora

Lately, we've been hearing an awful lot about the Iranian threat to Israel. Much of this has been couched in alarmist rhetoric that implies (or even sometimes explicitly says) that Iran is the new Nazi Germany. One of the more problematic facts for this narrative is the existence of the Middle East's second largest Jewish community. After Israel, more Jews live in Iran than in any other country in the region.

It seems, however, that Jewish groups are trying to entice Iranian Jews into moving to Israel -- but without much luck, it seems:

Iran's Jews have given the country a loyalty pledge in the face of cash offers aimed at encouraging them to move to Israel, the arch-enemy of its Islamic rulers.

The incentives - ranging from £5,000 a person to £30,000 for families - were offered from a special fund established by wealthy expatriate Jews in an effort to prompt a mass migration to Israel among Iran's 25,000-strong Jewish community. The offers were made with Israel's official blessing and were additional to the usual state packages it provides to Jews emigrating from the diaspora.

However, the Society of Iranian Jews dismissed them as "immature political enticements" and said their national identity was not for sale.

"The identity of Iranian Jews is not tradable for any amount of money," the society said in a statement. "Iranian Jews are among the most ancient Iranians. Iran's Jews love their Iranian identity and their culture, so threats and this immature political enticement will not achieve their aim of wiping out the identity of Iranian Jews."

The Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv reported that the incentives had been doubled after offers of £2,500 a head failed to attract any Iranian Jews to leave for Israel.

Iran's sole Jewish MP, Morris Motamed, said the offers were insulting and put the country's Jews under pressure to prove their loyalty. "It suggests the Iranian Jew can be encouraged to emigrate by money," he said. "Iran's Jews have always been free to emigrate and three-quarters of them did so after the revolution but 70% of those went to America, not Israel."

Similar efforts have been made to attract French Jews, with Sharon's remarks that they should move to Israel because of anti-Semitism in France. That call, however, was met with similar results (translation mine):

Jewish associations in France also announced their indignation and expressed unequivocal disapproval of Ariel Sharon's remarks. Haïm Korsia, the representative of the Grand Rabbi Joseph Sitruk declared that the question of the Jews of France is "a moot point" because, for him, to speak of "the Jews of France doesn't mean anything; there are French citizens who are Jews, like others have another religion." Richard Prasquier, member of the executive office of CRIF (Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France) affirmed that the call to immigration made by Ariel Sharon threw "oil on the fire in an unacceptable way." Patrick Klugman, former president of the Union of Jewish Students of France (UEJF) and vice president of SOS Racism said that the Israeli Prime Minister was "very ill informed of what is happening in France." As for Theo Klein, the vice president of CRIF, he concluded with a message to Ariel Sharon: "He should let the Jewish community in France deal with its own problems." 

As far as efforts to get European Jews to emigrate to Israel, it seems that, if anything, the current trend is in the opposite direction. With 20% of Israelis eligible for an EU passport, more and more are applying for the bordeaux-colored passports. Ironically, the Jewish Agency for Israel has been pressuring the German government to stop making it easy for Jews from the former Soviet Union to settle there. (In 2003, for example, more Russian Jews chose to go to Germany than to Israel.)

The attempt to encourage Diaspora Jews to make aliyah in general is fairly normal and linked, to my mind, to Israeli and Palestinian demographics. The attempts to target Jews in Iran and France in particular, however, might be an attempt to disprove that Muslims and Jews can live together. In addition to having the largest Jewish community in western Europe (600,000), France, after all, also has the largest Muslim community in the region, making up 10% the French population (mostly from Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Senegal). And the claims that Iran is equivalent to Nazi Germany seem kind of silly when it has its own 25,000-strong Jewish population that resists emigrating to Israel and which has a Jewish representative in the Iranian Parliament.

In addition to endangering the case for war with Iran, the Jewish Diaspora weakens the argument for the need for a Jewish state in the first place. Because if Jews can live without fear in the US and Europe, or even in Iran, why shouldn't there be a binational state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean where Jews and Arabs can live with equal rights, regardless of race or creed? 

Preeminent Holocaust scholar dies

Raul Hilberg, one of the greatest Holocaust scholars, has died. Genocide scholars the world around are indebted to his tireless work.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Metn Parliamentary by-elections

Last night, after going to the cinema and having some dinner in Sassine with my roommate, we decided to go check out what was going on at our local Aounist headquarters. While we were having our dinner and 'arguileh, supporters of Hariri's Sunni-based Future Movement, the Lebanese Forces and the Phalangist party kept driving by honking their horns and waving party flags. Sassine, which is mostly Christian and next to the ABC Achrifieh mall is mostly for Geagea and Gemayel. This is why we decided that it would be interesting to go see what was happening in the Aoun camp.

The headquarters were blocked off by the Army to prevent any political street fighting. I was given an orange Free Patriotic Movement t-shirt and a bottle of water with an orange cap, as well as a cup of coffee, which was about the only non-orange thing there. Everyone was outside watching the results on Orange TV, the FPM's unofficial television channel. There were more orange wigs, shirts, shoes, socks and pants than at a faculty meeting at an American elementary school on Halloween.

The Parliamentary by-election in the Metn region was called by the government (and opposed by the opposition, which makes Aoun's participation contradictory if perhaps also cunning) in order to replace MP Pierre Gemayel, who was assassinated earlier this year. The election is an important one, since it acts as a bellwether for Christian support, which will be helpful for predicting who the next president will be. Former president and father of Pierre, Amin Gemayel ran against Aoun-backed and lesser-known Kamil Khoury.

Orange TV announced Khoury's victory relatively early in the evening, but it wasn't until this morning that I saw more definitive accounts of the results. When Orange TV made the call, the Aounists immediately started cheering, with more than a few heaving a large sigh of relief. Large and loud fireworks soon followed, at which point I took my leave. As I was leaving the headquarters, the Aounists told me that I should put the t-shirt they gave me in a bag, fearing that I might get harassed on my back home since the neighborhood was so fiercely pro-government.

According to CNN, the Ministry of the Interior officially called Khoury the winner by 418 votes in an election with some 80,000 ballots cast. In every account I've read so far, it seems that the deciding vote was what LBC is calling "the Armenian Voice." No one I talked to last night could tell me how many votes had been cast so far, but everyone could quote how many Armenian votes their side had received. As is usual in Lebanon, allegations of voter fraud are coming from both sides, and as is also usual, they're both probably right.

The run-up to this election has been interesting to me, because it's been marked by two very anti-democratic forces. On the one hand, the only reason the election is happening at all is because there was a political assassination. On the other hand, supporters of the Gemayel family and the Phalangist and Lebanese Forces parties have had a a worrisome attitude of entitlement about the whole affair. According to many of them, the Parliament seat belongs to the Gemayel clan, and it's just bad form for Aoun to contest it. Others, including Michael Young and the Maronite Patriarch, have been arguing (undemocratically, I needn't add) that Gemayel should run unopposed, because a real election would split the Christians (as if they weren't already split).

In any case, one thing that seems certain is that this has put the last nail in the Gemayel clan's coffin. If the former president couldn't beat a little-known Khoury, then the Gemayels have finally gone the way of the Chamoun clan. Overall, I think it's a good thing when a political dynasty ends in a country like Lebanon (by non-violent means, that is), but if Lebanese history is much of an indicator, the political (and physical) death of a clan doesn't necessarily imply the fall of feudal politics, but rather the rise of another political clan in this country of the Godfather where things are run by various tribes with flags.

Shi'a fatwa against honor killings

Last week, Lebanese Shi'a cleric Grand Ayatollah Fadlallah issued a fatwa banning honor killings, or honor crimes as he is calling them:

Lebanon's most senior Shiite Muslim cleric issued Thursday a fatwa, or religious edict, banning honor killings, calling the custom of murdering a female relative for sexual misconduct "a repulsive act."

The fatwa by Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah was a rare condemnation by a prominent cleric of the practice. Fadlallah's office said he issued the statement in alarm over reports on an increase in honor killings.

"I view an honor crime as a repulsive act condemned and prohibited by religion," Fadlallah, the most revered religious authority for Lebanon's 1.2 million Shiites, said in a statement faxed to The Associated Press.

"In so-called honor crimes, some men kill their daughters, sisters, wives or female relatives on the pretext that they committed acts that harm chastity and honor," said Fadlallah, warning that the practice was on the rise in region.

"These crimes are committed without any religious evidence, and mostly on the basis of suspicions," added Fadlallah.

This, and Egypt's recent hymen fatwa, are the kinds of religious edicts that I like to see.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

African Polls

The Times has an interesting and interactive map (I'm a sucker for these) showing the results of a poll taken on attitudes in several sub-Saharan countries: Senegal, Mali, Uganda, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa.

Some of the results are obvious, and others are not. The poll covers national issues, the economy and personal well-being, as well as international views. The most pressing national concerns seem to be "HIV/AIDS and other diseases," "corrupt political leaders," "crime" and "illegal drugs." Ethnic/religious conflict was seen as a problem by more than half of those polled in Kenya, Ivory Coast and Nigeria, with the latter polling particularly high.

Despite this, those polled seemed fairly optimistic, and those polled in every country overwhelmingly thought things would be better for their children than they have been for them.

Opinions vary pretty widely on the UN, US and AU, depending on the country, with Ethiopia unsurprisingly showing the most support for the AU, which is headquartered in Addis Ababa and the EU scoring particularly low overall for Africans' confidence that it can "help solve Africa's problems." 

In would have been interesting to have added more countries with one foot in "Arab Africa" and the other foot in "black Africa," particularly Sudan, Chad and Mauritania. Out of all the countries polled, the only two where the majority don't think that "Arabs and blacks in North Africa can live peacefully together" were Uganda and Tanzania.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Tancredo: Attack Mecca and Medina

This is so incredible that I don't think I can even comment on it. I'll let Tancredo speak for himself:

WASHINGTON: Republican presidential hopeful Tom Tancredo says the best way he can think of to deter a nuclear terrorist attack on the U.S. is to threaten to retaliate by bombing Islamic holy sites.

The Colorado congressman on Tuesday told about 30 people at a town hall meeting in the state of Iowa that he believes such a terrorist attack could be imminent and that the U.S. needs to hurry up and think of a way to stop it.

"If it is up to me, we are going to explain that an attack on this homeland of that nature would be followed by an attack on the holy sites in Mecca and Medina," Tancredo said at the Family Table restaurant. "Because that's the only thing I can think of that might deter somebody from doing what they otherwise might do."

Listen here.

UNIFIL and Hezbollah

There have been rumors circulating since last Spring that UNIFIL had met with Hezbollah in order to get the latter's cooperation for protecting international troops in the south. Blanford confirms that with a recent article in the CS Monitor:

The growing threat of attack by Sunni radicals apparently spurred the leading European troop-contributing states to seek the Shiite Hizbullah's cooperation. According to UNIFIL sources, intelligence agents from Italy, France, and Spain met with Hizbullah representatives in the southern city of Sidon in April. As a result, some Spanish peacekeepers subsequently were "escorted" on some of their patrols by Hizbullah members in civilian vehicles, the UNIFIL sources say.

A day after the six peacekeepers were killed last month, Spanish foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos spoke with Manucher Mottaki, the foreign minister of Iran, Hizbullah's main patron. According to a Hizbullah official in south Lebanon, there has been at least one meeting between the Shiite party and Spanish UNIFIL officers since the bombing.

UNIFIL has long had quiet channels of communication with Hizbullah stretching back to the late 1980s, a recognition of the Shiite group's clout in the south. But UNIFIL commander General Graziano says that although troop-contributing governments may talk to Hizbullah, the peacekeeping battalions are only authorized to liaise with the Lebanese Army. Contacts with Hizbullah or any other Lebanese political party is not permitted, he says.

"I highly forbid any relation that is not authorized by this headquarters for any contingent that is dressed in the blue beret to have contact with any party without my authorization," he says.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Fallout from Israeli "journalists" in Lebanon

Nicholas Blanford, the Beirut correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor was recently arrested and detained on suspicion of being a spy in a Lebanese village near the Syrian border (emphasis mine):

We ended up at a nearby house in Yahfoufa where we were offered cups of Turkish coffee. Soon, more Hizbullah men arrived and we were escorted to an office in the village of Nabi Sheet. Ali and I handed over our cellphones, wallets, and my small backpack of journalistic gear for their perusal. That didn't help the situation.

In the eyes of our captors, my GPS device and a satellite phone – intended to aid our trip to remote Toufeil – only marked us as spies. Still, I was not unduly worried. I had been detained by Hizbullah before. It usually meant sitting with them for two or three hours while they verified my identity. I reeled off a list of names of top Hizbullah officials whom they could contact.

However, the Hizbullah men of the Bekaa are a tough, suspicious breed and unused to foreigners tramping around their areas.

Furthermore, Hizbullah has grown more wary of foreign journalists since the recent revelation that two Israeli correspondents had entered Lebanon on foreign passports and reported from the party's strongholds in Beirut and the south, an act that has made life more difficult and potentially dangerous for Western journalists operating here.

I recently wrote about my exchange with Lisa Goldman, one of the Israeli journalists who came here, and she recently tried to defend her lack of journalistic ethics on CNN in a debate with a local professor of journalism from the Lebanese American University. In this interview and on her blog she keeps mentioning all of the positive feedback she's gotten from Lebanon. Strangely missing from her blog comments is much negative feedback, which would lead one to believe that the only Lebanese responses she's gotten have been positive.

I know this to be patently false. For example, she refused to validate my comments on her blog as well as those of a Lebanese NGO worker who does projects on conflict resolution. So if those two comments aren't on her blog, I presume that she's been filtering many of the comments she doesn't agree with as well. For someone who claims to be writing about Lebanon in order to bridge the gap between Israelis and the Lebanese, it seems ironic that she would reject comments by those with a different opinion than hers.

On her blog, she dismisses the charges leveled by a foreign correspondent based in Beirut that she has "caused alot of problems for legitimate professional reporters who report from Lebanon (and who actually try and make an effort to understand the situation.)" Nicholas Blanford's recent jail time should put to rest any doubts that anyone had about this one. (Obviously, Hezbollah is at fault for being so paranoid and not allowing journalists free reign, but the stunts of Goldman and her Brazilian/Israeli friend have only made a bad situation worse.)

She then says that western reporters are doing a bad job of covering Lebanon since Israelis seem to know little of the current situation there:

As for the "countless foreign correspondents who work tirelessly" in Lebanon to "try and bring an accurate and fair picture to the world" - well, perhaps you should try harder to be accurate and fair. Because given that most non-Lebanese people seem to have the impression that the majority of Lebanese are either homeless, impoverished victims of the summer war, or militants running around with rocket launchers on their shoulders, it seems that you are not doing a very good job at all in presenting an accurate and fair picture of Lebanon.

Of course, this is absolutely ridiculous for several reasons. First, as anyone with access to Google can easily see, there are plenty of accounts of Beirut nightlife. A Lexis Nexis search for articles in the North American press in the last three years with the words "Lebanon" and "nightlife," for example, come up with 40 articles. The same search for English-language European sources yields 83 results. If Israelis don't know what normal life in Beirut is like, it's because they don't want to know, not because the information isn't out there.

So when Goldman says "I had a lot of knowledge of Lebanon from the internet," I can't help but wonder if she knows how to use the internet at all. In any case, it seems clear that as far as Lebanon goes, Lisa Goldman does not, in fact, know Shi'ite from shinola.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Fabulist quits NRO

Via Chris, NRO fabulist W. Thomas Smith Jr. quits doing freelance work for NRO. Kathryn Jean Lopez has this to say in an editor's note.

This is what I had to say about the affair earlier this month when it broke.

Good riddance, I say.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Rosen on Palestinians in Lebanon

Nir Rosen has a piece on Palestinians in Lebanon in the Post. It doesn't mention the economic discrimination against Palestinians here, who make up around 10% of the population in Lebanon. Nor does it go much into the politics of the camps (NGOs, PLO, Damascus and jihadi groups). But it does give a good overview of Palestinian scapegoating, which reminds me of a conversation with a friend during the Nahr el-Bared fighting when we wondered why it is that whenever Lebanon wants to come together as a country, it's usually at the expense of the Palestinians.

Recent lectures

In the last week or two, I've seen talks given by Juan Cole and Bernard Rougier. I wasn't sure what to expect from either, because of the sometimes shrill tone of the former and the sensationalist title of the latter's book. (I've got an aversion to books with the word "Jihad" in them.)

In both instances, I was pleasantly surprised. Cole was well spoken and interesting. And although the first part of his talk, which was just a recapping of the last 6 years, was pretty dry and unnecessary for a Middle Eastern audience, his comments during the Q&A were worth listening to the first part of the lecture. One point kind of bugged me, though. He made a point of pointing out Egypt's success in combating Islamist terrorist groups, even going so far as to imply that authoritarian governments might be as good as democratic ones at fighting terrorism. I'm not sure how I feel about that idea, except that my gut instinct is that while authoritarian governments might have more success at crushing these groups due to their freedom of action (not being tied down by human rights concerns, for example), I'm convinced that authoritarian rule is one of the causes of terrorism in the first place. So Egypt's "success" might be only short-term and might end up biting Cairo in the ass later.

As for Rougier, I found his participation on a panel about Palestinian identity and citizenship very interesting. He was accused of being an orientalist and of ignoring who was obviously to blame in the Nahr el-Bared conflict. (It's hard to know what to say when someone tells you that neither Fatah al-Islam nor the Lebanese Army were to blame for Nahr el-Bared, but that rather it was the Americans' fault. Incidentally, this was a comment made by a participant in the talk, not a random crank who'd wandered in because he heard there'd be food.) In any case, Rougier convinced me to go out and buy his book, despite the horrible weakness of the dollar and thus the Lebanese pound compared to the mighty euro. I'll be reading it as soon as I finish the books that are currently on my plate. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Ceci n'est pas un pays

Roger Cohen has an interesting little piece on Belgium in the Times:

In their grumpy way, Belgians — a majority Dutch-speaking, many French-speaking and a few German-speaking — have been posing a delicate question: does postmodern Europe, where even tiny states feel secure, really need a medium-small nation cobbled together in 1830 whose various communities dislike one another?

Moreover, does a country whose economy is largely run by European central bankers in control of the euro really need a government?

Gerrit Six, a teacher, suggested Belgian obsolescence when he put the country, complete with its busy king and ballooning debt, up for sale on eBay. It drew bids of close to $15 million. That was on day 100 of the political crisis. Belgium is now close to day 200. Italian politics suddenly look stable.

Little Belgium has become too conflicted to rule. It has three regions, three language communities that are not congruent with the regions, a smattering of local parliaments, a mainly French-speaking capital (Brussels) lodged in Dutch-speaking Flanders, a strong current of Flemish nationalism and an uneasy history.

Dutch-speakers, long underdogs in a country without a Flemish university until 1922, are tired of subsidizing their now poorer French-speaking cousins. A successful anti-immigrant and separatist party, Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest), is the odious expression of a wider desire to go it alone.

Flemish demands for greater decentralization and control (most recently over French-speaking schools in the Brussels periphery) have raised distrust to a poisonous level. “I am pretty sure Belgium will split eventually,” Caroline Sagesser, a political scientist, told me.

If it holds together, it will be because Brussels, with 10 percent of the population and 20 percent of gross domestic product, is too mixed to unravel. Like Baghdad, like Sarajevo, the capital is improbable but unyielding glue. Unlike them, it has avoided bloodshed. It also houses a modern marvel, the E.U. — and there’s the nub.

I often look at Lebanon and think, in the style of the Belgian surrealist: "this is not a country." Or state or nation, for that matter. Belgium has been without a government for almost 200 days, and Lebanon has been without a president since late last month. But who needs a government anyway?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Axis of Evil in Beirut

Last night I went to the Casino du Liban to see Showtime's Middle Eastern-American comedy tour, the Axis of Evil.

The venue was packed, and from what I've heard, it also did very well in Jordan. According to Ahmad Ahmad, even King Abdullah went to see the show in Amman. I'd never been to a comedy show before, so the only point of reference I had was what I'd seen on television, and it was pretty much like that. The jokes ranged from average to hilarious and seemed catered to a westernized Middle Eastern crowd. I'm not sure how many people were familiar with Bob Barker, and I'm sure that jokes on the debkeh would have been lost on much of an American audience. Those who were int he position of being familiar with both cultures were able to laugh at both American and Middle Eastern jokes.

Some of the Bush jokes seemed a little bit like pandering and a little hackneyed for an American audience. And some of the Lebanese jokes were pretty facile (bargaining, driving, "hi keefak, ça va," etc.), but people never seem to get tired of that sort of thing here. The message was, overall, a good one: Arabs are normal people who are capable of poking fun of themselves. For the most part, there was also a nice ecumenical message that welcomed Muslims, Christians and Jews. A nice example of this was the half-Palestinian comedian Aron/Haroun who made it a point of pointing out the similarities of Jews and Arabs, saying that "we're pretty much the same fucking people." (There was one disappointing moment, however, that made me cringe. At one point, Egyptian-American Ahmad Ahmad said that Arabs should be doing more in the entertainment business and that Hollywood was run by... Here he paused to let the audience yell in unison: "Jews!" Unfortunately, it didn't seem to be a joke making fun of people who believe in Jews-run-the-world conspiracies.)

Overall, it was a really good time, and I'm glad I went. The Middle East could use some more comedy, and if my hunch is right, this is the sort of thing that's likely start a stand-up fad in Beirut. Let's hope it's funny.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Not knowing Shi'ite from Shinola

I generally try to stay away from the National Review. This explains why I didn't see the inane and meretricious "reporting" done by W. Thomas Smith Jr. until today. I've commented here before on ridiculous and sensationalist accounts of Lebanon, but this guy really takes the cake. Smith wrote last September:

Hezbollah is rehearsing for something big here. Not sure what or when. But a few days ago, between 4,000 and 5,000 HezB gunmen deployed to the Christian areas of Beirut in an unsettling “show of force,” positioning themselves at road intersections and other key points throughout the city.

It just so happens that I live on the East side of town in one of the "Christian areas of Beirut," and I can guarantee that Smith's account is laughably untrue. On the day that Smith says Hezbollah "deployed" to East Beirut, I was doing some shopping. I live on the border of Gemmayzeh and Mar Mkhail and went to Sassine and ABC that day (all of which are Christian neighborhoods), and rest assured, there were no Hezbollah militants, much less armed ones, to be seen anywhere.  Had what he described been true, there would most likely have been a civil war, or at the very least isolated street fighting. As it was, not only was there no fighting, but not a single journalist in Beirut, foreign or Lebanese, picked up on Hezbollah's alleged "show of force." There's a very simple reason for this: it never happened. If Hezbollah were to deploy a dozen armed militants to Achrafieh, that would be crossing one of Lebanon's red lines. Saying that there were 4,000-5,000 gunmen here is beyond farfetched; it's in the realm of the outlandishly comic. 

I've had neither the time, nor the stomach, to wade through all of this guy's Lebanon "coverage," but the few pieces I've opened are risible in their ridiculousness. Here's another example:

Hezbollah are not the only terrorists operating here in Lebanon: There are also Al Qaeda affiliates like Fatah Al Islam (they were not totally wiped out at Nahr al Bared), as well as Jund al Sham (Soldiers of Damascus), Jundallah, Hamas, and — though few Americans are aware of this — operating elements of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps on the Lebanese side of the Lebanese-Syrian border. These are just a few of the problem groups here: All operating under the auspices of Hezbollah.

Despite his mistranslation of "Sham," which in this context means Greater Syria (Syria, Lebanon and Palestine) and not Damascus, this little excerpt is absurd in that it explicitly says that all of the al-Qaeda-affiliated groups operating in the Palestinian camps, as well as Hamas and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard are "operating under the auspices of Hezbollah." First of all, no one knows who is connected to the various groups operating in the Palestinian camps. And second of all, anyone who believes that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is "under the auspices" of Hezbollah, and not the other way around, obviously knows nothing about either organization.

Smith's scattergun approach to various armed groups in Lebanon is symptomatic of a larger, mostly American, approach to the Middle East, where al-Qaeda equals Hezbollah equals Hamas equals al Qaeda in Iraq equals Jund al-Sham ,etc. This is the kind of thinking that led most Americans to believe that Baghdad had something to do with 9/11 and leaves the defenders of the free world (see also: Reyes and Sarkozy) incapable of distinguishing between Sunnis and Shi'a.

Another fun read is this post, in which Smith brags about doing "reconnaissance" in the Dahiye, the suburbs where Hezbollah is based in Beirut. Or rather this would be funny if it were a satire and I were reading it to friends in Beirut. This guy seems to think that he's in a Chuck Norris movie, which would be fine except for a couple of things. First, this "journalism," in which Smith writes about spying on Hezbollah for pro-Government groups not only makes him sound like a macho asshole, it also casts a shadow of doubt on legitimate journalism done by actual reporters in a country where foreign correspondents are already viewed with an air of suspicion. Second, it makes Beirut sound like a war zone, which it's clearly not.

And then there's this gem. According to Smith, there were "some 200-plus heavily armed Hezbollah militiamen — positioned between the parliament and the Serail." As it happens, I've spent a fair amount of time downtown, and this is not the first time I've written about Americans talking about the sit-in protest without knowing what they're talking about. For the last few months, it's been hard to find more than a couple of dozen people at the protest, much less hundreds of armed militants. I have never, I repeat: never, seen any Hezbollah weapons downtown. They may have them down there, but if they do, they're hidden so well that someone who regularly strolls through the camp would not see them. To suggest that he surprised 200 armed militants out in the open while driving over the bridge that connects East and West Beirut is ridiculous.   

Finally, Jack Bauer -- I mean W. Thomas Smith Jr. -- gives us a post from an "undisclosed neighborhood":

Lebanon is extremely dangerous for Americans right now. In fact, some top officials within the 1559 Committee (essentially the heart and soul of the Cedars Revolution ... for a free Lebanon) believe some sort of dramatic terrorist event is going to take place here in Lebanon between now and mid-October. This is not a gut feeling, but a calculation based on intelligence analysis and chatter from the street.

Tony Nissi, the 1559 Committee chief here in Beirut (whom you'll recall from previous entries), has reason to believe Hezbollah knows who I am. So I am deliberately not staying in hotels: Instead, I'm spending nights in friends' houses — safe houses if you will — and always with bodyguards.

This one is the funniest of the bunch. If there are only half of the number of Americans in Lebanon now as there were during the July war, there'd still be over 10,000 Americans here, myself included. Beirut is decidedly not unsafe for Americans, unless of course they decide to go play G.I. Joe by arming themselves and doing "reconnaissance." But even if Smith were to get picked up by Hezbollah or the Army for spying (which is basically what he claims he's doing), they'd immediately recognize him for the  buffoon that he plainly is. He sounds more like a hapless character out of a Harry Mathews novel than an actual spy, or, God forbid, a journalist.

I could go on for pages about the factual inaccuracy of Smith's reports, but it would just be more of the same. It's amazing to me that NRO published any of Smith's "reports." They are so obviously bullshit that someone must have been asleep at the wheel over there. One of my pet peeves is the writing of partisan hacks who only travel for rhetorical flair, and Smith seems to be more of the same. The difference is that his case is so egregious that he's getting called out on it. There are well respected journalists here in Lebanon and elsewhere who not only know the country intimately but are good writers to boot. Anthony Shadid, Annia Ciezadlo and Mohamad Bazzi are only a few of the names that come to mind. So why is there a need to send Chuck Norris wannabe hacks like Smith who evidently don't know anything about the countries they're ostensibly covering? If NRO wants coverage of Lebanon, there's no dearth of talent already here in Beirut. Insisting on publishing Smith's fabrications in order to toe an ideological line that pays no heed of Lebanon's complex politics only makes NRO look stupid and dishonest.

If you're interested in NRO's response to similar allegations, you can see that here and here.



UPDATE: Kathryn Jean Lopez, online editor of the National Review has another statement up about Smith (emphasis mine):

With regard to the two posts in question, it is my belief, based on an investigation in which NRO discussed the matter with three independent sources who live and work in Lebanon (as well as other experts in the area), that Smith was probably either spun by his sources or confused about what he saw.

...the context that Smith was operating in an uncertain environment where he couldn't always be sure of what he was witnessing, and the caveats that he filled in the gaps by talking to sources within the Cedar Revolution movement and the Lebanese national-security apparatus, whose claims obviously should have been been treated with the same degree of skepticism as those of anyone with an agenda to advance.

As one of our sources put it: "The Arab tendency to lie and exaggerate about enemies is alive and well among pro-American Lebanese Christians as much as it is with the likes of Hamas." While Smith vouches for his sources, we cannot independently verify what they told him. That's why we're revisiting the posts in question and warning readers to take them with a grain of salt.

So let me get this straight. Lopez publishes Smith's ridiculous posts that betray a fundamental ignorance of Lebanon and the political situation here, posts which were either made up entirely or fed to him by pro-Government forces, and the problem here is the "Arab tendency to lie and exaggerate."

Wow. I almost don't even know where to start with this one. Maybe she should just throw in another couple of lines about America's mission civilisatrice and the white man's burden and be done with it.

In any case, someone should send her message to Tom Harb, a rabid March 14 supporter in the US, who's supporting Smith wholeheartedly (from Florida, no less) and accusing all of the journalists who have contradicted Smith of being on the Hezbollah payroll. Someone should remind him that his neo-conservative comrades in arms at NRO and elsewhere are fair weather friends to whom, at the end of the day, a wog is a wog, regardless of his political usefulness.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Weekend in the Chouf

I spent this past weekend in the Chouf mountain, otherwise known as the personal fiefdom of Walid Jumblatt. I was looking forward to visiting the Moukhtara and its beautiful castle, and given the tense situation, I was surprised when my friend told me that conforming to Druze tradition, I could go have tea with and briefly meet Jumblatt -- or even ask him for something. Saturday morning is the time when the Moukhtara is open, and all are given tea while they wait for an audience with Walid Bek.

My timing was off, though, because it seems that US ambassador to Lebanon, Jeffrey Feltman, was due to arrive shortly for a lunch with Jumblatt and no amount of wasta with Jumblatt's private security detail was going to get us in.

One thing that bothers me about Lebanon is the checkpoints. They're a hassle, but given the situation, they seem necessary. What really gets to me though are those run by militias. Any journalist covering the south or Bekaa, or even parts of the Dahiye, are familiar with Hezbollah's stops, although I've never personally had to show my ID to anyone from Hezbollah, and despite my frequent trips to and through the sit-in downtown, I've never seen a member of the party armed.

Now March 14 and its allies are fond of complaining about the "state within a state" that is Hezbollah, but what you hear less about are their own states within a state. (Incidentally, I'm not fond of the expression, because in order for it to be true, there'd have to be a state within which to have a state -- something that just isn't true here.) While there are army checkpoints all around the Moukhtara, the guys with machine guns at the gate are PSP militia. They've got neither badge nor uniform -- their gun and the confidence of Walid being their only license for checking my ID. But these are the higher ranked guards, down the street, working at the local mechanic and sitting in a little booth are kids with walkie talkies.

When we decided to take a walk around the Moukhtara, we were immediately stopped by a kid who couldn't have been over 20 years old. I think he was intimidated by us, so when we refused to show any ID and only gave our first names, he called someone else as we were walking away. The second guy was only a little older and looked like he should be working second spatula at a saj stand. But there he was, asking for our ID. My friend looked him in the eye, immediately getting angry, and asked him where his ID was. After some prompting, the young and round boy opened his wallet and flashed a normal ID without letting us take it out or look at it too long. When we asked what gave him the authority to stop us, he lifted his shirt and showed us his walkie talkie. The Chouf, it seems, isn't so different from the south after all.

The rest of my trip, barring an embarrassing run-in with the way-too-friendly (and touchy!) tour guide at Beiteddine, was a welcome change from the city. Like true mountain men, we ate heartily and shot guns, and the clean air cleared my persistent cold right up.

Also, the Cedar reserve reminded me of something out of a fairy tale:

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Shobbing in Damascus

I was in Damascus last week for a long weekend of shopping, and the trip gave me the chance to talk to some Syrians about the political situation in Lebanon. Not a single person I spoke to believed that Syria was responsible for killing Hariri. They all thought it was a plot hatched by Israel and the US in order to kick the Syrians out and use Lebanon as knife in Damascus's heart. Many Syrians asked why the Lebanese hated them and seemed generally supportive of Syrian policies overall. Of course during such a short trip it's hard to truly judge Syrian opinion, since although things have gotten better since Hafez died, the average Syrian is still somewhat hesitant to criticize the government to a stranger in public.

Another thing that I noticed this time, was that Damascus is like an oriental Prague: a beautiful and impressively old city in the center surrounded by the hideously drab and gray monstrosities that only the people's architecture is capable of constructing.

Otherwise, Damascus is full of Iraqis, and the rise in prices is noticeable, even in comparison to just a year ago. The Syrian capital now has an Aishti in addition to the United Colors of Benetton stores that are sprinkled throughout the city. Overall, there's been a lot of progress since the last time I was in the Arab Republic a year ago.

I love Syria, but it's got a long way to go, and as the taxi crossed the border back into Lebanon, I remember sighing a breath of relief and feeling glad to be back home.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Confusing Musharraf and the people

Ezra seems to be confusing Musharraf with the people of Pakistan:

If we flip from Musharraf and begin supporting other candidates, Musharraf will flip on us. If we stick with Musharraf and he's ousted in a revolution, we will be identified as allies of the dictator. This isn't a situation where we must pick the best of two bad options. Rather, it's a situation where we should show some humility, let the Pakistanis make their own decisions, and pledge to deal openly with whomever emerges. This isn't a situation where we must pick the best of two bad options. Rather, it's a situation where we should show some humility, let the Pakistanis make their own decisions, and pledge to deal openly with whomever emerges.

This suggests first, that the US isn't already actively supporting a dog in the Pakistani fight and second, that "the Pakistanis" as a people will be in a position to make any sort of a decision. First, Musharraf is already propped up by financial and military aid from the US, and second, when he indefinitely postponed elections, he squashed any possibility the Pakistanis had of making their own decisions.

Perhaps the US shouldn't explicitly support the opposition, but it should support the process of democracy, even if that just means making elections a condition for continued US military and financial aid.

Ezra quotes Ignatious in order to draw a parallel between US support for the opposition in Iran (a policy that has seemed to have backfired on the US, not least because there is a credible threat that the US might attack Iran) and US support for the Pakistani opposition.

Vali Nasr, on the other hand, makes a more astute comparison of the two countries:

Musharraf's interests are no longer those of his military, and the two are now on a collision course. Generals can still end this crisis by going back to the deal Washington brokered with Ms. Bhutto, but only if it does not include Musharraf. Removing Musharraf will send demonstrators home and the Army to its barracks.

The longer Musharraf stays in power the more Pakistan will look like Iran in 1979: an isolated and unpopular ruler hanging on to power only to inflame passions and bring together his Islamic and pro-democracy opposition into a dangerous alliance.

A disastrous outcome in Pakistan, a nuclear-armed state with weak institutions and rife with extremist ideologies, violence, and deep ethnic and social divisions, will be far worse than what followed the Iranian revolution.

The West cannot afford to let this political crisis spiral out of control. Western leaders must keep the pressure on Musharraf, reach out to the Pakistani Army, and seriously plan for a post-Musharraf Pakistan.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Bush's "freedom agenda"

This week has made it clear to the world that the US isn't too terribly interested in democracy in Pakistan. There has been a lot of talk about Bush's retreat from talk of liberty and freedom and a lot of frowning on the administration's decision to continue supporting Musharraf financially and militarily while he trades prisoners with the Taliban and jails lawyers and judges, ostensibly as part of the "war on terror." Journalists and pundits are quick to show the gap between Bush's actions and his rhetoric.

Sure, this may be the case, but where have these people been? Is this actually news to anyone? One has to look at Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Thailand or Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan to see how serious this administration ever was about the "freedom agenda."

Pakistan is just the most recent, if not the most egregious, example of how lip service to democracy and human rights is little more than so much hot air. Let's not be naive here. The Bush administration talks the talk about democracy when it comes to Iraq and Afghanistan -- and maybe applies some sanctions when it's not inconvenient, like in Burma -- but at the end of the day, the freedom agenda obviously comes in second place when fossil fuels are concerned.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

A nuclear Middle East

Akiva Eldar has a very non-explicit opinion piece in Ha'aretz about the nuclear weapons in the Middle East. I have the feeling that Israeli laws on its "secret" nuclear program prevent him from being more explicit, but he nonetheless poses a question that I've been asking for some time now:

How can a country, which according to endless foreign reports has kept secret for years several atomic weapons, manage to rally the international community in a struggle against a neighboring country that insists on acquiring nuclear energy? What do Israeli politicians answer to those asking why Iran should not be allowed to acquire the same armaments that are already in the arsenals of neighboring countries, like Pakistan and India? The common response is that "Iran is the sole country whose president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, declares openly that he intends to destroy the state of Israel." This argument is a double-edged sword, par excellence, used by a country that sports a radiant nuclear glow (according to foreign press reports, of course), and who has a senior minister, one assigned to dealing with strategic threats, who has threatened to bomb the Aswan Dam.

Again without being explicit, he calls for a nuclear weapons-free Middle East, but he says that this should be done "when the conflict is resolved," which seems a little too much like waiting for Godot to me. History has shown that countries that get the bomb are very unlikely to give it up (with the exception of South Africa). So if Israel waits until Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan all have the bomb, a nuke-free Middle East will never happen, because while the chances of Israel giving up the bomb seem slim, the chances of getting all those other states to give it up are nil.   

Monday, November 05, 2007

Jewish refugees

The Times has a article on a Jewish group that's doing its best to spotlight the plight of Jews forced from Arab countries after the war in 1948. Ordinarily, I'd applaud such an act, because it's always a good idea to shed light on lesser known historical events.

In this case, however, the entire enterprise seems possibly less interested in history than in using history as a rhetorical bludgeon to undermine the Palestinian refugees' internationally recognized right of return:

Another objective is to push for early passage of resolutions introduced in the United States Senate and House that say that any explicit reference to Palestinian refugees in any official document must be matched by a similar explicit reference to Jewish and other refugees.

The American-sponsored peace conference in Annapolis is planned to take place before the end of the year to address core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict like borders, the status of Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugees.

"We want to have this meeting now, in advance of the Annapolis conference, to ensure that this issue is front and center in the international awareness as it should be," Mr. Urman said.

I've always maintained that both morally and politically speaking, the choice of countries like Libya, Iraq and Egypt to push out their Jewish citizens was a huge mistake. I also believe that Lebanon, for example, where the Jewish population actually increased after 1948 but all but disappeared during the civil war, should actively pursue the return of its Jewish citizens, most of whom seem to be in Paris and Montreal. This could be done with a law of return and an active rebuilding of the Jewish quarter, including the Synagogue downtown and the Jewish cemetery.

Today's article in the Times gives little nuance to the question and neglects to mention the principle difference between Palestinian refugees and Oriental Jews forced from Arab countries: many of the former remain stateless and continue to live in refugee camps, whereas the latter were successfully resettled and given citizenship in Israel or North America.

I came across another article in the Times, this time from 2003, that gives a much more nuanced discussion of the issue:

"This is not a campaign against Palestinian refugees," said Stanley A. Urman, executive director of Justice for Jews From Arab Countries, a coalition of 27 groups that includes the powerful Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. "On the contrary, we believe the legitimate rights of the Palestinian refugees must be addressed in any peace process." He added, "We've got to make sure Palestinian refugees receive rights and redress, and Jewish refugees receive rights and redress."

Rashid Khalidi, a professor of Arab studies at Columbia University, disagrees. "This is a bait-and-switch tactic that does not serve either Palestinians or Oriental Jews or a just peace," he said, using the umbrella term for Jews from Arab countries. "Leaving both of these groups aggrieved guarantees that whatever quote, unquote settlement results would be unstable. There are just claims here. They should be addressed by the Arab states. But it shouldn't be a bait-and-switch that will make Oriental Jews pay the price for Israel's confiscation of a very large amount of Palestinian property."

[...]To Professor Khalidi, the very notion of making Palestinians citizens of Arab countries ignores significant distinctions between the Jewish and the Palestinian refugee experiences. "The idea of comparing them to Palestinians isn't valid," he said of Jewish refugees. "In a Zionist narrative, they should've wanted to go to Israel in the first place. The Palestinians didn't want to leave and weren't going back to their homeland. But some people have tried to tell Arabs what their nationalism should be and have tried to tutor the Palestinians in the proper understanding of their own national identity."

Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat professor of peace and development at the University of Maryland at College Park, said it was legitimate to consider the claims of both sets of refugees simultaneously in the peace process. But for Israel, he warned, the strategy might lead to unintended consequences.

"Putting the issue of Jews in the Arab world on the table helps in the compensation arena, but not the resettlement arena," he said. "In that arena, exposing the issues of Jewish refugees could be a kind of drawback. It can give the Arab countries a political edge, a rhetorical edge over Israel. They can say, instead of compensation, you're welcome to come back. Jews will always be a minority in those countries. And Jewish refugees won't want to come back to them. So it can be a negative by highlighting the fact that Israel will not accept Palestinian refugees."

Politically speaking, of course, Telhami is correct. The only way that Arab regimes are likely to invite their Jewish citizens back is as a political maneuver to morally outflank Israel on the refugee question.

This is unfortunate, because everyone I talk to in Lebanon who remembers a time when the Jewish population lived openly in Beirut, remembers the time and their connections to their Jewish neighbors very fondly.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

"United in our diversity"

I was just reading the preamble of the South African constitution, and I couldn't help dreaming of a similar constitution for Israel/Palestine:

We, the people of South Africa,

Recognise the injustices of our past;

Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;

Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and

Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.

We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to ­

- Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;
- Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;
- Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and
- Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.

May God protect our people.

Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika. Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso.

God seën Suid-Afrika. God bless South Africa.

Mudzimu fhatutshedza Afurika. Hosi katekisa Afrika.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Debating the one state solution

I've been debating, if you can call it that, some Israelis and a Palestinian about my firmly held belief in a one state solution

One of the Israelis has already called me an idiot and all Arabs monkeys. I highly recommend skipping his replies and reading Lirun's and Nizo's.

UPDATE: I've been locked out of the thread. So much for for an honest and respectable exchange of ideas. The exchanges I've had with Israelis in the blogosphere have left me more depressed than anything else.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Thinking orange

I haven't had much to say in this space about Lebanese presidential politics -- mostly because I haven't had much to say about the subject, full stop. A recent interaction with a well-placed Aounist, however, has made me question some of what I think about the situation. Up till now, the only interaction I've had with Aounists, like with most other political parties here, has been with the rank and file, the man on the street who has no more inside information than I do. And the orange man on the street seems pretty practical. While he really wants Aoun to be the president, wishful thinking aside, he doesn't really believe that it's possible any more. He'd be content with a compromise candidate along the lines of General Michel Sulaiman. 

Recently, though, I had a discussion with someone higher up in the hierarchy, someone who had inside information. Although this person didn't give me many specifics, he did stress that Aoun would be president. I asked him if he meant that Aoun should be president or that Aoun would actually be president. He replied, "both." Then I asked if I should consider that remark to be from him personally or him as a party member. Again the answer was "both."

There are three possibilities here. First, it's possible that there is information to which I'm not privy, information which will assure an Aoun victory and prove my general sense of Lebanese politics to be wrong. I don't think this is the case, but that's partially why my general sense of Lebanese politics is as it is. Second, it's possible that I wasn't getting a straight answer and that this person was just giving me the party line. This seems logical and likely, but judging from the intensity and earnestness of his discourse, I don't think it's the case. Finally, I think it's most likely that this person was so personally and emotionally invested in the campaign that he couldn't really see straight anymore. This seems to be a common symptom of junior partisans who have neither the clear sighted detraction of the man on the street nor the cynical wisdom of the senior apparatchik.

In any case, not only did this person tell me that Aoun would definitely be president, but he also said that the Aounists would not accept anything less. I have the sneaking suspicion that when all is said and done, and the presidential deals have been done in smokey back rooms in Paris, Washington and Damascus, the orange upper echelons and the rank and file will be unsurprised, leaving the more zealous junior party members with inside information completely disillusioned.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Congress and Israel

I was watching CNN last night while hanging pictures and folding laundry, when Wolf Blitzer came on. All in all, it was actually fairly interesting. He interviewed El Baradei from the IAEA, Jordan's Queen Rania, the Turkish ambassador to the US, Barbara Boxer and Trent Lott. The last two were on after everyone else to respond to the issues being discussed.

Boxer was pretty well spoken and moderate about everything until she was asked about the Israeli bombing of Syria last month. El Baradei mentioned that neither the US nor Israel had provided the IAEA with any evidence of a Syrian nuclear program. He then rebuked the Israelis for shooting first and asking questions later instead of using the appropriate organization for such issues: the IAEA. So while Lott and Boxer disagreed on pretty much everything from the Armenian genocide bill to the rhetoric being used by the White House about a possible war against Iran, the one thing that they could agree on was that Israel has "the right to defend itself."

It's really uncanny. Neither said that they had been fully briefed on any intelligence concerning the Israeli strike in Syria, but both of them unequivocally supported it without any reservations. It's to be expected from Lott, but Boxer, who spends much of her time chiding the Bush administration for talking about war in Iran and having gone to war in Iraq has nothing critical to say about Israel's act of war.

Democrats seem to believe that politically speaking, they can be harder on the US, the country they're ostensibly representing, than they can be with Israel, a foreign nation. The more stories I hear about Capitol Hill and the more performances like Boxer's that I see, the more I think that there's truth in Buchanan's remark that Congress is Israeli-occupied territory.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Every once in a blue moon

It's not very often that I can say that I agree with American policy in Lebanon, but for the first time that I can remember, someone at the Pentagon seems to have gotten it somewhat right. Eric Edelman, undersecretary of defense for policy, had this to say in a recent interview broadcast on Lebanese television:

What we've been trying to do consistently is to create circumstances in which Lebanon can have a strong state, strong army, a democratic system with the military accountable to civilian control and to the government and to the people's representatives in the parliament. ... We believe it's in our interest to have a strong democratic state in Lebanon ... That's what we're working toward.

The problem, of course, is that the opposition doesn't trust the US at all (some would say with good reason). So of course, there are plenty of rumors that the US is building military bases in Lebanon, etc. Ideally, the Lebanese state would be built up by a more neutral country, like Sweden, but I doubt that will be happening anytime soon.

Chauffeuse de taxi

The other night I was going to meet up with a friend to watch The Kingdom, which, to my mind, was all right for an action movie, but not nearly as clever as it thought it was. I flagged down a cab and when it stopped I did a double take. The driver was a woman.

When I was a kid, I remember there being a riddle that went like this: A boy is wheeled into the emergency room, and the surgeon takes one look at him and says, "I'm sorry, I cannot operate on this boy. He is my son." The doctor is not the boy's father. Who is the doctor, then? The answer, of course, is, his mother. But at the time I remember hearing this riddle, the answer was not so obvious, and people would give answers like "his uncle" or "his grandfather," because they simply couldn't imagine the fact that a doctor would be a woman.

These days, the idea that a doctor or a lawyer or a chemist could be a woman seems obvious. For some reason, though, I was really shocked by seeing a woman cab driver. She acted just like her male counterparts: cursing, mumbling about traffic and trying to rip me off. 

Obviously, there's nothing about driving a cab, as opposed to say delivering refrigerators, that would prohibit most women from doing the job. But I suppose it's just a question of habit, and I'm not used to seeing women cabbies, not even in Europe or the States. (The only other one I've seen was an African woman in Paris.) After talking to friends about it, I've been told that there are a few in Beirut, and one even wears the hijab.

Coincidentally, a few months ago, I was near a police headquarters close to the periphery of Beirut when I suddenly saw two women soldiers walking down the street. Since then, I've run into a couple more. While I've seen plenty of women soldiers and police officers in my life, I'd never seen any in Lebanon, so I was really (pleasantly) surprised.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Wrestling with Zion

I recently came across an excerpt of a text by Ahad Ha'am (born Asher Ginsberg), a Zionist who went to Palestine for the first time in 1891. It's called "A Truth from Eretz Yisrael," and I found it in the collection edited by Tony Kushner and Alisa Solomon called Wrestling with Zion:

We who live abroad are accustomed to believe that almost all Eretz Yisrael is now uninhabited desert and whoever wishes can buy land there as he pleases. But this is not true. It is very difficult to find in the land [ha'aretz] cultivated fields that are not used for planting. Only those sand fields or stone mountains that would require the investment of hard labor and great expense to make them good for planting remain uncultivated. [...]

The Arabs, especially the urban elite, see and understand what we are doing and what we wish to do on the land, but they keep quiet and pretend not to notice anything. For now, they do not consider our actions as presenting a future danger to them. They therefore do their best to exploit us, to benefit from the newly arrived guests as much as they can and yet, in their hearts, they laugh at us. The peasants are happy when a Jewish colony is formed among them because they get better wages for their work and get richer and richer every year, as experience has shown us. The big landowners also have no problem accepting us because we pay them, for stone and sand land, amounts they would never have dreamed of getting before. But, if the time comes that our people's life in Eretz Yisrael will develop to a point where we are taking their place, either slightly or significantly, the natives are not going to just step aside so easily. [...]

If we have this ambition to settle in a new country and radically change our way of life and we truly want to achieve our goals, then we can't ignore the fact that ahead of us is a great war and this war is going to need significant preparation. [...]

It is not our way to learn nothing for the future from the past. We must surely learn, from both our past and present history, how careful we must be not to provoke the anger of the native people by doing them wrong, how we should be cautious in out dealings with a foreign people among whom we returned to live, to handle these people with love and respect and, needless to say, with justice and good judgment. And what do out brothers do? Exactly the opposite! They were slaves in their diasporas, and suddenly they find themselves with unlimited freedom, wild freedom that only a country like Turkey can offer. This sudden change has planted despotic tendencies in their hearts, as always happens to former slaves ['eved ki yimlokh]. They deal with the Arabs with hostility and cruelty trespass unjustly, beat them shamefully for no sufficient reason, and even boast about their actions. There is no one to stop the flood and put and end to this despicable and dangerous tendency. Our brothers indeed were right when they said that the Arab only respects he who exhibits bravery and courage. But when these people feel that that the law is on their rival's side and, even more so, if they are right to think their rival's actions are unjust and oppressive, then, even if they are silent,and endlessly reserved, they keep their anger in their hearts. And these people will be revenged like no other.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Utilities

Sometimes I wonder why Cyprus, a country that is still divided despite its recent membership in the EU, can be so successful compared to Lebanon, which has, to my mind, better food, friendlier people and equally nice weather. Then the electricity gets cut for a few hours and the water goes out, leaving me unable to shave or bathe before going into work.

I asked an Ethiopian acquaintance of mine yesterday if they had similar problems in Addis Ababa. She told me that while the electricity situation was worse than in Beirut, they always had more than enough water.

Shaving from a bottle of mineral water and having to hold it until I get to work because I can't flush the toilet remind me that Lebanon has a long way to go despite my occasional bouts of optimism.

In any other country, candidates on both local and national scales would be winning elections based on campaign promises to fix, or at least improve, these problems. It seems that this is not a major part of anyone's political platform in Lebanon.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Back/Update

For those few of you who have noticed, I haven't written in a while. This was mostly due to a change in jobs, a more permanent move (everything has been sent from Paris to Beirut and should now be on a boat somewhere in between) and the end of a big project.

When it rains it pours, I suppose. But so far so good.

In any case, I'm more or less settled into my new schedule and my new office. Time's going to be a little thin here at the beginning, but I think once I get into the groove of things, I'll find the time to post on a regular basis again.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Reminder

As a good friend of mine oft reminds me: writin' is fightin'. The bell's about to ring, and I'm almost done.

I should be back here soon.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Update

I'm not dead, I've just been really busy lately. I should be done with the project I'm working on soon enough, though, and spending a couple of weeks in Paris.

Hopefully, blogging will resume in a matter of days.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Prominent genocide deniers

It's already unfortunate that the ADL had to be shamed into calling the Armenian Genocide by its proper name (and this only in a qualified and circuitous fashion). And I also find it disconcerting that what is ostensibly an American anti-racism organization should cite Turkey's status as a "staunch friend of Israel" as a reason why not to recognize the Armenian genocide. (The open letter that states this has since been removed from the ADL website and replaced with the new open letter that uses the word genocide. It can, however, be found in Google's cache.):

We believe that legislative efforts outside of Turkey are counterproductive to the goal of having Turkey itself come to grips with its past. We take no position on what action Congress should take on House Resolution 106. The Jewish community in Turkey has clearly expressed to us and other major American Jewish organizations its concerns about the impact of Congressional action on them, and we cannot ignore those concerns. We are also keenly aware that Turkey is a key strategic ally and friend of the United States and a staunch friend of Israel, and that in the struggle between Islamic extremists and moderate Islam, Turkey is the most critical country in the world.

But I'm somehow even more disappointed that people billed as serious historians of the Middle East like Michael Rubin, using rhetoric that is strikingly similar to Ankara's, have taken to reducing the historical reality of the Armenian genocide to "the narrative of Diaspora communities," giving the impression that the latter is at odds with the accounts of respected historians.

The Anti-Defamation League has decided to label the events surrounding the deaths of Armenians during World War I as 'genocide.'

There can be absolutely no argument that a million or more Armenians died during World War I.  But, on issue of whether genocide—a deliberate plan to eradicate a people—occurred or not, there is a big gap between the narrative of Diaspora communities and that of prominent historians.  The historical debate is more complex. 

It is a shame that Abraham Foxman has made such a decision on political rather than historical grounds.

It's then particularly ironic that Rubin laments that Foxman has made this decision on "political rather than historical grounds," when the stated reasons that Foxman originally gave for opposing the label were explicitly political in the first place.

Why is there no backlash from genocide scholars against people like Rubin? He has a prominent perch at the American Enterprise Institute and as editor of the Middle East Quarterly, which is published by Pipes's Middle East Forum. He should be publicly outed as a negationist, in the way that he would likely do to anyone who denied the Jewish genocide.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Pulling the ladder up

(Via Neil/Ezra) I wonder if Mark Krikorian recognizes the irony of an Armenian-American arguing against offering asylum to a people that's being targeted in a genocide. Had all countries followed his lead a hundred years ago, his family probably would have died in the deserts of Syria at the hands of the Young Turks:

Zionism Is Not a Suicide Pact   [Mark Krikorian]

Good for Israel in announcing it will turn back all Darfur refugees sneaking across the border from Egypt — thousands of Muslims claiming asylum would present an existential threat to the Jewish state. But here’s what the government has to deal with: the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, what appears to be the country’s equivalent of the ACLU, said that it is "Israel's moral and legal obligation to accept any refugees or asylum seekers facing life-threatening danger or infringements on their freedom." That last bit is great – “infringements on their freedoms.” So, apparently anyone, anywhere who doesn’t enjoy complete political freedom and manages to sneak into Israel should be allowed to stay. This kind of post-nationalism is bad enough in Europe and the U.S., but we at least have some strategic depth, as it were – the very existence of such sentiments in a country as small and insecure as Israel doesn’t bode well for its long-term viability.

There's nothing like pulling the ladder up once you and yours have made it to safety.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Terrorism and resistance

Over the last few days, I've debated the actions of revolutionary groups, particularly those in the Levant, during the 70s, with some friends of mine. I've taken the stance that no matter how just their cause might be or how injust the actions of their enemies, the deliberate targeting of civilians is beyond the pale.

Following the brutal and inexcusable attacks against Kurdish Yazidis in northern Iraq, the Economist has a wonderful little piece about not confusing terrorism with resistance

Even in the hell of Iraq, however, it is important to look at some things straight. And one of those things is that not all kinds of killing are equal. Some are less acceptable than others. This is not a callous or nit-picking legal point: it concerns a vital distinction between legitimate and illegitimate violence that has long been spelled out under the laws and moral requirements of war and must not be fudged.

George Bush is rightly criticised for lumping together as “terrorists” anyone who takes up arms against America or its allies. This is a simplistic formula that blurs necessary distinctions and makes for clumsy policy. Yet some opponents of the superpower's occupation of Iraq make an equal mistake when they lump together—and condone—as “resistance” all of the violent acts committed by America's foes in Iraq.

No excuses

This is profoundly mistaken. Military attacks against foreign soldiers who have come uninvited into your country can certainly be classified as resistance, whether you think such resistance justified or not. But the mass murder of Iraqi civilians can make no such dignified claim. The most lethal atrocities are those carried out by suicide-bombers, most of them from Saudi Arabia, who have imbibed some version of the al-Qaeda idea of war to the end against the unbelievers, who in their minds include Iraq's Shia Muslims. Many Iraqi Sunnis have in their turn been killed—for revenge or as part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing—by Iraqi Shias, sometimes acting alone and sometimes at the bidding of organised militias, often with links to a political party or to Iraq's government.

Under all established norms and laws of war (and by most accounts under Islamic law, too) the deliberate targeting of civilians for no direct military purpose is just a crime. This remains true regardless of the justice of the cause, and whether the killing is done by states, armies, groups or individuals. The world should never tire of condemning such deeds.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Darfur mortality rates: A debate

Eric Reeves has taken down a recent op-ed piece by Time's Sam Dealey. The Reeves rebuttal is detailed and lengthy, so there aren't any really pithy quotes to add here. In other words, read the whole thing.

Stones and glass houses: or pots and kettles

The Bush administration has just recently decided to designate a large chunk of a sovereign nation's armed forces as a terrorist organization. The choice doesn't seem to be final and hasn't been put into effect yet, so it might just be saber rattling to pressure the Iranian government, although it's hard to see what effect this would actually have on the Iranian regime, which is already the target of US economic sanctions.

What's interesting about this is that it's the first time the US has decided to label a state actor as a terrorist organization. The current definition contained in Title 18 of the US Code, Section 2331 is as follows:

Section 2331. Definitions

      As used in this chapter - 
(1) the term "international terrorism" means activities that -
(A) involve violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that
are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of
any State, or that would be a criminal violation if committed
within the jurisdiction of the United States or of any State;
(B) appear to be intended -
(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
(ii) to influence the policy of a government by
intimidation or coercion; or
(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass
destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and

(C) occur primarily outside the territorial jurisdiction of
the United States, or transcend national boundaries in terms of
the means by which they are accomplished, the persons they
appear intended to intimidate or coerce, or the locale in which
their perpetrators operate or seek asylum;

What is interesting is that this definition, contrary to many others, does not exclude state actors. As such, every time the CIA or IDF kidnaps or assassinates someone, those organizations are committing acts of international terrorism, according to US Code. People like Noam Chomsky have held the US to its definition for a very long time, but until now, there has been a hesitancy about designating any state actors as terrorist organizations, presumably because that opens the US Government, and those of its allies, even more so to charges of terrorism.


If I were part of the Iranian government, I would bring this up and make a similar designation of the US Government. After all, at a time when CIA agents have been indicted by an Italian judge for kidnapping, it's a charge that is difficult to rebut. 

Sunday, August 12, 2007

How to live without a solution

Henry Siegman, the director of the US/ Middle East Project, who served as a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations from 1994 to 2006, and was head of the American Jewish Congress from 1978 to 1994, has an excellent piece on Palestine and Israel in LRB, "The Middle East Peace Process Scam."

He comes out and says that the impediment to peace is Israeli stalling while slowly chipping away at Palestinian land with the wall, roads and settlements, while the international "peace process" gives it cover. He says that Palestinian statehood has been put in formaldehyde, which is to say that it is given the appearance of still being alive while not allowed to visibly decompose.

Siegman quotes Moshe Dayan, who says "The question is not 'What is the solution?' but 'How do we live without a solution?'" He then goes on to quote Geoffrey Aronson,who has this to say:

Living without a solution, then as now, was understood by Israel as the key to maximising the benefits of conquest while minimising the burdens and dangers of retreat or formal annexation. This commitment to the status quo, however, disguised a programme of expansion that generations of Israeli leaders supported as enabling, through Israeli settlement, the dynamic transformation of the territories and the expansion of effective Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan River.

He opens with this sober and depressing assessment of the peace process, which he calls a scam and a spectacular deception:

In [Bush's] view, all previous peace initiatives have failed largely, if not exclusively, because Palestinians were not ready for a state of their own. The meeting will therefore focus narrowly on Palestinian institution-building and reform, under the tutelage of Tony Blair, the Quartet’s newly appointed envoy.

In fact, all previous peace initiatives have got nowhere for a reason that neither Bush nor the EU has had the political courage to acknowledge. That reason is the consensus reached long ago by Israel’s decision-making elites that Israel will never allow the emergence of a Palestinian state which denies it effective military and economic control of the West Bank. To be sure, Israel would allow – indeed, it would insist on – the creation of a number of isolated enclaves that Palestinians could call a state, but only in order to prevent the creation of a binational state in which Palestinians would be the majority.

The Middle East peace process may well be the most spectacular deception in modern diplomatic history. Since the failed Camp David summit of 2000, and actually well before it, Israel’s interest in a peace process – other than for the purpose of obtaining Palestinian and international acceptance of the status quo – has been a fiction that has served primarily to provide cover for its systematic confiscation of Palestinian land and an occupation whose goal, according to the former IDF chief of staff Moshe Ya’alon, is ‘to sear deep into the consciousness of Palestinians that they are a defeated people’. In his reluctant embrace of the Oslo Accords, and his distaste for the settlers, Yitzhak Rabin may have been the exception to this, but even he did not entertain a return of Palestinian territory beyond the so-called Allon Plan, which allowed Israel to retain the Jordan Valley and other parts of the West Bank.

These days, it's hard to find a piece about the peace process as a whole that has anything new to say, and this one is no exception. What is different, however, is that more and more American and Israeli Jews (Burg, for example) are asking hard questions of Israel and its brutal occupation and making piercing observations about the situation as a whole, including international complicity. These are not questions and observations that went unasked and unobserved before by Arabs and Europeans; they're just gaining credibility in the international discourse because it's hard to paint the former head of the American Jewish Congress as an anti-Semite for asking them.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Arming Libya

Most of the coverage about the arms deal between France and Libya has focused on the quid pro quo (officially denied) of offering arms for the release of the Bulgarian nurses and the Palestinian doctor. One aspect of the piece that's been overlooked is the fact that offering arms to Tripoli might be at odds with the stated policy of France and the UK in Darfur. Libya has a long history of arming the "Arab" side of the region's racial war, which has involved Darfur and Chad, in hopes of creating a united pan-Arab state in the region.

So although its author doesn't seem terribly familiar the region's decades-long war, I was glad to see this article in the Guardian on the possibility of a conflict arising from the arms deal between their policy in Libya and their policies in Darfur and Chad.

This is an important question, and those who wish to read about the conflict in the Sahara and Sahel would do well to check out the new and updated edition of Burr's and Collins's book on the subject.

Daily Star gossip

Following the Solidere story in the Daily Star, there has been some gossip, most notably from the Angry Arab (here and here), that the US Government was very unhappy with the piece and pressured to print a full rebuttal. He says that the Examiner section of the paper, which is for investigative journalism, is funded by USAID in order to promote transparency and accountability in the Arab media.

I have no idea whether or not the accusations are accurate or not, but it makes for interesting gossip, nonetheless. Maybe I'll ask around to some friends and acquaintances who work at the Star.

Election choices

Via Ezra, I found a website that lets you select quotes from presidential candidates that you agree with without telling you who they are until the end. You have to check the boxes of issues that interest you, so I tried it out on foreign policy (general), Iraq War, Iran, Israel and Palestine and finally, Health Care.

Since most of the quotes I chose to respond to were about foreign policy, it's not surprising that I agree the most with Bill Richardson. After him, Mike Gravel (about whom I know next to nothing), Kucinich and Obama were tied for second place. There were six Republican candidates whom I agreed with on one quote, and one Republican (Ron Paul) whom I agreed with more than a Democrat (Biden) by a score of 4 to 3. I'm pretty sure that if I had done the whole test, including the other domestic quotes, that probably would have switched around. Totally absent from the list of people whom I can agree with about a single thing is Guiliani.

Otherwise, it's interesting to me that on the issue of Israel/Palestine, there weren't very many quotes I agreed with by any of the candidates. I clicked to agree with some of the fairer sounding two-state comments, although deep down, I don't believe a two-state solution is viable in the long term. There were exactly zero candidates who came out for cutting funding to Israel or a one-state solution and only one quote, from Gravel, about negotiating with Hamas:

The US must sponsor negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, including Hamas, with the goal of a two-state solution guaranteeing demilitarized borders, Israel's right to survive and raising Palestinians economic standards.

Of those who took the test, more than half (52.8%) agreed with this statement.

The two most popular quotes that I agreed with were by Richardson and Kucinich, at 80% and 72.86% respectively:

Richardson: "In recent years, American foreign policy has been guided more by dogma than by facts, more by ideology than by history, more by wishful thinking than by reality."

Kucinich: "I support normal bilateral trade with Cuba. Farm communities throughout the U.S. are being denied a natural market in Cuba, and Americans are being denied products from Cuba."

Of course it's hard to generalize these percentages, because like me, most people probably only responded to quotes in the areas that are the most important to them, and so I can imagine that issue like abortion, for example, were ranked as the most important by more conservative people.

In any case, it's an interesting exercise nonetheless, and I've been able to work out that while I agree with Richardson more than anyone else about the issues that are the most important to me, I agree enough with Obama to back him instead since Richardson has nearly no chance of winning the primaries. (I hope he will accept being a vice presidential candidate or nomination as secretary of state.)

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Tous les jours, c'est kebab party!

I got a link from a friend of mine to a new music video done by a Turkish kebab waiter, Lil'Maaz, at a kebab shop in my favorite neighborhood in Paris. The song is called....wait for it.... "Mange du Kebab" (Eat Kebab). It's pretty fun, so much so, in fact, that after hearing him rap while working, some regular customers who work in a production studio decided to help him make a video. It seems be a big hit, so go check out his website (in French). In the meantime, watch the video:

 

Tsunami weapon strikes again!

The news here is that the Levant is due for a tsunami, which reminds me of reactions that I got after the big one in Indonesia. It was obviously an American/Jewish underwater tsunami bomb, I was told by one Pakistani guy. When I asked why "the Jews" and "the Americans" would do that, he looked at me as if I had just asked the stupidest question on earth: "To kill Muslims, obviously!"

According to the Algerians (via the Arabist), things are just warming up:

La protection civile algérienne a annoncé, mercredi 8 août, la mort de douze baigneurs emportés par une vague géante sur une plage de Mostaganem, dans l'ouest algérien, vendredi. L'origine de la vague est inconnue et nourrit les débats des scientifiques et de la population locale.

L'hypothèse d'un essai scientifique en Méditerranée effectué par des pays de l'autre rive, comme l'Espagne, l'Italie ou la France est avancée. "On peut supposer qu'il s'agit d'une expérience scientifique d'armes conventionnelles", explique le professeur Loth Bonatiro, spécialiste d'astronomie et de planétologie au Centre algérien de recherche en astronomie, astrophysique et géophysique (Craag), cité dans les colonnes du quotidien algérien L'Expression.

L'hypothèse d'un mini-tsunami avancée par les habitants semblait peu plausible, dans la mesure où la vague n'a touché qu'une seule plage, celle dite du Petit-Port.

Une secousse sismique d'une magnitude de 4,6 sur l'échelle ouverte de Richter avait été enregistrée vendredi à 21 h 08 en plein milieu du bassin méditerranéen par le centre de Strasbourg, mais pas par le Craag, qui évoque un possible problème technique.

Sometimes I wonder if I've become too acclimated to the local weather of conspiracy theories, but when things like this come up, I know that I've still got a long way to go. 

Solidere's "illegal expansion"

The Daily Star has a relatively lengthy piece about Solidere and some of its legal battles with former downtown property owners, most of whose property rights are now owned by Solidere. The issue is a fairly complicated one, and I don't pretend to fully understand it, although this latest suit seems to have been sparked by Solidere's decision to start expanding into Dubai whereas most of its work downtown remains unfinished.

In any case, the article is worth a read, and it'd be nice to see more of such substantive reporting being done by the Star. If anyone else has any links to more information about the Hariri empire and downtown property rights, I'd love to see it.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Super Hajja

My friends over at Grey Mog here in Beirut sent me a link for the first scene teaser for the upcoming movie Super Hajja. Their website should be up and running in a few days, so keep an eye on that. Otherwise, I can't find the original short film that they did for Super Hajja during the war, but if I find a link to it, I'll be sure to post it.

In any case, and without any further ado, here is the opening scene to the upcoming Super Hajja:

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Politics and the Diaspora

Lately, we've been hearing an awful lot about the Iranian threat to Israel. Much of this has been couched in alarmist rhetoric that implies (or even sometimes explicitly says) that Iran is the new Nazi Germany. One of the more problematic facts for this narrative is the existence of the Middle East's second largest Jewish community. After Israel, more Jews live in Iran than in any other country in the region.

It seems, however, that Jewish groups are trying to entice Iranian Jews into moving to Israel -- but without much luck, it seems:

Iran's Jews have given the country a loyalty pledge in the face of cash offers aimed at encouraging them to move to Israel, the arch-enemy of its Islamic rulers.

The incentives - ranging from £5,000 a person to £30,000 for families - were offered from a special fund established by wealthy expatriate Jews in an effort to prompt a mass migration to Israel among Iran's 25,000-strong Jewish community. The offers were made with Israel's official blessing and were additional to the usual state packages it provides to Jews emigrating from the diaspora.

However, the Society of Iranian Jews dismissed them as "immature political enticements" and said their national identity was not for sale.

"The identity of Iranian Jews is not tradable for any amount of money," the society said in a statement. "Iranian Jews are among the most ancient Iranians. Iran's Jews love their Iranian identity and their culture, so threats and this immature political enticement will not achieve their aim of wiping out the identity of Iranian Jews."

The Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv reported that the incentives had been doubled after offers of £2,500 a head failed to attract any Iranian Jews to leave for Israel.

Iran's sole Jewish MP, Morris Motamed, said the offers were insulting and put the country's Jews under pressure to prove their loyalty. "It suggests the Iranian Jew can be encouraged to emigrate by money," he said. "Iran's Jews have always been free to emigrate and three-quarters of them did so after the revolution but 70% of those went to America, not Israel."

Similar efforts have been made to attract French Jews, with Sharon's remarks that they should move to Israel because of anti-Semitism in France. That call, however, was met with similar results (translation mine):

Jewish associations in France also announced their indignation and expressed unequivocal disapproval of Ariel Sharon's remarks. Haïm Korsia, the representative of the Grand Rabbi Joseph Sitruk declared that the question of the Jews of France is "a moot point" because, for him, to speak of "the Jews of France doesn't mean anything; there are French citizens who are Jews, like others have another religion." Richard Prasquier, member of the executive office of CRIF (Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France) affirmed that the call to immigration made by Ariel Sharon threw "oil on the fire in an unacceptable way." Patrick Klugman, former president of the Union of Jewish Students of France (UEJF) and vice president of SOS Racism said that the Israeli Prime Minister was "very ill informed of what is happening in France." As for Theo Klein, the vice president of CRIF, he concluded with a message to Ariel Sharon: "He should let the Jewish community in France deal with its own problems." 

As far as efforts to get European Jews to emigrate to Israel, it seems that, if anything, the current trend is in the opposite direction. With 20% of Israelis eligible for an EU passport, more and more are applying for the bordeaux-colored passports. Ironically, the Jewish Agency for Israel has been pressuring the German government to stop making it easy for Jews from the former Soviet Union to settle there. (In 2003, for example, more Russian Jews chose to go to Germany than to Israel.)

The attempt to encourage Diaspora Jews to make aliyah in general is fairly normal and linked, to my mind, to Israeli and Palestinian demographics. The attempts to target Jews in Iran and France in particular, however, might be an attempt to disprove that Muslims and Jews can live together. In addition to having the largest Jewish community in western Europe (600,000), France, after all, also has the largest Muslim community in the region, making up 10% the French population (mostly from Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Senegal). And the claims that Iran is equivalent to Nazi Germany seem kind of silly when it has its own 25,000-strong Jewish population that resists emigrating to Israel and which has a Jewish representative in the Iranian Parliament.

In addition to endangering the case for war with Iran, the Jewish Diaspora weakens the argument for the need for a Jewish state in the first place. Because if Jews can live without fear in the US and Europe, or even in Iran, why shouldn't there be a binational state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean where Jews and Arabs can live with equal rights, regardless of race or creed? 

Preeminent Holocaust scholar dies

Raul Hilberg, one of the greatest Holocaust scholars, has died. Genocide scholars the world around are indebted to his tireless work.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Metn Parliamentary by-elections

Last night, after going to the cinema and having some dinner in Sassine with my roommate, we decided to go check out what was going on at our local Aounist headquarters. While we were having our dinner and 'arguileh, supporters of Hariri's Sunni-based Future Movement, the Lebanese Forces and the Phalangist party kept driving by honking their horns and waving party flags. Sassine, which is mostly Christian and next to the ABC Achrifieh mall is mostly for Geagea and Gemayel. This is why we decided that it would be interesting to go see what was happening in the Aoun camp.

The headquarters were blocked off by the Army to prevent any political street fighting. I was given an orange Free Patriotic Movement t-shirt and a bottle of water with an orange cap, as well as a cup of coffee, which was about the only non-orange thing there. Everyone was outside watching the results on Orange TV, the FPM's unofficial television channel. There were more orange wigs, shirts, shoes, socks and pants than at a faculty meeting at an American elementary school on Halloween.

The Parliamentary by-election in the Metn region was called by the government (and opposed by the opposition, which makes Aoun's participation contradictory if perhaps also cunning) in order to replace MP Pierre Gemayel, who was assassinated earlier this year. The election is an important one, since it acts as a bellwether for Christian support, which will be helpful for predicting who the next president will be. Former president and father of Pierre, Amin Gemayel ran against Aoun-backed and lesser-known Kamil Khoury.

Orange TV announced Khoury's victory relatively early in the evening, but it wasn't until this morning that I saw more definitive accounts of the results. When Orange TV made the call, the Aounists immediately started cheering, with more than a few heaving a large sigh of relief. Large and loud fireworks soon followed, at which point I took my leave. As I was leaving the headquarters, the Aounists told me that I should put the t-shirt they gave me in a bag, fearing that I might get harassed on my back home since the neighborhood was so fiercely pro-government.

According to CNN, the Ministry of the Interior officially called Khoury the winner by 418 votes in an election with some 80,000 ballots cast. In every account I've read so far, it seems that the deciding vote was what LBC is calling "the Armenian Voice." No one I talked to last night could tell me how many votes had been cast so far, but everyone could quote how many Armenian votes their side had received. As is usual in Lebanon, allegations of voter fraud are coming from both sides, and as is also usual, they're both probably right.

The run-up to this election has been interesting to me, because it's been marked by two very anti-democratic forces. On the one hand, the only reason the election is happening at all is because there was a political assassination. On the other hand, supporters of the Gemayel family and the Phalangist and Lebanese Forces parties have had a a worrisome attitude of entitlement about the whole affair. According to many of them, the Parliament seat belongs to the Gemayel clan, and it's just bad form for Aoun to contest it. Others, including Michael Young and the Maronite Patriarch, have been arguing (undemocratically, I needn't add) that Gemayel should run unopposed, because a real election would split the Christians (as if they weren't already split).

In any case, one thing that seems certain is that this has put the last nail in the Gemayel clan's coffin. If the former president couldn't beat a little-known Khoury, then the Gemayels have finally gone the way of the Chamoun clan. Overall, I think it's a good thing when a political dynasty ends in a country like Lebanon (by non-violent means, that is), but if Lebanese history is much of an indicator, the political (and physical) death of a clan doesn't necessarily imply the fall of feudal politics, but rather the rise of another political clan in this country of the Godfather where things are run by various tribes with flags.

Shi'a fatwa against honor killings

Last week, Lebanese Shi'a cleric Grand Ayatollah Fadlallah issued a fatwa banning honor killings, or honor crimes as he is calling them:

Lebanon's most senior Shiite Muslim cleric issued Thursday a fatwa, or religious edict, banning honor killings, calling the custom of murdering a female relative for sexual misconduct "a repulsive act."

The fatwa by Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah was a rare condemnation by a prominent cleric of the practice. Fadlallah's office said he issued the statement in alarm over reports on an increase in honor killings.

"I view an honor crime as a repulsive act condemned and prohibited by religion," Fadlallah, the most revered religious authority for Lebanon's 1.2 million Shiites, said in a statement faxed to The Associated Press.

"In so-called honor crimes, some men kill their daughters, sisters, wives or female relatives on the pretext that they committed acts that harm chastity and honor," said Fadlallah, warning that the practice was on the rise in region.

"These crimes are committed without any religious evidence, and mostly on the basis of suspicions," added Fadlallah.

This, and Egypt's recent hymen fatwa, are the kinds of religious edicts that I like to see.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

African Polls

The Times has an interesting and interactive map (I'm a sucker for these) showing the results of a poll taken on attitudes in several sub-Saharan countries: Senegal, Mali, Uganda, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa.

Some of the results are obvious, and others are not. The poll covers national issues, the economy and personal well-being, as well as international views. The most pressing national concerns seem to be "HIV/AIDS and other diseases," "corrupt political leaders," "crime" and "illegal drugs." Ethnic/religious conflict was seen as a problem by more than half of those polled in Kenya, Ivory Coast and Nigeria, with the latter polling particularly high.

Despite this, those polled seemed fairly optimistic, and those polled in every country overwhelmingly thought things would be better for their children than they have been for them.

Opinions vary pretty widely on the UN, US and AU, depending on the country, with Ethiopia unsurprisingly showing the most support for the AU, which is headquartered in Addis Ababa and the EU scoring particularly low overall for Africans' confidence that it can "help solve Africa's problems." 

In would have been interesting to have added more countries with one foot in "Arab Africa" and the other foot in "black Africa," particularly Sudan, Chad and Mauritania. Out of all the countries polled, the only two where the majority don't think that "Arabs and blacks in North Africa can live peacefully together" were Uganda and Tanzania.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Tancredo: Attack Mecca and Medina

This is so incredible that I don't think I can even comment on it. I'll let Tancredo speak for himself:

WASHINGTON: Republican presidential hopeful Tom Tancredo says the best way he can think of to deter a nuclear terrorist attack on the U.S. is to threaten to retaliate by bombing Islamic holy sites.

The Colorado congressman on Tuesday told about 30 people at a town hall meeting in the state of Iowa that he believes such a terrorist attack could be imminent and that the U.S. needs to hurry up and think of a way to stop it.

"If it is up to me, we are going to explain that an attack on this homeland of that nature would be followed by an attack on the holy sites in Mecca and Medina," Tancredo said at the Family Table restaurant. "Because that's the only thing I can think of that might deter somebody from doing what they otherwise might do."

Listen here.

UNIFIL and Hezbollah

There have been rumors circulating since last Spring that UNIFIL had met with Hezbollah in order to get the latter's cooperation for protecting international troops in the south. Blanford confirms that with a recent article in the CS Monitor:

The growing threat of attack by Sunni radicals apparently spurred the leading European troop-contributing states to seek the Shiite Hizbullah's cooperation. According to UNIFIL sources, intelligence agents from Italy, France, and Spain met with Hizbullah representatives in the southern city of Sidon in April. As a result, some Spanish peacekeepers subsequently were "escorted" on some of their patrols by Hizbullah members in civilian vehicles, the UNIFIL sources say.

A day after the six peacekeepers were killed last month, Spanish foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos spoke with Manucher Mottaki, the foreign minister of Iran, Hizbullah's main patron. According to a Hizbullah official in south Lebanon, there has been at least one meeting between the Shiite party and Spanish UNIFIL officers since the bombing.

UNIFIL has long had quiet channels of communication with Hizbullah stretching back to the late 1980s, a recognition of the Shiite group's clout in the south. But UNIFIL commander General Graziano says that although troop-contributing governments may talk to Hizbullah, the peacekeeping battalions are only authorized to liaise with the Lebanese Army. Contacts with Hizbullah or any other Lebanese political party is not permitted, he says.

"I highly forbid any relation that is not authorized by this headquarters for any contingent that is dressed in the blue beret to have contact with any party without my authorization," he says.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Fallout from Israeli "journalists" in Lebanon

Nicholas Blanford, the Beirut correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor was recently arrested and detained on suspicion of being a spy in a Lebanese village near the Syrian border (emphasis mine):

We ended up at a nearby house in Yahfoufa where we were offered cups of Turkish coffee. Soon, more Hizbullah men arrived and we were escorted to an office in the village of Nabi Sheet. Ali and I handed over our cellphones, wallets, and my small backpack of journalistic gear for their perusal. That didn't help the situation.

In the eyes of our captors, my GPS device and a satellite phone – intended to aid our trip to remote Toufeil – only marked us as spies. Still, I was not unduly worried. I had been detained by Hizbullah before. It usually meant sitting with them for two or three hours while they verified my identity. I reeled off a list of names of top Hizbullah officials whom they could contact.

However, the Hizbullah men of the Bekaa are a tough, suspicious breed and unused to foreigners tramping around their areas.

Furthermore, Hizbullah has grown more wary of foreign journalists since the recent revelation that two Israeli correspondents had entered Lebanon on foreign passports and reported from the party's strongholds in Beirut and the south, an act that has made life more difficult and potentially dangerous for Western journalists operating here.

I recently wrote about my exchange with Lisa Goldman, one of the Israeli journalists who came here, and she recently tried to defend her lack of journalistic ethics on CNN in a debate with a local professor of journalism from the Lebanese American University. In this interview and on her blog she keeps mentioning all of the positive feedback she's gotten from Lebanon. Strangely missing from her blog comments is much negative feedback, which would lead one to believe that the only Lebanese responses she's gotten have been positive.

I know this to be patently false. For example, she refused to validate my comments on her blog as well as those of a Lebanese NGO worker who does projects on conflict resolution. So if those two comments aren't on her blog, I presume that she's been filtering many of the comments she doesn't agree with as well. For someone who claims to be writing about Lebanon in order to bridge the gap between Israelis and the Lebanese, it seems ironic that she would reject comments by those with a different opinion than hers.

On her blog, she dismisses the charges leveled by a foreign correspondent based in Beirut that she has "caused alot of problems for legitimate professional reporters who report from Lebanon (and who actually try and make an effort to understand the situation.)" Nicholas Blanford's recent jail time should put to rest any doubts that anyone had about this one. (Obviously, Hezbollah is at fault for being so paranoid and not allowing journalists free reign, but the stunts of Goldman and her Brazilian/Israeli friend have only made a bad situation worse.)

She then says that western reporters are doing a bad job of covering Lebanon since Israelis seem to know little of the current situation there:

As for the "countless foreign correspondents who work tirelessly" in Lebanon to "try and bring an accurate and fair picture to the world" - well, perhaps you should try harder to be accurate and fair. Because given that most non-Lebanese people seem to have the impression that the majority of Lebanese are either homeless, impoverished victims of the summer war, or militants running around with rocket launchers on their shoulders, it seems that you are not doing a very good job at all in presenting an accurate and fair picture of Lebanon.

Of course, this is absolutely ridiculous for several reasons. First, as anyone with access to Google can easily see, there are plenty of accounts of Beirut nightlife. A Lexis Nexis search for articles in the North American press in the last three years with the words "Lebanon" and "nightlife," for example, come up with 40 articles. The same search for English-language European sources yields 83 results. If Israelis don't know what normal life in Beirut is like, it's because they don't want to know, not because the information isn't out there.

So when Goldman says "I had a lot of knowledge of Lebanon from the internet," I can't help but wonder if she knows how to use the internet at all. In any case, it seems clear that as far as Lebanon goes, Lisa Goldman does not, in fact, know Shi'ite from shinola.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Fabulist quits NRO

Via Chris, NRO fabulist W. Thomas Smith Jr. quits doing freelance work for NRO. Kathryn Jean Lopez has this to say in an editor's note.

This is what I had to say about the affair earlier this month when it broke.

Good riddance, I say.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Rosen on Palestinians in Lebanon

Nir Rosen has a piece on Palestinians in Lebanon in the Post. It doesn't mention the economic discrimination against Palestinians here, who make up around 10% of the population in Lebanon. Nor does it go much into the politics of the camps (NGOs, PLO, Damascus and jihadi groups). But it does give a good overview of Palestinian scapegoating, which reminds me of a conversation with a friend during the Nahr el-Bared fighting when we wondered why it is that whenever Lebanon wants to come together as a country, it's usually at the expense of the Palestinians.

Recent lectures

In the last week or two, I've seen talks given by Juan Cole and Bernard Rougier. I wasn't sure what to expect from either, because of the sometimes shrill tone of the former and the sensationalist title of the latter's book. (I've got an aversion to books with the word "Jihad" in them.)

In both instances, I was pleasantly surprised. Cole was well spoken and interesting. And although the first part of his talk, which was just a recapping of the last 6 years, was pretty dry and unnecessary for a Middle Eastern audience, his comments during the Q&A were worth listening to the first part of the lecture. One point kind of bugged me, though. He made a point of pointing out Egypt's success in combating Islamist terrorist groups, even going so far as to imply that authoritarian governments might be as good as democratic ones at fighting terrorism. I'm not sure how I feel about that idea, except that my gut instinct is that while authoritarian governments might have more success at crushing these groups due to their freedom of action (not being tied down by human rights concerns, for example), I'm convinced that authoritarian rule is one of the causes of terrorism in the first place. So Egypt's "success" might be only short-term and might end up biting Cairo in the ass later.

As for Rougier, I found his participation on a panel about Palestinian identity and citizenship very interesting. He was accused of being an orientalist and of ignoring who was obviously to blame in the Nahr el-Bared conflict. (It's hard to know what to say when someone tells you that neither Fatah al-Islam nor the Lebanese Army were to blame for Nahr el-Bared, but that rather it was the Americans' fault. Incidentally, this was a comment made by a participant in the talk, not a random crank who'd wandered in because he heard there'd be food.) In any case, Rougier convinced me to go out and buy his book, despite the horrible weakness of the dollar and thus the Lebanese pound compared to the mighty euro. I'll be reading it as soon as I finish the books that are currently on my plate. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Ceci n'est pas un pays

Roger Cohen has an interesting little piece on Belgium in the Times:

In their grumpy way, Belgians — a majority Dutch-speaking, many French-speaking and a few German-speaking — have been posing a delicate question: does postmodern Europe, where even tiny states feel secure, really need a medium-small nation cobbled together in 1830 whose various communities dislike one another?

Moreover, does a country whose economy is largely run by European central bankers in control of the euro really need a government?

Gerrit Six, a teacher, suggested Belgian obsolescence when he put the country, complete with its busy king and ballooning debt, up for sale on eBay. It drew bids of close to $15 million. That was on day 100 of the political crisis. Belgium is now close to day 200. Italian politics suddenly look stable.

Little Belgium has become too conflicted to rule. It has three regions, three language communities that are not congruent with the regions, a smattering of local parliaments, a mainly French-speaking capital (Brussels) lodged in Dutch-speaking Flanders, a strong current of Flemish nationalism and an uneasy history.

Dutch-speakers, long underdogs in a country without a Flemish university until 1922, are tired of subsidizing their now poorer French-speaking cousins. A successful anti-immigrant and separatist party, Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest), is the odious expression of a wider desire to go it alone.

Flemish demands for greater decentralization and control (most recently over French-speaking schools in the Brussels periphery) have raised distrust to a poisonous level. “I am pretty sure Belgium will split eventually,” Caroline Sagesser, a political scientist, told me.

If it holds together, it will be because Brussels, with 10 percent of the population and 20 percent of gross domestic product, is too mixed to unravel. Like Baghdad, like Sarajevo, the capital is improbable but unyielding glue. Unlike them, it has avoided bloodshed. It also houses a modern marvel, the E.U. — and there’s the nub.

I often look at Lebanon and think, in the style of the Belgian surrealist: "this is not a country." Or state or nation, for that matter. Belgium has been without a government for almost 200 days, and Lebanon has been without a president since late last month. But who needs a government anyway?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Axis of Evil in Beirut

Last night I went to the Casino du Liban to see Showtime's Middle Eastern-American comedy tour, the Axis of Evil.

The venue was packed, and from what I've heard, it also did very well in Jordan. According to Ahmad Ahmad, even King Abdullah went to see the show in Amman. I'd never been to a comedy show before, so the only point of reference I had was what I'd seen on television, and it was pretty much like that. The jokes ranged from average to hilarious and seemed catered to a westernized Middle Eastern crowd. I'm not sure how many people were familiar with Bob Barker, and I'm sure that jokes on the debkeh would have been lost on much of an American audience. Those who were int he position of being familiar with both cultures were able to laugh at both American and Middle Eastern jokes.

Some of the Bush jokes seemed a little bit like pandering and a little hackneyed for an American audience. And some of the Lebanese jokes were pretty facile (bargaining, driving, "hi keefak, ça va," etc.), but people never seem to get tired of that sort of thing here. The message was, overall, a good one: Arabs are normal people who are capable of poking fun of themselves. For the most part, there was also a nice ecumenical message that welcomed Muslims, Christians and Jews. A nice example of this was the half-Palestinian comedian Aron/Haroun who made it a point of pointing out the similarities of Jews and Arabs, saying that "we're pretty much the same fucking people." (There was one disappointing moment, however, that made me cringe. At one point, Egyptian-American Ahmad Ahmad said that Arabs should be doing more in the entertainment business and that Hollywood was run by... Here he paused to let the audience yell in unison: "Jews!" Unfortunately, it didn't seem to be a joke making fun of people who believe in Jews-run-the-world conspiracies.)

Overall, it was a really good time, and I'm glad I went. The Middle East could use some more comedy, and if my hunch is right, this is the sort of thing that's likely start a stand-up fad in Beirut. Let's hope it's funny.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Not knowing Shi'ite from Shinola

I generally try to stay away from the National Review. This explains why I didn't see the inane and meretricious "reporting" done by W. Thomas Smith Jr. until today. I've commented here before on ridiculous and sensationalist accounts of Lebanon, but this guy really takes the cake. Smith wrote last September:

Hezbollah is rehearsing for something big here. Not sure what or when. But a few days ago, between 4,000 and 5,000 HezB gunmen deployed to the Christian areas of Beirut in an unsettling “show of force,” positioning themselves at road intersections and other key points throughout the city.

It just so happens that I live on the East side of town in one of the "Christian areas of Beirut," and I can guarantee that Smith's account is laughably untrue. On the day that Smith says Hezbollah "deployed" to East Beirut, I was doing some shopping. I live on the border of Gemmayzeh and Mar Mkhail and went to Sassine and ABC that day (all of which are Christian neighborhoods), and rest assured, there were no Hezbollah militants, much less armed ones, to be seen anywhere.  Had what he described been true, there would most likely have been a civil war, or at the very least isolated street fighting. As it was, not only was there no fighting, but not a single journalist in Beirut, foreign or Lebanese, picked up on Hezbollah's alleged "show of force." There's a very simple reason for this: it never happened. If Hezbollah were to deploy a dozen armed militants to Achrafieh, that would be crossing one of Lebanon's red lines. Saying that there were 4,000-5,000 gunmen here is beyond farfetched; it's in the realm of the outlandishly comic. 

I've had neither the time, nor the stomach, to wade through all of this guy's Lebanon "coverage," but the few pieces I've opened are risible in their ridiculousness. Here's another example:

Hezbollah are not the only terrorists operating here in Lebanon: There are also Al Qaeda affiliates like Fatah Al Islam (they were not totally wiped out at Nahr al Bared), as well as Jund al Sham (Soldiers of Damascus), Jundallah, Hamas, and — though few Americans are aware of this — operating elements of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps on the Lebanese side of the Lebanese-Syrian border. These are just a few of the problem groups here: All operating under the auspices of Hezbollah.

Despite his mistranslation of "Sham," which in this context means Greater Syria (Syria, Lebanon and Palestine) and not Damascus, this little excerpt is absurd in that it explicitly says that all of the al-Qaeda-affiliated groups operating in the Palestinian camps, as well as Hamas and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard are "operating under the auspices of Hezbollah." First of all, no one knows who is connected to the various groups operating in the Palestinian camps. And second of all, anyone who believes that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is "under the auspices" of Hezbollah, and not the other way around, obviously knows nothing about either organization.

Smith's scattergun approach to various armed groups in Lebanon is symptomatic of a larger, mostly American, approach to the Middle East, where al-Qaeda equals Hezbollah equals Hamas equals al Qaeda in Iraq equals Jund al-Sham ,etc. This is the kind of thinking that led most Americans to believe that Baghdad had something to do with 9/11 and leaves the defenders of the free world (see also: Reyes and Sarkozy) incapable of distinguishing between Sunnis and Shi'a.

Another fun read is this post, in which Smith brags about doing "reconnaissance" in the Dahiye, the suburbs where Hezbollah is based in Beirut. Or rather this would be funny if it were a satire and I were reading it to friends in Beirut. This guy seems to think that he's in a Chuck Norris movie, which would be fine except for a couple of things. First, this "journalism," in which Smith writes about spying on Hezbollah for pro-Government groups not only makes him sound like a macho asshole, it also casts a shadow of doubt on legitimate journalism done by actual reporters in a country where foreign correspondents are already viewed with an air of suspicion. Second, it makes Beirut sound like a war zone, which it's clearly not.

And then there's this gem. According to Smith, there were "some 200-plus heavily armed Hezbollah militiamen — positioned between the parliament and the Serail." As it happens, I've spent a fair amount of time downtown, and this is not the first time I've written about Americans talking about the sit-in protest without knowing what they're talking about. For the last few months, it's been hard to find more than a couple of dozen people at the protest, much less hundreds of armed militants. I have never, I repeat: never, seen any Hezbollah weapons downtown. They may have them down there, but if they do, they're hidden so well that someone who regularly strolls through the camp would not see them. To suggest that he surprised 200 armed militants out in the open while driving over the bridge that connects East and West Beirut is ridiculous.   

Finally, Jack Bauer -- I mean W. Thomas Smith Jr. -- gives us a post from an "undisclosed neighborhood":

Lebanon is extremely dangerous for Americans right now. In fact, some top officials within the 1559 Committee (essentially the heart and soul of the Cedars Revolution ... for a free Lebanon) believe some sort of dramatic terrorist event is going to take place here in Lebanon between now and mid-October. This is not a gut feeling, but a calculation based on intelligence analysis and chatter from the street.

Tony Nissi, the 1559 Committee chief here in Beirut (whom you'll recall from previous entries), has reason to believe Hezbollah knows who I am. So I am deliberately not staying in hotels: Instead, I'm spending nights in friends' houses — safe houses if you will — and always with bodyguards.

This one is the funniest of the bunch. If there are only half of the number of Americans in Lebanon now as there were during the July war, there'd still be over 10,000 Americans here, myself included. Beirut is decidedly not unsafe for Americans, unless of course they decide to go play G.I. Joe by arming themselves and doing "reconnaissance." But even if Smith were to get picked up by Hezbollah or the Army for spying (which is basically what he claims he's doing), they'd immediately recognize him for the  buffoon that he plainly is. He sounds more like a hapless character out of a Harry Mathews novel than an actual spy, or, God forbid, a journalist.

I could go on for pages about the factual inaccuracy of Smith's reports, but it would just be more of the same. It's amazing to me that NRO published any of Smith's "reports." They are so obviously bullshit that someone must have been asleep at the wheel over there. One of my pet peeves is the writing of partisan hacks who only travel for rhetorical flair, and Smith seems to be more of the same. The difference is that his case is so egregious that he's getting called out on it. There are well respected journalists here in Lebanon and elsewhere who not only know the country intimately but are good writers to boot. Anthony Shadid, Annia Ciezadlo and Mohamad Bazzi are only a few of the names that come to mind. So why is there a need to send Chuck Norris wannabe hacks like Smith who evidently don't know anything about the countries they're ostensibly covering? If NRO wants coverage of Lebanon, there's no dearth of talent already here in Beirut. Insisting on publishing Smith's fabrications in order to toe an ideological line that pays no heed of Lebanon's complex politics only makes NRO look stupid and dishonest.

If you're interested in NRO's response to similar allegations, you can see that here and here.



UPDATE: Kathryn Jean Lopez, online editor of the National Review has another statement up about Smith (emphasis mine):

With regard to the two posts in question, it is my belief, based on an investigation in which NRO discussed the matter with three independent sources who live and work in Lebanon (as well as other experts in the area), that Smith was probably either spun by his sources or confused about what he saw.

...the context that Smith was operating in an uncertain environment where he couldn't always be sure of what he was witnessing, and the caveats that he filled in the gaps by talking to sources within the Cedar Revolution movement and the Lebanese national-security apparatus, whose claims obviously should have been been treated with the same degree of skepticism as those of anyone with an agenda to advance.

As one of our sources put it: "The Arab tendency to lie and exaggerate about enemies is alive and well among pro-American Lebanese Christians as much as it is with the likes of Hamas." While Smith vouches for his sources, we cannot independently verify what they told him. That's why we're revisiting the posts in question and warning readers to take them with a grain of salt.

So let me get this straight. Lopez publishes Smith's ridiculous posts that betray a fundamental ignorance of Lebanon and the political situation here, posts which were either made up entirely or fed to him by pro-Government forces, and the problem here is the "Arab tendency to lie and exaggerate."

Wow. I almost don't even know where to start with this one. Maybe she should just throw in another couple of lines about America's mission civilisatrice and the white man's burden and be done with it.

In any case, someone should send her message to Tom Harb, a rabid March 14 supporter in the US, who's supporting Smith wholeheartedly (from Florida, no less) and accusing all of the journalists who have contradicted Smith of being on the Hezbollah payroll. Someone should remind him that his neo-conservative comrades in arms at NRO and elsewhere are fair weather friends to whom, at the end of the day, a wog is a wog, regardless of his political usefulness.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Weekend in the Chouf

I spent this past weekend in the Chouf mountain, otherwise known as the personal fiefdom of Walid Jumblatt. I was looking forward to visiting the Moukhtara and its beautiful castle, and given the tense situation, I was surprised when my friend told me that conforming to Druze tradition, I could go have tea with and briefly meet Jumblatt -- or even ask him for something. Saturday morning is the time when the Moukhtara is open, and all are given tea while they wait for an audience with Walid Bek.

My timing was off, though, because it seems that US ambassador to Lebanon, Jeffrey Feltman, was due to arrive shortly for a lunch with Jumblatt and no amount of wasta with Jumblatt's private security detail was going to get us in.

One thing that bothers me about Lebanon is the checkpoints. They're a hassle, but given the situation, they seem necessary. What really gets to me though are those run by militias. Any journalist covering the south or Bekaa, or even parts of the Dahiye, are familiar with Hezbollah's stops, although I've never personally had to show my ID to anyone from Hezbollah, and despite my frequent trips to and through the sit-in downtown, I've never seen a member of the party armed.

Now March 14 and its allies are fond of complaining about the "state within a state" that is Hezbollah, but what you hear less about are their own states within a state. (Incidentally, I'm not fond of the expression, because in order for it to be true, there'd have to be a state within which to have a state -- something that just isn't true here.) While there are army checkpoints all around the Moukhtara, the guys with machine guns at the gate are PSP militia. They've got neither badge nor uniform -- their gun and the confidence of Walid being their only license for checking my ID. But these are the higher ranked guards, down the street, working at the local mechanic and sitting in a little booth are kids with walkie talkies.

When we decided to take a walk around the Moukhtara, we were immediately stopped by a kid who couldn't have been over 20 years old. I think he was intimidated by us, so when we refused to show any ID and only gave our first names, he called someone else as we were walking away. The second guy was only a little older and looked like he should be working second spatula at a saj stand. But there he was, asking for our ID. My friend looked him in the eye, immediately getting angry, and asked him where his ID was. After some prompting, the young and round boy opened his wallet and flashed a normal ID without letting us take it out or look at it too long. When we asked what gave him the authority to stop us, he lifted his shirt and showed us his walkie talkie. The Chouf, it seems, isn't so different from the south after all.

The rest of my trip, barring an embarrassing run-in with the way-too-friendly (and touchy!) tour guide at Beiteddine, was a welcome change from the city. Like true mountain men, we ate heartily and shot guns, and the clean air cleared my persistent cold right up.

Also, the Cedar reserve reminded me of something out of a fairy tale:

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Shobbing in Damascus

I was in Damascus last week for a long weekend of shopping, and the trip gave me the chance to talk to some Syrians about the political situation in Lebanon. Not a single person I spoke to believed that Syria was responsible for killing Hariri. They all thought it was a plot hatched by Israel and the US in order to kick the Syrians out and use Lebanon as knife in Damascus's heart. Many Syrians asked why the Lebanese hated them and seemed generally supportive of Syrian policies overall. Of course during such a short trip it's hard to truly judge Syrian opinion, since although things have gotten better since Hafez died, the average Syrian is still somewhat hesitant to criticize the government to a stranger in public.

Another thing that I noticed this time, was that Damascus is like an oriental Prague: a beautiful and impressively old city in the center surrounded by the hideously drab and gray monstrosities that only the people's architecture is capable of constructing.

Otherwise, Damascus is full of Iraqis, and the rise in prices is noticeable, even in comparison to just a year ago. The Syrian capital now has an Aishti in addition to the United Colors of Benetton stores that are sprinkled throughout the city. Overall, there's been a lot of progress since the last time I was in the Arab Republic a year ago.

I love Syria, but it's got a long way to go, and as the taxi crossed the border back into Lebanon, I remember sighing a breath of relief and feeling glad to be back home.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Confusing Musharraf and the people

Ezra seems to be confusing Musharraf with the people of Pakistan:

If we flip from Musharraf and begin supporting other candidates, Musharraf will flip on us. If we stick with Musharraf and he's ousted in a revolution, we will be identified as allies of the dictator. This isn't a situation where we must pick the best of two bad options. Rather, it's a situation where we should show some humility, let the Pakistanis make their own decisions, and pledge to deal openly with whomever emerges. This isn't a situation where we must pick the best of two bad options. Rather, it's a situation where we should show some humility, let the Pakistanis make their own decisions, and pledge to deal openly with whomever emerges.

This suggests first, that the US isn't already actively supporting a dog in the Pakistani fight and second, that "the Pakistanis" as a people will be in a position to make any sort of a decision. First, Musharraf is already propped up by financial and military aid from the US, and second, when he indefinitely postponed elections, he squashed any possibility the Pakistanis had of making their own decisions.

Perhaps the US shouldn't explicitly support the opposition, but it should support the process of democracy, even if that just means making elections a condition for continued US military and financial aid.

Ezra quotes Ignatious in order to draw a parallel between US support for the opposition in Iran (a policy that has seemed to have backfired on the US, not least because there is a credible threat that the US might attack Iran) and US support for the Pakistani opposition.

Vali Nasr, on the other hand, makes a more astute comparison of the two countries:

Musharraf's interests are no longer those of his military, and the two are now on a collision course. Generals can still end this crisis by going back to the deal Washington brokered with Ms. Bhutto, but only if it does not include Musharraf. Removing Musharraf will send demonstrators home and the Army to its barracks.

The longer Musharraf stays in power the more Pakistan will look like Iran in 1979: an isolated and unpopular ruler hanging on to power only to inflame passions and bring together his Islamic and pro-democracy opposition into a dangerous alliance.

A disastrous outcome in Pakistan, a nuclear-armed state with weak institutions and rife with extremist ideologies, violence, and deep ethnic and social divisions, will be far worse than what followed the Iranian revolution.

The West cannot afford to let this political crisis spiral out of control. Western leaders must keep the pressure on Musharraf, reach out to the Pakistani Army, and seriously plan for a post-Musharraf Pakistan.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Bush's "freedom agenda"

This week has made it clear to the world that the US isn't too terribly interested in democracy in Pakistan. There has been a lot of talk about Bush's retreat from talk of liberty and freedom and a lot of frowning on the administration's decision to continue supporting Musharraf financially and militarily while he trades prisoners with the Taliban and jails lawyers and judges, ostensibly as part of the "war on terror." Journalists and pundits are quick to show the gap between Bush's actions and his rhetoric.

Sure, this may be the case, but where have these people been? Is this actually news to anyone? One has to look at Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Thailand or Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan to see how serious this administration ever was about the "freedom agenda."

Pakistan is just the most recent, if not the most egregious, example of how lip service to democracy and human rights is little more than so much hot air. Let's not be naive here. The Bush administration talks the talk about democracy when it comes to Iraq and Afghanistan -- and maybe applies some sanctions when it's not inconvenient, like in Burma -- but at the end of the day, the freedom agenda obviously comes in second place when fossil fuels are concerned.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

A nuclear Middle East

Akiva Eldar has a very non-explicit opinion piece in Ha'aretz about the nuclear weapons in the Middle East. I have the feeling that Israeli laws on its "secret" nuclear program prevent him from being more explicit, but he nonetheless poses a question that I've been asking for some time now:

How can a country, which according to endless foreign reports has kept secret for years several atomic weapons, manage to rally the international community in a struggle against a neighboring country that insists on acquiring nuclear energy? What do Israeli politicians answer to those asking why Iran should not be allowed to acquire the same armaments that are already in the arsenals of neighboring countries, like Pakistan and India? The common response is that "Iran is the sole country whose president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, declares openly that he intends to destroy the state of Israel." This argument is a double-edged sword, par excellence, used by a country that sports a radiant nuclear glow (according to foreign press reports, of course), and who has a senior minister, one assigned to dealing with strategic threats, who has threatened to bomb the Aswan Dam.

Again without being explicit, he calls for a nuclear weapons-free Middle East, but he says that this should be done "when the conflict is resolved," which seems a little too much like waiting for Godot to me. History has shown that countries that get the bomb are very unlikely to give it up (with the exception of South Africa). So if Israel waits until Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan all have the bomb, a nuke-free Middle East will never happen, because while the chances of Israel giving up the bomb seem slim, the chances of getting all those other states to give it up are nil.   

Monday, November 05, 2007

Jewish refugees

The Times has a article on a Jewish group that's doing its best to spotlight the plight of Jews forced from Arab countries after the war in 1948. Ordinarily, I'd applaud such an act, because it's always a good idea to shed light on lesser known historical events.

In this case, however, the entire enterprise seems possibly less interested in history than in using history as a rhetorical bludgeon to undermine the Palestinian refugees' internationally recognized right of return:

Another objective is to push for early passage of resolutions introduced in the United States Senate and House that say that any explicit reference to Palestinian refugees in any official document must be matched by a similar explicit reference to Jewish and other refugees.

The American-sponsored peace conference in Annapolis is planned to take place before the end of the year to address core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict like borders, the status of Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugees.

"We want to have this meeting now, in advance of the Annapolis conference, to ensure that this issue is front and center in the international awareness as it should be," Mr. Urman said.

I've always maintained that both morally and politically speaking, the choice of countries like Libya, Iraq and Egypt to push out their Jewish citizens was a huge mistake. I also believe that Lebanon, for example, where the Jewish population actually increased after 1948 but all but disappeared during the civil war, should actively pursue the return of its Jewish citizens, most of whom seem to be in Paris and Montreal. This could be done with a law of return and an active rebuilding of the Jewish quarter, including the Synagogue downtown and the Jewish cemetery.

Today's article in the Times gives little nuance to the question and neglects to mention the principle difference between Palestinian refugees and Oriental Jews forced from Arab countries: many of the former remain stateless and continue to live in refugee camps, whereas the latter were successfully resettled and given citizenship in Israel or North America.

I came across another article in the Times, this time from 2003, that gives a much more nuanced discussion of the issue:

"This is not a campaign against Palestinian refugees," said Stanley A. Urman, executive director of Justice for Jews From Arab Countries, a coalition of 27 groups that includes the powerful Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. "On the contrary, we believe the legitimate rights of the Palestinian refugees must be addressed in any peace process." He added, "We've got to make sure Palestinian refugees receive rights and redress, and Jewish refugees receive rights and redress."

Rashid Khalidi, a professor of Arab studies at Columbia University, disagrees. "This is a bait-and-switch tactic that does not serve either Palestinians or Oriental Jews or a just peace," he said, using the umbrella term for Jews from Arab countries. "Leaving both of these groups aggrieved guarantees that whatever quote, unquote settlement results would be unstable. There are just claims here. They should be addressed by the Arab states. But it shouldn't be a bait-and-switch that will make Oriental Jews pay the price for Israel's confiscation of a very large amount of Palestinian property."

[...]To Professor Khalidi, the very notion of making Palestinians citizens of Arab countries ignores significant distinctions between the Jewish and the Palestinian refugee experiences. "The idea of comparing them to Palestinians isn't valid," he said of Jewish refugees. "In a Zionist narrative, they should've wanted to go to Israel in the first place. The Palestinians didn't want to leave and weren't going back to their homeland. But some people have tried to tell Arabs what their nationalism should be and have tried to tutor the Palestinians in the proper understanding of their own national identity."

Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat professor of peace and development at the University of Maryland at College Park, said it was legitimate to consider the claims of both sets of refugees simultaneously in the peace process. But for Israel, he warned, the strategy might lead to unintended consequences.

"Putting the issue of Jews in the Arab world on the table helps in the compensation arena, but not the resettlement arena," he said. "In that arena, exposing the issues of Jewish refugees could be a kind of drawback. It can give the Arab countries a political edge, a rhetorical edge over Israel. They can say, instead of compensation, you're welcome to come back. Jews will always be a minority in those countries. And Jewish refugees won't want to come back to them. So it can be a negative by highlighting the fact that Israel will not accept Palestinian refugees."

Politically speaking, of course, Telhami is correct. The only way that Arab regimes are likely to invite their Jewish citizens back is as a political maneuver to morally outflank Israel on the refugee question.

This is unfortunate, because everyone I talk to in Lebanon who remembers a time when the Jewish population lived openly in Beirut, remembers the time and their connections to their Jewish neighbors very fondly.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

"United in our diversity"

I was just reading the preamble of the South African constitution, and I couldn't help dreaming of a similar constitution for Israel/Palestine:

We, the people of South Africa,

Recognise the injustices of our past;

Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;

Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and

Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.

We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to ­

- Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;
- Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;
- Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and
- Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.

May God protect our people.

Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika. Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso.

God seën Suid-Afrika. God bless South Africa.

Mudzimu fhatutshedza Afurika. Hosi katekisa Afrika.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Debating the one state solution

I've been debating, if you can call it that, some Israelis and a Palestinian about my firmly held belief in a one state solution

One of the Israelis has already called me an idiot and all Arabs monkeys. I highly recommend skipping his replies and reading Lirun's and Nizo's.

UPDATE: I've been locked out of the thread. So much for for an honest and respectable exchange of ideas. The exchanges I've had with Israelis in the blogosphere have left me more depressed than anything else.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Thinking orange

I haven't had much to say in this space about Lebanese presidential politics -- mostly because I haven't had much to say about the subject, full stop. A recent interaction with a well-placed Aounist, however, has made me question some of what I think about the situation. Up till now, the only interaction I've had with Aounists, like with most other political parties here, has been with the rank and file, the man on the street who has no more inside information than I do. And the orange man on the street seems pretty practical. While he really wants Aoun to be the president, wishful thinking aside, he doesn't really believe that it's possible any more. He'd be content with a compromise candidate along the lines of General Michel Sulaiman. 

Recently, though, I had a discussion with someone higher up in the hierarchy, someone who had inside information. Although this person didn't give me many specifics, he did stress that Aoun would be president. I asked him if he meant that Aoun should be president or that Aoun would actually be president. He replied, "both." Then I asked if I should consider that remark to be from him personally or him as a party member. Again the answer was "both."

There are three possibilities here. First, it's possible that there is information to which I'm not privy, information which will assure an Aoun victory and prove my general sense of Lebanese politics to be wrong. I don't think this is the case, but that's partially why my general sense of Lebanese politics is as it is. Second, it's possible that I wasn't getting a straight answer and that this person was just giving me the party line. This seems logical and likely, but judging from the intensity and earnestness of his discourse, I don't think it's the case. Finally, I think it's most likely that this person was so personally and emotionally invested in the campaign that he couldn't really see straight anymore. This seems to be a common symptom of junior partisans who have neither the clear sighted detraction of the man on the street nor the cynical wisdom of the senior apparatchik.

In any case, not only did this person tell me that Aoun would definitely be president, but he also said that the Aounists would not accept anything less. I have the sneaking suspicion that when all is said and done, and the presidential deals have been done in smokey back rooms in Paris, Washington and Damascus, the orange upper echelons and the rank and file will be unsurprised, leaving the more zealous junior party members with inside information completely disillusioned.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Congress and Israel

I was watching CNN last night while hanging pictures and folding laundry, when Wolf Blitzer came on. All in all, it was actually fairly interesting. He interviewed El Baradei from the IAEA, Jordan's Queen Rania, the Turkish ambassador to the US, Barbara Boxer and Trent Lott. The last two were on after everyone else to respond to the issues being discussed.

Boxer was pretty well spoken and moderate about everything until she was asked about the Israeli bombing of Syria last month. El Baradei mentioned that neither the US nor Israel had provided the IAEA with any evidence of a Syrian nuclear program. He then rebuked the Israelis for shooting first and asking questions later instead of using the appropriate organization for such issues: the IAEA. So while Lott and Boxer disagreed on pretty much everything from the Armenian genocide bill to the rhetoric being used by the White House about a possible war against Iran, the one thing that they could agree on was that Israel has "the right to defend itself."

It's really uncanny. Neither said that they had been fully briefed on any intelligence concerning the Israeli strike in Syria, but both of them unequivocally supported it without any reservations. It's to be expected from Lott, but Boxer, who spends much of her time chiding the Bush administration for talking about war in Iran and having gone to war in Iraq has nothing critical to say about Israel's act of war.

Democrats seem to believe that politically speaking, they can be harder on the US, the country they're ostensibly representing, than they can be with Israel, a foreign nation. The more stories I hear about Capitol Hill and the more performances like Boxer's that I see, the more I think that there's truth in Buchanan's remark that Congress is Israeli-occupied territory.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Every once in a blue moon

It's not very often that I can say that I agree with American policy in Lebanon, but for the first time that I can remember, someone at the Pentagon seems to have gotten it somewhat right. Eric Edelman, undersecretary of defense for policy, had this to say in a recent interview broadcast on Lebanese television:

What we've been trying to do consistently is to create circumstances in which Lebanon can have a strong state, strong army, a democratic system with the military accountable to civilian control and to the government and to the people's representatives in the parliament. ... We believe it's in our interest to have a strong democratic state in Lebanon ... That's what we're working toward.

The problem, of course, is that the opposition doesn't trust the US at all (some would say with good reason). So of course, there are plenty of rumors that the US is building military bases in Lebanon, etc. Ideally, the Lebanese state would be built up by a more neutral country, like Sweden, but I doubt that will be happening anytime soon.

Chauffeuse de taxi

The other night I was going to meet up with a friend to watch The Kingdom, which, to my mind, was all right for an action movie, but not nearly as clever as it thought it was. I flagged down a cab and when it stopped I did a double take. The driver was a woman.

When I was a kid, I remember there being a riddle that went like this: A boy is wheeled into the emergency room, and the surgeon takes one look at him and says, "I'm sorry, I cannot operate on this boy. He is my son." The doctor is not the boy's father. Who is the doctor, then? The answer, of course, is, his mother. But at the time I remember hearing this riddle, the answer was not so obvious, and people would give answers like "his uncle" or "his grandfather," because they simply couldn't imagine the fact that a doctor would be a woman.

These days, the idea that a doctor or a lawyer or a chemist could be a woman seems obvious. For some reason, though, I was really shocked by seeing a woman cab driver. She acted just like her male counterparts: cursing, mumbling about traffic and trying to rip me off. 

Obviously, there's nothing about driving a cab, as opposed to say delivering refrigerators, that would prohibit most women from doing the job. But I suppose it's just a question of habit, and I'm not used to seeing women cabbies, not even in Europe or the States. (The only other one I've seen was an African woman in Paris.) After talking to friends about it, I've been told that there are a few in Beirut, and one even wears the hijab.

Coincidentally, a few months ago, I was near a police headquarters close to the periphery of Beirut when I suddenly saw two women soldiers walking down the street. Since then, I've run into a couple more. While I've seen plenty of women soldiers and police officers in my life, I'd never seen any in Lebanon, so I was really (pleasantly) surprised.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Wrestling with Zion

I recently came across an excerpt of a text by Ahad Ha'am (born Asher Ginsberg), a Zionist who went to Palestine for the first time in 1891. It's called "A Truth from Eretz Yisrael," and I found it in the collection edited by Tony Kushner and Alisa Solomon called Wrestling with Zion:

We who live abroad are accustomed to believe that almost all Eretz Yisrael is now uninhabited desert and whoever wishes can buy land there as he pleases. But this is not true. It is very difficult to find in the land [ha'aretz] cultivated fields that are not used for planting. Only those sand fields or stone mountains that would require the investment of hard labor and great expense to make them good for planting remain uncultivated. [...]

The Arabs, especially the urban elite, see and understand what we are doing and what we wish to do on the land, but they keep quiet and pretend not to notice anything. For now, they do not consider our actions as presenting a future danger to them. They therefore do their best to exploit us, to benefit from the newly arrived guests as much as they can and yet, in their hearts, they laugh at us. The peasants are happy when a Jewish colony is formed among them because they get better wages for their work and get richer and richer every year, as experience has shown us. The big landowners also have no problem accepting us because we pay them, for stone and sand land, amounts they would never have dreamed of getting before. But, if the time comes that our people's life in Eretz Yisrael will develop to a point where we are taking their place, either slightly or significantly, the natives are not going to just step aside so easily. [...]

If we have this ambition to settle in a new country and radically change our way of life and we truly want to achieve our goals, then we can't ignore the fact that ahead of us is a great war and this war is going to need significant preparation. [...]

It is not our way to learn nothing for the future from the past. We must surely learn, from both our past and present history, how careful we must be not to provoke the anger of the native people by doing them wrong, how we should be cautious in out dealings with a foreign people among whom we returned to live, to handle these people with love and respect and, needless to say, with justice and good judgment. And what do out brothers do? Exactly the opposite! They were slaves in their diasporas, and suddenly they find themselves with unlimited freedom, wild freedom that only a country like Turkey can offer. This sudden change has planted despotic tendencies in their hearts, as always happens to former slaves ['eved ki yimlokh]. They deal with the Arabs with hostility and cruelty trespass unjustly, beat them shamefully for no sufficient reason, and even boast about their actions. There is no one to stop the flood and put and end to this despicable and dangerous tendency. Our brothers indeed were right when they said that the Arab only respects he who exhibits bravery and courage. But when these people feel that that the law is on their rival's side and, even more so, if they are right to think their rival's actions are unjust and oppressive, then, even if they are silent,and endlessly reserved, they keep their anger in their hearts. And these people will be revenged like no other.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Utilities

Sometimes I wonder why Cyprus, a country that is still divided despite its recent membership in the EU, can be so successful compared to Lebanon, which has, to my mind, better food, friendlier people and equally nice weather. Then the electricity gets cut for a few hours and the water goes out, leaving me unable to shave or bathe before going into work.

I asked an Ethiopian acquaintance of mine yesterday if they had similar problems in Addis Ababa. She told me that while the electricity situation was worse than in Beirut, they always had more than enough water.

Shaving from a bottle of mineral water and having to hold it until I get to work because I can't flush the toilet remind me that Lebanon has a long way to go despite my occasional bouts of optimism.

In any other country, candidates on both local and national scales would be winning elections based on campaign promises to fix, or at least improve, these problems. It seems that this is not a major part of anyone's political platform in Lebanon.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Back/Update

For those few of you who have noticed, I haven't written in a while. This was mostly due to a change in jobs, a more permanent move (everything has been sent from Paris to Beirut and should now be on a boat somewhere in between) and the end of a big project.

When it rains it pours, I suppose. But so far so good.

In any case, I'm more or less settled into my new schedule and my new office. Time's going to be a little thin here at the beginning, but I think once I get into the groove of things, I'll find the time to post on a regular basis again.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Reminder

As a good friend of mine oft reminds me: writin' is fightin'. The bell's about to ring, and I'm almost done.

I should be back here soon.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Update

I'm not dead, I've just been really busy lately. I should be done with the project I'm working on soon enough, though, and spending a couple of weeks in Paris.

Hopefully, blogging will resume in a matter of days.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Prominent genocide deniers

It's already unfortunate that the ADL had to be shamed into calling the Armenian Genocide by its proper name (and this only in a qualified and circuitous fashion). And I also find it disconcerting that what is ostensibly an American anti-racism organization should cite Turkey's status as a "staunch friend of Israel" as a reason why not to recognize the Armenian genocide. (The open letter that states this has since been removed from the ADL website and replaced with the new open letter that uses the word genocide. It can, however, be found in Google's cache.):

We believe that legislative efforts outside of Turkey are counterproductive to the goal of having Turkey itself come to grips with its past. We take no position on what action Congress should take on House Resolution 106. The Jewish community in Turkey has clearly expressed to us and other major American Jewish organizations its concerns about the impact of Congressional action on them, and we cannot ignore those concerns. We are also keenly aware that Turkey is a key strategic ally and friend of the United States and a staunch friend of Israel, and that in the struggle between Islamic extremists and moderate Islam, Turkey is the most critical country in the world.

But I'm somehow even more disappointed that people billed as serious historians of the Middle East like Michael Rubin, using rhetoric that is strikingly similar to Ankara's, have taken to reducing the historical reality of the Armenian genocide to "the narrative of Diaspora communities," giving the impression that the latter is at odds with the accounts of respected historians.

The Anti-Defamation League has decided to label the events surrounding the deaths of Armenians during World War I as 'genocide.'

There can be absolutely no argument that a million or more Armenians died during World War I.  But, on issue of whether genocide—a deliberate plan to eradicate a people—occurred or not, there is a big gap between the narrative of Diaspora communities and that of prominent historians.  The historical debate is more complex. 

It is a shame that Abraham Foxman has made such a decision on political rather than historical grounds.

It's then particularly ironic that Rubin laments that Foxman has made this decision on "political rather than historical grounds," when the stated reasons that Foxman originally gave for opposing the label were explicitly political in the first place.

Why is there no backlash from genocide scholars against people like Rubin? He has a prominent perch at the American Enterprise Institute and as editor of the Middle East Quarterly, which is published by Pipes's Middle East Forum. He should be publicly outed as a negationist, in the way that he would likely do to anyone who denied the Jewish genocide.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Pulling the ladder up

(Via Neil/Ezra) I wonder if Mark Krikorian recognizes the irony of an Armenian-American arguing against offering asylum to a people that's being targeted in a genocide. Had all countries followed his lead a hundred years ago, his family probably would have died in the deserts of Syria at the hands of the Young Turks:

Zionism Is Not a Suicide Pact   [Mark Krikorian]

Good for Israel in announcing it will turn back all Darfur refugees sneaking across the border from Egypt — thousands of Muslims claiming asylum would present an existential threat to the Jewish state. But here’s what the government has to deal with: the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, what appears to be the country’s equivalent of the ACLU, said that it is "Israel's moral and legal obligation to accept any refugees or asylum seekers facing life-threatening danger or infringements on their freedom." That last bit is great – “infringements on their freedoms.” So, apparently anyone, anywhere who doesn’t enjoy complete political freedom and manages to sneak into Israel should be allowed to stay. This kind of post-nationalism is bad enough in Europe and the U.S., but we at least have some strategic depth, as it were – the very existence of such sentiments in a country as small and insecure as Israel doesn’t bode well for its long-term viability.

There's nothing like pulling the ladder up once you and yours have made it to safety.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Terrorism and resistance

Over the last few days, I've debated the actions of revolutionary groups, particularly those in the Levant, during the 70s, with some friends of mine. I've taken the stance that no matter how just their cause might be or how injust the actions of their enemies, the deliberate targeting of civilians is beyond the pale.

Following the brutal and inexcusable attacks against Kurdish Yazidis in northern Iraq, the Economist has a wonderful little piece about not confusing terrorism with resistance

Even in the hell of Iraq, however, it is important to look at some things straight. And one of those things is that not all kinds of killing are equal. Some are less acceptable than others. This is not a callous or nit-picking legal point: it concerns a vital distinction between legitimate and illegitimate violence that has long been spelled out under the laws and moral requirements of war and must not be fudged.

George Bush is rightly criticised for lumping together as “terrorists” anyone who takes up arms against America or its allies. This is a simplistic formula that blurs necessary distinctions and makes for clumsy policy. Yet some opponents of the superpower's occupation of Iraq make an equal mistake when they lump together—and condone—as “resistance” all of the violent acts committed by America's foes in Iraq.

No excuses

This is profoundly mistaken. Military attacks against foreign soldiers who have come uninvited into your country can certainly be classified as resistance, whether you think such resistance justified or not. But the mass murder of Iraqi civilians can make no such dignified claim. The most lethal atrocities are those carried out by suicide-bombers, most of them from Saudi Arabia, who have imbibed some version of the al-Qaeda idea of war to the end against the unbelievers, who in their minds include Iraq's Shia Muslims. Many Iraqi Sunnis have in their turn been killed—for revenge or as part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing—by Iraqi Shias, sometimes acting alone and sometimes at the bidding of organised militias, often with links to a political party or to Iraq's government.

Under all established norms and laws of war (and by most accounts under Islamic law, too) the deliberate targeting of civilians for no direct military purpose is just a crime. This remains true regardless of the justice of the cause, and whether the killing is done by states, armies, groups or individuals. The world should never tire of condemning such deeds.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Darfur mortality rates: A debate

Eric Reeves has taken down a recent op-ed piece by Time's Sam Dealey. The Reeves rebuttal is detailed and lengthy, so there aren't any really pithy quotes to add here. In other words, read the whole thing.

Stones and glass houses: or pots and kettles

The Bush administration has just recently decided to designate a large chunk of a sovereign nation's armed forces as a terrorist organization. The choice doesn't seem to be final and hasn't been put into effect yet, so it might just be saber rattling to pressure the Iranian government, although it's hard to see what effect this would actually have on the Iranian regime, which is already the target of US economic sanctions.

What's interesting about this is that it's the first time the US has decided to label a state actor as a terrorist organization. The current definition contained in Title 18 of the US Code, Section 2331 is as follows:

Section 2331. Definitions

      As used in this chapter - 
(1) the term "international terrorism" means activities that -
(A) involve violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that
are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of
any State, or that would be a criminal violation if committed
within the jurisdiction of the United States or of any State;
(B) appear to be intended -
(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
(ii) to influence the policy of a government by
intimidation or coercion; or
(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass
destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and

(C) occur primarily outside the territorial jurisdiction of
the United States, or transcend national boundaries in terms of
the means by which they are accomplished, the persons they
appear intended to intimidate or coerce, or the locale in which
their perpetrators operate or seek asylum;

What is interesting is that this definition, contrary to many others, does not exclude state actors. As such, every time the CIA or IDF kidnaps or assassinates someone, those organizations are committing acts of international terrorism, according to US Code. People like Noam Chomsky have held the US to its definition for a very long time, but until now, there has been a hesitancy about designating any state actors as terrorist organizations, presumably because that opens the US Government, and those of its allies, even more so to charges of terrorism.


If I were part of the Iranian government, I would bring this up and make a similar designation of the US Government. After all, at a time when CIA agents have been indicted by an Italian judge for kidnapping, it's a charge that is difficult to rebut. 

Sunday, August 12, 2007

How to live without a solution

Henry Siegman, the director of the US/ Middle East Project, who served as a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations from 1994 to 2006, and was head of the American Jewish Congress from 1978 to 1994, has an excellent piece on Palestine and Israel in LRB, "The Middle East Peace Process Scam."

He comes out and says that the impediment to peace is Israeli stalling while slowly chipping away at Palestinian land with the wall, roads and settlements, while the international "peace process" gives it cover. He says that Palestinian statehood has been put in formaldehyde, which is to say that it is given the appearance of still being alive while not allowed to visibly decompose.

Siegman quotes Moshe Dayan, who says "The question is not 'What is the solution?' but 'How do we live without a solution?'" He then goes on to quote Geoffrey Aronson,who has this to say:

Living without a solution, then as now, was understood by Israel as the key to maximising the benefits of conquest while minimising the burdens and dangers of retreat or formal annexation. This commitment to the status quo, however, disguised a programme of expansion that generations of Israeli leaders supported as enabling, through Israeli settlement, the dynamic transformation of the territories and the expansion of effective Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan River.

He opens with this sober and depressing assessment of the peace process, which he calls a scam and a spectacular deception:

In [Bush's] view, all previous peace initiatives have failed largely, if not exclusively, because Palestinians were not ready for a state of their own. The meeting will therefore focus narrowly on Palestinian institution-building and reform, under the tutelage of Tony Blair, the Quartet’s newly appointed envoy.

In fact, all previous peace initiatives have got nowhere for a reason that neither Bush nor the EU has had the political courage to acknowledge. That reason is the consensus reached long ago by Israel’s decision-making elites that Israel will never allow the emergence of a Palestinian state which denies it effective military and economic control of the West Bank. To be sure, Israel would allow – indeed, it would insist on – the creation of a number of isolated enclaves that Palestinians could call a state, but only in order to prevent the creation of a binational state in which Palestinians would be the majority.

The Middle East peace process may well be the most spectacular deception in modern diplomatic history. Since the failed Camp David summit of 2000, and actually well before it, Israel’s interest in a peace process – other than for the purpose of obtaining Palestinian and international acceptance of the status quo – has been a fiction that has served primarily to provide cover for its systematic confiscation of Palestinian land and an occupation whose goal, according to the former IDF chief of staff Moshe Ya’alon, is ‘to sear deep into the consciousness of Palestinians that they are a defeated people’. In his reluctant embrace of the Oslo Accords, and his distaste for the settlers, Yitzhak Rabin may have been the exception to this, but even he did not entertain a return of Palestinian territory beyond the so-called Allon Plan, which allowed Israel to retain the Jordan Valley and other parts of the West Bank.

These days, it's hard to find a piece about the peace process as a whole that has anything new to say, and this one is no exception. What is different, however, is that more and more American and Israeli Jews (Burg, for example) are asking hard questions of Israel and its brutal occupation and making piercing observations about the situation as a whole, including international complicity. These are not questions and observations that went unasked and unobserved before by Arabs and Europeans; they're just gaining credibility in the international discourse because it's hard to paint the former head of the American Jewish Congress as an anti-Semite for asking them.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Arming Libya

Most of the coverage about the arms deal between France and Libya has focused on the quid pro quo (officially denied) of offering arms for the release of the Bulgarian nurses and the Palestinian doctor. One aspect of the piece that's been overlooked is the fact that offering arms to Tripoli might be at odds with the stated policy of France and the UK in Darfur. Libya has a long history of arming the "Arab" side of the region's racial war, which has involved Darfur and Chad, in hopes of creating a united pan-Arab state in the region.

So although its author doesn't seem terribly familiar the region's decades-long war, I was glad to see this article in the Guardian on the possibility of a conflict arising from the arms deal between their policy in Libya and their policies in Darfur and Chad.

This is an important question, and those who wish to read about the conflict in the Sahara and Sahel would do well to check out the new and updated edition of Burr's and Collins's book on the subject.

Daily Star gossip

Following the Solidere story in the Daily Star, there has been some gossip, most notably from the Angry Arab (here and here), that the US Government was very unhappy with the piece and pressured to print a full rebuttal. He says that the Examiner section of the paper, which is for investigative journalism, is funded by USAID in order to promote transparency and accountability in the Arab media.

I have no idea whether or not the accusations are accurate or not, but it makes for interesting gossip, nonetheless. Maybe I'll ask around to some friends and acquaintances who work at the Star.

Election choices

Via Ezra, I found a website that lets you select quotes from presidential candidates that you agree with without telling you who they are until the end. You have to check the boxes of issues that interest you, so I tried it out on foreign policy (general), Iraq War, Iran, Israel and Palestine and finally, Health Care.

Since most of the quotes I chose to respond to were about foreign policy, it's not surprising that I agree the most with Bill Richardson. After him, Mike Gravel (about whom I know next to nothing), Kucinich and Obama were tied for second place. There were six Republican candidates whom I agreed with on one quote, and one Republican (Ron Paul) whom I agreed with more than a Democrat (Biden) by a score of 4 to 3. I'm pretty sure that if I had done the whole test, including the other domestic quotes, that probably would have switched around. Totally absent from the list of people whom I can agree with about a single thing is Guiliani.

Otherwise, it's interesting to me that on the issue of Israel/Palestine, there weren't very many quotes I agreed with by any of the candidates. I clicked to agree with some of the fairer sounding two-state comments, although deep down, I don't believe a two-state solution is viable in the long term. There were exactly zero candidates who came out for cutting funding to Israel or a one-state solution and only one quote, from Gravel, about negotiating with Hamas:

The US must sponsor negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, including Hamas, with the goal of a two-state solution guaranteeing demilitarized borders, Israel's right to survive and raising Palestinians economic standards.

Of those who took the test, more than half (52.8%) agreed with this statement.

The two most popular quotes that I agreed with were by Richardson and Kucinich, at 80% and 72.86% respectively:

Richardson: "In recent years, American foreign policy has been guided more by dogma than by facts, more by ideology than by history, more by wishful thinking than by reality."

Kucinich: "I support normal bilateral trade with Cuba. Farm communities throughout the U.S. are being denied a natural market in Cuba, and Americans are being denied products from Cuba."

Of course it's hard to generalize these percentages, because like me, most people probably only responded to quotes in the areas that are the most important to them, and so I can imagine that issue like abortion, for example, were ranked as the most important by more conservative people.

In any case, it's an interesting exercise nonetheless, and I've been able to work out that while I agree with Richardson more than anyone else about the issues that are the most important to me, I agree enough with Obama to back him instead since Richardson has nearly no chance of winning the primaries. (I hope he will accept being a vice presidential candidate or nomination as secretary of state.)

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Tous les jours, c'est kebab party!

I got a link from a friend of mine to a new music video done by a Turkish kebab waiter, Lil'Maaz, at a kebab shop in my favorite neighborhood in Paris. The song is called....wait for it.... "Mange du Kebab" (Eat Kebab). It's pretty fun, so much so, in fact, that after hearing him rap while working, some regular customers who work in a production studio decided to help him make a video. It seems be a big hit, so go check out his website (in French). In the meantime, watch the video:

 

Tsunami weapon strikes again!

The news here is that the Levant is due for a tsunami, which reminds me of reactions that I got after the big one in Indonesia. It was obviously an American/Jewish underwater tsunami bomb, I was told by one Pakistani guy. When I asked why "the Jews" and "the Americans" would do that, he looked at me as if I had just asked the stupidest question on earth: "To kill Muslims, obviously!"

According to the Algerians (via the Arabist), things are just warming up:

La protection civile algérienne a annoncé, mercredi 8 août, la mort de douze baigneurs emportés par une vague géante sur une plage de Mostaganem, dans l'ouest algérien, vendredi. L'origine de la vague est inconnue et nourrit les débats des scientifiques et de la population locale.

L'hypothèse d'un essai scientifique en Méditerranée effectué par des pays de l'autre rive, comme l'Espagne, l'Italie ou la France est avancée. "On peut supposer qu'il s'agit d'une expérience scientifique d'armes conventionnelles", explique le professeur Loth Bonatiro, spécialiste d'astronomie et de planétologie au Centre algérien de recherche en astronomie, astrophysique et géophysique (Craag), cité dans les colonnes du quotidien algérien L'Expression.

L'hypothèse d'un mini-tsunami avancée par les habitants semblait peu plausible, dans la mesure où la vague n'a touché qu'une seule plage, celle dite du Petit-Port.

Une secousse sismique d'une magnitude de 4,6 sur l'échelle ouverte de Richter avait été enregistrée vendredi à 21 h 08 en plein milieu du bassin méditerranéen par le centre de Strasbourg, mais pas par le Craag, qui évoque un possible problème technique.

Sometimes I wonder if I've become too acclimated to the local weather of conspiracy theories, but when things like this come up, I know that I've still got a long way to go. 

Solidere's "illegal expansion"

The Daily Star has a relatively lengthy piece about Solidere and some of its legal battles with former downtown property owners, most of whose property rights are now owned by Solidere. The issue is a fairly complicated one, and I don't pretend to fully understand it, although this latest suit seems to have been sparked by Solidere's decision to start expanding into Dubai whereas most of its work downtown remains unfinished.

In any case, the article is worth a read, and it'd be nice to see more of such substantive reporting being done by the Star. If anyone else has any links to more information about the Hariri empire and downtown property rights, I'd love to see it.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Super Hajja

My friends over at Grey Mog here in Beirut sent me a link for the first scene teaser for the upcoming movie Super Hajja. Their website should be up and running in a few days, so keep an eye on that. Otherwise, I can't find the original short film that they did for Super Hajja during the war, but if I find a link to it, I'll be sure to post it.

In any case, and without any further ado, here is the opening scene to the upcoming Super Hajja:

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Politics and the Diaspora

Lately, we've been hearing an awful lot about the Iranian threat to Israel. Much of this has been couched in alarmist rhetoric that implies (or even sometimes explicitly says) that Iran is the new Nazi Germany. One of the more problematic facts for this narrative is the existence of the Middle East's second largest Jewish community. After Israel, more Jews live in Iran than in any other country in the region.

It seems, however, that Jewish groups are trying to entice Iranian Jews into moving to Israel -- but without much luck, it seems:

Iran's Jews have given the country a loyalty pledge in the face of cash offers aimed at encouraging them to move to Israel, the arch-enemy of its Islamic rulers.

The incentives - ranging from £5,000 a person to £30,000 for families - were offered from a special fund established by wealthy expatriate Jews in an effort to prompt a mass migration to Israel among Iran's 25,000-strong Jewish community. The offers were made with Israel's official blessing and were additional to the usual state packages it provides to Jews emigrating from the diaspora.

However, the Society of Iranian Jews dismissed them as "immature political enticements" and said their national identity was not for sale.

"The identity of Iranian Jews is not tradable for any amount of money," the society said in a statement. "Iranian Jews are among the most ancient Iranians. Iran's Jews love their Iranian identity and their culture, so threats and this immature political enticement will not achieve their aim of wiping out the identity of Iranian Jews."

The Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv reported that the incentives had been doubled after offers of £2,500 a head failed to attract any Iranian Jews to leave for Israel.

Iran's sole Jewish MP, Morris Motamed, said the offers were insulting and put the country's Jews under pressure to prove their loyalty. "It suggests the Iranian Jew can be encouraged to emigrate by money," he said. "Iran's Jews have always been free to emigrate and three-quarters of them did so after the revolution but 70% of those went to America, not Israel."

Similar efforts have been made to attract French Jews, with Sharon's remarks that they should move to Israel because of anti-Semitism in France. That call, however, was met with similar results (translation mine):

Jewish associations in France also announced their indignation and expressed unequivocal disapproval of Ariel Sharon's remarks. Haïm Korsia, the representative of the Grand Rabbi Joseph Sitruk declared that the question of the Jews of France is "a moot point" because, for him, to speak of "the Jews of France doesn't mean anything; there are French citizens who are Jews, like others have another religion." Richard Prasquier, member of the executive office of CRIF (Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France) affirmed that the call to immigration made by Ariel Sharon threw "oil on the fire in an unacceptable way." Patrick Klugman, former president of the Union of Jewish Students of France (UEJF) and vice president of SOS Racism said that the Israeli Prime Minister was "very ill informed of what is happening in France." As for Theo Klein, the vice president of CRIF, he concluded with a message to Ariel Sharon: "He should let the Jewish community in France deal with its own problems." 

As far as efforts to get European Jews to emigrate to Israel, it seems that, if anything, the current trend is in the opposite direction. With 20% of Israelis eligible for an EU passport, more and more are applying for the bordeaux-colored passports. Ironically, the Jewish Agency for Israel has been pressuring the German government to stop making it easy for Jews from the former Soviet Union to settle there. (In 2003, for example, more Russian Jews chose to go to Germany than to Israel.)

The attempt to encourage Diaspora Jews to make aliyah in general is fairly normal and linked, to my mind, to Israeli and Palestinian demographics. The attempts to target Jews in Iran and France in particular, however, might be an attempt to disprove that Muslims and Jews can live together. In addition to having the largest Jewish community in western Europe (600,000), France, after all, also has the largest Muslim community in the region, making up 10% the French population (mostly from Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Senegal). And the claims that Iran is equivalent to Nazi Germany seem kind of silly when it has its own 25,000-strong Jewish population that resists emigrating to Israel and which has a Jewish representative in the Iranian Parliament.

In addition to endangering the case for war with Iran, the Jewish Diaspora weakens the argument for the need for a Jewish state in the first place. Because if Jews can live without fear in the US and Europe, or even in Iran, why shouldn't there be a binational state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean where Jews and Arabs can live with equal rights, regardless of race or creed? 

Preeminent Holocaust scholar dies

Raul Hilberg, one of the greatest Holocaust scholars, has died. Genocide scholars the world around are indebted to his tireless work.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Metn Parliamentary by-elections

Last night, after going to the cinema and having some dinner in Sassine with my roommate, we decided to go check out what was going on at our local Aounist headquarters. While we were having our dinner and 'arguileh, supporters of Hariri's Sunni-based Future Movement, the Lebanese Forces and the Phalangist party kept driving by honking their horns and waving party flags. Sassine, which is mostly Christian and next to the ABC Achrifieh mall is mostly for Geagea and Gemayel. This is why we decided that it would be interesting to go see what was happening in the Aoun camp.

The headquarters were blocked off by the Army to prevent any political street fighting. I was given an orange Free Patriotic Movement t-shirt and a bottle of water with an orange cap, as well as a cup of coffee, which was about the only non-orange thing there. Everyone was outside watching the results on Orange TV, the FPM's unofficial television channel. There were more orange wigs, shirts, shoes, socks and pants than at a faculty meeting at an American elementary school on Halloween.

The Parliamentary by-election in the Metn region was called by the government (and opposed by the opposition, which makes Aoun's participation contradictory if perhaps also cunning) in order to replace MP Pierre Gemayel, who was assassinated earlier this year. The election is an important one, since it acts as a bellwether for Christian support, which will be helpful for predicting who the next president will be. Former president and father of Pierre, Amin Gemayel ran against Aoun-backed and lesser-known Kamil Khoury.

Orange TV announced Khoury's victory relatively early in the evening, but it wasn't until this morning that I saw more definitive accounts of the results. When Orange TV made the call, the Aounists immediately started cheering, with more than a few heaving a large sigh of relief. Large and loud fireworks soon followed, at which point I took my leave. As I was leaving the headquarters, the Aounists told me that I should put the t-shirt they gave me in a bag, fearing that I might get harassed on my back home since the neighborhood was so fiercely pro-government.

According to CNN, the Ministry of the Interior officially called Khoury the winner by 418 votes in an election with some 80,000 ballots cast. In every account I've read so far, it seems that the deciding vote was what LBC is calling "the Armenian Voice." No one I talked to last night could tell me how many votes had been cast so far, but everyone could quote how many Armenian votes their side had received. As is usual in Lebanon, allegations of voter fraud are coming from both sides, and as is also usual, they're both probably right.

The run-up to this election has been interesting to me, because it's been marked by two very anti-democratic forces. On the one hand, the only reason the election is happening at all is because there was a political assassination. On the other hand, supporters of the Gemayel family and the Phalangist and Lebanese Forces parties have had a a worrisome attitude of entitlement about the whole affair. According to many of them, the Parliament seat belongs to the Gemayel clan, and it's just bad form for Aoun to contest it. Others, including Michael Young and the Maronite Patriarch, have been arguing (undemocratically, I needn't add) that Gemayel should run unopposed, because a real election would split the Christians (as if they weren't already split).

In any case, one thing that seems certain is that this has put the last nail in the Gemayel clan's coffin. If the former president couldn't beat a little-known Khoury, then the Gemayels have finally gone the way of the Chamoun clan. Overall, I think it's a good thing when a political dynasty ends in a country like Lebanon (by non-violent means, that is), but if Lebanese history is much of an indicator, the political (and physical) death of a clan doesn't necessarily imply the fall of feudal politics, but rather the rise of another political clan in this country of the Godfather where things are run by various tribes with flags.

Shi'a fatwa against honor killings

Last week, Lebanese Shi'a cleric Grand Ayatollah Fadlallah issued a fatwa banning honor killings, or honor crimes as he is calling them:

Lebanon's most senior Shiite Muslim cleric issued Thursday a fatwa, or religious edict, banning honor killings, calling the custom of murdering a female relative for sexual misconduct "a repulsive act."

The fatwa by Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah was a rare condemnation by a prominent cleric of the practice. Fadlallah's office said he issued the statement in alarm over reports on an increase in honor killings.

"I view an honor crime as a repulsive act condemned and prohibited by religion," Fadlallah, the most revered religious authority for Lebanon's 1.2 million Shiites, said in a statement faxed to The Associated Press.

"In so-called honor crimes, some men kill their daughters, sisters, wives or female relatives on the pretext that they committed acts that harm chastity and honor," said Fadlallah, warning that the practice was on the rise in region.

"These crimes are committed without any religious evidence, and mostly on the basis of suspicions," added Fadlallah.

This, and Egypt's recent hymen fatwa, are the kinds of religious edicts that I like to see.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

African Polls

The Times has an interesting and interactive map (I'm a sucker for these) showing the results of a poll taken on attitudes in several sub-Saharan countries: Senegal, Mali, Uganda, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa.

Some of the results are obvious, and others are not. The poll covers national issues, the economy and personal well-being, as well as international views. The most pressing national concerns seem to be "HIV/AIDS and other diseases," "corrupt political leaders," "crime" and "illegal drugs." Ethnic/religious conflict was seen as a problem by more than half of those polled in Kenya, Ivory Coast and Nigeria, with the latter polling particularly high.

Despite this, those polled seemed fairly optimistic, and those polled in every country overwhelmingly thought things would be better for their children than they have been for them.

Opinions vary pretty widely on the UN, US and AU, depending on the country, with Ethiopia unsurprisingly showing the most support for the AU, which is headquartered in Addis Ababa and the EU scoring particularly low overall for Africans' confidence that it can "help solve Africa's problems." 

In would have been interesting to have added more countries with one foot in "Arab Africa" and the other foot in "black Africa," particularly Sudan, Chad and Mauritania. Out of all the countries polled, the only two where the majority don't think that "Arabs and blacks in North Africa can live peacefully together" were Uganda and Tanzania.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Tancredo: Attack Mecca and Medina

This is so incredible that I don't think I can even comment on it. I'll let Tancredo speak for himself:

WASHINGTON: Republican presidential hopeful Tom Tancredo says the best way he can think of to deter a nuclear terrorist attack on the U.S. is to threaten to retaliate by bombing Islamic holy sites.

The Colorado congressman on Tuesday told about 30 people at a town hall meeting in the state of Iowa that he believes such a terrorist attack could be imminent and that the U.S. needs to hurry up and think of a way to stop it.

"If it is up to me, we are going to explain that an attack on this homeland of that nature would be followed by an attack on the holy sites in Mecca and Medina," Tancredo said at the Family Table restaurant. "Because that's the only thing I can think of that might deter somebody from doing what they otherwise might do."

Listen here.

UNIFIL and Hezbollah

There have been rumors circulating since last Spring that UNIFIL had met with Hezbollah in order to get the latter's cooperation for protecting international troops in the south. Blanford confirms that with a recent article in the CS Monitor:

The growing threat of attack by Sunni radicals apparently spurred the leading European troop-contributing states to seek the Shiite Hizbullah's cooperation. According to UNIFIL sources, intelligence agents from Italy, France, and Spain met with Hizbullah representatives in the southern city of Sidon in April. As a result, some Spanish peacekeepers subsequently were "escorted" on some of their patrols by Hizbullah members in civilian vehicles, the UNIFIL sources say.

A day after the six peacekeepers were killed last month, Spanish foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos spoke with Manucher Mottaki, the foreign minister of Iran, Hizbullah's main patron. According to a Hizbullah official in south Lebanon, there has been at least one meeting between the Shiite party and Spanish UNIFIL officers since the bombing.

UNIFIL has long had quiet channels of communication with Hizbullah stretching back to the late 1980s, a recognition of the Shiite group's clout in the south. But UNIFIL commander General Graziano says that although troop-contributing governments may talk to Hizbullah, the peacekeeping battalions are only authorized to liaise with the Lebanese Army. Contacts with Hizbullah or any other Lebanese political party is not permitted, he says.

"I highly forbid any relation that is not authorized by this headquarters for any contingent that is dressed in the blue beret to have contact with any party without my authorization," he says.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Fallout from Israeli "journalists" in Lebanon

Nicholas Blanford, the Beirut correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor was recently arrested and detained on suspicion of being a spy in a Lebanese village near the Syrian border (emphasis mine):

We ended up at a nearby house in Yahfoufa where we were offered cups of Turkish coffee. Soon, more Hizbullah men arrived and we were escorted to an office in the village of Nabi Sheet. Ali and I handed over our cellphones, wallets, and my small backpack of journalistic gear for their perusal. That didn't help the situation.

In the eyes of our captors, my GPS device and a satellite phone – intended to aid our trip to remote Toufeil – only marked us as spies. Still, I was not unduly worried. I had been detained by Hizbullah before. It usually meant sitting with them for two or three hours while they verified my identity. I reeled off a list of names of top Hizbullah officials whom they could contact.

However, the Hizbullah men of the Bekaa are a tough, suspicious breed and unused to foreigners tramping around their areas.

Furthermore, Hizbullah has grown more wary of foreign journalists since the recent revelation that two Israeli correspondents had entered Lebanon on foreign passports and reported from the party's strongholds in Beirut and the south, an act that has made life more difficult and potentially dangerous for Western journalists operating here.

I recently wrote about my exchange with Lisa Goldman, one of the Israeli journalists who came here, and she recently tried to defend her lack of journalistic ethics on CNN in a debate with a local professor of journalism from the Lebanese American University. In this interview and on her blog she keeps mentioning all of the positive feedback she's gotten from Lebanon. Strangely missing from her blog comments is much negative feedback, which would lead one to believe that the only Lebanese responses she's gotten have been positive.

I know this to be patently false. For example, she refused to validate my comments on her blog as well as those of a Lebanese NGO worker who does projects on conflict resolution. So if those two comments aren't on her blog, I presume that she's been filtering many of the comments she doesn't agree with as well. For someone who claims to be writing about Lebanon in order to bridge the gap between Israelis and the Lebanese, it seems ironic that she would reject comments by those with a different opinion than hers.

On her blog, she dismisses the charges leveled by a foreign correspondent based in Beirut that she has "caused alot of problems for legitimate professional reporters who report from Lebanon (and who actually try and make an effort to understand the situation.)" Nicholas Blanford's recent jail time should put to rest any doubts that anyone had about this one. (Obviously, Hezbollah is at fault for being so paranoid and not allowing journalists free reign, but the stunts of Goldman and her Brazilian/Israeli friend have only made a bad situation worse.)

She then says that western reporters are doing a bad job of covering Lebanon since Israelis seem to know little of the current situation there:

As for the "countless foreign correspondents who work tirelessly" in Lebanon to "try and bring an accurate and fair picture to the world" - well, perhaps you should try harder to be accurate and fair. Because given that most non-Lebanese people seem to have the impression that the majority of Lebanese are either homeless, impoverished victims of the summer war, or militants running around with rocket launchers on their shoulders, it seems that you are not doing a very good job at all in presenting an accurate and fair picture of Lebanon.

Of course, this is absolutely ridiculous for several reasons. First, as anyone with access to Google can easily see, there are plenty of accounts of Beirut nightlife. A Lexis Nexis search for articles in the North American press in the last three years with the words "Lebanon" and "nightlife," for example, come up with 40 articles. The same search for English-language European sources yields 83 results. If Israelis don't know what normal life in Beirut is like, it's because they don't want to know, not because the information isn't out there.

So when Goldman says "I had a lot of knowledge of Lebanon from the internet," I can't help but wonder if she knows how to use the internet at all. In any case, it seems clear that as far as Lebanon goes, Lisa Goldman does not, in fact, know Shi'ite from shinola.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Fabulist quits NRO

Via Chris, NRO fabulist W. Thomas Smith Jr. quits doing freelance work for NRO. Kathryn Jean Lopez has this to say in an editor's note.

This is what I had to say about the affair earlier this month when it broke.

Good riddance, I say.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Rosen on Palestinians in Lebanon

Nir Rosen has a piece on Palestinians in Lebanon in the Post. It doesn't mention the economic discrimination against Palestinians here, who make up around 10% of the population in Lebanon. Nor does it go much into the politics of the camps (NGOs, PLO, Damascus and jihadi groups). But it does give a good overview of Palestinian scapegoating, which reminds me of a conversation with a friend during the Nahr el-Bared fighting when we wondered why it is that whenever Lebanon wants to come together as a country, it's usually at the expense of the Palestinians.

Recent lectures

In the last week or two, I've seen talks given by Juan Cole and Bernard Rougier. I wasn't sure what to expect from either, because of the sometimes shrill tone of the former and the sensationalist title of the latter's book. (I've got an aversion to books with the word "Jihad" in them.)

In both instances, I was pleasantly surprised. Cole was well spoken and interesting. And although the first part of his talk, which was just a recapping of the last 6 years, was pretty dry and unnecessary for a Middle Eastern audience, his comments during the Q&A were worth listening to the first part of the lecture. One point kind of bugged me, though. He made a point of pointing out Egypt's success in combating Islamist terrorist groups, even going so far as to imply that authoritarian governments might be as good as democratic ones at fighting terrorism. I'm not sure how I feel about that idea, except that my gut instinct is that while authoritarian governments might have more success at crushing these groups due to their freedom of action (not being tied down by human rights concerns, for example), I'm convinced that authoritarian rule is one of the causes of terrorism in the first place. So Egypt's "success" might be only short-term and might end up biting Cairo in the ass later.

As for Rougier, I found his participation on a panel about Palestinian identity and citizenship very interesting. He was accused of being an orientalist and of ignoring who was obviously to blame in the Nahr el-Bared conflict. (It's hard to know what to say when someone tells you that neither Fatah al-Islam nor the Lebanese Army were to blame for Nahr el-Bared, but that rather it was the Americans' fault. Incidentally, this was a comment made by a participant in the talk, not a random crank who'd wandered in because he heard there'd be food.) In any case, Rougier convinced me to go out and buy his book, despite the horrible weakness of the dollar and thus the Lebanese pound compared to the mighty euro. I'll be reading it as soon as I finish the books that are currently on my plate. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Ceci n'est pas un pays

Roger Cohen has an interesting little piece on Belgium in the Times:

In their grumpy way, Belgians — a majority Dutch-speaking, many French-speaking and a few German-speaking — have been posing a delicate question: does postmodern Europe, where even tiny states feel secure, really need a medium-small nation cobbled together in 1830 whose various communities dislike one another?

Moreover, does a country whose economy is largely run by European central bankers in control of the euro really need a government?

Gerrit Six, a teacher, suggested Belgian obsolescence when he put the country, complete with its busy king and ballooning debt, up for sale on eBay. It drew bids of close to $15 million. That was on day 100 of the political crisis. Belgium is now close to day 200. Italian politics suddenly look stable.

Little Belgium has become too conflicted to rule. It has three regions, three language communities that are not congruent with the regions, a smattering of local parliaments, a mainly French-speaking capital (Brussels) lodged in Dutch-speaking Flanders, a strong current of Flemish nationalism and an uneasy history.

Dutch-speakers, long underdogs in a country without a Flemish university until 1922, are tired of subsidizing their now poorer French-speaking cousins. A successful anti-immigrant and separatist party, Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest), is the odious expression of a wider desire to go it alone.

Flemish demands for greater decentralization and control (most recently over French-speaking schools in the Brussels periphery) have raised distrust to a poisonous level. “I am pretty sure Belgium will split eventually,” Caroline Sagesser, a political scientist, told me.

If it holds together, it will be because Brussels, with 10 percent of the population and 20 percent of gross domestic product, is too mixed to unravel. Like Baghdad, like Sarajevo, the capital is improbable but unyielding glue. Unlike them, it has avoided bloodshed. It also houses a modern marvel, the E.U. — and there’s the nub.

I often look at Lebanon and think, in the style of the Belgian surrealist: "this is not a country." Or state or nation, for that matter. Belgium has been without a government for almost 200 days, and Lebanon has been without a president since late last month. But who needs a government anyway?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Axis of Evil in Beirut

Last night I went to the Casino du Liban to see Showtime's Middle Eastern-American comedy tour, the Axis of Evil.

The venue was packed, and from what I've heard, it also did very well in Jordan. According to Ahmad Ahmad, even King Abdullah went to see the show in Amman. I'd never been to a comedy show before, so the only point of reference I had was what I'd seen on television, and it was pretty much like that. The jokes ranged from average to hilarious and seemed catered to a westernized Middle Eastern crowd. I'm not sure how many people were familiar with Bob Barker, and I'm sure that jokes on the debkeh would have been lost on much of an American audience. Those who were int he position of being familiar with both cultures were able to laugh at both American and Middle Eastern jokes.

Some of the Bush jokes seemed a little bit like pandering and a little hackneyed for an American audience. And some of the Lebanese jokes were pretty facile (bargaining, driving, "hi keefak, ça va," etc.), but people never seem to get tired of that sort of thing here. The message was, overall, a good one: Arabs are normal people who are capable of poking fun of themselves. For the most part, there was also a nice ecumenical message that welcomed Muslims, Christians and Jews. A nice example of this was the half-Palestinian comedian Aron/Haroun who made it a point of pointing out the similarities of Jews and Arabs, saying that "we're pretty much the same fucking people." (There was one disappointing moment, however, that made me cringe. At one point, Egyptian-American Ahmad Ahmad said that Arabs should be doing more in the entertainment business and that Hollywood was run by... Here he paused to let the audience yell in unison: "Jews!" Unfortunately, it didn't seem to be a joke making fun of people who believe in Jews-run-the-world conspiracies.)

Overall, it was a really good time, and I'm glad I went. The Middle East could use some more comedy, and if my hunch is right, this is the sort of thing that's likely start a stand-up fad in Beirut. Let's hope it's funny.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Not knowing Shi'ite from Shinola

I generally try to stay away from the National Review. This explains why I didn't see the inane and meretricious "reporting" done by W. Thomas Smith Jr. until today. I've commented here before on ridiculous and sensationalist accounts of Lebanon, but this guy really takes the cake. Smith wrote last September:

Hezbollah is rehearsing for something big here. Not sure what or when. But a few days ago, between 4,000 and 5,000 HezB gunmen deployed to the Christian areas of Beirut in an unsettling “show of force,” positioning themselves at road intersections and other key points throughout the city.

It just so happens that I live on the East side of town in one of the "Christian areas of Beirut," and I can guarantee that Smith's account is laughably untrue. On the day that Smith says Hezbollah "deployed" to East Beirut, I was doing some shopping. I live on the border of Gemmayzeh and Mar Mkhail and went to Sassine and ABC that day (all of which are Christian neighborhoods), and rest assured, there were no Hezbollah militants, much less armed ones, to be seen anywhere.  Had what he described been true, there would most likely have been a civil war, or at the very least isolated street fighting. As it was, not only was there no fighting, but not a single journalist in Beirut, foreign or Lebanese, picked up on Hezbollah's alleged "show of force." There's a very simple reason for this: it never happened. If Hezbollah were to deploy a dozen armed militants to Achrafieh, that would be crossing one of Lebanon's red lines. Saying that there were 4,000-5,000 gunmen here is beyond farfetched; it's in the realm of the outlandishly comic. 

I've had neither the time, nor the stomach, to wade through all of this guy's Lebanon "coverage," but the few pieces I've opened are risible in their ridiculousness. Here's another example:

Hezbollah are not the only terrorists operating here in Lebanon: There are also Al Qaeda affiliates like Fatah Al Islam (they were not totally wiped out at Nahr al Bared), as well as Jund al Sham (Soldiers of Damascus), Jundallah, Hamas, and — though few Americans are aware of this — operating elements of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps on the Lebanese side of the Lebanese-Syrian border. These are just a few of the problem groups here: All operating under the auspices of Hezbollah.

Despite his mistranslation of "Sham," which in this context means Greater Syria (Syria, Lebanon and Palestine) and not Damascus, this little excerpt is absurd in that it explicitly says that all of the al-Qaeda-affiliated groups operating in the Palestinian camps, as well as Hamas and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard are "operating under the auspices of Hezbollah." First of all, no one knows who is connected to the various groups operating in the Palestinian camps. And second of all, anyone who believes that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is "under the auspices" of Hezbollah, and not the other way around, obviously knows nothing about either organization.

Smith's scattergun approach to various armed groups in Lebanon is symptomatic of a larger, mostly American, approach to the Middle East, where al-Qaeda equals Hezbollah equals Hamas equals al Qaeda in Iraq equals Jund al-Sham ,etc. This is the kind of thinking that led most Americans to believe that Baghdad had something to do with 9/11 and leaves the defenders of the free world (see also: Reyes and Sarkozy) incapable of distinguishing between Sunnis and Shi'a.

Another fun read is this post, in which Smith brags about doing "reconnaissance" in the Dahiye, the suburbs where Hezbollah is based in Beirut. Or rather this would be funny if it were a satire and I were reading it to friends in Beirut. This guy seems to think that he's in a Chuck Norris movie, which would be fine except for a couple of things. First, this "journalism," in which Smith writes about spying on Hezbollah for pro-Government groups not only makes him sound like a macho asshole, it also casts a shadow of doubt on legitimate journalism done by actual reporters in a country where foreign correspondents are already viewed with an air of suspicion. Second, it makes Beirut sound like a war zone, which it's clearly not.

And then there's this gem. According to Smith, there were "some 200-plus heavily armed Hezbollah militiamen — positioned between the parliament and the Serail." As it happens, I've spent a fair amount of time downtown, and this is not the first time I've written about Americans talking about the sit-in protest without knowing what they're talking about. For the last few months, it's been hard to find more than a couple of dozen people at the protest, much less hundreds of armed militants. I have never, I repeat: never, seen any Hezbollah weapons downtown. They may have them down there, but if they do, they're hidden so well that someone who regularly strolls through the camp would not see them. To suggest that he surprised 200 armed militants out in the open while driving over the bridge that connects East and West Beirut is ridiculous.   

Finally, Jack Bauer -- I mean W. Thomas Smith Jr. -- gives us a post from an "undisclosed neighborhood":

Lebanon is extremely dangerous for Americans right now. In fact, some top officials within the 1559 Committee (essentially the heart and soul of the Cedars Revolution ... for a free Lebanon) believe some sort of dramatic terrorist event is going to take place here in Lebanon between now and mid-October. This is not a gut feeling, but a calculation based on intelligence analysis and chatter from the street.

Tony Nissi, the 1559 Committee chief here in Beirut (whom you'll recall from previous entries), has reason to believe Hezbollah knows who I am. So I am deliberately not staying in hotels: Instead, I'm spending nights in friends' houses — safe houses if you will — and always with bodyguards.

This one is the funniest of the bunch. If there are only half of the number of Americans in Lebanon now as there were during the July war, there'd still be over 10,000 Americans here, myself included. Beirut is decidedly not unsafe for Americans, unless of course they decide to go play G.I. Joe by arming themselves and doing "reconnaissance." But even if Smith were to get picked up by Hezbollah or the Army for spying (which is basically what he claims he's doing), they'd immediately recognize him for the  buffoon that he plainly is. He sounds more like a hapless character out of a Harry Mathews novel than an actual spy, or, God forbid, a journalist.

I could go on for pages about the factual inaccuracy of Smith's reports, but it would just be more of the same. It's amazing to me that NRO published any of Smith's "reports." They are so obviously bullshit that someone must have been asleep at the wheel over there. One of my pet peeves is the writing of partisan hacks who only travel for rhetorical flair, and Smith seems to be more of the same. The difference is that his case is so egregious that he's getting called out on it. There are well respected journalists here in Lebanon and elsewhere who not only know the country intimately but are good writers to boot. Anthony Shadid, Annia Ciezadlo and Mohamad Bazzi are only a few of the names that come to mind. So why is there a need to send Chuck Norris wannabe hacks like Smith who evidently don't know anything about the countries they're ostensibly covering? If NRO wants coverage of Lebanon, there's no dearth of talent already here in Beirut. Insisting on publishing Smith's fabrications in order to toe an ideological line that pays no heed of Lebanon's complex politics only makes NRO look stupid and dishonest.

If you're interested in NRO's response to similar allegations, you can see that here and here.



UPDATE: Kathryn Jean Lopez, online editor of the National Review has another statement up about Smith (emphasis mine):

With regard to the two posts in question, it is my belief, based on an investigation in which NRO discussed the matter with three independent sources who live and work in Lebanon (as well as other experts in the area), that Smith was probably either spun by his sources or confused about what he saw.

...the context that Smith was operating in an uncertain environment where he couldn't always be sure of what he was witnessing, and the caveats that he filled in the gaps by talking to sources within the Cedar Revolution movement and the Lebanese nati