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Monday, October 06, 2008

This site has moved

I'm not sure why, but overnight, my internet connection stopped allowing me to connect to blogspot/blogger sites. I can connect from friends' houses and from work, but I can't seem to figure out why I can’t connect from home. This is decidedly inconvenient for updating my blog, which I haven't been so good about lately anyway. So I've decided to change my host from blogspot to wordpress, which means that I won't be updating this site anymore. I think I was able to import all the old posts and comments without a hitch, but if anyone notices any problems with anything, please let me know.

Otherwise, I've taken advantage of the move to change the layout, which has always been pretty bare bones due to my limited skills in web design.

So please come over to the new site and update your bookmarks. Ahlan wa sahlan.

Monday, September 29, 2008

History as a political tool

Jeffrey Goldberg has a dishonest account of Tom Segev's review of a book on Haj Amin al-Husseini up. He makes it sound like Segev is only down on the book because it emphasizes Arab extremism, whereas his problems with the book are much more substantial:

The lack of solid evidence is the main problem throughout the book. While the authors do cite prominent scholars like Martin Gilbert, Bernard Wasserstein and Rashid Khalidi, some of the most outrageous quotations come from quite arguable sources. Hitler’s alleged and highly unlikely pledge to Husseini (“The Jews are yours”) is based on a passage in the mufti’s own memoirs. But there is an official German record of his meeting with Hitler that contains no such statement. In fact the mufti did not achieve his major goal: Hitler refused to sign a public statement of support for him.

Then Goldberg makes it sound like Segev is comparing Jewish extremism in mandate Palestine with Husseini's support of Nazi Germany:

Segev compares the Mufti's behavior to that of Yitzhak Shamir, the former prime minister of Israel who was once a terrorist with the Stern Gang, and he criticizes the authors for neglecting to mention Jewish extremism in the time of the Mufti. I'm not sure why a book about pro-Nazi sympathies among certain Arabs need include this...

Actually, what Segev does is remind us, as we can read in his excellent book The Seventh Million that Husseini was not the only anti-British nationalist to make overtures to Nazi Germany for the purpose of throwing off the yoke of British imperialism:

The mufti’s support for Nazi Germany definitely demonstrated the evils of extremist nationalism. However, the Arabs were not the only chauvinists in Palestine looking to make a deal with the Nazis. At the end of 1940 and again at the end of 1941, a small Zionist terrorist organization known as the Stern Gang made contact with Nazi representatives in Beirut, seeking support for its struggle against the British. One of the Sternists, in a British jail at the time, was Yitzhak Shamir, a future Israeli prime minister. The authors fail to mention this episode.

So while it's true that a book on Arabs seeking German support against the British and the Jewish colonialism needn't mention the terrorism of the Irgun or the Stern Gang, it seems dishonest not to include the fact that some of Husseini's local Jewish enemies also sought the support of Nazi Germany.

But that's the whole problem here. The importance accorded to Husseini is meant to conflate anti-Zionism and Arabs with anti-Semitism and Nazis. During World War II, there were many subjects of British imperialism from Ireland to Egypt and beyond who saw the time as ripe to back another European power, not because they were Nazis or anti-Semites, but because they were anti-British and saw Germany as means to the end of breaking British rule over their lands.

We've seen politically expedient but strange bedfellows time and time again, like how many exiled Iraqis supported an American invasion -- not because they were particularly pro-American, but rather because they were anti-Saddam. To argue that the the two are necessarily the same is either obtuse or dishonest.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

On the seam

Last night I saw a collection of Israeli and Palestinian short films about Jerusalem, one of which (made by an Israeli) took a look at the Museum on the Seam. The museum describes itself like this:

The Museum is committed to examining the social reality within our regional conflict, to advancing dialogue in the face of discord and to encouraging social responsibility that is based on what we all have in common rather than what keeps us apart.
And it describes its location like this:

The Museum is situated in a building constructed in 1932 by the Arab-Christian architect, Anton Baramki.

While Jerusalem was divided (1948-1967), the building served as a military outpost (the Turjeman Post) which stood on the seam line between Israel and Jordan across from Mandelbaum Gate, the only crossing point between the two sides of the divided city.

The Museum on the Seam was established in 1999 with the generous support of the von Holtzbrinck family of Germany, through the Jerusalem Foundation and by the initiative of the designer and curator of the Museum, Raphie Etgar.
What it fails to mention is that Baramki and his family lived in the house until they were displaced during the war in 1948 and that ever since 1967 the Baramki family has tried in vain to reclaim their house. The museum has refused to give them their property back, relying on the Israeli law of "absentee" landowners that has allowed the Jewish state to confiscate Palestinian land.

Social responsibility indeed.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

More of the hack you love to hate

It seems that Michael Totten's hackery isn't limited to Lebanon and the rest of the Arab world. Take a look here for an amusing take down of his recent reporting on Georgia.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Orwell: Dear diary -- hot again!

I've just stumbled across an online version of George Orwell's diaries.

I've only scratched the surface, but considering how much Orwell talks about the weather and crops, I feel somehow a little less pathetic for not being able to talk for five minutes without making a comment on the hot and sticky weather that greeted me upon my return from Africa back to Beirut. Who'da thunk I'd be pining for Congolese weather? It's not much, but I suppose Goma's got at least one thing going for it this time of year.

American Palestine

For reasons I won't go into, I was at the American embassy a couple of times earlier this week. Draconian security measures notwithstanding (you're not allowed to bring a phone or bag onto the premises), the place seemed more Lebanese than American, with Lebanese security guards, Lebanese employees and Lebanese-Americans queued up in the consular section.

Another touch was a world map in the consular section. It is a map with political boundaries, and while I was in the consular waiting room, I took a look at it while trying to recover from the disgusting humidity that all of Beirut's been suffering from this summer. The map is in Arabic, and like most maps in the region, Israel is nowhere to be found. Instead, the map shows Palestine. This wouldn't be surprising, except that it's in the American embassy.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Back from the bush

I've been really, really terrible about keeping the site updated. And for that I apologize. Before, I could blame the state of African telecommunications, but since I'm back home where I have the internet at home and work, I've got no such excuses.

While I was away, I read Ngugi wa Thiongo's Wizard of the Crow on the recommendation of a friend of mine. It was really wonderful, a mixture of Rushdie and Gunther Grass, but à l'africaine. Then, to keep with the theme of African dictatorships and as suggested by another friend, I read Chinua Achebe's Anthills of the Savanna, which is also a great read. There are so many passages that stood out on the page, but this is one of my favorites:

[A] genuine artist, no matter what he says he believes, must feel in his blood the ultimate enmity between art and orthodoxy.

Those who would see no blot of villainy in the beloved oppressed nor grant the faintest glimmer of humanity to the the hated oppressor are partisans, patriots and party-liners. In the grand finale of things there will be a mansion also for them where they will be received and lodged in comfort by the single-minded demigods of their devotion.

My trip was incredibly interesting. I traveled from Kenya to Zanzibar to Tanzania proper to Rwanda and Congo then through Uganda back to Kenya before leaving. It was tiresome to be on the move so much, so I was happy to come home to Beirut.

That being said, given our excruciatingly humid heat here, I miss the cool evenings of East and Central Africa. I also miss the smell of smoke that always seemed to fill the night sky. The latter, by the way, is completely different in the southern hemisphere. The stars are much more numerous and fill constellations that I'd never before seen. It's amazing to think that something so fundamental to our lives as the sky can change upon crossing an imaginary line in the African dirt.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

On crowds and Tanzanian trains

I was expecting a leisurely train ride through the inland to Lake Victoria from Dar-es-Salaam. That's not at all what I got. The train was scheduled to leave Dar-es-Salaam at 5 on Tuesday evening, and I was pleasantly surprised when we left on time. The Tanzanian scenery was beautiful and the couchette not that uncomfortable.

I awoke to a couple of sudden jolts, and then we stopped for a while. Finally, we started back up again and I fell asleep. The only thing that woke me up was a Tanzanian cabin mate who decided that 1 am would be the perfect time to listen to his telephone's radio at full blast, despite the fact that there were five people trying to sleep in the same tiny cabin.

I finally fell back asleep and then woke up in the early light of the morning to see a train platform. We must be in Dodoma, I thought, and then went back to sleep. I woke up a couple of hours later to see that we hadn't moved, so I decided to get out and see what the problem was. I asked where we were, to which someone responded: Dar-es-Salaam. Thinking that he’d misunderstood my question, I mimed that yes, of course, we'd left Dar-es-Salaam, but where were we now? He shrugged and repeated: Dar-es-Salaam.

It was only then that I recognized the buildings around us. I'd just spent 14 hours to end up in the exact same place I'd left. After some investigation, it seems that the jolts had been two of the train cars being derailed, but fortunately no one was hurt. We were told that the tracks would be repaired and that we were expected to leave again at 5 in the evening, but that we should stay close to the train anyway, just in case. So I spent the day lounging in the sun watching as an African village sprung up on the train platform.

Men lounged and ate oranges, while women washed clothes and children. Wet laundry soon adorned the rusty tracks and open train windows. This, I assume, is how shantytowns are born. To my surprise, mothers led their children to defecate mere feet away from the water spigots, which left human shit in disconcerting proximity to drying laundry and dishes. It also made the whole place smell like a public toilet. All in all, I was surprised by the fact that no one seemed particularly upset about the inconvenience of the situation. Everyone was taking it in stride.

After being told that I couldn't get my money back for the train ticket, I left our new village for some fresh air and Indian food, passing an enormous line of people waiting to get a two-dollar food allowance from the rail company. By the time I got back, it was nearly time to leave. Or so I thought. The departure time of 5 pm came and went without so much as a train whistle. We were then told that we’d be leaving at 9, so I settled in to read with the last of the sunlight. I fell asleep in my couchette and only woke up at around 9:30 to loud music and a crowd of people obviously upset about something.

It seems that they were mad, and understandably so, about not getting a refund for their ticket. Every once in a while, the crowd's singing and chanting would take on a nasty edge, and rocks and Swahili curses would be hurled. After a bit of this and three pops that sounded like firecrackers and which were explained to me to be local bombs (made by the police or the crowd, I couldn't tell), I decided that it is decidedly unwise to be different in a crowd of angry people who want their money back. And especially unwise when that difference, in my case that of skin color, is seen mainly as a financial difference. I was worried that the leap from "give us our money back" to let's take the mzungu's money" could be quick and unforgiving. So I left. And now I'm stuck trying to figure out how the hell I'm going to make it to Kigali by tomorrow.

Apparently the local press has written up the story, but with no mention of the rioting.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

African pics

Here are a couple of pictures I've taken so far:


Giraffe on the road between Nairobi and Masai Mara


Great Rift Valley


Zebras in Masai Mara


Sunset in Masai Mara


Lioness feeding on zebra


Lions lounging in Masai Mara


Somali Camel on beach in Mombasa


Masai kids at school


Zanzibar beach


Market in Zanzibar


Homemade lipstick in Zanzibar

Train wreck in Tanzania

I left Dar-es-Salaam last night and thought I was well on my way to Lake Victoria, but then I fell asleep and woke up this morning to find myself in.... Dar-es-Salaam. It seems that part of our train derailed last night (which must have been the couple of jolts I felt), so we turned around and came back. Shortly after arriving, the passengers set-up a makeshift village on tracks, with women washing clothes and children while the men mostly sat around chatting and eating oranges.

I looked into a plane ticket to Kigali from Dar, but it is an astounding $440, so it looks like I will be giving the train another try this evening. They said that the tracks are being repaired, but I don't know how much I trust that. In either case, by the time I'd figured out what was going on, it was too late to catch a bus to Mwanza, and I still haven't heard back from Rwandair, so it looks like I'll be on the train.

Otherwise, Mwanza was the film featured in the documentary film Darwin's Nightmare about the Perch Nile in Lake Victoria. It was poorly received here, and even non-Tanzanian friend who live here can't stand it. Personally, I really liked the film when I saw it, but I'd never been to Tanzania before, so if I finally make it to Mwanza, I suppose I'll be able to see if the film was fair or not.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Zanzibar

This is just a quick note to let my few but faithful readers know that I've not been killed in a matatu accidend on the roads of East Africa. I'm alive and well in Zanzibar, after having been through Nairobi, Masai Mara, Mombasa, Tanga and Pemba. I'll be heading to Dar-es-Salaam next and then taking a train crosscountry to Lake Victoria from where I'll launch into Rwanda.

I've got a fair amount to write about, but little time in which to do so.

More later, insh'allah.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Leaving for East Africa

I'm about to leave for a five-week trip seeing East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda), but I wanted to post a link to an execrable op-ed about learning Arabic in the Washington Post by Joel Pollak.

I sent out a hasty letter to the editor, which reads as follows:

Joel Pollak complains that there isn’t enough of an Israeli perspective in Arabic language classes. He then goes on to describe “West Beirut,” a gem of Lebanese cinema that recounts a love story between a Muslim boy and a Christian girl, as a film that casts Christians as “the prime bad guys in Lebanon’s civil war.” Obviously Pollak’s Arabic has not progressed far enough to have understood the movie.

He then assures us that he refused to talk about Abdel Nassar in class. In French courses, one learns about Napoleon as a grand statesman, not a brutal imperial dictator. Likewise in Arabic classes, as well as in much of the third world, Nasser was seen as a hero.

One of the points of language courses is to better understand the culture of the speakers of that language. Since Pollak would obviously prefer to learn about Israeli and Jewish history, one can only assume that mistakenly signed up for Arabic lessons when he was actually looking to learn Hebrew.

In other news, there's this nasty piece calling for collective punishment. I'd have more to say about this last one, except that I'm in a hurry.

I don't know what the internet situation is going to be like in any of the places where I'll be over the next month or so, but I can't imagine that posting will be any slower than it has been in the last month or two. Which means that I'll do my best to step it up considerably.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Mugabe's "do or die" campaign

Zimbabwe's opposition party, MDC (Movement for Democracy and Change) announced yesterday that it will not be contesting the election on Friday, since it was nothing but a violent illegitimate sham anyway. Dozens of opposition partisans (and their families) have been killed in the last few months. PBS's Frontline has an excellent piece on Mugabe's "do or die" campaign to hold on to power in Harare:

I pose as a member of a Roman Catholic church from Harare in order to visit the local hospital. There I meet Thabita Chingaya*, a 42-year-old widow and leader of the local MDC women's league. Thabita is being treated for massive injuries to her vagina, uterus and womb. A discharge constantly oozes from between her legs. Tabitha says that she was coming home from drawing water from the river the week before when she came upon seven young men she knew who happened to be Zanu-PF party members. They blocked her path saying she would learn a lesson for being "Morgan Tsvangirai's prostitute."

She was knocked down by blows to her face and kicked with booted feet. But then suddenly the beatings stopped, she says. One man called "Max," who seemed to be the gang leader, ordered the others to stop. He removed his trousers and raped her. All the others followed suit, taking turns to hold her down. When they were done, Max took a log and began poking her vagina until she bled. She says the other six laughed and left her for dead.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Sea and Desert

So I'm back. I finished grading and braved the torrents of students begging for grades. I also read Kapuscinsky's Travels with Herodotus. While speaking of the coup against Ben Bella in Algeria, he brings up a schism in Islam that I'd been thinking about even before having him articulate it. He speaks of a

conflict at the very heart of Islam, between its open, dialectical -- I would even say "Mediterranean" -- current and its other, inward-looking one, born of a sense of uncertainty and confusion vis-à-vis the contemporary world, guided by fundamentalists who take advantage of modern technology and organizational principles yet at the same time deem the defense of faith and custom against modernity as the condition of their own existence, their sole identity.

Algiers, which at its beginnings, in Herodotus's time, was a fishing village, and later a port for Phoenician and Greek ships, faces the sea. But right behind the city, on its other side, lies a vast desert province that is called "the bled" here, a territory claimed by peoples professing allegiance to the laws of an old, rigidly introverted Islam. In Algiers one speaks simply of the Islam of the desert, and a second, which is defined as the Islam of the river (or of the sea). The first is the religion practiced by warlike nomadic tribes struggling to survive in one of the world's most hostile environments, the Sahara. The second Islam is the faith of merchants, itinerant peddlers, people of the road and of the bazaar, for whom openness, compromise, and exchange are not only beneficial to trade, but necessary to life itself.

Under colonialism, both these strains of Islam were united by a common enemy; but alter they collided.

I don't know enough about Algeria to know if Ben Bella is really a good specimen of the sea variety or Boumedienne an example of the Islam of the desert. I do know though, despite its simplicity, this is a distinction that's been forming in my consciousness for a while now. It's certainly one way of explaining the differences between Islam in, say, Saudi Arabia and the Islams of Lebanon.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Three years later

Sometimes when I'm bored (or should be grading papers), I take a look at my stats to see how the few people who read this blog got here. I often feel a mixture of fear and pride when I see that people from the State Department or the Senate or the Pentagon have made their way here. Other times, I wonder what someone was doing googling Hezbollah and skinnydipping.

Every once in a while, I come across someone who's seemingly been caught googling himself. In this case, it looks like UCSD's Bill Decker came across a post about Guantánamo Bay after doing a Google search to see if anyone was talking about a letter to the editor he wrote three years ago.

It must not be very often that this physics professor finds talk about him online that's unrelated to bifurcations in natural convection, much less remarks that compare him with a Soviet Chief State Prosecutor. If you've come back, Bill, welcome. Please feel free to continue patting the US on the back for only imprisoning people at Guantánamo Bay instead of having them summarily executed.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Brazil in Beirut

In Terry Gilliam's movie, Brazil one of the characters (Tuttle played by De Niro) is walking when a newspaper is blown against him just to cling to him while another does the same. More and more papers are thrust against him until he's a walking mass of paper. Finally, all the papers are blown away to reveal that the man is no longer there.

That's pretty much how I feel at this time of the year, when the semester is over, and I'm flooded with a mass of papers to grade. When the wind blows hard enough, and grades are turned in, I'll be back.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Israel blocks fulbright scholars

The US government has had to rescind the Fulbright awards for the 7 students in Gaza who won the awards, because Israel won't let them leave the territory:

The American State Department has withdrawn all Fulbright grants to Palestinian students in Gaza hoping to pursue advanced degrees at American institutions this fall because Israel has not granted them permission to leave.

...The study grants notwithstanding, the Israeli officials argued that the policy of isolating Gaza was working, that Palestinians here were starting to lose faith in Hamas's ability to rule because of the hardships of life.

..."We are fighting the regime in Gaza that does its utmost to kill our citizens and destroy our schools and our colleges," said Yuval Steinitz, a lawmaker from the opposition Likud Party. "So I don’t think we should allow students from Gaza to go anywhere. Gaza is under siege, and rightly so, and it is up to the Gazans to change the regime or its behavior."

Hadeel Abukwaik, a 23-year-old engineering software instructor in Gaza, had hoped to do graduate work in the United States this fall on the Fulbright that she thought was hers. She had stayed in Gaza this past winter when its metal border fence was destroyed and tens of thousands of Gazans poured into Egypt, including her sister, because the agency administering the Fulbright told her she would get the grant only if she stayed put. She lives alone in Gaza where she was sent to study because the cost is low; her parents, Palestinian refugees, live in Dubai.

"I stayed to get my scholarship," she said. "Now I am desperate."
Now I'm no expert on Islamic militancy, but I'm pretty sure that desperation isn't exactly the quickest route to winning hearts and minds.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Shake and Bake, or MacBeth

A good friend of mine, A, sent me a link to an article about Scott McClellan's new memoir to see if I could spot the reference to Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.

Needless to say, I laughed out loud when I saw that McClellan calls Dick Cheney "The Magic Man" in his new book:

[McClellan] accuses former White House adviser Karl Rove of misleading him about his role in the CIA case. He describes Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as being deft at deflecting blame, and he calls Vice President Cheney "the magic man" who steered policy behind the scenes while leaving no fingerprints.
Somewhere in this book has to be an anecdote about Bush "El Diablo" and Cheney "The Magic Man" bumping chests and yelling, "shake and bake, baby!"



Surely, it is no coincidence that Will Ferrell has played Bush in the past:



But on a more serious note, I find it disgusting how people like McClellan go along with horrible, dishonest policies and then expect that all will be well after a memoir. Someone should tell Scott "the lady" McClellan that a critical memoir isn't enough to wash the blood of hundreds of thousands of people from his hands. I'm afraid a little water isn't enough to clear you of this deed and that here's the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.

Democracy and economy

It's the end of the semester, and most of my students are giving final presentations. Two of my students have been working on the economic consequences of the sit-in, on a micro-level, by interviewing business owners and protesters. At the end of their presentation, the conclusion they came to (fueled by the "Dubai model," I might add) was that in the Middle East, a country needs to choose between democracy and economic livelihood. They seemed torn as to which should be Lebanon's priority, but they agreed that in this neck of the woods, aiming for an economically successful democracy was the same thing as wanting to have your cake and eat it too.

Sometimes this country depresses me more than I can muster the strength to convey...

Sunday, May 25, 2008

New President in Lebanon

Even if I didn't have cable, I'd be able to tell that the new president had just been appointed elected by the gunfire that we can all hear throughout Beirut.

There's one thing that I've noticed since the Doha agreement was reached: both sides seem to feel like they've won. Part of me (the realist or pessimistic part of me) thinks that this is another example of the Lebanese "lick-and-stick" philosophy that is equally present in the domains of plumbing and politics. This philosophy states that it's much easier to make a minor, temporary adjustment than to fix something properly. This means that my electric wire that used to run from the meter through the walls to my apartment now comes in through the window in the corridor.

The other part of me thinks that maybe, just maybe, if both sides think they've won, then maybe that means that we're in a win-win situation.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

More overheard in Beirut

One high school or young college student to another in the back of a cab:

Student 1: "All I need is a night away from my parents."
Student 2: "Yeah, but you'll need some proof."
Student 1: "What, like her panties? Or what about pictures?"

Friday, May 16, 2008

Still alive

Thanks to those who have sent messages wondering if I was all right and where I was. I took a trip up to the Chouf on Tuesday and spent the night in a village in the mountain. I visited some of the Druze shebab to see how things were and how they were feeling after their unexpected victory over Hezbollah in Barouk.

When I got back to Beirut, what I thought was just a long electricity cut turned out to be several days without power (that's getting fixed while I type, insh'allah). So I've been out of the loop, news and otherwise, and will need some time to wrap my head around things before posting any comments about the situation.

There's also the fact that during the last week, I've not really wanted to do much except sleep. As a result, I didn't get any work done and am now swamped with things that have been left undone up to now.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Hezbollah coup

This seems to be shaping up to be a full-scale coup d'état by Hezbollah with the support of the army. It looks like they're going piece by piece. Future was first, now the PSP is being taken in the Chouf, and I imagine the Lebanese Forces in the Christian sectors will be next.

The rest of the Lebanese parties were no match for Hezbollah, but when you throw in the army, what can you expect? Hariri and Joumblatt seem to have agreed not to fight, probably to save the bloodshed that would not have stopped the coup in any case. So they've agreed to go quietly in exchange for there not being a battle to which Future and PSP partisans would have gone like lambs to the slaughter.

The army seems to have cut a deal with Hezbollah, but it's hard to say what they could have done in any case, since they're so much weaker than the Party of God. So the current government will most likely be forced to resign, Suleiman will be appointed as president, and someone pliable will be appointed to be Prime Minister. Things will be like before 2005, except that instead of taking marching orders from Damascus, the new government will answer to Harat Hreik.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Niagara Falls

by John Barth

She paused amid the kitchen to drink a glass of water; at that instant, losing a grip of fifty years, the next-room-ceiling-plaster crashed. Or he merely say in an empty study, in March-day glare, listening to the universe rustle in his head, when suddenly the five-foot shelf let go. For ages the fault creeps secret through the rock; in a second, ledge and railings, tourists and turbines all thunder over Niagara. Which snowflake triggers the avalanche? A house explodes; a star. In your spouse, so apparently resigned, murder twitches like a fetus. At some trifling new assessment, all the colonies rebel.

The centre cannot hold

Yesterday, I spent a good part of the day in Hamra, where SSNP thugs were still armed and around. They broke up a group of unarmed neighborhood residents (most of whom were with Future) by shooting in the air and shouting. The night before a 16-year-old boy had been killed while delivering a narguileh for the shop he worked for. When they finally had a hard time getting the group of the boy's friends, family and neighbors to go inside despite plenty of shooting, they left. Shortly afterward, the Army finally showed up. The SSNP gunmen were going around Hamra without any challenge from the Army.

Today, things seem to be much better in West Beirut (although I haven't been there today), but fighting has spread all over the country, with Hezbollah apparently shelling a Druze village and opposition Druze forces fighting the PSP in Aley. Clashes are also going on in in Shweifat.

Add this to the fighting in Tripoli, and the death toll is nearly 40 now. In the words of Yeats:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Television and traitors

Another thing that's been bothering me is the fact that Mostaqbal's media outlets were shut down. I won't pretend that part of me doesn't feel a little tinge of delight at the idea of the Mostaqbal thugs getting some comeuppance. But punishing neighborhood thugs who fancy themselves militiamen is one thing, while shutting down media outlets is another. During the 2006 war, Hezbollah was (rightfully, to my mind) outraged by Israel's targeting of their television station, al-Manar. So why is it acceptable to have shut down Future TV?

I'm watching Kalam an-Nass right now, while the head of Future TV is being interviewed. According to him, a Lebanese soldier, in uniform, told them that they had to open the gates or else they'd be killed by Hezbollah militiamen. This is, of course, disconcerting on several levels. First of all, this would mean that a member of the ostensibly neutral Lebanese Army would have helped Hezbollah shut down the media outlet of a competing political party. But regardless of whether or not a soldier helped Hezbollah shut the station down, the latter certainly did disconnect Future TV. This is scandalous, and Hezbollah should be ashamed of itself.

A woman presenter, whose name I can't recall, just came on and gave Hezbollah a piece of her mind. She said that she's spent the last year and a half doing reports on the lot of the people of the south and how they've suffered during the war of 2006 and after. Then she explained how al-Manar reported that the staff of Future TV "fled" the premises, like thieves or criminals, when in fact they were told to leave if they didn't want to die. She said that forgetting the parties and forgetting politics, this kind of treatment and the occupation of Beirut has made regular people, people like her, hate Hezbollah. She said that after people like her who did their best to take in refugees after the war in 2006 are treated like this and accused of being traitors, Hezbollah should be ashamed of itself. Of course a presenter on Future TV isn't exactly representative of the man on the street, but her point is well taken.

I can say, however, that the opposition has lost the sympathy of people who have supported the principles of the resistance, even if they had really ambivalent feelings about the religious and authoritarian form it's taken. And the traitor rhetoric is really hurtful and disgusting to people who support resistance against Israel but don't want to live in a country where the interests of the resistance trump those of the state. Calling people traitors like this smacks of Bush's rhetoric in the "war on terror," where you're either "with us or against us," and doesn't sit well with many Lebanese.

Legitimacy and Mercutio in Lebanon

I never thought I'd say this, but there was part of Samir Geagea's speech this afternoon that I agree with. He said that the use of Hezbollah's weapons has delegitimized their very existence. I tend to agree with this idea, because Hezbollah has decided to use its weapons in an internal dispute between Lebanese actors. (Here, it's important to remember that the myth that Hezbollah has never been part of inter-Lebanese fighting fails to include when Amal and Hezbollah fought each the during the civil war.) What has happened is that the March 14 government made a decision that Hezbollah disagreed with, and in reaction to this, they took up arms and occupied half of Beirut. This means that the weapons whose sole purpose is supposed to deter Israeli aggression and defend Lebanon has been used as a blunt political tool to try to force the government to resign, or at the very least, send it a far-from-subtle message. 

The line being taken by the opposition now (at least as far as the talking heads of al-Manar are concerned) is that Hezbollah has helped the state put down militias (namely Mustaqbal, or the Future movement). This position fails to take into consideration, for example, the fact that there are still armed militia members of Amal and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party walking around West Beirut.

Either armed militias are illegal or they aren't. What's happened is that the Army seems to have passively taken the side of Hezbollah, which means that their legitimacy will be decreased or destroyed in the eyes of other Lebanese communities, especially the Sunnis in Saida and Tripoli. It has also sent the message that the most effective political tool is military force. I imagine, then, that the Sunnis in Saida and Tripoli, the pro-government Christians and the Druze loyal to Walid Jumblatt have likely decided that they can no longer count on the Army to be an impartial arbiter for the state. This will surely lead to increased militia training and arming. It wouldn't surprise me if the lesson that the Lebanese Forces and the PSP have taken from the defeat of Mustaqbal (probably the weakest of the pro-government parties/militias, if one of the nastier ones on a local neighborhood level) is that they should be prepared for more of the same in the not-so-distant future.

So where does this leave us? Despite rumors earlier today, it doesn't look like Saniora, or anyone else, will resign from the government. So what? There's still no president, and the fundamental dysfunction of the Lebanese state has only been highlighted, not solved. If this all ends with Hezbollah and its allied militias pulling back to their territory in the next day or so, leaving a humiliating message for the other parties and their militias, we'll be back to where we started. Back to where we started, except a big part of the population will have lost faith in the idea that Hezbollah and its allies can be dealt with within the norms of a democratic system.

Since there is no way that any of these groups can compete with Hezbollah's military forces, look for them to embrace proxies. This might include the Sunnis accepting al-Qaeda militants and other groups hoping for more Israeli intervention. I'm sure that after the disaster that was the war in 2006, the Israeli establishment wouldn't mind taking advantage of the situation for  rematch. In any case, what this situation hasn't done is foster an atmosphere where either side feels like it can compromise. If anything, this whole situation has pushed March 14 further into its corner and inflated the arrogance and confidence of Hezbollah and its allies in the country and abroad. Neither of which bodes well for peace or stability in Lebanon.

Amin Gemayel, whom I can't stand, called Hezbollah's victory a Pyrrhic one (actually, he said it in French, the snooty bastard). I tend to think that, on a national level and in the long term, he's probably right. In any case, it's enough to turn some Lebanese into bitter Mercutios.

Some thoughts on the aftermath of this war

The rumor I've been hearing now, to the glee of some Aounist Christians in my neighborhood, is that Prime Minister Saniora has resigned. I can't confirm this, but it really begs the question of what he would resign from. Premiership of what? There is no government. The military is sitting around doing absolutely nothing, which may be best for the lives of the soldiers but is disastrous for the life of the state. I walked down to the eastern side of the bridge that connects east and west Beirut, and it was being guarded by a couple of tanks and APCs and some soldiers. The latter were sitting around shooting the shit and listening to the radio. One was sleeping in the shadow of his APC. I've also seen it reported that Jumblatt was forced to flee his home in Clemenceau under the protection of the Army.

Despite the fact that the army is much weaker than Hezbollah and would have lost any real shooting match, I keep wondering to myself if one of the reasons the Army is staying out is because of the head of the Army, Michel Suleiman. He had been put forward as a compromise candidate for president. Now that Hezbollah is calling the shots, it will be interesting to see who they put forward as the president, or if they appoint anyone at all.

It obviously won't be Aoun, which means that he's pretty much outlived his usefulness to the opposition cum ruling party, due to the fact that he was only helpful to them so long as they were working within the system. Now that they have taken matters into their own hands, they really don't need him anymore. I don't think that Hezbollah would even try to put someone Franjieh into the presidential palace, so that pretty much only leaves Suleiman. Maybe he cut a deal with Hezbollah to stay out of the fighting in exchange for the presidency.

But even the question of who will be the president may be putting the cart before the horse. It isn't clear at all now what Hezbollah will do. Will there be a fight between the pro-Government Christian militias (Lebanese Forces and Phalangists) and Hezbollah? Will Hezbollah install a new government of its choosing based on the old system? Will they install a government composed purely of Hezbollah members? Will they call for new elections? Your guess is as good as mine.

What's sure though, is this: those who may have have been somewhat sympathetic to the underlying principles of "the Resistance" and Hezbollah's part in that movement despite (being uncomfortable with the idea of an explicitly religious party) are likely to be turned off by the last few days' events. The chorus has always been the Hezbollah would never turn its weapons inward, but it has done that now. At the end of the day, Hezbollah went outside of the rules of the game. That game may have been frustrating and often paralyzing, but at least it was nominally democratic. Now, even if they call for new elections, Hezbollah has broken the rules of the game by resorting to violence to achieve a political goal. A lot of people won't forgive or forget this, and there will be even more people who will never be able to trust the party of God to follow the rules of the (at least nominally) democratic system, because they have, for all intents and purposes, overthrown the government by force.

UPDATE: I just saw Aoun on television assuring viewers that no one would be persecuted. Maybe he didn't get the memo, but Hezbollah seized power without him or his help. He looks more like a remora sucking with all his might to be pulled along with Hezbollah, feasting on what's left of the already feeble Lebanese state.

So what now?

The war is continuing, but my neighborhood looks like it's any other Saturday morning. The upscale carft shop, L'Artisan du Liban, is apparently open; there is a couple walking a dog; traffic is coming through; and Ethiopian maids are beating carpets and washing windows.

Meanwhile, in Hamra, Hezbollah took all of one night to defeat the Mostaqbal (Future, the pro-government Sunni militia) and take over the area. There are now (much more professional) Hezbollah militiamen running the areas. The Future movement's television channel was shut down, along with its newspaper and radio station. According to my friends, the army and Internal Security Forces (the latter trained by the US and loyal to Future's Hariri) are nowhere to be found.

There had been rumors about Mustaqbal training in the last year or two. I suppose we can put that notion to rest, because it only took a night for them to get their asses handed to them by Hezbollah.

So what now? Jumblatt made this point yesterday, saying that Hezbollah could easily occupy all of Beirut, but then what? I'm wondering what's going to happen to East Beirut. Are the Christians going to (or going to be allowed to) stay out of it all together? Will Hezbollah wait until Mustaqbal has been completely routed and then aim their sites at Christian Lebanese Forces and Phalangists? Will Hezbollah use its new-found posiiton of power to negotiate, or will it just be the government now?

For the moment, I can't tell that we're in a civil war by looking out the window, but had I left work an hour later yesterday, I'd probably be holed up in my office or at friends' watching street fighting all across the neighborhood that has traditionally been the safest place in Beirut.  

UPDATE: Artisan du Liban isn't actually open, but the building it's in is. Besides grocery stores, though, the Mana'eesh places are open, as are the hair salon, antique shop and carpet repair shop by my place. 

Also, it's been pointed out to me that it's Friday today, which goes to show you how much it feels like a Saturday today here.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

You might be in a civil war if...

The garbage men stop coming:

The 8 o'clock news is presented in a flack jacket:

I don't have a picture for this one, but another way you might know that you're in a civil war if there's no more bread at your local stores...

Civil war

I'm watching Hassan Nasrallah's speech right now on television, and it's very contradictory. One moment he says that this is war and that the government's decision to get rid of their man at the airport and to declare the Party of God's newly discovered independent telecommunications network illegal was a declaration of war. He says that Hezbollah's weapons will never be turned inward, but then he says that he will cut that hand off that tries to touch those weapons. (Here it's important to remember that the telecommunication network has been newly classified as a resistance weapon.) I never thought I'd say this, but Nasrallah kind of reminded me of Rumsfeld today.

Sometimes I wonder if in 1975, people knew that they were in a civil war. I have a feeling that long after the day that we now recognize as the start of the war, many people didn't know they were in one. Everyone's talking about whether or not this means war. Somehow I've got the feeling that we're already in a civil war, but we just haven't realized it yet.

UPDATE: There's something decidedly disconcerting about hearing the RPG explode in the distance right before you hear it on the television. MY neighborhood is calm right now; the opposing Christian factions have so far kept their distance from the fighting, but I can hear automatic gun fire and RPGs in the distance. 1840, 1958, 1975, 2008? Plus ça change...

Overheard in Beirut

In the vein of the NYC version, this was overheard in the halls of a prestigious private university here in Beirut:

Young woman on cell phone: Yeah, I would, biss ma'aoul racism? You're college educated! Come on, I'm so disappointed!

Pictures from strike, protest and clashes

The LA Times has a good slide show of a few pictures from yesterday's bullshit.


An armed supporter of the Shiite Amal movement walks past smoldering cars in Beirut during a general strike that turned into a confrontation between rival political factions.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Strike turns into street fighting

What was supposed to be a general strike over the minimum wage (the demonstration for which was finally canceled) has turned in to street clashes between Sunni and Shi'a. As usual. I crossed over to West Beirut this morning and back just now by the port road, and besides the empty streets and smoke in the air from burnt tires up by the tent city, nothing was out of the ordinary. Watching the news, however, I can see that at one point the highway was blocked with burned out tires.

My friend S, on the other hand, lives in Corniche el-Mazra'a, where there has been fighting most of the day. She just told me that they haven't seen any army troops in over an hour, just militiamen from Amal and Mostaqbal (Future Movement) carrying guns and RPG launchers. They don't have any electricity and have had to leave the living room, because the windows are too big. There have been other clashes in the usual places: Cola, Museitbeh, Tariq el-Jadida, Tayounneh and Ras el-Naba'a, amongst others.

It's really depressing to me how even an issue like raising the minimum wage, which should have appeal across sectarian lines, inevitably turns into an excuse for thugs from vying political parties to fight in the street. 

Monday, May 05, 2008

Put yourself in her shoes

I'm a little late for Labor Day, but Human Rights Watch here in Lebanon has begun an awareness campaign for rights of domestic workers entitled Put Yourself in Her Shoes:

The condition of (predominantly women) domestic workers in the Middle East is atrocious. Apparently, the problem is as bad in Israel as it is in Lebanon and even worse in Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. According to HRW:

The most common complaints made by domestic workers to embassies and nongovernmental organizations include non-payment or delayed payment of their wages, forced confinement to the workplace, no time off, and verbal, as well as physical, abuse. According to a 2006 survey conducted by Dr. Ray Jureidini of 600 migrant domestic workers, 56 percent said they work more than 12 hours a day and 34 percent have no regular time off. In some cases, workers have died while attempting to escape these conditions, some by jumping from balconies.

...The Lebanese authorities have failed to curb abuses committed by employers and agencies. Lebanese labor laws specifically exclude domestic workers from rights guaranteed to other workers, such as a weekly day of rest, limits on work hours, paid holidays, and workers’ compensation. Immigration sponsorship laws restrict domestic workers’ ability to change employers, even in cases of abuse. An official steering committee created in early 2006 and led by the Ministry of Labor to improve the legal situation of migrant workers in Lebanon has yet to deliver any concrete reforms. This includes a long-discussed standard contract to outline minimum standards for domestic workers’ employment.  

Human Rights Watch called upon the Ministry of Labor and other relevant authorities to amend the labor law to extend equal protection for domestic workers and to sign and ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. 

 

A few years ago, the Times did a story about Sri Lankan women who go to the Middle East to work as domestic servants.  This picture is of a 20-year-old woman named Thangarasa Jeyanthi who was severely abused in Lebanon. In Lebanese Arabic, the common word for a domestic worker is "Sri Lankan." At one point, I remember hearing a joke about an NGO that was fostering multiculturalism by doing presentations with people from all over world invited to introduce themselves to the audience. The Egyptian man comes and says he works as a concierge. The Syrian says that he's a field hand. And then comes the Ethiopian who introduces herself but forgets to say what her profession is. When reminded that everyone has to say what they do, she replies, "I'm a Sri Lankan."

In the case of Sri Lankan women, the conditions that they live and work in criminally miserable, and their government is actually complicit. There are training programs that teach the women some Arabic and how to do what is expected of them without receiving the beatings that are so common. The government encourages women to go to the Middle East, they provide remittances that help keep the Sri Lankan economy afloat.

An Ethiopian friend of mine here used to work for a big hotel in town, but she wasn't allowed to be hired directly even though she has all of her papers in order. The hotel insists on going through a middle man, who garnishes half of the wages of the foreign women working at the hotel. A salary of $450 is reasonable (and more than twice the pitiful minimum wage), but when some sleazy profiteer gets to pocket half of your salary, it's difficult to survive, especially with the increasing price of living (many food items have nearly doubled in price in the last 9 months).

In contrast with Colombo's policy of encouraging the migration, Ethiopia's government has taken the decision to ban its citizens from coming to Lebanon in search of employment:

ADDIS ABABA: On the occasion of Labor Day, Ethiopia has officially banned its citizens from traveling to Beirut in search of jobs, the African country's Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs has disclosed. Ethiopia passed the bill after it probed the human right violations and domestic violence Ethiopian migrants face behind closed doors in Beirut while employed as maids.

"Suspending work travel to Beirut was the only solution to minimizing the human rights abuses and dangers facing our citizens," said Zenebu Tadesse, deputy minister of state for labor and social affairs.

During the past few years, a number of Ethiopians have died in Lebanon in questionable circumstances.

According to a report published by Ethiopia's official news agency, past human right records show that 67 Ethiopian women have died between 1997 and 1999 alone while working in Beirut.

The ministry said it would take strong action against any employment agency trying to send workers directly to Beirut or through a third country.

So for Labor Day this year, I'd like to remind everyone that Sri Lankan is a nationality, not a profession. And I'd like to remind the Lebanese, many of whom go off to Europe, North America and the Gulf in search of work, that they should have a little solidarity with domestic workers here who are hoping to make so money to create a better life for themselves. As my friend Nadim from HRW says about their media campaign: "Many Lebanese themselves have been forced by wars and hardships to emigrate looking for a better life. We hope that they will see the parallels with the experience of these migrants that came from far away to care for Lebanese families."

Carter gets what he deserves

(Via my friend A) Carter to be tried for peace crimes, according to The Onion:

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND—An international peace-crimes tribunal commenced legal proceedings against former U.S. President Jimmy Carter for alleged crimes against inhumanity Monday.

"Jimmy Carter's political career includes a laundry list of anti-war-making offenses," said chief prosecutor Charles B. Simmons. "Carter's record of benevolence, diplomacy, and respect for human life is unrivaled in recent geopolitical history. For millions, the very sight of his face evokes memories of his administration's reign of tolerance."

I knew it was only a matter of time before the international community succeeded in bringing his gentle reign of peace-mongering to an end!

One man's terrorist

Raymond Tanter from WINEP and MESH has a post up about why the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), the Iranian militants who have committed terrorist attacks against the regime in Teheran and who were hosted by Saddam's Iraq, should be delisted from the State Department's list of terrorist organizations. Besides the fact that the MEK is against the Iranian regime, basically, his argument boils down to the fact that they haven't committed any acts of terrorism for a few years:

On April 25, Patrick Clawson, deputy director of research at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote that designation “should be based only on terrorism issues,” and that State “cited no alleged MEK terrorist activity since 2001, yet have increased allegations pertaining [to] the group’s non-terrorist activities.” Country Reports 2007 continues this trend of making allegations that are irrelevant to terrorist designation.

Tanter attempts to argue that MEK doesn't have the capability to carry out terrorist attacks, whereas we all know that anyone with a back pack, a bus pass and household peroxide can commit an act of terrorism. So while this argument isn't very convincing, he tells us, "de-listing would provide diplomatic leverage over Tehran, as the West is presently failing to constrain the Iranian regime’s nuclear program, sponsorship of terrorism, and subversion of Iraq."

In other words, the US should use a terrorist group for political bargaining. Of course this is nothing new: the Bush family has a long history of using Cuban terrorists to apply pressure on the Castro regime. What's striking, though, is the moral indignation Republicans muster when someone supports talking to groups like Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and Hezbollah (most of the violence committed by the last group having been aimed at military targets). Charges of moral equivalency and weak knees in the face of terror are immediately brandished.

Well, Orlando Bosch blew up a passenger plane killing all 73 civilians aboard. Jose Dionisio Suarez and Virgilio Paz Romero assassinated the Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier in Washington. The Mujahedeen-e Khalq assassinated the deputy chief of the Iranian Armed Forces General Staff, Brigadier General Ali Sayyaad Shirazi and attacked Iranian embassies and installations in 13 different countries at the same time. They also bombed the head office of the Islamic Republic Party and the Prime Minister's office killing 70 people, including the Chief Justice, the President and the Prime Minister.

Either terrorism is an acceptable tactic, or it's not. Washington can't understand why the rest of the world sees America as hypocritical, but Tanter's desire for the US to have its cake and eat it too should give us a hunch. 

UPDATE: Thinking more about this today has reminded me of the question of when a group can legitimately be de-listed as a terrorist organization. If the fact that MEK hasn't committed any acts of terrorism since 2001 is really enough to prove that they've mended their ways, then the same ought to apply to Hezbollah as well, because depending on who was responsible for the Argentinean attacks and the kidnapping of Tannenbaum, they haven't committed any acts of terrorism since 2000, the mid-1990s or even the late 1980s.

Otherwise, supporting terrorist groups or rebels or militias in a neighboring country has long been a staple of statecraft. In Africa, Sudan, Chad, Ethiopia, Uganda and Eritrea each support groups in their neighbors' territory. Iran and Syria support Hamas and Hezbollah; Syria supported the PLO in Jordan; while Israel supported the SLA in Lebanon; and Iran trained the Iraqi Badr Brigage to fight against Saddam. Hell, the first car bomb in Iraq wasn't unleashed by Zarqawi, but rather by Iyad Allawi with the help of the CIA. So while I abhor the use of violence against civilians as a political tool, I'm not naive and do know it happens all over. It's the smug hypocrisy of the "War on Terror" that really gets my goat in the same way that the "Fair and Balanced" slogan annoys me way more than the actual Fox News coverage.

Nakba use in the Times

The previous post got me to wondering how often the word Nakba had been used in American newspapers and when, so I did a Lexis Nexis search, which showed that the Times has only printed the word in 34 articles, the first of which appeared in 1998 in an article about Israel's 50th anniversary. A double check of the NYT online archives, however, showed two other articles that didn't appear in the Lexis Nexis search (they seem to only have abstracts for pre-1981 articles): one from 1973 on Sadat and another from 1970 on occupied Ramallah.

Here's a quickly drawn up chart that tracks the use of the word in coverage by the New York Times:

 

This shows that up until the 50th anniversary of the Nakba, the Times had referred to it but twice. I have a feeling that before the year is over, 2008 will beat out 2007 for the number of times the term is employed.

It's unclear to me what exactly has caused the general tide of public opinion to start moving (slowly but surely) away from Israeli occupation in the US. (Or perhaps I'm being optimistic and am projecting?) But I get the feeling that there's a  shift happening in American public opinion that will hopefully be reflected by more fair-minded media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Nakba denial

I've been surprised in the last few weeks to see how much attention the Nakba is getting during the run up to the 60th anniversary of the catastrophe and the founding of the Jewish state. While interpretations differ, it has at least been getting mentions in publications like The New Yorker and the New York Times.

That said, I knew it was only a matter of time before something really reactionary and stupid came out in a magazine like Commentary. Well, Efraim Karsh offers up exactly what we needed in his "True Story" of what happened in 1948. Following his recent comments on the "Jordanian option," I recently marveled how someone who is ostensibly a scholar of the region could be so out of touch with Arabs and the Arab political scene, but this latest piece takes the proverbial cake.

According to Karsh, before 1948, the Palestinians never had any problem with the idea of becoming a minority in their own land and otherwise would have been perfectly happy living as a second class majority in a Jewish state. In fact, Zionists wanted nothing more than all Arabs to stay in their homes and live happily ever after in a pastoral paradise. Unfortunately, the evil Jew-hating "Arab leaders" had to dash all these wonderful hopes and spur the Palestinians to war, despite the fact that they wanted nothing more than to live in a Jewish state. Why even Vladimir Jabotinsky wanted nothing more than peaceful Arab-Jewish coexistence: According to Karsh:

The simple fact is that the Zionist movement had always been amenable to the existence in the future Jewish state of a substantial Arab minority that would participate on an equal footing “throughout all sectors of the country’s public life.” The words are those of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the founding father of the branch of Zionism that was the forebear of today’s Likud party. In a famous 1923 article, Jabotinsky voiced his readiness “to take an oath binding ourselves and our descendants that we shall never do anything contrary to the principle of equal rights, and that we shall never try to eject anyone.”

Eleven years later, Jabotinsky presided over the drafting of a constitution for Jewish Palestine. According to its provisions, Arabs and Jews were to share both the prerogatives and the duties of statehood, including most notably military and civil service. Hebrew and Arabic were to enjoy the same legal standing, and “in every cabinet where the prime minister is a Jew, the vice-premiership shall be offered to an Arab and vice-versa.”

It just so happens that this is the same Jabotinsky who thought that the Jewish state should encompass both sides of the Jordan and who in his famous essay, "The Iron Wall," had this to say:

If [the reader] should attempt to seek but one instance of a country settled with the consent of those born there he will not succeed. The inhabitants (no matter whether they are civilized or savages) have always put up a stubborn fight.

...Any native people -- its all the same whether they are civilized or savage -- views their country as their national home, of which they will  always be the complete masters. They will not voluntarily allow, not only a new master, but even a new partner. And so it is for the Arabs. Compromisers in our midst attempt to convince us that the Arabs are some kind of fools who can be tricked by a softened formulation of our goals, or a tribe of money grubbers who will abandon their birth right to Palestine for cultural and economic gains. I flatly reject this assessment of the Palestinian Arabs. Culturally they are 500 years behind us, spiritually they do not have our endurance or our strength of will, but this exhausts all of the internal differences. We can talk as much as we want about our good intentions; but they understand as well as we what is not good for them. They look upon Palestine with the same instinctive love and true fervor that any Aztec looked upon his Mexico or any Sioux looked upon his prairie. To think that the Arabs will voluntarily consent to the realization of Zionism in return for the cultural and economic benefits we can bestow on them is infantile. This childish fantasy of our “Arabo-philes” comes from some kind of contempt for the Arab people, of some kind of unfounded view of this race as a rabble ready to be bribed in order to sell out their homeland for a railroad network.

He goes on to say that no voluntary agreement with the Arabs is possible:

Thus we conclude that we cannot promise anything to the Arabs of the Land of Israel or the Arab countries. Their voluntary agreement is out of the question. Hence those who hold that an agreement with the natives is an essential condition for Zionism can now say “no” and depart from Zionism. Zionist colonization, even the most restricted, must either be terminated or carried out in defiance of the will of the native population. This colonization can, therefore, continue and develop only under the protection of a force independent of the local population -- an iron wall which the native population cannot break through. This is, in toto, our policy towards the Arabs. To formulate it any other way would only be hypocrisy.

...All this does not mean that any kind of agreement is impossible, only a voluntary agreement is impossible. As long as there is a spark of hope that they can get rid of us, they will not sell these hopes, not for any kind of sweet words or tasty morsels, because they are not a rabble but a nation, perhaps somewhat tattered, but still living. A living people makes such enormous concessions on such fateful questions only when there is no hope left. Only when not a single breach is visible in the iron wall, only then do extreme groups lose their sway, and influence transfers to moderate groups. Only then would these moderate groups come to us with proposals for mutual concessions. And only then will moderates offer suggestions for compromise on practical questions like a guarantee against expulsion, or equality and national autonomy.

I am optimistic that they will indeed be granted satisfactory assurances and that both peoples, like good neighbors, can then live in peace. But the only path to such an agreement is the iron wall, that is to say the strengthening in Palestine of a government without any kind of Arab influence, that is to say one against which the Arabs will fight. In other words, for us the only path to an agreement in the future is an absolute refusal of any attempts at an agreement now.

This is what Jabotinsky thought of the Arabs, not just in Palestine but in Jordan as well. To the consternation of modern day Zionists, he saw the Zionist state in explicitly colonial terms, equating it with other European colonial endeavors.  

Now I've got a certain respect for Zionists like Jabotinsky who call a spade a spade. What I don't appreciate are scholars like Karsh who insist on whitewashing the creation of Israel to absolve the state of any wrong-doing. In his world, the Yishuv did nothing wrong; all blame for the problems of Arabs can be squarely placed at the feet of "Arab leaders." He ignores the much more frank assertions of the Zionist leaders themselves, like Ben-Gurion who once asked:

Why should the Arabs make peace? If I was an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country. Sure God promised it to us, but what does that matter to them? Our God is not theirs. We come from Israel, but two thousand years ago, and what is that to them? There has been antisemitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing: we have come here and stolen their country.

In any case, Karsh disagrees with the scholarship done by Israeli "new historians" like Pappe, Morris and Shlaim, who all show that the old myths of Palestinians leaving their homes because of radio broadcasts sent out by their leaders are conveniently simplistic and just not true. While there is some disagreement as to whether the ethnic cleansing of Palestine was pre-planned and deliberate, ad-hoc and hasty or unintentional but finally welcome, the issue is ultimately beside the point when it comes to Palestinians' right of return. Either you believe that one has the unalienable right to leave one's country and return, or you don't.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses...

...yearning to breathe free, so we can pour water down their throats.

For all of our grandstanding rhetoric about freedom agendas and human rights and liberty and justice for all, I can't help but wonder what it says about us as a country that Amnesty International feels that this commercial is necessary:

 

Iran in Iraq

McClatchy has an interesting piece on Iranian Brig. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Revolutionary Guard's Quds Force. The story includes an awfully high percentage of anonymous sources, and the title might be a little hyperbolic, but I think the overall points made are fair enough.

Iran has a lot of sway in Iraq, which is normal. What's silly, though, is that Americans see this as some sort of meddling, because Iranian interests in Iraq are not always the same as American interests (although I'd argue that they coincide much more often than either side would like to admit). If Iran were occupying Mexico or Canada, you can be sure that the US would be "meddling" as well.

As for the actual article, I don't really have too much to add, except that it's important to look at Iranian involvement in Iraq not as a spoiler or as some diabolical force. If the US is going to come to terms with Middle Eastern players (of which Iran has become a major one, due in no small part to American intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq), Washington is going to have to look at Teheran (and Damascus and Hezbollah and Hamas, for that matter) as actors who have interests in the region that can't be run over roughshod by America.

This is a reality. So just as when one deals with Zimbabwe, it's necessary to take Pretoria into account, or how when dealing with Burma or North Korea one can't ignore Beijing, the road to peace in Iraq must necessarily pass through Teheran, but not in the way that American hawks would like it to.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Feith no more

Oh happy day:

Douglas Feith (LAW ’78) may not have devised an exit strategy for the U.S. occupation of Iraq, but according to the former Bush administration official, a group of Georgetown professors apparently had no trouble coming up with an exit strategy for him.

The distinguished practitioner in national security policy in the School of Foreign Service will not be returning to teach at Georgetown next semester after the university chose not to renew his two-year contract.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Bahrain appoints Jewish ambassador to Washington

I've long thought that morally and politically, it would be a great move if the Lebanese government were to invite Lebanese Jews who left during the civil war to Europe and America to come back. And if Beirut were really clever, it would appoint a Lebanese Jew to a ministerial position or as an ambassador to the UN or the US. This would help turn the Lebanese-Israeli conflict into a national one instead of a religious one. In 2006, it would have been a tremendous PR move to have a Jewish minister criticizing the systematic destruction of the Lebanese infrastructure.

In this context, Bahrain has made a really smart move:

A Jewish woman, Huda Ezra Ebrahim Nonoo, is set to become Bahrain's ambassador to Washington, sources close to diplomats told Gulf News on Thursday.

"Huda is Bahrain's nominee for the post and this is of course very good news for Bahrain's deep-rooted values of tolerance and openness," Faisal Fouladh, a Shura Council representative, and Western diplomats said.

Huda, a businesswoman, was the first Jewish woman to sit in the Shura Council, the 40-member upper house of the bicameral legislature, replacing her uncle. A Christian woman, Alice Samaan, also sits on the council which has 11 women, compared with only one woman MP, Lateefa Al Gaood, in the 40-member lower house.

Cambodian or American debt?

I was checking out the State Department's blog today to see if they had said anything there about Israeli ambassador Gillerman's remarks that Carter was a "bigot" and an "enemy of Israel" when I came across this post about Cambodia's war era debt to the US:

Cambodia’s debt to the U.S. totals $162 million, but with arrears factored in could reach approximately $339 million. This debt stems from shipments of U.S. agricultural commodities (e.g., cotton, rice, wheat flour) to Cambodia in the early 1970s -- during the Vietnam War and Cambodia’s Lon Nol era -- and financed with USDA loans. When the country fell to the Khmer Rouge in 1975, the regime ceased servicing this debt, and interest accumulated over the next three decades. In February 2006 -- after many years of deadlock followed by a fruitful series of negotiations -- an agreement in principle was reached on the amount of Cambodian principal owed to the U.S.

The Cambodian government, however, remains reluctant to sign a bilateral re-payment agreement due to domestic political obstacles on accepting responsibility for debts incurred by the Lon Nol regime, viewed by many Cambodians as an illegal and illegitimate government. Furthermore, many Cambodian observers believe a good deal of this assistance never arrived. They contend that Cambodia only served as a conduit for moving the USDA-financed commodities to other locations in Asia and that the Cambodian government and the Cambodian people did not benefit from the loans, even if some Cambodian individuals did gain. Finally, some argue that it is fundamentally unfair that Vietnam, which is far better off economically and was America’s major adversary in the war, was granted a form of debt forgiveness from the United States, while an innocent bystander to that conflict—Cambodia—is offered nothing.

The U.S. has on its side the international law principle that governments are generally responsible for the obligations of their predecessors.

Putting aside for a moment the irony of American lectures on "international law principle," there are some other things to consider here. 

Considering the fact that the covert American bombing campaign of Cambodia that killed tens or hundreds of thousands of people was also one of the factors that led to the rise of the Khmer Rouge who killed literally millions of people, you'd think that we could give Phnom Penh a pass on their paltry $339 million debt, incurred after a pro-American military putsch, by the way.

Given the context in which the debt was incurred, and that more than half of the debt is interest, and since we're currently spending over $400 million every day in Iraq, you'd think we could be a good sport and forgive the Cambodian tab.

On a somewhat related note, This American Life once did an excellent piece about US-Cambodian trade agreements. You might think that such a topic is boring. You'd be wrong. Give it a listen here by clicking on "Full episode."

Friday, April 25, 2008

Netanyahu: 9/11 was good for Israel

(Via TPM) Ha'aretz reports Benjamin Netanyahu, hawkish Israeli "ally" of the US, as saying that 9/11 was good for Israel:

"We are benefiting from one thing, and that is the attack on the Twin Towers and Pentagon, and the American struggle in Iraq," Ma'ariv quoted the former prime minister as saying. He reportedly added that these events "swung American public opinion in our favor."

This actually mirrors comments made by Netanyahu on the day of the attacks:

Asked tonight what the attack meant for relations between the United States and Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, the former prime minister, replied, ''It's very good.'' Then he edited himself: ''Well, not very good, but it will generate immediate sympathy.'' He predicted that the attack would ''strengthen the bond between our two peoples, because we've experienced terror over so many decades, but the United States has now experienced a massive hemorrhaging of terror.''

With friends like these, right?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Zambia steps up

Following the problems that a Chinese boat has had trying to unload 77 tons of weapons in Durban, South Africa destined for the regime in Zimbabwe, it seems like it might be going back home after the South African High Court banned the transport of the weapons and ammo and after the remarks of Zambian president and head of the Southern African Development Community:

The impromptu coalition of trade unions, church leaders and organizations trying to stop the delivery gained an important ally on Monday when Levy Mwanawasa, the president of Zambia, who heads a bloc of 14 southern African nations, called on other countries in the region not to let the ship dock in their ports.

“He actually said that it would be good for China to play a more useful role in the Zimbabwe crisis than supplying arms,” said a spokesman for the Zambian government, who asked not to be identified. “We don’t want a situation which will escalate the situation in Zimbabwe more than what it is.”

This photo from the NY Times of the Chinese embassy in Pretoria shows that the Chinese may no longer be getting a free pass from the media and other countries for their involvement in developing nations:

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

New online encyclopedia of mass violence

The French Centre d'Etudes et de Recherches Internationales, along with the French research institution, CNRS and Sciences-Po, have begun an Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence with the help of the Hamburg Institute for Social Research. The project is under the direction of Jacques Sémelin, whose 2005 book on genocide (which I have but have yet to read) has recently been translated into English and published by Columbia.

The site's still pretty bare bones for the moment, but it's designed to provide information of mass violence based chronologically and geographically, so when it's done, you'll be able to click on any country you want to get information about mass violence in that country. There's also an encyclopedia of terms that looks to be pretty complete.

Strangely enough, for a French initiative, it's only available in English for the moment. The international advisory board includes scholars like Omer Bartov, Samantha Power, Frank Chalk, Antonio Cassesse, Ben Kiernen, René Lemarchand, William Schabas and Eric Weitz, just to name a few.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Science and war

The Middle East Strategy at Harvard is one of those sites that I continue to read even though (nay, because) it makes me want to smash my head against the computer screen. Some of the pieces on they are interesting and intelligent, but some are really, really stupid. Salzman's most recent piece falls into the latter category. I haven't read Salzman's book, but I had a feeling that I might not like it, since his description of it and Stanley Kurtz's review smacked a little bit too much of another Kurtz. I hadn't made up my mind, though, and thought that while Kurtz's review in the Weekly Standard might be oversimplifying the region a little, the book must be more nuanced. But Salzman's most recent piece on MESH makes me not want to read his book at all.

He seems to be arguing that since people in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran think that scholars are spies in the first place, it doesn't do any harm to be one. (Harry Matthews takes this idea to a hilariously genius extreme in his most recent novel.) And besides, those who are against working with the Pentagon are really just a bunch of haters:

It is very common for anthropologists, and foreigners in general, to be regarded as spies, agents, dubious, and perhaps dangerous. So the oft heard plea of researchers—”We can’t ever work for government or people will think all of us all the time are spies and agents”—seems at the very least naive, and, one cannot help thinking, disingenuous.

...For many anthropologists, cooperating with the Pentagon would be cohabiting with the Devil. It would be siding with power, capitalism, whites, men, heterosexuals, and thus with the evil forces in the universe. When it comes to the American military, cultural relativism does not apply.

Personally, I don't know much about Human Terrain Teams, but I do know that I'd have some very ambivalent feelings about working for the government, particularly if it meant working on Iraq. On the one hand, I can understand the sentiment that as long as the US is going to do whatever it wants, a lot of damage control can come in the form of academic advice and research -- damage control that might mean saving lives, both American and Iraqi. On the other hand, I also sympathize with the idea that one wouldn't want to get sullied by having anything at all to do with the whole enterprise. In any case, it's a complicated subject for which I've got very mixed feelings.

But does Salzman really think that those who might have qualms with working at the Pentagon are self-loathing whites who equate the idea with "cohabiting with the Devil"? I mean come on, while I'm sure there are some idiots on both sides of the argument, there really isn't any need for straw men, right? It sounds to me like Salzman has an axe to grind with some of his colleagues.

Prophesying Palestine

I'm not generally fond of Jeffery Goldberg's work when it comes to the Middle East, so I was pretty skeptical about the Atlantic's big Israel story this week. (I haven't read it yet, so I'll reserve judgment until then.)  One thing that's very interesting though, is that Goldman has dug up some old pieces on Palestine and Zionism that appeared in the Atlantic.

So far, I've only had the time to read William Ernest Hocking's 1930 piece, Palestine: An Impasse? You can tell that these old pieces have been scanned, because there are a few mistakes with indentations, quotes and even a couple of letters ('d' for 'cl'), but this article really warrants being read. Here are a couple of meaty extracts to whet your appetite:

If we in America, Jews and Gentiles, could see things as they are in Palestine, we should recognize as axiomatic three things: (1) That nothing like the full plan of Zionism can be realized without political pressure backed by military force; (2) that such pressure and force imply an injustice which is inconsistent with the ethical sense of Zionism, undermining both its sincerity and its claim; (3) that every increase of pressure now meets with increasingly determined Arab resistance, within and beyond Palestine. Hence the question which political Zionism must answer is whether or not it proposes to-day, as in ancient times, to assert its place in Palestine by aid of the sword.

To many Arabs, the Balfour Declaration, in spite of its careful safeguarding of all existing civil and religious rights, is understood as obliging Great Britain to 'do something' for the Jews. Many Zionists have the same conception. And the Arab mind inquires: What can Great Britain now do for Zionism which is not against the Arabs? What favor can it show which is not favoritism? If the question is capable of an answer, it needs to be a dear answer, plainly spoken. Great Britain is serving Zionism. It is doing so not only by maintaining security and order in the land (with some lapses), but by furnishing the administrative staff without which no such settlement would have been possible, and by creating new opportunities. Under the older Ottoman regime, foreign Jews were at a disadvantage: they—like other foreigners—could acquire land only in the name of Ottoman subjects. These disabilities are now removed; as is often said, Jews are now in Palestine by right, not on sufferance. Why press for more than this equitable opening, when more means a reversed injustice? The rural and industrial centres already founded need no more than an equal legal status for their normal peaceful development. The great Hebrew University on Mount Scopus needs no more than this on the legal side to realize its destiny. And this university, be it said, under the prophetic leadership of Dr. Judah Magnes, is the symbol of all that is best in Zionism. For the true and attainable Zion is the Zion of culture and faith, not the Zion of political nationalism.

It is indeed a bitter thing to the sincere Zionist that his ideal community cannot have in that unique spot of earth its perfect body as well as its perfect soul. What I have to say, I say with deep personal regret. For I went to Palestine seized with the idea of Zionism and warmed by the ardor of Jewish friends to whom this vision is the breath of life, prepared to believe all things possible. I came away saddened, seeing that to strive for the perfect body, as things now are, can only mean the loss of soul and body alike. To pursue any campaign for a more vigorous fulfillment of 'the British promise,' to force cantonization on Palestine and so to repeat the standing grievance of divided Syria, to press for any further favor of the state, is to work blindly toward another bloody struggle involving first the new settlements, then Great Britain, then no one knows what wider area. In this we have been assuming that on the issue of Jewish dominance the Arab mind is irreconcilable. Is this true?

The answer lies partly in the fact that for the Arab, whose local attachments are peculiarly strong, Palestine, beside being his home, is also a holy land. It lies partly in the fact that to his mind Palestine is not a separate province: it is an integral part of Syria, with Damascus as its natural trading and cultural capital, while Syria is an integral part of greater Arabia. In his dream of a free Arab empire, Damascus may have served as capital for the whole; or Syria, together with Palestine, may have constituted an autonomous province. In any case, the new Arabia through Palestine reached the western sea; while Palestine as a part of Syria became a partner in that new and proud political enterprise. The expulsion of Feisal from Damascus by the French was a cruel mutilation of this dream. The mandate for Palestine excludes it from the imagined kingdom and shuts that kingdom from the Mediterranean. Even so, political arrangements may be unmade. But village settlements are a more final obstacle—they build a human barrier and put an end to hope. The progress of Zionist colonization thus becomes for the Arab national outlook a culminating stroke in a series of breaches of faith.

...The two enemies of peace in the Holy Land are fanaticism and fear. The movement of the modern spirit within all creeds is having for one of its beneficent effects the gradual melting of fanaticism without argument. Fixed and antagonistic dogmas are transforming themselves into alternative sets of symbols which can dwell together. But fanaticism is kept alive and sharpened by fear; clashes at the Wailing Wall are symptoms of political rather than religious apprehension. These fears of displacement, of national thwarting, must be put to rest; and they can only be quieted by unequivocal public commitments, renouncing the intention to dominate and to exclude. If there is to be peace within the gates of Jerusalem, the first condition, as I see it, is that Zionism publicly disavow its unholy alliance with Western military power, and therewith (following the lead of a recent resolution within the Jewish Agency) its purpose to dominate in Palestine.

Hocking's solution is finally a binational, or more accurately a multi-religious, state under the mandate of Britain, a solution that is obviously out the question as far as British rule is concerned. Nonetheless, he brings up a fundamental conflict between the Zionist body and the Zionist soul, the latter being crushed by what it would take (has taken) to create a Jewish state -- something Avraham Burg's new book is about.

I'm a little uneasy with the idea he has of keeping Palestine technologically "backward" so as to keep Palestine as a multi-religious spiritual land above all else. But that's a small detail in an otherwise insightful analysis of the situation. To my mind, he really hits the nail on the head when he points out the violent and unjust conditions that would be necessary to create a Jewish majority in Palestine.

Goldberg, for his part claims that Hocking is arguing for "an exclusive Arab right to the territory of Palestine," which is silly when you read the piece. What he does do is analyze the Jewish right to Palestine:

This claim of right, based on a mission which it is felt a religious disloyalty to compromise, cannot be shaken in the Jewish mind by analogies from history or international law. To urge that the same reasoning which leads the Jew to claim Palestine after eighteen hundred years would give the Arab a right to Spain after seven hundred years is quite sound so far as it appeals to the ordinary flux of historic conquest and possession; but it wholly misses the sense of this 'organic indissoluble connection,' this right of destiny. Such a right has the force of a religious conviction for those who have that vision; it has the weakness of subjectivism for those who do not share it.

He, correctly, I think, calls the Jewish right to Palestine a subjective one for those who do not believe in God's covenant with the Jewish people and an ineluctable truth for those who do.

Monday, October 06, 2008

This site has moved

I'm not sure why, but overnight, my internet connection stopped allowing me to connect to blogspot/blogger sites. I can connect from friends' houses and from work, but I can't seem to figure out why I can’t connect from home. This is decidedly inconvenient for updating my blog, which I haven't been so good about lately anyway. So I've decided to change my host from blogspot to wordpress, which means that I won't be updating this site anymore. I think I was able to import all the old posts and comments without a hitch, but if anyone notices any problems with anything, please let me know.

Otherwise, I've taken advantage of the move to change the layout, which has always been pretty bare bones due to my limited skills in web design.

So please come over to the new site and update your bookmarks. Ahlan wa sahlan.

Monday, September 29, 2008

History as a political tool

Jeffrey Goldberg has a dishonest account of Tom Segev's review of a book on Haj Amin al-Husseini up. He makes it sound like Segev is only down on the book because it emphasizes Arab extremism, whereas his problems with the book are much more substantial:

The lack of solid evidence is the main problem throughout the book. While the authors do cite prominent scholars like Martin Gilbert, Bernard Wasserstein and Rashid Khalidi, some of the most outrageous quotations come from quite arguable sources. Hitler’s alleged and highly unlikely pledge to Husseini (“The Jews are yours”) is based on a passage in the mufti’s own memoirs. But there is an official German record of his meeting with Hitler that contains no such statement. In fact the mufti did not achieve his major goal: Hitler refused to sign a public statement of support for him.

Then Goldberg makes it sound like Segev is comparing Jewish extremism in mandate Palestine with Husseini's support of Nazi Germany:

Segev compares the Mufti's behavior to that of Yitzhak Shamir, the former prime minister of Israel who was once a terrorist with the Stern Gang, and he criticizes the authors for neglecting to mention Jewish extremism in the time of the Mufti. I'm not sure why a book about pro-Nazi sympathies among certain Arabs need include this...

Actually, what Segev does is remind us, as we can read in his excellent book The Seventh Million that Husseini was not the only anti-British nationalist to make overtures to Nazi Germany for the purpose of throwing off the yoke of British imperialism:

The mufti’s support for Nazi Germany definitely demonstrated the evils of extremist nationalism. However, the Arabs were not the only chauvinists in Palestine looking to make a deal with the Nazis. At the end of 1940 and again at the end of 1941, a small Zionist terrorist organization known as the Stern Gang made contact with Nazi representatives in Beirut, seeking support for its struggle against the British. One of the Sternists, in a British jail at the time, was Yitzhak Shamir, a future Israeli prime minister. The authors fail to mention this episode.

So while it's true that a book on Arabs seeking German support against the British and the Jewish colonialism needn't mention the terrorism of the Irgun or the Stern Gang, it seems dishonest not to include the fact that some of Husseini's local Jewish enemies also sought the support of Nazi Germany.

But that's the whole problem here. The importance accorded to Husseini is meant to conflate anti-Zionism and Arabs with anti-Semitism and Nazis. During World War II, there were many subjects of British imperialism from Ireland to Egypt and beyond who saw the time as ripe to back another European power, not because they were Nazis or anti-Semites, but because they were anti-British and saw Germany as means to the end of breaking British rule over their lands.

We've seen politically expedient but strange bedfellows time and time again, like how many exiled Iraqis supported an American invasion -- not because they were particularly pro-American, but rather because they were anti-Saddam. To argue that the the two are necessarily the same is either obtuse or dishonest.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

On the seam

Last night I saw a collection of Israeli and Palestinian short films about Jerusalem, one of which (made by an Israeli) took a look at the Museum on the Seam. The museum describes itself like this:

The Museum is committed to examining the social reality within our regional conflict, to advancing dialogue in the face of discord and to encouraging social responsibility that is based on what we all have in common rather than what keeps us apart.
And it describes its location like this:

The Museum is situated in a building constructed in 1932 by the Arab-Christian architect, Anton Baramki.

While Jerusalem was divided (1948-1967), the building served as a military outpost (the Turjeman Post) which stood on the seam line between Israel and Jordan across from Mandelbaum Gate, the only crossing point between the two sides of the divided city.

The Museum on the Seam was established in 1999 with the generous support of the von Holtzbrinck family of Germany, through the Jerusalem Foundation and by the initiative of the designer and curator of the Museum, Raphie Etgar.
What it fails to mention is that Baramki and his family lived in the house until they were displaced during the war in 1948 and that ever since 1967 the Baramki family has tried in vain to reclaim their house. The museum has refused to give them their property back, relying on the Israeli law of "absentee" landowners that has allowed the Jewish state to confiscate Palestinian land.

Social responsibility indeed.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

More of the hack you love to hate

It seems that Michael Totten's hackery isn't limited to Lebanon and the rest of the Arab world. Take a look here for an amusing take down of his recent reporting on Georgia.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Orwell: Dear diary -- hot again!

I've just stumbled across an online version of George Orwell's diaries.

I've only scratched the surface, but considering how much Orwell talks about the weather and crops, I feel somehow a little less pathetic for not being able to talk for five minutes without making a comment on the hot and sticky weather that greeted me upon my return from Africa back to Beirut. Who'da thunk I'd be pining for Congolese weather? It's not much, but I suppose Goma's got at least one thing going for it this time of year.

American Palestine

For reasons I won't go into, I was at the American embassy a couple of times earlier this week. Draconian security measures notwithstanding (you're not allowed to bring a phone or bag onto the premises), the place seemed more Lebanese than American, with Lebanese security guards, Lebanese employees and Lebanese-Americans queued up in the consular section.

Another touch was a world map in the consular section. It is a map with political boundaries, and while I was in the consular waiting room, I took a look at it while trying to recover from the disgusting humidity that all of Beirut's been suffering from this summer. The map is in Arabic, and like most maps in the region, Israel is nowhere to be found. Instead, the map shows Palestine. This wouldn't be surprising, except that it's in the American embassy.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Back from the bush

I've been really, really terrible about keeping the site updated. And for that I apologize. Before, I could blame the state of African telecommunications, but since I'm back home where I have the internet at home and work, I've got no such excuses.

While I was away, I read Ngugi wa Thiongo's Wizard of the Crow on the recommendation of a friend of mine. It was really wonderful, a mixture of Rushdie and Gunther Grass, but à l'africaine. Then, to keep with the theme of African dictatorships and as suggested by another friend, I read Chinua Achebe's Anthills of the Savanna, which is also a great read. There are so many passages that stood out on the page, but this is one of my favorites:

[A] genuine artist, no matter what he says he believes, must feel in his blood the ultimate enmity between art and orthodoxy.

Those who would see no blot of villainy in the beloved oppressed nor grant the faintest glimmer of humanity to the the hated oppressor are partisans, patriots and party-liners. In the grand finale of things there will be a mansion also for them where they will be received and lodged in comfort by the single-minded demigods of their devotion.

My trip was incredibly interesting. I traveled from Kenya to Zanzibar to Tanzania proper to Rwanda and Congo then through Uganda back to Kenya before leaving. It was tiresome to be on the move so much, so I was happy to come home to Beirut.

That being said, given our excruciatingly humid heat here, I miss the cool evenings of East and Central Africa. I also miss the smell of smoke that always seemed to fill the night sky. The latter, by the way, is completely different in the southern hemisphere. The stars are much more numerous and fill constellations that I'd never before seen. It's amazing to think that something so fundamental to our lives as the sky can change upon crossing an imaginary line in the African dirt.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

On crowds and Tanzanian trains

I was expecting a leisurely train ride through the inland to Lake Victoria from Dar-es-Salaam. That's not at all what I got. The train was scheduled to leave Dar-es-Salaam at 5 on Tuesday evening, and I was pleasantly surprised when we left on time. The Tanzanian scenery was beautiful and the couchette not that uncomfortable.

I awoke to a couple of sudden jolts, and then we stopped for a while. Finally, we started back up again and I fell asleep. The only thing that woke me up was a Tanzanian cabin mate who decided that 1 am would be the perfect time to listen to his telephone's radio at full blast, despite the fact that there were five people trying to sleep in the same tiny cabin.

I finally fell back asleep and then woke up in the early light of the morning to see a train platform. We must be in Dodoma, I thought, and then went back to sleep. I woke up a couple of hours later to see that we hadn't moved, so I decided to get out and see what the problem was. I asked where we were, to which someone responded: Dar-es-Salaam. Thinking that he’d misunderstood my question, I mimed that yes, of course, we'd left Dar-es-Salaam, but where were we now? He shrugged and repeated: Dar-es-Salaam.

It was only then that I recognized the buildings around us. I'd just spent 14 hours to end up in the exact same place I'd left. After some investigation, it seems that the jolts had been two of the train cars being derailed, but fortunately no one was hurt. We were told that the tracks would be repaired and that we were expected to leave again at 5 in the evening, but that we should stay close to the train anyway, just in case. So I spent the day lounging in the sun watching as an African village sprung up on the train platform.

Men lounged and ate oranges, while women washed clothes and children. Wet laundry soon adorned the rusty tracks and open train windows. This, I assume, is how shantytowns are born. To my surprise, mothers led their children to defecate mere feet away from the water spigots, which left human shit in disconcerting proximity to drying laundry and dishes. It also made the whole place smell like a public toilet. All in all, I was surprised by the fact that no one seemed particularly upset about the inconvenience of the situation. Everyone was taking it in stride.

After being told that I couldn't get my money back for the train ticket, I left our new village for some fresh air and Indian food, passing an enormous line of people waiting to get a two-dollar food allowance from the rail company. By the time I got back, it was nearly time to leave. Or so I thought. The departure time of 5 pm came and went without so much as a train whistle. We were then told that we’d be leaving at 9, so I settled in to read with the last of the sunlight. I fell asleep in my couchette and only woke up at around 9:30 to loud music and a crowd of people obviously upset about something.

It seems that they were mad, and understandably so, about not getting a refund for their ticket. Every once in a while, the crowd's singing and chanting would take on a nasty edge, and rocks and Swahili curses would be hurled. After a bit of this and three pops that sounded like firecrackers and which were explained to me to be local bombs (made by the police or the crowd, I couldn't tell), I decided that it is decidedly unwise to be different in a crowd of angry people who want their money back. And especially unwise when that difference, in my case that of skin color, is seen mainly as a financial difference. I was worried that the leap from "give us our money back" to let's take the mzungu's money" could be quick and unforgiving. So I left. And now I'm stuck trying to figure out how the hell I'm going to make it to Kigali by tomorrow.

Apparently the local press has written up the story, but with no mention of the rioting.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

African pics

Here are a couple of pictures I've taken so far:


Giraffe on the road between Nairobi and Masai Mara


Great Rift Valley


Zebras in Masai Mara


Sunset in Masai Mara


Lioness feeding on zebra


Lions lounging in Masai Mara


Somali Camel on beach in Mombasa


Masai kids at school


Zanzibar beach


Market in Zanzibar


Homemade lipstick in Zanzibar

Train wreck in Tanzania

I left Dar-es-Salaam last night and thought I was well on my way to Lake Victoria, but then I fell asleep and woke up this morning to find myself in.... Dar-es-Salaam. It seems that part of our train derailed last night (which must have been the couple of jolts I felt), so we turned around and came back. Shortly after arriving, the passengers set-up a makeshift village on tracks, with women washing clothes and children while the men mostly sat around chatting and eating oranges.

I looked into a plane ticket to Kigali from Dar, but it is an astounding $440, so it looks like I will be giving the train another try this evening. They said that the tracks are being repaired, but I don't know how much I trust that. In either case, by the time I'd figured out what was going on, it was too late to catch a bus to Mwanza, and I still haven't heard back from Rwandair, so it looks like I'll be on the train.

Otherwise, Mwanza was the film featured in the documentary film Darwin's Nightmare about the Perch Nile in Lake Victoria. It was poorly received here, and even non-Tanzanian friend who live here can't stand it. Personally, I really liked the film when I saw it, but I'd never been to Tanzania before, so if I finally make it to Mwanza, I suppose I'll be able to see if the film was fair or not.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Zanzibar

This is just a quick note to let my few but faithful readers know that I've not been killed in a matatu accidend on the roads of East Africa. I'm alive and well in Zanzibar, after having been through Nairobi, Masai Mara, Mombasa, Tanga and Pemba. I'll be heading to Dar-es-Salaam next and then taking a train crosscountry to Lake Victoria from where I'll launch into Rwanda.

I've got a fair amount to write about, but little time in which to do so.

More later, insh'allah.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Leaving for East Africa

I'm about to leave for a five-week trip seeing East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda), but I wanted to post a link to an execrable op-ed about learning Arabic in the Washington Post by Joel Pollak.

I sent out a hasty letter to the editor, which reads as follows:

Joel Pollak complains that there isn’t enough of an Israeli perspective in Arabic language classes. He then goes on to describe “West Beirut,” a gem of Lebanese cinema that recounts a love story between a Muslim boy and a Christian girl, as a film that casts Christians as “the prime bad guys in Lebanon’s civil war.” Obviously Pollak’s Arabic has not progressed far enough to have understood the movie.

He then assures us that he refused to talk about Abdel Nassar in class. In French courses, one learns about Napoleon as a grand statesman, not a brutal imperial dictator. Likewise in Arabic classes, as well as in much of the third world, Nasser was seen as a hero.

One of the points of language courses is to better understand the culture of the speakers of that language. Since Pollak would obviously prefer to learn about Israeli and Jewish history, one can only assume that mistakenly signed up for Arabic lessons when he was actually looking to learn Hebrew.

In other news, there's this nasty piece calling for collective punishment. I'd have more to say about this last one, except that I'm in a hurry.

I don't know what the internet situation is going to be like in any of the places where I'll be over the next month or so, but I can't imagine that posting will be any slower than it has been in the last month or two. Which means that I'll do my best to step it up considerably.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Mugabe's "do or die" campaign

Zimbabwe's opposition party, MDC (Movement for Democracy and Change) announced yesterday that it will not be contesting the election on Friday, since it was nothing but a violent illegitimate sham anyway. Dozens of opposition partisans (and their families) have been killed in the last few months. PBS's Frontline has an excellent piece on Mugabe's "do or die" campaign to hold on to power in Harare:

I pose as a member of a Roman Catholic church from Harare in order to visit the local hospital. There I meet Thabita Chingaya*, a 42-year-old widow and leader of the local MDC women's league. Thabita is being treated for massive injuries to her vagina, uterus and womb. A discharge constantly oozes from between her legs. Tabitha says that she was coming home from drawing water from the river the week before when she came upon seven young men she knew who happened to be Zanu-PF party members. They blocked her path saying she would learn a lesson for being "Morgan Tsvangirai's prostitute."

She was knocked down by blows to her face and kicked with booted feet. But then suddenly the beatings stopped, she says. One man called "Max," who seemed to be the gang leader, ordered the others to stop. He removed his trousers and raped her. All the others followed suit, taking turns to hold her down. When they were done, Max took a log and began poking her vagina until she bled. She says the other six laughed and left her for dead.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Sea and Desert

So I'm back. I finished grading and braved the torrents of students begging for grades. I also read Kapuscinsky's Travels with Herodotus. While speaking of the coup against Ben Bella in Algeria, he brings up a schism in Islam that I'd been thinking about even before having him articulate it. He speaks of a

conflict at the very heart of Islam, between its open, dialectical -- I would even say "Mediterranean" -- current and its other, inward-looking one, born of a sense of uncertainty and confusion vis-à-vis the contemporary world, guided by fundamentalists who take advantage of modern technology and organizational principles yet at the same time deem the defense of faith and custom against modernity as the condition of their own existence, their sole identity.

Algiers, which at its beginnings, in Herodotus's time, was a fishing village, and later a port for Phoenician and Greek ships, faces the sea. But right behind the city, on its other side, lies a vast desert province that is called "the bled" here, a territory claimed by peoples professing allegiance to the laws of an old, rigidly introverted Islam. In Algiers one speaks simply of the Islam of the desert, and a second, which is defined as the Islam of the river (or of the sea). The first is the religion practiced by warlike nomadic tribes struggling to survive in one of the world's most hostile environments, the Sahara. The second Islam is the faith of merchants, itinerant peddlers, people of the road and of the bazaar, for whom openness, compromise, and exchange are not only beneficial to trade, but necessary to life itself.

Under colonialism, both these strains of Islam were united by a common enemy; but alter they collided.

I don't know enough about Algeria to know if Ben Bella is really a good specimen of the sea variety or Boumedienne an example of the Islam of the desert. I do know though, despite its simplicity, this is a distinction that's been forming in my consciousness for a while now. It's certainly one way of explaining the differences between Islam in, say, Saudi Arabia and the Islams of Lebanon.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Three years later

Sometimes when I'm bored (or should be grading papers), I take a look at my stats to see how the few people who read this blog got here. I often feel a mixture of fear and pride when I see that people from the State Department or the Senate or the Pentagon have made their way here. Other times, I wonder what someone was doing googling Hezbollah and skinnydipping.

Every once in a while, I come across someone who's seemingly been caught googling himself. In this case, it looks like UCSD's Bill Decker came across a post about Guantánamo Bay after doing a Google search to see if anyone was talking about a letter to the editor he wrote three years ago.

It must not be very often that this physics professor finds talk about him online that's unrelated to bifurcations in natural convection, much less remarks that compare him with a Soviet Chief State Prosecutor. If you've come back, Bill, welcome. Please feel free to continue patting the US on the back for only imprisoning people at Guantánamo Bay instead of having them summarily executed.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Brazil in Beirut

In Terry Gilliam's movie, Brazil one of the characters (Tuttle played by De Niro) is walking when a newspaper is blown against him just to cling to him while another does the same. More and more papers are thrust against him until he's a walking mass of paper. Finally, all the papers are blown away to reveal that the man is no longer there.

That's pretty much how I feel at this time of the year, when the semester is over, and I'm flooded with a mass of papers to grade. When the wind blows hard enough, and grades are turned in, I'll be back.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Israel blocks fulbright scholars

The US government has had to rescind the Fulbright awards for the 7 students in Gaza who won the awards, because Israel won't let them leave the territory:

The American State Department has withdrawn all Fulbright grants to Palestinian students in Gaza hoping to pursue advanced degrees at American institutions this fall because Israel has not granted them permission to leave.

...The study grants notwithstanding, the Israeli officials argued that the policy of isolating Gaza was working, that Palestinians here were starting to lose faith in Hamas's ability to rule because of the hardships of life.

..."We are fighting the regime in Gaza that does its utmost to kill our citizens and destroy our schools and our colleges," said Yuval Steinitz, a lawmaker from the opposition Likud Party. "So I don’t think we should allow students from Gaza to go anywhere. Gaza is under siege, and rightly so, and it is up to the Gazans to change the regime or its behavior."

Hadeel Abukwaik, a 23-year-old engineering software instructor in Gaza, had hoped to do graduate work in the United States this fall on the Fulbright that she thought was hers. She had stayed in Gaza this past winter when its metal border fence was destroyed and tens of thousands of Gazans poured into Egypt, including her sister, because the agency administering the Fulbright told her she would get the grant only if she stayed put. She lives alone in Gaza where she was sent to study because the cost is low; her parents, Palestinian refugees, live in Dubai.

"I stayed to get my scholarship," she said. "Now I am desperate."
Now I'm no expert on Islamic militancy, but I'm pretty sure that desperation isn't exactly the quickest route to winning hearts and minds.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Shake and Bake, or MacBeth

A good friend of mine, A, sent me a link to an article about Scott McClellan's new memoir to see if I could spot the reference to Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.

Needless to say, I laughed out loud when I saw that McClellan calls Dick Cheney "The Magic Man" in his new book:

[McClellan] accuses former White House adviser Karl Rove of misleading him about his role in the CIA case. He describes Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as being deft at deflecting blame, and he calls Vice President Cheney "the magic man" who steered policy behind the scenes while leaving no fingerprints.
Somewhere in this book has to be an anecdote about Bush "El Diablo" and Cheney "The Magic Man" bumping chests and yelling, "shake and bake, baby!"



Surely, it is no coincidence that Will Ferrell has played Bush in the past:



But on a more serious note, I find it disgusting how people like McClellan go along with horrible, dishonest policies and then expect that all will be well after a memoir. Someone should tell Scott "the lady" McClellan that a critical memoir isn't enough to wash the blood of hundreds of thousands of people from his hands. I'm afraid a little water isn't enough to clear you of this deed and that here's the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.

Democracy and economy

It's the end of the semester, and most of my students are giving final presentations. Two of my students have been working on the economic consequences of the sit-in, on a micro-level, by interviewing business owners and protesters. At the end of their presentation, the conclusion they came to (fueled by the "Dubai model," I might add) was that in the Middle East, a country needs to choose between democracy and economic livelihood. They seemed torn as to which should be Lebanon's priority, but they agreed that in this neck of the woods, aiming for an economically successful democracy was the same thing as wanting to have your cake and eat it too.

Sometimes this country depresses me more than I can muster the strength to convey...

Sunday, May 25, 2008

New President in Lebanon

Even if I didn't have cable, I'd be able to tell that the new president had just been appointed elected by the gunfire that we can all hear throughout Beirut.

There's one thing that I've noticed since the Doha agreement was reached: both sides seem to feel like they've won. Part of me (the realist or pessimistic part of me) thinks that this is another example of the Lebanese "lick-and-stick" philosophy that is equally present in the domains of plumbing and politics. This philosophy states that it's much easier to make a minor, temporary adjustment than to fix something properly. This means that my electric wire that used to run from the meter through the walls to my apartment now comes in through the window in the corridor.

The other part of me thinks that maybe, just maybe, if both sides think they've won, then maybe that means that we're in a win-win situation.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

More overheard in Beirut

One high school or young college student to another in the back of a cab:

Student 1: "All I need is a night away from my parents."
Student 2: "Yeah, but you'll need some proof."
Student 1: "What, like her panties? Or what about pictures?"

Friday, May 16, 2008

Still alive

Thanks to those who have sent messages wondering if I was all right and where I was. I took a trip up to the Chouf on Tuesday and spent the night in a village in the mountain. I visited some of the Druze shebab to see how things were and how they were feeling after their unexpected victory over Hezbollah in Barouk.

When I got back to Beirut, what I thought was just a long electricity cut turned out to be several days without power (that's getting fixed while I type, insh'allah). So I've been out of the loop, news and otherwise, and will need some time to wrap my head around things before posting any comments about the situation.

There's also the fact that during the last week, I've not really wanted to do much except sleep. As a result, I didn't get any work done and am now swamped with things that have been left undone up to now.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Hezbollah coup

This seems to be shaping up to be a full-scale coup d'état by Hezbollah with the support of the army. It looks like they're going piece by piece. Future was first, now the PSP is being taken in the Chouf, and I imagine the Lebanese Forces in the Christian sectors will be next.

The rest of the Lebanese parties were no match for Hezbollah, but when you throw in the army, what can you expect? Hariri and Joumblatt seem to have agreed not to fight, probably to save the bloodshed that would not have stopped the coup in any case. So they've agreed to go quietly in exchange for there not being a battle to which Future and PSP partisans would have gone like lambs to the slaughter.

The army seems to have cut a deal with Hezbollah, but it's hard to say what they could have done in any case, since they're so much weaker than the Party of God. So the current government will most likely be forced to resign, Suleiman will be appointed as president, and someone pliable will be appointed to be Prime Minister. Things will be like before 2005, except that instead of taking marching orders from Damascus, the new government will answer to Harat Hreik.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Niagara Falls

by John Barth

She paused amid the kitchen to drink a glass of water; at that instant, losing a grip of fifty years, the next-room-ceiling-plaster crashed. Or he merely say in an empty study, in March-day glare, listening to the universe rustle in his head, when suddenly the five-foot shelf let go. For ages the fault creeps secret through the rock; in a second, ledge and railings, tourists and turbines all thunder over Niagara. Which snowflake triggers the avalanche? A house explodes; a star. In your spouse, so apparently resigned, murder twitches like a fetus. At some trifling new assessment, all the colonies rebel.

The centre cannot hold

Yesterday, I spent a good part of the day in Hamra, where SSNP thugs were still armed and around. They broke up a group of unarmed neighborhood residents (most of whom were with Future) by shooting in the air and shouting. The night before a 16-year-old boy had been killed while delivering a narguileh for the shop he worked for. When they finally had a hard time getting the group of the boy's friends, family and neighbors to go inside despite plenty of shooting, they left. Shortly afterward, the Army finally showed up. The SSNP gunmen were going around Hamra without any challenge from the Army.

Today, things seem to be much better in West Beirut (although I haven't been there today), but fighting has spread all over the country, with Hezbollah apparently shelling a Druze village and opposition Druze forces fighting the PSP in Aley. Clashes are also going on in in Shweifat.

Add this to the fighting in Tripoli, and the death toll is nearly 40 now. In the words of Yeats:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Television and traitors

Another thing that's been bothering me is the fact that Mostaqbal's media outlets were shut down. I won't pretend that part of me doesn't feel a little tinge of delight at the idea of the Mostaqbal thugs getting some comeuppance. But punishing neighborhood thugs who fancy themselves militiamen is one thing, while shutting down media outlets is another. During the 2006 war, Hezbollah was (rightfully, to my mind) outraged by Israel's targeting of their television station, al-Manar. So why is it acceptable to have shut down Future TV?

I'm watching Kalam an-Nass right now, while the head of Future TV is being interviewed. According to him, a Lebanese soldier, in uniform, told them that they had to open the gates or else they'd be killed by Hezbollah militiamen. This is, of course, disconcerting on several levels. First of all, this would mean that a member of the ostensibly neutral Lebanese Army would have helped Hezbollah shut down the media outlet of a competing political party. But regardless of whether or not a soldier helped Hezbollah shut the station down, the latter certainly did disconnect Future TV. This is scandalous, and Hezbollah should be ashamed of itself.

A woman presenter, whose name I can't recall, just came on and gave Hezbollah a piece of her mind. She said that she's spent the last year and a half doing reports on the lot of the people of the south and how they've suffered during the war of 2006 and after. Then she explained how al-Manar reported that the staff of Future TV "fled" the premises, like thieves or criminals, when in fact they were told to leave if they didn't want to die. She said that forgetting the parties and forgetting politics, this kind of treatment and the occupation of Beirut has made regular people, people like her, hate Hezbollah. She said that after people like her who did their best to take in refugees after the war in 2006 are treated like this and accused of being traitors, Hezbollah should be ashamed of itself. Of course a presenter on Future TV isn't exactly representative of the man on the street, but her point is well taken.

I can say, however, that the opposition has lost the sympathy of people who have supported the principles of the resistance, even if they had really ambivalent feelings about the religious and authoritarian form it's taken. And the traitor rhetoric is really hurtful and disgusting to people who support resistance against Israel but don't want to live in a country where the interests of the resistance trump those of the state. Calling people traitors like this smacks of Bush's rhetoric in the "war on terror," where you're either "with us or against us," and doesn't sit well with many Lebanese.

Legitimacy and Mercutio in Lebanon

I never thought I'd say this, but there was part of Samir Geagea's speech this afternoon that I agree with. He said that the use of Hezbollah's weapons has delegitimized their very existence. I tend to agree with this idea, because Hezbollah has decided to use its weapons in an internal dispute between Lebanese actors. (Here, it's important to remember that the myth that Hezbollah has never been part of inter-Lebanese fighting fails to include when Amal and Hezbollah fought each the during the civil war.) What has happened is that the March 14 government made a decision that Hezbollah disagreed with, and in reaction to this, they took up arms and occupied half of Beirut. This means that the weapons whose sole purpose is supposed to deter Israeli aggression and defend Lebanon has been used as a blunt political tool to try to force the government to resign, or at the very least, send it a far-from-subtle message. 

The line being taken by the opposition now (at least as far as the talking heads of al-Manar are concerned) is that Hezbollah has helped the state put down militias (namely Mustaqbal, or the Future movement). This position fails to take into consideration, for example, the fact that there are still armed militia members of Amal and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party walking around West Beirut.

Either armed militias are illegal or they aren't. What's happened is that the Army seems to have passively taken the side of Hezbollah, which means that their legitimacy will be decreased or destroyed in the eyes of other Lebanese communities, especially the Sunnis in Saida and Tripoli. It has also sent the message that the most effective political tool is military force. I imagine, then, that the Sunnis in Saida and Tripoli, the pro-government Christians and the Druze loyal to Walid Jumblatt have likely decided that they can no longer count on the Army to be an impartial arbiter for the state. This will surely lead to increased militia training and arming. It wouldn't surprise me if the lesson that the Lebanese Forces and the PSP have taken from the defeat of Mustaqbal (probably the weakest of the pro-government parties/militias, if one of the nastier ones on a local neighborhood level) is that they should be prepared for more of the same in the not-so-distant future.

So where does this leave us? Despite rumors earlier today, it doesn't look like Saniora, or anyone else, will resign from the government. So what? There's still no president, and the fundamental dysfunction of the Lebanese state has only been highlighted, not solved. If this all ends with Hezbollah and its allied militias pulling back to their territory in the next day or so, leaving a humiliating message for the other parties and their militias, we'll be back to where we started. Back to where we started, except a big part of the population will have lost faith in the idea that Hezbollah and its allies can be dealt with within the norms of a democratic system.

Since there is no way that any of these groups can compete with Hezbollah's military forces, look for them to embrace proxies. This might include the Sunnis accepting al-Qaeda militants and other groups hoping for more Israeli intervention. I'm sure that after the disaster that was the war in 2006, the Israeli establishment wouldn't mind taking advantage of the situation for  rematch. In any case, what this situation hasn't done is foster an atmosphere where either side feels like it can compromise. If anything, this whole situation has pushed March 14 further into its corner and inflated the arrogance and confidence of Hezbollah and its allies in the country and abroad. Neither of which bodes well for peace or stability in Lebanon.

Amin Gemayel, whom I can't stand, called Hezbollah's victory a Pyrrhic one (actually, he said it in French, the snooty bastard). I tend to think that, on a national level and in the long term, he's probably right. In any case, it's enough to turn some Lebanese into bitter Mercutios.

Some thoughts on the aftermath of this war

The rumor I've been hearing now, to the glee of some Aounist Christians in my neighborhood, is that Prime Minister Saniora has resigned. I can't confirm this, but it really begs the question of what he would resign from. Premiership of what? There is no government. The military is sitting around doing absolutely nothing, which may be best for the lives of the soldiers but is disastrous for the life of the state. I walked down to the eastern side of the bridge that connects east and west Beirut, and it was being guarded by a couple of tanks and APCs and some soldiers. The latter were sitting around shooting the shit and listening to the radio. One was sleeping in the shadow of his APC. I've also seen it reported that Jumblatt was forced to flee his home in Clemenceau under the protection of the Army.

Despite the fact that the army is much weaker than Hezbollah and would have lost any real shooting match, I keep wondering to myself if one of the reasons the Army is staying out is because of the head of the Army, Michel Suleiman. He had been put forward as a compromise candidate for president. Now that Hezbollah is calling the shots, it will be interesting to see who they put forward as the president, or if they appoint anyone at all.

It obviously won't be Aoun, which means that he's pretty much outlived his usefulness to the opposition cum ruling party, due to the fact that he was only helpful to them so long as they were working within the system. Now that they have taken matters into their own hands, they really don't need him anymore. I don't think that Hezbollah would even try to put someone Franjieh into the presidential palace, so that pretty much only leaves Suleiman. Maybe he cut a deal with Hezbollah to stay out of the fighting in exchange for the presidency.

But even the question of who will be the president may be putting the cart before the horse. It isn't clear at all now what Hezbollah will do. Will there be a fight between the pro-Government Christian militias (Lebanese Forces and Phalangists) and Hezbollah? Will Hezbollah install a new government of its choosing based on the old system? Will they install a government composed purely of Hezbollah members? Will they call for new elections? Your guess is as good as mine.

What's sure though, is this: those who may have have been somewhat sympathetic to the underlying principles of "the Resistance" and Hezbollah's part in that movement despite (being uncomfortable with the idea of an explicitly religious party) are likely to be turned off by the last few days' events. The chorus has always been the Hezbollah would never turn its weapons inward, but it has done that now. At the end of the day, Hezbollah went outside of the rules of the game. That game may have been frustrating and often paralyzing, but at least it was nominally democratic. Now, even if they call for new elections, Hezbollah has broken the rules of the game by resorting to violence to achieve a political goal. A lot of people won't forgive or forget this, and there will be even more people who will never be able to trust the party of God to follow the rules of the (at least nominally) democratic system, because they have, for all intents and purposes, overthrown the government by force.

UPDATE: I just saw Aoun on television assuring viewers that no one would be persecuted. Maybe he didn't get the memo, but Hezbollah seized power without him or his help. He looks more like a remora sucking with all his might to be pulled along with Hezbollah, feasting on what's left of the already feeble Lebanese state.

So what now?

The war is continuing, but my neighborhood looks like it's any other Saturday morning. The upscale carft shop, L'Artisan du Liban, is apparently open; there is a couple walking a dog; traffic is coming through; and Ethiopian maids are beating carpets and washing windows.

Meanwhile, in Hamra, Hezbollah took all of one night to defeat the Mostaqbal (Future, the pro-government Sunni militia) and take over the area. There are now (much more professional) Hezbollah militiamen running the areas. The Future movement's television channel was shut down, along with its newspaper and radio station. According to my friends, the army and Internal Security Forces (the latter trained by the US and loyal to Future's Hariri) are nowhere to be found.

There had been rumors about Mustaqbal training in the last year or two. I suppose we can put that notion to rest, because it only took a night for them to get their asses handed to them by Hezbollah.

So what now? Jumblatt made this point yesterday, saying that Hezbollah could easily occupy all of Beirut, but then what? I'm wondering what's going to happen to East Beirut. Are the Christians going to (or going to be allowed to) stay out of it all together? Will Hezbollah wait until Mustaqbal has been completely routed and then aim their sites at Christian Lebanese Forces and Phalangists? Will Hezbollah use its new-found posiiton of power to negotiate, or will it just be the government now?

For the moment, I can't tell that we're in a civil war by looking out the window, but had I left work an hour later yesterday, I'd probably be holed up in my office or at friends' watching street fighting all across the neighborhood that has traditionally been the safest place in Beirut.  

UPDATE: Artisan du Liban isn't actually open, but the building it's in is. Besides grocery stores, though, the Mana'eesh places are open, as are the hair salon, antique shop and carpet repair shop by my place. 

Also, it's been pointed out to me that it's Friday today, which goes to show you how much it feels like a Saturday today here.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

You might be in a civil war if...

The garbage men stop coming:

The 8 o'clock news is presented in a flack jacket:

I don't have a picture for this one, but another way you might know that you're in a civil war if there's no more bread at your local stores...

Civil war

I'm watching Hassan Nasrallah's speech right now on television, and it's very contradictory. One moment he says that this is war and that the government's decision to get rid of their man at the airport and to declare the Party of God's newly discovered independent telecommunications network illegal was a declaration of war. He says that Hezbollah's weapons will never be turned inward, but then he says that he will cut that hand off that tries to touch those weapons. (Here it's important to remember that the telecommunication network has been newly classified as a resistance weapon.) I never thought I'd say this, but Nasrallah kind of reminded me of Rumsfeld today.

Sometimes I wonder if in 1975, people knew that they were in a civil war. I have a feeling that long after the day that we now recognize as the start of the war, many people didn't know they were in one. Everyone's talking about whether or not this means war. Somehow I've got the feeling that we're already in a civil war, but we just haven't realized it yet.

UPDATE: There's something decidedly disconcerting about hearing the RPG explode in the distance right before you hear it on the television. MY neighborhood is calm right now; the opposing Christian factions have so far kept their distance from the fighting, but I can hear automatic gun fire and RPGs in the distance. 1840, 1958, 1975, 2008? Plus ça change...

Overheard in Beirut

In the vein of the NYC version, this was overheard in the halls of a prestigious private university here in Beirut:

Young woman on cell phone: Yeah, I would, biss ma'aoul racism? You're college educated! Come on, I'm so disappointed!

Pictures from strike, protest and clashes

The LA Times has a good slide show of a few pictures from yesterday's bullshit.


An armed supporter of the Shiite Amal movement walks past smoldering cars in Beirut during a general strike that turned into a confrontation between rival political factions.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Strike turns into street fighting

What was supposed to be a general strike over the minimum wage (the demonstration for which was finally canceled) has turned in to street clashes between Sunni and Shi'a. As usual. I crossed over to West Beirut this morning and back just now by the port road, and besides the empty streets and smoke in the air from burnt tires up by the tent city, nothing was out of the ordinary. Watching the news, however, I can see that at one point the highway was blocked with burned out tires.

My friend S, on the other hand, lives in Corniche el-Mazra'a, where there has been fighting most of the day. She just told me that they haven't seen any army troops in over an hour, just militiamen from Amal and Mostaqbal (Future Movement) carrying guns and RPG launchers. They don't have any electricity and have had to leave the living room, because the windows are too big. There have been other clashes in the usual places: Cola, Museitbeh, Tariq el-Jadida, Tayounneh and Ras el-Naba'a, amongst others.

It's really depressing to me how even an issue like raising the minimum wage, which should have appeal across sectarian lines, inevitably turns into an excuse for thugs from vying political parties to fight in the street. 

Monday, May 05, 2008

Put yourself in her shoes

I'm a little late for Labor Day, but Human Rights Watch here in Lebanon has begun an awareness campaign for rights of domestic workers entitled Put Yourself in Her Shoes:

The condition of (predominantly women) domestic workers in the Middle East is atrocious. Apparently, the problem is as bad in Israel as it is in Lebanon and even worse in Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. According to HRW:

The most common complaints made by domestic workers to embassies and nongovernmental organizations include non-payment or delayed payment of their wages, forced confinement to the workplace, no time off, and verbal, as well as physical, abuse. According to a 2006 survey conducted by Dr. Ray Jureidini of 600 migrant domestic workers, 56 percent said they work more than 12 hours a day and 34 percent have no regular time off. In some cases, workers have died while attempting to escape these conditions, some by jumping from balconies.

...The Lebanese authorities have failed to curb abuses committed by employers and agencies. Lebanese labor laws specifically exclude domestic workers from rights guaranteed to other workers, such as a weekly day of rest, limits on work hours, paid holidays, and workers’ compensation. Immigration sponsorship laws restrict domestic workers’ ability to change employers, even in cases of abuse. An official steering committee created in early 2006 and led by the Ministry of Labor to improve the legal situation of migrant workers in Lebanon has yet to deliver any concrete reforms. This includes a long-discussed standard contract to outline minimum standards for domestic workers’ employment.  

Human Rights Watch called upon the Ministry of Labor and other relevant authorities to amend the labor law to extend equal protection for domestic workers and to sign and ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. 

 

A few years ago, the Times did a story about Sri Lankan women who go to the Middle East to work as domestic servants.  This picture is of a 20-year-old woman named Thangarasa Jeyanthi who was severely abused in Lebanon. In Lebanese Arabic, the common word for a domestic worker is "Sri Lankan." At one point, I remember hearing a joke about an NGO that was fostering multiculturalism by doing presentations with people from all over world invited to introduce themselves to the audience. The Egyptian man comes and says he works as a concierge. The Syrian says that he's a field hand. And then comes the Ethiopian who introduces herself but forgets to say what her profession is. When reminded that everyone has to say what they do, she replies, "I'm a Sri Lankan."

In the case of Sri Lankan women, the conditions that they live and work in criminally miserable, and their government is actually complicit. There are training programs that teach the women some Arabic and how to do what is expected of them without receiving the beatings that are so common. The government encourages women to go to the Middle East, they provide remittances that help keep the Sri Lankan economy afloat.

An Ethiopian friend of mine here used to work for a big hotel in town, but she wasn't allowed to be hired directly even though she has all of her papers in order. The hotel insists on going through a middle man, who garnishes half of the wages of the foreign women working at the hotel. A salary of $450 is reasonable (and more than twice the pitiful minimum wage), but when some sleazy profiteer gets to pocket half of your salary, it's difficult to survive, especially with the increasing price of living (many food items have nearly doubled in price in the last 9 months).

In contrast with Colombo's policy of encouraging the migration, Ethiopia's government has taken the decision to ban its citizens from coming to Lebanon in search of employment:

ADDIS ABABA: On the occasion of Labor Day, Ethiopia has officially banned its citizens from traveling to Beirut in search of jobs, the African country's Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs has disclosed. Ethiopia passed the bill after it probed the human right violations and domestic violence Ethiopian migrants face behind closed doors in Beirut while employed as maids.

"Suspending work travel to Beirut was the only solution to minimizing the human rights abuses and dangers facing our citizens," said Zenebu Tadesse, deputy minister of state for labor and social affairs.

During the past few years, a number of Ethiopians have died in Lebanon in questionable circumstances.

According to a report published by Ethiopia's official news agency, past human right records show that 67 Ethiopian women have died between 1997 and 1999 alone while working in Beirut.

The ministry said it would take strong action against any employment agency trying to send workers directly to Beirut or through a third country.

So for Labor Day this year, I'd like to remind everyone that Sri Lankan is a nationality, not a profession. And I'd like to remind the Lebanese, many of whom go off to Europe, North America and the Gulf in search of work, that they should have a little solidarity with domestic workers here who are hoping to make so money to create a better life for themselves. As my friend Nadim from HRW says about their media campaign: "Many Lebanese themselves have been forced by wars and hardships to emigrate looking for a better life. We hope that they will see the parallels with the experience of these migrants that came from far away to care for Lebanese families."

Carter gets what he deserves

(Via my friend A) Carter to be tried for peace crimes, according to The Onion:

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND—An international peace-crimes tribunal commenced legal proceedings against former U.S. President Jimmy Carter for alleged crimes against inhumanity Monday.

"Jimmy Carter's political career includes a laundry list of anti-war-making offenses," said chief prosecutor Charles B. Simmons. "Carter's record of benevolence, diplomacy, and respect for human life is unrivaled in recent geopolitical history. For millions, the very sight of his face evokes memories of his administration's reign of tolerance."

I knew it was only a matter of time before the international community succeeded in bringing his gentle reign of peace-mongering to an end!

One man's terrorist

Raymond Tanter from WINEP and MESH has a post up about why the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), the Iranian militants who have committed terrorist attacks against the regime in Teheran and who were hosted by Saddam's Iraq, should be delisted from the State Department's list of terrorist organizations. Besides the fact that the MEK is against the Iranian regime, basically, his argument boils down to the fact that they haven't committed any acts of terrorism for a few years:

On April 25, Patrick Clawson, deputy director of research at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote that designation “should be based only on terrorism issues,” and that State “cited no alleged MEK terrorist activity since 2001, yet have increased allegations pertaining [to] the group’s non-terrorist activities.” Country Reports 2007 continues this trend of making allegations that are irrelevant to terrorist designation.

Tanter attempts to argue that MEK doesn't have the capability to carry out terrorist attacks, whereas we all know that anyone with a back pack, a bus pass and household peroxide can commit an act of terrorism. So while this argument isn't very convincing, he tells us, "de-listing would provide diplomatic leverage over Tehran, as the West is presently failing to constrain the Iranian regime’s nuclear program, sponsorship of terrorism, and subversion of Iraq."

In other words, the US should use a terrorist group for political bargaining. Of course this is nothing new: the Bush family has a long history of using Cuban terrorists to apply pressure on the Castro regime. What's striking, though, is the moral indignation Republicans muster when someone supports talking to groups like Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and Hezbollah (most of the violence committed by the last group having been aimed at military targets). Charges of moral equivalency and weak knees in the face of terror are immediately brandished.

Well, Orlando Bosch blew up a passenger plane killing all 73 civilians aboard. Jose Dionisio Suarez and Virgilio Paz Romero assassinated the Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier in Washington. The Mujahedeen-e Khalq assassinated the deputy chief of the Iranian Armed Forces General Staff, Brigadier General Ali Sayyaad Shirazi and attacked Iranian embassies and installations in 13 different countries at the same time. They also bombed the head office of the Islamic Republic Party and the Prime Minister's office killing 70 people, including the Chief Justice, the President and the Prime Minister.

Either terrorism is an acceptable tactic, or it's not. Washington can't understand why the rest of the world sees America as hypocritical, but Tanter's desire for the US to have its cake and eat it too should give us a hunch. 

UPDATE: Thinking more about this today has reminded me of the question of when a group can legitimately be de-listed as a terrorist organization. If the fact that MEK hasn't committed any acts of terrorism since 2001 is really enough to prove that they've mended their ways, then the same ought to apply to Hezbollah as well, because depending on who was responsible for the Argentinean attacks and the kidnapping of Tannenbaum, they haven't committed any acts of terrorism since 2000, the mid-1990s or even the late 1980s.

Otherwise, supporting terrorist groups or rebels or militias in a neighboring country has long been a staple of statecraft. In Africa, Sudan, Chad, Ethiopia, Uganda and Eritrea each support groups in their neighbors' territory. Iran and Syria support Hamas and Hezbollah; Syria supported the PLO in Jordan; while Israel supported the SLA in Lebanon; and Iran trained the Iraqi Badr Brigage to fight against Saddam. Hell, the first car bomb in Iraq wasn't unleashed by Zarqawi, but rather by Iyad Allawi with the help of the CIA. So while I abhor the use of violence against civilians as a political tool, I'm not naive and do know it happens all over. It's the smug hypocrisy of the "War on Terror" that really gets my goat in the same way that the "Fair and Balanced" slogan annoys me way more than the actual Fox News coverage.

Nakba use in the Times

The previous post got me to wondering how often the word Nakba had been used in American newspapers and when, so I did a Lexis Nexis search, which showed that the Times has only printed the word in 34 articles, the first of which appeared in 1998 in an article about Israel's 50th anniversary. A double check of the NYT online archives, however, showed two other articles that didn't appear in the Lexis Nexis search (they seem to only have abstracts for pre-1981 articles): one from 1973 on Sadat and another from 1970 on occupied Ramallah.

Here's a quickly drawn up chart that tracks the use of the word in coverage by the New York Times:

 

This shows that up until the 50th anniversary of the Nakba, the Times had referred to it but twice. I have a feeling that before the year is over, 2008 will beat out 2007 for the number of times the term is employed.

It's unclear to me what exactly has caused the general tide of public opinion to start moving (slowly but surely) away from Israeli occupation in the US. (Or perhaps I'm being optimistic and am projecting?) But I get the feeling that there's a  shift happening in American public opinion that will hopefully be reflected by more fair-minded media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Nakba denial

I've been surprised in the last few weeks to see how much attention the Nakba is getting during the run up to the 60th anniversary of the catastrophe and the founding of the Jewish state. While interpretations differ, it has at least been getting mentions in publications like The New Yorker and the New York Times.

That said, I knew it was only a matter of time before something really reactionary and stupid came out in a magazine like Commentary. Well, Efraim Karsh offers up exactly what we needed in his "True Story" of what happened in 1948. Following his recent comments on the "Jordanian option," I recently marveled how someone who is ostensibly a scholar of the region could be so out of touch with Arabs and the Arab political scene, but this latest piece takes the proverbial cake.

According to Karsh, before 1948, the Palestinians never had any problem with the idea of becoming a minority in their own land and otherwise would have been perfectly happy living as a second class majority in a Jewish state. In fact, Zionists wanted nothing more than all Arabs to stay in their homes and live happily ever after in a pastoral paradise. Unfortunately, the evil Jew-hating "Arab leaders" had to dash all these wonderful hopes and spur the Palestinians to war, despite the fact that they wanted nothing more than to live in a Jewish state. Why even Vladimir Jabotinsky wanted nothing more than peaceful Arab-Jewish coexistence: According to Karsh:

The simple fact is that the Zionist movement had always been amenable to the existence in the future Jewish state of a substantial Arab minority that would participate on an equal footing “throughout all sectors of the country’s public life.” The words are those of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the founding father of the branch of Zionism that was the forebear of today’s Likud party. In a famous 1923 article, Jabotinsky voiced his readiness “to take an oath binding ourselves and our descendants that we shall never do anything contrary to the principle of equal rights, and that we shall never try to eject anyone.”

Eleven years later, Jabotinsky presided over the drafting of a constitution for Jewish Palestine. According to its provisions, Arabs and Jews were to share both the prerogatives and the duties of statehood, including most notably military and civil service. Hebrew and Arabic were to enjoy the same legal standing, and “in every cabinet where the prime minister is a Jew, the vice-premiership shall be offered to an Arab and vice-versa.”

It just so happens that this is the same Jabotinsky who thought that the Jewish state should encompass both sides of the Jordan and who in his famous essay, "The Iron Wall," had this to say:

If [the reader] should attempt to seek but one instance of a country settled with the consent of those born there he will not succeed. The inhabitants (no matter whether they are civilized or savages) have always put up a stubborn fight.

...Any native people -- its all the same whether they are civilized or savage -- views their country as their national home, of which they will  always be the complete masters. They will not voluntarily allow, not only a new master, but even a new partner. And so it is for the Arabs. Compromisers in our midst attempt to convince us that the Arabs are some kind of fools who can be tricked by a softened formulation of our goals, or a tribe of money grubbers who will abandon their birth right to Palestine for cultural and economic gains. I flatly reject this assessment of the Palestinian Arabs. Culturally they are 500 years behind us, spiritually they do not have our endurance or our strength of will, but this exhausts all of the internal differences. We can talk as much as we want about our good intentions; but they understand as well as we what is not good for them. They look upon Palestine with the same instinctive love and true fervor that any Aztec looked upon his Mexico or any Sioux looked upon his prairie. To think that the Arabs will voluntarily consent to the realization of Zionism in return for the cultural and economic benefits we can bestow on them is infantile. This childish fantasy of our “Arabo-philes” comes from some kind of contempt for the Arab people, of some kind of unfounded view of this race as a rabble ready to be bribed in order to sell out their homeland for a railroad network.

He goes on to say that no voluntary agreement with the Arabs is possible:

Thus we conclude that we cannot promise anything to the Arabs of the Land of Israel or the Arab countries. Their voluntary agreement is out of the question. Hence those who hold that an agreement with the natives is an essential condition for Zionism can now say “no” and depart from Zionism. Zionist colonization, even the most restricted, must either be terminated or carried out in defiance of the will of the native population. This colonization can, therefore, continue and develop only under the protection of a force independent of the local population -- an iron wall which the native population cannot break through. This is, in toto, our policy towards the Arabs. To formulate it any other way would only be hypocrisy.

...All this does not mean that any kind of agreement is impossible, only a voluntary agreement is impossible. As long as there is a spark of hope that they can get rid of us, they will not sell these hopes, not for any kind of sweet words or tasty morsels, because they are not a rabble but a nation, perhaps somewhat tattered, but still living. A living people makes such enormous concessions on such fateful questions only when there is no hope left. Only when not a single breach is visible in the iron wall, only then do extreme groups lose their sway, and influence transfers to moderate groups. Only then would these moderate groups come to us with proposals for mutual concessions. And only then will moderates offer suggestions for compromise on practical questions like a guarantee against expulsion, or equality and national autonomy.

I am optimistic that they will indeed be granted satisfactory assurances and that both peoples, like good neighbors, can then live in peace. But the only path to such an agreement is the iron wall, that is to say the strengthening in Palestine of a government without any kind of Arab influence, that is to say one against which the Arabs will fight. In other words, for us the only path to an agreement in the future is an absolute refusal of any attempts at an agreement now.

This is what Jabotinsky thought of the Arabs, not just in Palestine but in Jordan as well. To the consternation of modern day Zionists, he saw the Zionist state in explicitly colonial terms, equating it with other European colonial endeavors.  

Now I've got a certain respect for Zionists like Jabotinsky who call a spade a spade. What I don't appreciate are scholars like Karsh who insist on whitewashing the creation of Israel to absolve the state of any wrong-doing. In his world, the Yishuv did nothing wrong; all blame for the problems of Arabs can be squarely placed at the feet of "Arab leaders." He ignores the much more frank assertions of the Zionist leaders themselves, like Ben-Gurion who once asked:

Why should the Arabs make peace? If I was an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country. Sure God promised it to us, but what does that matter to them? Our God is not theirs. We come from Israel, but two thousand years ago, and what is that to them? There has been antisemitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing: we have come here and stolen their country.

In any case, Karsh disagrees with the scholarship done by Israeli "new historians" like Pappe, Morris and Shlaim, who all show that the old myths of Palestinians leaving their homes because of radio broadcasts sent out by their leaders are conveniently simplistic and just not true. While there is some disagreement as to whether the ethnic cleansing of Palestine was pre-planned and deliberate, ad-hoc and hasty or unintentional but finally welcome, the issue is ultimately beside the point when it comes to Palestinians' right of return. Either you believe that one has the unalienable right to leave one's country and return, or you don't.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses...

...yearning to breathe free, so we can pour water down their throats.

For all of our grandstanding rhetoric about freedom agendas and human rights and liberty and justice for all, I can't help but wonder what it says about us as a country that Amnesty International feels that this commercial is necessary:

 

Iran in Iraq

McClatchy has an interesting piece on Iranian Brig. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Revolutionary Guard's Quds Force. The story includes an awfully high percentage of anonymous sources, and the title might be a little hyperbolic, but I think the overall points made are fair enough.

Iran has a lot of sway in Iraq, which is normal. What's silly, though, is that Americans see this as some sort of meddling, because Iranian interests in Iraq are not always the same as American interests (although I'd argue that they coincide much more often than either side would like to admit). If Iran were occupying Mexico or Canada, you can be sure that the US would be "meddling" as well.

As for the actual article, I don't really have too much to add, except that it's important to look at Iranian involvement in Iraq not as a spoiler or as some diabolical force. If the US is going to come to terms with Middle Eastern players (of which Iran has become a major one, due in no small part to American intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq), Washington is going to have to look at Teheran (and Damascus and Hezbollah and Hamas, for that matter) as actors who have interests in the region that can't be run over roughshod by America.

This is a reality. So just as when one deals with Zimbabwe, it's necessary to take Pretoria into account, or how when dealing with Burma or North Korea one can't ignore Beijing, the road to peace in Iraq must necessarily pass through Teheran, but not in the way that American hawks would like it to.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Feith no more

Oh happy day:

Douglas Feith (LAW ’78) may not have devised an exit strategy for the U.S. occupation of Iraq, but according to the former Bush administration official, a group of Georgetown professors apparently had no trouble coming up with an exit strategy for him.

The distinguished practitioner in national security policy in the School of Foreign Service will not be returning to teach at Georgetown next semester after the university chose not to renew his two-year contract.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Bahrain appoints Jewish ambassador to Washington

I've long thought that morally and politically, it would be a great move if the Lebanese government were to invite Lebanese Jews who left during the civil war to Europe and America to come back. And if Beirut were really clever, it would appoint a Lebanese Jew to a ministerial position or as an ambassador to the UN or the US. This would help turn the Lebanese-Israeli conflict into a national one instead of a religious one. In 2006, it would have been a tremendous PR move to have a Jewish minister criticizing the systematic destruction of the Lebanese infrastructure.

In this context, Bahrain has made a really smart move:

A Jewish woman, Huda Ezra Ebrahim Nonoo, is set to become Bahrain's ambassador to Washington, sources close to diplomats told Gulf News on Thursday.

"Huda is Bahrain's nominee for the post and this is of course very good news for Bahrain's deep-rooted values of tolerance and openness," Faisal Fouladh, a Shura Council representative, and Western diplomats said.

Huda, a businesswoman, was the first Jewish woman to sit in the Shura Council, the 40-member upper house of the bicameral legislature, replacing her uncle. A Christian woman, Alice Samaan, also sits on the council which has 11 women, compared with only one woman MP, Lateefa Al Gaood, in the 40-member lower house.

Cambodian or American debt?

I was checking out the State Department's blog today to see if they had said anything there about Israeli ambassador Gillerman's remarks that Carter was a "bigot" and an "enemy of Israel" when I came across this post about Cambodia's war era debt to the US:

Cambodia’s debt to the U.S. totals $162 million, but with arrears factored in could reach approximately $339 million. This debt stems from shipments of U.S. agricultural commodities (e.g., cotton, rice, wheat flour) to Cambodia in the early 1970s -- during the Vietnam War and Cambodia’s Lon Nol era -- and financed with USDA loans. When the country fell to the Khmer Rouge in 1975, the regime ceased servicing this debt, and interest accumulated over the next three decades. In February 2006 -- after many years of deadlock followed by a fruitful series of negotiations -- an agreement in principle was reached on the amount of Cambodian principal owed to the U.S.

The Cambodian government, however, remains reluctant to sign a bilateral re-payment agreement due to domestic political obstacles on accepting responsibility for debts incurred by the Lon Nol regime, viewed by many Cambodians as an illegal and illegitimate government. Furthermore, many Cambodian observers believe a good deal of this assistance never arrived. They contend that Cambodia only served as a conduit for moving the USDA-financed commodities to other locations in Asia and that the Cambodian government and the Cambodian people did not benefit from the loans, even if some Cambodian individuals did gain. Finally, some argue that it is fundamentally unfair that Vietnam, which is far better off economically and was America’s major adversary in the war, was granted a form of debt forgiveness from the United States, while an innocent bystander to that conflict—Cambodia—is offered nothing.

The U.S. has on its side the international law principle that governments are generally responsible for the obligations of their predecessors.

Putting aside for a moment the irony of American lectures on "international law principle," there are some other things to consider here. 

Considering the fact that the covert American bombing campaign of Cambodia that killed tens or hundreds of thousands of people was also one of the factors that led to the rise of the Khmer Rouge who killed literally millions of people, you'd think that we could give Phnom Penh a pass on their paltry $339 million debt, incurred after a pro-American military putsch, by the way.

Given the context in which the debt was incurred, and that more than half of the debt is interest, and since we're currently spending over $400 million every day in Iraq, you'd think we could be a good sport and forgive the Cambodian tab.

On a somewhat related note, This American Life once did an excellent piece about US-Cambodian trade agreements. You might think that such a topic is boring. You'd be wrong. Give it a listen here by clicking on "Full episode."

Friday, April 25, 2008

Netanyahu: 9/11 was good for Israel

(Via TPM) Ha'aretz reports Benjamin Netanyahu, hawkish Israeli "ally" of the US, as saying that 9/11 was good for Israel:

"We are benefiting from one thing, and that is the attack on the Twin Towers and Pentagon, and the American struggle in Iraq," Ma'ariv quoted the former prime minister as saying. He reportedly added that these events "swung American public opinion in our favor."

This actually mirrors comments made by Netanyahu on the day of the attacks:

Asked tonight what the attack meant for relations between the United States and Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, the former prime minister, replied, ''It's very good.'' Then he edited himself: ''Well, not very good, but it will generate immediate sympathy.'' He predicted that the attack would ''strengthen the bond between our two peoples, because we've experienced terror over so many decades, but the United States has now experienced a massive hemorrhaging of terror.''

With friends like these, right?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Zambia steps up

Following the problems that a Chinese boat has had trying to unload 77 tons of weapons in Durban, South Africa destined for the regime in Zimbabwe, it seems like it might be going back home after the South African High Court banned the transport of the weapons and ammo and after the remarks of Zambian president and head of the Southern African Development Community:

The impromptu coalition of trade unions, church leaders and organizations trying to stop the delivery gained an important ally on Monday when Levy Mwanawasa, the president of Zambia, who heads a bloc of 14 southern African nations, called on other countries in the region not to let the ship dock in their ports.

“He actually said that it would be good for China to play a more useful role in the Zimbabwe crisis than supplying arms,” said a spokesman for the Zambian government, who asked not to be identified. “We don’t want a situation which will escalate the situation in Zimbabwe more than what it is.”

This photo from the NY Times of the Chinese embassy in Pretoria shows that the Chinese may no longer be getting a free pass from the media and other countries for their involvement in developing nations:

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

New online encyclopedia of mass violence

The French Centre d'Etudes et de Recherches Internationales, along with the French research institution, CNRS and Sciences-Po, have begun an Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence with the help of the Hamburg Institute for Social Research. The project is under the direction of Jacques Sémelin, whose 2005 book on genocide (which I have but have yet to read) has recently been translated into English and published by Columbia.

The site's still pretty bare bones for the moment, but it's designed to provide information of mass violence based chronologically and geographically, so when it's done, you'll be able to click on any country you want to get information about mass violence in that country. There's also an encyclopedia of terms that looks to be pretty complete.

Strangely enough, for a French initiative, it's only available in English for the moment. The international advisory board includes scholars like Omer Bartov, Samantha Power, Frank Chalk, Antonio Cassesse, Ben Kiernen, René Lemarchand, William Schabas and Eric Weitz, just to name a few.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Science and war

The Middle East Strategy at Harvard is one of those sites that I continue to read even though (nay, because) it makes me want to smash my head against the computer screen. Some of the pieces on they are interesting and intelligent, but some are really, really stupid. Salzman's most recent piece falls into the latter category. I haven't read Salzman's book, but I had a feeling that I might not like it, since his description of it and Stanley Kurtz's review smacked a little bit too much of another Kurtz. I hadn't made up my mind, though, and thought that while Kurtz's review in the Weekly Standard might be oversimplifying the region a little, the book must be more nuanced. But Salzman's most recent piece on MESH makes me not want to read his book at all.

He seems to be arguing that since people in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran think that scholars are spies in the first place, it doesn't do any harm to be one. (Harry Matthews takes this idea to a hilariously genius extreme in his most recent novel.) And besides, those who are against working with the Pentagon are really just a bunch of haters:

It is very common for anthropologists, and foreigners in general, to be regarded as spies, agents, dubious, and perhaps dangerous. So the oft heard plea of researchers—”We can’t ever work for government or people will think all of us all the time are spies and agents”—seems at the very least naive, and, one cannot help thinking, disingenuous.

...For many anthropologists, cooperating with the Pentagon would be cohabiting with the Devil. It would be siding with power, capitalism, whites, men, heterosexuals, and thus with the evil forces in the universe. When it comes to the American military, cultural relativism does not apply.

Personally, I don't know much about Human Terrain Teams, but I do know that I'd have some very ambivalent feelings about working for the government, particularly if it meant working on Iraq. On the one hand, I can understand the sentiment that as long as the US is going to do whatever it wants, a lot of damage control can come in the form of academic advice and research -- damage control that might mean saving lives, both American and Iraqi. On the other hand, I also sympathize with the idea that one wouldn't want to get sullied by having anything at all to do with the whole enterprise. In any case, it's a complicated subject for which I've got very mixed feelings.

But does Salzman really think that those who might have qualms with working at the Pentagon are self-loathing whites who equate the idea with "cohabiting with the Devil"? I mean come on, while I'm sure there are some idiots on both sides of the argument, there really isn't any need for straw men, right? It sounds to me like Salzman has an axe to grind with some of his colleagues.

Prophesying Palestine

I'm not generally fond of Jeffery Goldberg's work when it comes to the Middle East, so I was pretty skeptical about the Atlantic's big Israel story this week. (I haven't read it yet, so I'll reserve judgment until then.)  One thing that's very interesting though, is that Goldman has dug up some old pieces on Palestine and Zionism that appeared in the Atlantic.

So far, I've only had the time to read William Ernest Hocking's 1930 piece, Palestine: An Impasse? You can tell that these old pieces have been scanned, because there are a few mistakes with indentations, quotes and even a couple of letters ('d' for 'cl'), but this article really warrants being read. Here are a couple of meaty extracts to whet your appetite:

If we in America, Jews and Gentiles, could see things as they are in Palestine, we should recognize as axiomatic three things: (1) That nothing like the full plan of Zionism can be realized without political pressure backed by military force; (2) that such pressure and force imply an injustice which is inconsistent with the ethical sense of Zionism, undermining both its sincerity and its claim; (3) that every increase of pressure now meets with increasingly determined Arab resistance, within and beyond Palestine. Hence the question which political Zionism must answer is whether or not it proposes to-day, as in ancient times, to assert its place in Palestine by aid of the sword.

To many Arabs, the Balfour Declaration, in spite of its careful safeguarding of all existing civil and religious rights, is understood as obliging Great Britain to 'do something' for the Jews. Many Zionists have the same conception. And the Arab mind inquires: What can Great Britain now do for Zionism which is not against the Arabs? What favor can it show which is not favoritism? If the question is capable of an answer, it needs to be a dear answer, plainly spoken. Great Britain is serving Zionism. It is doing so not only by maintaining security and order in the land (with some lapses), but by furnishing the administrative staff without which no such settlement would have been possible, and by creating new opportunities. Under the older Ottoman regime, foreign Jews were at a disadvantage: they—like other foreigners—could acquire land only in the name of Ottoman subjects. These disabilities are now removed; as is often said, Jews are now in Palestine by right, not on sufferance. Why press for more than this equitable opening, when more means a reversed injustice? The rural and industrial centres already founded need no more than an equal legal status for their normal peaceful development. The great Hebrew University on Mount Scopus needs no more than this on the legal side to realize its destiny. And this university, be it said, under the prophetic leadership of Dr. Judah Magnes, is the symbol of all that is best in Zionism. For the true and attainable Zion is the Zion of culture and faith, not the Zion of political nationalism.

It is indeed a bitter thing to the sincere Zionist that his ideal community cannot have in that unique spot of earth its perfect body as well as its perfect soul. What I have to say, I say with deep personal regret. For I went to Palestine seized with the idea of Zionism and warmed by the ardor of Jewish friends to whom this vision is the breath of life, prepared to believe all things possible. I came away saddened, seeing that to strive for the perfect body, as things now are, can only mean the loss of soul and body alike. To pursue any campaign for a more vigorous fulfillment of 'the British promise,' to force cantonization on Palestine and so to repeat the standing grievance of divided Syria, to press for any further favor of the state, is to work blindly toward another bloody struggle involving first the new settlements, then Great Britain, then no one knows what wider area. In this we have been assuming that on the issue of Jewish dominance the Arab mind is irreconcilable. Is this true?

The answer lies partly in the fact that for the Arab, whose local attachments are peculiarly strong, Palestine, beside being his home, is also a holy land. It lies partly in the fact that to his mind Palestine is not a separate province: it is an integral part of Syria, with Damascus as its natural trading and cultural capital, while Syria is an integral part of greater Arabia. In his dream of a free Arab empire, Damascus may have served as capital for the whole; or Syria, together with Palestine, may have constituted an autonomous province. In any case, the new Arabia through Palestine reached the western sea; while Palestine as a part of Syria became a partner in that new and proud political enterprise. The expulsion of Feisal from Damascus by the French was a cruel mutilation of this dream. The mandate for Palestine excludes it from the imagined kingdom and shuts that kingdom from the Mediterranean. Even so, political arrangements may be unmade. But village settlements are a more final obstacle—they build a human barrier and put an end to hope. The progress of Zionist colonization thus becomes for the Arab national outlook a culminating stroke in a series of breaches of faith.

...The two enemies of peace in the Holy Land are fanaticism and fear. The movement of the modern spirit within all creeds is having for one of its beneficent effects the gradual melting of fanaticism without argument. Fixed and antagonistic dogmas are transforming themselves into alternative sets of symbols which can dwell together. But fanaticism is kept alive and sharpened by fear; clashes at the Wailing Wall are symptoms of political rather than religious apprehension. These fears of displacement, of national thwarting, must be put to rest; and they can only be quieted by unequivocal public commitments, renouncing the intention to dominate and to exclude. If there is to be peace within the gates of Jerusalem, the first condition, as I see it, is that Zionism publicly disavow its unholy alliance with Western military power, and therewith (following the lead of a recent resolution within the Jewish Agency) its purpose to dominate in Palestine.

Hocking's solution is finally a binational, or more accurately a multi-religious, state under the mandate of Britain, a solution that is obviously out the question as far as British rule is concerned. Nonetheless, he brings up a fundamental conflict between the Zionist body and the Zionist soul, the latter being crushed by what it would take (has taken) to create a Jewish state -- something Avraham Burg's new book is about.

I'm a little uneasy with the idea he has of keeping Palestine technologically "backward" so as to keep Palestine as a multi-religious spiritual land above all else. But that's a small detail in an otherwise insightful analysis of the situation. To my mind, he really hits the nail on the head when he points out the violent and unjust conditions that would be necessary to create a Jewish majority in Palestine.

Goldberg, for his part claims that Hocking is arguing for "an exclusive Arab right to the territory of Palestine," which is silly when you read the piece. What he does do is analyze the Jewish right to Palestine:

This claim of right, based on a mission which it is felt a religious disloyalty to compromise, cannot be shaken in the Jewish mind by analogies from history or international law. To urge that the same reasoning which leads the Jew to claim Palestine after eighteen hundred years would give the Arab a right to Spain after seven hundred years is quite sound so far as it appeals to the ordinary flux of historic conquest and possession; but it wholly misses the sense of this 'organic indissoluble connection,' this right of destiny. Such a right has the force of a religious conviction for those who have that vision; it has the weakness of subjectivism for those who do not share it.

He, correctly, I think, calls the Jewish right to Palestine a subjective one for those who do not believe in God's covenant with the Jewish people and an ineluctable truth for those who do.

Monday, October 06, 2008

This site has moved

I'm not sure why, but overnight, my internet connection stopped allowing me to connect to blogspot/blogger sites. I can connect from friends' houses and from work, but I can't seem to figure out why I can’t connect from home. This is decidedly inconvenient for updating my blog, which I haven't been so good about lately anyway. So I've decided to change my host from blogspot to wordpress, which means that I won't be updating this site anymore. I think I was able to import all the old posts and comments without a hitch, but if anyone notices any problems with anything, please let me know.

Otherwise, I've taken advantage of the move to change the layout, which has always been pretty bare bones due to my limited skills in web design.

So please come over to the new site and update your bookmarks. Ahlan wa sahlan.

Monday, September 29, 2008

History as a political tool

Jeffrey Goldberg has a dishonest account of Tom Segev's review of a book on Haj Amin al-Husseini up. He makes it sound like Segev is only down on the book because it emphasizes Arab extremism, whereas his problems with the book are much more substantial:

The lack of solid evidence is the main problem throughout the book. While the authors do cite prominent scholars like Martin Gilbert, Bernard Wasserstein and Rashid Khalidi, some of the most outrageous quotations come from quite arguable sources. Hitler’s alleged and highly unlikely pledge to Husseini (“The Jews are yours”) is based on a passage in the mufti’s own memoirs. But there is an official German record of his meeting with Hitler that contains no such statement. In fact the mufti did not achieve his major goal: Hitler refused to sign a public statement of support for him.

Then Goldberg makes it sound like Segev is comparing Jewish extremism in mandate Palestine with Husseini's support of Nazi Germany:

Segev compares the Mufti's behavior to that of Yitzhak Shamir, the former prime minister of Israel who was once a terrorist with the Stern Gang, and he criticizes the authors for neglecting to mention Jewish extremism in the time of the Mufti. I'm not sure why a book about pro-Nazi sympathies among certain Arabs need include this...

Actually, what Segev does is remind us, as we can read in his excellent book The Seventh Million that Husseini was not the only anti-British nationalist to make overtures to Nazi Germany for the purpose of throwing off the yoke of British imperialism:

The mufti’s support for Nazi Germany definitely demonstrated the evils of extremist nationalism. However, the Arabs were not the only chauvinists in Palestine looking to make a deal with the Nazis. At the end of 1940 and again at the end of 1941, a small Zionist terrorist organization known as the Stern Gang made contact with Nazi representatives in Beirut, seeking support for its struggle against the British. One of the Sternists, in a British jail at the time, was Yitzhak Shamir, a future Israeli prime minister. The authors fail to mention this episode.

So while it's true that a book on Arabs seeking German support against the British and the Jewish colonialism needn't mention the terrorism of the Irgun or the Stern Gang, it seems dishonest not to include the fact that some of Husseini's local Jewish enemies also sought the support of Nazi Germany.

But that's the whole problem here. The importance accorded to Husseini is meant to conflate anti-Zionism and Arabs with anti-Semitism and Nazis. During World War II, there were many subjects of British imperialism from Ireland to Egypt and beyond who saw the time as ripe to back another European power, not because they were Nazis or anti-Semites, but because they were anti-British and saw Germany as means to the end of breaking British rule over their lands.

We've seen politically expedient but strange bedfellows time and time again, like how many exiled Iraqis supported an American invasion -- not because they were particularly pro-American, but rather because they were anti-Saddam. To argue that the the two are necessarily the same is either obtuse or dishonest.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

On the seam

Last night I saw a collection of Israeli and Palestinian short films about Jerusalem, one of which (made by an Israeli) took a look at the Museum on the Seam. The museum describes itself like this:

The Museum is committed to examining the social reality within our regional conflict, to advancing dialogue in the face of discord and to encouraging social responsibility that is based on what we all have in common rather than what keeps us apart.
And it describes its location like this:

The Museum is situated in a building constructed in 1932 by the Arab-Christian architect, Anton Baramki.

While Jerusalem was divided (1948-1967), the building served as a military outpost (the Turjeman Post) which stood on the seam line between Israel and Jordan across from Mandelbaum Gate, the only crossing point between the two sides of the divided city.

The Museum on the Seam was established in 1999 with the generous support of the von Holtzbrinck family of Germany, through the Jerusalem Foundation and by the initiative of the designer and curator of the Museum, Raphie Etgar.
What it fails to mention is that Baramki and his family lived in the house until they were displaced during the war in 1948 and that ever since 1967 the Baramki family has tried in vain to reclaim their house. The museum has refused to give them their property back, relying on the Israeli law of "absentee" landowners that has allowed the Jewish state to confiscate Palestinian land.

Social responsibility indeed.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

More of the hack you love to hate

It seems that Michael Totten's hackery isn't limited to Lebanon and the rest of the Arab world. Take a look here for an amusing take down of his recent reporting on Georgia.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Orwell: Dear diary -- hot again!

I've just stumbled across an online version of George Orwell's diaries.

I've only scratched the surface, but considering how much Orwell talks about the weather and crops, I feel somehow a little less pathetic for not being able to talk for five minutes without making a comment on the hot and sticky weather that greeted me upon my return from Africa back to Beirut. Who'da thunk I'd be pining for Congolese weather? It's not much, but I suppose Goma's got at least one thing going for it this time of year.

American Palestine

For reasons I won't go into, I was at the American embassy a couple of times earlier this week. Draconian security measures notwithstanding (you're not allowed to bring a phone or bag onto the premises), the place seemed more Lebanese than American, with Lebanese security guards, Lebanese employees and Lebanese-Americans queued up in the consular section.

Another touch was a world map in the consular section. It is a map with political boundaries, and while I was in the consular waiting room, I took a look at it while trying to recover from the disgusting humidity that all of Beirut's been suffering from this summer. The map is in Arabic, and like most maps in the region, Israel is nowhere to be found. Instead, the map shows Palestine. This wouldn't be surprising, except that it's in the American embassy.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Back from the bush

I've been really, really terrible about keeping the site updated. And for that I apologize. Before, I could blame the state of African telecommunications, but since I'm back home where I have the internet at home and work, I've got no such excuses.

While I was away, I read Ngugi wa Thiongo's Wizard of the Crow on the recommendation of a friend of mine. It was really wonderful, a mixture of Rushdie and Gunther Grass, but à l'africaine. Then, to keep with the theme of African dictatorships and as suggested by another friend, I read Chinua Achebe's Anthills of the Savanna, which is also a great read. There are so many passages that stood out on the page, but this is one of my favorites:

[A] genuine artist, no matter what he says he believes, must feel in his blood the ultimate enmity between art and orthodoxy.

Those who would see no blot of villainy in the beloved oppressed nor grant the faintest glimmer of humanity to the the hated oppressor are partisans, patriots and party-liners. In the grand finale of things there will be a mansion also for them where they will be received and lodged in comfort by the single-minded demigods of their devotion.

My trip was incredibly interesting. I traveled from Kenya to Zanzibar to Tanzania proper to Rwanda and Congo then through Uganda back to Kenya before leaving. It was tiresome to be on the move so much, so I was happy to come home to Beirut.

That being said, given our excruciatingly humid heat here, I miss the cool evenings of East and Central Africa. I also miss the smell of smoke that always seemed to fill the night sky. The latter, by the way, is completely different in the southern hemisphere. The stars are much more numerous and fill constellations that I'd never before seen. It's amazing to think that something so fundamental to our lives as the sky can change upon crossing an imaginary line in the African dirt.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

On crowds and Tanzanian trains

I was expecting a leisurely train ride through the inland to Lake Victoria from Dar-es-Salaam. That's not at all what I got. The train was scheduled to leave Dar-es-Salaam at 5 on Tuesday evening, and I was pleasantly surprised when we left on time. The Tanzanian scenery was beautiful and the couchette not that uncomfortable.

I awoke to a couple of sudden jolts, and then we stopped for a while. Finally, we started back up again and I fell asleep. The only thing that woke me up was a Tanzanian cabin mate who decided that 1 am would be the perfect time to listen to his telephone's radio at full blast, despite the fact that there were five people trying to sleep in the same tiny cabin.

I finally fell back asleep and then woke up in the early light of the morning to see a train platform. We must be in Dodoma, I thought, and then went back to sleep. I woke up a couple of hours later to see that we hadn't moved, so I decided to get out and see what the problem was. I asked where we were, to which someone responded: Dar-es-Salaam. Thinking that he’d misunderstood my question, I mimed that yes, of course, we'd left Dar-es-Salaam, but where were we now? He shrugged and repeated: Dar-es-Salaam.

It was only then that I recognized the buildings around us. I'd just spent 14 hours to end up in the exact same place I'd left. After some investigation, it seems that the jolts had been two of the train cars being derailed, but fortunately no one was hurt. We were told that the tracks would be repaired and that we were expected to leave again at 5 in the evening, but that we should stay close to the train anyway, just in case. So I spent the day lounging in the sun watching as an African village sprung up on the train platform.

Men lounged and ate oranges, while women washed clothes and children. Wet laundry soon adorned the rusty tracks and open train windows. This, I assume, is how shantytowns are born. To my surprise, mothers led their children to defecate mere feet away from the water spigots, which left human shit in disconcerting proximity to drying laundry and dishes. It also made the whole place smell like a public toilet. All in all, I was surprised by the fact that no one seemed particularly upset about the inconvenience of the situation. Everyone was taking it in stride.

After being told that I couldn't get my money back for the train ticket, I left our new village for some fresh air and Indian food, passing an enormous line of people waiting to get a two-dollar food allowance from the rail company. By the time I got back, it was nearly time to leave. Or so I thought. The departure time of 5 pm came and went without so much as a train whistle. We were then told that we’d be leaving at 9, so I settled in to read with the last of the sunlight. I fell asleep in my couchette and only woke up at around 9:30 to loud music and a crowd of people obviously upset about something.

It seems that they were mad, and understandably so, about not getting a refund for their ticket. Every once in a while, the crowd's singing and chanting would take on a nasty edge, and rocks and Swahili curses would be hurled. After a bit of this and three pops that sounded like firecrackers and which were explained to me to be local bombs (made by the police or the crowd, I couldn't tell), I decided that it is decidedly unwise to be different in a crowd of angry people who want their money back. And especially unwise when that difference, in my case that of skin color, is seen mainly as a financial difference. I was worried that the leap from "give us our money back" to let's take the mzungu's money" could be quick and unforgiving. So I left. And now I'm stuck trying to figure out how the hell I'm going to make it to Kigali by tomorrow.

Apparently the local press has written up the story, but with no mention of the rioting.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

African pics

Here are a couple of pictures I've taken so far:


Giraffe on the road between Nairobi and Masai Mara


Great Rift Valley


Zebras in Masai Mara


Sunset in Masai Mara


Lioness feeding on zebra


Lions lounging in Masai Mara


Somali Camel on beach in Mombasa


Masai kids at school


Zanzibar beach


Market in Zanzibar


Homemade lipstick in Zanzibar

Train wreck in Tanzania

I left Dar-es-Salaam last night and thought I was well on my way to Lake Victoria, but then I fell asleep and woke up this morning to find myself in.... Dar-es-Salaam. It seems that part of our train derailed last night (which must have been the couple of jolts I felt), so we turned around and came back. Shortly after arriving, the passengers set-up a makeshift village on tracks, with women washing clothes and children while the men mostly sat around chatting and eating oranges.

I looked into a plane ticket to Kigali from Dar, but it is an astounding $440, so it looks like I will be giving the train another try this evening. They said that the tracks are being repaired, but I don't know how much I trust that. In either case, by the time I'd figured out what was going on, it was too late to catch a bus to Mwanza, and I still haven't heard back from Rwandair, so it looks like I'll be on the train.

Otherwise, Mwanza was the film featured in the documentary film Darwin's Nightmare about the Perch Nile in Lake Victoria. It was poorly received here, and even non-Tanzanian friend who live here can't stand it. Personally, I really liked the film when I saw it, but I'd never been to Tanzania before, so if I finally make it to Mwanza, I suppose I'll be able to see if the film was fair or not.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Zanzibar

This is just a quick note to let my few but faithful readers know that I've not been killed in a matatu accidend on the roads of East Africa. I'm alive and well in Zanzibar, after having been through Nairobi, Masai Mara, Mombasa, Tanga and Pemba. I'll be heading to Dar-es-Salaam next and then taking a train crosscountry to Lake Victoria from where I'll launch into Rwanda.

I've got a fair amount to write about, but little time in which to do so.

More later, insh'allah.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Leaving for East Africa

I'm about to leave for a five-week trip seeing East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda), but I wanted to post a link to an execrable op-ed about learning Arabic in the Washington Post by Joel Pollak.

I sent out a hasty letter to the editor, which reads as follows:

Joel Pollak complains that there isn’t enough of an Israeli perspective in Arabic language classes. He then goes on to describe “West Beirut,” a gem of Lebanese cinema that recounts a love story between a Muslim boy and a Christian girl, as a film that casts Christians as “the prime bad guys in Lebanon’s civil war.” Obviously Pollak’s Arabic has not progressed far enough to have understood the movie.

He then assures us that he refused to talk about Abdel Nassar in class. In French courses, one learns about Napoleon as a grand statesman, not a brutal imperial dictator. Likewise in Arabic classes, as well as in much of the third world, Nasser was seen as a hero.

One of the points of language courses is to better understand the culture of the speakers of that language. Since Pollak would obviously prefer to learn about Israeli and Jewish history, one can only assume that mistakenly signed up for Arabic lessons when he was actually looking to learn Hebrew.

In other news, there's this nasty piece calling for collective punishment. I'd have more to say about this last one, except that I'm in a hurry.

I don't know what the internet situation is going to be like in any of the places where I'll be over the next month or so, but I can't imagine that posting will be any slower than it has been in the last month or two. Which means that I'll do my best to step it up considerably.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Mugabe's "do or die" campaign

Zimbabwe's opposition party, MDC (Movement for Democracy and Change) announced yesterday that it will not be contesting the election on Friday, since it was nothing but a violent illegitimate sham anyway. Dozens of opposition partisans (and their families) have been killed in the last few months. PBS's Frontline has an excellent piece on Mugabe's "do or die" campaign to hold on to power in Harare:

I pose as a member of a Roman Catholic church from Harare in order to visit the local hospital. There I meet Thabita Chingaya*, a 42-year-old widow and leader of the local MDC women's league. Thabita is being treated for massive injuries to her vagina, uterus and womb. A discharge constantly oozes from between her legs. Tabitha says that she was coming home from drawing water from the river the week before when she came upon seven young men she knew who happened to be Zanu-PF party members. They blocked her path saying she would learn a lesson for being "Morgan Tsvangirai's prostitute."

She was knocked down by blows to her face and kicked with booted feet. But then suddenly the beatings stopped, she says. One man called "Max," who seemed to be the gang leader, ordered the others to stop. He removed his trousers and raped her. All the others followed suit, taking turns to hold her down. When they were done, Max took a log and began poking her vagina until she bled. She says the other six laughed and left her for dead.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Sea and Desert

So I'm back. I finished grading and braved the torrents of students begging for grades. I also read Kapuscinsky's Travels with Herodotus. While speaking of the coup against Ben Bella in Algeria, he brings up a schism in Islam that I'd been thinking about even before having him articulate it. He speaks of a

conflict at the very heart of Islam, between its open, dialectical -- I would even say "Mediterranean" -- current and its other, inward-looking one, born of a sense of uncertainty and confusion vis-à-vis the contemporary world, guided by fundamentalists who take advantage of modern technology and organizational principles yet at the same time deem the defense of faith and custom against modernity as the condition of their own existence, their sole identity.

Algiers, which at its beginnings, in Herodotus's time, was a fishing village, and later a port for Phoenician and Greek ships, faces the sea. But right behind the city, on its other side, lies a vast desert province that is called "the bled" here, a territory claimed by peoples professing allegiance to the laws of an old, rigidly introverted Islam. In Algiers one speaks simply of the Islam of the desert, and a second, which is defined as the Islam of the river (or of the sea). The first is the religion practiced by warlike nomadic tribes struggling to survive in one of the world's most hostile environments, the Sahara. The second Islam is the faith of merchants, itinerant peddlers, people of the road and of the bazaar, for whom openness, compromise, and exchange are not only beneficial to trade, but necessary to life itself.

Under colonialism, both these strains of Islam were united by a common enemy; but alter they collided.

I don't know enough about Algeria to know if Ben Bella is really a good specimen of the sea variety or Boumedienne an example of the Islam of the desert. I do know though, despite its simplicity, this is a distinction that's been forming in my consciousness for a while now. It's certainly one way of explaining the differences between Islam in, say, Saudi Arabia and the Islams of Lebanon.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Three years later

Sometimes when I'm bored (or should be grading papers), I take a look at my stats to see how the few people who read this blog got here. I often feel a mixture of fear and pride when I see that people from the State Department or the Senate or the Pentagon have made their way here. Other times, I wonder what someone was doing googling Hezbollah and skinnydipping.

Every once in a while, I come across someone who's seemingly been caught googling himself. In this case, it looks like UCSD's Bill Decker came across a post about Guantánamo Bay after doing a Google search to see if anyone was talking about a letter to the editor he wrote three years ago.

It must not be very often that this physics professor finds talk about him online that's unrelated to bifurcations in natural convection, much less remarks that compare him with a Soviet Chief State Prosecutor. If you've come back, Bill, welcome. Please feel free to continue patting the US on the back for only imprisoning people at Guantánamo Bay instead of having them summarily executed.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Brazil in Beirut

In Terry Gilliam's movie, Brazil one of the characters (Tuttle played by De Niro) is walking when a newspaper is blown against him just to cling to him while another does the same. More and more papers are thrust against him until he's a walking mass of paper. Finally, all the papers are blown away to reveal that the man is no longer there.

That's pretty much how I feel at this time of the year, when the semester is over, and I'm flooded with a mass of papers to grade. When the wind blows hard enough, and grades are turned in, I'll be back.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Israel blocks fulbright scholars

The US government has had to rescind the Fulbright awards for the 7 students in Gaza who won the awards, because Israel won't let them leave the territory:

The American State Department has withdrawn all Fulbright grants to Palestinian students in Gaza hoping to pursue advanced degrees at American institutions this fall because Israel has not granted them permission to leave.

...The study grants notwithstanding, the Israeli officials argued that the policy of isolating Gaza was working, that Palestinians here were starting to lose faith in Hamas's ability to rule because of the hardships of life.

..."We are fighting the regime in Gaza that does its utmost to kill our citizens and destroy our schools and our colleges," said Yuval Steinitz, a lawmaker from the opposition Likud Party. "So I don’t think we should allow students from Gaza to go anywhere. Gaza is under siege, and rightly so, and it is up to the Gazans to change the regime or its behavior."

Hadeel Abukwaik, a 23-year-old engineering software instructor in Gaza, had hoped to do graduate work in the United States this fall on the Fulbright that she thought was hers. She had stayed in Gaza this past winter when its metal border fence was destroyed and tens of thousands of Gazans poured into Egypt, including her sister, because the agency administering the Fulbright told her she would get the grant only if she stayed put. She lives alone in Gaza where she was sent to study because the cost is low; her parents, Palestinian refugees, live in Dubai.

"I stayed to get my scholarship," she said. "Now I am desperate."
Now I'm no expert on Islamic militancy, but I'm pretty sure that desperation isn't exactly the quickest route to winning hearts and minds.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Shake and Bake, or MacBeth

A good friend of mine, A, sent me a link to an article about Scott McClellan's new memoir to see if I could spot the reference to Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.

Needless to say, I laughed out loud when I saw that McClellan calls Dick Cheney "The Magic Man" in his new book:

[McClellan] accuses former White House adviser Karl Rove of misleading him about his role in the CIA case. He describes Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as being deft at deflecting blame, and he calls Vice President Cheney "the magic man" who steered policy behind the scenes while leaving no fingerprints.
Somewhere in this book has to be an anecdote about Bush "El Diablo" and Cheney "The Magic Man" bumping chests and yelling, "shake and bake, baby!"



Surely, it is no coincidence that Will Ferrell has played Bush in the past:



But on a more serious note, I find it disgusting how people like McClellan go along with horrible, dishonest policies and then expect that all will be well after a memoir. Someone should tell Scott "the lady" McClellan that a critical memoir isn't enough to wash the blood of hundreds of thousands of people from his hands. I'm afraid a little water isn't enough to clear you of this deed and that here's the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.

Democracy and economy

It's the end of the semester, and most of my students are giving final presentations. Two of my students have been working on the economic consequences of the sit-in, on a micro-level, by interviewing business owners and protesters. At the end of their presentation, the conclusion they came to (fueled by the "Dubai model," I might add) was that in the Middle East, a country needs to choose between democracy and economic livelihood. They seemed torn as to which should be Lebanon's priority, but they agreed that in this neck of the woods, aiming for an economically successful democracy was the same thing as wanting to have your cake and eat it too.

Sometimes this country depresses me more than I can muster the strength to convey...

Sunday, May 25, 2008

New President in Lebanon

Even if I didn't have cable, I'd be able to tell that the new president had just been appointed elected by the gunfire that we can all hear throughout Beirut.

There's one thing that I've noticed since the Doha agreement was reached: both sides seem to feel like they've won. Part of me (the realist or pessimistic part of me) thinks that this is another example of the Lebanese "lick-and-stick" philosophy that is equally present in the domains of plumbing and politics. This philosophy states that it's much easier to make a minor, temporary adjustment than to fix something properly. This means that my electric wire that used to run from the meter through the walls to my apartment now comes in through the window in the corridor.

The other part of me thinks that maybe, just maybe, if both sides think they've won, then maybe that means that we're in a win-win situation.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

More overheard in Beirut

One high school or young college student to another in the back of a cab:

Student 1: "All I need is a night away from my parents."
Student 2: "Yeah, but you'll need some proof."
Student 1: "What, like her panties? Or what about pictures?"

Friday, May 16, 2008

Still alive

Thanks to those who have sent messages wondering if I was all right and where I was. I took a trip up to the Chouf on Tuesday and spent the night in a village in the mountain. I visited some of the Druze shebab to see how things were and how they were feeling after their unexpected victory over Hezbollah in Barouk.

When I got back to Beirut, what I thought was just a long electricity cut turned out to be several days without power (that's getting fixed while I type, insh'allah). So I've been out of the loop, news and otherwise, and will need some time to wrap my head around things before posting any comments about the situation.

There's also the fact that during the last week, I've not really wanted to do much except sleep. As a result, I didn't get any work done and am now swamped with things that have been left undone up to now.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Hezbollah coup

This seems to be shaping up to be a full-scale coup d'état by Hezbollah with the support of the army. It looks like they're going piece by piece. Future was first, now the PSP is being taken in the Chouf, and I imagine the Lebanese Forces in the Christian sectors will be next.

The rest of the Lebanese parties were no match for Hezbollah, but when you throw in the army, what can you expect? Hariri and Joumblatt seem to have agreed not to fight, probably to save the bloodshed that would not have stopped the coup in any case. So they've agreed to go quietly in exchange for there not being a battle to which Future and PSP partisans would have gone like lambs to the slaughter.

The army seems to have cut a deal with Hezbollah, but it's hard to say what they could have done in any case, since they're so much weaker than the Party of God. So the current government will most likely be forced to resign, Suleiman will be appointed as president, and someone pliable will be appointed to be Prime Minister. Things will be like before 2005, except that instead of taking marching orders from Damascus, the new government will answer to Harat Hreik.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Niagara Falls

by John Barth

She paused amid the kitchen to drink a glass of water; at that instant, losing a grip of fifty years, the next-room-ceiling-plaster crashed. Or he merely say in an empty study, in March-day glare, listening to the universe rustle in his head, when suddenly the five-foot shelf let go. For ages the fault creeps secret through the rock; in a second, ledge and railings, tourists and turbines all thunder over Niagara. Which snowflake triggers the avalanche? A house explodes; a star. In your spouse, so apparently resigned, murder twitches like a fetus. At some trifling new assessment, all the colonies rebel.

The centre cannot hold

Yesterday, I spent a good part of the day in Hamra, where SSNP thugs were still armed and around. They broke up a group of unarmed neighborhood residents (most of whom were with Future) by shooting in the air and shouting. The night before a 16-year-old boy had been killed while delivering a narguileh for the shop he worked for. When they finally had a hard time getting the group of the boy's friends, family and neighbors to go inside despite plenty of shooting, they left. Shortly afterward, the Army finally showed up. The SSNP gunmen were going around Hamra without any challenge from the Army.

Today, things seem to be much better in West Beirut (although I haven't been there today), but fighting has spread all over the country, with Hezbollah apparently shelling a Druze village and opposition Druze forces fighting the PSP in Aley. Clashes are also going on in in Shweifat.

Add this to the fighting in Tripoli, and the death toll is nearly 40 now. In the words of Yeats:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Television and traitors

Another thing that's been bothering me is the fact that Mostaqbal's media outlets were shut down. I won't pretend that part of me doesn't feel a little tinge of delight at the idea of the Mostaqbal thugs getting some comeuppance. But punishing neighborhood thugs who fancy themselves militiamen is one thing, while shutting down media outlets is another. During the 2006 war, Hezbollah was (rightfully, to my mind) outraged by Israel's targeting of their television station, al-Manar. So why is it acceptable to have shut down Future TV?

I'm watching Kalam an-Nass right now, while the head of Future TV is being interviewed. According to him, a Lebanese soldier, in uniform, told them that they had to open the gates or else they'd be killed by Hezbollah militiamen. This is, of course, disconcerting on several levels. First of all, this would mean that a member of the ostensibly neutral Lebanese Army would have helped Hezbollah shut down the media outlet of a competing political party. But regardless of whether or not a soldier helped Hezbollah shut the station down, the latter certainly did disconnect Future TV. This is scandalous, and Hezbollah should be ashamed of itself.

A woman presenter, whose name I can't recall, just came on and gave Hezbollah a piece of her mind. She said that she's spent the last year and a half doing reports on the lot of the people of the south and how they've suffered during the war of 2006 and after. Then she explained how al-Manar reported that the staff of Future TV "fled" the premises, like thieves or criminals, when in fact they were told to leave if they didn't want to die. She said that forgetting the parties and forgetting politics, this kind of treatment and the occupation of Beirut has made regular people, people like her, hate Hezbollah. She said that after people like her who did their best to take in refugees after the war in 2006 are treated like this and accused of being traitors, Hezbollah should be ashamed of itself. Of course a presenter on Future TV isn't exactly representative of the man on the street, but her point is well taken.

I can say, however, that the opposition has lost the sympathy of people who have supported the principles of the resistance, even if they had really ambivalent feelings about the religious and authoritarian form it's taken. And the traitor rhetoric is really hurtful and disgusting to people who support resistance against Israel but don't want to live in a country where the interests of the resistance trump those of the state. Calling people traitors like this smacks of Bush's rhetoric in the "war on terror," where you're either "with us or against us," and doesn't sit well with many Lebanese.

Legitimacy and Mercutio in Lebanon

I never thought I'd say this, but there was part of Samir Geagea's speech this afternoon that I agree with. He said that the use of Hezbollah's weapons has delegitimized their very existence. I tend to agree with this idea, because Hezbollah has decided to use its weapons in an internal dispute between Lebanese actors. (Here, it's important to remember that the myth that Hezbollah has never been part of inter-Lebanese fighting fails to include when Amal and Hezbollah fought each the during the civil war.) What has happened is that the March 14 government made a decision that Hezbollah disagreed with, and in reaction to this, they took up arms and occupied half of Beirut. This means that the weapons whose sole purpose is supposed to deter Israeli aggression and defend Lebanon has been used as a blunt political tool to try to force the government to resign, or at the very least, send it a far-from-subtle message. 

The line being taken by the opposition now (at least as far as the talking heads of al-Manar are concerned) is that Hezbollah has helped the state put down militias (namely Mustaqbal, or the Future movement). This position fails to take into consideration, for example, the fact that there are still armed militia members of Amal and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party walking around West Beirut.

Either armed militias are illegal or they aren't. What's happened is that the Army seems to have passively taken the side of Hezbollah, which means that their legitimacy will be decreased or destroyed in the eyes of other Lebanese communities, especially the Sunnis in Saida and Tripoli. It has also sent the message that the most effective political tool is military force. I imagine, then, that the Sunnis in Saida and Tripoli, the pro-government Christians and the Druze loyal to Walid Jumblatt have likely decided that they can no longer count on the Army to be an impartial arbiter for the state. This will surely lead to increased militia training and arming. It wouldn't surprise me if the lesson that the Lebanese Forces and the PSP have taken from the defeat of Mustaqbal (probably the weakest of the pro-government parties/militias, if one of the nastier ones on a local neighborhood level) is that they should be prepared for more of the same in the not-so-distant future.

So where does this leave us? Despite rumors earlier today, it doesn't look like Saniora, or anyone else, will resign from the government. So what? There's still no president, and the fundamental dysfunction of the Lebanese state has only been highlighted, not solved. If this all ends with Hezbollah and its allied militias pulling back to their territory in the next day or so, leaving a humiliating message for the other parties and their militias, we'll be back to where we started. Back to where we started, except a big part of the population will have lost faith in the idea that Hezbollah and its allies can be dealt with within the norms of a democratic system.

Since there is no way that any of these groups can compete with Hezbollah's military forces, look for them to embrace proxies. This might include the Sunnis accepting al-Qaeda militants and other groups hoping for more Israeli intervention. I'm sure that after the disaster that was the war in 2006, the Israeli establishment wouldn't mind taking advantage of the situation for  rematch. In any case, what this situation hasn't done is foster an atmosphere where either side feels like it can compromise. If anything, this whole situation has pushed March 14 further into its corner and inflated the arrogance and confidence of Hezbollah and its allies in the country and abroad. Neither of which bodes well for peace or stability in Lebanon.

Amin Gemayel, whom I can't stand, called Hezbollah's victory a Pyrrhic one (actually, he said it in French, the snooty bastard). I tend to think that, on a national level and in the long term, he's probably right. In any case, it's enough to turn some Lebanese into bitter Mercutios.

Some thoughts on the aftermath of this war

The rumor I've been hearing now, to the glee of some Aounist Christians in my neighborhood, is that Prime Minister Saniora has resigned. I can't confirm this, but it really begs the question of what he would resign from. Premiership of what? There is no government. The military is sitting around doing absolutely nothing, which may be best for the lives of the soldiers but is disastrous for the life of the state. I walked down to the eastern side of the bridge that connects east and west Beirut, and it was being guarded by a couple of tanks and APCs and some soldiers. The latter were sitting around shooting the shit and listening to the radio. One was sleeping in the shadow of his APC. I've also seen it reported that Jumblatt was forced to flee his home in Clemenceau under the protection of the Army.

Despite the fact that the army is much weaker than Hezbollah and would have lost any real shooting match, I keep wondering to myself if one of the reasons the Army is staying out is because of the head of the Army, Michel Suleiman. He had been put forward as a compromise candidate for president. Now that Hezbollah is calling the shots, it will be interesting to see who they put forward as the president, or if they appoint anyone at all.

It obviously won't be Aoun, which means that he's pretty much outlived his usefulness to the opposition cum ruling party, due to the fact that he was only helpful to them so long as they were working within the system. Now that they have taken matters into their own hands, they really don't need him anymore. I don't think that Hezbollah would even try to put someone Franjieh into the presidential palace, so that pretty much only leaves Suleiman. Maybe he cut a deal with Hezbollah to stay out of the fighting in exchange for the presidency.

But even the question of who will be the president may be putting the cart before the horse. It isn't clear at all now what Hezbollah will do. Will there be a fight between the pro-Government Christian militias (Lebanese Forces and Phalangists) and Hezbollah? Will Hezbollah install a new government of its choosing based on the old system? Will they install a government composed purely of Hezbollah members? Will they call for new elections? Your guess is as good as mine.

What's sure though, is this: those who may have have been somewhat sympathetic to the underlying principles of "the Resistance" and Hezbollah's part in that movement despite (being uncomfortable with the idea of an explicitly religious party) are likely to be turned off by the last few days' events. The chorus has always been the Hezbollah would never turn its weapons inward, but it has done that now. At the end of the day, Hezbollah went outside of the rules of the game. That game may have been frustrating and often paralyzing, but at least it was nominally democratic. Now, even if they call for new elections, Hezbollah has broken the rules of the game by resorting to violence to achieve a political goal. A lot of people won't forgive or forget this, and there will be even more people who will never be able to trust the party of God to follow the rules of the (at least nominally) democratic system, because they have, for all intents and purposes, overthrown the government by force.

UPDATE: I just saw Aoun on television assuring viewers that no one would be persecuted. Maybe he didn't get the memo, but Hezbollah seized power without him or his help. He looks more like a remora sucking with all his might to be pulled along with Hezbollah, feasting on what's left of the already feeble Lebanese state.

So what now?

The war is continuing, but my neighborhood looks like it's any other Saturday morning. The upscale carft shop, L'Artisan du Liban, is apparently open; there is a couple walking a dog; traffic is coming through; and Ethiopian maids are beating carpets and washing windows.

Meanwhile, in Hamra, Hezbollah took all of one night to defeat the Mostaqbal (Future, the pro-government Sunni militia) and take over the area. There are now (much more professional) Hezbollah militiamen running the areas. The Future movement's television channel was shut down, along with its newspaper and radio station. According to my friends, the army and Internal Security Forces (the latter trained by the US and loyal to Future's Hariri) are nowhere to be found.

There had been rumors about Mustaqbal training in the last year or two. I suppose we can put that notion to rest, because it only took a night for them to get their asses handed to them by Hezbollah.

So what now? Jumblatt made this point yesterday, saying that Hezbollah could easily occupy all of Beirut, but then what? I'm wondering what's going to happen to East Beirut. Are the Christians going to (or going to be allowed to) stay out of it all together? Will Hezbollah wait until Mustaqbal has been completely routed and then aim their sites at Christian Lebanese Forces and Phalangists? Will Hezbollah use its new-found posiiton of power to negotiate, or will it just be the government now?

For the moment, I can't tell that we're in a civil war by looking out the window, but had I left work an hour later yesterday, I'd probably be holed up in my office or at friends' watching street fighting all across the neighborhood that has traditionally been the safest place in Beirut.  

UPDATE: Artisan du Liban isn't actually open, but the building it's in is. Besides grocery stores, though, the Mana'eesh places are open, as are the hair salon, antique shop and carpet repair shop by my place. 

Also, it's been pointed out to me that it's Friday today, which goes to show you how much it feels like a Saturday today here.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

You might be in a civil war if...

The garbage men stop coming:

The 8 o'clock news is presented in a flack jacket:

I don't have a picture for this one, but another way you might know that you're in a civil war if there's no more bread at your local stores...

Civil war

I'm watching Hassan Nasrallah's speech right now on television, and it's very contradictory. One moment he says that this is war and that the government's decision to get rid of their man at the airport and to declare the Party of God's newly discovered independent telecommunications network illegal was a declaration of war. He says that Hezbollah's weapons will never be turned inward, but then he says that he will cut that hand off that tries to touch those weapons. (Here it's important to remember that the telecommunication network has been newly classified as a resistance weapon.) I never thought I'd say this, but Nasrallah kind of reminded me of Rumsfeld today.

Sometimes I wonder if in 1975, people knew that they were in a civil war. I have a feeling that long after the day that we now recognize as the start of the war, many people didn't know they were in one. Everyone's talking about whether or not this means war. Somehow I've got the feeling that we're already in a civil war, but we just haven't realized it yet.

UPDATE: There's something decidedly disconcerting about hearing the RPG explode in the distance right before you hear it on the television. MY neighborhood is calm right now; the opposing Christian factions have so far kept their distance from the fighting, but I can hear automatic gun fire and RPGs in the distance. 1840, 1958, 1975, 2008? Plus ça change...

Overheard in Beirut

In the vein of the NYC version, this was overheard in the halls of a prestigious private university here in Beirut:

Young woman on cell phone: Yeah, I would, biss ma'aoul racism? You're college educated! Come on, I'm so disappointed!

Pictures from strike, protest and clashes

The LA Times has a good slide show of a few pictures from yesterday's bullshit.


An armed supporter of the Shiite Amal movement walks past smoldering cars in Beirut during a general strike that turned into a confrontation between rival political factions.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Strike turns into street fighting

What was supposed to be a general strike over the minimum wage (the demonstration for which was finally canceled) has turned in to street clashes between Sunni and Shi'a. As usual. I crossed over to West Beirut this morning and back just now by the port road, and besides the empty streets and smoke in the air from burnt tires up by the tent city, nothing was out of the ordinary. Watching the news, however, I can see that at one point the highway was blocked with burned out tires.

My friend S, on the other hand, lives in Corniche el-Mazra'a, where there has been fighting most of the day. She just told me that they haven't seen any army troops in over an hour, just militiamen from Amal and Mostaqbal (Future Movement) carrying guns and RPG launchers. They don't have any electricity and have had to leave the living room, because the windows are too big. There have been other clashes in the usual places: Cola, Museitbeh, Tariq el-Jadida, Tayounneh and Ras el-Naba'a, amongst others.

It's really depressing to me how even an issue like raising the minimum wage, which should have appeal across sectarian lines, inevitably turns into an excuse for thugs from vying political parties to fight in the street. 

Monday, May 05, 2008

Put yourself in her shoes

I'm a little late for Labor Day, but Human Rights Watch here in Lebanon has begun an awareness campaign for rights of domestic workers entitled Put Yourself in Her Shoes:

The condition of (predominantly women) domestic workers in the Middle East is atrocious. Apparently, the problem is as bad in Israel as it is in Lebanon and even worse in Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. According to HRW:

The most common complaints made by domestic workers to embassies and nongovernmental organizations include non-payment or delayed payment of their wages, forced confinement to the workplace, no time off, and verbal, as well as physical, abuse. According to a 2006 survey conducted by Dr. Ray Jureidini of 600 migrant domestic workers, 56 percent said they work more than 12 hours a day and 34 percent have no regular time off. In some cases, workers have died while attempting to escape these conditions, some by jumping from balconies.

...The Lebanese authorities have failed to curb abuses committed by employers and agencies. Lebanese labor laws specifically exclude domestic workers from rights guaranteed to other workers, such as a weekly day of rest, limits on work hours, paid holidays, and workers’ compensation. Immigration sponsorship laws restrict domestic workers’ ability to change employers, even in cases of abuse. An official steering committee created in early 2006 and led by the Ministry of Labor to improve the legal situation of migrant workers in Lebanon has yet to deliver any concrete reforms. This includes a long-discussed standard contract to outline minimum standards for domestic workers’ employment.  

Human Rights Watch called upon the Ministry of Labor and other relevant authorities to amend the labor law to extend equal protection for domestic workers and to sign and ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. 

 

A few years ago, the Times did a story about Sri Lankan women who go to the Middle East to work as domestic servants.  This picture is of a 20-year-old woman named Thangarasa Jeyanthi who was severely abused in Lebanon. In Lebanese Arabic, the common word for a domestic worker is "Sri Lankan." At one point, I remember hearing a joke about an NGO that was fostering multiculturalism by doing presentations with people from all over world invited to introduce themselves to the audience. The Egyptian man comes and says he works as a concierge. The Syrian says that he's a field hand. And then comes the Ethiopian who introduces herself but forgets to say what her profession is. When reminded that everyone has to say what they do, she replies, "I'm a Sri Lankan."

In the case of Sri Lankan women, the conditions that they live and work in criminally miserable, and their government is actually complicit. There are training programs that teach the women some Arabic and how to do what is expected of them without receiving the beatings that are so common. The government encourages women to go to the Middle East, they provide remittances that help keep the Sri Lankan economy afloat.

An Ethiopian friend of mine here used to work for a big hotel in town, but she wasn't allowed to be hired directly even though she has all of her papers in order. The hotel insists on going through a middle man, who garnishes half of the wages of the foreign women working at the hotel. A salary of $450 is reasonable (and more than twice the pitiful minimum wage), but when some sleazy profiteer gets to pocket half of your salary, it's difficult to survive, especially with the increasing price of living (many food items have nearly doubled in price in the last 9 months).

In contrast with Colombo's policy of encouraging the migration, Ethiopia's government has taken the decision to ban its citizens from coming to Lebanon in search of employment:

ADDIS ABABA: On the occasion of Labor Day, Ethiopia has officially banned its citizens from traveling to Beirut in search of jobs, the African country's Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs has disclosed. Ethiopia passed the bill after it probed the human right violations and domestic violence Ethiopian migrants face behind closed doors in Beirut while employed as maids.

"Suspending work travel to Beirut was the only solution to minimizing the human rights abuses and dangers facing our citizens," said Zenebu Tadesse, deputy minister of state for labor and social affairs.

During the past few years, a number of Ethiopians have died in Lebanon in questionable circumstances.

According to a report published by Ethiopia's official news agency, past human right records show that 67 Ethiopian women have died between 1997 and 1999 alone while working in Beirut.

The ministry said it would take strong action against any employment agency trying to send workers directly to Beirut or through a third country.

So for Labor Day this year, I'd like to remind everyone that Sri Lankan is a nationality, not a profession. And I'd like to remind the Lebanese, many of whom go off to Europe, North America and the Gulf in search of work, that they should have a little solidarity with domestic workers here who are hoping to make so money to create a better life for themselves. As my friend Nadim from HRW says about their media campaign: "Many Lebanese themselves have been forced by wars and hardships to emigrate looking for a better life. We hope that they will see the parallels with the experience of these migrants that came from far away to care for Lebanese families."

Carter gets what he deserves

(Via my friend A) Carter to be tried for peace crimes, according to The Onion:

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND—An international peace-crimes tribunal commenced legal proceedings against former U.S. President Jimmy Carter for alleged crimes against inhumanity Monday.

"Jimmy Carter's political career includes a laundry list of anti-war-making offenses," said chief prosecutor Charles B. Simmons. "Carter's record of benevolence, diplomacy, and respect for human life is unrivaled in recent geopolitical history. For millions, the very sight of his face evokes memories of his administration's reign of tolerance."

I knew it was only a matter of time before the international community succeeded in bringing his gentle reign of peace-mongering to an end!

One man's terrorist

Raymond Tanter from WINEP and MESH has a post up about why the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), the Iranian militants who have committed terrorist attacks against the regime in Teheran and who were hosted by Saddam's Iraq, should be delisted from the State Department's list of terrorist organizations. Besides the fact that the MEK is against the Iranian regime, basically, his argument boils down to the fact that they haven't committed any acts of terrorism for a few years:

On April 25, Patrick Clawson, deputy director of research at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote that designation “should be based only on terrorism issues,” and that State “cited no alleged MEK terrorist activity since 2001, yet have increased allegations pertaining [to] the group’s non-terrorist activities.” Country Reports 2007 continues this trend of making allegations that are irrelevant to terrorist designation.

Tanter attempts to argue that MEK doesn't have the capability to carry out terrorist attacks, whereas we all know that anyone with a back pack, a bus pass and household peroxide can commit an act of terrorism. So while this argument isn't very convincing, he tells us, "de-listing would provide diplomatic leverage over Tehran, as the West is presently failing to constrain the Iranian regime’s nuclear program, sponsorship of terrorism, and subversion of Iraq."

In other words, the US should use a terrorist group for political bargaining. Of course this is nothing new: the Bush family has a long history of using Cuban terrorists to apply pressure on the Castro regime. What's striking, though, is the moral indignation Republicans muster when someone supports talking to groups like Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and Hezbollah (most of the violence committed by the last group having been aimed at military targets). Charges of moral equivalency and weak knees in the face of terror are immediately brandished.

Well, Orlando Bosch blew up a passenger plane killing all 73 civilians aboard. Jose Dionisio Suarez and Virgilio Paz Romero assassinated the Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier in Washington. The Mujahedeen-e Khalq assassinated the deputy chief of the Iranian Armed Forces General Staff, Brigadier General Ali Sayyaad Shirazi and attacked Iranian embassies and installations in 13 different countries at the same time. They also bombed the head office of the Islamic Republic Party and the Prime Minister's office killing 70 people, including the Chief Justice, the President and the Prime Minister.

Either terrorism is an acceptable tactic, or it's not. Washington can't understand why the rest of the world sees America as hypocritical, but Tanter's desire for the US to have its cake and eat it too should give us a hunch. 

UPDATE: Thinking more about this today has reminded me of the question of when a group can legitimately be de-listed as a terrorist organization. If the fact that MEK hasn't committed any acts of terrorism since 2001 is really enough to prove that they've mended their ways, then the same ought to apply to Hezbollah as well, because depending on who was responsible for the Argentinean attacks and the kidnapping of Tannenbaum, they haven't committed any acts of terrorism since 2000, the mid-1990s or even the late 1980s.

Otherwise, supporting terrorist groups or rebels or militias in a neighboring country has long been a staple of statecraft. In Africa, Sudan, Chad, Ethiopia, Uganda and Eritrea each support groups in their neighbors' territory. Iran and Syria support Hamas and Hezbollah; Syria supported the PLO in Jordan; while Israel supported the SLA in Lebanon; and Iran trained the Iraqi Badr Brigage to fight against Saddam. Hell, the first car bomb in Iraq wasn't unleashed by Zarqawi, but rather by Iyad Allawi with the help of the CIA. So while I abhor the use of violence against civilians as a political tool, I'm not naive and do know it happens all over. It's the smug hypocrisy of the "War on Terror" that really gets my goat in the same way that the "Fair and Balanced" slogan annoys me way more than the actual Fox News coverage.

Nakba use in the Times

The previous post got me to wondering how often the word Nakba had been used in American newspapers and when, so I did a Lexis Nexis search, which showed that the Times has only printed the word in 34 articles, the first of which appeared in 1998 in an article about Israel's 50th anniversary. A double check of the NYT online archives, however, showed two other articles that didn't appear in the Lexis Nexis search (they seem to only have abstracts for pre-1981 articles): one from 1973 on Sadat and another from 1970 on occupied Ramallah.

Here's a quickly drawn up chart that tracks the use of the word in coverage by the New York Times:

 

This shows that up until the 50th anniversary of the Nakba, the Times had referred to it but twice. I have a feeling that before the year is over, 2008 will beat out 2007 for the number of times the term is employed.

It's unclear to me what exactly has caused the general tide of public opinion to start moving (slowly but surely) away from Israeli occupation in the US. (Or perhaps I'm being optimistic and am projecting?) But I get the feeling that there's a  shift happening in American public opinion that will hopefully be reflected by more fair-minded media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Nakba denial

I've been surprised in the last few weeks to see how much attention the Nakba is getting during the run up to the 60th anniversary of the catastrophe and the founding of the Jewish state. While interpretations differ, it has at least been getting mentions in publications like The New Yorker and the New York Times.

That said, I knew it was only a matter of time before something really reactionary and stupid came out in a magazine like Commentary. Well, Efraim Karsh offers up exactly what we needed in his "True Story" of what happened in 1948. Following his recent comments on the "Jordanian option," I recently marveled how someone who is ostensibly a scholar of the region could be so out of touch with Arabs and the Arab political scene, but this latest piece takes the proverbial cake.

According to Karsh, before 1948, the Palestinians never had any problem with the idea of becoming a minority in their own land and otherwise would have been perfectly happy living as a second class majority in a Jewish state. In fact, Zionists wanted nothing more than all Arabs to stay in their homes and live happily ever after in a pastoral paradise. Unfortunately, the evil Jew-hating "Arab leaders" had to dash all these wonderful hopes and spur the Palestinians to war, despite the fact that they wanted nothing more than to live in a Jewish state. Why even Vladimir Jabotinsky wanted nothing more than peaceful Arab-Jewish coexistence: According to Karsh:

The simple fact is that the Zionist movement had always been amenable to the existence in the future Jewish state of a substantial Arab minority that would participate on an equal footing “throughout all sectors of the country’s public life.” The words are those of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the founding father of the branch of Zionism that was the forebear of today’s Likud party. In a famous 1923 article, Jabotinsky voiced his readiness “to take an oath binding ourselves and our descendants that we shall never do anything contrary to the principle of equal rights, and that we shall never try to eject anyone.”

Eleven years later, Jabotinsky presided over the drafting of a constitution for Jewish Palestine. According to its provisions, Arabs and Jews were to share both the prerogatives and the duties of statehood, including most notably military and civil service. Hebrew and Arabic were to enjoy the same legal standing, and “in every cabinet where the prime minister is a Jew, the vice-premiership shall be offered to an Arab and vice-versa.”

It just so happens that this is the same Jabotinsky who thought that the Jewish state should encompass both sides of the Jordan and who in his famous essay, "The Iron Wall," had this to say:

If [the reader] should attempt to seek but one instance of a country settled with the consent of those born there he will not succeed. The inhabitants (no matter whether they are civilized or savages) have always put up a stubborn fight.

...Any native people -- its all the same whether they are civilized or savage -- views their country as their national home, of which they will  always be the complete masters. They will not voluntarily allow, not only a new master, but even a new partner. And so it is for the Arabs. Compromisers in our midst attempt to convince us that the Arabs are some kind of fools who can be tricked by a softened formulation of our goals, or a tribe of money grubbers who will abandon their birth right to Palestine for cultural and economic gains. I flatly reject this assessment of the Palestinian Arabs. Culturally they are 500 years behind us, spiritually they do not have our endurance or our strength of will, but this exhausts all of the internal differences. We can talk as much as we want about our good intentions; but they understand as well as we what is not good for them. They look upon Palestine with the same instinctive love and true fervor that any Aztec looked upon his Mexico or any Sioux looked upon his prairie. To think that the Arabs will voluntarily consent to the realization of Zionism in return for the cultural and economic benefits we can bestow on them is infantile. This childish fantasy of our “Arabo-philes” comes from some kind of contempt for the Arab people, of some kind of unfounded view of this race as a rabble ready to be bribed in order to sell out their homeland for a railroad network.

He goes on to say that no voluntary agreement with the Arabs is possible:

Thus we conclude that we cannot promise anything to the Arabs of the Land of Israel or the Arab countries. Their voluntary agreement is out of the question. Hence those who hold that an agreement with the natives is an essential condition for Zionism can now say “no” and depart from Zionism. Zionist colonization, even the most restricted, must either be terminated or carried out in defiance of the will of the native population. This colonization can, therefore, continue and develop only under the protection of a force independent of the local population -- an iron wall which the native population cannot break through. This is, in toto, our policy towards the Arabs. To formulate it any other way would only be hypocrisy.

...All this does not mean that any kind of agreement is impossible, only a voluntary agreement is impossible. As long as there is a spark of hope that they can get rid of us, they will not sell these hopes, not for any kind of sweet words or tasty morsels, because they are not a rabble but a nation, perhaps somewhat tattered, but still living. A living people makes such enormous concessions on such fateful questions only when there is no hope left. Only when not a single breach is visible in the iron wall, only then do extreme groups lose their sway, and influence transfers to moderate groups. Only then would these moderate groups come to us with proposals for mutual concessions. And only then will moderates offer suggestions for compromise on practical questions like a guarantee against expulsion, or equality and national autonomy.

I am optimistic that they will indeed be granted satisfactory assurances and that both peoples, like good neighbors, can then live in peace. But the only path to such an agreement is the iron wall, that is to say the strengthening in Palestine of a government without any kind of Arab influence, that is to say one against which the Arabs will fight. In other words, for us the only path to an agreement in the future is an absolute refusal of any attempts at an agreement now.

This is what Jabotinsky thought of the Arabs, not just in Palestine but in Jordan as well. To the consternation of modern day Zionists, he saw the Zionist state in explicitly colonial terms, equating it with other European colonial endeavors.  

Now I've got a certain respect for Zionists like Jabotinsky who call a spade a spade. What I don't appreciate are scholars like Karsh who insist on whitewashing the creation of Israel to absolve the state of any wrong-doing. In his world, the Yishuv did nothing wrong; all blame for the problems of Arabs can be squarely placed at the feet of "Arab leaders." He ignores the much more frank assertions of the Zionist leaders themselves, like Ben-Gurion who once asked:

Why should the Arabs make peace? If I was an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country. Sure God promised it to us, but what does that matter to them? Our God is not theirs. We come from Israel, but two thousand years ago, and what is that to them? There has been antisemitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing: we have come here and stolen their country.

In any case, Karsh disagrees with the scholarship done by Israeli "new historians" like Pappe, Morris and Shlaim, who all show that the old myths of Palestinians leaving their homes because of radio broadcasts sent out by their leaders are conveniently simplistic and just not true. While there is some disagreement as to whether the ethnic cleansing of Palestine was pre-planned and deliberate, ad-hoc and hasty or unintentional but finally welcome, the issue is ultimately beside the point when it comes to Palestinians' right of return. Either you believe that one has the unalienable right to leave one's country and return, or you don't.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses...

...yearning to breathe free, so we can pour water down their throats.

For all of our grandstanding rhetoric about freedom agendas and human rights and liberty and justice for all, I can't help but wonder what it says about us as a country that Amnesty International feels that this commercial is necessary:

 

Iran in Iraq

McClatchy has an interesting piece on Iranian Brig. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Revolutionary Guard's Quds Force. The story includes an awfully high percentage of anonymous sources, and the title might be a little hyperbolic, but I think the overall points made are fair enough.

Iran has a lot of sway in Iraq, which is normal. What's silly, though, is that Americans see this as some sort of meddling, because Iranian interests in Iraq are not always the same as American interests (although I'd argue that they coincide much more often than either side would like to admit). If Iran were occupying Mexico or Canada, you can be sure that the US would be "meddling" as well.

As for the actual article, I don't really have too much to add, except that it's important to look at Iranian involvement in Iraq not as a spoiler or as some diabolical force. If the US is going to come to terms with Middle Eastern players (of which Iran has become a major one, due in no small part to American intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq), Washington is going to have to look at Teheran (and Damascus and Hezbollah and Hamas, for that matter) as actors who have interests in the region that can't be run over roughshod by America.

This is a reality. So just as when one deals with Zimbabwe, it's necessary to take Pretoria into account, or how when dealing with Burma or North Korea one can't ignore Beijing, the road to peace in Iraq must necessarily pass through Teheran, but not in the way that American hawks would like it to.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Feith no more

Oh happy day:

Douglas Feith (LAW ’78) may not have devised an exit strategy for the U.S. occupation of Iraq, but according to the former Bush administration official, a group of Georgetown professors apparently had no trouble coming up with an exit strategy for him.

The distinguished practitioner in national security policy in the School of Foreign Service will not be returning to teach at Georgetown next semester after the university chose not to renew his two-year contract.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Bahrain appoints Jewish ambassador to Washington

I've long thought that morally and politically, it would be a great move if the Lebanese government were to invite Lebanese Jews who left during the civil war to Europe and America to come back. And if Beirut were really clever, it would appoint a Lebanese Jew to a ministerial position or as an ambassador to the UN or the US. This would help turn the Lebanese-Israeli conflict into a national one instead of a religious one. In 2006, it would have been a tremendous PR move to have a Jewish minister criticizing the systematic destruction of the Lebanese infrastructure.

In this context, Bahrain has made a really smart move:

A Jewish woman, Huda Ezra Ebrahim Nonoo, is set to become Bahrain's ambassador to Washington, sources close to diplomats told Gulf News on Thursday.

"Huda is Bahrain's nominee for the post and this is of course very good news for Bahrain's deep-rooted values of tolerance and openness," Faisal Fouladh, a Shura Council representative, and Western diplomats said.

Huda, a businesswoman, was the first Jewish woman to sit in the Shura Council, the 40-member upper house of the bicameral legislature, replacing her uncle. A Christian woman, Alice Samaan, also sits on the council which has 11 women, compared with only one woman MP, Lateefa Al Gaood, in the 40-member lower house.

Cambodian or American debt?

I was checking out the State Department's blog today to see if they had said anything there about Israeli ambassador Gillerman's remarks that Carter was a "bigot" and an "enemy of Israel" when I came across this post about Cambodia's war era debt to the US:

Cambodia’s debt to the U.S. totals $162 million, but with arrears factored in could reach approximately $339 million. This debt stems from shipments of U.S. agricultural commodities (e.g., cotton, rice, wheat flour) to Cambodia in the early 1970s -- during the Vietnam War and Cambodia’s Lon Nol era -- and financed with USDA loans. When the country fell to the Khmer Rouge in 1975, the regime ceased servicing this debt, and interest accumulated over the next three decades. In February 2006 -- after many years of deadlock followed by a fruitful series of negotiations -- an agreement in principle was reached on the amount of Cambodian principal owed to the U.S.

The Cambodian government, however, remains reluctant to sign a bilateral re-payment agreement due to domestic political obstacles on accepting responsibility for debts incurred by the Lon Nol regime, viewed by many Cambodians as an illegal and illegitimate government. Furthermore, many Cambodian observers believe a good deal of this assistance never arrived. They contend that Cambodia only served as a conduit for moving the USDA-financed commodities to other locations in Asia and that the Cambodian government and the Cambodian people did not benefit from the loans, even if some Cambodian individuals did gain. Finally, some argue that it is fundamentally unfair that Vietnam, which is far better off economically and was America’s major adversary in the war, was granted a form of debt forgiveness from the United States, while an innocent bystander to that conflict—Cambodia—is offered nothing.

The U.S. has on its side the international law principle that governments are generally responsible for the obligations of their predecessors.

Putting aside for a moment the irony of American lectures on "international law principle," there are some other things to consider here. 

Considering the fact that the covert American bombing campaign of Cambodia that killed tens or hundreds of thousands of people was also one of the factors that led to the rise of the Khmer Rouge who killed literally millions of people, you'd think that we could give Phnom Penh a pass on their paltry $339 million debt, incurred after a pro-American military putsch, by the way.

Given the context in which the debt was incurred, and that more than half of the debt is interest, and since we're currently spending over $400 million every day in Iraq, you'd think we could be a good sport and forgive the Cambodian tab.

On a somewhat related note, This American Life once did an excellent piece about US-Cambodian trade agreements. You might think that such a topic is boring. You'd be wrong. Give it a listen here by clicking on "Full episode."

Friday, April 25, 2008

Netanyahu: 9/11 was good for Israel

(Via TPM) Ha'aretz reports Benjamin Netanyahu, hawkish Israeli "ally" of the US, as saying that 9/11 was good for Israel:

"We are benefiting from one thing, and that is the attack on the Twin Towers and Pentagon, and the American struggle in Iraq," Ma'ariv quoted the former prime minister as saying. He reportedly added that these events "swung American public opinion in our favor."

This actually mirrors comments made by Netanyahu on the day of the attacks:

Asked tonight what the attack meant for relations between the United States and Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, the former prime minister, replied, ''It's very good.'' Then he edited himself: ''Well, not very good, but it will generate immediate sympathy.'' He predicted that the attack would ''strengthen the bond between our two peoples, because we've experienced terror over so many decades, but the United States has now experienced a massive hemorrhaging of terror.''

With friends like these, right?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Zambia steps up

Following the problems that a Chinese boat has had trying to unload 77 tons of weapons in Durban, South Africa destined for the regime in Zimbabwe, it seems like it might be going back home after the South African High Court banned the transport of the weapons and ammo and after the remarks of Zambian president and head of the Southern African Development Community:

The impromptu coalition of trade unions, church leaders and organizations trying to stop the delivery gained an important ally on Monday when Levy Mwanawasa, the president of Zambia, who heads a bloc of 14 southern African nations, called on other countries in the region not to let the ship dock in their ports.

“He actually said that it would be good for China to play a more useful role in the Zimbabwe crisis than supplying arms,” said a spokesman for the Zambian government, who asked not to be identified. “We don’t want a situation which will escalate the situation in Zimbabwe more than what it is.”

This photo from the NY Times of the Chinese embassy in Pretoria shows that the Chinese may no longer be getting a free pass from the media and other countries for their involvement in developing nations:

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

New online encyclopedia of mass violence

The French Centre d'Etudes et de Recherches Internationales, along with the French research institution, CNRS and Sciences-Po, have begun an Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence with the help of the Hamburg Institute for Social Research. The project is under the direction of Jacques Sémelin, whose 2005 book on genocide (which I have but have yet to read) has recently been translated into English and published by Columbia.

The site's still pretty bare bones for the moment, but it's designed to provide information of mass violence based chronologically and geographically, so when it's done, you'll be able to click on any country you want to get information about mass violence in that country. There's also an encyclopedia of terms that looks to be pretty complete.

Strangely enough, for a French initiative, it's only available in English for the moment. The international advisory board includes scholars like Omer Bartov, Samantha Power, Frank Chalk, Antonio Cassesse, Ben Kiernen, René Lemarchand, William Schabas and Eric Weitz, just to name a few.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Science and war

The Middle East Strategy at Harvard is one of those sites that I continue to read even though (nay, because) it makes me want to smash my head against the computer screen. Some of the pieces on they are interesting and intelligent, but some are really, really stupid. Salzman's most recent piece falls into the latter category. I haven't read Salzman's book, but I had a feeling that I might not like it, since his description of it and Stanley Kurtz's review smacked a little bit too much of another Kurtz. I hadn't made up my mind, though, and thought that while Kurtz's review in the Weekly Standard might be oversimplifying the region a little, the book must be more nuanced. But Salzman's most recent piece on MESH makes me not want to read his book at all.

He seems to be arguing that since people in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran think that scholars are spies in the first place, it doesn't do any harm to be one. (Harry Matthews takes this idea to a hilariously genius extreme in his most recent novel.) And besides, those who are against working with the Pentagon are really just a bunch of haters:

It is very common for anthropologists, and foreigners in general, to be regarded as spies, agents, dubious, and perhaps dangerous. So the oft heard plea of researchers—”We can’t ever work for government or people will think all of us all the time are spies and agents”—seems at the very least naive, and, one cannot help thinking, disingenuous.

...For many anthropologists, cooperating with the Pentagon would be cohabiting with the Devil. It would be siding with power, capitalism, whites, men, heterosexuals, and thus with the evil forces in the universe. When it comes to the American military, cultural relativism does not apply.

Personally, I don't know much about Human Terrain Teams, but I do know that I'd have some very ambivalent feelings about working for the government, particularly if it meant working on Iraq. On the one hand, I can understand the sentiment that as long as the US is going to do whatever it wants, a lot of damage control can come in the form of academic advice and research -- damage control that might mean saving lives, both American and Iraqi. On the other hand, I also sympathize with the idea that one wouldn't want to get sullied by having anything at all to do with the whole enterprise. In any case, it's a complicated subject for which I've got very mixed feelings.

But does Salzman really think that those who might have qualms with working at the Pentagon are self-loathing whites who equate the idea with "cohabiting with the Devil"? I mean come on, while I'm sure there are some idiots on both sides of the argument, there really isn't any need for straw men, right? It sounds to me like Salzman has an axe to grind with some of his colleagues.

Prophesying Palestine

I'm not generally fond of Jeffery Goldberg's work when it comes to the Middle East, so I was pretty skeptical about the Atlantic's big Israel story this week. (I haven't read it yet, so I'll reserve judgment until then.)  One thing that's very interesting though, is that Goldman has dug up some old pieces on Palestine and Zionism that appeared in the Atlantic.

So far, I've only had the time to read William Ernest Hocking's 1930 piece, Palestine: An Impasse? You can tell that these old pieces have been scanned, because there are a few mistakes with indentations, quotes and even a couple of letters ('d' for 'cl'), but this article really warrants being read. Here are a couple of meaty extracts to whet your appetite:

If we in America, Jews and Gentiles, could see things as they are in Palestine, we should recognize as axiomatic three things: (1) That nothing like the full plan of Zionism can be realized without political pressure backed by military force; (2) that such pressure and force imply an injustice which is inconsistent with the ethical sense of Zionism, undermining both its sincerity and its claim; (3) that every increase of pressure now meets with increasingly determined Arab resistance, within and beyond Palestine. Hence the question which political Zionism must answer is whether or not it proposes to-day, as in ancient times, to assert its place in Palestine by aid of the sword.

To many Arabs, the Balfour Declaration, in spite of its careful safeguarding of all existing civil and religious rights, is understood as obliging Great Britain to 'do something' for the Jews. Many Zionists have the same conception. And the Arab mind inquires: What can Great Britain now do for Zionism which is not against the Arabs? What favor can it show which is not favoritism? If the question is capable of an answer, it needs to be a dear answer, plainly spoken. Great Britain is serving Zionism. It is doing so not only by maintaining security and order in the land (with some lapses), but by furnishing the administrative staff without which no such settlement would have been possible, and by creating new opportunities. Under the older Ottoman regime, foreign Jews were at a disadvantage: they—like other foreigners—could acquire land only in the name of Ottoman subjects. These disabilities are now removed; as is often said, Jews are now in Palestine by right, not on sufferance. Why press for more than this equitable opening, when more means a reversed injustice? The rural and industrial centres already founded need no more than an equal legal status for their normal peaceful development. The great Hebrew University on Mount Scopus needs no more than this on the legal side to realize its destiny. And this university, be it said, under the prophetic leadership of Dr. Judah Magnes, is the symbol of all that is best in Zionism. For the true and attainable Zion is the Zion of culture and faith, not the Zion of political nationalism.

It is indeed a bitter thing to the sincere Zionist that his ideal community cannot have in that unique spot of earth its perfect body as well as its perfect soul. What I have to say, I say with deep personal regret. For I went to Palestine seized with the idea of Zionism and warmed by the ardor of Jewish friends to whom this vision is the breath of life, prepared to believe all things possible. I came away saddened, seeing that to strive for the perfect body, as things now are, can only mean the loss of soul and body alike. To pursue any campaign for a more vigorous fulfillment of 'the British promise,' to force cantonization on Palestine and so to repeat the standing grievance of divided Syria, to press for any further favor of the state, is to work blindly toward another bloody struggle involving first the new settlements, then Great Britain, then no one knows what wider area. In this we have been assuming that on the issue of Jewish dominance the Arab mind is irreconcilable. Is this true?

The answer lies partly in the fact that for the Arab, whose local attachments are peculiarly strong, Palestine, beside being his home, is also a holy land. It lies partly in the fact that to his mind Palestine is not a separate province: it is an integral part of Syria, with Damascus as its natural trading and cultural capital, while Syria is an integral part of greater Arabia. In his dream of a free Arab empire, Damascus may have served as capital for the whole; or Syria, together with Palestine, may have constituted an autonomous province. In any case, the new Arabia through Palestine reached the western sea; while Palestine as a part of Syria became a partner in that new and proud political enterprise. The expulsion of Feisal from Damascus by the French was a cruel mutilation of this dream. The mandate for Palestine excludes it from the imagined kingdom and shuts that kingdom from the Mediterranean. Even so, political arrangements may be unmade. But village settlements are a more final obstacle—they build a human barrier and put an end to hope. The progress of Zionist colonization thus becomes for the Arab national outlook a culminating stroke in a series of breaches of faith.

...The two enemies of peace in the Holy Land are fanaticism and fear. The movement of the modern spirit within all creeds is having for one of its beneficent effects the gradual melting of fanaticism without argument. Fixed and antagonistic dogmas are transforming themselves into alternative sets of symbols which can dwell together. But fanaticism is kept alive and sharpened by fear; clashes at the Wailing Wall are symptoms of political rather than religious apprehension. These fears of displacement, of national thwarting, must be put to rest; and they can only be quieted by unequivocal public commitments, renouncing the intention to dominate and to exclude. If there is to be peace within the gates of Jerusalem, the first condition, as I see it, is that Zionism publicly disavow its unholy alliance with Western military power, and therewith (following the lead of a recent resolution within the Jewish Agency) its purpose to dominate in Palestine.

Hocking's solution is finally a binational, or more accurately a multi-religious, state under the mandate of Britain, a solution that is obviously out the question as far as British rule is concerned. Nonetheless, he brings up a fundamental conflict between the Zionist body and the Zionist soul, the latter being crushed by what it would take (has taken) to create a Jewish state -- something Avraham Burg's new book is about.

I'm a little uneasy with the idea he has of keeping Palestine technologically "backward" so as to keep Palestine as a multi-religious spiritual land above all else. But that's a small detail in an otherwise insightful analysis of the situation. To my mind, he really hits the nail on the head when he points out the violent and unjust conditions that would be necessary to create a Jewish majority in Palestine.

Goldberg, for his part claims that Hocking is arguing for "an exclusive Arab right to the territory of Palestine," which is silly when you read the piece. What he does do is analyze the Jewish right to Palestine:

This claim of right, based on a mission which it is felt a religious disloyalty to compromise, cannot be shaken in the Jewish mind by analogies from history or international law. To urge that the same reasoning which leads the Jew to claim Palestine after eighteen hundred years would give the Arab a right to Spain after seven hundred years is quite sound so far as it appeals to the ordinary flux of historic conquest and possession; but it wholly misses the sense of this 'organic indissoluble connection,' this right of destiny. Such a right has the force of a religious conviction for those who have that vision; it has the weakness of subjectivism for those who do not share it.

He, correctly, I think, calls the Jewish right to Palestine a subjective one for those who do not believe in God's covenant with the Jewish people and an ineluctable truth for those who do.

Monday, October 06, 2008

This site has moved

I'm not sure why, but overnight, my internet connection stopped allowing me to connect to blogspot/blogger sites. I can connect from friends' houses and from work, but I can't seem to figure out why I can’t connect from home. This is decidedly inconvenient for updating my blog, which I haven't been so good about lately anyway. So I've decided to change my host from blogspot to wordpress, which means that I won't be updating this site anymore. I think I was able to import all the old posts and comments without a hitch, but if anyone notices any problems with anything, please let me know.

Otherwise, I've taken advantage of the move to change the layout, which has always been pretty bare bones due to my limited skills in web design.

So please come over to the new site and update your bookmarks. Ahlan wa sahlan.

Monday, September 29, 2008

History as a political tool

Jeffrey Goldberg has a dishonest account of Tom Segev's review of a book on Haj Amin al-Husseini up. He makes it sound like Segev is only down on the book because it emphasizes Arab extremism, whereas his problems with the book are much more substantial:

The lack of solid evidence is the main problem throughout the book. While the authors do cite prominent scholars like Martin Gilbert, Bernard Wasserstein and Rashid Khalidi, some of the most outrageous quotations come from quite arguable sources. Hitler’s alleged and highly unlikely pledge to Husseini (“The Jews are yours”) is based on a passage in the mufti’s own memoirs. But there is an official German record of his meeting with Hitler that contains no such statement. In fact the mufti did not achieve his major goal: Hitler refused to sign a public statement of support for him.

Then Goldberg makes it sound like Segev is comparing Jewish extremism in mandate Palestine with Husseini's support of Nazi Germany:

Segev compares the Mufti's behavior to that of Yitzhak Shamir, the former prime minister of Israel who was once a terrorist with the Stern Gang, and he criticizes the authors for neglecting to mention Jewish extremism in the time of the Mufti. I'm not sure why a book about pro-Nazi sympathies among certain Arabs need include this...

Actually, what Segev does is remind us, as we can read in his excellent book The Seventh Million that Husseini was not the only anti-British nationalist to make overtures to Nazi Germany for the purpose of throwing off the yoke of British imperialism:

The mufti’s support for Nazi Germany definitely demonstrated the evils of extremist nationalism. However, the Arabs were not the only chauvinists in Palestine looking to make a deal with the Nazis. At the end of 1940 and again at the end of 1941, a small Zionist terrorist organization known as the Stern Gang made contact with Nazi representatives in Beirut, seeking support for its struggle against the British. One of the Sternists, in a British jail at the time, was Yitzhak Shamir, a future Israeli prime minister. The authors fail to mention this episode.

So while it's true that a book on Arabs seeking German support against the British and the Jewish colonialism needn't mention the terrorism of the Irgun or the Stern Gang, it seems dishonest not to include the fact that some of Husseini's local Jewish enemies also sought the support of Nazi Germany.

But that's the whole problem here. The importance accorded to Husseini is meant to conflate anti-Zionism and Arabs with anti-Semitism and Nazis. During World War II, there were many subjects of British imperialism from Ireland to Egypt and beyond who saw the time as ripe to back another European power, not because they were Nazis or anti-Semites, but because they were anti-British and saw Germany as means to the end of breaking British rule over their lands.

We've seen politically expedient but strange bedfellows time and time again, like how many exiled Iraqis supported an American invasion -- not because they were particularly pro-American, but rather because they were anti-Saddam. To argue that the the two are necessarily the same is either obtuse or dishonest.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

On the seam

Last night I saw a collection of Israeli and Palestinian short films about Jerusalem, one of which (made by an Israeli) took a look at the Museum on the Seam. The museum describes itself like this:

The Museum is committed to examining the social reality within our regional conflict, to advancing dialogue in the face of discord and to encouraging social responsibility that is based on what we all have in common rather than what keeps us apart.
And it describes its location like this:

The Museum is situated in a building constructed in 1932 by the Arab-Christian architect, Anton Baramki.

While Jerusalem was divided (1948-1967), the building served as a military outpost (the Turjeman Post) which stood on the seam line between Israel and Jordan across from Mandelbaum Gate, the only crossing point between the two sides of the divided city.

The Museum on the Seam was established in 1999 with the generous support of the von Holtzbrinck family of Germany, through the Jerusalem Foundation and by the initiative of the designer and curator of the Museum, Raphie Etgar.
What it fails to mention is that Baramki and his family lived in the house until they were displaced during the war in 1948 and that ever since 1967 the Baramki family has tried in vain to reclaim their house. The museum has refused to give them their property back, relying on the Israeli law of "absentee" landowners that has allowed the Jewish state to confiscate Palestinian land.

Social responsibility indeed.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

More of the hack you love to hate

It seems that Michael Totten's hackery isn't limited to Lebanon and the rest of the Arab world. Take a look here for an amusing take down of his recent reporting on Georgia.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Orwell: Dear diary -- hot again!

I've just stumbled across an online version of George Orwell's diaries.

I've only scratched the surface, but considering how much Orwell talks about the weather and crops, I feel somehow a little less pathetic for not being able to talk for five minutes without making a comment on the hot and sticky weather that greeted me upon my return from Africa back to Beirut. Who'da thunk I'd be pining for Congolese weather? It's not much, but I suppose Goma's got at least one thing going for it this time of year.

American Palestine

For reasons I won't go into, I was at the American embassy a couple of times earlier this week. Draconian security measures notwithstanding (you're not allowed to bring a phone or bag onto the premises), the place seemed more Lebanese than American, with Lebanese security guards, Lebanese employees and Lebanese-Americans queued up in the consular section.

Another touch was a world map in the consular section. It is a map with political boundaries, and while I was in the consular waiting room, I took a look at it while trying to recover from the disgusting humidity that all of Beirut's been suffering from this summer. The map is in Arabic, and like most maps in the region, Israel is nowhere to be found. Instead, the map shows Palestine. This wouldn't be surprising, except that it's in the American embassy.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Back from the bush

I've been really, really terrible about keeping the site updated. And for that I apologize. Before, I could blame the state of African telecommunications, but since I'm back home where I have the internet at home and work, I've got no such excuses.

While I was away, I read Ngugi wa Thiongo's Wizard of the Crow on the recommendation of a friend of mine. It was really wonderful, a mixture of Rushdie and Gunther Grass, but à l'africaine. Then, to keep with the theme of African dictatorships and as suggested by another friend, I read Chinua Achebe's Anthills of the Savanna, which is also a great read. There are so many passages that stood out on the page, but this is one of my favorites:

[A] genuine artist, no matter what he says he believes, must feel in his blood the ultimate enmity between art and orthodoxy.

Those who would see no blot of villainy in the beloved oppressed nor grant the faintest glimmer of humanity to the the hated oppressor are partisans, patriots and party-liners. In the grand finale of things there will be a mansion also for them where they will be received and lodged in comfort by the single-minded demigods of their devotion.

My trip was incredibly interesting. I traveled from Kenya to Zanzibar to Tanzania proper to Rwanda and Congo then through Uganda back to Kenya before leaving. It was tiresome to be on the move so much, so I was happy to come home to Beirut.

That being said, given our excruciatingly humid heat here, I miss the cool evenings of East and Central Africa. I also miss the smell of smoke that always seemed to fill the night sky. The latter, by the way, is completely different in the southern hemisphere. The stars are much more numerous and fill constellations that I'd never before seen. It's amazing to think that something so fundamental to our lives as the sky can change upon crossing an imaginary line in the African dirt.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

On crowds and Tanzanian trains

I was expecting a leisurely train ride through the inland to Lake Victoria from Dar-es-Salaam. That's not at all what I got. The train was scheduled to leave Dar-es-Salaam at 5 on Tuesday evening, and I was pleasantly surprised when we left on time. The Tanzanian scenery was beautiful and the couchette not that uncomfortable.

I awoke to a couple of sudden jolts, and then we stopped for a while. Finally, we started back up again and I fell asleep. The only thing that woke me up was a Tanzanian cabin mate who decided that 1 am would be the perfect time to listen to his telephone's radio at full blast, despite the fact that there were five people trying to sleep in the same tiny cabin.

I finally fell back asleep and then woke up in the early light of the morning to see a train platform. We must be in Dodoma, I thought, and then went back to sleep. I woke up a couple of hours later to see that we hadn't moved, so I decided to get out and see what the problem was. I asked where we were, to which someone responded: Dar-es-Salaam. Thinking that he’d misunderstood my question, I mimed that yes, of course, we'd left Dar-es-Salaam, but where were we now? He shrugged and repeated: Dar-es-Salaam.

It was only then that I recognized the buildings around us. I'd just spent 14 hours to end up in the exact same place I'd left. After some investigation, it seems that the jolts had been two of the train cars being derailed, but fortunately no one was hurt. We were told that the tracks would be repaired and that we were expected to leave again at 5 in the evening, but that we should stay close to the train anyway, just in case. So I spent the day lounging in the sun watching as an African village sprung up on the train platform.

Men lounged and ate oranges, while women washed clothes and children. Wet laundry soon adorned the rusty tracks and open train windows. This, I assume, is how shantytowns are born. To my surprise, mothers led their children to defecate mere feet away from the water spigots, which left human shit in disconcerting proximity to drying laundry and dishes. It also made the whole place smell like a public toilet. All in all, I was surprised by the fact that no one seemed particularly upset about the inconvenience of the situation. Everyone was taking it in stride.

After being told that I couldn't get my money back for the train ticket, I left our new village for some fresh air and Indian food, passing an enormous line of people waiting to get a two-dollar food allowance from the rail company. By the time I got back, it was nearly time to leave. Or so I thought. The departure time of 5 pm came and went without so much as a train whistle. We were then told that we’d be leaving at 9, so I settled in to read with the last of the sunlight. I fell asleep in my couchette and only woke up at around 9:30 to loud music and a crowd of people obviously upset about something.

It seems that they were mad, and understandably so, about not getting a refund for their ticket. Every once in a while, the crowd's singing and chanting would take on a nasty edge, and rocks and Swahili curses would be hurled. After a bit of this and three pops that sounded like firecrackers and which were explained to me to be local bombs (made by the police or the crowd, I couldn't tell), I decided that it is decidedly unwise to be different in a crowd of angry people who want their money back. And especially unwise when that difference, in my case that of skin color, is seen mainly as a financial difference. I was worried that the leap from "give us our money back" to let's take the mzungu's money" could be quick and unforgiving. So I left. And now I'm stuck trying to figure out how the hell I'm going to make it to Kigali by tomorrow.

Apparently the local press has written up the story, but with no mention of the rioting.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

African pics

Here are a couple of pictures I've taken so far:


Giraffe on the road between Nairobi and Masai Mara


Great Rift Valley


Zebras in Masai Mara


Sunset in Masai Mara


Lioness feeding on zebra


Lions lounging in Masai Mara


Somali Camel on beach in Mombasa


Masai kids at school


Zanzibar beach


Market in Zanzibar


Homemade lipstick in Zanzibar

Train wreck in Tanzania

I left Dar-es-Salaam last night and thought I was well on my way to Lake Victoria, but then I fell asleep and woke up this morning to find myself in.... Dar-es-Salaam. It seems that part of our train derailed last night (which must have been the couple of jolts I felt), so we turned around and came back. Shortly after arriving, the passengers set-up a makeshift village on tracks, with women washing clothes and children while the men mostly sat around chatting and eating oranges.

I looked into a plane ticket to Kigali from Dar, but it is an astounding $440, so it looks like I will be giving the train another try this evening. They said that the tracks are being repaired, but I don't know how much I trust that. In either case, by the time I'd figured out what was going on, it was too late to catch a bus to Mwanza, and I still haven't heard back from Rwandair, so it looks like I'll be on the train.

Otherwise, Mwanza was the film featured in the documentary film Darwin's Nightmare about the Perch Nile in Lake Victoria. It was poorly received here, and even non-Tanzanian friend who live here can't stand it. Personally, I really liked the film when I saw it, but I'd never been to Tanzania before, so if I finally make it to Mwanza, I suppose I'll be able to see if the film was fair or not.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Zanzibar

This is just a quick note to let my few but faithful readers know that I've not been killed in a matatu accidend on the roads of East Africa. I'm alive and well in Zanzibar, after having been through Nairobi, Masai Mara, Mombasa, Tanga and Pemba. I'll be heading to Dar-es-Salaam next and then taking a train crosscountry to Lake Victoria from where I'll launch into Rwanda.

I've got a fair amount to write about, but little time in which to do so.

More later, insh'allah.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Leaving for East Africa

I'm about to leave for a five-week trip seeing East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda), but I wanted to post a link to an execrable op-ed about learning Arabic in the Washington Post by Joel Pollak.

I sent out a hasty letter to the editor, which reads as follows:

Joel Pollak complains that there isn’t enough of an Israeli perspective in Arabic language classes. He then goes on to describe “West Beirut,” a gem of Lebanese cinema that recounts a love story between a Muslim boy and a Christian girl, as a film that casts Christians as “the prime bad guys in Lebanon’s civil war.” Obviously Pollak’s Arabic has not progressed far enough to have understood the movie.

He then assures us that he refused to talk about Abdel Nassar in class. In French courses, one learns about Napoleon as a grand statesman, not a brutal imperial dictator. Likewise in Arabic classes, as well as in much of the third world, Nasser was seen as a hero.

One of the points of language courses is to better understand the culture of the speakers of that language. Since Pollak would obviously prefer to learn about Israeli and Jewish history, one can only assume that mistakenly signed up for Arabic lessons when he was actually looking to learn Hebrew.

In other news, there's this nasty piece calling for collective punishment. I'd have more to say about this last one, except that I'm in a hurry.

I don't know what the internet situation is going to be like in any of the places where I'll be over the next month or so, but I can't imagine that posting will be any slower than it has been in the last month or two. Which means that I'll do my best to step it up considerably.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Mugabe's "do or die" campaign

Zimbabwe's opposition party, MDC (Movement for Democracy and Change) announced yesterday that it will not be contesting the election on Friday, since it was nothing but a violent illegitimate sham anyway. Dozens of opposition partisans (and their families) have been killed in the last few months. PBS's Frontline has an excellent piece on Mugabe's "do or die" campaign to hold on to power in Harare:

I pose as a member of a Roman Catholic church from Harare in order to visit the local hospital. There I meet Thabita Chingaya*, a 42-year-old widow and leader of the local MDC women's league. Thabita is being treated for massive injuries to her vagina, uterus and womb. A discharge constantly oozes from between her legs. Tabitha says that she was coming home from drawing water from the river the week before when she came upon seven young men she knew who happened to be Zanu-PF party members. They blocked her path saying she would learn a lesson for being "Morgan Tsvangirai's prostitute."

She was knocked down by blows to her face and kicked with booted feet. But then suddenly the beatings stopped, she says. One man called "Max," who seemed to be the gang leader, ordered the others to stop. He removed his trousers and raped her. All the others followed suit, taking turns to hold her down. When they were done, Max took a log and began poking her vagina until she bled. She says the other six laughed and left her for dead.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Sea and Desert

So I'm back. I finished grading and braved the torrents of students begging for grades. I also read Kapuscinsky's Travels with Herodotus. While speaking of the coup against Ben Bella in Algeria, he brings up a schism in Islam that I'd been thinking about even before having him articulate it. He speaks of a

conflict at the very heart of Islam, between its open, dialectical -- I would even say "Mediterranean" -- current and its other, inward-looking one, born of a sense of uncertainty and confusion vis-à-vis the contemporary world, guided by fundamentalists who take advantage of modern technology and organizational principles yet at the same time deem the defense of faith and custom against modernity as the condition of their own existence, their sole identity.

Algiers, which at its beginnings, in Herodotus's time, was a fishing village, and later a port for Phoenician and Greek ships, faces the sea. But right behind the city, on its other side, lies a vast desert province that is called "the bled" here, a territory claimed by peoples professing allegiance to the laws of an old, rigidly introverted Islam. In Algiers one speaks simply of the Islam of the desert, and a second, which is defined as the Islam of the river (or of the sea). The first is the religion practiced by warlike nomadic tribes struggling to survive in one of the world's most hostile environments, the Sahara. The second Islam is the faith of merchants, itinerant peddlers, people of the road and of the bazaar, for whom openness, compromise, and exchange are not only beneficial to trade, but necessary to life itself.

Under colonialism, both these strains of Islam were united by a common enemy; but alter they collided.

I don't know enough about Algeria to know if Ben Bella is really a good specimen of the sea variety or Boumedienne an example of the Islam of the desert. I do know though, despite its simplicity, this is a distinction that's been forming in my consciousness for a while now. It's certainly one way of explaining the differences between Islam in, say, Saudi Arabia and the Islams of Lebanon.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Three years later

Sometimes when I'm bored (or should be grading papers), I take a look at my stats to see how the few people who read this blog got here. I often feel a mixture of fear and pride when I see that people from the State Department or the Senate or the Pentagon have made their way here. Other times, I wonder what someone was doing googling Hezbollah and skinnydipping.

Every once in a while, I come across someone who's seemingly been caught googling himself. In this case, it looks like UCSD's Bill Decker came across a post about Guantánamo Bay after doing a Google search to see if anyone was talking about a letter to the editor he wrote three years ago.

It must not be very often that this physics professor finds talk about him online that's unrelated to bifurcations in natural convection, much less remarks that compare him with a Soviet Chief State Prosecutor. If you've come back, Bill, welcome. Please feel free to continue patting the US on the back for only imprisoning people at Guantánamo Bay instead of having them summarily executed.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Brazil in Beirut

In Terry Gilliam's movie, Brazil one of the characters (Tuttle played by De Niro) is walking when a newspaper is blown against him just to cling to him while another does the same. More and more papers are thrust against him until he's a walking mass of paper. Finally, all the papers are blown away to reveal that the man is no longer there.

That's pretty much how I feel at this time of the year, when the semester is over, and I'm flooded with a mass of papers to grade. When the wind blows hard enough, and grades are turned in, I'll be back.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Israel blocks fulbright scholars

The US government has had to rescind the Fulbright awards for the 7 students in Gaza who won the awards, because Israel won't let them leave the territory:

The American State Department has withdrawn all Fulbright grants to Palestinian students in Gaza hoping to pursue advanced degrees at American institutions this fall because Israel has not granted them permission to leave.

...The study grants notwithstanding, the Israeli officials argued that the policy of isolating Gaza was working, that Palestinians here were starting to lose faith in Hamas's ability to rule because of the hardships of life.

..."We are fighting the regime in Gaza that does its utmost to kill our citizens and destroy our schools and our colleges," said Yuval Steinitz, a lawmaker from the opposition Likud Party. "So I don’t think we should allow students from Gaza to go anywhere. Gaza is under siege, and rightly so, and it is up to the Gazans to change the regime or its behavior."

Hadeel Abukwaik, a 23-year-old engineering software instructor in Gaza, had hoped to do graduate work in the United States this fall on the Fulbright that she thought was hers. She had stayed in Gaza this past winter when its metal border fence was destroyed and tens of thousands of Gazans poured into Egypt, including her sister, because the agency administering the Fulbright told her she would get the grant only if she stayed put. She lives alone in Gaza where she was sent to study because the cost is low; her parents, Palestinian refugees, live in Dubai.

"I stayed to get my scholarship," she said. "Now I am desperate."
Now I'm no expert on Islamic militancy, but I'm pretty sure that desperation isn't exactly the quickest route to winning hearts and minds.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Shake and Bake, or MacBeth

A good friend of mine, A, sent me a link to an article about Scott McClellan's new memoir to see if I could spot the reference to Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.

Needless to say, I laughed out loud when I saw that McClellan calls Dick Cheney "The Magic Man" in his new book:

[McClellan] accuses former White House adviser Karl Rove of misleading him about his role in the CIA case. He describes Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as being deft at deflecting blame, and he calls Vice President Cheney "the magic man" who steered policy behind the scenes while leaving no fingerprints.
Somewhere in this book has to be an anecdote about Bush "El Diablo" and Cheney "The Magic Man" bumping chests and yelling, "shake and bake, baby!"



Surely, it is no coincidence that Will Ferrell has played Bush in the past:



But on a more serious note, I find it disgusting how people like McClellan go along with horrible, dishonest policies and then expect that all will be well after a memoir. Someone should tell Scott "the lady" McClellan that a critical memoir isn't enough to wash the blood of hundreds of thousands of people from his hands. I'm afraid a little water isn't enough to clear you of this deed and that here's the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.

Democracy and economy

It's the end of the semester, and most of my students are giving final presentations. Two of my students have been working on the economic consequences of the sit-in, on a micro-level, by interviewing business owners and protesters. At the end of their presentation, the conclusion they came to (fueled by the "Dubai model," I might add) was that in the Middle East, a country needs to choose between democracy and economic livelihood. They seemed torn as to which should be Lebanon's priority, but they agreed that in this neck of the woods, aiming for an economically successful democracy was the same thing as wanting to have your cake and eat it too.

Sometimes this country depresses me more than I can muster the strength to convey...

Sunday, May 25, 2008

New President in Lebanon

Even if I didn't have cable, I'd be able to tell that the new president had just been appointed elected by the gunfire that we can all hear throughout Beirut.

There's one thing that I've noticed since the Doha agreement was reached: both sides seem to feel like they've won. Part of me (the realist or pessimistic part of me) thinks that this is another example of the Lebanese "lick-and-stick" philosophy that is equally present in the domains of plumbing and politics. This philosophy states that it's much easier to make a minor, temporary adjustment than to fix something properly. This means that my electric wire that used to run from the meter through the walls to my apartment now comes in through the window in the corridor.

The other part of me thinks that maybe, just maybe, if both sides think they've won, then maybe that means that we're in a win-win situation.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

More overheard in Beirut

One high school or young college student to another in the back of a cab:

Student 1: "All I need is a night away from my parents."
Student 2: "Yeah, but you'll need some proof."
Student 1: "What, like her panties? Or what about pictures?"

Friday, May 16, 2008

Still alive

Thanks to those who have sent messages wondering if I was all right and where I was. I took a trip up to the Chouf on Tuesday and spent the night in a village in the mountain. I visited some of the Druze shebab to see how things were and how they were feeling after their unexpected victory over Hezbollah in Barouk.

When I got back to Beirut, what I thought was just a long electricity cut turned out to be several days without power (that's getting fixed while I type, insh'allah). So I've been out of the loop, news and otherwise, and will need some time to wrap my head around things before posting any comments about the situation.

There's also the fact that during the last week, I've not really wanted to do much except sleep. As a result, I didn't get any work done and am now swamped with things that have been left undone up to now.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Hezbollah coup

This seems to be shaping up to be a full-scale coup d'état by Hezbollah with the support of the army. It looks like they're going piece by piece. Future was first, now the PSP is being taken in the Chouf, and I imagine the Lebanese Forces in the Christian sectors will be next.

The rest of the Lebanese parties were no match for Hezbollah, but when you throw in the army, what can you expect? Hariri and Joumblatt seem to have agreed not to fight, probably to save the bloodshed that would not have stopped the coup in any case. So they've agreed to go quietly in exchange for there not being a battle to which Future and PSP partisans would have gone like lambs to the slaughter.

The army seems to have cut a deal with Hezbollah, but it's hard to say what they could have done in any case, since they're so much weaker than the Party of God. So the current government will most likely be forced to resign, Suleiman will be appointed as president, and someone pliable will be appointed to be Prime Minister. Things will be like before 2005, except that instead of taking marching orders from Damascus, the new government will answer to Harat Hreik.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Niagara Falls

by John Barth

She paused amid the kitchen to drink a glass of water; at that instant, losing a grip of fifty years, the next-room-ceiling-plaster crashed. Or he merely say in an empty study, in March-day glare, listening to the universe rustle in his head, when suddenly the five-foot shelf let go. For ages the fault creeps secret through the rock; in a second, ledge and railings, tourists and turbines all thunder over Niagara. Which snowflake triggers the avalanche? A house explodes; a star. In your spouse, so apparently resigned, murder twitches like a fetus. At some trifling new assessment, all the colonies rebel.

The centre cannot hold

Yesterday, I spent a good part of the day in Hamra, where SSNP thugs were still armed and around. They broke up a group of unarmed neighborhood residents (most of whom were with Future) by shooting in the air and shouting. The night before a 16-year-old boy had been killed while delivering a narguileh for the shop he worked for. When they finally had a hard time getting the group of the boy's friends, family and neighbors to go inside despite plenty of shooting, they left. Shortly afterward, the Army finally showed up. The SSNP gunmen were going around Hamra without any challenge from the Army.

Today, things seem to be much better in West Beirut (although I haven't been there today), but fighting has spread all over the country, with Hezbollah apparently shelling a Druze village and opposition Druze forces fighting the PSP in Aley. Clashes are also going on in in Shweifat.

Add this to the fighting in Tripoli, and the death toll is nearly 40 now. In the words of Yeats:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Television and traitors

Another thing that's been bothering me is the fact that Mostaqbal's media outlets were shut down. I won't pretend that part of me doesn't feel a little tinge of delight at the idea of the Mostaqbal thugs getting some comeuppance. But punishing neighborhood thugs who fancy themselves militiamen is one thing, while shutting down media outlets is another. During the 2006 war, Hezbollah was (rightfully, to my mind) outraged by Israel's targeting of their television station, al-Manar. So why is it acceptable to have shut down Future TV?

I'm watching Kalam an-Nass right now, while the head of Future TV is being interviewed. According to him, a Lebanese soldier, in uniform, told them that they had to open the gates or else they'd be killed by Hezbollah militiamen. This is, of course, disconcerting on several levels. First of all, this would mean that a member of the ostensibly neutral Lebanese Army would have helped Hezbollah shut down the media outlet of a competing political party. But regardless of whether or not a soldier helped Hezbollah shut the station down, the latter certainly did disconnect Future TV. This is scandalous, and Hezbollah should be ashamed of itself.

A woman presenter, whose name I can't recall, just came on and gave Hezbollah a piece of her mind. She said that she's spent the last year and a half doing reports on the lot of the people of the south and how they've suffered during the war of 2006 and after. Then she explained how al-Manar reported that the staff of Future TV "fled" the premises, like thieves or criminals, when in fact they were told to leave if they didn't want to die. She said that forgetting the parties and forgetting politics, this kind of treatment and the occupation of Beirut has made regular people, people like her, hate Hezbollah. She said that after people like her who did their best to take in refugees after the war in 2006 are treated like this and accused of being traitors, Hezbollah should be ashamed of itself. Of course a presenter on Future TV isn't exactly representative of the man on the street, but her point is well taken.

I can say, however, that the opposition has lost the sympathy of people who have supported the principles of the resistance, even if they had really ambivalent feelings about the religious and authoritarian form it's taken. And the traitor rhetoric is really hurtful and disgusting to people who support resistance against Israel but don't want to live in a country where the interests of the resistance trump those of the state. Calling people traitors like this smacks of Bush's rhetoric in the "war on terror," where you're either "with us or against us," and doesn't sit well with many Lebanese.

Legitimacy and Mercutio in Lebanon

I never thought I'd say this, but there was part of Samir Geagea's speech this afternoon that I agree with. He said that the use of Hezbollah's weapons has delegitimized their very existence. I tend to agree with this idea, because Hezbollah has decided to use its weapons in an internal dispute between Lebanese actors. (Here, it's important to remember that the myth that Hezbollah has never been part of inter-Lebanese fighting fails to include when Amal and Hezbollah fought each the during the civil war.) What has happened is that the March 14 government made a decision that Hezbollah disagreed with, and in reaction to this, they took up arms and occupied half of Beirut. This means that the weapons whose sole purpose is supposed to deter Israeli aggression and defend Lebanon has been used as a blunt political tool to try to force the government to resign, or at the very least, send it a far-from-subtle message. 

The line being taken by the opposition now (at least as far as the talking heads of al-Manar are concerned) is that Hezbollah has helped the state put down militias (namely Mustaqbal, or the Future movement). This position fails to take into consideration, for example, the fact that there are still armed militia members of Amal and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party walking around West Beirut.

Either armed militias are illegal or they aren't. What's happened is that the Army seems to have passively taken the side of Hezbollah, which means that their legitimacy will be decreased or destroyed in the eyes of other Lebanese communities, especially the Sunnis in Saida and Tripoli. It has also sent the message that the most effective political tool is military force. I imagine, then, that the Sunnis in Saida and Tripoli, the pro-government Christians and the Druze loyal to Walid Jumblatt have likely decided that they can no longer count on the Army to be an impartial arbiter for the state. This will surely lead to increased militia training and arming. It wouldn't surprise me if the lesson that the Lebanese Forces and the PSP have taken from the defeat of Mustaqbal (probably the weakest of the pro-government parties/militias, if one of the nastier ones on a local neighborhood level) is that they should be prepared for more of the same in the not-so-distant future.

So where does this leave us? Despite rumors earlier today, it doesn't look like Saniora, or anyone else, will resign from the government. So what? There's still no president, and the fundamental dysfunction of the Lebanese state has only been highlighted, not solved. If this all ends with Hezbollah and its allied militias pulling back to their territory in the next day or so, leaving a humiliating message for the other parties and their militias, we'll be back to where we started. Back to where we started, except a big part of the population will have lost faith in the idea that Hezbollah and its allies can be dealt with within the norms of a democratic system.

Since there is no way that any of these groups can compete with Hezbollah's military forces, look for them to embrace proxies. This might include the Sunnis accepting al-Qaeda militants and other groups hoping for more Israeli intervention. I'm sure that after the disaster that was the war in 2006, the Israeli establishment wouldn't mind taking advantage of the situation for  rematch. In any case, what this situation hasn't done is foster an atmosphere where either side feels like it can compromise. If anything, this whole situation has pushed March 14 further into its corner and inflated the arrogance and confidence of Hezbollah and its allies in the country and abroad. Neither of which bodes well for peace or stability in Lebanon.

Amin Gemayel, whom I can't stand, called Hezbollah's victory a Pyrrhic one (actually, he said it in French, the snooty bastard). I tend to think that, on a national level and in the long term, he's probably right. In any case, it's enough to turn some Lebanese into bitter Mercutios.

Some thoughts on the aftermath of this war

The rumor I've been hearing now, to the glee of some Aounist Christians in my neighborhood, is that Prime Minister Saniora has resigned. I can't confirm this, but it really begs the question of what he would resign from. Premiership of what? There is no government. The military is sitting around doing absolutely nothing, which may be best for the lives of the soldiers but is disastrous for the life of the state. I walked down to the eastern side of the bridge that connects east and west Beirut, and it was being guarded by a couple of tanks and APCs and some soldiers. The latter were sitting around shooting the shit and listening to the radio. One was sleeping in the shadow of his APC. I've also seen it reported that Jumblatt was forced to flee his home in Clemenceau under the protection of the Army.

Despite the fact that the army is much weaker than Hezbollah and would have lost any real shooting match, I keep wondering to myself if one of the reasons the Army is staying out is because of the head of the Army, Michel Suleiman. He had been put forward as a compromise candidate for president. Now that Hezbollah is calling the shots, it will be interesting to see who they put forward as the president, or if they appoint anyone at all.

It obviously won't be Aoun, which means that he's pretty much outlived his usefulness to the opposition cum ruling party, due to the fact that he was only helpful to them so long as they were working within the system. Now that they have taken matters into their own hands, they really don't need him anymore. I don't think that Hezbollah would even try to put someone Franjieh into the presidential palace, so that pretty much only leaves Suleiman. Maybe he cut a deal with Hezbollah to stay out of the fighting in exchange for the presidency.

But even the question of who will be the president may be putting the cart before the horse. It isn't clear at all now what Hezbollah will do. Will there be a fight between the pro-Government Christian militias (Lebanese Forces and Phalangists) and Hezbollah? Will Hezbollah install a new government of its choosing based on the old system? Will they install a government composed purely of Hezbollah members? Will they call for new elections? Your guess is as good as mine.

What's sure though, is this: those who may have have been somewhat sympathetic to the underlying principles of "the Resistance" and Hezbollah's part in that movement despite (being uncomfortable with the idea of an explicitly religious party) are likely to be turned off by the last few days' events. The chorus has always been the Hezbollah would never turn its weapons inward, but it has done that now. At the end of the day, Hezbollah went outside of the rules of the game. That game may have been frustrating and often paralyzing, but at least it was nominally democratic. Now, even if they call for new elections, Hezbollah has broken the rules of the game by resorting to violence to achieve a political goal. A lot of people won't forgive or forget this, and there will be even more people who will never be able to trust the party of God to follow the rules of the (at least nominally) democratic system, because they have, for all intents and purposes, overthrown the government by force.

UPDATE: I just saw Aoun on television assuring viewers that no one would be persecuted. Maybe he didn't get the memo, but Hezbollah seized power without him or his help. He looks more like a remora sucking with all his might to be pulled along with Hezbollah, feasting on what's left of the already feeble Lebanese state.

So what now?

The war is continuing, but my neighborhood looks like it's any other Saturday morning. The upscale carft shop, L'Artisan du Liban, is apparently open; there is a couple walking a dog; traffic is coming through; and Ethiopian maids are beating carpets and washing windows.

Meanwhile, in Hamra, Hezbollah took all of one night to defeat the Mostaqbal (Future, the pro-government Sunni militia) and take over the area. There are now (much more professional) Hezbollah militiamen running the areas. The Future movement's television channel was shut down, along with its newspaper and radio station. According to my friends, the army and Internal Security Forces (the latter trained by the US and loyal to Future's Hariri) are nowhere to be found.

There had been rumors about Mustaqbal training in the last year or two. I suppose we can put that notion to rest, because it only took a night for them to get their asses handed to them by Hezbollah.

So what now? Jumblatt made this point yesterday, saying that Hezbollah could easily occupy all of Beirut, but then what? I'm wondering what's going to happen to East Beirut. Are the Christians going to (or going to be allowed to) stay out of it all together? Will Hezbollah wait until Mustaqbal has been completely routed and then aim their sites at Christian Lebanese Forces and Phalangists? Will Hezbollah use its new-found posiiton of power to negotiate, or will it just be the government now?

For the moment, I can't tell that we're in a civil war by looking out the window, but had I left work an hour later yesterday, I'd probably be holed up in my office or at friends' watching street fighting all across the neighborhood that has traditionally been the safest place in Beirut.  

UPDATE: Artisan du Liban isn't actually open, but the building it's in is. Besides grocery stores, though, the Mana'eesh places are open, as are the hair salon, antique shop and carpet repair shop by my place. 

Also, it's been pointed out to me that it's Friday today, which goes to show you how much it feels like a Saturday today here.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

You might be in a civil war if...

The garbage men stop coming:

The 8 o'clock news is presented in a flack jacket:

I don't have a picture for this one, but another way you might know that you're in a civil war if there's no more bread at your local stores...

Civil war

I'm watching Hassan Nasrallah's speech right now on television, and it's very contradictory. One moment he says that this is war and that the government's decision to get rid of their man at the airport and to declare the Party of God's newly discovered independent telecommunications network illegal was a declaration of war. He says that Hezbollah's weapons will never be turned inward, but then he says that he will cut that hand off that tries to touch those weapons. (Here it's important to remember that the telecommunication network has been newly classified as a resistance weapon.) I never thought I'd say this, but Nasrallah kind of reminded me of Rumsfeld today.

Sometimes I wonder if in 1975, people knew that they were in a civil war. I have a feeling that long after the day that we now recognize as the start of the war, many people didn't know they were in one. Everyone's talking about whether or not this means war. Somehow I've got the feeling that we're already in a civil war, but we just haven't realized it yet.

UPDATE: There's something decidedly disconcerting about hearing the RPG explode in the distance right before you hear it on the television. MY neighborhood is calm right now; the opposing Christian factions have so far kept their distance from the fighting, but I can hear automatic gun fire and RPGs in the distance. 1840, 1958, 1975, 2008? Plus ça change...

Overheard in Beirut

In the vein of the NYC version, this was overheard in the halls of a prestigious private university here in Beirut:

Young woman on cell phone: Yeah, I would, biss ma'aoul racism? You're college educated! Come on, I'm so disappointed!

Pictures from strike, protest and clashes

The LA Times has a good slide show of a few pictures from yesterday's bullshit.


An armed supporter of the Shiite Amal movement walks past smoldering cars in Beirut during a general strike that turned into a confrontation between rival political factions.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Strike turns into street fighting

What was supposed to be a general strike over the minimum wage (the demonstration for which was finally canceled) has turned in to street clashes between Sunni and Shi'a. As usual. I crossed over to West Beirut this morning and back just now by the port road, and besides the empty streets and smoke in the air from burnt tires up by the tent city, nothing was out of the ordinary. Watching the news, however, I can see that at one point the highway was blocked with burned out tires.

My friend S, on the other hand, lives in Corniche el-Mazra'a, where there has been fighting most of the day. She just told me that they haven't seen any army troops in over an hour, just militiamen from Amal and Mostaqbal (Future Movement) carrying guns and RPG launchers. They don't have any electricity and have had to leave the living room, because the windows are too big. There have been other clashes in the usual places: Cola, Museitbeh, Tariq el-Jadida, Tayounneh and Ras el-Naba'a, amongst others.

It's really depressing to me how even an issue like raising the minimum wage, which should have appeal across sectarian lines, inevitably turns into an excuse for thugs from vying political parties to fight in the street. 

Monday, May 05, 2008

Put yourself in her shoes

I'm a little late for Labor Day, but Human Rights Watch here in Lebanon has begun an awareness campaign for rights of domestic workers entitled Put Yourself in Her Shoes:

The condition of (predominantly women) domestic workers in the Middle East is atrocious. Apparently, the problem is as bad in Israel as it is in Lebanon and even worse in Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. According to HRW:

The most common complaints made by domestic workers to embassies and nongovernmental organizations include non-payment or delayed payment of their wages, forced confinement to the workplace, no time off, and verbal, as well as physical, abuse. According to a 2006 survey conducted by Dr. Ray Jureidini of 600 migrant domestic workers, 56 percent said they work more than 12 hours a day and 34 percent have no regular time off. In some cases, workers have died while attempting to escape these conditions, some by jumping from balconies.

...The Lebanese authorities have failed to curb abuses committed by employers and agencies. Lebanese labor laws specifically exclude domestic workers from rights guaranteed to other workers, such as a weekly day of rest, limits on work hours, paid holidays, and workers’ compensation. Immigration sponsorship laws restrict domestic workers’ ability to change employers, even in cases of abuse. An official steering committee created in early 2006 and led by the Ministry of Labor to improve the legal situation of migrant workers in Lebanon has yet to deliver any concrete reforms. This includes a long-discussed standard contract to outline minimum standards for domestic workers’ employment.  

Human Rights Watch called upon the Ministry of Labor and other relevant authorities to amend the labor law to extend equal protection for domestic workers and to sign and ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. 

 

A few years ago, the Times did a story about Sri Lankan women who go to the Middle East to work as domestic servants.  This picture is of a 20-year-old woman named Thangarasa Jeyanthi who was severely abused in Lebanon. In Lebanese Arabic, the common word for a domestic worker is "Sri Lankan." At one point, I remember hearing a joke about an NGO that was fostering multiculturalism by doing presentations with people from all over world invited to introduce themselves to the audience. The Egyptian man comes and says he works as a concierge. The Syrian says that he's a field hand. And then comes the Ethiopian who introduces herself but forgets to say what her profession is. When reminded that everyone has to say what they do, she replies, "I'm a Sri Lankan."

In the case of Sri Lankan women, the conditions that they live and work in criminally miserable, and their government is actually complicit. There are training programs that teach the women some Arabic and how to do what is expected of them without receiving the beatings that are so common. The government encourages women to go to the Middle East, they provide remittances that help keep the Sri Lankan economy afloat.

An Ethiopian friend of mine here used to work for a big hotel in town, but she wasn't allowed to be hired directly even though she has all of her papers in order. The hotel insists on going through a middle man, who garnishes half of the wages of the foreign women working at the hotel. A salary of $450 is reasonable (and more than twice the pitiful minimum wage), but when some sleazy profiteer gets to pocket half of your salary, it's difficult to survive, especially with the increasing price of living (many food items have nearly doubled in price in the last 9 months).

In contrast with Colombo's policy of encouraging the migration, Ethiopia's government has taken the decision to ban its citizens from coming to Lebanon in search of employment:

ADDIS ABABA: On the occasion of Labor Day, Ethiopia has officially banned its citizens from traveling to Beirut in search of jobs, the African country's Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs has disclosed. Ethiopia passed the bill after it probed the human right violations and domestic violence Ethiopian migrants face behind closed doors in Beirut while employed as maids.

"Suspending work travel to Beirut was the only solution to minimizing the human rights abuses and dangers facing our citizens," said Zenebu Tadesse, deputy minister of state for labor and social affairs.

During the past few years, a number of Ethiopians have died in Lebanon in questionable circumstances.

According to a report published by Ethiopia's official news agency, past human right records show that 67 Ethiopian women have died between 1997 and 1999 alone while working in Beirut.

The ministry said it would take strong action against any employment agency trying to send workers directly to Beirut or through a third country.

So for Labor Day this year, I'd like to remind everyone that Sri Lankan is a nationality, not a profession. And I'd like to remind the Lebanese, many of whom go off to Europe, North America and the Gulf in search of work, that they should have a little solidarity with domestic workers here who are hoping to make so money to create a better life for themselves. As my friend Nadim from HRW says about their media campaign: "Many Lebanese themselves have been forced by wars and hardships to emigrate looking for a better life. We hope that they will see the parallels with the experience of these migrants that came from far away to care for Lebanese families."

Carter gets what he deserves

(Via my friend A) Carter to be tried for peace crimes, according to The Onion:

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND—An international peace-crimes tribunal commenced legal proceedings against former U.S. President Jimmy Carter for alleged crimes against inhumanity Monday.

"Jimmy Carter's political career includes a laundry list of anti-war-making offenses," said chief prosecutor Charles B. Simmons. "Carter's record of benevolence, diplomacy, and respect for human life is unrivaled in recent geopolitical history. For millions, the very sight of his face evokes memories of his administration's reign of tolerance."

I knew it was only a matter of time before the international community succeeded in bringing his gentle reign of peace-mongering to an end!

One man's terrorist

Raymond Tanter from WINEP and MESH has a post up about why the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), the Iranian militants who have committed terrorist attacks against the regime in Teheran and who were hosted by Saddam's Iraq, should be delisted from the State Department's list of terrorist organizations. Besides the fact that the MEK is against the Iranian regime, basically, his argument boils down to the fact that they haven't committed any acts of terrorism for a few years:

On April 25, Patrick Clawson, deputy director of research at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote that designation “should be based only on terrorism issues,” and that State “cited no alleged MEK terrorist activity since 2001, yet have increased allegations pertaining [to] the group’s non-terrorist activities.” Country Reports 2007 continues this trend of making allegations that are irrelevant to terrorist designation.

Tanter attempts to argue that MEK doesn't have the capability to carry out terrorist attacks, whereas we all know that anyone with a back pack, a bus pass and household peroxide can commit an act of terrorism. So while this argument isn't very convincing, he tells us, "de-listing would provide diplomatic leverage over Tehran, as the West is presently failing to constrain the Iranian regime’s nuclear program, sponsorship of terrorism, and subversion of Iraq."

In other words, the US should use a terrorist group for political bargaining. Of course this is nothing new: the Bush family has a long history of using Cuban terrorists to apply pressure on the Castro regime. What's striking, though, is the moral indignation Republicans muster when someone supports talking to groups like Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and Hezbollah (most of the violence committed by the last group having been aimed at military targets). Charges of moral equivalency and weak knees in the face of terror are immediately brandished.

Well, Orlando Bosch blew up a passenger plane killing all 73 civilians aboard. Jose Dionisio Suarez and Virgilio Paz Romero assassinated the Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier in Washington. The Mujahedeen-e Khalq assassinated the deputy chief of the Iranian Armed Forces General Staff, Brigadier General Ali Sayyaad Shirazi and attacked Iranian embassies and installations in 13 different countries at the same time. They also bombed the head office of the Islamic Republic Party and the Prime Minister's office killing 70 people, including the Chief Justice, the President and the Prime Minister.

Either terrorism is an acceptable tactic, or it's not. Washington can't understand why the rest of the world sees America as hypocritical, but Tanter's desire for the US to have its cake and eat it too should give us a hunch. 

UPDATE: Thinking more about this today has reminded me of the question of when a group can legitimately be de-listed as a terrorist organization. If the fact that MEK hasn't committed any acts of terrorism since 2001 is really enough to prove that they've mended their ways, then the same ought to apply to Hezbollah as well, because depending on who was responsible for the Argentinean attacks and the kidnapping of Tannenbaum, they haven't committed any acts of terrorism since 2000, the mid-1990s or even the late 1980s.

Otherwise, supporting terrorist groups or rebels or militias in a neighboring country has long been a staple of statecraft. In Africa, Sudan, Chad, Ethiopia, Uganda and Eritrea each support groups in their neighbors' territory. Iran and Syria support Hamas and Hezbollah; Syria supported the PLO in Jordan; while Israel supported the SLA in Lebanon; and Iran trained the Iraqi Badr Brigage to fight against Saddam. Hell, the first car bomb in Iraq wasn't unleashed by Zarqawi, but rather by Iyad Allawi with the help of the CIA. So while I abhor the use of violence against civilians as a political tool, I'm not naive and do know it happens all over. It's the smug hypocrisy of the "War on Terror" that really gets my goat in the same way that the "Fair and Balanced" slogan annoys me way more than the actual Fox News coverage.

Nakba use in the Times

The previous post got me to wondering how often the word Nakba had been used in American newspapers and when, so I did a Lexis Nexis search, which showed that the Times has only printed the word in 34 articles, the first of which appeared in 1998 in an article about Israel's 50th anniversary. A double check of the NYT online archives, however, showed two other articles that didn't appear in the Lexis Nexis search (they seem to only have abstracts for pre-1981 articles): one from 1973 on Sadat and another from 1970 on occupied Ramallah.

Here's a quickly drawn up chart that tracks the use of the word in coverage by the New York Times:

 

This shows that up until the 50th anniversary of the Nakba, the Times had referred to it but twice. I have a feeling that before the year is over, 2008 will beat out 2007 for the number of times the term is employed.

It's unclear to me what exactly has caused the general tide of public opinion to start moving (slowly but surely) away from Israeli occupation in the US. (Or perhaps I'm being optimistic and am projecting?) But I get the feeling that there's a  shift happening in American public opinion that will hopefully be reflected by more fair-minded media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Nakba denial

I've been surprised in the last few weeks to see how much attention the Nakba is getting during the run up to the 60th anniversary of the catastrophe and the founding of the Jewish state. While interpretations differ, it has at least been getting mentions in publications like The New Yorker and the New York Times.

That said, I knew it was only a matter of time before something really reactionary and stupid came out in a magazine like Commentary. Well, Efraim Karsh offers up exactly what we needed in his "True Story" of what happened in 1948. Following his recent comments on the "Jordanian option," I recently marveled how someone who is ostensibly a scholar of the region could be so out of touch with Arabs and the Arab political scene, but this latest piece takes the proverbial cake.

According to Karsh, before 1948, the Palestinians never had any problem with the idea of becoming a minority in their own land and otherwise would have been perfectly happy living as a second class majority in a Jewish state. In fact, Zionists wanted nothing more than all Arabs to stay in their homes and live happily ever after in a pastoral paradise. Unfortunately, the evil Jew-hating "Arab leaders" had to dash all these wonderful hopes and spur the Palestinians to war, despite the fact that they wanted nothing more than to live in a Jewish state. Why even Vladimir Jabotinsky wanted nothing more than peaceful Arab-Jewish coexistence: According to Karsh:

The simple fact is that the Zionist movement had always been amenable to the existence in the future Jewish state of a substantial Arab minority that would participate on an equal footing “throughout all sectors of the country’s public life.” The words are those of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the founding father of the branch of Zionism that was the forebear of today’s Likud party. In a famous 1923 article, Jabotinsky voiced his readiness “to take an oath binding ourselves and our descendants that we shall never do anything contrary to the principle of equal rights, and that we shall never try to eject anyone.”

Eleven years later, Jabotinsky presided over the drafting of a constitution for Jewish Palestine. According to its provisions, Arabs and Jews were to share both the prerogatives and the duties of statehood, including most notably military and civil service. Hebrew and Arabic were to enjoy the same legal standing, and “in every cabinet where the prime minister is a Jew, the vice-premiership shall be offered to an Arab and vice-versa.”

It just so happens that this is the same Jabotinsky who thought that the Jewish state should encompass both sides of the Jordan and who in his famous essay, "The Iron Wall," had this to say:

If [the reader] should attempt to seek but one instance of a country settled with the consent of those born there he will not succeed. The inhabitants (no matter whether they are civilized or savages) have always put up a stubborn fight.

...Any native people -- its all the same whether they are civilized or savage -- views their country as their national home, of which they will  always be the complete masters. They will not voluntarily allow, not only a new master, but even a new partner. And so it is for the Arabs. Compromisers in our midst attempt to convince us that the Arabs are some kind of fools who can be tricked by a softened formulation of our goals, or a tribe of money grubbers who will abandon their birth right to Palestine for cultural and economic gains. I flatly reject this assessment of the Palestinian Arabs. Culturally they are 500 years behind us, spiritually they do not have our endurance or our strength of will, but this exhausts all of the internal differences. We can talk as much as we want about our good intentions; but they understand as well as we what is not good for them. They look upon Palestine with the same instinctive love and true fervor that any Aztec looked upon his Mexico or any Sioux looked upon his prairie. To think that the Arabs will voluntarily consent to the realization of Zionism in return for the cultural and economic benefits we can bestow on them is infantile. This childish fantasy of our “Arabo-philes” comes from some kind of contempt for the Arab people, of some kind of unfounded view of this race as a rabble ready to be bribed in order to sell out their homeland for a railroad network.

He goes on to say that no voluntary agreement with the Arabs is possible:

Thus we conclude that we cannot promise anything to the Arabs of the Land of Israel or the Arab countries. Their voluntary agreement is out of the question. Hence those who hold that an agreement with the natives is an essential condition for Zionism can now say “no” and depart from Zionism. Zionist colonization, even the most restricted, must either be terminated or carried out in defiance of the will of the native population. This colonization can, therefore, continue and develop only under the protection of a force independent of the local population -- an iron wall which the native population cannot break through. This is, in toto, our policy towards the Arabs. To formulate it any other way would only be hypocrisy.

...All this does not mean that any kind of agreement is impossible, only a voluntary agreement is impossible. As long as there is a spark of hope that they can get rid of us, they will not sell these hopes, not for any kind of sweet words or tasty morsels, because they are not a rabble but a nation, perhaps somewhat tattered, but still living. A living people makes such enormous concessions on such fateful questions only when there is no hope left. Only when not a single breach is visible in the iron wall, only then do extreme groups lose their sway, and influence transfers to moderate groups. Only then would these moderate groups come to us with proposals for mutual concessions. And only then will moderates offer suggestions for compromise on practical questions like a guarantee against expulsion, or equality and national autonomy.

I am optimistic that they will indeed be granted satisfactory assurances and that both peoples, like good neighbors, can then live in peace. But the only path to such an agreement is the iron wall, that is to say the strengthening in Palestine of a government without any kind of Arab influence, that is to say one against which the Arabs will fight. In other words, for us the only path to an agreement in the future is an absolute refusal of any attempts at an agreement now.

This is what Jabotinsky thought of the Arabs, not just in Palestine but in Jordan as well. To the consternation of modern day Zionists, he saw the Zionist state in explicitly colonial terms, equating it with other European colonial endeavors.  

Now I've got a certain respect for Zionists like Jabotinsky who call a spade a spade. What I don't appreciate are scholars like Karsh who insist on whitewashing the creation of Israel to absolve the state of any wrong-doing. In his world, the Yishuv did nothing wrong; all blame for the problems of Arabs can be squarely placed at the feet of "Arab leaders." He ignores the much more frank assertions of the Zionist leaders themselves, like Ben-Gurion who once asked:

Why should the Arabs make peace? If I was an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country. Sure God promised it to us, but what does that matter to them? Our God is not theirs. We come from Israel, but two thousand years ago, and what is that to them? There has been antisemitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing: we have come here and stolen their country.

In any case, Karsh disagrees with the scholarship done by Israeli "new historians" like Pappe, Morris and Shlaim, who all show that the old myths of Palestinians leaving their homes because of radio broadcasts sent out by their leaders are conveniently simplistic and just not true. While there is some disagreement as to whether the ethnic cleansing of Palestine was pre-planned and deliberate, ad-hoc and hasty or unintentional but finally welcome, the issue is ultimately beside the point when it comes to Palestinians' right of return. Either you believe that one has the unalienable right to leave one's country and return, or you don't.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses...

...yearning to breathe free, so we can pour water down their throats.

For all of our grandstanding rhetoric about freedom agendas and human rights and liberty and justice for all, I can't help but wonder what it says about us as a country that Amnesty International feels that this commercial is necessary:

 

Iran in Iraq

McClatchy has an interesting piece on Iranian Brig. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Revolutionary Guard's Quds Force. The story includes an awfully high percentage of anonymous sources, and the title might be a little hyperbolic, but I think the overall points made are fair enough.

Iran has a lot of sway in Iraq, which is normal. What's silly, though, is that Americans see this as some sort of meddling, because Iranian interests in Iraq are not always the same as American interests (although I'd argue that they coincide much more often than either side would like to admit). If Iran were occupying Mexico or Canada, you can be sure that the US would be "meddling" as well.

As for the actual article, I don't really have too much to add, except that it's important to look at Iranian involvement in Iraq not as a spoiler or as some diabolical force. If the US is going to come to terms with Middle Eastern players (of which Iran has become a major one, due in no small part to American intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq), Washington is going to have to look at Teheran (and Damascus and Hezbollah and Hamas, for that matter) as actors who have interests in the region that can't be run over roughshod by America.

This is a reality. So just as when one deals with Zimbabwe, it's necessary to take Pretoria into account, or how when dealing with Burma or North Korea one can't ignore Beijing, the road to peace in Iraq must necessarily pass through Teheran, but not in the way that American hawks would like it to.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Feith no more

Oh happy day:

Douglas Feith (LAW ’78) may not have devised an exit strategy for the U.S. occupation of Iraq, but according to the former Bush administration official, a group of Georgetown professors apparently had no trouble coming up with an exit strategy for him.

The distinguished practitioner in national security policy in the School of Foreign Service will not be returning to teach at Georgetown next semester after the university chose not to renew his two-year contract.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Bahrain appoints Jewish ambassador to Washington

I've long thought that morally and politically, it would be a great move if the Lebanese government were to invite Lebanese Jews who left during the civil war to Europe and America to come back. And if Beirut were really clever, it would appoint a Lebanese Jew to a ministerial position or as an ambassador to the UN or the US. This would help turn the Lebanese-Israeli conflict into a national one instead of a religious one. In 2006, it would have been a tremendous PR move to have a Jewish minister criticizing the systematic destruction of the Lebanese infrastructure.

In this context, Bahrain has made a really smart move:

A Jewish woman, Huda Ezra Ebrahim Nonoo, is set to become Bahrain's ambassador to Washington, sources close to diplomats told Gulf News on Thursday.

"Huda is Bahrain's nominee for the post and this is of course very good news for Bahrain's deep-rooted values of tolerance and openness," Faisal Fouladh, a Shura Council representative, and Western diplomats said.

Huda, a businesswoman, was the first Jewish woman to sit in the Shura Council, the 40-member upper house of the bicameral legislature, replacing her uncle. A Christian woman, Alice Samaan, also sits on the council which has 11 women, compared with only one woman MP, Lateefa Al Gaood, in the 40-member lower house.

Cambodian or American debt?

I was checking out the State Department's blog today to see if they had said anything there about Israeli ambassador Gillerman's remarks that Carter was a "bigot" and an "enemy of Israel" when I came across this post about Cambodia's war era debt to the US:

Cambodia’s debt to the U.S. totals $162 million, but with arrears factored in could reach approximately $339 million. This debt stems from shipments of U.S. agricultural commodities (e.g., cotton, rice, wheat flour) to Cambodia in the early 1970s -- during the Vietnam War and Cambodia’s Lon Nol era -- and financed with USDA loans. When the country fell to the Khmer Rouge in 1975, the regime ceased servicing this debt, and interest accumulated over the next three decades. In February 2006 -- after many years of deadlock followed by a fruitful series of negotiations -- an agreement in principle was reached on the amount of Cambodian principal owed to the U.S.

The Cambodian government, however, remains reluctant to sign a bilateral re-payment agreement due to domestic political obstacles on accepting responsibility for debts incurred by the Lon Nol regime, viewed by many Cambodians as an illegal and illegitimate government. Furthermore, many Cambodian observers believe a good deal of this assistance never arrived. They contend that Cambodia only served as a conduit for moving the USDA-financed commodities to other locations in Asia and that the Cambodian government and the Cambodian people did not benefit from the loans, even if some Cambodian individuals did gain. Finally, some argue that it is fundamentally unfair that Vietnam, which is far better off economically and was America’s major adversary in the war, was granted a form of debt forgiveness from the United States, while an innocent bystander to that conflict—Cambodia—is offered nothing.

The U.S. has on its side the international law principle that governments are generally responsible for the obligations of their predecessors.

Putting aside for a moment the irony of American lectures on "international law principle," there are some other things to consider here. 

Considering the fact that the covert American bombing campaign of Cambodia that killed tens or hundreds of thousands of people was also one of the factors that led to the rise of the Khmer Rouge who killed literally millions of people, you'd think that we could give Phnom Penh a pass on their paltry $339 million debt, incurred after a pro-American military putsch, by the way.

Given the context in which the debt was incurred, and that more than half of the debt is interest, and since we're currently spending over $400 million every day in Iraq, you'd think we could be a good sport and forgive the Cambodian tab.

On a somewhat related note, This American Life once did an excellent piece about US-Cambodian trade agreements. You might think that such a topic is boring. You'd be wrong. Give it a listen here by clicking on "Full episode."

Friday, April 25, 2008

Netanyahu: 9/11 was good for Israel

(Via TPM) Ha'aretz reports Benjamin Netanyahu, hawkish Israeli "ally" of the US, as saying that 9/11 was good for Israel:

"We are benefiting from one thing, and that is the attack on the Twin Towers and Pentagon, and the American struggle in Iraq," Ma'ariv quoted the former prime minister as saying. He reportedly added that these events "swung American public opinion in our favor."

This actually mirrors comments made by Netanyahu on the day of the attacks:

Asked tonight what the attack meant for relations between the United States and Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, the former prime minister, replied, ''It's very good.'' Then he edited himself: ''Well, not very good, but it will generate immediate sympathy.'' He predicted that the attack would ''strengthen the bond between our two peoples, because we've experienced terror over so many decades, but the United States has now experienced a massive hemorrhaging of terror.''

With friends like these, right?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Zambia steps up

Following the problems that a Chinese boat has had trying to unload 77 tons of weapons in Durban, South Africa destined for the regime in Zimbabwe, it seems like it might be going back home after the South African High Court banned the transport of the weapons and ammo and after the remarks of Zambian president and head of the Southern African Development Community:

The impromptu coalition of trade unions, church leaders and organizations trying to stop the delivery gained an important ally on Monday when Levy Mwanawasa, the president of Zambia, who heads a bloc of 14 southern African nations, called on other countries in the region not to let the ship dock in their ports.

“He actually said that it would be good for China to play a more useful role in the Zimbabwe crisis than supplying arms,” said a spokesman for the Zambian government, who asked not to be identified. “We don’t want a situation which will escalate the situation in Zimbabwe more than what it is.”

This photo from the NY Times of the Chinese embassy in Pretoria shows that the Chinese may no longer be getting a free pass from the media and other countries for their involvement in developing nations:

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

New online encyclopedia of mass violence

The French Centre d'Etudes et de Recherches Internationales, along with the French research institution, CNRS and Sciences-Po, have begun an Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence with the help of the Hamburg Institute for Social Research. The project is under the direction of Jacques Sémelin, whose 2005 book on genocide (which I have but have yet to read) has recently been translated into English and published by Columbia.

The site's still pretty bare bones for the moment, but it's designed to provide information of mass violence based chronologically and geographically, so when it's done, you'll be able to click on any country you want to get information about mass violence in that country. There's also an encyclopedia of terms that looks to be pretty complete.

Strangely enough, for a French initiative, it's only available in English for the moment. The international advisory board includes scholars like Omer Bartov, Samantha Power, Frank Chalk, Antonio Cassesse, Ben Kiernen, René Lemarchand, William Schabas and Eric Weitz, just to name a few.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Science and war

The Middle East Strategy at Harvard is one of those sites that I continue to read even though (nay, because) it makes me want to smash my head against the computer screen. Some of the pieces on they are interesting and intelligent, but some are really, really stupid. Salzman's most recent piece falls into the latter category. I haven't read Salzman's book, but I had a feeling that I might not like it, since his description of it and Stanley Kurtz's review smacked a little bit too much of another Kurtz. I hadn't made up my mind, though, and thought that while Kurtz's review in the Weekly Standard might be oversimplifying the region a little, the book must be more nuanced. But Salzman's most recent piece on MESH makes me not want to read his book at all.

He seems to be arguing that since people in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran think that scholars are spies in the first place, it doesn't do any harm to be one. (Harry Matthews takes this idea to a hilariously genius extreme in his most recent novel.) And besides, those who are against working with the Pentagon are really just a bunch of haters:

It is very common for anthropologists, and foreigners in general, to be regarded as spies, agents, dubious, and perhaps dangerous. So the oft heard plea of researchers—”We can’t ever work for government or people will think all of us all the time are spies and agents”—seems at the very least naive, and, one cannot help thinking, disingenuous.

...For many anthropologists, cooperating with the Pentagon would be cohabiting with the Devil. It would be siding with power, capitalism, whites, men, heterosexuals, and thus with the evil forces in the universe. When it comes to the American military, cultural relativism does not apply.

Personally, I don't know much about Human Terrain Teams, but I do know that I'd have some very ambivalent feelings about working for the government, particularly if it meant working on Iraq. On the one hand, I can understand the sentiment that as long as the US is going to do whatever it wants, a lot of damage control can come in the form of academic advice and research -- damage control that might mean saving lives, both American and Iraqi. On the other hand, I also sympathize with the idea that one wouldn't want to get sullied by having anything at all to do with the whole enterprise. In any case, it's a complicated subject for which I've got very mixed feelings.

But does Salzman really think that those who might have qualms with working at the Pentagon are self-loathing whites who equate the idea with "cohabiting with the Devil"? I mean come on, while I'm sure there are some idiots on both sides of the argument, there really isn't any need for straw men, right? It sounds to me like Salzman has an axe to grind with some of his colleagues.