Remarks to share

I am trying to summarize what is always in the back of my mind when I think of political issues in the Middle East:

1- How do social movements emerge in this region and do we have cases where they succeeded in changing the status-quo? To what extent are Hizbullah and other movements a manifestation of social contentions, and through which disciplinary and organized mechanisms did they voice their grievances?

2- What lies behind the statement that it is sectarian divisions that mostly inhibit the possibility of having cross-sectarian political mobilization? What are the institutional structures in place (State or lack of State, or religious and/or clan-based institutions) that makes it harder for the poor in a part of a given country to join forces with the poor of another part (Lebanon is an excellent example, but also Iraq, Sudan, etc.)?

3- What are the dynamics of ideological formations and their institutional hosts (media, pseudo-journalists/intellectuals, political organizations, family and other social groups, cafes, etc.)? How do we come to represent our social reality as remote from its social grounding? How do we come to forget that Hizbullah or Hamas are the result of extreme social marginalization of specific segments of the population? How does the public frame its perception of these groups according to static and fixed ideas?

4- Why do students, and politically interested people seldom have a clear perception of how social and political change occur? What is it in our socially constructed perception of reality that inhibit us from understanding things in a more dynamic way?

5- What is the relation between ‘external’ political interests pushing for specific compromises, and ‘internal’ political struggles? Why do people often confuse these two?

6- Why is the “Left” the biggest loser in the Middle East? What can we learn from this defeat? To what extent are ‘Islamic’ parties an expression of ‘leftist’ concerns and demands? Should we revise our whole understanding of Leftism as too Eurocentric?

The list is long and these are just a few examples. I would like to invite everyone to add questions, amend those questions, and try to answer some.

Democracy and its discontents

German infamous Catholic pope hopes that “democratic Lebanon will survive” according to Naharnet. First, note what Naharnet decided to lead its article with: out of everything the pope said on this glorious Christmas day, it may have found the biggest stupidity uttered.

Seriously do these people think (Naharnet and the Pope) that all these people in downtown are “undemocratic ” forces? Do they think that keeping Seniora in with his mafia clique is being democratic?

Now if you want to play the “democratic card” I would say that it’s quite the contrary. It is Seniora that is being undemocratic, as he and his acolyte represent a minority of views in the country while the majority is represented by the people in the streets.

Now another thing: How ideological can you get when you think that the people in the streets are are working against better democratic rule of conduct? Doesn’t this echo what American policy view as being “democratic” and “undemocratic” in the region? Some time ago, Angry Arab had an excellent comparison of ideological distortions done to the concept of ‘democracy’ and his friends (the concept’s friends) by taking as a case in point Palestine and Lebanon.

And the media wags the tail, the pseudo-journalists think they understood it all (when actually they live in their twisted fantasies) and the pope and the people follow suit.

Merry Christmas, Y’All …

My favorite holiday — call it a messianic complex:

If anyone thinks that I amn’t divine,
He gets no free drinks when I’m making the wine …


I hear it (from a seriously reliable source) that Druze MP Walid Jumblatt is unrelentingly trying to get in touch with our sister (sourya el shakika) next door. But to no avail, it seems that the Syrians are really fed up this time.
7aram Jumblatt… he was close to winning everything (the climax was the 14th of March 2005) but instead he may have just lost everything… The history of the Druze community will unfortunately contain this black dot for decades of confessional narrative to come.

Civil war in Palestine

That’s it, ask any Irish he would have told you long ago that the Palestinians would end up in this situation once occupation last so long that parties once opposed to such occupation would end up finding common grounds with the occupation because of vested interests at stake. There are no secrets to understand Aristotle’s political animal. Just look at what happened to other animals before you.
By the way, notice how the article calls Abbas “moderate Palestinian President”. The crystallization of concepts such as “Arab moderates”, that many denounced as the mere facade of a political agenda (i.e. of the ideological kind), are now a given for the press suckers.

Totten Watch: I Wear My Sun Glasses at Night …

So I can, so I can …

Corey Hart of Arabia, err-Michael Totten (photo: Noah Pollack) is back from Lebanon. And yes, he is safe and sound:

I’m back from a three-week under-the-radar trip to Beirut and South Lebanon … I’m on their “list,” so to speak, and it was both easier and safer to work without announcing my presence and giving them the chance to run interference. I felt slightly ridiculous, like I was being too paranoid

I can just imagine Hizbullah’s war room:

Lieutenant: I think the Israeli tanks crossed the Blue Line this morning.
Commander: Enough with these trifles, a pseudo-journalist approaches Nabatieh. Sound the alarm!

Oh, Michael, tis truly like everything else: a psy-op of the mind …

SSNP weapons seized

Weapons seized in Koura in the offices of the SSNP (Syrian Social Nationalist Party). There are claims that these weapons are old and that the 14th of March (Fatfat) is trying to find scapegoats for the security instabilities.
In any case, my biggest worry would be SSNP and LF (Lebanese Force) clashing. It is intra-Christian hostilities that are mostly to be feared in Lebanon, as it is the most politically divided sect in Lebanon.

Seniora met Olmert?

Apparently in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, during the Ramadan period. It’s also quoted in the Israeli newspapers. Hizbullah’s website mentions it. It all comes from the same source, the Palestinian news Agency Maan.
Well, I hope they met, these two have so much in common, it would be a shame not to share insights. Seriously.

On a more strategic note, the discussions allegedly revolved around countering the “Iranian-Syrian axis” through Israeli-Egyptian-Saudi cooperation. I’d like to see to what extent these three can cooperate!

And finally, on a moral note: How great are our newspapers to mention this event… I mean do I have to always read right-wing trashy Jerusalem Post’s to learn stuff happening in my country?

On Having Misidentified A Wild Flower: A Poetic Interlude …

A thrush, because I’d been wrong,
Burst rightly into song
In a world not vague, not lonely,
Not governed by me only.

— Richard Wilbur.

Ludes, past:
Marianne Moore, 1.
Theodore Roethke, 1, 2, 3.

More mysteries

The french could have shot Ben Laden in Afghanistan twice in 2003 and 2004, soldiers have testified, they had him in sight on several occasions. Why didn’t they do it? Because they did not receive any order from central American command.
Either the Americans ignored them because they would have hated to face the fact that the French have shot their (pretendedly) greatest enemy. Or the French and Americans had decided to communicate via flying pigeons and they didn’t manage to go back and forth on time.
The more likely explanation is that somehow they didn’t want him dead. Does this surprise anyone?

From Ben Gurion to Rafic Hariri

A historical moment if we are to believe information gathered by Hezbollah. For the first time in history a plane landed in the Rafic Hariri International Airport in Beirut directly from the Ben Gourion International Airport in Tel-Aviv. The report is highly detailed: a falcon type airplane with about 10 people on board arrived on november 21 at 11 a.m and stayed until 7p.m. The crew where granted entrance to Lebanon as offical visitors although no officials where here to receive them. Also it seems that the whole operation was supervised by a cell of four american experts who have a bureau on the second flour of the airport and are payed 120 000 USD a month to perform a very obscure task.
Total propaganda? Possibly. With a clear aim at subverting the recent Gemayel assassination. But the Hezb could also have some very strong intelligence gatherers at the airport and the story might have leaked. I guess we will never know, its one more of these numerous mysteries that fill our history and the kind of info an ‘international tribunal’ oddly never unfolds, not even if we wait 25 years.

Assad writes a letter to Olmert

It seems that the Lebanese press is not really concerned by the issue, but has anyone been watching Syria lately?
Well, it has been making peace ouvertures for several years now, but this time it is proposing no pre- conditionality on the starting of negotiations, not even getting the Golan back. In a letter sent to Israeli PM Ehud Olmert, Syrian president Bashar el Assad is to say the least an ‘avant-gardist’:

the letter consists of a number of clauses that are meant to placate the international community: Syrian agreement on the establishment of an international tribunal to try those suspected of involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on condition that the court will not be authorized to summon senior Syrian officials and army commanders; Syria’s will to discuss the future of the Golan Heights with no preconditions; Syria’s intent to act toward stabilizing its border with Iraq; act against Hamas leaders residing outside the Gaza Strip (meaning Damascus) in order to limit their influence on the group’s leaders in Gaza and prevent arms shipments to Hizbullah militants in Lebanon through Syria.

… Yes boys and girls and not only that but this has created a political split in Israel between a completely lost and weak Olmert trying to get re-assurances from (and actually scapegoating) the US that talking to Syria is out of the question for now, and a more fed-up Defense minister Peretz who supports talks.
Meanwhile some more expansionist Israelis are doing everything they can to “Israelize” the Golan area by issuing construction permits and accelerating building works. And of course you have the occasional pundits barking that the Golan is a strategic asset to Israel.

Syria may be exploiting the momentary US power reshuffling by reaching directly to Israel. The real question is how much all of this is done by taking into account Hizbullah and Hamas’ interests. Hizbullah could be a possible partner to negotiate peace but surely not Hamas. Now that an incestuous war is exploding in Palestine with the US pushing for corrupted puppets/criminals like Abbas and Dahlan (by the way Angry Arab has very interesting things to say on Dahlan and the recent assassinations in Gaza), how can Hamas accomodate with this formula?

Post Scriptum: While re-reading this post I came up with this joke: How do you recognize an Israeli? It’s a guy with some cement and guns (ok it’s the kind that makes you cry… yes bear with me as I don’t have the wit of an EDB, a Jamal, or a Rambler).

A Reason to Celebrate …

At midnight on Dec. 31, hundreds of millions of pages of secret documents will be instantly declassified … After years of extensions sought by federal agencies behaving like college students facing a term paper, the end of 2006 means the government’s first automatic declassification of records.

Okay, so some of you might have better reasons, but some of us are, well, nerds …

More seriously, this is an important victory for freedom of information in the United States and those behind these efforts — past and present — deserve a lot of credit. To be sure, the exemptions are too many, but government incompetence will ensure that some embarassing secrets sneak into the public domain. There is very little to admire about the Clinton Administration, but the 25-year automatic declassification deadline stands out.

As we all know, secrets kill … And just like the M14ers, “I love life!”

Native Son: Isn’t He Lovely …

Dear Mr. Cruickshank:

When I raise my hand to take the oath on Swearing In Day, I will have the Bible in my other hand. I do not subscribe to using the Koran in any way. The Muslim Representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don’t wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran. We need to stop illegal immigration totally and reduce legal immigration and end the diversity visas policy pushed hard by President Clinton and allowing many persons from the Middle East to come to this country. I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America and to prevent our resources from being swamped.
The Ten Commandments and “In God We Trust” are on the wall in my office. A Muslim student came by the office and asked why I did not have anything on my wall about the Koran. My response was clear, “As long as I have the honor of representing the citizens of the 5th District of Virginia in the United States House of Representatives, The Koran is not going to be on the wall of my office.”

Thank you again for your e-mail and thoughts.

Sincerely yours,

Virgil H. Goode, Jr.

This Congressman’s letter has created a small furor stateside, but such anti-Muslim screeds must be understood both through the prism of American political history, or the “paranoid style” as one author has called it, and the relevant contemporary political dynamics, namely the “war on terror.” Below I have offered some historical context, namely from Samuel Morse in 1835, and please read full text if you have an hour to kill.

The irony, of course, being that the Mssr. Goode knows nothing about this tradition and such ignorance is indeed the hallmark of nativism here, there and everywhere. I would pause here to add that those “multi-culturalists” criticizing the Mr. Goode’s comments as un-American (by citing Thomas Jefferson or the melting pot) are equally ignorant of American history. Most disappointing, however, are those Americans who repeat this nonsense in the full ignorance of their family’s own migration to and history in the United States (Yes, I am talking to you, Irish-German-French Catholics in the middle states — you know who you are).

If anything, Mr. Goode’s forebearers had to be more adept in their chauvinistic atavism as their “enemies” took good news from the same book as the righteous. I have also chosen this passage from Mr. Morse (yes, he of the Code) so that all may be relieved of any illusions that a man’s capacity for science, technology or reason has any relation to the nature of his politics.

In considering the means of counteracting this foreign political conspiracy against our free institutions, I have said that we must awake to the reality and extent of the danger, and rouse ourselves to immediate and rigorous action in spreading religious and intellectual cultivation through the land. This indeed would be effectual, but this remedy is remote in its operation, and is most seriously retarded by the enormous increase of ignorance which is flooding the country by foreign immigration. While therefore the remote effects of our exertions are still provided for, the pressing exigency of the case seems to require some more immediate efforts to prevent the further spread of the evil. The two-fold character of the enemy who is attacking us must be well considered. Popery is doubly opposed,—civilly and religiously,—to all that is valuable in our free institutions. As a religious system, it is the avowed and common enemy of every other religious sect in the land. The Episcopalian, the Methodist, the Presbyterian, the Baptist, the Quaker, the Unitarian, the Jew, & c. & c., are alike anathematized, are together obstinate heretics, in the creed of the Papist. He wages an indiscriminate, uncompromising, exterminating war with all.

And round and round, we go …

Post-script: I would also like to add this post to my dossier on why my Lebanese friends should stop complaining about the “backwardness” of their country. Yalla chabab, yours is the world’s most dysfunctional country, except for all the others. If the Lebanese are poorer or get killed or kill themselves at more regular intervals then you need only look at Lebanon’s place in the geo-politcal and economic order to understand why. The sociology of singularity has run its course, so khalas narcissus! Draw yourself away from the waters or you just might drown there …

Post-post-script: Required reading for understanding the world’s “cultural” wars. The author is one of the smartest people I have ever met and my intellectual orientation owes a debt to his wisdom.

Goverment Work, Revisited …

“Democracy promotion” has been a focus of both Democratic and Republican administrations, but the Bush White House has been a particular booster since 9/11. Iran contra figure Elliott Abrams was put in charge of the effort at the National Security Council. Until recently, Elizabeth Cheney, daughter of the Vice President, oversaw such work at the State Department. In the past, the U.S. has used support for “democracy building” to topple unfriendly dictators, including Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic and Ukraine’s Vladimir Kuchma.

A (fill in the blank) from HRW

It seems we all misunderstood HRW’s press release instructing Palestinian civilians on how to comply with international law by allowing Israel to better fix their aim. They’ve come out with a…well, not exactly a retraction, not a mea culpa. OK I need help at this point. HRW, errare humanum est perseverare diabolicum (Seneca, a very long time ago). In plain English, quit while you’re ahead.

The Postmodern Piety of Tony Blair: An Exegesis …

At the risk of being even more elliptical than I was this morning, I mean the problem is there are certain ideas that we are in the course of discussing, and the one sure way to make sure ideas like that never come to fruition is if you have a generalised discussion before everyone can work out what it is they can do and what other people have to do in order to get things moving.

Well, either Bush did brainwash him, or I just don’t get this strain of Protestant theology.

Apparently, Mssr. Blair has never heard of Sykes-Picot … Apparently, the actual history of this globe has no place in the “global alliance for global values.”

Even the reliably-milquetoast Rami Khouri calls him a fool before closing with a bit of Palestinian wisdom:

Always brush your teeth well in the morning and evening, and never trust the British.

Isn’t it funny to think that at one time British policy mattered at all …? And isn’t it funny that the one leader most responsible for the non-existence of something that might be called the “international community” cannot finish a sentence without reference to this mythical body? And isn’t funny that when US policy is in flux, St. Anthony of Downing Street retreats into an obscurantism that only an eremite could love?

To be fair, Blair does get permission to play the high priest from time to time, but moral uplift or spiritual authority it ain’t.

ADDENDUM: It seems that Blair has also attended to some earthly matters during his pilgrimmage to the East.

There’s Something (Funny) About an Aqua-Velva Man …

“What would Jesus do if he were present in the world today?”

Uh-oh …

The law firm at which former US Secretary of State James Baker is a senior partner used an Israeli middleman to bypass US sanctions on Iraq and push through a multimillion-dollar collection effort involving the regime of Saddam Hussein, according to an Israeli businessman who said he mediated the deal.

Now will my Lebanese friends finally stop complaining about their politicians …?

Only in America …

Relationship experts report that too many couples fail to ask each other critical questions before marrying. Here are a few key ones that couples should consider asking:

1) Have we discussed whether or not to have children, and if the answer is yes, who is going to be the primary care giver?

2) Do we have a clear idea of each other’s financial obligations and goals, and do our ideas about spending and saving mesh?

3) Have we discussed our expectations for how the household will be maintained, and are we in agreement on who will manage the chores?

4) Have we fully disclosed our health histories, both physical and mental?

5) Is my partner affectionate to the degree that I expect?

6) Can we comfortably and openly discuss our sexual needs, preferences and fears?

7) Will there be a television in the bedroom?

8) Do we truly listen to each other and fairly consider one another’s ideas and complaints?

9) Have we reached a clear understanding of each other’s spiritual beliefs and needs, and have we discussed when and how our children will be exposed to religious/moral education?

10) Do we like and respect each other’s friends?

11) Do we value and respect each other’s parents, and is either of us concerned about whether the parents will interfere with the relationship?

12) What does my family do that annoys you?

13) Are there some things that you and I are NOT prepared to give up in the marriage?

14) If one of us were to be offered a career opportunity in a location far from the other’s family, are we prepared to move?

15) Do each of us feel fully confident in the other’s commitment to the marriage and believe that the bond can survive whatever challenges we may face?

There is no such thing as an "international" tribunal

Check out this piece co-authored by a German journalist for Al-Akhbar showing how Detlev Mehlis the former UN prosecutor sacrificed relevance and professionalism with regards to the Hariri assassination in order to compulsively voice his obsession with Syria.

It’s the economy stupid

That the political clout of some of the Party of God’s services extends beyond class and even sectarian affiliation is illustrated by a personal anecdote reported to me by an independent candidate from the Biqa’a. The candidate, who lost to one of Hizballah’s contestants in the 1992 parliamentary elections, had solicited the vote of a lifelong acquaintance, a Christian from Bishwat in the Biqa’a. In reply, the man from Bishwat had asked, “Where were you when we needed emergency snow removal and fuel? In this village, everyone is going to vote for Hizballah.”

Harik, Judith P. “Between Islam and the System: Sources and Implications of Popular Support for Lebanon’s Hizballah”, The Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 40, No. 1. (Mar., 1996), p. 55

All services can be provided

A verbal confrontation between a Downtown reveler and anti-government protesters over the weekend undercut hopes that area businesses might operate as normal while the protests continue. After several days of negotiations between the owners of Taboo nightclub, Hizbullah security and the Lebanese Army, the club opened its doors on Saturday for the first time since anti-government protesters set up camp in Downtown Beirut on December 1.
Over 300 regular customers came to Taboo as Hizbullah “discipline men” patrolled outside.
“Hizbullah and the Lebanese Army were all very co-operative. This was a sign of good faith. Hizbullah even told us: ‘We’re not here to stop you from working,'” Haytham S., co-owner of the nightclub

Can somebody forward this to Bernard Lewis and Michael Totten?

An economic and sociological point of view

The Maronite Patriarch Mar Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir had this extraordinary insight to share with some visitors in Bkerke (from the pearl l’Orient le Jour):

« On nous a informés que certains participants au sit-in ont interdit à leurs filles de passer la nuit dans le centre-ville ; voilà qui est sage », a affirmé le chef de l’Église maronite.
Et d’ajouter : « En tout état de cause, il est temps de mettre un terme à cette situation nuisible, en particulier pour l’économie du pays. »
« Les responsables de ces manifestations ont-ils donc oublié que des familles sont désormais dans une très grande gêne ? » s’est encore interrogé le patriarche Sfeir.

Yalla, come on kids, you’re worrying mommy and daddy so please come back home, and let the people get on with their business.

Come You, Masters of War …

“We expect the pattern of increased sales to continue, unaffected by the recent campaign in Lebanon. Clients are prudent.”

The US-Israeli Relationship: A Messianic Complex …?

“I believe that the US will use a military operation (against Iran) to save the world.”

So said Likud MK Yuval Steinitz, who just happens to serve as head of a joint committee of the Israeli Knesset and the US Congress.

Leaving this delightful creature aside, I know the greatest danger the world faces is the effort to re-establish the Islamic Caliphate, but those guys are going to have work a lot harder if they want to out-crazy the professionally-trained and professionally-paid crazies.

So come on, get with it, guys. “Death to America,” … how cute! “Death to Israel,” … please! Sounds more like an invitation to a bridal shower than a Manichean vision of the end of times.

Bridging the Cultural Divide …

“No way! That’s so funny. We don’t have a spine when it comes to the White House, either.”

Photo (L-R): Sen. Thune, Rep. Kirk, Sen. Collins, Sen. Lieberman, Sen. McCain, and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Addendum: Does it seem that perhaps the most entusiastic person in the room just might be … the water cooler …?