from the anecdote file

where we find the joys of being a researcher on Hizbullah

Buy one of the many cds of Hizbullah ‘chants’ (anashid). For example, the volume 12 of Firkat el Asra’,, Al Moqawama wal Tahrir. Open it, and rip the cd on Windows media player. The software checks for titles through its search engine. When you get back to your computer you find copied to your hard drive:

Artist: Snoop Doggy Dog
Album title: Doggy Style
Example of song name: Shitznit, for all my Niggaz & Bitchiz, etc.

I changed the name of the songs so as to at least remember what I am listening to. But I cannot erase the “Doggy Style”. So I get: “Hamdan lil Lah atah al Zafar” with “Doggy Style”, right under it.

Please keep in mind that at the bottom of the cd back cover there is a mention of protected copyrights.

Front page of Al-Akhbar today

In front of the parliament, a Sukleen worker cleans…

Update: Just noticed that l’Orient le Jour had a very similar picture on its front page but with this as a caption: “une place de l’Étoile noyée au cœur de l’interminable sit-in de l’opposition et totalement déserte”…

The 112 cars

so Cara tells me that the ‘police force’ in Beirut is doing a good job with their new American gift, the nissan pathfinder. Yesterday night, they spotted two (probably Ethiopian) girls going up towards the Sofil center (in Ashrafieh Beirut), and they started harassing them, asking them for their papers, why they were there walking etc. Of course, I understand the cops, it is so rare to see two women, let alone, foreign ‘workers’, walking on a Beiruti sidewalk (virtually none existent sidewalks). It is suspicious ‘security-wise’ and so a good opportunity to flash the ‘badges’.

A linguistic theory (or perspective) to understand "Islamic" movements

Ok friends, here we go. After a couple months of ‘deep’ thinking, I got my own eureka. Here is what I think serves as a binding device for all the arguments I’m going to be making in my work. But I need to have an idea of what you think, if it makes sense, or is my eureka just a figment of my imagination (well it is one) that cannot be shared.

A couple of questions:

Is there something that differentiates Islamic movements from other movements? Is this something has to do with some “Islamic” component? If yes, how to understand this “Islamic” component?

My tentative answers respectively to each questions:

The difference is in the language used as representative of a different ‘form’ of consciousness (culture, etc.) shaped by different institutions and power relations in place. It has to do with something ‘Islamic’ in so far as the discourse and practices used to act are different and claim to borrow ‘legitimacy’ (understood as ‘linguistic coherence’) from a pool of metaphors, symbols, and clusters of meaning (of course constantly changing) derived from the spoken (here Arabic, but other languages too), and the written (Koran, etc.). The Islamic is understood as a powerful pool of meanings anchored (taking authority) from written heritage (Koran, etc.) that provides an all encompassing forms in order to direct changing practices on the social ground. The difference here between the spoken and written is crucial, I will try to explain this in a later post. The borrowing happens in hectic, unpredictable, and even contradictory way sometimes (depending on symbolically powerful actors who are at the forefront of this knowledge creation.

My argument (heavily indebted to ‘critical thought’ in general) then is: Islamic movements are resistance movements to a slowly maturing colonizing process, the one that penetrates and changes the consciousness of subalterns. The fall of the Ottoman Empire, the creation of modern state, and the entry of new forms of economic and social exploitation, all reverberating in the intrusion in the language used (here Arabic that completely changed its modes of work included new formulations, meanings, etc.), all are examples of this colonizing process. The most successful form of resistance is the one that strives to create separate forms of consciousness (different understandings (symbols, meanings, etc.) of social reality. Islamic movements to varying degrees are about that, that is their only a priori similarity, they go back to a specific articulation of the “language”, the one of the Koran for example (Gramsci rightly points out that language is a worldview). Now depending on historical, social, institutional etc. circumstances in their respective geographies, you have completely different experiences that arise. Most importantly, their relation with other forms of consciousness (like the more hegemonic, “western” form) is crucial to understand the evolution of meanings amongst these movements.

I’m not saying that Islamic movements are a ‘renaissance’ of Arabic as a language. First, this does not mean anything, just as much as the ‘Nahda’ of the XIX century was not a ‘renaissance’ of Arabic but more aptly described as a re-appropriation and development of linguistic devices to assert new forms of consciousness representing a specific social class etc. There is no aesthetic judgment in what I am saying, I’m just putting into light certain processes that I think can be derived from the reality we live in. However, I want to say that Islamic movements strive to master a certain use or practice of Arabic, one that sees specific concepts fusing in. It is like a laboratory of already existing clusters of meaning that is constantly re-worked to include the contemporaneous pressing concerns. the important thing is the artifact, the form in place (the language and its potential of asserting independent forms of consciousnesses)

Also more importantly, I’m not saying that Islamic movements are ‘regressive’ or ‘progressive’, leftist or rightists, fascists, etc. because all these are ‘western’ categorizations (meaning institutionally and historically determined in Europe and elsewhere) for political organizations. One can always compare and derive certain similarities and difference, some of them being very interesting, but remember that this categories are political programs in themselves. Fascism exists in Leftist political formations and vice versa. The dichotomy of right and left in Europe and elsewhere serves as a political disciplining device. Anyway that is another subject. And for fear of diverging too much I leave you with that.


Rare are the times when I find someone to cut my hair as I would like it. Rarer (if not exceptional) are the times when I watch the broadcasting of an explosion while I’m diligently explaining to the ‘barber’ not to go too short on my neck. The place was quickly invaded by a bunch of people from outside, as he was the only one who had TV. When the reporter said that it may be Antoine Ghanem (Parliamentary member, Kataeb, March 14) who was the target, everybody went: “who?”. Yeah who is this guy? Another anonymous elevated to “martyrdom”. At the time of writing this post, the media did not yet confirm the identity of the victim. 6 other people died and many injured. When I reached home, my mom had just arrived and told me that she was in the same street (a bit higher) when the explosion went. The explosion was not that loud she said. She looked a bit in a little shock. She was going to pray for St Rita. She said that St Rita saved her from being 1 minute earlier on the scene. St Rita and the killers all conspire to increase the burden we shoulder, the burden to re-write history. I have to put the AC on because the heat is unbearable. Funny, it has been a while since the last time I noticed how beautiful the sunset can be here towards the sea.

Pearls of Wisdom brought to you by Charles Corm

I found this book at a friend’s house (can’t name him, too ashamed of having this book at his place without knowing about it), a book by Charles Corm, someone the editor of the book labels as: “Un grand libanais”. Of course “libanais” here refers to a bunch of people who survived 6000 years of persecution, seriously, this is written in the preface. This gem is dated from 1934. Check this out friends, oh, and it is written on the page before the start of the poem “translated from Lebanese”:

Langue des phéniciens, ma langue libanaise,
Dont la lettre est sans voix sous les caveaux plombés,
Langue de l’âge d’or, toi qui fus la genèse
De tous les alphabets;

ok… moving on:

Lorsque les Libanais, seuls après les Croisades,
Devant un adversaire encor plus acharné,
En ont dans leurs rochers rompu les barricades
Et l’assaut forcené

… i’m sure you guessed who’s the “adversaire encor plus acharné”… Because here is the best part:

Mon frère musulman, comprenez ma franchise:
Je suis le vrai Liban, sincère et pratiquant;
D’autant plus libanais que ma Foi symbolise
Le coeur du pélican

Si ma ferveur s’attache au dogme de l’Eglise,
C’est qu’Elle est à mes yeux l’universalité;
Car je ne peux croire en un dieu qui divise
L’immense humanité

This guy is really a trip. I decided to quote a little verse of his book “La montagne inspirée”, everytime I feel I am losing the grasp of reality.

The connection between Romans, Jews, and Arabs

Now let’s see if this triggers a déjà-vu:

The Israeli cabinet could soon free 100 Palestinian prisoners from Fatah, the party of embattled Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, public radio reported on Saturday…
The prisoner release would come on the occasion of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting, the radio said. The detainees to be freed would be those who did not take part in deadly attacks on Israelis.

Isn’t it the story of baby Jesus all over again? Substitute the Roman empire for Israel, the jews for the Arabs, the Jewish clerical establishment for Fatah, Jesus and Barabas et al for Fatah and Hamas prisonners (the selection here is crucial), Easter for Ramadan and here you go. Ever shifting roles of dominant and dominated, that is the story of human misery.

About language and an anecdote

Moussa has just asked me a weird question. And I really did not know how to answer. Do you guys happen to know what a “Makari” – مكاري – is in Arabic? It happens to signify the guy who rents donkeys.


Yes.. not the guy who rides, or owns, or sells, or even buys, but the guy who ‘rents’ donkeys!

Can you get me a more specialized language than that? There is not a doubt that Arabic is a very precise language. I’ll give you an example, how can you translate “passion” in Arabic? I have a passion for something. You basically can’t… That’s too much of a general statement, and Arabic likes people who are precise. A passion for what? Is it a hobby? then it’s hiwaya. Is it love for the opposite sex? than it is 3oshq. etc. Let’s give an economic example. What does “interest” mean in Arabic? Again at least 5 different words either having to do with work, hobby, etc.

Another point I’d like to make. A signifier in a language are (and change in function of) the historically determined construction of a society, its economic modes of production, its political and social institutions etc. So I ask myself where does this precision come from? Messick argues that the various texts and traditions making up the Shari’a have the most sophisticated theory of contract without any explicit mention of a precise wording for private property. Another thing Messick says is that round narrowed and homogeneous legal concepts like “human rights” “citizenship” “private property” are a peculiarity of European recent institutional discursive development. The Shari’a in its loose and fluid nature manage to elaborate much more sophisticated concepts because they are never named by one single self-contained word-signifier. But in the age of the nation-state, the systematic accumulation of capital, and techno-scientific development, the more artistic and virtuoso type of legal framework and describer of reality tend to have a hard time adjusting.

Probably one of the reasons why Arabic societies were so porous and vulnerable to colonialist penetration and probably why effective resistance is the one that clinched on the paradigmatic text (as Messick would call the Koran), and other entrenched signifiers. Those commonly called “the Islamists”.

Update1: Moussa just explained to me where did he come up with the word Makari. If any of you watched the imperturbable Berri yesterday with this scumbag Marcel Ghanem he would have heard him answering to the accusations of severely disturbed Walid Jumblatt that “wealthy Shi’as” are buying up land in the south. When Ghanem said that it is Farid Makari (vice president of parliament) who makes these accusations, Berri quite enigmatically answered: “yeah, he would know, he’s the Makari!”
So Moussa rushed to the dictionary to see what it could possibly mean and this is what he could find…

Update2: After listening the third time to the interview, this morning on the radio (yes Moussa is a dilettante home squatter having nothing to do else than listening to the pearls of wisdom of Lebanese politicians), and after exchanging ten emails on the subject, we ended up concluding that this was not what exactly happen yesterday on Kalam el Naas. Actually Makari was referring to Berri’s initiative. Berri launches every once and a while an initiative that calls for compromise, positioning himself as the eternal moderator. Seriously, I remember at least three initiatives of the same kind in the past two years only. Well, one thing is sure the rest of the Lebanese are barking so loud behind their respective fences that one could understand the humanistic drives of Berri. But anyway, that is not the point. Makari qualified Berri’s initiative as a “Bay3et Massa”.
Now here is another linguistic curiosity. This time an expression emanating from the spoken. “Bay3et massa” refers to the vegetables you sell at night, when they are already a bit damaged by the day. It is an expression that means that what one presents as a good is already kind of rotten. To which Berri answered famously: “Sure he knows this stuff, he’s the Makari!”
Do you get it?

The colorful expressions of information

The best way to loose it in the morning is to check the lead of different Lebanese newspapers.

Al-Akhbar had: March 14: “kind” rejection to the Berri initiative [to start dialogue]
L’Orient le Jour: March 14 urges dialogue without conditions
Daily Star: March 14 has yet to answer berri’s proposal

Hehehe Daily Star and its eternal typo problems… you guys should get a blog then you would not worry about anything.

But this is just priceless:

Government sources told The Daily Star that contrary to expectations, the major leaders in the March 14 camp will not be meeting and issuing a statement prior to Berri’s appearance on the “Kalam al-Naas” talk show on Thursday.

Kalam al-Naas is this horrible talk show on LBC with the most obnoxious pro-march14 dude Marcel Ghanem who’s on Hariri’s payroll, interviewing people and asking them the most stupid and blatantly biased questions. The problem is that it works for the average Lebanese and has gained so much notoriety that it became a platform for voicing political official line of this or that part. I mean this is crazy, the Government is waiting for what Berri will say on Kalam al-Naas! Can’t one call the guy? Wake up people! Total wackos are ruling us!

I guess I’ll have to watch Kalam al-Naas tonight… Anyway, this is how things go where I currently happen to live…

National consciousness

Here I just want to throw some ideas around. I have been meaning to write something but the fact that I am trying to produce my miserable thesis does not permit me to invest to many neurones around here. So scattered thoughts here they are:

Let me start with the obvious: Today the Lebanese state is witnessing a crucial step in its formative experience through the war practices of the Lebanese army. Rare are the all-encompassing (non-sectarian) “Lebanese” practices, but the army voice such a discourse, and the people try as hard as possible to claim to abide by it. Lebanese army banners are hanging from many homes from various regions of the country. A lot of people are proud of the army. The politicized side of it comes from those who sends implicit references to Hizbullah saying that “the weapons of the army are the red line”.

In order to do this, the creation of the enemy as a precursor for non-sectarian identification is necessary. The enemy has to be completely alien to possible Lebanese forms. Imported. Not even confessional or tribal. In this case, the enemy is “Sunni Salafism”. Dominant actors try to portray it as having nothing of “lebanese” traits. Just like Hizbullah was or a long time expressed by various ideologues (media, academics, etc.) as being a pure import from Iran.

There is even something vaguely “American” about this way of drawing political boundaries. When the Lebanese army was doing its conference following the end of the Nahr el Bared battle, they were talking of this enemy just like an American general would explain the strategy against al Qaeda. No wonder why the Lebanese are linking Fath el Islam to some Al Qaeda institutional command.

All this said (which opens the door to a lot of inquiry on the practices of Middle Eastern States), it is important I believe not to lose sight of the very important confessional aspect of the institution of the Lebanese army in terms of organizational hierarchy, although we need a close examination of the “anatomy” of the army and see that there are surely differently lived experiences between different confessions fighting together within the army from people who never joined the army (This needs investigation).

At the end of the day, the various “Lebanese subjects” have just added another imaginary to their repertoire. It has not strengthened their national consciousness because not much has changed in their daily social practices. The euphoria following the Lebanese army triumph is ill-founded. The political will not succeed in creating and solidifying new cross-confessional forms of consciousness even if they raise the Al-Qaeda argument for very simple reasons, one being that political actors don’t want that to happen, and two being that nothing changed at the institutional level.

The only problem with such double standards is rising social schizophrenia this population will find itself engulfed in. And collective denials of this sort can breed many political diseases.

Excuse the generalities around the end, but you guys can manage illustrating these.


The previous post has been deleted because I was assuming something in order to say that a journalist was a moron, but it turns out that there was chance that this guy was doing sarcasm. Although the whole article plays on this sarcastic note, I became convinced that it was sarcasm, so without further deliberation I have decided to erase it.

But as I said to Apokraphyte, I kill you all for breakfast.


La vérité de la palice

When the usually Israeli-apologist Human right Watch actually makes the point that Hizbullah did not use civilians as human shields in the latest war and that Israel unjustifiably bombed civilian areas, one must pause and give credit. The distinction is all the more clear in HRW declarations where they say that Hizbullah officials and fighter quickly pulled back to remote valleys and hills where most of their ammunitions where found and ready (planned) to be used. That would explain better that Hizbullah was actually prepared for the war and that Israeli were caught off guard.


What a nice feeling it is to spend one day (Friday 31st) in Baalbeck without it being about either the Roman ruins or some insipid concert taking place inside the ruins. It was really something to start walking towards the entrance of the city, pass by the columns to your left but continuing straight into the actual LIVING quarter where multitudes of people were making their way to watch the ceremony being held by Amal in the memory of Imam Musa Sadr its founder. I don’t feel like commenting too much so here are some pictures that may capture in a much better way traces of that day.