The salience of the concept of martyrdom

Instead of a tree (as used by Hizbullah), the army seems to use its logo as a kind of schema to portray some of its combatants that died during the recent battles.
The concept of doing skeletons of martyrs if I may call it this way has the peculiar effect of constructing collective imaginaries (nationalism, etc.) around the crystallization of the militant deeds of these actors for the sake of the common cause.
Of course it does not mean that the army has exactly that in mind when doing it. It just signals how modes of expression travel well, and are empowered (given meaning) at various points in time. And here as this liner suggest (Lebanon triumphs thanks to the union of its army), martyrdom helps to create the idea that the Lebanese army is a living organism on its own feeding on the memory of those who died, strengthening the image of a unified institution, an image mirroring the projected dream of a nation.

By the way, I was at the Arabic book forum a couple of days ago, and saw that the Internal Security Forces had their own stand there, selling a huge book full of pictures about (and detailed account of), the ISF’s martyrs from the creation of this institution (before the independence and creation of the Lebanese state, during the French mandate) to this very day practically. It made sure to include the last year.

a final note on caring

I take the liberty to update my fellow readers on what Al Manar is airing, as I am sure few of you (and you are already quite a few) watch the channel. From today onwards there will be on Al Manar TV a daily film (at 2h30pm) on the life of Al Sayida Mariam (the mother of Jesus), and in the previews I am sure I heard people talking about… the messiah.

More caring and some pedagogy

Manar TV (Hizbullah related) ran today a series of interviews with priests and Christian activists from and in Bethlehem (it was a live show), interpreting the birth of Jesus (that is commonly confused with the capitalist commercialized Christmas) as a communal celebration with the current state of affairs in Palestinian. It seems that this particular Christian celebration in Bethlehem takes a little militant turn and is used as a platform to denounce the racist and apartheid-like policies of the Zionist state.

There was an interesting priest talking from Al Manar’s studio with the host of the show. I could not get his name and whether he was Lebanese or Palestinian but he sure knew how to speak. Ironically, a socially militant Christian should turn to al Manar as a source of inspiration. I mean what can he get out of these wanna-be aristocrat Lebanese Maronite (and other) bishops for example? When did we ever see any of these conservatives talk about Palestine and other oppressive environments on a day like Christmas? Their Church sermons that are all over the Christian related TV channels are all about either some vague interpretation of the birth of Jesus as a source of peace, of God’s message of love. The only political undertones in Church’s sermons revolve around nationalistic self-preservation and elitist discursive articulations.

The original, not the fake (الأصلي مش التقليد)

Caption says: this is the “original”, el Asli (the one and only, unique, true) general

People often ask in Lebanon, when you buy a pair of Levis Jeans or some ‘famous’ brand, whether it is the original or some copy of the brand. It is not hard to guess what was thought to be the fake in this case. The one who can guess wins a special candy. Interestingly enough, nobody is claiming to be behind this new personality marketing campaign in Lebanon and according to this article nobody knows who’s doing it. It seems that the Lebanese army is out of this one.


Angry Arab wrote:

The Obituary of Kahlil Gibran (we call him Jubran Khalil Jubran in Arabic). I looked up last night the obituary of Kahlil Gibran in the New York Times from April 1931. The headline went like this: “Khalil Gibran dead; Noted Syrian poet.” The subtitle said: “Wrote in Arabic and English–Native of Palestine, He had lived there for 20 years.” The text later said that “He was born in Mount Lebanon, Palestine.”

Jubran (the pride of Marounistan Lebanon, that probably does not understand much of maronite Jubran) wrote of himself as a Syrian from Mount Lebanon which was until the declaration of independence of Lebanon (in 1943) considered to be part of a region called Syria (or Sham).

It starts somewhere between Chile and El Salvador

On March 24, 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador, El Salador, was gunned down before his congregation while celebrating mass, by a right-wing militant (allegedly a member of a group called the White Warrior Union). Two weeks before he told a journalist the following:

I have often been threatened with death. Nevertheless, as a Christian, I do not believe in death without resurrection. If they kill me, I shall arise in the Salvadoran people. Martyrdom is a grace of God that I do not believe I deserve. But if God accepts the sacrifice of my life, let my blood be a seed of freedom. Let my death be for the liberation of my people.

Some twenty years before that a Columbian priest Camilo Torres organized a United Front to link together peasants, slum dwellers, workers, and professionals to work for social change and joined the guerrilla Army of National Liberation. After meeting fierce opposition from Church instances, Torres finally renounced his priesthood and was quoted saying:

I took off my cassock to be more truly a piest, (…) the duty of every Catholic is to be a revolutionary, the duty of every revolutionary is to make the revolution, (…) the catholic who is not a revolutionary is living in mortal sin.

On February 16, 1966, in an army ambush and counterattack, Torres was shot and killed.

I have been working on what was called Liberation Theologians for some time now and refrained from writing anything on the subject. I don’t want to bore you with all the theoretical considerations this entails when comparing with a movement like Hizbullah, but I wish to make two remarks here:

1- What I find amazing is how an age old considered-conservative establishment such as the Christian Catholic Church was turned and lived for a couple of years as a socially revolutionary institution. Interesting theoretical debates were taking place from the Vatican to Latin America. From its initial organizational spread, ‘red bishops’ as they were called were collecting victory after victory and although the conservative turn taken by Jean Paul two (we-love-you) has severely undermined the clerical foundation of the movement, they still are a powerful force to consider. In the case of Hizbullah, the various schools in Iraq and Iran have hosted the dialectical elaboration of a new class of clerics, and then the backing that emerged from the Iranian revolution has all contributed to this explosion of socially-oriented activism.

2- The State institutional setting in Latin America differ greatly from the one present in the Middle East. In the former, nationalist movements bear more on the construction of imagined communities, whereas in the Middle East, Islamic idioms are much more salient. And in parallel Latin America has a legal system directly installed by the secular tradition whereas in the Middle East, the secular tradition had to navigate its way through an age-old legal Islamic tradition that was sometimes badly integrated and sometimes totally compromised. This means then that Liberation Theologians and Islamic movements work in completely different institutional environment and have totally different agendas in their relation with the State, their conceptualization of secularism, nationalism, the role of religion (a word that needs to be defined).

2- Cultural idioms follow paths set by their institutional background when expressing a social reality. See for example how the idea of resurrection in the first citation is linked to a victorious act in turn assumed by the people at large. This articulation of victory through self-annihilation for a social purpose is dictated by a particular ethical stand though framed through institutional age-old elaboration: In his case the person is “being Christian”, in the other he is “being Muslim”. The term Christian or Muslim is void of signification except through the particular historical reality that empowers these terms in the militant Act, action (الفعل), that is political par excellence. Being then is a social process.

But more on this later.


I love it… Al Manar TV station that is close to Hizbullah has a very recurrent ad about the celebration of the birth of the prophet Jesus (Yasu3), son of Mariam, inviting viewers to pray and ponder on the event over the same type of fairy music they air for Eid el Adha, Eid Moubarak, and other related events.

Somebody should tell them that he is the son of God for crying out loud…

Back to Beirut, the true extent of divisions

If I could write everything or even a selection of the things that went through my mind since I arrived here a couple of days ago, it would really be a disaster and luckily enough I am too lazy to do that. But there is probably one thing I can mention that has profoundly shocked me among the myriad of things that were disturbing and that I think should be said out loud: Falafel Sahyoun has split in two…

There are now two Falafel Sahyoun on the road that leads to downtown where the opposition tents are slowly rotting. They are stuck to each other, and the first time I saw the new shop, I passed by and said mabrouk thinking that they enlarged the restaurant (or snack as we call this type of eat-standing-in place). But today when I went again to eat in the new place, there wasn’t enough falafel to make a sandwich so the guy had to fry some more. When I said that I was in a hurry and that I will just pop into the other branch, he answered “but it is not the same place”. At this point the woman sitting at the cashiers desk started talking fast explaining that this is the real falafel Sahyoun the one and only Mustafa Sahyoun whereas the other is held by his brother.

I am still trying to get over this tragedy.

C’est pas moi c’est lui

Bank Hapoalim and Israel Discount Bank are facing charges in New York federal court that they violated American anti-terrorism finance laws by allegedly serving as a conduit for Hamas. The accusations come from the Arab Bank of Jordan, which was first accused of similar charges and is now striking back by throwing the charges at the Israeli banks.

Thank god the American public institutions are here to be more rigorous than the Israelis in the fight against terrorism:

The Defense Ministry’s Web site, for example, lists 200 organizations as terrorist entities with which Israeli banks are barred from conducting financial transactions. The list’s American equivalent, by contrast, includes roughly 800 organizations. There is only one entry for Hamas on the Israeli list, whereas the American list has some 30 charities and individuals tied to the Islamist group.
The consequences of the muddled situation emerged in September, when Israeli authorities discovered that roughly $745,000 transferred by Israel Discount Bank ended up in the coffers of the Executive Force, Hamas’s main security force in Gaza. The money, which was classified as wages paid out by the Palestinian Authority, was wired to Executive Force-controlled accounts at the Palestine Islamic Bank in Gaza.

Past and practically current events in the life of Brid. Gen. el-Hajj

So a quick recap of Brigadier Francois el-Hajj’s military history in reverse chronological order

1- Played a central role in the destruction and defeat of Fath al Islam’s forces in Nahr el Bared.
2- Lead battles against the bad guys in Deniyeh (replicas of Fath al Islam) 7 years ago, only to find them released along with Samir Geagea in the euphoria run-up of the cedar revolution.
3- Countered Lebanese Forces attacks in 1989 moments after Geagea (leader of LF) assured him that the army (under the command of General Aoun at the time) won’t be attacked. Hajj accordingly led the attack from Qolei3at and pushed LF forces back to Nahr el Mot.
4- Escaped an Israeli-LF assassination’s attempt back in 1976, after Bashir Gemayel’s forces (LF old face) had asked him to coordinate with the Israelis in order to set up a security zone in the south, to which he refused.

Now consider this:

1- El-Hajj is from Rmeish (Christian), a border village with Israel that is a couple of minutes away from Ayta Shaab (Shiite) famous for its fierce resistance to Israel incursions (especially during the last war). During the latest Israeli murderous adventure, most people from Ayta sought refuge in Rmeish their neighbors with whom they have strong ties due to their common economic work (tobacco cultivation) and age-old family friendships. Considering the fact that Hizbullah and the Lebanese army were coordinating on many levels, I would not be exaggerating if I say that it is possible that people like El-Hajj played key roles in that process. People like that are either preciously cherished (politically I mean), or vehemently hated.

2- El Hajj was going to be the next General of the army.

3- This and that.

Does this look like a guy the “Syrian-Iranian axis” would try to kill? Only if they want to shoot themselves in the foot. More on this later.

الأوجه المختلفة للفراغ

من خلال تناوله فكرة الفراغوطريقته المميزة لإختيار عبارات ولغة خاصة، يعرض زياد رحباني ثمة من الإشارات لرموز سياسية وإجتماعية متداولة بين الأقطاب اللبنانية المختلفة:

بقي أمامنا عملياً المجهول والفراغ. وقد استُنفرت جميع الطاقات الوطنية ومناراتِ الإدراكِ والحكمة، واتُخذت كامل الاستعدادات الأمنية والدستورية للدخول بسلاسةٍ من الهاوية إلى الفراغ بدل أن تُتْرَك البلاد للمجهول. ودخلنا فعلاً وبخطى ثابتةٍ في «الفراغ الهادئ». والحمد للّه أننا لم ندخل في الفراغ! لكن، ورغم المهارة في دخول الفراغ الهادئ بسلامة، لاحظت بعض الأصوات الواعية الرصينة أن الخوف الفعلي ليس من الفراغ الحالي، بل من الاستمرار في الفراغ. فالاستمرار في الفراغ هذا، هو الذي قد يدخلنا في الفراغ فعلاً! وقد أبدى بعض النواب المسيحيين تخوّفاً من «التعوّد على الفراغ» الذي هو أخطر من الفراغ الموعود. وقد شدّد البطريرك صفير قبل أيام ثلاثة على أن تعديل الدستور أفضل من الفراغ. وهو لا يقصد بالطبع الفراغ الذهبيّ الحالي، بل الفراغ الآتي: فراغ الراشدين، الفراغ المشترك.
لا شكَّ في أن الفراغ الحالي مميّزٌ وفعّال، لكن من المستحسن أن يتمَّ الاستسلام إليه مرّة في الأسبوع على الأكثر، أو كفراغٍ عند اللزوم خشية الوقوع في الفراغ السليم! وعليكم بـ«الفراغ الصيني» باقي أيام الأسبوع، فهو نوعٌ من «الفراغ بالأعشاب» الصحّي والمهدّئ الذي سيهيّؤكم لاستقبال «الفراغ السحري للأطفال» القادم مع عيدَي الأضحى والميلاد. ماذا؟ وهل تفضّلون الدخول في المجهول؟ دعوا المجهو للسنة الجديدة.

The beautiful things you find in a dictionary

Most of you know that the name Hadi (هادي), is an Arabic adjective that means the guide, counselor, leader, etc, a name popularized after Nasrallah’s (the SG of Hizbullah) martyred eldest son. But I bet that few of you know (I had no clue personally) that the root verb Hâda (هَادَ) means ‘to become a jew’ to ‘judaize’. Of course this is different from the actual root verb Hadâ (هدى) that actually means ‘to guide’. But “il s’en est fallu de peu” as the French would say…

Iraq’s occupation: the role of the UN

There is a very interesting article in Al Akhbar on the role the UN (along with the US and UK) plays in crystallizing the division between executive and legislative powers in Iraq (empowering the former, and bypassing the constitutional rights of the latter, a constitution they not only imposed on Iraqis but are happy to violate). The examples include the decision to keep international forces (mainly American) in the country, something Parliamentary members whether Kurds, Arabs, Sunnis, Shi’as and what have you have dominantly voted against but was rejected by executive power and sanctified by a UN resolution.

The difference between ideology and reality

Even Iraqi officials acknowledge it:

Mowaffak al-Rubbaie, Iraq’s national security adviser… called on Washington to engage with both Damascus and Tehran, warning that security in the Gulf was interlinked and “you cannot stabilise Iraq and destabilise Iran”.
Speaking at a conference in Bahrain, Mr Rubbaie sought to assuage fears that Iraq faced the threat of falling under Iranian dominance, saying that Baghdad was working on a long-term strategic agreement with the US that would underline its outlook towards the west.

Some Lebanese are still fantasizing nonetheless (in awful terms):

America has instigated democracy lovers in Lebanon. Yet now that they have stood up, America seems willing to stand down. It’s taking the easy way out by talking to weakened Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and rewarding him with a free hand in Lebanon to finish off the freedom fighters.

The obsession

Senior Israeli officials warned yesterday that they were still considering a military strike against Iran, despite a fresh US intelligence report that concluded Tehran was no longer developing nuclear weapons.
However, it is widely assumed that Israel would need US approval, if not cooperation, for a bombing mission. In particular, its air force would need the US flight codes that would allow its planes to cross into Iran. When Israel requested those codes in 1991 to attack Iraq during the first Gulf war, the United States refused and there was no Israeli strike.

Russians in Nabatieh and Lebanese public culture

There was an interesting article in Al Akhbar two days ago about an estimated 1100 Russian women living in Nabatieh, married with locals, and engaged in all sorts of social activities from working in hospitals to teaching music. There is an important point worth mentioning here and that is the interesting cultural mix that results from Russian-(south of)Lebanon exposure. Lebanese that flew to Russia have I would speculate a ‘leftist’ past, and still are pretty much immersed in these ideas even if sometimes through a Shi’ite narrative. Here, I am not trying to say that behind ‘Shi’ism’ lies Leftism far from it as Leftism itself is a historical construct, but just that similar social concerns and perspective of reality and social life are serving as basis for action. And this is probably why Russian women can get along with them.

Last summer, I met a former Communist fighter who was married to a Russian woman of whom he had two kids. When I asked him about his political views and history of activism, he told me how he was attracted by the social ideals of the communist party (that had an influential institutional presence in the south) in the 60s and 70s and how he still abides by them while having a total respect for Hizbullah. He told me about how he used to carry out operations against the Israelis alongside Hizbullah although without directly coordinating with the latter. His wife is an ex gymnast champion, and his daughter who was probably 10 years old was set to become one. She exemplifies the former soviet culture of ‘State achievement’ that many Soviet went through. Her husband was very much versed into this public-state organic relation.

But beyond this, if you are looking for a public culture in Lebanon, this is where you should search primarily. Most of these people have studied in the mostly abandoned state-owned public schools, and later on universities. As an example, the vice-secretary general of Hizbullah Naim Qassem is a chemistry graduate of the Lebanese university. People who have actually used the little amount of public services offered by the Lebanese state are mostly Shi’a from the south, the Bekaa and the suburbs of the capital. It is ironic today that people accusing Hizbullah of having no ‘culture of the Lebanese state’, as it installs ‘a state within a state’ do not realize that paradoxically it is quite the reverse: Most of these people have a much more attuned sense of what the Lebanese State can potentially offer because they experienced it in their everyday life and had to make their choices of work, carrier, etc. based on that. Unfortunately today, Hizbullah risk slowly becoming like the rest of the Lebanese that is to use the State for opportunistic reason, as a front for more effectively fulfilled confessional-clientelist interests.

There are also other portions of the population whether Christians, Sunnis, Druze or what have you that also have been around these genuinely public institutions. Unfortunately, they are still locked in confessional political constraints and forced to be represented by their parochial elites. On another note, most of the richer classes of people across confessions, or let say those who managed to pay for their kids not to go in these schools and put them (gladly for most of them) in specifically confessional schools (which is the majority of schools that are privately held) have zero ‘public culture’ as in Lebanese in a comprehensive way. So here you go, do the math (it is my new favorite expression by the way).

Naharnet and 14th of March psychological associations

Medias in Lebanon are more divided than the actual politicians they defend because they have this possibility to just play with the written and do all sorts of verbal acrobatics just because they can fantasize at will about their projected demons. Check this out (Sorry cannot put the link because Naharnet’s website is really bad. The actual link for this article now leads you to another one):

Hundreds of opposition supporters rallied in downtown Beirut on Saturday to mark the first anniversary of the Hizbullah-led sit-in that has sent 2,700 people unemployed and forced closure of 75 restaurants and coffee shops.

What you just read is a typical psychological association made among the 14th of March supporters. The sentence seems heavy like this (could have been divided in two parts for example) but precisely because it translate the immediate reaction people have when they think of ‘the opposition’, ‘the tents’, etc. It is almost funny (like a kid trying to make a point). Of course, more importantly, you don’t lead about opposition going to the street without saying why they went into the street in the first place. That is not important for the writers. What’s important is to find things that demonize a contentious act that could otherwise be viewed as genuinely popular.

Changes in the Phalangist party

The inevitable has finally happened, Loubnanouna will merge into the Kataeb party. Loubnanouna is a party founded by Sami Gemayel, son of Amin Gemayel, former president and current leader of the Phalange party, that advocates federalism as a the best solution to Lebanon’s confessional divisions. Accordingly, Sami will occupy an important position in the party headed by his father (and with whom he had a previous fall out), while Karim Pakradouni the previous leader of one, say, more moderate branch of the party is resigning. There is a not-that-great-but-better-than-nothing article on the subject in Al-Akhbar. I have come to change my mind a lot about Loubnanouna and its possible rise and institutionalization in Lebanese political life. But the crystallization of ‘federalist’ ideas in more entrenched political parties is worrisome. The Kataeb as a party has come a long way to finally compromise on many issues, starting from being a para-military group wary of the State during the French mandate to reach its apex in the seizure of State’s institutions during the civil war, to finally co-opt with the Syrians (meaning understanding certain political realities). Loubnanouna represent a new breath of energy, of young radicalism that can upset this balance. More on this later.

طلال سلمان في السفير

ويزدهي اللبنانيون عموماً بأن يُقال عن وطنهم الصغير، منظوراً إليه من خلال يومياته السياسية وتحوّلات قياداته وزعاماته ومرجعياته الروحية، إنه بلد الأعاجيب والألاعيب والسراديب، وقد يضيف البعض و«الأكاذيب»، وأن الظاهر فيه غير الباطن، وللباطن باطن وربما بواطن، والبواطن دول، والدول مصالح، وعند اختلاف الدول إحفظ رأسك مرة، أما عند اتفاقها فاحفظ رأسك مرتين!

طلال سلمان، 1-12-2007، على الطريق