Chanson du dernier enfant juif: A poetic interlude with Edmond Jabes (some time between 1943-1945)

Mon père est pendu à l’étoile,
ma mère glisse avec le fleuve,
ma mère luit
mon père est sourd,
dans la nuit qui me renie,
dans le jour qui me détruit.
La pierre est légère.
Le pain ressemble à l’oiseau
et je le regarde voler.
Le sang est sur mes joues.
Mes dents cherchent une bouche moins vide
dans la terre ou dans l’eau,
dans le feu.
Le monde est rouge.
Toutes les grilles sont des lances.
Les cavaliers morts galopent toujours
dans mon sommeil et dans mes yeux.
Sur le corps ravagé du jardin perdu
fleurit une rose, fleurit une main
de rose que je ne serrerai plus.
Les cavaliers de la mort m’emportent.
Je suis né pour les aimer.

Song of the last Jewish child

My father hangs from the star,
my mother slides with the river,
my mother shines
my father is deaf,
in the night that denies me,
in the day that destroys me.
Stone is light
Bread resembles the bird
and I see him fly.
Blood is on my cheeks.
My teeth look for a less empty mouth
in the earth or in the water,
in the fire.
The world is red
All grids are lances.
Dead riders always gallop
in my sleep and in my eyes.
In the ravaged body of the lost garden
blooms a rose, blooms a hand
of rose that I will never squeeze again.
The riders of death take me.
I was born to love them.

(my translation)

On the bankruptcy of the Israeli war machine

Whenever I am angry, I hope that Jamal has written. Because he just can express anger in such a better way  (in arabic we say “bi feshelleh khel’eh”). And here they are, two new posts(1 and 2) after a long absence.

Why Lebanon is definitely not Switzerland

I have been cooking up this post for so long now, ever since the Swiss president paid us a visit, and yet before that, I was thinking that it is time to set the record straight. Yesterday, the leader of the Lebanese Forces Samir Geagea (who we love to talk about on this blog, and here (also here) some background reading) presented his Defense Strategy plan. And again, ever since, because it is always about picking up from the past, ever since Hizbullah’s SG Hassan Nasrallah in a goodwill gesture, mentioned that if one needs to talk about Hizbullah’s weapons, one should first discuss a workable “Defense Strategy plan”, everybody from all ends of the political spectrum seem to have defense plans.

But how the hell would the LF have a Defense plan? Against who? The Syrians? Since when did they perceive the Israelis as their enemy, and since when, oh since when, anything past the ‘Christian cantons’ did matter to them? Well, I mentioned the key word here, Cantons, because Geagea took this as an opportunity to propose to follow the Swiss model of ‘7iyadiyeh’ (neutrality), that is the word used I am still working out how did the ‘Defense Strategy plan’ made him think of Switzerland. First, this is an interesting slip from the original Christian isolationist ideological version, couched in Western-State-building jargon: Federalism. One has to be in tune with fashionable words. “Defense Strategy”, “Consensualism”, that is the stuff one wants to hear on the Lebanese political arena. Basically today, in this tiny shit hole called Lebanon, you don’t talk about Federalism anymore, you just say ‘the Swiss model’, even though no one knows anything about Swiss history and their lack of neutrality that spanned for centuries when their State was being built. But let me address all this by branching out and picking up from the footsteps of that lovely Swiss president who came to visit us some time ago.

Some time in October 2008, when Swiss president Pascal Couchepin listened to his Lebanese counterpart talking about the years of sectarian strife in the Lebanon, Talal Salman reports that Couchepin simply answered “not to worry”, that Switzerland experienced ‘civil war’ for more than a hundred years, only to come down to the conclusion that “people realized that they had to live together whether they want it or not”.

Couchepin was maybe trying to be ‘civil’, or ‘diplomatic’, or maybe he just did not know (just like any other politician) ‘what people think’. The only ‘civil war’ (labeled as such by the official authorized versions of Swiss history) lasted a mere 27 days at some point in 1847, marking a transition between one form of rule and another. This does not mean that people were not divided inside the country for centuries, who knows, probably till now. But the Swiss State actually grew to become strong as it engaged and won battles thanks to a long-time feared army. How come this is so there but not here? How come poor little Lebanon could not have a strong army, or a strong state? When one comes to think about it, not only do we have the ‘divided people’ criteria in common (multi-confessional society) but we also “have banks”, and we tried to remain ‘neutral’ during the “Israeli-Arab conflict” just like Switzerland during the Word Wars. Worse, we actually speak the same language whereas they don’t even do that in Switzerland!

In order to understand this seeming paradox, let’s go back a little. First of all, this ‘We’ I am using refer to political Maronitism who was the first to join the nods that made up this highly imaginative comparison. Political Maronitism basically loved the ‘neutralit’ argument, the ‘confederation’ setting, all supposed to justify their isolationist stances.

In the middle of the twentieth century, theories flourished on what makes up the particularity of Lebanon and one of them, very dear to Christian elites (that was subsequently very much internalized by Muslims as well) was the idea that Lebanon is the Switzerland of the Middle East. Although I would think that the ideological wind will shift hegemonic nationalist discourse towards one based on the idea of “resistance”, we still hear a lot of people from all sorts of social backgrounds saying that Lebanon is like Switzerland more or less. One of the highly useful aspects of this ideological construction is that it could ultimately legitimize the idea of a federal state and of a inoffensive army. As used to say Pierre Gemayel (father of Kataeb cum LF), the strength of Lebanon is in its weakness. In the ideological euphoria of the 50s and 60s we hear people talk about ‘confederation’, a laughable term in Lebanese standards judging by how the actual Swiss confederation came into being, through wars, and the strengthening of an army.

The first irony to mention here is that Switzerland may be the oldest ‘state’ or political arrangement alive today. What is called the Old confederacy was instituted in 1291, so roughly when say the Ottoman empire was starting to enjoy monopoly over what can be labeled as “Islamic” territory. So yes, one cannot say the same thing about our dear Lebanon who in fact is a late colonial creation (compared to India say, or Latin American states). But more importantly, the Swiss confederacy emerged ‘from within’, as an alliance between several commercial hubs (city-states) that facilitated trade between them. This alliance became so strong that it could military rival neighboring powers. These dudes were so keen on having their interests (namely economic) preserved and trade channels unchallenged by the conquering fantasies of neighboring kings that they ended up agreeing on a political formula. We are very far from Lebanese standards: Lebanon is created by a colonial power (France) and strongly lobbied by one paranoid sect of the Middle East (the Maronites) that happened to be quite concentrated in a particular mountainous region, as an alleged mean to protect itself from, yet at the same time dominate the other neighboring sects and groups.

This basic difference is just huge. First and foremost it foreclosed the possibility of initial ‘homegrown’ contract or agreement. And in the first place there was no need for any such agreement because only the Christians were calling for this isolationist stance, while other groups were content with having some kind of a pan-Arab form of rule. So even if the Christians wanted, with the best intentions at heart, to have an agreement with the different non-Christian groups convincing them of the economic and political utility of the creation of the Lebanese entity, that would not have worked in the first place. So it locked the project of building a State and sharing power through outside alliance to protect the divisions in place.

But ideologies flourished. The analogy to the Swiss model was used to legitimize other segmenting drives. It brought substance to the idea that Lebanon’s economy strive through the strength of its banks, another laughable statement judging from how poorly they fair today. The whole ‘service economy’  argument, developed by lauded ideologues such as Michel Chiha, all these pieces were fitting in this big puzzle called ‘the Swiss model’ , that the Lebanese were creating for themselves, imagining a Switzerland of their own, each group to his own benefit.

And yet the biggest difference still remained at the ‘existential’ level:  Switzerland’s various groups came together to protect themselves against outside intervention, whereas in Lebanon it is the various local groups who pick outside actors to protect them against ‘inside intervention’!

There are so many unexplored sites when one opens this highly ridiculous analogy. I prefer to focus on a couple of points as this post is already too long. But just as another area that could be explored, it seems flagrant to me why Federalism as an ideology, a system of thought (but not as a de-facto option, the distinction is huge) is so alien to Hizbullah’s political culture. The idea of Federalism in Lebanon, ferociously lobbied by Christian elites can only emerge from there, from an isolationist trend that in the first place led to the establishment of the State of Lebanon. And that’s isolation from within, against the ‘other’ within the delineated territory, and that is one of the crucial difference with Switzerland. The way Hizbullah dealt with the ‘other’, the way also it conceptualized itself in re-action to the ‘other’ followed diametrically opposed trajectories than the Christian one. I will write more on that later.

And I leave you with this brilliant line from a Chinese newspaper article writing on Couchepin’s October visit to Lebanon:

This was the first visit of a Swiss leader to Lebanon, however, the Swiss model has been seen as convenient to apply to Lebanon due to the similarity of having various factions in the same country.

Don’t you love the “however”? If you thought the Americans don’t know where Lebanon is on a map, well, see how the next superpower looks at the miserable 10,542 km2

Democracy for you

What is mostly fascinating in Lebanon is that it presents an excellent example of the fictions of democracy. It renders visible the inherent tension between power/authority necessary for rules and decisions to be taken and people’s ‘bread and circus’ the democratic processes where unlike the Roman setting, here, we are made to believe that ‘everybody has an opinion that has to be taken into consideration’.

But authority discriminates inherently. State (and Nations) are built on this fundamental principle. Language, histories, territory, etc change based on this inherent violent founding act.

People are quite content to talk about democracy, liberalism, and the right to choose a leader, when the most basic violation has already happened: that people are defined by the very authority they think they are choosing, the very way authority is structured in the first place. In this case, people never choose, they are born and grow up in a conditioning state, established by the local legislative contexts and the relation to a history, a past they inherited from others before them.

Do you choose to be an American, a Lebanese, or anything else that authority sanctions before you are even born?

And in effect, Lebanon is a flagrant example of this because it has several layers of conditioning hierarchies while championing the discourse of democracy and rights et al. First there is the absurd positing of Lebanon as an entity with a State that barely functions. Today, no one questions this fact. Second, the confessional system which in the way it was established here (I will draw your attention to the radical difference with the Swiss case in a later post) precludes the possibility of building a State. Democracy here (the actual act of voting in the legislative and municipal elections) is set to strengthen this status-quo by renewing the acceptance of this newly conceived ‘society’, or ‘civil society’ (another absurd term), of the prevailing divisive and discriminatory system (to the different ‘confessions’ of the territory, and to who is conceived as ‘non-Lebanese’).

Democracy, in the case of Lebanon, has this added element that it fosters, year after year, the schizophrenia of people that must answer to the jurisdiction of that State.

The Written: A poetic interlude with Ali Bin Abi Taleb

ايها الكاتبُ ما تكْتبُ مكتوبٌ عليكَ

فاجعل المكتوبَ خيراً فهو مردودٌ إليك

الامام علي بن أبي طالب

Oh writer what you write is written upon you

So make the written a virtue as it is returned to you

Al Imam Ali Bin Abi Taleb (my translation)

Playing with guns: An event among others in Nahr el Bared

The guy on the right got a bullet in the head a couple of minutes after this picture was taken. As he seemed still alive, it is the photoprapher of this picture, Bilal Jawish, who could retrieve him from the battlefield the army not daring to approach him to get him out. It seems that he survived although it was not known in what condition. This happened on the 20th of May 2007.

Aoun parading in Damascus

Sometimes Al Akhbar becomes such a trashy Nationalist newspaper. Everybody has been commenting about Michel Aoun’s visit to Syria, some describing it as a visit to the devil (I’ll let you guess which media outlet) and others going as far as saying that it’s the most important post-Taef visit.

So the screams of the Lebanese president Michel Suleiman from Germany that only heads of state should make visits to other heads of State seems to have fell into deaf ear, because if one has to believe the account of Al Akhbar today, Aoun had a very intense love affair with Asad while threatening Israel that if they don’t let the Palestinian refugees return, they will ‘regret it’.

I should probably stop here and remind Aoun that the only dudes who can threaten Israel are Hizbullah, and even if he thinks he’s talking on their behalf or trying to look good in front of them, or worse if he’s trying to profit from this situation of ‘force’ in which Hizbullah got Lebanese into in order to advance Christian interests of seeing Palestinians go home, all this seems pitiful.

But to return to Al Akhbar, the journalist of this article explains to us how Aoun had ‘Arabic’ ice cream and strolled around the Omayyad mosque.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that what Aoun is doing since his alliance with Hizbullah is what every Christian leader should be doing, but let’s just calm down in terms of rhetoric because the contrast with the isolationists has never been that great. Stop nationalistic romanticism. Everybody has his own agenda, and although this can surely contribute to peace and stability if it is played out correctly, it does not mean that it is anything but that: different political calculations, and nothing to mystify.

But medias are the new priests (in the pejorative sense of the term of modernity. They want to educate, rewrite history or relation to history, and make people think that there is something called ‘The Lebanese’ or at least that it is in the making, a making they shape for them. That’s one aspect of Freedom of Speech for you: the creation of social, political and cultural difference based on an imagined sense of belonging.

‘Informed’ information

People deplore the fact there is no “neutral” press in Lebanon, or for that matter in other parts of the world. People don’t realize that press ‘neutrality’ does not exist indeed cannot exist, because of the very structure of a press outlet. Newspapers, TV or whatever are bound by the territory or the history in which they inscribe the information they publish. The first and foremost ideology a newspaper projects is a national one. Lebanon has several versions of that. Every newspaper project several construction of what “the Lebanese” is, as opposed to others.

The real question to ask is why the hell people think that press neutrality could exist? What are the various factors, powers, etc. that contributed to convince people of such an absurd thing? It is a bit like the fact people are convinced that they are ‘free’ that something called ‘freedom’ exist, that the concept we have of it has a direct link to something being played out in reality.

Extraits du livre des questions

“Je ne t’ai pas cherchée Sarah. Je te cherchais. Par toi, je remonte à l’origine du signe, à l’écriture non formulée qu’esquisse le vent sur le sable et sur la mer, à l’écriture sauvage de l’oiseau et du poisson espiègle. Dieu, Maître du vent, Maître du sable, Maître des oiseaux et des poissons, attendait de l’homme le livre que l’homme attendait de l’homme; l’un pour être enfin Dieu, l’autre pour être enfin l’homme…”

“Toutes les lettres forment l’absence. Ainsi Dieu est l’enfant de son nom.”

Edmond Jabès, Le livre des questions, Gallimard, 1963