War always

General Hassan ShateriI was listening to Hizbullah’s Al Nour radio station two days ago when I heard, in the words of the radio speaker, that the main guy behind the reconstruction of the south, an Iranian engineer, Hassan Shateri, was killed in some kind of an ambush returning from Damascus to Beirut. I was wondering why the Syrian rebels would want to kill an engineer who was responsible for the building of homes in the South and, according still to the speaker, in Iran after the Iran and Iraq war, and in Afghanistan. Basically the guy comes to build after wars in conflict areas.

Next day I stumble across this article in the Guardian titled “Elite Iranian general assassinated near Syria-Lebanese border”. So now things made a bit more sense, although it still is a plus to know that Iranian generals can be sorts of philanthropists after war. Somehow people involved in war do have economic occupations linked to pre-war or post-war possibilities (Dick Cheney may be an example although away from the idea of comparing Shateri to Cheney).

In any case, killing this general along with the multiple events that have been taking place in the past two years are making sure that we are going straight into a regional explosion where Syria will be the main battlefield. For now the forces are not of equal match for a large scale mobilization to become a possibility, although this asymetry unfortunately increasingly resembles the Lebanese wars settings that were prevalent from 1975 to 1990: a weakened state/security complex, lots of parties who stand to gain from keeping it that way, not one party who can (or wants to) actually create a peace situation through hegemonic positioning and a militia economy slowly feeding on itself and largely annoyed if things would come to change.

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The nay to break the silence cycle

I have been meaning to write for quite some time, and ideas are piling up in the draft section of this blog without ever having a chance to click on the “publish post” icon. I came back to London a couple of days ago and have been overwhelmed by a new event that will come to form a lifetime reality. I will be staying here for a week or so and then move back to Beirut for good. Well enough of my personal life, the important thing here is the function I have assigned to myself that is writing when I feel certain things need to be pointed out. When I was in Beirut, there were many things I found interesting to develop but either did not have time to talk about or preferred to keep it for the thesis. My main problem is to choose between ideas that should be developed further, those that could be irrelevant in the context of this blog, and those that I simply want to keep for myself for now.

So “without further due” I would like to share with you an anecdote to break the silence cycle. When I was in Lebanon sometimes after the new year, I went to see Atef Wehbe, a nay maker who is from Saksakieh a village in the south that lies next to the coast a bit before Sour. I play the nay myself (it is a reed wind instrument you can find in the Middle East and a bit in Central Asia), and I always go to Atef to try out and buy new instruments. In any case at some point, I was showing him my new Persian nay that I acquired from an Iranian musician living in London. Iranian nays are slightly different. First of all they have 6 instead of 7 hole, you blow in them with your teeth and tongue rather than with your lips as the arabic and the turks would have it, and a bunch of other differences. Among other things, I was telling him that I learned that Iranians sometimes dip their nay in boiling oil in order to strengthen their wood and give it a dark color. To this he answered with disdain that “they don’t know sh.. about nays”, in a nice impulsive and straightforward manner. And then he backed it up by explaining to me why this would cause harm to the instrument.

Of course this does not mean that the guy has disdain for Iranian neys or let alone Iranians; he personally knows how to play the Persian way although does not play anything from the Persian repertoire. His answer was at best an instinctive defensive answer that basically said implicitly it is here that you can find the best nays. And in effect Atef is probably one of the best nay maker in the Middle East but that’s besides the point.

I remember how once I asked Atef who did he consider himself to be with politically, given the fact that their village has equal amount of Amal and Hizbullah flags/posters. He gave this enigmatic and yet easy and correct response: “Ya Bashir, all the south is resistance, but I don’t follow political interests, I’m a musician”. I loved how he would wrap my newly acquired nays in Amal’s newspaper Al ‘Awasif (the Storms). During the latest Israeli war, Atef got a nice Israeli bomb in his garden, where some of his reeds grow. Fortunately enough, the family was safe but had to escape somewhere in the Bekaa.

I leave you now to connect the nods.

Iranian nationalism oblige

I went to the annual exhibition of Iranian products today, right next to the Phoenicia hotel where some of our parliamentary members are being hosted with American and French money(got it from an insider source…). Well at the very least, it is not the Lebanese state that is paying for their expenses there, a good thing I guess, judging from the tight financial fiscal situation.

Anyway, I found the exhibition very disappointing. Apart from carpets, some vases, and some sweets there weren’t any other Iranian products. On top of that, most of the stands in the exhibition were held by Lebanese businesses. Even in the case of Saffron, which is the typical spice you buy from Iran, people were rushing to the Lebanese stand rather than the one selling Iranian packaged products. The reason was simple: The Iranian saffron was already mixed with tea and held in tea bags. The Lebanese stand had the actual saffron leaves, to be sure, imported from Iran. But along with it it had all kinds of spices, herbs and so forth produced in Lebanon, either from the Bekaa or the South. Everytime the woman holding the stand introduced herself as “I am from the south” she would double the quantity of customers buying. I like the marketing strategy.

But this is not the reason why I am writing this post. There was a Lebanese publishing house that had a huge stand with books on religions, Shi’ism, Khomeini, Hizbullah, alternative medicine, astrology, dreams, basically the books you find published by what has lazily been dubbed as the “hala islamiya”. I asked out of sheer curiosity the guy in charge if he has a book of the Ruba’iyat of Omar Khayyam. And to my greatest surprise he answered ‘of course’. The book is edited in Tehran, and is based on one of the best translation in Arabic (the one of Ahmad al Safi al Najafi). There is a little introduction by the publisher who opens with “in the name of god the merciful and compassionate”, something that would have probably made Khayyam shiver in his grave. Then he continues with a clarification that if he publishes the Ruba’iyat, it does not mean he agrees with Khayyam views on life and what goes with it, but cannot stand insensitive to the beauty of his writing style, and that hence, cannot but render it visible in the name of Iranian culture. Bear in mind that the introduction by the actual tranlator (al Najafi) that is quite important and sheds light on Khayyam’s thought has been cut down to 3 pages (the introduction in the original edition is kind of 20 pages long). On the front page, there is a picture of the statue of Khayyam, and on the back, of his grave, both being public places in Iran.

In this case, Khayyam is a national symbol that Iran cannot do without, and it is interesting to see how its printing sector tries to circumvent the problem without having to mute it completely. Let me just clarify for those who don’t know and who by now should feel very confused, that Khayyam is a a poet of wine, depraved love, enjoyment of the present, and so one and so forth. Now that I check, I like this line in the wikipedia entry on the guy:

Omar Khayyam’s personal beliefs are not very clearly known, but much is discernible from his poetic oeuvre. However, he was clearly quite liberal in his views; e.g. in one of his rubaiya, he apparently says: “Enjoy wine and women and don’t be afraid, God has compassion” (emphasis added)

That pretty much sums up at the very least, the impression Khayyam leaves on humanity. Oh and he was a Mathematician too. Incidentally, there are many funny things in the wikipedia entry on the guy. And you can check the statue and the grave.

Of course, I have never been to Iran, don’t know how many versions of the Rub’iyat are in circulation, don’t know how Khayyam persists in the representation of the different social classes, regions, etc. So I’m just taking this book as an interesting example of print strategy to use a figure you don’t agree with in order to prop up the more important goal of imagined collectivities (Persian or Iranian here).

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.

The rituals of legislative rulings

When the U.S. House of Representative voted to put the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) on the list of terrorist organizations, Iran’s Parliament agreed on qualifying the C.I.A. and the U.S. army of terrorist organizations.

This can be read as follows: Any form of resistance must pass by the vocabulary of the hegemonic, here being the US definition of terrorism, its various uses, and the ability to ‘institutionalize’ the ruling (becoming law through the parliament). Why do Iran bother to pass legislative decrees stating that that these American institutions are ‘terrorists’? The same reason why it deployed all this effort for the ‘holocaust’ convention. The Holocaust convention was not a case of showing antisemitism etc. It was an effort to show that another ‘normalized’ reality could exist and be debated by people.

So why does it bother? Because the new conceptual and descriptive formulations will be uttered and written, it will enter the terms of speech and thus will exist as a political reality. In fact Iran takes very seriously the inner functioning structures of the international system, the U.N. etc. It uses the available system to voice contention. This is the power of symbols, this is what they actually do in a given reality.