Priceless quotes

Every time I come here, I get so supercharged with energy,” she said. “I truly believe that Israel is the energy center of the world. And I also believe that if we can all live together in harmony in this place, then we can live in peace all over the world.


So now don’t make a fuss
if you hear Madonna could not make it to Baalbeck or Beiteddine. Seriously… Supercharged! Did she mean nuclear energy?i

Rome to Beirut or Tel Aviv

The airport of Rome sticks the gate of the plane going to Beirut to the one going to Tel Aviv. Every single time I use Italian airports for flight connections it is the same story. It could be taken as a lesson of ill-directed pride. It could be read as something like: for us you are the same, chunks of lands juxtaposed, bunch of brown people with similar attributes, so your gates should be just like Paris and Brussels, gates next to each other. Or it could be read as laziness to separate both gates just because there is a conflict between the two post-colonial countries even tough ironically enough, the actual planes are separated because of “security issues”…

I usually go and sit between the Israeli crowd. As I am early, only one Rabbi sits there with his usual big belly eating a sandwich. I take out my laptop and starts listening to Bach’s art of the fugue (blabla). Try that, listen to Bach gently setting a serene almost mystical atmosphere while seeing Israelis arrive. Slowly emerge out of nowhere passenger after passenger and this weird feeling of being surrounded by something different, hostile but exiting overtake me. “Khkhkh” that’s all I can hear. I try to rationalize things thinking that these are individuals, mostly harmless “civilians” as prevailing political legal structures would have it, but my mind seem to evade my will. I always play this game actually. Every time I travel and the occasion presents itself I do that, I go and sit with the Israelis, and each time, I try to feel somewhat differently, this overbearing feeling of irritation but struggle to understand and subliminally ‘reach out’.

This time I listen to a conversation next to me, and it is in Lebanese Arabic. At first, it seems like these two men are Lebanese, like me, and thought of playing this stupid game of “sitting between the Israelis.” But it turns out these are Lebanese who live in Israel. Later on, I sat between the Lebanese, the ones sitting for the plane leaving to Beirut, and I watched the other Lebanese board on the plane to Tel Aviv. I want to wave them goodbye, do something, anything. And then the brouhaha of spoken Lebanese slowly embraced me and gradually tame my ardors. There were more pressing voices bursting into my thoughts. Our own divisions is the subject of the day. The recent armed clashes in Beirut, the various political squabbles following the election of the new parliament, the appointment of Saad Hariri as prime minister, the Sunni-Shi’ite conflict, the increasingly scared Christians and their ill-understood liberty, and so on, and so on…

I give a couple of clicks to my computer and listen to Zaki Murad, that great Jewish Egyptian singer of the early 1900s: Yes’ed layalik, laya…alik, ya…a…a…amar! Akh ya Zaki…

The same Caspit revealed last week that Obama’s chief of staff and resident Israel expert in the White House, Rahm Emanuel, referred to Netanyahu in closed conversations as a “bullshitter.

Rome, avocados, and post colonial thoughts

Today we went to the ‘ethnic’ market (the place where liberal States frame their acceptance of the ‘other’, and let him sell his goods). Avocados looked nice at one particular stand but I was quickly repulsed by an etiquette saying that they came from Israel. Call it an ‘Arab’ reflex, this little chill down your spine when you something or someone baring the mark of ‘the Israeli’, but hey, can’t help it. How many countries produce avocados around the world? And its Israel who gets to have its avocados on the lucrative EU markets. I don’t think this is what economists call ‘competition’…

So why oh why do the Europeans import their avocados from Israel? Because of something called a ‘preferential trade agreement‘. There seems to be a petition to suspend the EU-Israel agreement (not that I believe in petitions but you could go sign it).

Anyway so I quickly stepped away from this vegetable/fruit place and went to another one whose avocados looked nicer. As I could not find a country of origin displayed, I asked the guy if he knew where these avocados were from. The guy diligently started looking between boxes until he finally claimed triumphantly pointing his finger to one label that they were from South Africa. I couldn’t help but think of the once prevalent Apartheid regime and all that, but then I’m like, the hell with it, it is still better than buying Israeli, and as I am paying the guy, he asks me where I am from, I answer him and return the question to which he answers: Bengladesh. And so being a bit surprised, judging from his light color of skin (forgive my quick stereotype here), I tell him that I thought he was Spanish or something. He immediately screams with a huge smile: Thank you!

Ok so what was this all about? Bengladeshis wanting to be Spaniards or anything else European for that matter. This is what it was all about. The ‘colonized’ wants to be like the once ‘colonial’ and today ‘European’. Antonio Gramsci (being in Rome I should refer to Italians) once explained that Marxist revolution in terms of the appearance of working class consciousness was not going to work just like that because ‘the poor’ wants to become ‘the rich’, to emulate him, to identify to the image he makes of ‘the rich’. This could be extended to any type of social distinguishing group (so instead of class we could thing of any ‘type’ of social group). The colonized/colonizing, first world/third world, us/them basically, given that ‘them’ looks more afluent or powerful, more at ease etc.

Zionism’s symbolic struggle

I always find the best stories in Forward. Check this article telling the story of Israeli far-right political parliamentary members trying to push for a law that would actually strip Arabic of its official language status (alongside Hebrew).

Some thoughts on Hizbullah since Mughnieh’s assassination

Don’t ask me exactly why but I changed my mind. I woke up this morning thinking about the blog. I thought that the beast could probably heal. For those who know me personally, they have seen how lunatic I can be. So I will start with Ms Levantine’s note. I will summarize what I think should be remembered following Mughnieh’s assassination. There are several events that need to be taken into consideration:

1- Hizbullah’s reaction to the assassination
2- Hizbullah’s reaction to how the assassination was reported, and how Mughnieh was represented in the press and through other producers of information
3- Israel’s reaction and US reaction

First of all, it is with few hesitations that I think that Israel carried out the assassination. By that I mean secret service cells working for the Israeli or Mossad in one way or another. Syria killing a guy of that stature for some hypothetical deal with the Americans especially with the given power configuration is just absurd. But let’s leave this consideration as an open question so that I am not taxed of dogmatism. However, trying to answer this question distances us from the more important political and social development happening on the ground, post-assassination.

1- Hizbullah has focused on its likely constituency. What the party calls its Mujtama’ el Muqawama, its “the society of resistance” (an interestingly changing discursive construction that scholars on Hizbullah mistakenly read literally, at its face value, more on that later). Mughnieh was quickly transformed into the greatest hero in the line of Ragheb Harb and Abbas Musawi. Billboards, ceremonies, and an elaborate discourse on martyrdom and how important it is to the community, was quickly deployed in all directions. This formidable production of meaning for events is in a way fascinating. It is not much different from any type of media production although here the narratives and the issues at stake are specific to the particular geography of the party. Dying for the cause becomes a triumph, a victory for the community. “the more you kill of us the stronger we become and the weaker you show yourself to be”. This is what Hizbullah constantly tries to elaborate. The blood of the Shahid is imagined to feed into this organic whole that nurtures the bond of the community. That is the modern elaboration and practical political use of the concept of Shahada. And although it is translated as “martyrdom” I don’t think it refers to the same political dynamics. Just check the recent history of state formation in Europe, nowhere is there something resembling this culture of the Shahid. This I think is one of the particularities of Post-Colonial State-formation, i.e. in the backdrop of occupation and prolonged oppression. But the end-result of these political discursive articulations are probably the same in the age of the “nation”-State (again nation here is not in its European meaning): Strenghtening the sense of belonging to the same imagined community.

This is why, most importantly, the campaign of Hizbullah is geared towards its own constituency, and here it gets tricky because Hizbullah is trying to maneuver between a discourse aimed at the Shi’a constituency and one that targets all the “Lebanese”. So now Hizbullah adds a “nationalistic” dimension to its construction of the community. If you read the (constantly proliferating) publications of party members, intellectuals, etc. Like the vice-secretary general Naim Qassem, or simply the last couple of speeches of Hassan Nasrallah then you can clearly see that (and especially post july 2006 war) the resistant society is not just the ‘downtrodden’ but all the segments of the “Lebanese people” (on these discursive shifts I will write more later on). The party is trying by all means to push forth this ‘unitarian’ version of resistance. There is this idea that “we lived it this way. we know it is possible to lift ourselves from the opressed state, and so you can do the same”. Although resistance is based on Shi’ite idioms, the cause now encompass all those who think that Israel is not the invincible enemy that it was once supposed to be. Hizbullah wants to spread this idea also as a fighting force against ‘confessionalism’. People come from different religious backgrounds, but everyone should be concerned with the political problems this country is facing, and understand the big issues being played out in the region.

2- Western representation (and through that other “Lebanese” representation) have been stupidly concerned with the question of whether Mughnieh was a “terrorist” or not. Hizbullah has been arguing vehemently the contrary making the argument that there was no centralized Hizbullah organization in the beginning of the 1980s, which is totally true (although Hizbullah ideologues try paradoxically to push forth a very coherent image of the organization across time, so it really depends on the situation). What’s truely remarkable is that Hizbullah is not justifying as much as it was doing before. Probably for the simple reason that it has lost interest in what “the west think”. So the focus is completely on the ‘national’ constiuency, the region (Arabs and others), and the Israelis. This whole discussion is making Hizbullah loose a lot of time and Western medium to stay biased and wrongly moralistic. I participated as a discussant at a conference that was supposed to ‘shed light’ on who the hell was Mughnieh (in vain, nobody said anything new amongst the brilliant speakers we had which is rather promising for those who want to write about Hizbullah!). Moreover, the debate turned to be focused on these ideological concerns, geared for a western audience that needs to distinguish between the bad guys and the good guys, or probably help their policy makers define the bad guys in order to aim better next time they shoot.

3- Hizbullah quickly entered in a psychological war with Israel. It does not mean like many have said, that Hizbullah will attack Israel. It just means that it tried to quickly achieve a symbolic position of strength in the face of a hypothetical US, Israeli attack. This comes at a time when Cheney was arriving in the Middle East, the Gaza murderous adventure was a total failure, and in the advent of the Arab summit. Hizbullah is always trying to convince the rest of the Arab States that Israel is not the threat it was, that Israel can be beaten or at least neutralized politically and diplomatically, that Israel could be forced to compromise and accept a fairer settlement of the Palestinian question. The most important way this was done at the symbolic level (the most virulent and for me the most interesting) is to elaborate the argument that Israel as it is today cannot last. Nasrallah makes sure in his last speech to say that beating the “Zionist project” is not a “Lebanese responsibility” but that it should be its “culture”, that Lebanese “awareness” should be geared towards this evidence. In all his last speeches, Nasrallah argued this idea forcefully. Many Hizbullah members and people around the party are avid readers of Israeli politics and society. Nasrallah speeches contained a wrap up of these analyses. I will write more on Nasrallah’s recent speeches, and other key party members’ discursive articulations.

Sadness

An illustration of colonialism internalized:

The Israel Prison Service on Friday separated Palestinian security prisoners affiliated with Fatah from those linked with Hamas, after receiving intelligence information indicating that factional violence could break out among the prisoners in the wake of the bloody clashes in the Gaza Strip that led to the Hamas takeover there.