ISIS and the specter of Zionism

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I’m not saying that Zionism and ISIS are identical or anything as simplistic. But in trying to find generalizing labels for ISIS, such as being a fascist organization, or a totalitarian state and so on, and in the effort to draw parallels between different political experiences one can more subtly propose that ISIS and Zionism have some features in common.

ISIS just like Zionism (at least if we take seriously their media production, in itself a matter of debate) does imagine that a land is promised to them, or should belong to “the Muslims” at large, irrespective of creed, culture, local tradition, etc. ISIS does project the notion that the Muslim homeland involves a rejection of what is not Muslim, or at least a seclusion from what is perceived to be a political other. From the first issues of their newspaper Dabiq, ISIS highly encouraged people to emigrate to this land, to perform “hijra”, based on the idea that the prophet Muhammad also moved from Mecca to Medina to found his community of believers.

Some may retort that Zionism was a secular ideology, yet the seriousness with which the Jewish movement treats passages of the Old Testament as part of the history of a political community is quite similar to what ISIS does with stories of the prophet and his companions, especially when it comes to relating these stories to a material experience involving the seizure of territory and management of population. In fact, the differences (how the religious uses secular textual technologies) as well as the similarities (what they actually do with it) can shed light on the peculiarity of state or other organizational formations in the Middle East.

The production of a climate of fear is essential to ISIS’s political strategy which involves pushing some people out of the territory they control (and thus turning them into refugees) and inviting others, who share their ideological views, to come and live with fellow like minded Muslims. Yet this was exactly what early Zionists practiced in different ways in the beginning of the twentieth century, with the most spectacular image being the Haganah and then the more virulently powerful Irgun, but also the less spectacular political tactics of various groups practicing land appropriations that follows similar rationales. These groups were definitely different from what ISIS is today, just as the context in which they operate, but the political logic is mostly the same.

Because these movements are essentially foreign and irremediably unpopular, their objective is to drive out an eternally discontented population, and to invite another that travels for mostly ideological reasons. In the failure to do so, these movements cannot survive on the long term, which is another reason why a politics of violence is inherent to their modus operandi. And ultimately, just like Zionists Jews imagined belonging to one secular rationalized community despite different geographies and histories, Muslims from all over the world travel to Syria and Iraq in order to belong to a similarly imagined community.

France and antisemitism: It’s the politics stupid!

The recent events in France betray the primacy of the political (and not religious) dimension in the way different communities, groups, and states have handled (and have been handled in) this affair.

One facet is Israel’s urge to profit from the situation and attract a few more Jews to the promised homeland to which France has answered through Holland’s “Holocaust day speech” that urges Jews to reconsider and reflect on the fact that they are, after all, French.

Now one wonder in this case how truly wonderful are the various ironies of the politics in the age of Nation-State: Jews who have been in France for centuries have no problem going to Israel and adopt a completely different “nationality” yet deterritorialized Muslims who came there for less than a century because of economic imperatives have no place to go.

And another interesting highlight of the speech is a change of emphasis over what antisemitism really means. Although I profoundly disagree with the way the word is used in 99% of cases in contemporary social and political affairs since the end of WWII, Holland did seem to acknowledge that representations of Jews do change over time and come to reflect the concerns of ones time, namely here the politics of Israel and the general politics unfolding in the Middle East. Unfortunately, he acknowledged it through the worst wording ever: “hatred of Israel” (as if the reverse means anything in the first place) and, “imports the conflicts of the Middle East” (conflicts that in large part is fueled by your politically moribund foreign policies Mr Holland). Nobody is importing, it is you (and your predecessors) who is exporting!

And come to think about it, “antisemitism” does not mean much today (except for a very few “white” nostalgics) as it refers to a particular political discourse that is part of a specific period of time that sees the consolidation of national projects in nineteenth century and beginning twentieth century Europe. Today hatred against Jews is mostly similar “politically” to any other form of group hatred, racism or forms of xenophobia that occurs in any heterogenous society.

In any case, to go back to Holland’s speech, I don’t know what others think, but this is a huge improvement: moving from an atemporal abstract concept of antisemitism to one that may have some political historically situated logic (again not that “antisemitic” to describe these acts is in any way a useful term), in official western state discourse. It took the French to start it, who would have known!

Nasrallah’s press conference

While the world analyzes the meanings, validity, and consequences of yesterday’s Secretary General of Hizbullah Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah’s press conference one should, I think, focus on one major important point made by this event as a whole:

Regardless of who killed Lebanese former prime minister Rafic Hariri, this press conference showed that just like other tracks of investigations, there is another one that could be taken and that amazingly enough has not been taken: the one of Israel. What Nasrallah proposed was a “change of perspective” so to speak. In this sense and on logical grounds, he is deligitimizing the consistency of an international tribunal that never took care of pursuing the Israeli track seriously, when the mere fact that Israel watches over every corner of Lebanese territory (and it does way more than that as shown in the conference) is sufficient enough to consider it as a “usual suspect”.

Probably the most important purpose of this conference is to say: Why wasn’t Israel considered as a suspect, and its officials, intelligence services and what have you, interrogated or asked to deliver that type of material, while you’ve been inventing all these phony suspects then due to lack of evidence forced to release them and building accusations here and there successively indicting the Lebanese security system, Syria, and now Hizbullah?

In this sense, Hizbullah does succeed in showing to what extent international organizations and missions are devoid of any ‘neutrality’ through Nasrallah’s use of what could be called an implacable methodology. The problem is does it succeed in shaking certain representations of Israel Lebanese have?

Indeed, the other revealing aspect of this event is the apathy a part of the Lebanese population has with regards to the entity called Israel. Perceptions of Israel among that part is quite revealing and runs as follows:

Israel is a criminal state in Palestine. This permits the person to empathize with Palestinians “over there”, and deplore the state of affairs in that remote place called Israel or Palestine. With regards to Lebanon, Israel is at best the bullied one. Because it is criminal and “radical”, it should not be messed with because one would suffer the consequences. That is why Hizbullah is most of the time guilty of any actions taken against Israel whatever the logics of these actions. That type of narrative considers that Israel has no business in killing anyone in Lebanon except Hizbullah-related actors, or basically people living “down there”.

It would be something if Nasrallah can shake this overall representation of Israel. The problem is that it will take more than a methodology driven by ‘logics’ to shake the anxieties of those people. Behind reason stands the passions that dictates the directions taken by the thoughts, and the particular ‘logics’ they wish to endorse.

Jews, Jews, where art thou?

Back in September 2009, after listening to a speech by Hizbullah’s SG Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, I wrote this post that was left unfinished. I thought of proposing it today.

On the 18th of September 2009, Hizbullah celebrated what Khomeini had instituted as “Jerusalem Day” (that takes place every year on the last Friday of the month of Ramadan). It was as usual an incredibly interesting speech that Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah gave, an accumulation of fine-tuned reading of political and social history, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict passed through a lens along with the gradual Arab disinterestedness in the question. Notwithstanding, the enlightening ethical advice that a cleric of this stature is bound to give, especially during a month of fasting.

After saying that Jerusalem day should be an occasion to be celebrated by Muslims and Christians as well, Nasrallah poses the question: “Well one could ask, aren’t there any holy sites for Jews?” And he quickly answers quite enigmatically: “What the son’s of Israel have done historically to their prophets, their selves, their tribes, their families and those who oppressed them did not leave anything for them there”. That’s it, territorially at least, Jews have no tradition they could claim as would the Muslims and Christian can. Why? Simply because they have been oppressed and have left. Today, they are a bunch of heterogeneous groups coming from various remote spots of the planet.

Of course, Hizbullah’s officials like to raise the tone with rhetoric of the sort just to anger the Israeli public. But this time it still sounds as if something is missing: There is something profoundly realistic about what Nasrallah is saying, yet also very sad. How did the Jews ‘messed it up’? But more importantly, and that is a question Nasrallah probably does not really ask: Can we Arabs, Muslims or whatever you want to call us, do something about it? My point is that the future of the conflict between Arabs and Israel may well depend on a particular understanding of Jewish traditions.

Indeed, weren’t there vibrant Jewish traditions in what has been called the Middle East? Why is there a total silence around that in the contemporary and politically-engaged intellectual elaborations? In the “Islamist” literature, speeches, media production, we don’t see the mention of Jews. They don’t exist. There are Zionists of course, but not Jews. Islamists call for an Islamic-Christian dialogue, and there is a lot published on the subject. Hizbullah’s media apparatus, books, speeches, all treat of the subject at length. Although this “dialogue of religions” smells liberal in its form, it is still a bit different, no need to go into this aspect of the question.

I find this glorification of Muslim and Christian co-existence so flowery and nice but totally void of content if one is not willing to push the argument further and include the Jews that originated from this region. These ‘co-existence’ dialogues should not be bound by national construction imperatives. Iran includes Jews in their discourse just because it has a significant number of them there. And then when does a significant number becomes eligible for political presence? It seems clear that the reason for mentioning this or that tradition is to create nations.

Now of course, the obvious answer to the omission of Jews from intellectual efforts is that it is the Jews themselves who chose this path, for most of them, by going to Israel. And let’s say that Arabic governments have not done much to stop this process. Indeed, where are the Jews of the East? Mostly in Israel and not really caring much about their “Arabic” background, or what could probably more accurately be called “Islamic” heritage. These Jews refuse to be called “Arabs”, they are “Israelis”. Most have even lost the Arabic language (at least those I had the joys to meet in other countries). There surely must be a sense of disarray amongst these Jews in Israel (see for example Eyal Sivan’s movie “Izkor”).

Isn’t it time to reclaim these Jews as belonging to this area at least at the symbolic level, preparing the ground for a long-lasting different vision of the region? Isn’t that a ‘strategic’ thing to do? Isn’t it time to include in the different efforts at writing history the presence of these Jews everywhere from Iran to Morocco and their once highly rich and complexly different traditions? Belittling Jewish history as taking place only in Europe, even though Zionism works on that, is I think highly immature, and as re-active as any petty European Nationalist discourse was when developing in the nineteenth century. It actually helps Zionism gain ground as a monolithic, nationalistic if not hollywoodean reading of Jewish past.

Now more than ever, when Israel’s existence as a Zionist expansive, chauvinist and violent entity can really be put into question and threatened by successful groups like Hizbullah, now more than ever, it is time to reclaim the Arab Jews and actually give back the European, American and other Jews their rich traditions. Hizbullah (and others) have done a lot in the direction of building a ‘dialogue’ with Christians: They actually re-invented a Christian – more socially conscious – tradition! Can we use this method in order to reclaim the Jews and probably outstrip the last bit of phony legitimacy Israel has? If the Jews of the world can re-embrace their diverse past affiliations, what will be left of Israel?

The main danger in the modern world is not how religion gets mixed up with politics. In any case, religion is profoundly political. Liberal privatized notion of religion (which is a religion/tradition itself) impose this understanding that there is a separation between politics and religion. The real danger, the catastrophic impasse is the use of a poor understanding of religions, traditions, reading of the past, in order to edify these rigid, intolerant, ethically empty, and territorially bound Nations-States.

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

US taxpayers fund Israeli settlers

Emily strikes beautifully with this detailed account of how certain American charities contribute to the building of huge complexes in Palestinian territories for incoming Jewish settlers.

This settler business makes me think that never in the history of mankind has arrogance reached these heights, this despicable misreading and imagining the past as a legitimate device to expropriate belonging by claiming chunks of land where people actually live.

It was quite disturbing to watch these images of settlers moving in imperturbably with their boxes, their personal affairs, their books, cds, their petty life artifacts while Palestinians were screaming outside the house. Kind of a snapshot of how Israel was built: Moving ideas and fantasies on the remains of oppressed reality.

Waltz with Bashir

I finally watched the Israeli film Waltz with Bashir, and I know that so many people found it really good, as it was “putting into questions things”, addressing longstanding issues from within Israel, and showing “the horrors of war”. Here, let me be very skeptical about what Israeli cinema can question, and knowing that this comes from the ‘left’ side of Israeli society, what Israel can ever put into question.

Let me start from a tangent. Anyone seen holocaust movies? Here is a list of Holocaust films from the 1940s on. I had this intuition that no major German movie has been made on the subject. And I was right, German movies really start appearing in the 1970s and only few of them relative to the massive numbers of foreign production. Basically the history of ‘horror’ has been written ‘for’ the German and not ‘by them’ establishing a harsher defeat, a cultural one.

According to a dear German friend of mine, most Germans don’t like these movies (especially the foreign ones) because they feel that they don’t really address the Nazi question in a satisfactory way. More interesting than that: they think that Nazism should probably not be dealt with in images because it would render ordinary and acceptable something that is just unacceptable. It seemed always weird to see Hitler being played by an actor whatever the angle played: Hitler was what he was, no need to ‘play him’.

There is none of that in Waltz with Bashir. In a sense it follows the general line found in Spielberg movie Munich (that is of course much worse), in that it engage the audience with a lot of self-loathing turned into conscience boosting and so in a paradoxical legitimating device. Israelis here are already “playing Israelis” making of them either heroes or anti-heroes which amounts basically to the same thing.

Here are the main ideas that can be drawn from the movie:

1- The real demons are the Phalangists, and the Israelis if anything let things happen. At most, they unleash the real beasts, those with no conscience. The Israelis have a conscience and are always wondering what the hell they are doing. Those with no conscience are the Phalangists. The ‘other’, the enemy has no conscience either, does never talk and Israelis are too self centered in the first place to ask questions about them. The enemy is invisible in any case.

2- There is no real reflection on or dialectical engagement with the enemy (the Palestinians) or the ally (the Christian). It shows how much Israelis is eager to learn about them. Knowing that in reality there were lots of interactions during 1982 and of course before that between the various parties.

3- The actual waltz scene (a guy shooting in the air randomly to the background of Bashir Gemayel’s posters) is quite revealing as it betrays a romanticist tone to the rebellious character of participating in a war. We see in the movie how this waltzer later becomes a practitioner of martial arts and is quite happy of what he has done all his life. It is a bit like American movies on Vietnam which ends up making the soldiers look like heroes because they actually ‘been through this’. The audience sympathize with these character. It is the anti-hero, the pop-culture hero.

4- The most flagrant thing is that at no point in the movie do you have this understanding that Israel was wrong to go to war for this or that political reason, at no point are causes discussed or anything like that. Everything stays at the basic level of condemnation of killing and repenting. We are told that soldiers are a bunch of pot smoking adolescents dragged into something they don’t really understand. It is morally charged for no reason. No reason means idealization. Idealization is apologetic.

But Israeli cinema has still hopes. Check for example the documentaries of a guy like Eyal Sivan. Izkor: Slaves of Memory (1991) is a great documentary on the Israeli writing of Jewish history that is taught to kids at all school levels . Izkor, which is the commemoration of the holocaust remembering, really puts into question the idea of Israel and its perception of ‘Arabs’. One idea I found extraordinary in this documentary is how Zionism actually impoverished Jewish multiple source of history, tradition, and relations to the past whether Arabic or other.

Update: Check this article on Hollywood’s (the Americans)  fascination with the Holocaust. Just this year there are already 6 movies out of Hollywood’s machines touching on the subject. I don’t think it is about Germans anymore, but about American culture and their relation to the different narratives exposed in this story. They are writing “the Holocaust” as a multiple story theme to illustrate their concern with death, torture, murder, politics etc. This is not anymore a German event but an American one.

Viva Erdogan

Read here the pathetic attitude of Israelis, and European officials, after Turkish PM Erdogan summed up Israeli realities to Shimon Peres at Davos:

According to one report, senior European officials said, “Erdogan wants to be part of the European Union, but now he can forget about it.”

But just for the history books, let’s remember together what Erdogan said to Peres: “Your voice is too high… it betrays a tormented criminal conscience”. This is what can be called “cutting the grass under your feet”. If you can take a masterclass in rhetoric with this guy I’d say don’t even think about it twice.

Nota bene: Amr Moussa! Ya Amr Moussa! Why didn’t you get up with Erdogan and follow him out of this room? Where are the Arabs! Ya allah!

And a quick Update: The Israelis show more wrath.

Gaza and the legitimation of killing: Lessons for History

Wars, conquests, collective violence, and all kinds of forms of domination and oppression are justified through specific rhetorical strategies, or ideologies.

Take a very recent epoch, the one that was dubbed the ‘modern age’ that starts roughly with European ‘enlightenment’ and is still unfolding today. This is an epoch that sees the development and consolidation of States with their invented National histories, an epoch where capitalist economic and social changing structures have been nurtured by evermore centralized poles of power and more rigid notions of self.  This epoch has seen the rise of a discourse of human rights, ‘rights’ people had, claims they could make on the past, on territory, and even on other people (teaching democracy for example).

Israel represents one little (but oh so deadly) experiment of applying national theory to practice from scratch. It is the quintessence of modern culture: believing in an idea that fathoms a history for a people, projects it on a territory and then consolidates State structures to the detriment of previous social and economic structures in place. In a way Israel is the Frankenstein of the West. It is the horrible result of an experiment where the idea that some ‘ideational’ link with some representation of the past can materialize in ‘reality’, indeed, should, or has a ‘right to’ materialize in reality.

In this sense another type of colonial practice is born with Israel. We could probably talk of a classical colonialism that Europe and to some extent the US practiced, consisting in occupying and seizing the means of production of a specific area (Latin America, Africa, India, etc.). But the new colonialism is one that exist side by side a perpetual condemnation of colonialism. The new colonialism exists in the age of NGOs, UN, and other international institutions that legitimates the occupation and oppression of the ‘uncivilized’. New colonialism is practiced mainly by the US and Israel today and consist in subverting the average person into believing that there are ‘security’ questions to address in order to protect the ‘rights’ of certain political entities.

Several times Talal Asad’s quote at the right top end of this blog has been criticized. But it still holds so well today. War by the ‘civilized’ is much more couched in a moral rhetoric that legitimates it and makes it more deadly. Trabulsi in Al Safir today argues that one such legitimating tool is the concept of “Security”. In this excellent article, Trabulsi showed how Israel and the US succeeded in imposing the notion of ‘security’ as a ‘reason of State’ in order to clamp down on any insurgency effort fighting their occupier. Trabulsi shows also how Arab states, especially Egypt and Saudi Arabia, caught onto this program and gradually switched from a discourse centralized on Palestinian (or say local population) demands to one of imposing security to the benefit of Israel so as to resolve and neutralize the Palestinian question.

I want to develop a couple of points Trabulsi makes in his article. The ‘security’ rationale is very perverse in several ways. First it ignores the fact that insurgents, fighters, resistance groups etc, have longstanding political demands which makes them do what they do when they do it. By this token it refuses to address these demands. Also, the Security rationale sanctifies (and goes fully in line with) a discourse on liberal values in the sense that it is only fair that Israel is a ‘legitimate’ entity that needs to ‘protect’ itself. Protection defined as such may justify the killing of civilians, in a different way than say ‘terrorist’ practices do. Terrorists have nothing to protect. They are out of a discourse of human rights. They are evil incarnate. Falling outside the hegemonic makes you unrecoverable.

A discourse of human rights sanctifies and makes it possible for this political Frankenstein to exist. The question to ask is when does the Palestinian question fall within a discourse on human right (which would then only make it a legitimate claim ‘respected’ by the West) and when does it fall outside of it? The politically dominant strives to push it outside of the ‘civilized’ discourse in order to legitimizes more killing while the world looks at it oblivious because it becomes ‘logical’ that Israel or someone else acts this way. You can kill much more recklessly when you are on the side of liberalism.

One sad point here is that the Palestinian question will only acquire saliency when it fully complies with this discourse, something most western-educated Palestinians or pro-Palestinians strive to achieve. One will always look at Hamas with ‘reservation’ because at the end of the day Hamas is not inscribed in this discourse, neither through its claims (calling for the destruction of Israel) nor through its practices (hitting ‘civilian’ targets). That is the biggest tragedy. One cannot actually make a case that Israel as a political entity with the history it projects should be destroyed. Or maybe one can, but it will take a lot of other subverting strategies. And weapons, lots of them…

For now Islamic movements are not revolutionary enough at the political level. They have to extirpate themselves from a discourse of human rights. Their use of ‘religion’, and their practice of piety is a good place to start. We need to go back to a discourse of human ‘roles’. Away from morals and into ethics…

A note on the power of images

The most disturbing aspect of the Gaza assault is that it is proof once again that the more you are considered ‘civilized’ or ‘righteous’, the more you can get away with the most atrocious acts.

But it seems that it is not just the ‘western’ sphere, the international community, the Islamophobes, the western media, history books, movies, etc that are contributing to that.

I may go out astray here but I worry that the Arab media are contributing to this asymetry in human ‘value’. Showing all these dead Palestinian bodies, children and others, although shocking and moving to all types of audiences,  paradoxically helps these audiences grow immune to them.

One thing to learn from certain types of Islamic practices, and that Islamic movements are drifting away from in their own construction of modernity is that not showing faces is crucial to create respect, legitimacy and authority.

God, his Laws, his prophets and his leaders, are never more powerful than when they become an idea completely devoid of illustrations. This is one thing we can learn from tradition for concrete political action.

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.

Another face of hegemony

Check out this excellent article by an Israeli PhD student in Cambridge on the politics of naming and labeling that is prevalent in the Israeli press. For one thing, it shows very well how standards to judge if a press is “free” should be put into question: it has nothing to do with what a ‘political regime’ allows or not, but with what a political system end up imposing as non-questionable, as hegemonic. So stop talking about the freedom of the press. Actually, stop talking about ‘freedom’. It is a word that does not mean much, and if you look at reality, those who use it as a sign of difference are most likely to be those who oppress the most.

Hegemony: an illustration

This just in:

CBNNews.com – JERUSALEM, Israel – Iranian missiles are making their way to Lebanese-based Hezbollah terrorists via Turkey, according to intelligence reports.

Ok, let’s try something:

XXXNews.com – BEIRUT, Lebanon – USA missiles, cluster bombs, and uranium-rich weapons, are making their way to the Palestine-based Zionist terrorist army, via USA, according to intelligence reports.

Does it work? Does it make sense? If it does, it means you could escape dominant hegemonic discourse. If not, then you’re still unconsciously subjected to it. And don’t be too quick to say that it does, because you don’t know to what extent is the hegemonic insidiously ingrained in the very way you think. You’re never fully above it.

How to pass time

Time that passes has inevitably been at some point or another for each one of us a basic puzzle to address. Boredom, can be thought of the backdrop of life anxiety in the face of death. Now let’s try to think of what happens to a person that spends 5 years of his life in prison. But not any type of prison, the type that resembles those supervised by Israelis. The Khiam prison was one of those, before the liberation of South of Lebanon territories in 2000. Two days ago, I had a long conversation with one former prisoner. The marks of these five years are on his face. A prison with no bed but the cement, where when there is food, it is Israeli products that have expired two years before. A prison where there is no light, where, if you pass out because they’ve been hanging you to an electric post, standing on your toes throughout a winter night, they wake you up with electric shocks. A prison where during interrogation (interrogating about nothing they really want to know) they stand on your face with all their weight and their ringer boots and make sure they break you nose. A prison where you could be locked in a little cube of concrete where you can only fit in if you’re in a foetus position, for several days.

A prison where there is nothing to do. Nothing to do. So much so that you start rubbing olive pits on the wall and make rosaries and count the pearls endlessly. Or when you get cardboards as mattresses after two years because you pressured the ‘authorities’ in place to soften the impact of the cement, you discover that you can make needles out of the staples by rubbing them on the wall for a month or so so that they get sharp. Then by banging one side of the prison door on the needle for another month, you flatten its extremity and then can create a little hole for the string to pass. You can then pull the strings out of your shirt and with the needle saw all kinds of things. For example, do a backgammon with the cardboard, saw the triangles using different colors, then use chunks of soap that you wrap with cheese metallic-colored wrap (think of Picon for those familiar with Lebanese products) to distinguish players. You can become very good at this, according to this person, blending tastefully colors and shapes to create beautiful backgammon cardboard tables. Unfortunately nothing is left to testify of these aesthetics because as soon as the Israeli found out that prisoners found activities, they confiscated one after the other every invention these guys were coming up with. First the olive pits were counted and taken right after each meal. Cardboards were taken out, and prisoners were back to sleep on the cement.

Has anyone read The Player of Chess by Stefan Zweig? I read it a long time ago, you can find it in French, I don’t know if it was translated to English, or to Arabic. It’s the story of this guy who gets locked in a prison room that’s as big as the ones in Khiam and then has nothing to do for quite some time until he succeed, during an interrogation, to steal a book from the desk of the officer in charge. When he’s back in his cell he finds out that he stole a chess manual. He does not know how to play chess. and… Actually I’m not going to tell you the story, you should read it. This is one of my favorite books by far. When I was 15 or so I read it like three times. Zweig was an Austrian Jew. He committed suicide along with his wife in 1942 while he was in Brazil, fleeing from Nazi Germany.

March 14

A lot of people ask me why I don’t write anymore. I don’t like writing when a lot of things are happening at the same time. This tends to obscure my attention. Also I prefer things to cool down before I can talk about them. For example, I won’t write on Imad Mughnieh’s assassination before next week I guess. But I have a lot to say about it. The other reason why I don’t write is that I am trying to write a thesis. This means saving thinking-typing skills for this activity.

The other thing is that I started teaching at the American University of Beirut and I must say that everyday I feel like writing pages on this fascinating experience. What I am exposed to here, in terms of student life style, intellectual background, faculty interaction, the politics of the university, but also teaching in itself, is just so overwhelming. For someone who thinks his main activity is ‘observation’, well, AUB is like a microcosm of “Lebanon”. A microscosm of post-colonial discourse too. I hope to write more on that.

Let me leave you now with an anecdote. Do you know what happened on March 14 apart from a ‘cedar revolution’? On March 14, boys and girls, Israel invaded Lebanon for the first time in 1978. On this day houses were destroyed in some parts of the south, people got killed, etc. and on March 14 1995, the parliament issued a book entitled 14 March: Lebanese International Day for the South and Western Bekaa with a foreword by Berri. I’m sure this book was the result of the works of Amal and Hizbullah affiliated Parliamentary members, but I’m still investigating on it because it has a huge archive of Israeli aggression on Lebanon (prisoners, territory, water, etc). The main idea here is that these guys are actually contributing to the writing of Lebanese “causes” and history through the use of the sanctified institutions (Parliament).

Isn’t it a bit ironic? The conflicting histories of the “Lebanese” entity.

Hizbullah and resistance by print

Timur Goksel has a chapter on the “Implications of the July 2006 war on the future Israeli wars” in a book published by a think-tank that is affiliated in some way to Hizbullah (al markaz al Islami lil dirasat al fekriyah). Goksel, for those who don’t know, was the former official spokesman of the UNIFIL forces stationed in South Lebanon, and now teaches international relations at the American University of Beirut. The book is called “Al intisar al Moqawim” which is kind of hard to translate in English not the least because initially in Arabic it does not make much sense, but here we go: “the Resistant victory” (The aim was probably to try to get the word “victory” and “resitance” in one flashy title).

I find this book fascinating. It is an excellent sign that Hizbullah and the intellectual/ideological sphere around it reads quickly power dynamics in the West: producing papers, putting views about future policy course, political visions, etc. on print. The book exceeds 500 pages of good quality paper, with a hard cover, has a nice abstract design, and has contributors ranging from Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, to party member like Naim Qassem, to ad hoc intellectuals from several social (confessional spaces), to American leftists journalists like Frank Lamb, etc.

But I don’t want to comment on everything in this book as there is so much to note. Goksel chapter struck my attention in the sense that it has a detailed analysis of how Israel fared on the ground, and how it is probably learning from its mistakes, and what will it potentially do differently in a new incursion. And this is coming from an ex-UN military man, turned academic in an American institution based in Lebanon. That’s the most beautiful gift Hizbullah could get. And beyond this symbolic asset in the economy of knowledge, for once, it is somebody trying to learn from Israeli military tactics rather than trying to unearth Hizbullah’s strategies. Most of the time, studies are focused on how “the terrorist” think, how the “insurgent” (nicer term for terrorist) acts. The academic department I am affiliated with in London has “Counter-insurgency reading groups” and “counter-insurgency students”. Hizbullah is trying to lead the way in the institutionalization of what one would call “American and Israeli imperialist” studies. Here I use the term “imperialism” with some reserves, could not find a better one for the time being.

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.

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 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.

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.

Israeli waste in Aynata


This is just a couple of pictures from many I got when I was in Aynata (village in the south of Lebanon right next to the Israeli border). These bottles you see are filled with the urine of Israeli soldiers who chose this house to hide during the July-august war.


Besides the tremendous amount of trash they left behind, and the total (and useless) destruction of furniture in the house, other pictures show these bottles everywhere on shelves, tables, on the floor, and their defecations in corners.

See, they actually chose to block the toilet seat (look attentively at the toilet seat, I had to minimize the size of the pic) so that no one of them would have the smart idea of using it to release their waste…


These Israelis are more intelligent than I thought. They make sure you get the idea that it is them pissing and shitting all over the place. Their way of dealing with their own filth is way ahead of any contemporary civilization. Hereby, I salute these brave and refined soldiers.