Spectacles of Jadeed TV

safe_image.phpThe date of this event is not relevant anymore as it is just a template for similar recurring events in the land of the Lebanon. Crumbling under the weight of her make up the talkshow host of “للنشر” (for publication) bullied for about 20min a Syrian woman nursing a baby. The woman turned out to be a beggar who we are told fakes being handicapped in order to get money on the streets of Beirut. The contrast between these two women was striking. The beggar was dressed in rags holding her child whose skin was blackened by Beirut dusty and filthy streets while the TV host shined with her jewelry, her fancy clothes. The contrast went hand in hand with the domineering and judgmental attitude the TV hostess has as the discussion quickly turned into a general critique of the beggar’s way of life. At some point her child started crying and she said that she needed to breast feed him to which the hostess rushed to kick her out of the stage. This episode of the show was immediately followed by a series of ads about glittering jewelry!

After this consumerist interlude, the hostess welcomed with a radiant smile her next guest Miriyam Klink who related in great detail her intrepid misadventures with priests who allegedly “spanked her ass”. The conversation went more smoothly here. The two women looked alike with their plastic faces. Klink is a Lebanese pop singer who parades various parts of her body as she chants her tasteless songs. This is usually enough to get full media attention as Klink is invited for occasional moaning on all Lebanese TV channel talkshows. Unlike the first part of the show, pseudo-journalist here is talking to her alter ego, her partner in the industry of media spectacle. The judgmental tone is replaced by an “échange de politesses” hiding a nonverbal imploration, a “please tell me how did I succeed in the business of female empowerment the Lebanese (plastic voyeuristic) way”. And Klink seem right out of her latest surgery as her face showed less and less expressiveness that could translate any possible emotions left by the priest’s misdeeds.

This in a nutshell is Lebanese TV, ongoing social class affirmation – in this case one aspect of it which is women “emancipation” – paraded as spectacle in order to extract a profit.

The War with Images

My article at Opendemocracy on the use of images in war situations.

ISIS and the West

isis18jun14-483261

ISIS is the expression of different social and political phenomena that must be understood separately. One of them is undoubtedly the significant amount of “Western” fighters of which some elements are also at the forefront of their media campaign. By Western I mean people who have lived and were educated in Western countries (mostly Western Europe and the US) either as Muslim minorities or as recent converts (or who knows maybe just random Westerners with searching for a cause).

Most media article and think-tank papers (I haven’t come across any serious academic work on ISIS) have by now narrated the story of their success in Iraq countless time. Their alliance with Sunni tribesmen and former Baath regime establishment is what tipped the balance in their favor. This explains one particular victory but it does not really tell us more on the movement as a whole and on their different political visions and strategies. The easy answer here is that there isn’t one but many visions or strategies. Yet looking at the various media campaigns led by ISIS and the reaction to them coming from Western media outlets is revealing of the extent to which the struggle is framed along “Western” concerns and imaginaries (and subsequently somewhat alien to local Middle Eastern concerns).

I think that a lot of what ISIS represents is a war that a disgruntled minority from the West is waging against their respective host countries. The problem is that the battlefield is not theirs, it is a fantasized one that the West has imagined but could not provide for them. Moreover, these groups cannot wage this war within these liberal countries as they are tightly policed and where these types of political questions cannot be asked. Here is the dangerous dimension of ISIS: it is a movement that fantasizes about a territory (Arab world, Islamic land etc) it does not come from, using ideological toolkit that the West has provided through decades of Orientalist studies. The most scary aspect of ISIS is that it represents everything the West has stigmatized about Islam for decades, nurtured (whether consciously or not) in the suburban areas of European cities among Muslim minorities or even people in search for identities, and internalized by the Muslims themselves.

This also is proof that ISIS knows Western societies very well. It feeds it with what it fears the most: security breaches and pitiless slaughtering of human lives (something that has been already imagined in countless possible ways for decades in Hollywood movies). These members of ISIS grew up feeding on this culture of constrained violence (constrained in films and other cultural productions). Now they have a vast terrain to experiment on.

One drawback of this is that ISIS is one of the many instance that blurs the boundaries between what is Western and “Other” or even “Peripheral” in many ways. It emanates from a Center and tries to imagine a a type of living that was thought of in the center but as the latter thought of the periphery as it was exposed to a myriad of cultural material.

Illusions of Terrorism and Democracy

XU*5034480The recent bombings in Beirut elevates Lebanon to the ironic status of a democratic country, in the modern Western sense of the term. Sadly, this is no privilege at all, more of a burden really. As I argued earlier, Terrorism as a particular form of carrying out political action is only possible if certain democratic structures are part of society’s general culture. Terrorism targets the feelings of civilians because the latter can, through this particular human disposition, extract concessions from political elites.

After 2005, most assassinations in Lebanon involve a mix of vendetta types of violence that target political actors and this “democratic” form of politics. Vendetta types of violence do not necessarily target the feelings or views of a specific group of people, only political actors. Terrorism though does and is peculiar to the modern age. There is no terrorism without some form of democratic politics as understood through liberal ideals of representations (such as individualism, freedom of choice, mass consumption economy, etc.) and the political setting of the Nation-State. Wherever there were terrorist attacks in the non-Western world, it is noticeable that they always involved a political message either to foreign countries (say attacking touristic sites, nightclubs), or local political regimes that are democratic in the sense that the “feelings” of their societies can have a direct bearing on the political process.

Yet even though nowhere before have we been faced with the immediacy of distant death, nowhere before have we been so distant to killings that are incurred by people who are trying to send a message to us. In effect, terrorism targeting civilians is not targeting the people who were actually killed but potentially any people that are part of a political delineated community (here the Shi’i community but also the Lebanese, and so on). Terrorism in this sense is one of these rare instances where violence is used on a person or group who is not the real target.

To come to the recent suicide explosion in Dahyeh, I’m not here analyzing the political message sent to the elite (Hizbullah’s political party, or whoever is incurring such attacks) or to the constituency of a political movement or organization. I’m more interested in what people actually do about it. Although people can be “terrorized” by what is happening they seem helpless as to what to do about it. Can they really force political actors to change their course of actions?

Then, Terrorism is doomed because on the one hand it assumes that the feelings that civilians have, fueled by media strategies, are going to influence political elites to do something about it, and on the other hand, it assumes that civilians feelings are in themselves a motive of political change. Raw emotions do not create interesting change at the political level. Only does reason. And it is reason that is the stuff from which political decisions are made.

This is why terrorism is a victim of the media effect, and democracies or ideals of democracies are experienced as a spectacle in today’s societies. In our modern political systems that are animated by the technological and media industry, “feelings” and “emotions” understood in a raw sense are the primary human traits that is meant to dictate political action. This is why terrorism exist. In the absence of such human predisposition, terrorism would not be a viable weapon.

Here lies one of the contradictions of the culture of democracies and how they are the source of  their own misery. Democracies as they function today involve a politics of emotions that traditionally was never linked to politics as such. It does not mean that traditionally, feelings where not getting in the way of correct handling of political matter, far from it. War practices always involved forms of cruelties that surely were triggered by specific types of emotions and feelings and in turn triggered these types of feelings. But never, were feelings used in a way were curtailed by higher forms of politics that ordered the way agreements were reached, successions were arranged, or war were started.

EU blacklisting Hizbullah’s military wing

hezbollah_EUEU’s decision to label Hizbulah’s military wing a terrorist organization is a silly decision, one that betrays a simplistic understanding of the politics of the Middle East in the last three decades.

My intuition is that this decision is the fruit of years of erroneous analyses about the organization that is thought to have “changed”, to have become “moderate” and “democratic” because it is now fully engaged in the local political Lebanese game. This representation of Hizbullah has pushed forth the crazy idea that if one could just somehow neutralize some military wing of the party then a fully gentrified Hizbullah can strive in a healthy democratic and pluralistic Lebanese arena.

Non-sense.

Hizbullah never changed and Hizbullah does not have different “wings”. Hizbulah is the Islamic Resistance, or simply the Resistance as a military project that fights Israeli occupation and ambitions in the region. Hizbullah political “wing” is only a democratic representation of this project in the parliament. This means that people who support the military resistance against Israel voted for Hizbullah to be represented in the Lebanese parliament.

By blacklisting a “military wing” the EU is condemning (or judging!) a popular and legitimate political demand to fight occupation. To give a European example, it is a bit like condemning French resistance “military wing” against the Nazi regime. This is why, most Lebanese political parties whether pro or anti-Hizbullah criticized the EU decision. If anyone in the EU thinks that Israel is a danger to its neighbors and has been committing atrocities (or terrorism for that matter) against the Palestinians then please let us know if anything else than military resistance can force them to reconsider their actions. It is not a hazard then that not one single EU state is willing to tackle the Israeli-Palestinian question seriously.

Hizbullah will disarm only if a comprehensive and just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem is found and activated. This is what the EU, Arab States, and whoever is putting his nose into our affairs should be working on instead of distributing silly labels.

Whether the recent events in Syria initiated such a step, by blacklisting the “military wing”, the EU is condemning the idea of Resistance against Israel through military means. This is another proof that whether intended or not, most political actions with regards to Syria against the Asad regime are irremediably serving Israeli interests.

The framing of a “research question”

resources-for-the-mediaI came across this paper written for a particular Middle East Policy Council. I have never seen a more awkwardly posed question regarding Hizbullah’s political development:

Hezbollah’s evolution speaks to a larger question in the literature on nonstate actors, both in the Middle East and elsewhere: Why do some nonstate military groups survive attempts to uproot them from particular pieces of territory while others do not? And what lessons do organizations learn from earlier confrontations that enable them to better survive later ones?

So Palestinian organizations, have been “uprooted”, “commies” too, other Arabic or Islamic infestious protuberances all gone. Now Hizbullah. Why are there only failed attempts at uprooting that bad plant? I mean, they did come from outer space (like all the other predecessors) after all? What can Israel or the US, the indegeneous, do to fix this problem? They did try everything after all…

If, “The Middle East Policy Council is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to contribute to American understanding of the political, economic and cultural issues that affect U.S. interests in the Middle East”, then it’s quite understandable that finding that “rootedness” is a resilient attribute of the link between Hizbullah to its people can pose a big problem!

Who’s reading what and how?

Mali rebels torched library of historic manuscripts
Fleeing Islamist insurgents burnt two buildings containing priceless books as French-led troops approached, says mayor

Beyond the tragic implications of such an event, a small anecdote:

The manuscripts had survived for centuries in Timbuktu, on the remote south-west fringe of the Sahara desert. They were hidden in wooden trunks, buried in boxes under the sand and in caves. When French colonial rule ended in 1960, Timbuktu residents held preserved manuscripts in 60-80 private libraries.
The vast majority of the texts were written in Arabic. A few were in African languages, such as Songhai, Tamashek and Bambara. There was even one in Hebrew. They covered a diverse range of topics including astronomy, poetry, music, medicine and women’s rights. The oldest dated from 1204.

Women’s rights? Was this “topic” added to suit the modern mind? I did not know there was a discipline as important as astronomy or poetry, music and medicine called “women’s rights”? Is it now a science of some sort?

Feltman’s response to Al Akhbar

Former US ambassador in Lebanon Jeffrey Feltman responded in the NY Times today to the allegations made in a previous article in the same newspaper on Al Akhbar about waking up every morning and getting upset after reading  Al Akhbar.

Feltman answered! There is something quite desperate in this act. Check the argument: Actually, Al Akhbar is not that heroic because it does not criticize Hizbullah’s SG Nasrallah just like Syrian Tishreen will never criticize Bashar al Assad.

Apart from the fact that no one talked of heroism, well, there is a tiny detail here: Al Akhbar is not owned by Hizbullah, and actually does criticize Hizbullah virultently. Check for example the corruption case of Salah Ezzedine. Needless to say that this point was made in the original NYT article, so what is Feltman babbling about. Does he want attention?

Does it occur to Feltman that defending or supporting Nasrallah may come from a conviction (heroic if he likes this word) that the guy is a leader to be respected, and that this probably reflects a large chunk of the Lebanese population and beyond?

From then on, Feltman’s answer loses all sense of logic and becomes plain stereotyping. Feltman confuses Western journalists, with Al Akhbar ones, lifestyle like drinking wine with political choice of supporting the resistance. This dimension is not even worth it to be explored, it has been done countless times on this blog.

And what did you know about Samir Kassir and Gebran Tueni? Just because they got killed makes them heroic? Is this how you guys work? Now that they are useless as such and can’t do much except through the way their image is being manipulated by your media, yes, they become heroic…

Besides, Feltman forgets that journalists of Al Akhbar and other press outlets as well as TV stations were killed by Israeli fire? Are these considered more or less heroic act? I guess it depends who kills or on which arena you fall.

But above all as I was saying, Feltman’s answer sounds like someone’s desperate for attention. One could hear him shout: “no, someone hear me, I am that ambassador they’re talking about, and I did not have a belly ache, they aren’t so impressive believe me!” Well, someone is angry because he was not ‘received’!

American ambassadors, they come here, don’t understand anything about the politics of the place (except through the specific ideology their administration feeds them to implement). Then they leave, still ignorant, imbued by the stereotypes they could gather from this or that dinner they had the chance to go to, wondering why their projects did not work.

Update: For a more elaborate answer, just found Angry Arab’s.

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.

A Christmas Lesson

In Christian festive times, Al Manar TV uses such rituals in order to focus attention on a political cause either pertaining to internal Lebanese issues (Jesus and messages of co-existence), regional (usually related to the Palestinian cause) or even international. On Christmas Eve for example, the seven o’clock news broadcast has most of its content devoted to the celebration of Christmas in Bethlehem and the various political performances around that event: Interviews with Palestinian leaders, review of the history of Palestine and specifically Jerusalem as center of Muslim and Christian co-existence. As a comparison, if there is a mention of some Christian symbolism in Christmas, and not just the usual global-market-legitimated consumerist style in the event of Christmas, it is in general simply about abstract concepts of love and tolerance that Jesus is supposed to have upheld. How many times have we watched on LBC and other Christian affiliated channels the different Hollywood productions of the life of Jesus and other figures of his time? When was this guy born? Bethlehem? Where is Bethlehem? In occupied Palestine. Where did Jesus make his most important appearance? Jerusalem. Where is Jerusalem? In occupied Palestine.

Why haven’t Lebanese Christians, so proud of their “Christianity” never made this link when celebrating Christmas? Whenever focusing on Christian related rituals or when simply referring to Jesus’ legacy, Hizbullah’s related media operationalizes these concepts in order to derive political engaged statements about certain forms of injustices in the world. When “Christianity” isolates itself in Lebanon by becoming a localized, privatized, and a-historical form of thinking ethics, some ways of re-thinking Islamic heritage shakes Christianity out of its torpor and tries to put it back in one of its historical continuum.

Tayyar views on Hizbullah

One has to wait a long time in order to read an article in the Lebanese press that actually takes the time to interview people from several corners of the country. I already said elsewhere that Al Akhbar contributes in a novel and ‘fuller’ way (i.e. more in line with European press standards of constructing national imaginaries).

Yet it is even rarer when the presses deal with non-elitist issues, with parties that have been portrayed in a ‘bad light’ in the more dominant press (i.e. the one in line with Western discourse or that actually write in English). Ghassan Saoud has been following Tayyar and Christian politics for quite some time now. I never posted about what he writes on this blog but anything he has written in Al Akhbar is worth reading. It is archival work on Christian politics that may serve later on, at the very least for subversive ends (like anything written and archived).

In this article Saoud writes about a series of views given by Christian or more broadly Tayyar sympathizers of activists from north to south. Opinions range from “Hizbullah should definitely keep their weapons not just to liberate Shebaa but to liberate Jerusalem”, to their fear of the ‘religious dimension’ which is ‘a common subject amongst Christian constituencies’, and many others highly diverse and some times surprising viewpoints.

What I find highly interesting is how the Tayyar and Hizbullah alliance has pushed Christian constituencies to face several types of contradictions with their more isolationist pasts (even if they build upon that past quite effectively), resulting with sometimes contradictory opinions about this unknown entity called Hizbullah.

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.

On Palestinian camps

Al Akhbar is probably the first Lebanese newspaper to have added a section on Palestinian camps to its publication, along with political news, society, economics, etc, as part of its ‘local’ news pages.

A box office success…

… Karim Makdisi nails it:

Lebanon’s June 7 national election was a box office success. It had it all: shady politicians, foreign intrigue, bribes, beautiful women, meddling religious figures, sectarian agitation, recently exposed spy rings, fundamentalists collaborating with capitalists, the poor and oppressed voting for the rich and privileged. It was a brilliantly marketed production with more twists and turns than a Hitchcock thriller, and an unpredictable finale in which the ‘good’ guys (the pro-US, anti-Iran, pro-‘moderate’ Arab, pro-‘peace process,’ March 14 coalition headed by Prime Minister-in-waiting Sa’ad Hariri, son of assassinated former PM Rafiq Hariri) defeated the ‘bad’ guys (the pro-Resistance, pro-‘Axis of Evil,’ anti-corruption Opposition coalition led by Hizbullah and Christian leader Michel Aoun) to retain their Parliamentary majority. All this accomplished with few security problems, record voter turn out, generally magnanimous winners and dignified losers. No wonder Western elections observers were smiling from ear to ear as they proclaimed, “free and fair” from the rooftops. They were, in the words of Jimmy Carter, so “proud” of the natives, who showed that they could be “democratic” and even managed to re-produce the patented “third world” grin and blue-ink-thumb of Iraq 2005 fame.

And see I’m not the only one who says it (although he writes it much better than me:

All in all, 80-90% of the parliamentary seats on offer had already been decided de facto prior to election day: most districts with clear Sunni or Shia’a Muslim majorities voted in their districts with frightening uniformity and discipline for the March 14 coalition and the Opposition respectively, and only the mixed Christian districts were genuinely in play with fierce competition between the two sides. The focus on Christian districts, in turn, brought out the kind of jingoism and chauvinism that has long characterized Christian elite discourse and inflated self-regard, with each side insisting it represented and defended the true interests of (Christian) Lebanon.Post-election analysis within elite Christian circles has thus centered on which side had won in the “pure” or “clean” districts, meaning those areas with Christian-majority electorate unsullied by Muslim voters. Under these conditions it is no surprise that fascist-lite candidates, notably from the March 14 Lebanese Forces and Phalanges Party, gained seats by recalling their old project of dividing Lebanon into ‘pure’ sectarian cantons.

To read also is Raed’s Gramscian insight on how the elections were doomed to be biased towards the majority viewing how the media and producers of knowledge are structured.

Meow …

This report is intended solely for the official use of the Department of State or the Broadcasting Board of Governors, or any agency or organization receiving a copy directly from the Office of Inspector General. No secondary distribution may be made, in whole or in part, outside the Department of State or the Broadcasting Board of Governors, by them or by other agencies or organizations, without prior authorization by the Inspector General under the U.S. Code, 5 U.S.C. 552. Improper disclosure of this report may result in criminal, civil, or administrative penalties.

Now Lebanon is produced by Quantum Communications, some of whose contracts with the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (originally the Middle East Television Network, but renamed in 2005) are described in the OIG-DOS report sourced above. The report was conducted due to ‘irregularities’ in the contracting process.

MTN/MBN was created in 2003 by the Emergency War Supplemental under the authority and funding of the Board of Broadcasting Governors, a US government-funded ‘independent agency.’ Soon thereafter, al Hurra was on the air. It has a budget of about $100 million a year from the BBG’s total budget of about $700 million (Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Sawa, Radio Farda, Radio Free Asia, Radio Marti, TV Marti, as well as al Hurra). There may also be additional revenue streams, but I am not sure.

Quantum Communications, along with Brand Central (which also received MTN/MBN contracts), Vertical Middle East and Firehorse Films comprise the Quantum Group, which is headed by Eli Khoury, who also directs Saatchi-Levant. He is also a founder of the Lebanese Renaissance Foundation, a DC-based group that lobbies the US federal government. The LRF has paid DLA Piper about $1 million for lobbying services since 2007 (the DOJ’s very incomplete online FARA (Foreign Agent Registration Act) database includes no Lebanese principals — Brazzaville has five!).

Quantum has had a slew of corporate and government clients (Jordan, Lebanon, IDAL, etc.), so it is difficult to know how much of their business comes from the US government. Perhaps very little, perhaps a great deal.

The IOG-DOS refers only to some initial MTN/MBN contracts in 2004 worth some $4.5 million, so it is unclear how much business Quantum has done through al Hurra. Saatchi-Levant also won a State Department contract for the now-defunct Hi Magazine.

Quantum has also been engaged in Iraq. For example, it has produced a series of television ads under the name of a phantom organization, the Future Iraq Assembly. The ads are available on Youtube and are similar to ads that also ran in Lebanon. Most observers believe the spots are funded by either the Defense or State Department.

It is unclear if Quantum was involved in any contracts related to al-Iraqiya. The station, part of the Pentagon “Free Iraq Media” plan, was initially the product of SAIC and served the needs of the Coalition Provisional Authority. In 2004, however, the Pentagon awarded a new contract for Iraq media to the Harris Group, who subcontracted the work out to the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC) and a Kuwaiti media company.

Interestingly, Firehorse Films seems to have been around since the early 1990s, producing documentaries about cultural matters. Anyway, post-2003, it has produced a film about al-Zarqawi for LBC, a documentary about religious minorities in the Middle East (yes, the Maronites play a starring role) for al Jazeera, and a documentary about the life and death of Arab nationalism. While I have no idea if these productions have made up the bulk of its work, they do suggest an interesting political line, no?

Is it art, the ‘market,’ political conviction or government subcontracts that is driving demand? I just cannot say, but imagine that like most collective human endeavors, it is a mixture of all those things.

More to come on the Pravdas of the Pradas.

Writing Hizbullah

An excellent article today in Al Akhbar by a friend of mine deciphering the various media and other type of intellectual production in the “Lebanese” sphere that came to shape how Hizbullah was and is written. In so doing Raed Charaf goes through a very detailed account of the various types of intellectual activity that shaped how Hizbullah is perceived today and the different political actors backing these discourses, and thus making these discourses possible. At last, someone taking a step back and understanding the formation of discourse in its socio-historical context.

Campaign ads again

I see that Al-Akhbar has finally picked up on blogs’ favorite topic and decided to publish a feature article on campaign ads uncovering even more rebuttals coming from March 14.

How do you find this one for example:

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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.

Aoun parading in Damascus

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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.

Why weren’t L’Orient Le Jour’s offices burnt?

If there will be one thing to remember out of all this mess that came to be labeled as the Lebanese situation it is the continuously imaginative babbling of this french-language media outlet. The only problem with imagination is that it can be very destructive. I would love to always have hard laughs when I read l’Orient le jour titles, such as this last one: “baptême du feu de Sleiman dans le concert des nations”, referring to the recent visit of Lebanese president Sleiman to the UN as a “baptism of fire”, that L’OJ still calls in a stupidly and naive war “the concert of nations”. But laughs turn quickly to ulcers when I read stuff like this:

Dimanche dernier, on a vu Samir Geagea formuler de profondes, franches et totales excuses publiques pour tout le mal injustifié dont a pu se rendre coupable, durant la guerre, la milice des Forces libanaises. Ce n’était certes pas la première fois qu’un chef libanais se livrait à une courageuse autocritique. Nul cependant n’était allé aussi loin dans l’énoncé du regret : lequel, par son impressionnante clarté, traduisait aussi un renoncement on ne peut plus solennel aux cruelles pratiques des bêtes de guerre.

Now let’s ponder a minute. This was an extract taken from Issa Gorayeb’s editorial, effectively defending Samir Geagea’s mea culpa this last Sunday during the LF martyr’s mass that I talked about in a previous post. Ok I won’t elaborate much, but just think about an analogy. If Saddam Husein say was alive today (not that I think Geagea has the same stature as Saddam but let’s assume) and Saddam would have stood to say that he’s sorry for the people he gazed in Kurdish villages. And then, a columnist would have praised these “sincere, and profound apologies” depicting the act as profoundly ‘courageous’. What would you have thought of this? Well, that’s precisely what just happened. I follow the writings of Ghorayeb since I’m 15. It is a slow march towards endlessly rotting decay. It seems that there is no end to it really.

But the one who saves this piece of toilet paper that is OJ as would ingeniously call it another blogger, is Fadi Noun, who writes still in the same issue the following:

Aussi spectaculaire que soit la confession du chef des Forces libanaises, elle reste insuffisante. Son caractère public et général la prive de la profondeur voulue ; le ton utilisé pour la prononcer, ainsi que le volet proprement politique du discours qui l’a suivie, en annulent en partie l’effet ; enfin le fait qu’il ait été prononcé à l’occasion d’une messe entretient la confusion sur sa nature.
Il faut savoir gré à Samir Geagea d’avoir utilisé le mot « ignoble » pour décrire certains actes qu’il regrette, que ce soit en son nom propre ou au nom des Forces libanaises, encore qu’il y ait là deux choses distinctes. C’est courageux, purificateur. C’est le mot juste pour parler de ces jeunes abattus sans merci « pour l’exemple », ou de cet homme tiré de son lit d’hôpital malgré les supplications d’une religieuse à genoux, et jeté en mer, les pieds pris dans un bloc de béton.
C’est aussi le mot qui vient aux lèvres de cet ancien milicien qui, sur les lieux d’un couvent désaffecté pour lequel on cherche une nouvelle fonction, et qui fut utilisé comme caserne durant la guerre, affirme « entendre encore les cris des Palestiniens qu’on y a enterrés vivants ».

I personally know more morbid stories on Samir Geagea and to that matter Bashir Gemayel. Very dirty stuff believe me. Basically we need another raid on Beirut by Hizbullah that this time gets other wackos (SSNP style) to burn the offices of this endlessly rotting institution. I can lead the battalion!

Tripoli: the new deal

Nobody understands Sunni politics like Fida’ Itani. Here, here, and here, he has comprehensive reviews of recent political relations between Lebanon and other Sunni governments.

By the way Al Akhbar (for example today) has been doing a great job at reporting and analyzing the recent political ‘reconciliation’ breakthrough in Tripoli, another periphery of the ‘Lebanese’ entity. I call it the periphery because today, The South, an older peripheral region has been quite well integrated in the overall Lebanese imaginary psyche, thanks to newspapers like Al Akhbar. Before that, The South (and the Bekaa) was only covered well (local news) by Hizbullah or Amal newspapers that only spread in the mentioned areas.

Interestingly enough, the structure of a newspaper like Al Akhbar makes it mandatory that it will spread an exhaustively nationalist coverage. Al Akhbar is mostly where other have not ventured (at the very least betraying a quest for content originality), circling the country and giving equal importance to everything thus fostering nationalistic feeling and re-writing the national imaginary. But I’ll write more on that later.

Should I translate any of that stuff?

The continuous downfall of political Maronitism

Or “Yet another morbid tale from the land of the free”

Anyone seen the latest billboard campaign of the Lebanese Forces? Check out how pathetic and empty their slogan is: “You are the Cedar and we are its red line”. What the fuck does it mean? Does it mean that this mostly empty-of-any-historical-signification-symbol the cedar is embodied in some “people” (of course The Christians, the actual real/authentic people of “Lebanon”), and they are going to protect this imagined entity?

I have been amazed by the particular types of nationalisms deployed in this little chunk of land that came to be called Lebanon. Old Christian aristocratic french-mandate nationalism is something, Kataeb nationalism is kind of different (trying to catch up with ‘aristocrat’ status but never fully succeeding), Tayyar today is also different, along with Hizbullah, or Mustaqbal brands. Anyway, one can talk a lot of all those imagined histories but let’s focus on this particular violent one, one that is born during the 75-90 war, a virulently isolationist type that lives on a dead-born idea, the one of the Lebanese forces. And their campaign is here to testify. Billboards show in turn different dead Lebanese famous political actors, some are obviously claimed by the LF, such as Bashir Gemayel (founder of the LF), and Pierre Gemayel (his father and leader of the Kataeb party). Others are less so, boys and girls, such as Charles Malik (a so-called human right activist who is actually a horrible anti-Muslim demagogue), and Camille Chamoun.

Wait… what? Camille Chamoun? For those who don’t know, Chamoun was one Lebanese president who at the time (50s) symbolized the apex of political Maronitism under the auspice of British intelligence, struggling to distance the country from its ‘Arab’ color. But that’s not the point. Chamoun’s son, Dany, during the civil war had a militia of his own (the Tigers…) like all good grown up political feudal heirs, and he did his share of butchering, training with Israelis, and what have you. Now here comes the interesting part, early in the war, the Lebanese Forces, then a rising organization under Bashir Gemayel, proceeded into killing most of ‘the Tigers’, in effect removing potential rivals on the “Christian arena”. Dany Chamoun was spared till much later, assassinated along with his two little sons, wife, and dog, though maid and daughter could hide in closet. His daughter Tamara vehemently accuses Samir Geagea then and now leader of the LF of having perpetrated the act.

Dory Chamoun, the brother of Dany, who still tries to carve himself a space in Lebanese politics held the position that it was the Syrians who killed his brother and not Geagea, thereby making possible a rapprochement between this ill-fated family and the last bastion of violently isolationist Christian political formations. Look at how pathetic this last Chamoun is: allying with the most probable murderer of his brother for simple power equations. But then again, I want to ask a question. Lebanese politicking is so random in terms of the political choices made by actors. Why then did not Chamoun brother allied with Aoun? He was a fierce anti-Syrian, represented one political facet of Christian affirmation, and has most likely not killed his brother.

This is the viciousness of Lebanese politics me friends… And now, Lebanese Forces billboard can re-appropriate one symbol of Lebanese political Maronitism, Camille Chamoun, as another dead person repesenting this so-called red line circling the cedar. What irony that while browsing youtube, I found these videos (see part 1, 2, and 3) of unpublished footage of Dany Chamoun lobbying two Bkerke Priests, the clerical maronite authority in this little chunk of land called Lebanon, to pressure the LF to give their weapon to the Lebanese army (then under the command of Michel Aoun) and stop ruling over the Christian street. We’re in the late 1980s by the way. And that’s the best part: In these videos we hear Dany complain that Geagea LF is using his father’s picture and putting it up on Christian street while engaging in practices such as coming into his house, searching for papers, messing the house upside down and pillaging. The same picture is used for their campaign today, 20 years later.

So yes all this is very sad. So many layers of sadness piling up on each other: Traditional Maronite political elitism being succeeded by remnants of Maronite political dreams extracting their legitimacy, their ‘substance’, from antagonistic ghosts, that only serve the cause of building the imaginary Christian memory once they’ve been dead and can’t speak about these bloody antagonisms. All this put on the back of a tree, the cedar, inflated with notions of height, and cheap feelings of superiority.

Crisis in the group

Well that does it for me. Speak no more. I just had the confirmation for what I always thought: People at ICG (International Crisis Group) could well join the rank of the phony ‘experts’ that make a living out of writing journalistic reports about a political situation but while giving it more credibility by issuing the report with an institutional ‘think-tank’ stamp.

Check the latest report of ICG on Lebanon. That’s the title: The new Lebanese Equation: The Christian’s central role… Just read the “executive summary” to get to what corner of mental derangement the guy can take you. No need to read the rest of the text unless you are interested in curious cases of insane imagination.

Stamp it, fix it, make it an axiom: The only central role (if you want to think with such a stupid concept as ‘centrality of role’ in this case) that one can see not only in Lebanon but in the region at large is the one played by Hizbullah. They are the biggest winner, and on all fronts. Now of course, no single actor/group gained a role, the situation is just very different for everyone, and there is no group called ‘Christians’ in lebanon, there are Christians loosing and Christians winning if you want to call them like this. Likewise Hizbullah gained on levels and is constrained on others.

This ICG article triggers other open-ended questions that could be researched:

1- Journalists/producers of information, foreigners, coming to Lebanon end up
adopting the concepts used by Lebanese themselves to understand a situation (confessional concepts for example), ‘Christians’ is an entity that ‘play’ a ‘central’ role for example.

2- Think tanks and pundits adopt the Hollywood-based train of thinking that you need to find something ‘catchy’ to write an article on the ‘situation’ in a specific country. You can’t just say that the various protagonists ended up resolving Doha in such and such a way after fighting on several fronts peaking with the Beirut demonstration of force. No, you need to find something good. Something Brussels would like, in this case, “Christians” are strengthening because well it is original, it is about the Middle East and it is not about “Islamists”, plus in the backdrop of Christians ‘not-strengthening-at-all’ in Iraq or Syria or etc.

3- The explosive rate at which the general industry of producing information grows is highly alarming. More and more people are making their living out of basically producing crap. They create institutions, start ranking themselves in them, from one type of expertise to the other. Academia is basically the same thing but has much more history and has the sanctity of ‘educating’ giving ‘diplomas’, etc which basically means giving a social position/distinction. I’m sure one day, with the growing ‘democratization’ and ‘globalization’ encountered by the various human creatures of this planet there will be think-tanks, hey, even bloggers, giving diplomas and certificates!

The lost cause of the media

I don’t understand why the media is supposed to have “a cause” that surpasses all other causes. Mustaqbal buildings were burnt down by SSNP men (in retaliation for what they did with their offices a couple of month ago). The same night we saw Mustaqbal’s employees crying on TV saying that they were not sectarian but that this attack made them sectarian. Al Haqid summarizes well why these claims are bullshit.

The next day, even Al Akhbar was condemning the attack of the building on the ground that we should not impinge on the freedom of the press. What the hell is this liberal value that these groups are erecting? So Al Akhbar finds it normal that killings are happening when it is on the loyalist side but when it is a journalist, a journalist has no party, color, texture. A journalist is like an angel that should stay untouched.

Journalist, and as a matter of fact any producer of information or knowledge is irremediably the quintessence of party engagement. He/she is the direct formulator of political ideology. He should be the primary target of perceived enemies. This double standard played by the press, this weird self-erected business/social code that the press brandish among its targeted audience is at most obscene if not totally denying of the realities it lives in. What more bourgeois can you get?

The tribulations of West Beirut’s bourgeoisie

Something that makes me snap out very quickly is the outrage shown by people in Beirut to what “the jihadist” did in ‘west Beirut’, as if it was an isolated event, something popping out of nowhere, and as if this only happened to them. Nobody really understand that these types of armed threats were happening in other parts of Beirut and in other parts of Lebanon for the past couple of years by the militias that are connected to the government. Stop being shocked at SSNP’s signature around Hamra, it is simply pay back. Stop thinking that you’ve lived near death experiences when other parts of the country have been living similar states, when they were trying to demonstrate, or pressure the government to change course, and nobody talked about it, nobody nagged for hours when people got killed in Mar Mikhael or in other places. Nobody felt concerned.

Another double standard characteristic is those who say that Hizbullah has finally shown its true face when it turned its “arms towards the inside” thereby destroying their image of a resistant group that honorably defeated Israel. Not only is this a totally flawed reading of what happened, but also, since when anyone thought highly of Hizbullah’s practices of the past decades? I read journalists (and hear people) that always hated and despised Hizbullah now talking about their glorious lost past, warning Hizbullah that they are tarnishing this image. Shame.

Civil society busts you in your email

Hey friends, did you know that “civil society” invites you to attend a march that will take place on the 13th of April from the Mar Mikhael Church in Chiyah to Martyr’s Square in downtown? The objective is to remember the ‘martyrs’ who died during the CIVIL (i.e. clan VS clan of people calling themselves Lebanese) war.

I just got the press release by email. That’s another thing “civil society” can do in Lebanon, it can reach any ‘citizen’ inside the country without having to ask for his email. But that’s not my main point here. My point rather is actually made up of several sub-points:

1- Who the hell is civil society? Some day, we will need a dedicated person to do a genealogy of this term, especially through its use in post-colonial societies.

2- Why on the Arabic press release it is signed “civil society” whereas on the English one there is no signature. Why on the English press it is “civil society organizations invite you to” whereas on the Arabic one it is “civil society invites you to”? Maybe because in Arabic we are required to believe that such an abstract and absurd concept exist somehow floating, transcending, our miserable lives, whereas in English, we’re pragmatic enough to know these are just a bunch of organization that are trying to mobilize people into identifying to some aspect of what would be called the common “Lebanese experience”.

3- What’s really nice about this event is that once on Martyr’s square, amidst the security guards, military personnel, secret service rascals of all creed, we will have a television (don’t bother mentioning which one) that will broadcast a “host various journalists to discuss the themes of suffering, heroism, and hope”. Great, more journalistic stupid rants in an overall moralizing discourse, that’s what we need. Seriously sometimes I miss the priests, sheikhs, or what we commonly refer to as “religious” figures.

4- But what’s really even nicer, is that the television broadcast “will close with a joint prayer with representatives from Lebanon’s religious communities and will be transmitted simultaneously by all the television networks”. Isn’t that cute? it reminds me of Gebran Tueni (grand racist and right wing frustrated individual)’s slogan (that he must have rehearsed for days in his office before pronouncing it during the successive theatrical and pathetic speeches of March 14) that says something like” We swear to God, Muslims and Christians that we will stand by our nation Lebanon”. The bottom line is: Make sure that Confessionalism is something to rest upon, to pray upon, to praise, to worthy, in order to achieve peace. Good luck.

If someone needs the press release please let me know. I can email it.

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.

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.

Seeing Aoun and Nasrallah on Otv

I just have a couple of points to make on (before) yesterday’s interview between Hizbullah’s SG and Tayyar’s leader. These are open questions more than anything else. My sentences sometimes are brief and I don’t develop every idea very much. So there is a lot to be said on each.

Of course, the purpose of the interview was to make sure people do not forget that the Hizbullah-Tayyar alliance, understanding, rapprochement, whatever you want to call it is alive and kicking. To this effect their interviewer Jean Aziz (a journalist at Al Akhbar who was clearly overwhelmed by the stature of the interviewees) had many pertinent questions that addressed most of people’s ‘common fears’. TV in the Middle East has long become an outlet for accountability when other social and political institutions fail to deliver. Of course, in this case accountability is mere persuasion: People make whatever they make out of what the political actor argues (believing or not, making sense etc). But the political actor struggles hard in order to explain and justify himself. That’s the most fascinating part. The first impression of the interview is that Aoun and Nasrallah know and respect each other regardless of any agreement or entente. I’m talking at the individual level, and you don’t need a psychoanalyst to dig that out, you can just read faces. How come this is so I don’t know. At the level of Aoun, I think it is a very recent discovery dating from after his return and the Syrian withdrawal; when talks started between both groups. And talking about talks, that’s something that was never covered or investigated further: What happened during these joint parliamentary committees that set the stage for their Paper of Common Understanding? What ideas, notions, arguments, were discussed that led to dividing the paper in its final points? How did the various parliamentary members interact with each other?

The most important idea that comes out of this interview is the turbulent reconciliation of Islamic and Secularist visions into a Nationalist one. And when I say ‘reconciliation’ I don’t think at all that there is really a fixed ‘Islamic’ worldview or another rigid ‘secular’ one, even if the actors being interviewed do think so. There is a discursive effort to promote a clear vision of belonging or being that evolves with changing political opportunities and through other contingencies such as specific insitutional influence (the presence of the modern state and its formidable capacity to mobilize and name for example).

Aoun differentiates between an Islamic worldview and a secular one and he explains it: An Islamic system involves God as the source of authority and a secular one comes as a result of a social contract between citizens. Notwithstanding the many simplifications and contradictions Aoun steps into when talking about these conceptualizations, he says something else that caught my attention which is that “no matter if one is a secular or an Islamist, at the end of the day we agree on the fact that we are all mowatinin”. Now I have thought a bit about this and there is not really a good way of translating what mowatinin means but I would say that it is half way between a citizens and kind of a national (al mowataneh).

This helps us understand how two radically different stances towards the Syrian presence could have been merged together through the ultimate banner of nationalism. In the very beginning Aziz asks Nasrallah what does he think of Aoun given that both of them come from such a different political background. Nasrallah answers quite simply that what he admires in Aoun is the integrity of his nationalistic stance. For Hizbullah, the liberation of the land comes with the help of the Syrians (securing channels for weapons, covering here and there etc.), for Tayyar, Syrian presence symbolized the failure to reconcile the ‘national’ consitutency(ies).

How did we come to this? Why do we have an Islamic revolutionary initially driven by ethical/moral etc. Goals of fighting the oppressors, erecting narrow banners such as nationalism? Simply because it pays to be a nationalist today. Because the Lebanese state is once more a useful tool for reaching political goals. The Palestinian question (camps and weaopns), the water problem (wazani river), and the territorial issue are much more easily addressed through the nationalist banner or frame (all points discussed in the Paper of Common Understanding). Through the instrumentalization (the use) of the Lebanese state, these crucial issues can be better resolved. When Hizbullah approaches the State in this struggle of power, it becomes gradually immersed in all these problems of definitions.

Here we open a little parenthesis with what goes on in Turkey in terms of clash between ‘secularists’ and ‘islamist’ each one of them claiming to work through the ‘democratic’ path. In this case, the point of contention is the very nature of Turkish nationalism, Turkish raison d’être and the mutliple stories that feeds it. I will write more on Turkey especially in the light of the headscarf issue.

The questions left open (one of the subjects of my research), is how does Hizbullah reconcile all these discursive caveats (Islamic, religious, nationalist, revolutionary, geographic, ethnic, pragmatic etc) in the face of this approaching “Lebanese” State and everything it defines (territory, population, etc). The more Hizbullah’s elite feels it can grab the State and its formidable mobilization power (of course Hizbullah has been archiving way before approaching the State) the more it will sucumb to the grip of its history, narrative, etc. One symptom of that is that its alliance with one of the most virulently nationalist movement that is Tayyar propels it into new discursive territories.

Now of course it does not really matter if Hizbullah is a ‘nationalist’ organization. Nobody becomes or stops being a nationalist, but engages or disengages in practices that have ‘nationalist’ dimensions. Just to give one example, for Hizbullah one story says that the party was never involved in the civil war the movement aiming only to liberate the territory under Israeli occupation. Hizbullah has always been adamant to push for this version of the history of the war. During the interview, Nasrallah not only reminded this claim but also used it in order to say that ‘we are ready to forgive and forget about those who participated in the civil war” making an obvious hint at Jumblatt’s and Geagea’s ( ex warlords and m14 prominent political figures) practices. The funny thing here is that during the breaks, Al Manar TV who was retransmitting the interview from Otv, had this ad showing films of Jumblatt and Gemayel (and a little passage with Siniora kissing Rice) making contradictory declarations across time (they had images of speeches made during the civil war up until today, with a voice-off saying how murderous they were, without naming them, and ending the clip with the word “Enough…”).

But to go back to the main line of thought here, nationalisms can take varied forms. The most virulent type I can think of is the French. Of course, French have a multitude of history books trying to invent and articulate logical continuities with past events and experiences etc. But at the end of the day you are French because you’re French, you speak the (authorized) language and you come from a territory where a specific State has control over it. The pervasiveness of French nationalism comes from the very dynamics of its language. In the Middle East (just like in Latin America with Spanish) where Arabic is present across newly created boundaries, we see new forms of nationalisms emerging, one that blends other imaginaries than the western secular one (the Islamic one for example), the exact versions of it that emerges are dependent on the cases (under the jurisdiction of this or that State). This does not mean that secularism is completely rejected. Quite the contrary actually because secularism is so instrumental to the functioning of the State, that new artefact brought to us by the colonizers. The end outcome of these dynamics are still quite vague until we see proper exercise of power.

This type of nationalism is one that is divorced from any other narrative, in the case of the Lebanese, the Phoenician narrative, the Christians-need-a-state narrative, the refuge-of-persecuted-communities narrative; all these being Christian narratives in the first place. Since Hariri’s death, the we-hate-syria has been melting into several other ‘western’ narratives (i.e. We want a state of law, we want order, we’re tired of ‘occupation’ and ‘authoritarian regimes’, we’re a democracy after all etc). The last and probably most important narrative is the Israel-is-the-enemy narrative which cut across most stories of belonging. Most important of all, it is only political actors that feed new or reformulated narratives. One thing to keep in mind is that there is no one narrative no one story, although sometimes political parties or influential actors emphasize one story or one version of a story.

It can be fairly said that Hizbullah has no elaborate “Lebanese narrative”. On the contrary, if you open the history books published by Hizbullah ideologues or sympathizer or even if you read the speeches of the party members themselves, one stumbles around pan-Arabist claims denouncing colonialist partitioning of the region, Christian creation of the Lebanese state and discrimination against other communities and so forth. But you have ‘localized’ history being written, the history of Jabal Amel, the history of the Bekaa, of Baalbeck, etc. At the end of the day, who are Hizbullah larger party members and militants if not ex-communists, leftists, Syrian nationalists, and so forth, that happen to be Shi’a. Tayyar dynamics is a bit different. Its constituency in general endorsed (even if with reservation) maronite historiography. Most have a phalangist past. Where do both meet apart from wanting to reach power? Both share concern around the fate of Palestinian camps and weapons and about the mounting ‘Sunni extremist’ wave.

A very interesting moment in the interview was when Nasrallah gave his classical answer on whether Hizbullah wants an Islamic State in Lebanon. So Nasrallah starts off making his usual argument that he as an “Islamist” cannot but want an Islamic State as a form of governance, but only if this emerges as the result of the overwhelming desire of the population. A lot of people, who take everything Nasrallah says to the letter, say that this means that Hizbullah is patiently waiting until the population is all Shi’a in order to have the Islamic State (because naturally, Shi’a are born with this predisposition to want an Islamic State). But anyway, what I found very interesting was when he said that another reason why an Islamic State was not desirable was because of the attractive nature of Lebanese diversity, that if threatened, “we could become like other Arab States”. Now that was a double edged boutade. But is this Lebanese Christian political speaking or what? And there you see a little hesitation in the voice of Nasrallah, he does not know if he should stress too much on these principles of ‘pluralism’ etc. Or go back to the fact that he is an ‘Islamist’ all this while staying a patriot, etc. Basically he got caught up in a traditionally ‘Christian discourse’. To be fair Nasrallah did not use the word pluralism (ta3adoudiyeh) but agreement, accord (tawafouqiyeh) that he picked up from Aoun. This was by the way the most repeated word during the interview whether by Aoun or Nasrallah. For Aoun tawafouqiyeh is used in order not to be scared of the other, obviously addressing himself to the Christian constituency. To build ‘trust’ (thiqa).

By the way Manar TV and most of the Hizbullah marketing and advertizing crew are really good finders of slogans. Well “Lebanese” are really good at that it seems. Check this one out: a video shots of Aoun and Nasrallah meeting in the Mar Mikhael Church and holding hands with on top of the video frame, loubnan al sayyed al 7or