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!

Sunni politics in Lebanon

There are three main (intersecting) orientations “mainstream” Sunni politics perceives (or deal with) more radical militant movements such the brief hollywoodean movement of Sheikh Asir, Jubhat al Nusra or Da’esh (ISIS).

1- To secretly feel that they are scoring points against their more traditional political enemy that is Hizbullah

2- To despise them but have no long-term political breath to do much about it and to prefer adopt piecemeal approaches, co-opting these groups for popularity/electoral reasons

3- To practice ostrich politics or avoid looking at the elephant in the room.

In either case, this is untenable especially with more powerful groups such as Da’esh that are highly strategic in their movements and that, by looks of it, definitely plan to eat little by little the border “Sunni” region of north Lebanon.

This will require a political consensus that neither the weak army institution of the army nor the various political force could muster during the short but turbulent history of  the tiny republic of Lebanon.

So if I want to be completely pessimistic, I see that the consociational democracy formula, which is slightly reworked arrangement of the “strength of Lebanon is in its weakness” motto (Pierre Gemayel’s infamous statement), may pave the way for larger Sunni politics. It just happens that it comes (as is often the case) in a very violent and brutal way).

ISIS and the West


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.

العقل والحياء والدين

وفي الحديث
أن جبريل عليه السلام أتى آدم عليه السلام فقال له
إني أتيتك بثلاثٍ فاختر واحدةً، قال: وما هي يا جبريل? قال: العقل والحياء والدين
فقال: قد اخترت العقل
فخرج جبريل إلى الحياء والدين فقال
ارجعوا فقد اختار العقل عليكما
فقالا: أمرنا أن نكون مع العقل حيث كان
من كتاب السؤدد – ابن قتيبة

The Lessons of History: Thoughts on the events in Gaza (part I)

While Israel is pounding Gaza and killing in the hundreds, demonstrations in support of the Palestinians and Hamas’ fight are taking place all around the globe. Of course this doesn’t reflect dominant public opinion in the West that still is apologetic of Israel’s actions. Not one official state declaration has condemned the Israeli attacks. If anything, the few who bothered to issue a statement reiterated Israel’s right to defend itself as it was perceived to live under a constant threat of rocket shower. Check here if you want to have goose bumps.

But there is one place where no demonstrations are in sight: the Arab world. Also, not one condemnation was issued by any Arab government, not one declaration. It is taken for granted that no Western government has condoned Israeli attacks either. But how can we explain this apathy sweeping the Arab region? Surely, they have their own problems all linked to one or other form of occupation. But this conflict used to be called the Israeli-Arab conflict for crying out loud!

A couple of centuries ago, the situation in the region looked very similar: the crusaders were well entrenched on the coast of the “fertile crescent”, and the rest of the Muslim world was completely paralyzed, accepting, if not complicit, in the status quo of occupation until Nur ad-din and his successor Saladin challenged the paradigm. This is at least what the history books say. Some of this dominant cultural apathy or nonchalance, the surrender and normalization, must have existed so that these two individuals and the movements they represented have gone down in the books as changing the face of history.

Modern Arabs have not used their historical consciousness as an agent of ideological change or political action. The basic nationalistic experiments that were fashioned by colonial encounters left Arabs struggling over questions of terminology and then categorizing history in one way or another. Devising points of reference and of origin. The crusades episode was barely glossed over (until now the only book that presents an interesting take on that episode is Amin Maalouf’s. That tells you about the state of the literature).

On one hand, Arab leftist movements were too busy looking towards a brighter socially more “evolved” future and being ashamed of their Islamic heritage, helplessly wanting to teach social and political “progress” of the West. On the other hand, nationalist movements were quarreling amongst each other finding all kinds of identitarian anchors to justify their causes (the Omayyad period was a favorite as it looked the most “secular”, but also anything pre-Islamic).

No one thought of approaching history as giving lessons for political practice. More recently but still a couple of centuries ago, the “Renaissance” Italian writer Machiavelli looked at the history of the Roman Empire in this particular vein as he hoped to provide advice to unite the various Princedoms feuding over Italy. Interestingly, Machiavelli was categorized as ushering a new era of thinking politics outside the scope of religion, a state that had lasted since the advent of Catholic Christianity in Europe.

In modern times, we have fallen in to the trap of categorizing Machiavelli a secular thinker as opposed to one that was just opposed to dominant categories of analysis that happened to be held at the time by the Catholic Church with its particular understanding of history. The point of thinkers such as Machiavelli was to say that the Catholic Church could not provide the needed leverage to create political unity. Ideologically speaking, there was a need to produce new categories of thinking. Machiavelli called for a new political science, one that does away with traditional categories of analysis, not because they were bad or “backward”, but because the institutions backing them did not have anymore the means to create new political realities.

All this is to say that Arabs have been obsessed with categorizing things as either secular or religious as intellectuals of all creeds desperately clung on to the categories of colonial heritage. How could they have done otherwise? The colonizer had also captured their texts and by this token had controlled the creation of knowledge emanating from these writings! The primary victim of this reversed Orientalism espoused by Arabs was historical consciousness. The past became a cumbersome process that was only used to create identities, differences and reactionary discourse and not be a repository for good action.

The rise of Political Islam was a direct reaction to this awkward and clumsy attitude towards history. Suddenly the past was all important. But what kind of past? For example, during the Lebanese “civil war”, the crusader episode was visited in history by various Muslim groups but only to identify them to the contemporary Lebanese Christians who they were fighting between 1975 and 1990. Even though one could retrieve lessons in political practice from these uses of the past they were also creating group differentiation (here Christian VS Muslims).

And every time history was revised it was to create identitarian differences. Such as fomenting trouble between Sunni and Shia denominated groups. Books and articles, talk-shows and documentaries, all proliferate on relentless questions and searches of authenticity, developing either an alleged Sunni or Shia take on the Islamic tradition. No wonder we’ve been busied away from other conflicts.

As I looked for what was written on Nur ad-din, most of what I found was how much he was a great Sunni leader who opposed Shia Fatimid Egypt of the time. In effect, this is not incorrect. But that’s not what the prevailing historians of the time want us to remember, at least in the aftermath of the defeat against the crusaders. The point here is not that the “right” conflict is looking for the right identity to conflict with. The point is to look at the location of forms of occupation, oppression, unjust violence, etc. and understand how to remedy that through the legacy of others who did before us. How can one create the necessary form of consciousness through learning from the past in order to produce community change?

With technological revolutions and every single group or individual having a media channel of his own this ideological rallying is an immense challenge. It is ironic that Arabs are said to be closer to democracy or accountability given that they don’t even pressure their government to do something about Palestine. Is this a sign of apathy, a change of heart, or just a failure to understand and return the debt to the past?

Raï in Jerusalem

Maronite-Cardinal-Beshara-Rai-Getty-1The new Christian maronite patriarch Cardinal Bechara Boutros el Rai, has been making some bold moves since the beginning of his mandate. First his visit to Syria in the midst of the conflict degenerating, and now his decision to visit Jerusalem as the Catholic pope has schedule a Middle East tour, all show that Rai wants to re-assert some form of power for Christians in the Middle East. Now I don’t know why everyone on the left side of the political spectrum (whatever that really means nowadays) lashed out at Rai, I think this visit is deemed to be considered as involving novel strategies that inscribes Rai as the most Arab of Christian Maronite authorities since the coming of the French in the region.

Rai kept on repeating, as he defended his controversial trip to Jerusalem, that he was going strictly for religious reasons. But then Rai added “I am going there to say this is our city, I am going home, and I am going to see my people. We have been present in Haifa and Galilee long before Israel.” Now that’s cleverly said as it contributes in a way to challenge the sovereignty of Israel over this chunk of land. Holy land is not to be possessed by nation-states. But that’s the Khomeinist rationale as explicited by his Jerusalem Day commemoration. That’s probably why Hizbullah was not so vociferous about Rai’s visit, opposing it publicly but quickly silencing the subject at the media level.

In the land where “non-state actors” prosper with or without the support of official states, what better way of producing political leverage than to use the various institutional tools at one disposal. Rai seems here to have learned from Hizbullah who uses Iran to further the interest of their community in Lebanon, producing political actions that can spill over outside of Lebanon.

Rai’s power material and symbolic springs from two different directions. His constituency and the various implications of the confessional system in Lebanon, and his institutional affiliation to the Catholic church based in the Vatican. This means that if Rai wants to bolster his position he can act on both these fronts. His recent visit to Jerusalem is clearly an attempt at gaining leverage through the organizational hierarchy of the Catholic Church especially now that the latter elected somewhat of a “third world” oriented pope. And in so doing, Rai can gain more independence as a figure representing a community that is not delimited by nation-states (Maronites in Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, etc).

By using the “religious” card, his institutional affiliation to the Church, Rai reminds contemporary societies that communities are still represented by institutions that transcend State boundaries (in this case Israel and Lebanon). Most importantly, they remind us that where State fail to provide solutions for communities, other institutions can be used. Given the type of power the Catholic Church has, this is probably the best political move they can do. And by saying that his motivation are non-political and strictly religious, these are religious motivations that are strictly political.

It remains to be seen the extent to which Rai’s move manifest an action that transcends the State, it is still framed by State-related political calculations, in this case, the power leverage Christian can get in Lebanon.

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.

Isolationism or Regionalization?

Recently the Phalangist MP Sami Gemayel has proposed to “amend the preamble of the constitution to stipulate Lebanon’s neutrality towards regional conflicts”.

“We request amending the constitution to clearly state that Lebanon must stay neutral towards regional events,” Gemayel said after the weekly meeting of the party’s political bureau. He elaborated: “We are very concerned about Lebanese factions’ participation in the Syrian war and this can lead to transferring the fighting into Lebanon.” “We remind those publicly declaring that they have fighters in Syria, particularly Hizbullah, that they have signed the Baabda Declaration that clearly states we must disassociate Lebanon from regional crises,” the MP noted.

The Baabda declaration took place in June 2012 during one of these so-called “national dialogue sessions”. Whether Lebanon should get involved in regional questions or just adopt an isolationist stance is at the heart of a historical debate that is as old as the existence of the State. Logically enough, the isolationist stance was traditionally endorsed by the Lebanese Christian Right (and still represented by the Phalangist party although recently joined by several other groups). This stance found many enemies whose political existence depended on the resolution or simply the management of regional questions. The coalitions of pro-Palestinian formations, resistance groups against Israeli occupation, pro-Syrian political parties, and so on).

It is not a coincidence that the isolationist stance went well with the famous dictum “Lebanon’s strength is in its weakness” that Pierre Gemayel (again former Phalangist leader and grandfather of the PM Sami Gemayel) declared at some point in the 1970s referring to the multi-confessional nature of the political process and the neutrality position Lebanon strove to enjoy at that time. The event following 1975 were to prove the extent to which this declaration was detrimental to those who found themselves to be Lebanese nationals. It is ironic also, that in the midst of the event following the 1975 debacle, the same party that had adopted an isolationist line had ended up asking for Syrian interference in order to defeat the leftist-Palestinian coalition. Syria was then on an integral part of doing politics in Lebanon. So in order to protect an isolationist/neutral stance the party was forced to ask for a regional cover.

More generally, the paradox of Middle Eastern states is that the more they push for national isolation (for security reasons) the less they are able to confront bigger political forces and thus end up weakening their political bargaining power. The Sunni-Shi’i conflict that has been nurtured gradually since the 1990s is the last mess that threatens to wreck any power the region can accumulate in facing forms of domination. It all started when Iran took precedence in establishing itself as the only regional force that can challenge Israel and the US, a development that left many jealous states and parties across the region. And crucially enough, Iran could only do that because Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas were working together to that effect. These movements are born from the consequence of State ineffectiveness at carrying vital political actions in order to liberate territory and create a strong military deterrence power. Again, the regional nexus permitted local parties to become stronger and voice certain political demands that could not be answered and delivered by local institutions. Whatever one’s stand toward the Syrian uprising (and elsewhere), this development weakens states at the regional at least in the short to mid term as it forces new groups to shorten their attention to “the inside”.

The irony though here is that Middle Eastern countries are not all sticking to a plan of focusing on “the inside” The Gulf and in particular Saudi Arabia and Qatar have tried in all possible ways to challenges Iranian foreign policies by targeting its proxy, first Hamas and Hizbullah, then the Syrian state. This regional war cannot be dissociated from its potentiality of boosting certain states or political formations over others that do have regional agendas. Then, in a context such as the Middle East where occupation is regionally organized, where some states have regional agendas, the isolationist stance resemble what is called ostrich politics (where the ostrich is said to try to delude her enemies by hiding her head in the sand). They fail to see how they cannot avoid the fact that any genuinely political action must involve regional interference whether from within or from without. While Gemayel shouts for a Lebanese neutral stance above, members of his most important political ally (Al Mustaqbal party) and its main sponsors (such as Saudi Arabia) are all deeply involved inside Syria.

I am not trying here to defend Hizbullah’s intervention in Syria but more appropriately to explain why it is impossible for them not to intervene, just like it was practically impossible for Palestinians not to try to wage political militant activities from Lebanese territories, or why more generally, regional issues dictates local ones. This is so because first, local quests for influence need certain regional leverage, and second, because certain political questions are irremediably “trans-national” (such as the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict). But the only way to carry out transnational actions is by putting in place a political formation of State, institutions, organizations or groups, that can operate freely away from the vagaries and individualizing tendencies of the democratic push. More on this later.

Thoughts from India II

Starting probably with Gandhi, but all throughout the twentieth century, it is my belief that Indian societies (not that I think India does not preserve some blatant forms of injustice) have been both judicious and clever in protecting the importance of ethics to maintain forms of social stability and power. By ethics, I mean social rules and regulations, practices and rituals, that dually constrain and open ways for the individual to act and engage levels of consciousness (I acknowledge that my definition of ethics is quite vague!).

Indians reveal how useful ethics are by demonstrating the logics behind them, their inherent “rationale”. In brief, they linked philosophy to ethics. Here I am not at all talking about a modern understanding of philosophy where people venerate and sacralize the act of Reason. Rather, I point to the use of philosophy in order to arrive at a place that goes beyond reason, namely, the practice of ethics or living harmoniously with other fellow human beings and living entities.

In other traditional societies that have witnessed this gradual mix of realities and practices, brought on by “modernity”, the original purpose of the premodern social settings was lost. Modernity came as bearer of lessons: you are backward, you need to change, and the first thing you need to do is liberate yourself from all such social obligations that seemingly did not make sense. Beginning in the nineteenth century, a huge storm swept towards the east and scrutinized social life in order to corner it as something that forced people to abide by rules that have no purpose, namely Religion, or at the very least that there existed other ready-made social recipes that would make people happier, or free.

The strategic importance of Gandhi and the reservoir in which he picked his ideas and practices was how odd he must have sounded when ethics, “truth”, and other metaphysical objectives had been discredited by a mercantile and individualistic society. These western societies had replaced these forms of “spiritual truth” by “reason”, which they thought the Greeks worshiped. Nietzsche’s critique here could not be more visionary. Alas, Nietzsche’s fell into the trap of Orientalists when he put Indian philosophy in the same bag as European enlightenment. “Truth” for Indians was not at all the self-righteous model that Nietzsche detected in Western philosophy and which morality he labeled as the one of slaves.

And so when Gandhi lays down ‘the system’, this meticulous observation of countless ethical norms and practices, which seemed odd in the beginning, it becomes highly strategic as it empowers societies and thus political systems. I explained one drawback of this in the previous post. Fighting colonialism in this case involved working on the mind, the spirit. Even though the Indian political system is still heavily indebted to colonial practices it did escape to some extent another virulent form of colonization that other societies gave into.

Indeed, unfortunately, Islamic societies of, say, the Arab world that contained the exact same potentials as Indian society, fell completely for the worshiping of new liberal secular values brought on by colonial political changes. One implication of this is that ethics as in “religion” was something “bad” precisely because it did not have any “logic” to it. One should look at what is “rational” and her lies the most important point: the irrational element within (and thus the ideology behind) the “rational” recipe did not excluded most rules and regulations that these societies followed and so most of them were abandoned.

And even today, with the so-called “Islamic resurgence” and its emphasis on the importance of ethics in regulating the life of the individual colonial schemas, especially aspects of the liberal paradigm are taken for granted. To be continued.

An Analysis of Obama’s Speech in Cairo …

Your map of Africa is really quite nice. But my map of Africa lies in Europe. Here is Russia, and here… is France, and we’re in the middle — that’s my map of Africa.

— Otto von Bismarck.

Sense and non-sense about “Political Islam”

Those studying what is commonly refered to as political Islamic movements should know that the paradigm of the Nation-State is here to stay, and quite for some time and with all its institutional and politically practical consequences. The whole ‘secular VS religious’ debate begs the question. It is all an endlessly renewed effort to find a discursive envelope to the same infernal machine called the modern State with its projected population/territory/etc. It does not mean that alternative to the classical European narrative to the nation is not possible. “Islamism” is one such. And I’m not saying that the Nation-State cannot be challenged by “Islamists”. It can actually be challenged by any politically relevant actor/organization when the latter can challenge on a large scale the economic and cultural logic of the capitalist system and all of its institutional (legal for example) ramifications. Although “Islamists” branch out and create at times slightly different type of institutional structures they by and large stay very much fall prey to the cultural logic of the system no matter how hard they officially fight the ‘nationalist’ paradigm because their political calculations cannot but be national, geared towards using the structure of this pre-established colonial State.

The secular and the religious (Part I): Conceptual confusions

Let’s wrap up the concerns that were voiced over the idea of an Islamic State. This text is a bit disarticulate and is mostly a series of thoughts on the question that I fail to more effectively organize. But I have been trying to produce a decent post about this for the two last weeks and I promised an answer so here it is. This is just the first part. Part II will be on the actual practices, historical and present, of political movements and institutions in the Middle East in relation to the concerns raised in the comment section of the last post.

I will start by the statement I found the most interesting: “I disagree though that an Islamic or for that matter any religiously derived state is better than a secular one. Unless the religious is regulated in a secular way”.

At the heart of this highly coherent and seemingly legitimate comment, lies the working of modern hegemony: The acceptance of a social system that has changed the significance of the term ‘religion’ or for that matter our understanding of the “religious” phenomenon and led to the rise of another elusive concept, the “secular”. The trigger of this discursive shift is the emergence, the rise of the almighty modern nation-state. New structures of power require new conceptualizations of social reality. The definition of two allegedly different phenomenon namely “the religious” and the “secular” is a political move before anything else.

It does not mean that the secular creates similar social spaces than the religious, on the contrary, but it is important to remember that the difference has nothing to do with something intrinsically religious or secular about it. Ok, for now I’m talking abstract and enigmatically so let’s try to illustrate.

When we use these terms we usually mean several connected spheres of social life:
1- personal beliefs about reality physical or spiritual
2- rituals and practices we engage in and the meaning we give to them (i.e. 1)
3- legal rules we abide by that regulate the interaction between social agents
4- Institutions that have the power to enforce the legal rules specific to the region (the State, courts, etc.

When people discuss the relation between the religious and the secular they usually refer to one or more of the four mentioned areas. The problem, I think is that sometimes they mix everything up. In a pre-modern settings these 4 areas of social life are not politically separate or distinguished, but the rise of modernity triggered a discursive separation, meaning that it enabled intellectuals, political actors, institutions etc, to talk of a separation of spheres.

The rise of “the secular” as a space in modern politics is, if you ask me, a big trick. In marxist linguo, it serves to preserve the interests of the overarching state (thus the dominant actors behind it). The rise of the ‘secular’ is accompanied by the rise of the concept of “individual”. The individually maximizing profit type of actor. The individual who thinks independently of his social structures. When we refer to the fact that ‘the individual’ should be free to make his own decision about what he believes in is to play by the rules of modern political structures of power. In this case, we fail to understand that in the first place, individual are social actors, meaning that they form beliefs ‘socially’, that their decisions are socially determined. But this valorization of the individual paves the way to the biggest political alienation of the individual which is the creation of the national actor. So you become an individual who is supposed to make his own decisions about things provided that you’re labeled from birth to death as a ‘citizen’ with benefits, and responsibilities vis-a-vis an overarching State.

So the State compartmentalize the four areas mentioned above. It privatize what becomes “religion”. Whereas in a pre-modern setting there is no such thing as “religion”, but more of a general understanding of social and political life that disursively links beliefs to rituals and political rule. It does not mean at all that people are automatons following the dominant ways of holding beliefs, it just means that talking about beliefs as different from rituals and other social activities, at the political level is non-sense. Privatizing religion (saying that religion is a private affair everyone chooses to practice on his own) involves fooling the individual into thinking that he is free to make his own beliefs about things, and these beliefs will be called “religion”, or non-religious is they don’t derive from a tradition of beliefs.

Arguing that there is something peculiarly religious about Islamic political movements is I think to miss the point of general political, social, and economic processes at stake. We think we have different beliefs about life etc. The content may be different but the form is pretty much the same. We all believe the same way. There is a striking resemblance between women who strive to look undressed and those that veil. Both are elaborating a specific representation of femininity. It is basically the metaphors that change, linguistic metaphors that end shaping the conceptualization of our Self. And this process is virulently social: We are all social agents holding socially determined beliefs. Rimbaud was not that stupid when he said “je est un autre” (I is another or Self is Other).

Also, we should not think that when one talks about being ‘religious’ he means going back to a pre-modern understanding of the four areas mentioned above (even if he/she think he/she is). Islamic movements for example accept, whether consciously or unconsciously the dominant social paradigm of modernity. Why? Not because there is something special about them but because of the imperative of new political and economic structures in place namely the modern-State.

Islamic movements are totally in line with these new conceptual categories the modern State feeds to the people. In this sense claiming to want an Islamic state is a profoundly modern phenomenon. The key here is that the reaction against the dominant discourse of ‘secularism’ is one against the identification to institutions that are not ‘homegrown’ (a point mentioned by one commentator). In this sense if I can vulgarize a bit, asking for an Islamic state is asking for a different ‘nationality’. Of course here the process of national formation is very different from initial European ones at the very least because the former is a post-colonial one. This is why we may in the foreseeable future see the rise of modern-state that are not exactly “nations” in the old European sense (as Islamic movements approach power).

So Secularism cannot exist without nationalism (or maybe other forms of projected collective history) i.e. language and stories from which governance legitimacy is derived. Likewise nationalistic manifestation in the Middle East take place through the discursive Islamic prism. France is ‘secular’ but without French ‘history’ of kings, revolutions, age of enlightenment and other Totemization of the past (to use a Straussian concept) what would become of the secular “French” system.

One should read Islamic resurgence through the same lens: the dialectical relation of social actors to a specific territory, its institutions. The Islamic is the set of signifiers attached to specific representations of the self. It is in this sense, I think, that the secular/Islamic debate is a bit sterile at the normative level. At the legal level, it wants to derive the rule of land, people, and resources from a different regional and historical context.

I have tried to understand Islamic movements as a cultural movement through the use of language in an earlier post for those interested. But I will have to develop these ideas further.

Do you prefer a "Secular" or an "Islamic" State?

Al haqid, during a lunch we just had, defied me to defend the idea that an Islamic State would be better than a Secular one, especially in the case of the protection of minority rights. Of course here by “minorities”, I mean any group that derive its imaginary sense of belonging from a different tradition (discursive that is) than the Islamic one. So in the case of Lebanon, most importantly religious minorities. This leads me to first make several claims that I think are crucial before defending my position:

1- There is no basic difference at the theoretical between a Secular and an Islamic state. It is only in terms of the institutions empowered and the repartition of power that difference could arise. there is nothing intrinsically more ‘democratic’ or ‘just’ in one or the other.
2- The conceptualization of an Islamic state is an imaginary one that include a lot of the secular tradition, especially as elaborated by Islamists. Today, the debate between both ‘systems’ is not a normative one because they are not clear cut and one discourse component has penetrated the other, this leads me to the two last points:
3- The question of an Islamic state is mostly tied to a question of belonging to a specific history and not to a form of governance
4- The secular state should not be the point of reference in terms of efficiency. The secular state hides many unresolved questions such as the one of the justification of nationalism, the resulting discourse of difference and the treatment of ‘national’ subjects especially in the age of growing minorities in the West.

So my argument goes as follows. In the case of the Middle East. Or what has been labeled as the Middle East, an Islamic state is not something to outrightly condemn, something that if probably well implemented may be more adequate than a ‘secular’ system. First of all because there no one ‘type’ of Islamic state, second because the claim for an Islamic state has to do more with a ‘national’ configuration of territory (imaginary sense of belonging), drawing on tradition, social practices, etc. And it is my belief that a political system that mirrors and travels well with age old institutions in place will be more efficient than any other. And in terms of minority treatment in the area we call the Middle East, we know for a fact that the Ottoman Empire area was one of the most peaceful between confessions, ‘ethnicities’ etc. So far as I can recall our biggest problems started with the colonialist quests, the subsequent breakup of the region and the formation of the ‘secular-state’.

A linguistic theory (or perspective) to understand "Islamic" movements

Ok friends, here we go. After a couple months of ‘deep’ thinking, I got my own eureka. Here is what I think serves as a binding device for all the arguments I’m going to be making in my work. But I need to have an idea of what you think, if it makes sense, or is my eureka just a figment of my imagination (well it is one) that cannot be shared.

A couple of questions:

Is there something that differentiates Islamic movements from other movements? Is this something has to do with some “Islamic” component? If yes, how to understand this “Islamic” component?

My tentative answers respectively to each questions:

The difference is in the language used as representative of a different ‘form’ of consciousness (culture, etc.) shaped by different institutions and power relations in place. It has to do with something ‘Islamic’ in so far as the discourse and practices used to act are different and claim to borrow ‘legitimacy’ (understood as ‘linguistic coherence’) from a pool of metaphors, symbols, and clusters of meaning (of course constantly changing) derived from the spoken (here Arabic, but other languages too), and the written (Koran, etc.). The Islamic is understood as a powerful pool of meanings anchored (taking authority) from written heritage (Koran, etc.) that provides an all encompassing forms in order to direct changing practices on the social ground. The difference here between the spoken and written is crucial, I will try to explain this in a later post. The borrowing happens in hectic, unpredictable, and even contradictory way sometimes (depending on symbolically powerful actors who are at the forefront of this knowledge creation.

My argument (heavily indebted to ‘critical thought’ in general) then is: Islamic movements are resistance movements to a slowly maturing colonizing process, the one that penetrates and changes the consciousness of subalterns. The fall of the Ottoman Empire, the creation of modern state, and the entry of new forms of economic and social exploitation, all reverberating in the intrusion in the language used (here Arabic that completely changed its modes of work included new formulations, meanings, etc.), all are examples of this colonizing process. The most successful form of resistance is the one that strives to create separate forms of consciousness (different understandings (symbols, meanings, etc.) of social reality. Islamic movements to varying degrees are about that, that is their only a priori similarity, they go back to a specific articulation of the “language”, the one of the Koran for example (Gramsci rightly points out that language is a worldview). Now depending on historical, social, institutional etc. circumstances in their respective geographies, you have completely different experiences that arise. Most importantly, their relation with other forms of consciousness (like the more hegemonic, “western” form) is crucial to understand the evolution of meanings amongst these movements.

I’m not saying that Islamic movements are a ‘renaissance’ of Arabic as a language. First, this does not mean anything, just as much as the ‘Nahda’ of the XIX century was not a ‘renaissance’ of Arabic but more aptly described as a re-appropriation and development of linguistic devices to assert new forms of consciousness representing a specific social class etc. There is no aesthetic judgment in what I am saying, I’m just putting into light certain processes that I think can be derived from the reality we live in. However, I want to say that Islamic movements strive to master a certain use or practice of Arabic, one that sees specific concepts fusing in. It is like a laboratory of already existing clusters of meaning that is constantly re-worked to include the contemporaneous pressing concerns. the important thing is the artifact, the form in place (the language and its potential of asserting independent forms of consciousnesses)

Also more importantly, I’m not saying that Islamic movements are ‘regressive’ or ‘progressive’, leftist or rightists, fascists, etc. because all these are ‘western’ categorizations (meaning institutionally and historically determined in Europe and elsewhere) for political organizations. One can always compare and derive certain similarities and difference, some of them being very interesting, but remember that this categories are political programs in themselves. Fascism exists in Leftist political formations and vice versa. The dichotomy of right and left in Europe and elsewhere serves as a political disciplining device. Anyway that is another subject. And for fear of diverging too much I leave you with that.

"Welcome to the Middle East"

And so today, we are supposed to talk to our faithful policeman, Mr Abbas, the “moderate” (as the BBC, CNN and Fox News refer to him) Palestinian leader, a man who wrote a 600-page book about Oslo without once mentioning the word “occupation”, who always referred to Israeli “redeployment” rather than “withdrawal”, a “leader” we can trust because he wears a tie and goes to the White House and says all the right things.

All over the Middle East, it is the same. We support Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan, even though he keeps warlords and drug barons in his government.

We love Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, whose torturers have not yet finished with the Muslim Brotherhood politicians recently arrested outside Cairo.

We adore Muammar Gaddafi, the crazed dictator of Libya whose werewolves have murdered his opponents abroad.

Yes, and we love King Abdullah’s unconstitutional monarchy in Jordan, and all the princes and emirs of the Gulf.

Hamas doomed dreams

So Fatah asks for permission to Israel to get arms from other Arab states to neutralize Hamas, and the latter’s leader Ismael Haniyeh wants to integrate its militia to the Palestinian security forces. Do you get it? Hamas lives in Alice’s wonderland… Can somebody tell Haniyeh despite all the efforts deployed, purely ‘Palestinian’ decisions will never be possible?

Fatah is not Palestinian anymore, people should wake up and scrap the last decades of history of Palestinian resistance.

Ask a "Shiite"?

I don’t know if I should laugh or cry, but this blog or whatever you want to call it, has thought it would be useful for an alleged ‘dialogue of civilization’ to “Ask a Shiite” in such an ingenious fashion:

Our resident expert will be fielding questions of a philosophical, physical, and political nature in regards to Shiite Islamic belief and Middle East perception from his own eyes.

Notice the ‘rank’ of the ‘resident’. And notice that a lot of weight is put on “perception from his own eyes”. Did they mean to talk about his eyes encapsulated in a reified conceptualization of a uniformed and monolithic bunch of Shiites?

The loveliest part of it all, is that these forum of discussion are genuinely believed to engage ‘dialogue’ when in fact they serve to crystallize at a much deeper level a rigid perception of “the other”. “Lodge” it in your head: Nobody thinks according to a cohesive system of thought that a dilettante ‘thinker’ has written in a paper or book or what have you. There is not such a thing as a Shiite. Only you, me, political dominant players whether Shiite-named or not, are those who conceptualize an alleged “Shiite Islamic belief”.

Til Death Do Us Part …

“The relationship between the United States and the Arab regimes is like a Catholic marriage where you can have no divorce.”

Welcome to Kurdistan …

It was, in other words, a story about influence-building, buying, and profit, albeit with subplots that were equal parts John le Carre and Keystone Kops, and a cast of characters ranging from ex-Mossad head Yatom to a former German superspy, with Israeli counterterrorism commandos, Kurdish political dynasties, powerful American lobbyists, Turkish business tycoons thrown in—not to mention millions of dollars stashed in Swiss bank accounts.

Wobble On …

In a special statement of clarification, the bureau stressed that Olmert had told Pelosi that Israel continued to regard Syria as “part of the axis of evil and a party encouraging terrorism in the entire Middle East.”

It’s hard to believe how shaky Ehud Olmert’s standing must be that he must declare immediate and total fidelity to Bush Administration policy vis-a-vis Syria. Protecting his right flank to be sure, but it is fun to watch the Israelis and certain Lebanese parties try and out-Bush Bush. I guess they don’t get US polling data in the Levant. Either that, or they get their reports on Iraq from John McCain.

Alternative Measures …

Well, it seems the Lebanon First crowd is not so hung up on that whole national sovereignty thing. Big surprise, I know. What’s puzzling is that I had thought that many of their leaders were intimately familiar with the pratfalls of relying on American and French support to secure their respective suzerainties. I guess they have “gotten over” those wartime memories.

Pushing a Chapter Seven UNSC res. is absolute insanity and can only be explained by the desperate position in which the anti-Syrian coalition finds itself. With Iraq imploding a bit more every day and Iran nearing situation critical, it is foolish to think that the Americans and French will be willing to spend the diplomatic cash a Chapter 7 resolution will require.

Don’t these guys follow the news? Actually, I would argue that they do and appreciate how quickly their window is closing. Make no mistake: this is a last-ditch gambit of troubled coalition. If the UNSC does not respond favorably, they will have either lost or severely weakened their position on the domestic level. As they say, desperate times call for alternative measures, or something like that …

Game, Set, Match …

Friends, the Iranians have just done what 1,000,000 speeches at the Arab League Summit never could. And if I may be expansive and hyperbolic for a moment, let me say that American era in the Middle East just saw its first curtain fall. The grotesque spectacle that is Iraq will be next. Let’s see if I have to eat my words, but creative instability indeed. Let’s also hope that the grey-beards in Israel are paying attention. Yes, I am serious, kind of.

Portentous …?

Am I the only one who feels a chill down his spine when King Abdullah calls the U.S. presence in Iraq an “illegitimate foreign occupation” ?
I have been around the block enough times to appreciate the pathetic pageantry of Arab League summits, but a head-on verbal fusillade against the U.S. by its closest ally?
Perhaps, I am being too paranoid, but when the US surrogates/monarchs start refusing to go to White House parties (warning: Hoagland is an idiot), I get really, really worried. Maybe, it is just an acknowledgment of Iran’s popularity and diplomatic and rhetorical skill in assuming regional leadership despite obvious disadvantages. But maybe they know something I do not.
We shall see.

Christmas Come Early …

Hopefully it won’t be long until I am home to get ready for Molly’s birthday party with a present from the Iranian people.

I wanna get taken hostage by Iran …!

More seriously, Iranian propaganda has me impressed. Yes, it is ham-fisted (when is propaganda not?), but it really does the trick. Expect the Iranians to milk the “hostage crisis” — not a crisis at all — for as long as humanly possible.

The Iranian leadership is literally talking its way into being an important country, which certainly must be a more fun way to do it than meeting with Dick Cheney and must be driving the Saudis and Israelis absolutely mad.

Bien joue!

UPDATE: Someone agrees:

Clearly, Tehran’s row with London has had immediate dividends with respect to Iran’s regional clout, causing pro-Iran sympathies in the Arab world. Arabs now see in Iran’s “heroic” standing up to “Western imperialists” a source of much-needed inspiration and hope, in contrast to their own feckless leadership. “The Arabs of the Persian Gulf are now less inclined to join the US and Israel against Iran than they were a mere week ago,” a former Iranian diplomat told the author.

Rice Pudding …

Tis a testament to the rottenness of the current US regime that I find myself with sympathies for a sycophant like Mme. Rice. No comment here, I just like the pic.

I would add that all of this plays perfectly into Iran’s hands, just as the “Holocaust conference” did. Sometimes I wonder if power makes you stupid. If so, make me a weakling.

The ideological in L’Orient le Jour and beyond

I unfortunately cannot post the link because the article was published yesterday and L’Orient le Jour think that they are so interesting as a read that they make their archives payable (although without an online system to view it), but there was a certain Elie Fayad who wrote a horrible article unleashing his wrath against none other than Michel Aoun (leader of Christian opposition group). Funny how the most vitriolic charges against Aoun are written by Christian proto-fascist culprits. And L’Orient le Jour has been the most important platform (much more than Annahar interestingly enough I would argue) to make it a duty to criticize Aoun everyday (two days ago it was the decadent made-columnist Ziad Makhoul). Without reviewing all of the non-sense these guys propose, I just want to stop at one idea articulated by Fayad that is quite symptomatic of the intellectual thinking of the political right not only in Lebanon, but also in any produced political depiction of the Middle East, and that is the idea that today, the Arab world is not anymore in a struggle to assert an ‘Arabist’ face (as it was supposedly the case from the 1950s till the 80s) but is actually struggling to deal with the internal demon of the ‘Sunni-Shia’ divide. He uses this historical development to explain why Christians (because it is always about the choices Christians should make at L’Orient le Jour) should change their point of focus.

The following is just a parenthesis of thoughts derived by this reading (I will try to elaborate these ideas at much greater length in later posts). In this simple statement, you have decades of symbolic construction (elaborated by intellectuals, political actors, etc.) condensed to produce the best example of an ideological statement. It is as if when you talk of a ‘Sunni-Shia divide’ there are such entities in reality as ‘Sunni’ and ‘Shia’ beyond the political interest of a few who instrumentalize and create constantly re-drafted boundaries for what we should understand when we say ‘Sunni’ or when we say ‘Shia’. Of course, Fayad may know this, may be able to do this deconstruction. But if he’s conscious of the political manipulation, he nonetheless uses the available discursive form thus complying with the dominant discourse, reiterating something essentialist about the ‘Sunni’ or the ‘Shia’ beyond the material basis for such labels. This is the crux of the ideological: some hidden meaning in the word that does not really exist in the Real, that is nonetheless used to make sense of reality, even if conscious of its non-existence (i.e. that the subject is conscious of the fact that the concept of a ‘Sunni-Shia divide’ is not really existent across all of the Arab world).

Take for example the concept of ‘the Syrian’ or ‘the Palestinian’, and see how the pervasive ideological element (the idea that there is something lodged in the idea of a Syrian or a Palestinian, something synonymous to ‘the other’, ‘the enemy’, ‘the manipulator’, or the one who pulls the strings for example) has foreclosed the possibility of genuinely interesting inquiry about political developments in the past couple of decades.

Brammertz’ surprises

Gee.. I wonder why is it that the countries not cooperating with Brammertz investigation on the Hariri assassination are mostly those who back the ‘we want the truth’ camp or are in one way or another under the same sphere of influence?

According to the latest Brammertz report countries not cooperating are: USA, UK, France, Brazil, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Iraq, and last but not least, Israel.

Addendum: The same newspaper reporting that a diplomatic source said that the above mentioned countries were not cooperating says today that actually they are cooperating. So either Brammertz wants to cool things down and presents a clean report, or Al-Akhbar got it simply wrong.

Fun Facts About Arabs …

  • The Arabs are a proud and sensitive people …
  • Arab behavior has a propensity for conflict …
  • Reasons for Arab conflict may lie again with the family where competitiveness is instilled at an early age, and life generally exists under various forms of intense pressure …
  • In the Arab world there is little stigma placed on the loss of self control and what westerners would consider hysterical public outbursts of emotion …An Arab crowd is high strung emotionally …
  • There can even be less serious reasons, for example in Lebanon the author witnessed a severe riot in 1978 over the unpopular outcome of a beauty contest.

Bech, thank God you are not one of these people, but how ever do you live amongst them? FYI: Check the author’s credentials and be afraid, be very, very afraid … Also, would not it be fun to hear what Bush whispers in Hadley’s ear after meeting with Jumblatt (must read on Jumblatt) and Hamadeh? Those crazy Ay-rabs … Although to be fair, I would bet that he whispers something similar after meeting with Avigdor Liebermann.

Lessons Unlearned …

The French and the Russians, for example, won asymmetrical wars in Algeria and Chechnya in the 19th century, but lost asymmetrical wars in those same places in the 20th century. “In the 19th century, there was not a literacy for nationalism. You look at a lot of these colonial wars. The great powers could play off tribes against each other. By the 1960s, you cannot do that anymore.”

I would aver that “nationalism” is only one of now available technologies that doom such adventures.

Hersh, (Sigh) …

Well, just read Sy Hersh’s new piece and must admit I was disappointed. I found almost nothing original in either content or analysis and believe the piece could have been written by piecing together already very public information.

I was not going to post on it, until I heard Wolff Blitzer call the piece “explosive” this morning on CNN. Perhaps the only gaseous discharge I heard was the allegation concerning Negroponte’s motivations:

I was subsequently told by the two government consultants and the former senior intelligence official that the echoes of Iran-Contra were a factor in Negroponte’s decision to resign from the National Intelligence directorship and accept a sub-Cabinet position of Deputy Secretary of State. (Negroponte declined to comment.)
The former senior intelligence official also told me that Negroponte did not want a repeat of his experience in the Reagan Administration, when he served as Ambassador to Honduras. “Negroponte said, ‘No way. I’m not going down that road again, with the N.S.C. running operations off the books, with no finding.’ ” (In the case of covert C.I.A. operations, the President must issue a written finding and inform Congress.) Negroponte stayed on as Deputy Secretary of State, he added, because “he believes he can influence the government in a positive way.”

This is absurd puffery and a little reverse engineering leads one to believe that Hersh completely got played by his “sources” on this issue. This is one of the two problems I have with Hersh’s work as it often takes bureaucratic infighting as evidence of the direction of US policy. The blatant ass-kissing of Negroponte suggests that the source may have been Negroponte himself or one of his close aides in Foggy Bottom or supporters on the Hill. Of course, I have no idea, but Negroponte, as the intelligence czar, likely encountered significant antagonism from the DOD and thus one must understand this “information” in this context. To go from that rather quotidian reality to the Contras is ridiculous and the ass-kissing should make all very suspicious. To be sure, many on the Hill and at the CIA and State have bureaucratic reasons to talk with Hersh, but I just wonder how far this really get us with respect to US policy in the Middle East. I agree that the Pentagon has usurped the CIA with respect to covert operations and intelligency, but this is not a new story and evidence can be gathered on this point without polishing Negroponte’s apple.

I would also say that his interview with Nasrallah was really disappointing, or at least what he chose to include in the interview. To be sure, it seems he only included quotes to fit his thesis, but this has the effect of making Nasrallah look like a wild conspiracy theorist, something he is decidedly not:

I can assure you that the Saudi kingdom will also be divided, and the issue will reach to North African states. There will be small ethnic and confessional states,” he said. “In other words, Israel will be the most important and the strongest state in a region that has been partitioned into ethnic and confessional states that are in agreement with each other. This is the new Middle East.”

For me this is inexcusable, because Nasrallah does not give interviews to American journalists, so when he does, it is an irreducible opportunity that should not be missed.

I would add that Hersh’s descision to quote Armitage and Baer on Hizbullah is a bit ridiculous as their thoughts remain haunted by memories of the 1980s and they expose themselves as idiots when talking about a Hizbullah that no longer exists. To paraphrase and answer Baer, the dog did not bark because it died over a decade ago.

I would add that one part of Hersh’s thesis makes no sense. It has been widely understood that the CIA has been deeply involved in Lebanon, because the activities have been more political and financial, than military. This reality does not fit his contention about the DOD takeover of intelligence or the reporting requirements. I would agree in the case of Iran, but in Lebanon, this seems off the mark.

Again, I would say I was disappointed with the piece. He can do and has done better. I would add that it is a bit odd that the piece works mostly as a summary of the last 10 months, when I had understood that Remnick, his editor, had wanted a more newsy Hersh for the pages of the New Yorker. The quote retread is not good enough given the rapid pace of events on the ground.

Perhaps most distressing is Hersh’s take on the militant Salafi groups in Lebanon. There is some truth to what he says here, but I had hoped that the time he spent in Lebanon would allow him to understand a bit more of the complexity of the situation (his television appearance made me cringe). Sadly, it seems he is just as susceptible to generalities and misrecognition as the Beltway bureaucrats who drive his stories. To be sure, this bit is designed for American audiences, but without the proper local context, it falls flat. In sum, imperial muckraking may be a noble profession, but the full story (elucidating domestic and international connections) is not here and thus one feels the author is mirroring his sources by engaging in a narrowly targeted polemic. Oh, well …