Political maronitism strikes back, and other considerations

There are several media campaigns being launched by the Lebanese Forces and some Phalangist elements. It is big showdown before legislative elections. The slogans and images leaves one to ponder. Take this one for example that does not look like it is sponsored by the Lebanese Forces or else they would have made sure to have their logo on it:

“We are the Lebanese Resistance”

What the hell are they talking about? It reminds me of the type of confrontational stance we had when we were kids that goes something like this:

– I was the first to play Lego
– No I was the first!
– My dad is the strongest
– No MY dad is the strongest

The “We” is an implicit ‘answer’ to Hizbullah they think are saying: “NO it is we who are the TRUE Lebanese resistance”. Pitiful to say the least. But in a way it is true, until very recently Hizbullah never claimed to be a “Lebanese resistance”, but an “Islamic resistance in Lebanon”. I won’t digress on the ambiguities of such statements especially that today Hizbullah forcefully argues that its resistance is ‘nationalist’.

Moving on to an explicit LF one:

This billboard is about the announcement of a mass that will be given in the memory of ‘the martyrs of the Lebanese Forces”. The top liner says: “we were brothers in martyrdom, let’s be brothers in life”. So I’m still trying to figure out what they mean by “we” but if it refers to the martyrs of Hizbullah then it is truly interesting to see how this martyrdom language has picked up like fire across all parties, especially such antagonistic ones as the LF and Hizb.

It is quite interesting to see that historically when it was Hizbullah who emerged in re-action to Lebanese Forces practices all around the country (in the 80s), now the reverse: it is LF’s discourse that is overclouded by representations of Hizbullah and it seems to ‘speak’ to them.

On another note, martyrdom has become a category as important as sect to identify with a specific imaginary collective in this tiny little geography called Lebanon. If you want to be politically relevant (or named) then you better show some martyrs. In this case, the legitimating instance is the Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir (good job sanctifying the LF) who’s going to give the mass in question.

So in a way the use of the dead for the purpose of distinguishing, separating, categorizing, and naming, is ironically used to reach out to the ‘other’. That’s the sectarianism system at its best: because we are different we need to reach out to each other. And also: Even in death when we resemble ourselves, what we symbolize by being dead permits us to live separate lives.

Lebanese judges accuses Qaddhafi of ‘hiding’ Sadr

I forgot to write about that last week, but recently, the Qada’ (the Lebanese official juridical instance) has accused the Libyan president Muammar el Qaddhafi of having instigated the kidnapping (or disappearing) of the Imam Musa Sadr 30 years ago, commemorated on the 13th of August.

If I’m not mistaken, this event is highly important at the very least in terms of the politics of the international tribunal that the (has been) majority coalition tried to set in the backdrop of the assassination of former prime minister Rafic Hariri. The opposition was all along claiming that the Qada’ was untrustworthy because of its all-too-Lebaneseness, and that the killing of Hariri was too much of a weight to carry. Right before the July 2006 Israeli murderous (and stupid) adventure, Parliamentary member Bahij Tabbara (a close to the Hariri family) opened a channel of discussion with the opposition (namely Hizbullah) to have a ‘mixed’ tribunal where Lebanon’s juridical instances would retain some sort of discretion on the legal process. Talks were quickly halted by the deteriorating local post-war situation.

Here is an opinion that asks why not an international tribunal for Sadr’s disappearance.

Well anyway, Sadr’s disappearance (and most likely assassination) is in the hands of those same untrustable instances, and fingers are being pointed on the highest authority of another country, which is strikingly similar to the Hariri case were the main (14 of March) culprit is the Syrian president.

This is the political power of symbolic acts: No one hopes that Qadhafi would ever be dragged in front of Lebanese judges but it partly means that, ‘See? we did it with our dude, you guys can do the same for hariri!’

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.

Zionism’s symbolic struggle

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

Hegemony: an illustration

This just in:

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

Ok, let’s try something:

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

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


Yes why out of all instruments the Scottish bagpipe? This is at a Palestinian camp during demonstrations against the murderous encircling of Gaza. But there is a Hizbullah song that has it too, and in its video clip, there is a guy filmed dressed like a soldier, playing bagpipe on the top of a hill or something. Anyone who has an answer to this question will be more than welcome to comment.

Update: the comment section has mo explaining clarifying things..

The salience of the concept of martyrdom

Instead of a tree (as used by Hizbullah), the army seems to use its logo as a kind of schema to portray some of its combatants that died during the recent battles.
The concept of doing skeletons of martyrs if I may call it this way has the peculiar effect of constructing collective imaginaries (nationalism, etc.) around the crystallization of the militant deeds of these actors for the sake of the common cause.
Of course it does not mean that the army has exactly that in mind when doing it. It just signals how modes of expression travel well, and are empowered (given meaning) at various points in time. And here as this liner suggest (Lebanon triumphs thanks to the union of its army), martyrdom helps to create the idea that the Lebanese army is a living organism on its own feeding on the memory of those who died, strengthening the image of a unified institution, an image mirroring the projected dream of a nation.

By the way, I was at the Arabic book forum a couple of days ago, and saw that the Internal Security Forces had their own stand there, selling a huge book full of pictures about (and detailed account of), the ISF’s martyrs from the creation of this institution (before the independence and creation of the Lebanese state, during the French mandate) to this very day practically. It made sure to include the last year.

الأوجه المختلفة للفراغ

من خلال تناوله فكرة الفراغوطريقته المميزة لإختيار عبارات ولغة خاصة، يعرض زياد رحباني ثمة من الإشارات لرموز سياسية وإجتماعية متداولة بين الأقطاب اللبنانية المختلفة:

بقي أمامنا عملياً المجهول والفراغ. وقد استُنفرت جميع الطاقات الوطنية ومناراتِ الإدراكِ والحكمة، واتُخذت كامل الاستعدادات الأمنية والدستورية للدخول بسلاسةٍ من الهاوية إلى الفراغ بدل أن تُتْرَك البلاد للمجهول. ودخلنا فعلاً وبخطى ثابتةٍ في «الفراغ الهادئ». والحمد للّه أننا لم ندخل في الفراغ! لكن، ورغم المهارة في دخول الفراغ الهادئ بسلامة، لاحظت بعض الأصوات الواعية الرصينة أن الخوف الفعلي ليس من الفراغ الحالي، بل من الاستمرار في الفراغ. فالاستمرار في الفراغ هذا، هو الذي قد يدخلنا في الفراغ فعلاً! وقد أبدى بعض النواب المسيحيين تخوّفاً من «التعوّد على الفراغ» الذي هو أخطر من الفراغ الموعود. وقد شدّد البطريرك صفير قبل أيام ثلاثة على أن تعديل الدستور أفضل من الفراغ. وهو لا يقصد بالطبع الفراغ الذهبيّ الحالي، بل الفراغ الآتي: فراغ الراشدين، الفراغ المشترك.
لا شكَّ في أن الفراغ الحالي مميّزٌ وفعّال، لكن من المستحسن أن يتمَّ الاستسلام إليه مرّة في الأسبوع على الأكثر، أو كفراغٍ عند اللزوم خشية الوقوع في الفراغ السليم! وعليكم بـ«الفراغ الصيني» باقي أيام الأسبوع، فهو نوعٌ من «الفراغ بالأعشاب» الصحّي والمهدّئ الذي سيهيّؤكم لاستقبال «الفراغ السحري للأطفال» القادم مع عيدَي الأضحى والميلاد. ماذا؟ وهل تفضّلون الدخول في المجهول؟ دعوا المجهو للسنة الجديدة.

The "Islamic" as outside the "secular"

Check this very interesting passage of Asad’s series of lecture on suicide bombing:

…however reprehensible it was to liberals, the violence of Marxists and nationalists was understandable in terms of progressive, secular history. The violence of Islamic groups, on the other hand, is incomprehensible to many precisely because it is not embedded in a historical narrative – history in the “proper” sense. As the violence of what is often referred to as a totalitarian religious tradition hostile to democratic politics, it is seen to be irrational as well as being an international threat. (p.8, emphasis added)

Exactly! What is outrageous about violence discursively defined as “Islamic” is its non-inscription in History, that is in the writing of history by social and political institutions. Leftists, or “progressive” have their place in this history, they can be condemned, but they are pretty much part of it.

The secular discourse has a history. Ex: antiquity, middle ages, renaissance, enlightenment, modernity, etc. These are all historical events injecting the narrative, the story, the plots, that forms the Secular. Even when we read the history of the region labeled as Middle East, the history of Arabs, or Muslim, etc. We read it through these markers (from school years up to history books, etc). The hidden question is then how does the Islamic world fare with regards to the onward march of the secular world?

The secular system is perceived to be an abstract system people strive for, and the Europeans reached it. But in truth, it is overloaded with these historical markers. it is the product of a history. Reifying it this way makes it a political weapon to claim moral superiority and legitimizing coercion. I do appreciate better the historicization of specific conceptions of the political. Marxist, leftist, etc. are part of a euroamerican (as would call it Asad, when he, I assume, wants to avoid the term “western”) history. Things that just pop out of nowhere are bound to be demonized even further. Ok, we know the rest of the story.

But what interest me the most is how did the secular discourse permeate all our understandings of social and political processes (especially locally)? Why today when we talk of ‘religious’ movement, when we think of religion, or the religious, we cannot but think of it, in secular terms? The extraordinary conversion of the planet into “nation-states” with all the related institutions, rule of law, particular use of the written, etc must have something to do with it, and the way some Arabic state lived this change is surely symptomatic of our general conceptualization of what is religious. The modern subject is allergic to the religious not because of what came to called religious movements as such but because of what he thinks the religious is (that plugs back into his perception of these movements), and so what the secular is. Because of what he thinks “belief” is, or private/public life is etc. The whole repertoire of concepts that entail the secular/religious division paradigm have to be unearthed, in order to focus better on the actual practices any type of movement engage in and how they are conducive to social or political change.

The rituals of legislative rulings

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

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

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

Best ad of the year

This is taken from Hizbullah’s campaign “a victory from God” marking the anniversary of last year’s humiliating Israeli defeat, of which many highly creative billboards have been made. Check out the improvement in artistry, and the power of ideas. It shows Israeli soldiers disturbingly crying with this written in the middle: Lebanon, you fools (literal translation), or “What did you expect you morons? A walk in the park?” (Bech’s translation). Oh and by the way, this billboard was in a Christian area (near Batrun, care of Tayyar). Most of those billboards though were vandalized especially near Nahr el Kalb (where the Kataeb sign hangs above the tunnel).

And this is me parading in front of the billboard… Youhou!

كلنا للوطن للعلا للعلم

Both these pictures are taken in Bint Jbeil. This one is just too much with the cedar in the middle…

The politics of naming

One of the first political phenomenon I am concerned with is the time (and resources etc.) dominant actors spend on finding suitable categories to define (or give meaning to) their various political actions. In addition to the fact that naming gives significance or the illusion of substance in perceiving the enemy, the symbolic act of naming Hizbullah a “terrorist” organization opens the door for so many different legal as well as diplomatic dispositions that has concrete material effect (in the same way the beefing up of an army has material significance):

United States lawmakers are stepping up pressure on the European Union to declare the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

A House of Representatives’ panel is to highlight Wednesday the importance of Europe as a fundraising base for the group, long held responsible by the United States for anti-U.S. and anti-Israel attacks.

Some European countries have resisted an EU designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, arguing that it is better to engage the group given its large role in Lebanese politics.

What is important here is to notice how, generally, legal appellations and social norms are all based on this categorization principle. In this case, the creation of significance is a political process embedded in institutions in place (governments, parliaments, courts, etc.) that serves to create disciplined subjects and the ‘other’.

Jawad Nasrallah

My joy was tremendous this morning when I picked up from the floor an envelope with Lebanese stamps on addressed to me, and that I guessed came from my fellow blogger, and friend Moussa. I knew what was in it: the collection of poems by Jawad Nasrallah son of the secretary general of Hizbullah Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.

As I said before my joy was tremendous, so I hurried to open the envelope after sitting on my prison table (where I spend most of my time), and I read the title: 7urufon muqawima (resisting letters, to translate literally). Nice. So I started reading the dedication for his family and all those who encouraged him to write this book, and then I went to the first poem: a special thanks (it is titled ‘thank you’) to his father. “Thanks to the heart of the most beautiful dad”.

But the more I read the more my disappointment grew. I think my dilettante bourgeois background and shaper of taste has made me seek for the contradictory states of mind, personal confessions/reflexions on the life of the poet. There was none of that, every line was subordinated to ‘the greatest good’ of the resistance. Poems are to the ‘martyrs’, to the ‘prisoners’, to those who are still fighting, to the SG of Hizbullah (the first poem addressed him as a dad but others as a political figure), then towards the end, there is a return to the family where the author writes for his mom and his brother (for the latter he writes on him as a brother but also as the one who died in the battle).

Sublimated poems, disciplined verses, chants for the songs of the resistance, Nasrallah has played by the rules. So he may still be called the poet of the resistance. The poet of this new party/movement. And I’m not judging his verses that are very often enough a bit too pompous to my taste, and poor in the richness of the images they convey. But indeed, his style mirrors what he is writing for: A constituency the party wishes to win over. To create grand ideological frames that are thought to stick effectively to people’s mind, that is the task Nasrallah seems to has set to himself.

But first, it does not mean he has consciously done that, as he may write for so many other personal reasons (as i am not his psychoanalyst I’m just speculating here: like winning over his dad’s pride in him, as it’s the elder son Hadi who took most of the respect through his sanctified martyrdom). Despite this fact, as a social outcome Nasrallah plays the role trying to create a general discursive field that would group the constituency. And so second, it does not mean that people automatically incorporate these frames, there is a much more complex process at stake at the reception level, but that is another story.

In any case, even perceived through this narrow function, I could not find parts of what he wrote that really resonated in my mind. Again, this is because I am the personification of the hiqd that al haqid theorizes about. I could recognize in some of the poems the texts of some of Hizbullah’s songs but am not sure. Maybe it’s just the same vocabulary and expressions used. Suffice it to say, that these symbolic discursive efforts deployed by the party are crucial to understand the making of the history of a social movement and the political organizations that emerges from it. With time, discursive practices get more and more complex as more and more people are involved in it, and as different social structures emerge from the initial movement. Just watch the history of nationalism and its progressive discursive internalization in Europe during the past centuries and you will be able to draw interesting parallels.

Ukrainian Revolution’s orange is sadly yellowy..

Is this the same guy who was elected by “popular forces”?

Following failed talks with parliamentary leaders, President Yushchenko on April 2 declared the parliament dissolved and announced snap elections to be held on May 27.

I like these “democratic” moves the ‘west’ loves so much… where are the journalists that covered the “orange revolution”? Go now and cover the constitutional crisis!

Ukraine, Turkey, Lebanon, etc. all fall in the stupid media ideological trap. My post on Turkey is upcoming. But first, when is Tayyar losing its orange color?

فعلاً يأتي النصر من الله، فمفهوم الله كناية عن فكرة الوطن إذا صحّ التعبير

Ok everybody got the adrenaline rush of these eloquent statements:

In an unprecedented move, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah yesterday praised the Winograd Committee’s report on the Second Lebanon War.
Nasrallah said he respected Israel’s “verdict of failure.” During an appearence in Beirut, Nasrallah said: “I will not gloat. It is worthy of respect that an investigative commission appointed by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert condemns him,” Nasrallah said. “When the enemy acts honestly and sincerely, you cannot but respect it.

But I would argue that this is the most interesting part quoted from Nasrallah’s speech:

“Even though they’re our enemies, it is worthy of respect that the political forces and the Israeli public act quickly to save their state, entity, army and their existence in the crisis,” Nasrallah added. “When it comes to survival, the Zionists are prepared to sacrifice Olmert and a thousand more like him.”

Ambivalent admiration? All this smells fishy at best… So I guess you were right Apo, there are more similarities to be found between the Zionist movement and Hizbullah than I was ready to concede at first.

New titles new prerogatives

So it turns out that the sister of one of the boys assassinated a couple of days ago asked to get a chance to see Hizbulah SG Nasrallah because she is now the sister of a “shahid”. Please can somebody forward this to l’Orient le Jour? or to Ziad Makhoul directly?

By the way, did you notice how Al-Akhbar more than any other Lebanese newspapers (who scream for vengeance) try to show the “nationalist” dimension of this killing by trying to detect a modicum of union between the political protagonists? None of them depicts an accurate description of all aspects of reality, but it is just funny to see the different approaches to the same status-quo.

Billboarding the constituency

We have to keep in mind that whatever the choices made by a political organization, they are primarily based on its relation with its constituency (i.e. on being able to stay popular). Erecting billboards of the Israeli prisoners in the south of Lebanon are aimed at keeping a symbolic structures of affiliation alive and well. More interestingly enough is when journalists replicate in a gross and more simplistic way the intended effect produced (judging from the only event he picks up):

Chants in support of Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah rang out from a crowd of local villagers who gathered to watch the billboard being put up. “We will sacrifice ourselves for you, Nasrallah,” the supporters chanted.

These fields of compliance/resistance are replicated by the main producers of knowledge, as being exactly the intended effect by the party. Of course in reality the little crowd that gathered to show support does not exemplify the practices of all the population. But the population finds itself a prisoner of these discursive fields so much so that even if they want to voice discontent, they will have to voice it in the same terms posed by the party. So it is also clear that Israel is not the main target of this billboard.

This burgeoning of billboards related to the latest war of july/august 2006 are one of many examples showing that Hizbullah has been meeting a huge challenge to convince the population that it still made sense to support the party, especially after the huge losses suffered. This shows the extent to which the party is in a constant battle to construct its legitimacy, and that constituencies are not monolithic rigid entities that follow just because they’re “brain-washed” by some ideas that are somehow everlastingly marking.

The show must go on

A Holocaust survivor gunned down trying to save his students from the Virginia Tech shooting rampage was buried in Israel Friday to the sobs of his grieving family.
Engineering Professor Liviu Librescu’s body was wrapped in a prayer shawl according to Jewish tradition, and his two sons intoned the Kaddish, the Hebrew prayer for the dead.

Even more freaky:

A representative of the Romanian government posthumously awarded the Romanian-born Librescu the country’s highest medal for his scientific accomplishments and heroism. Romanian officials laid a wreath at the grave.

Play by the discursive rules allowed and you will be rewarded.

What’s in a name?

This is why symbols are so important in politics. Israel is busy thinking about how to call the last invasion of Lebanon. Israeli families of dead soldiers are asking the government to officially name it. The government is a bit split on the issue between those who want to call it operation and other who want to call it war. Families prefer “war” as it gives more dignity to their relatives death. On the other side, Hizbullah already called it “divine victory” for example, different tones, same strategies: how to symbolically frame the way people give meaning to their affiliations.