An interlude for a quote

An intelligent man’s tongue is located behind his heart.
A fool’s heart is located behind his tongue.
Imam Ali

War always

General Hassan ShateriI was listening to Hizbullah’s Al Nour radio station two days ago when I heard, in the words of the radio speaker, that the main guy behind the reconstruction of the south, an Iranian engineer, Hassan Shateri, was killed in some kind of an ambush returning from Damascus to Beirut. I was wondering why the Syrian rebels would want to kill an engineer who was responsible for the building of homes in the South and, according still to the speaker, in Iran after the Iran and Iraq war, and in Afghanistan. Basically the guy comes to build after wars in conflict areas.

Next day I stumble across this article in the Guardian titled “Elite Iranian general assassinated near Syria-Lebanese border”. So now things made a bit more sense, although it still is a plus to know that Iranian generals can be sorts of philanthropists after war. Somehow people involved in war do have economic occupations linked to pre-war or post-war possibilities (Dick Cheney may be an example although away from the idea of comparing Shateri to Cheney).

In any case, killing this general along with the multiple events that have been taking place in the past two years are making sure that we are going straight into a regional explosion where Syria will be the main battlefield. For now the forces are not of equal match for a large scale mobilization to become a possibility, although this asymetry unfortunately increasingly resembles the Lebanese wars settings that were prevalent from 1975 to 1990: a weakened state/security complex, lots of parties who stand to gain from keeping it that way, not one party who can (or wants to) actually create a peace situation through hegemonic positioning and a militia economy slowly feeding on itself and largely annoyed if things would come to change.

The changes in warfare

video-games-hd-gears-of-war-horde-267715According to a statistic about the US military, “more active-duty soldiers killed themselves than died in combat“. This is an interesting article to read, all the more interesting for me as it makes me think of the significant changes in the conduct of warfare that took place more specifically since the age of technological innovations.

Just like peace, war practices, were part of ways human came to understand their selves and their relation with other humans. Just like peace had rules, war too. And just like peace permitted the construction of ethics to develop forms of human dignity, war was a mean through which humans could learn about themselves, about their representation of an enemy, how to deal with that enemy through certain form of ethical conduct, and by ethical, I mean some form of human excellence at perfecting skills that benefit everyone. So in this sense, the skills of a Hitler can’t really count.

But today, with war being practiced more and more from a distance, protagonists don’t come to really “face” an enemy. Technology has permitted the creation of an abstract field were combat techniques take place. In this sense, video games are actually the real way in which war take place because soldier are living that fantasy situation all throughout, unless a severe disruption contradicts the familiar story and threatens to disrupt their mental, spiritual and physical stability.

I don’t want to extend on all the implications of what that mean in the way war is conducted (there is a lot written on that), but I just want to point out how pointless the “war experience” has become for these soldiers who are not only unprepared to face conflict situations, as they increasingly live in a fantasy of what war could be, as a game, but do not use war as a transcendental or spiritual experience for developing ethical excellence.

Who’s reading what and how?

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

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

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

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

Confusion in the age of democracy

Today in Beirut, people are confusing an assassination that has clear regional causes and implications with very narrowly defined local demands, which may just worsen the current regional situation. The assassination of Wissam al Hassan, head of the Internal Security Forces is clearly the consequence of a long cold war that has began 7 years ago when the former prime minister Rafic al Hariri’s convoy was blown up with similar material.

But just to skip a few chapters and focus on the latest events, since the outbreak of popular unrest in Syria, the militarization of the conflict has spilled over into Lebanon and in so doing has opened the door to all sorts of political opportunities for groups, local, such as the Future movement and its loose allies (such as Salafist groups) and Syrians (such as the defecting military units) to team up in order to challenge the Syrian regime.

People forget that Lebanese political actors are involved in regional gambles that assure their position in power in the first place, or at the very least inform the particular local strategies they choose to adopt. And today, people are asking for a political outcome that ignores these regional dimensions. When Wissam al-Hassan was heavily involved in these gambles, people ask the government to step down on the legal ground that it cannot ensure the security of the nation. Since when was al-Hassan working with the intent of ensuring the security of the nation? The “security situation” has never been isolated in national enclaves, and if anything the modicum of a government that people have in Lebanon is one of the last obstacles, albeit a fragile one, to total security breakdown.

This is one of many examples why “democratic demands” of a seeming “civil society” in Lebanon are terms that produce more contradictions than facilitate the search for an effective solution.

A poetic interlude with EE Cummings

up into the silence the green
silence with a white earth in it
you will(kiss me)go
out into the morning the young
morning with a warm world in it
(kiss me)you will go
on into the sunlight the fine
sunlight with a firm day in it
you will go(kiss me
down into your memory and
a memory and memory
i)kiss me(will go)

Continue reading “A poetic interlude with EE Cummings”

Nasrallah with Assange on Russia Today

There are several points to remember from Hizbullah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah’s televised interview conducted by Wikileaker Julian Assange two days ago. Though as it was geared to a Western audience, most of what was said was already known by the local population from Nasrallah’s various televised speeches in Beirut, there is, I think, a very important point that Nasrallah made when Assange asked him how, when, and in what circumstances would the conflict with Israel end.

For the first time, to my knowledge, an official from Hizbullah (and not any official), formally acknowledged that “the only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is establishing a democratic state on Palestinian land where Muslims, Jews and Christians live in peace”.

Now that’s quite something, rhetorically and substantially. It gives a bit of perspective to this fashionable notion that Arabs have commercialized, namely that “Israel should cease to exist”. I’ve already offered a specific reading of this claim and though I am not sure Nasrallah read my post before making his statement, what he says does read the same way.

That in a way should be more alarming to the average Israeli than the more literal take on the claim that states that Jews should be thrown to the sea. More alarming, because it is realizable through diligence and perseverance that started almost 30 years ago…

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.

Thoughts from India

Gandhi’s non-violence philosophy did not mean much without in its backdrop a highly clever strategy of recapturing the means of production (silk, cotton, steel, salt, spices and so on) of the Indian economy from the hands of the British empire through large scale mobilization and ritual celebrations of all sorts. Once it was just logical (ethical) that indians should control their wealth (and that the appropriate measures were taken to do that), making this point could be done without resort to violence. The contrast with how Arabs dealt with colonial presence can’t be overstated: Arabs chose not to grab anything but to “copy the West”. They busied themselves with intellectual masturbation as the path towards “civilization” with no tangible socio-economic empowerment which could have in turn propped up their traditions-as-preservation-of-ways-of-life. That is why “colonialism of mind” in the Arab world was way more detrimental than in places like India.

Womanhood and the absence of Politics

My article in Al Akhbar on Nadine Labaki’s movie “Where do we go from now?” The arguments made were a bit more developed but it seems that the text was cut for the sake of adequate newspaper presentation.

What is natural, maturing, and destined

Confucius looked at the view in Lu-liang. The waterfall hung down three hundred feet, it streamed foam for forty miles, it was a place where fish and turtles and crocodiles could no swim, but he saw one fellow swimming there. He took him for someone in trouble who wanted to die, and sent a disciple along the bank to pull him up. But after a few hundred paces the man came out, and strolled under the bank with his hair down his back, singing as he walked. Confucius took the opportunity to question him.

– I thought you were a ghost, but now I see you close up you’re a man. May I ask whether you have a Way to stay afloat in water?

– No, I have no Way. I began in what is native to me, grew up in what is natural to me, matured in what is destined for me. I enter with the inflow, and emerge with the outflow, follow the Way of the water and do not impose my selfishness upon it.

– What do you mean by ‘beginning in what is native to you, growing up in what is natural to you, maturing in what is destined for you’?

– Having been born on dry land I am at home on dry land – it’s native to me. Having grown up in water I am at home in water – it’s natural to me. It is so without me knowing why it is so – it’s destined for me.’

(Chuang-tzu, chapter 9)

The uniting features of capitalism

“In principle, however, capitalism is an impeccably inclusive creed: it really doesn’t care who it exploits. It is admirably egalitarian in its readiness to do down just about anyone. It is prepared to rub shoulders with any old victim, however unappetizing. Most of the time, at least, it is eager to mix together as many diverse cultures as possible, so that it can peddle its commodities to them all.

In the generously humanistic spirit of the ancient poet, this system regards nothing human as alien to it. In its hunt for profit, it will travel any distance, endure any hardship, shack up with the most obnoxious of companions, suffer the most abominable humiliatinos, tolerate the most tasteless wallpaper and cheefully betray its next of kin. It is capitalism which is disinterested, not dons. When it comes to consumers who wear turbans and those who do not, those who sport flamboyant crimson waistcoats and those who wear nothing but a loincloth, it is sublimely even-handed. It has the scorn for hierarchies of a truculent adolescent, and the zeal to pick and mix of an American diner. It thrives on bursting bounds and slaying sacred cows. Its desire is unslakeble and its space infinite. Its law is the flouting of all limits, which makes law indistinguishable from criminailty. In its sublime ambition and extravagant transgressions, it makes its most shaggily anarchic critics look staid and suburban.” (Terry Eagleton, After Theory, p.19)

What is meant by “Israel should cease to exist”

This magnificently visionary passage of Fanon’s “Les damnés de la terre” nails cleverly what is at stake when the colonized decides to effectively fight the colonizer. What has been the slogan of the Palestinian resistance for decades and is now preserved by the “Islamist” resistance (that is still Palestinian but also Lebanese.. and beyond) grouping Hamas and Hizbullah that Israel should cease to exist could be well understood in this particular way:

« La violence qui a présidé à l’arrangement du monde colonial, qui a rythmé inlassablement la destruction des formes sociales indigènes, démoli sans restrictions les systèmes de références de l’économie, les modes d’apparence, d’habillement, sera revendiquée et assumée par le colonisé au moment où, décidant d’être l’histoire en actes, la masse colonisée s’engouffrera dans les villes interdites. Faire sauter le monde colonial est désormais une image d’action très claire, très compréhensible et pouvant être reprise par chacun des individus constituant le peuple colonisé. Disloquer le monde colonial ne signifie pas qu’après l’abolition des frontières on aménagera des voies de passage entre les deux zones. Détruire le monde colonial c’est ni plus ni moins abolir une zone, l’enfouir au plus profond du sol ou l’expulser du territoire. » (Fanon, Les damnés de la terre, p.44)

My translation:

The violence that has shaped the arrangement of the colonial world, has unrelentlessly paced the destruction of indigenous social structures, demolished without restriction economic system of references, modes of appearance, dress codes, will be claimed and endorsed by the colonizer when, deciding to his own history in action, the colonized mass would engulf itself in the forbidden cities. Blowing up the colonial world is henceforth a very clear image of action that can be used and understood by every individual consituting the colonized people. Dislocating the colonial world does not signify that after the abolition of borders, tracks of passages would be arranged between the two zones. Destroying the colonial world is not more nor less than abolishing a zone, bury it in the deepest ground or expel it of the territory. (Fanon, Les damnés de la terre, p.44, my translation)

Feltman’s response to Al Akhbar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Un interlude poétique avec Louis Aragon

La Rose et le Réséda (merci Princesse de Clèves)

Celui qui croyait au ciel
Celui qui n’y croyait pas
Tous deux adoraient la belle
Prisonnière des soldats
Lequel montait à l’échelle
Et lequel guettait en bas
Celui qui croyait au ciel
Celui qui n’y croyait pas
Qu’importe comment s’appelle
Cette clarté sur leur pas
Que l’un fut de la chapelle
Et l’autre s’y dérobât
Celui qui croyait au ciel
Celui qui n’y croyait pas
Continue reading “Un interlude poétique avec Louis Aragon”

Sectarian Land Law

Lately, Lebanese Labor Minister, Butros Harb, has proposed a law that would forbid a Lebanese to sell land to another Lebanese of a different confessional affiliation. According, to Al Akhbar Journalist Hassan Oleik, the law does not have much chance to pass and is mostly proposed for electoral reasons, but still signals initiatives from the remnants of what was called “political Maronitism” to assert itself and defend its turf by institutionalizing the “gettoization” of Lebanese politics. Citing a certain “legal expert”, this project is said to be the beginning of the building of a “separation wall between communities”.

It is surely the case that the only area where Christian power can still assert itself in Lebanon is through land ownership. Let’s face it, in other areas, Christians do not have much power left. The Maronite church and other churches for that matter may well possess the largest amount of real estate and mountainous regions in the country. Seen in this light, no wonder why Harb, an attorney by formation, is interested in passing that law project.

But seen in the light of general Christian relations with the “Muslim world” or simply, the region, Harb’s type of politics that mirrors most isolationist practices of groups such as the Phalangists or the Lebanese Forces, poses a crucial problem. It is what one could call the “Zionist syndrome”: trying to enforce political presence through barricading cultural entities. Is there any long-term effectiveness to this policy? More to the point, in the age of the nation-state, how to build durable States that embrace difference and look outwardly rather than act like paranoid and security-obsessed political communities?

Economic rationales for community-centrism

Some fun moments to have from these wikileaks. By far, my all time favorite until now is this statement coming from Elias el Murr, former minister of Defense:

According to Murr, “when you want to fight terrorists,you are fighting Sunni and Shia; you need Christians in special forces to do this mission. If you maximize Christians, you will have the best results.”

I mean Murr’s statements have some rationale: creating employment opportunities for Christians (Something most sectarian leaders do in Lebanon). In order to do so, one can make this ‘cultural’ point that Christian forces would hate better. Economics, has its weird laws sometimes…

Examples of reading politics upside down

From beginning to end…

MP Nadim Gemayel noted on Friday that Lebanon was not victorious in the July 2006 war, but Hizbullah considered it a victory because it destroyed Lebanon, while its funding and weapons have been restored by Syria and Iran.
He told MTV that several Lebanese view the war as a defeat seeing as their economy and infrastructure were completely destroyed.
He said that Hizbullah is directing its battle against international justice and its Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah’s reading of the situation in his speech on Thursday was wrong.
“Hizbullah’s weapons are illegitimate … the false witnesses file is nonexistent as it is aimed at thwarting the international tribunal before it can try Hizbullah,” Gemayel stated.

“Doctor” Geagea in the good old days…

Nasrallah’s press conference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good Friday or Cow Day

Yesterday night, Christians commemorated the crucifixion of Jesus. The streets of Beirut saw hundreds of people in their best clothes flocking towards churches, in little groups of three or four. Big speakers played chants from the top of churches and moving cars.

People remembered the death of someone as a symbol for human sacrificing, suffering and overcoming.

But that was also that time of the year when hundreds and hundreds of cows hit the shores of Beirut. Cows from northern Europe or Latin America? Packed and squeezed in dark containers, they travel for weeks and months to end up being butchered in the slaughterhouses of Beirut.

I knew this and everybody in the city knew it. In every street corner, in every room of every house, in every district of Beirut, the smell imposed itself and stuck to our noses. Everybody knows that there is this day that comes two or three times a year when “The cows arrive”. It is as if the cows send us their strong smell so that we also remember that act of violence.

But to what cause are the cows being sacrificed? Will they be remembered? I propose we commemorate that day for both Jesus and the cows who every couple of month arrive to Lebanon in order to feed for some time the greed of the pious people of Lebanon.

Jews, Jews, where art thou?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Christmas lesson (bis)

Listening to the Maronite Patriarch Mar Nasrallah Butros Sfeir giving the noon Christmas mass today in Beirut, confirmed what I was thinking of yesterday. At some point in the unfolding of the celebration, Sfeir tells the story of the birth of Jesus and so mentions his birth in Bethlehem. “In the city of Bethlehem, in Palestine, where he was born”.  He seems unperturbed, and swiftly moves to another subject. Worse, as he shifts his discussion to abstract concepts of love and tolerance (as noted, a classical rhetorical strategy amongst modern privatized Christianity), he manages to extract from it an even shakier concept of ‘love for the nation’. He then manages to mumble something like the birth of Jesus which symbolizes this message of love actually teaches us about how one should ‘love his nation’. Fortunately, he does not elaborate further. Bethlehem is a couple of kilometers away from where he is giving his mass. It is under the control of a political entity (Israel) that causes much injustice and oppression, and has probably no respect for Sfeir’s tradition (i.e. Christianity). To add insult to injury, a significant number of people from Bethlehem and from around it live within the nation that Sfeir wants people to love, although these people are neither loved by those people Sfeir is concerned with nor given any form of ‘love’ or ‘tolerance’. Well maybe if Jesus was the messenger of ‘justice’ it would have been better. Love as such stripped out of social realities is a monster-like fantasy causing more wreckage than healing.

A Christmas Lesson

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

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

Priceless quotes

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


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

Tayyar views on Hizbullah

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

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

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

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

US taxpayers fund Israeli settlers

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

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

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

On Palestinian camps

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

From a conversation I had with a relative

–   Yes yes some of the things Hizbullah figures say I understand and can relate to, but other claims just give me the creeps.

–   Like what exactly?

–   Well for example their claim of a ‘divine victory’

–   So? What’s creepy about it?

–   The fact that they want to insert God in everything they do.

–   Maybe because they prayed God that he would give them the strength to fight and vanquish, and once it had happened they attributed this victory to the fulfilment of their prayers.

–   Oh but that’s exactly what’s wrong here. They should be fighting for patriotic reasons. The moving idea should be ‘patriotism’ and not God.

–   But if they are asking God to help them, it is for ‘patriotic reasons’ as they want to defend their land or repel occupation. Besides what’s nobler as an idea patriotism or God?

–  Yeah but that’s not how one should pray. I don’t mix patriotism and God.

–  Don’t you pray at night for your friends and people you love to have a promising future, to stay healthy? To wake up and still be on the same roof? Aren’t they doing the same thing adding to that they are asking God to give them the strength to fight?

–  Yes but I don’t ask God to give me strength, God cannot change things for me, I change them. I only pray when I can’t do anything about things, like when someone has cancer or something.

–  I don’t really understand here. Are you saying that there are certain things one can ask God but not other things? Strength and will, discipline, and perseverance are not things one ask God to give. But magical tricks are such as curing this or that person or creating affluence while staying idle. In reality everything is asked by God according to all religious traditions, you are just restricting your prayers to a very specific set of requests, those that fall in the category of “it is now in God’s hand” no?

–  I don’t know…  we just pray differently…

Rome to Beirut or Tel Aviv

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

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

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

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