Thursday, March 27, 2008

Ignorance Strikes Again: Persepolis Banned in Beirut

By Bachir Habib

Picture: Courtesy of

Once again, ignorance strikes in Lebanon. Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis is the latest victim of our very “intellectual” General Security Censorship Department.
I first discovered Persepolis in Beirut, when I came across the series of comic books on which the movie is based.

Reading Persepolis was an amazing experience; I can easily label it as “Iran’s modern history for dummies”. Watching the movie was even better, for it operates on several levels. On one level it is a very simple and accessible piece of work that even a child can watch and enjoy. It is a highly emotional autobiography that tells the simple story of an Iranian girl growing up in the last years of the Pahlawi’s dynasty in Iran. She witnesses the rise of the Islamic Republic after 1979 and the implementation of the strict Islamic social and cultural code of conduct.
On another level It can be viewed as a very complex work focusing on how psychologically painful the experience of a teenager who is sent to live alone in a country with a very different culture (in 1983, at the age of 14, Satrapi was sent to Austria, by her parents in order to flee the Iranian regime).

The most sophisticated part of the movie is the historical and political angle through which Satrapi tells a vastly ignored part of Iran’s History. Through the experience of her socialist and communist family, from intimidation to imprisonment and killing, she shows how the Iranian Islamic Regime established its legacy by anihilating the Left who was the real avant-garde of the social and political movement that ended the Shah’s reign.

Banning Satrapi’s work in Iran may not be surprising, but banning it in Lebanon has a very different signification. I will not go into a political diatribe to convince my reader that Hezbollah is an Iranian proxy. But simply, this movie and comic books add to the debate about Hezbollah’s role and political ambitions the kind of argumentation the party wants to avoid because it ruins years of efforts to give the very fundamentalist party of god a “modern and tolerant” face.
Those who know about Lebanese politics know for sure how powerful Hezbollah is in certain spheres of the Lebanese Administration, notably the General Security where the committee of censorship sits.

The outright banning of Persepolis is an added clue to the true Hezbollah. But the lesson from the Film is elsewhere, it is for the emerging “Neo-Left” in Lebanon and the Arab World, who picture Hezbollah today as the natural heir to the socialist and nationalist liberation movements of the sixties and seventies. For those “leftists” engaged in a marketing and propaganda campaign on behalf of “the resistant Hezbollah-Damascus-Teheran-Caracas Axis” Persepolis sends a very clear message: Help the fundamentalists to power once again and you will be at the receiving end of their first bullit.

Persepolis won the Jury Prize of Cannes Film Festival (2007), and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in January 2008.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Reverse Nakba

By Joseph El-Khoury

Hassan Nasrallah promised again that Israel will one day cease to exist (speech on 24/03/08) in line with his previous statements and the slightly less ambiguous ones of Iranian president Ahmadinajad. Israel is for many, including myself, an archaic aberration in a post modern world built around concepts of multiculturalism, integration, mass communication, open markets. This country artificially created in 1948 through a concerted effort of the Zionist movement and the British occupant required the cooperation of the rich Arab landowners on one hand and the indifference of the puppet Monarchies that littered the Arab horizon throughout the 1930s and 40s. It has all the hallmarks of an apartheid state in its ideological basis (a state for a religious group) and in its practical implementation (the wall of Separation, The occupation).It is no more democratic than Sparta was democratic in that it embeds in its constitution discrimination against one religious/ethnic group (non-Jews) over another. So the disappearance of such a state should in theory bring cheers from across the globe in a similar way to the wave of support that accompanied the end of apartheid in South Africa and the dismantling of the Afrikaans state apparatus.

As always the devil is in the details. My main problem remains that I have never heard Hassan Nasrallah or his partners describe their vision for this post-dismantling phase (however unlikely it is in practice). Are we going for the one multireligious multiethnic state solution (maybe at the image of the successful Lebanese model) or will it be the two states option with the possibility of a population exchange. Or simply are we going for the forced expulsion of the Jewish population back to their countries of origins and the resettling of the original Palestinian inhabitants. This would be a perfect surgical reversal of the Palestinian Nakba of 1948. Except that it wouldn’t be clean cut, might result in a blood bath and ignores the fact that Israel is now a fully formed society with generations having no connections to their European ancestry, while others will have to return to Arab countries (Is that really an option?). It also ignores the Israeli nuclear arsenal and naively makes projections on the guerrilla warfare successfully fought by the Islamic resistance in South Lebanon in the past 2 decades.

And because I have always supported the rights of the Palestinian people all and above all out of purely ethical and moral principles, the idea of correcting the injustice done to them by creating another one is not appealing. The fact that the west , blinded by racism and colonial arrogance chose to solve the Jewish problem by creating an Arab one, should not make us waver from our call for a fair and just peace for all, including those who have humiliated and dismissed us for decades.

So we need clarity Mr Nasrallah, concrete plans and a vision beyond stating the obvious. Our own 'internal front' cannot cope with uncertainity. The statistics you revealed today on the support among Lebanese for the destruction of the Zionist entity is another example of your excellent marketing techniques but make me none the wiser.

Picture taken from http://www.comiteactionpalestine/

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Prophet, Jesus, and the Cartoons

By Yusur Al-Bahrani*

Picture: - Danish embassy in Beirut on fire

"The head of a Swedish newspaper has received death threats after publishing a drawing of the devil defecating on Jesus." I read this in March 12, 2008 in 7DAYS, taken from the Correspondent. Therefore, not only Prophet Muhammad was a target of caricaturists but so was Jesus.

Has anyone in our beloved Muslim world gone on demonstrations and shown rage towards the cartoons which aim to attack Jesus? So far, none has shown any sign of anger towards the cartoon. If there are any, the number is too insignificant to be reported by any media source. On the other hand, there has been chaos in the Muslim world over the cartoons mocking Prophet Muhammad.

Go on, rage, burn flags, destroy everything, kill everyone and bomb the whole world. Look at the cartoons attacking your Prophet and hang the ones who did it. Not only the ones who did it, but those who live with them. No, no, no! Boycott Denmark. Ops! I just got it! Burn Denmark! Attack the West! They are the enemy! They are the devil! Yes, go on. Go on, I want all the Muslim youths to be enraged and angry. Go on and blow up the whole universe.
Have you heard these comments before? May be not that intensely, but I am sure you have heard something similar that aims to stimulate such feelings in Muslim youths. We are being manipulated. Have you noticed to what extent we are being manipulated? We have to support our Prophet, but not in this way. I have been receiving emails mocking the artist who drew the cartoons and making him look like a pig, but what for? Is the Prophet supported by burning flags and attacking embassies? This is not the way to support your Prophet and prove that his message is a message of peace and harmony

The cartoons are not a war against Islam as many might think. Like the cartoons attacking Jesus, they are attacking religiosity in general. Let’s leave this aside and agree that there is an attack on Islam. What is the context for this attack? Have we not shown hostility towards others in the world? Al-Qaeda which claims that it supports the Islamic mission is behind a large portion of destruction, deaths and chaos. The wrong interpretation of Jihad and the emergence of new Jihadist groups have made Islam a religion of violence and death. There has to be something done in order to stop any more destruction. The first thing that has to be done is to be rational and pose for thought before taking any action. Then we have to think about the problems in our Muslim and Eastern world. We need to end dictatorship, poverty, unemployment and so on. The list is endless but we tend to forget our inner problems and go to the outside world to correct the problems of others.
Analyze the situation before taking any action and do not let anger gain control over you. Your Prophet does not need violence and hostility to support his mission of Islam. In stead, he needs peaceful people who propagate his message to the whole world in a peaceful way and without forcing anyone. Therefore, you can show your anger towards the cartoons in a more rational way and remember that Jesus is being mocked as well.

*Yusur is from Iraq and studies journalism at the American University of Sharjah (UAE)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

NIHONTEN: Japan in Lebanon

By Antoine Abi Aaad

The Academie Libanaise des Beaux Arts, ALBA, University of Balamand recently organized a workshop and an exhibition “Nihonten” on the theme of Japan as seen by the Lebanese. Conducted by Antoine ABI AAD (Ph.D. in Design, University of Tsukuba in Japan), the purpose of the workshop was to expose a number of Lebanese advertising students to a new culture in order to open up their horizons. And indeed, one of the interesting outcomes of the workshop was the typographical mixing of Latin, Arabic and Japanese types. The 41 students from the school of Decorative Arts, section of Advertising and Graphic Arts followed the workshop for two weeks, and exhibited their works in the third week. ALBA is looking forward to exhibiting in Japan in the near future.

A new perspective on Arabic letters

Generally researchers and writers (especially westerners) tend to tackle the issue of Arabic letters from a religious angle. It somehow interests their public to frame Arabic within a religious context.

Beautiful religious works were executed in the Arab world through centuries of Islamic art, but it is high time that we stop reflecting the situation of the end of the 18th century, last great period of Arabic calligraphy (Othman), and look for/to new dimensions. Encouraging a new perspective at Arabic was one of the purposes of Nihonten, achieved through descriptions of Japan, in Arabic. A historical example would be that of the Spanish architect Antonio Gaudy who, although inspired by Arabic culture, was so original and so detached from traditional Arabic patterns: In that sense he made use of the heritage to move forward.
One of the new dimensions applied in Nihonten was the mixing of scripts: Latin/Arabic with Japanese. Latin letters through French and English, which are commonly used languages in Lebanon and Japanese language through its 3 systems of writing: Kanji, and the two syllable systems, the Hiragana and the Katakana. It is interesting to see weird mixtures of French, English, Arabic and Japanese languages through Latin, Arabic, Kanji, Hiragana and Katakana mixtures; it impresses people through their new approach of mixing types. In fact, this is how the Iranian designers are excelling internationally: impressing audiences with relatively new letters, Arabic ones. In fact, this is what was done with Japanese and Chinese characters in the last century. Chinese and Arabic calligraphies being the richest and oldest calligraphies accentuate this case comparison.

As for the Lebanese, visuals can be even more creative: multilingual by nature, the Lebanese can show their culture visually. It is a great potential that should be explored further.

For the complete series of posters follow the link

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Iraq and the US New Balance of … Terror


Everyday, Western newspapers are full of reports from Iraq, about Iraqi fighters who changed camps from fighting US troops with Al Qaeda to fighting Al Qaeda alongside the American army. The US army succeeded in creating a new military actor or proxy on the battlefield. It is called the “Awakening groups”. This new Sunni militia succeeded relatively in improving security in many parts of Iraq.
But the issue is elsewhere. American troops, suffering on one hand from the Sunni pro Qaeda insurgency and on the other from the grip of Shia militias on the Iraqi reality, created a new balance of … Terror in this country while preparing their withdrawal.
They can pullout in the near future, but what they will leave behind is a reality of sectarian well armed militias, prompted by a fresh history of killing and revenge proving that peace is definitely not round the corner.
Below an interesting report by
Deborah Haynes published in the Times on the 15th of March 2008. It’s about Abu Abdullah who is now fighting alongside the US troops.
By the way, a few weeks ago, I was buying a phone in central London, the salesman happened to be Iraqi. When he knew I’m Lebanese his first question was: Are you Shia? And my reply was: “This is a trademark Lebanese question, apparently we lost the exclusivity of what cost us a 15 years civil war and maybe a new one on the way”.

Bachir Habib

I fought for my land against the US
Now I fight alongside them

Deborah Haynes, Baghdad

As a loyal officer under Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi major never imagined that one day he would become an insurgent, but when Iraq fell five years ago he was left bitter, jobless and desperate to drive the invading forces out.
“I saw my country collapse right in front of my eyes,” said Abu Abdullah, who has since orchestrated countless attacks against the US military, spent time in the notorious Abu Ghraib detention centre and briefly joined forces with al-Qaeda.
Recalling the invasion, he told The Times: “I felt as though my freedom was being snatched from me. It was one of the darkest moments of my life.” In many ways Mr Abdullah’s story is the story of the insurgency in Iraq, where the changing allegiances of Sunni Arab fighters has dictated the pace of a conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives since 2003.

He, like many Sunni Arab officers and other Saddam supporters, resorted to guerrilla warfare to kill better-equipped US soldiers but gradually found that his nationalistic resistance had fallen under the control of the militant Islamists of al-Qaeda.
Appalled at the cruelty of attacks sponsored by al-Qaeda, Mr Abdullah switched sides recently and is cooperating, albeit reluctantly, with the US military as part of a grassroots security drive that has spread across Iraq.
Five years ago, as Major Abdullah, he was holed up in the Iraqi city of al-Kut, south of Baghdad, listening to the sound of American combat aircraft dropping bombs on buildings and the thunder of invading tanks. “When the infantry entered al-Kut most of my soldiers stopped fighting. They realised that the US Army was much more powerful than ours,” he said. “We pulled out and returned to Baghdad. All my soldiers vanished. It was over.”
Mr Abdullah, a married father of one, drove his family to his parents’ house in Samarra, a predominantly Sunni Arab city north of the Iraqi capital, which eventually became a haven for al-Qaeda.
With the former army disbanded, he spent the next year at home defeated and with nothing to do – until he started meeting other former army officers at coffee shops in town.
“We started to discuss things and develop serious ideas. Eventually we agreed to form groups and start fighting,” Mr Abdullah said in a late-night interview at a Baghdad hotel, dressed in a maroon and blue tracksuit.
They were well prepared to begin an insurgency because, three months before the invasion, Iraqi military commanders had instructed all soldiers and officers to receive specific training in street fighting. Recruiting young men locally from April 2004, he started a branch of al-Tawhid wal Jihad, one of four main Sunni Arab insurgent groups that ultimately combined to become al-Qaeda in Iraq.
They had an abundance of rockets, guns, ammunition and bomb-making material, thanks to the many old Iraqi army warehouses dotted around the country that had been abandoned.
“Our objective was clear: to remove the occupying forces. We did not launch attacks in urban areas, just the outskirts of towns and on the main highways,” Mr Abdullah said, emphasising that his group also never targeted Iraqis.
They operated north of Baghdad up to the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, firing rockets at American bases, planting roadside bombs against military convoys and, on occasion, following up with an armed ambush.
The first mission that Mr Abdullah planned, against a base in Tikrit, was a bit of a failure because he miscalculated the distance for a barrage of rockets to be fired. He became much more accurate over time.
“We had many successful operations,” he said, with a knowing smile when asked if he had killed any American soldiers. Mr Abdullah says that he lost 26 fighters. Over a ten-month period his men carried out attacks twice a day. Using their superior knowledge of the terrain they would creep down dirt tracks and hide in farm houses. “The Americans would never know where we were coming from.” Sharing intelligence at meetings with other insurgency groups, he recalled how praise was heaped on any fighter who pulled off a complex mission.
“That was motivational. When you heard of someone else’s successes you wanted to go out and do something better,” said Mr Abdullah, a tall, well-built man who used to be a boxer and is a martial arts expert.
The former officer’s attacking spree was halted when he was arrested by US troops driving away from the scene of his biggest mission – blowing up five American lorries with 12 roadside bombs as they travelled towards the once-restive city of Fallujah, west of Baghdad, in March 2005.
“The soldiers told us that they were going to execute us by pushing us out of their helicopter. I thought to myself that I was just defending my country and if you want to kill me then go ahead,” he said.
Thrown into Abu Ghraib, the US-run detention centre that become infamous after American soldiers were pictured humiliating Iraqi prisoners, Mr Abdullah said that he was kept in a box-like cell that measured a metre square.Forced to sit squashed up because of his large frame, he said that he was held in there for 29 days, allowed out for only four hours a day.
He also claimed that he was beaten and interrogated repeatedly. “In one of the worst moments, which I will never forget for as long as I live, I was handcuffed to a chair and a female soldier hit me across the head with a metal pipe. You might be able to see the scar,” he said, touching his hair-line. “I started to bleed and she hit me on the arm, breaking it. They left me for a week without medical attention. As I experienced all of this I kept thinking about two things: my son and my country. I felt really sad for my country.”
Mr Abdullah, who said that he never admitted to any crime, spent three months in Abu Ghraib before being moved to Camp Buka, a larger detention centre in southern Iraq, where he said that conditions were much better.
After another six months he was released, but his time in captivity left him even more embittered towards the US forces and he vowed to return to the resistance. “When I arrived back in Samarra I found that a lot of things had changed. My group had become part of al-Qaeda and was killing members of the Iraqi security forces and even civilians,” he said.
Most of the people he had fought with had fled to Syria, being replaced by hired guns who were working for an influx of new commanders, many of them foreign. Mr Abdullah said that other Arab countries and Iran were helping to fund the operations.
Despite many misgivings, he rejoined the group at the end of 2005 but quickly regretted it. “I found out that my cousin had been killed because he had refused to join.” Mr Abdullah was also shown footage of two policemen being beheaded.
“I could not tolerate or accept how they were working, so in the end I fled to Syria. I felt quite disappointed with the way that the resistance had become.” After only a week Mr Abdullah returned to Iraq and took his family to Baghdad, where he used his car to work as a taxi driver. Leaving al-Qaeda meant that his life was in constant danger. Twice gunmen tried to shoot him and he was forced to move house four times.
Still opposed to the US military and increasingly against the Shia-led Government of Iraq, Mr Abdullah dreamt of starting up a fresh resistance. But in late 2007 he was approached by two uncles and a cousin who had joined a new security movement, which was established by Sunni Arab tribes who had turned against al-Qaeda in Anbar province, once the heart of the insurgency. The concept – arming local people and charging them with security for their neighbourhood – appealed to Mr Abdullah even though the group’s members, which number at least 90,000, were under the payroll of the US military.
“I started to feel that the Americans were better than the Iraqi Government at that moment. I still look at them as occupiers. My feelings towards them have not changed. But my main concern is to stop the Iraqi people’s suffering,” he said. Agreeing to help to set up branches of the so-called Awakening movement in Samarra and other towns north of Baghdad, Mr Abdullah attended his first meeting with the US military just over a week ago – something that he had resisted for months.
“When American soldiers turn up I feel very sad for myself, my country and the fact that I have to sit down and deal with them. I feel like wolves are eating my flesh during the meeting,” he said.
Mr Abdullah, however, believes that the largely Sunni Arab Awakening groups lack support from the Government, which has pledged to find all members jobs in the regular army or police or a civilian role.
Asked what would be the outcome if the Government failed to create new employment opportunities, the former insurgent responded: “An uprising.” As for his future, Mr Abdullah just wants security for his son, now 6, adding: “I am determined to raise him to be a fighter like me.”
Word for word
“We promise God that the dog Bush will not enjoy peace of mind and that his army will not have a good life as long as our hearts are beating.”
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi April 29, 2005

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Language, Media and Propaganda

Sometimes events and encounters serve to validate your point of point of view or reassure you that persevering against all odds is worthwhile. At a Cambridge University Conference, we did not need to hear from Yonatan Mendel* what we already knew for us to feel validated in our conviction that a fair and just peace would be possible one day in the Middle East. The mere fact we were hearing a balanced political discussion at all outside the usual animosity that separates Arabs and Israelis on this issue was enough.
As one of the speakers, he went on to talk about how language had been used and abused by the Israeli media to market its side of the story both within Israel and in the West. The following article in the
London Review of Books (6th March 2008) revisits this same theme.


"A year ago I applied for the job of Occupied Territories correspondent at Ma'ariv, an Israeli newspaper. I speak Arabic and have taught in Palestinian schools and taken part in many joint Jewish-Palestinian projects. At my interview the boss asked how I could possibly be objective. I had spent too much time with Palestinians; I was bound to be biased in their favour. I didn't get the job. My next interview was with Walla, Israel's most popular website. This time I did get the job and I became Walla's Middle East correspondent. I soon understood what Tamar Liebes, the director of the Smart Institute of Communication at the Hebrew University, meant when she said: 'Journalists and publishers see themselves as actors within the Zionist movement, not as critical outsiders.'

This is not to say that Israeli journalism is not professional. Corruption, social decay and dishonesty are pursued with commendable determination by newspapers, TV and radio. That Israelis heard exactly what former President Katsav did or didn't do with his secretaries proves that the media are performing their watchdog role, even at the risk of causing national and international embarrassment. Ehud Olmert's shady apartment deal, the business of Ariel Sharon's mysterious Greek island, Binyamin Netanyahu's secret love affair, Yitzhak Rabin's secret American bank account: all of these are freely discussed by the Israeli media.

When it comes to 'security' there is no such freedom. It's 'us' and 'them', the IDF and the 'enemy'; military discourse, which is the only discourse allowed, trumps any other possible narrative. It's not that Israeli journalists are following orders, or a written code: just that they'd rather think well of their security forces.

In most of the articles on the conflict two sides battle it out: the Israel Defence Forces, on the one hand, and the Palestinians, on the other. When a violent incident is reported, the IDF confirms or the army says but the Palestinians claim: 'The Palestinians claimed that a baby was severely injured in IDF shootings.' Is this a fib? 'The Palestinians claim that Israeli settlers threatened them': but who are the Palestinians? Did the entire Palestinian people, citizens of Israel, inhabitants of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, people living in refugee camps in neighbouring Arab states and those living in the diaspora make the claim? Why is it that a serious article is reporting a claim made by the Palestinians? Why is there so rarely a name, a desk, an organisation or a source of this information? Could it be because that would make it seem more reliable?

When the Palestinians aren't making claims, their viewpoint is simply not heard. Keshev, the Centre for the Protection of Democracy in Israel, studied the way Israel's leading television channels and newspapers covered Palestinian casualties in a given month - December 2005. They found 48 items covering the deaths of 22 Palestinians. However, in only eight of those accounts was the IDF version followed by a Palestinian reaction; in the other 40 instances the event was reported only from the point of view of the Israeli military.

Another example: in June 2006, four days after the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was kidnapped from the Israeli side of the Gazan security fence, Israel, according to the Israeli media, arrested some sixty members of Hamas, of whom 30 were elected members of parliament and eight ministers in the Palestinian government. In a well-planned operation Israel captured and jailed the Palestinian minister for Jerusalem, the ministers of finance, education, religious affairs, strategic affairs, domestic affairs, housing and prisons, as well as the mayors of Bethlehem, Jenin and Qalqilya, the head of the Palestinian parliament and one quarter of its members. That these officials were taken from their beds late at night and transferred to Israeli territory probably to serve (like Gilad Shalit) as future bargaining-chips did not make this operation a kidnapping. Israel never kidnaps: it arrests.

The Israeli army never intentionally kills anyone, let alone murders them - a state of affairs any other armed organisation would be envious of. Even when a one-ton bomb is dropped onto a dense residential area in Gaza, killing one gunman and 14 innocent civilians, including nine children, it's still not an intentional killing or murder: it is a targeted assassination. An Israeli journalist can say that IDF soldiers hit Palestinians, or killed them, or killed them by mistake, and that Palestinians were hit, or were killed or even found their death (as if they were looking for it), but murder is out of the question. The consequence, whatever words are used, has been the death at the hands of the Israeli security forces since the outbreak of the second intifada of 2087 Palestinians who had nothing to do with armed struggle.

The IDF, as depicted by the Israeli media, has another strange ability: it never initiates, decides to attack or launches an operation. The IDF simply responds. It responds to the Qassam rockets, responds to terror attacks, responds to Palestinian violence. This makes everything so much more sensible and civilised: the IDF is forced to fight, to destroy houses, to shoot Palestinians and to kill 4485 of them in seven years, but none of these events is the responsibility of the soldiers. They are facing a nasty enemy, and they respond dutifully. The fact that their actions - curfews, arrests, naval sieges, shootings and killings - are the main cause of the Palestinian reaction does not seem to interest the media. Because Palestinians cannot respond, Israeli journalists choose another verb from the lexicon that includes revenge, provoke, attack, incite, throw stones or fire Qassams.

Interviewing Abu-Qusay, the spokesman of Al-Aqsa Brigades in Gaza, in June 2007, I asked him about the rationale for firing Qassam missiles at the Israeli town of Sderot. 'The army might respond,' I said, not realising that I was already biased. 'But we are responding here,' Abu-Qusay said. 'We are not terrorists, we do not want to kill . . . we are resisting Israel's continual incursions into the West Bank, its attacks, its siege on our waters and its closure on our lands.' Abu-Qusay's words were translated into Hebrew, but Israel continued to enter the West Bank every night and Israelis did not find any harm in it. After all it was only a response.

At a time when there were many Israeli raids on Gaza I asked my colleagues the following question: 'If an armed Palestinian crosses the border, enters Israel, drives to Tel Aviv and shoots people in the streets, he will be the terrorist and we will be the victims, right? However, if the IDF crosses the border, drives miles into Gaza, and starts shooting their gunmen, who is the terrorist and who is the defender? How come the Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories can never be engaged in self-defence, while the Israeli army is always the defender?' My friend Shay from the graphics department clarified matters for me: 'If you go to the Gaza Strip and shoot people, you will be a terrorist. But when the army does it that is an operation to make Israel safer. It's the implementation of a government decision!'

Another interesting distinction between us and them came up when Hamas demanded the release of 450 of its prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit. Israel announced that it would release prisoners but not those with blood on their hands. It is always the Palestinians - never the Israelis - who have blood on their hands. This is not to say that Jews cannot kill Arabs but they will not have blood on their hands, and if they are arrested they will be released after a few years, not to mention those with blood on their hands who've gone on to become prime minister. And we are not only more innocent when we kill but also more susceptible when we are hurt. A regular description of a Qassam missile that hits Sderot will generally look like this: 'A Qassam fell next to a residential house, three Israelis had slight injuries, and ten others suffered from shock.' One should not make light of these injuries: a missile hitting a house in the middle of the night could indeed cause great shock. However, one should also remember that shock is for Jews only. Palestinians are apparently a very tough people.

The IDF, again the envy of all other armies, kills only the most important people. 'A high-ranking member of Hamas was killed' is almost a chorus in the Israel media. Low-ranking members of Hamas have either never been found or never been killed. Shlomi Eldar, a TV correspondent in the Gaza Strip, bravely wrote about this phenomenon in his book Eyeless in Gaza (2005). When Riyad Abu Zaid was assassinated in 2003, the Israeli press echoed the IDF announcement that the man was the head of the military wing of Hamas in Gaza. Eldar, one of Israel's few investigative journalists, discovered that the man was merely a secretary in the movement's prisoner club. 'It was one of many occasions in which Israel "upgraded" a Palestinian activist,' Eldar wrote. 'After every assassination any minor activist is "promoted" to a major one.'

This phenomenon, in which IDF statements are directly translated into media reports - there are no checkpoints between the army and the media - is the result both of a lack of access to information and of the unwillingness of journalists to prove the army wrong or to portray soldiers as criminals. 'The IDF is acting in Gaza' (or in Jenin, or in Tulkarm, or in Hebron) is the expression given out by the army and embraced by the media. Why make the listeners' lives harder? Why tell them what the soldiers do, describing the fear they create, the fact that they come with heavy vehicles and weapons and crush a city's life, creating a greater hatred, sorrow and a desire for revenge?

Last month, as a measure against Qassam militants, Israel decided to stop Gaza's electricity for a few hours a day. Despite the fact that this means, for instance, that electricity will fail to reach hospitals, it was said that 'the Israeli government decided to approve this step, as another non-lethal weapon.' Another thing the soldiers do is clearing - khisuf. In regular Hebrew, khisuf means to expose something that is hidden, but as used by the IDF it means to clear an area of potential hiding places for Palestinian gunmen. During the last intifada, Israeli D9 bulldozers destroyed thousands of Palestinian houses, uprooted thousands of trees and left behind thousands of smashed greenhouses. It is better to know that the army cleared the place than to face the reality that the army destroys Palestinians' possessions, pride and hope.

Another useful word is crowning (keter), a euphemism for a siege in which anyone who leaves his house risks being shot at. War zones are places where Palestinians can be killed even if they are children who don't know they've entered a war zone. Palestinian children, by the way, tend to be upgraded to Palestinian teenagers, especially when they are accidentally killed. More examples: isolated Israeli outposts in the West Bank are called illegal outposts, perhaps in contrast to Israeli settlements that are apparently legal. Administrative detention means jailing people who haven't been put on trial or even formally charged (in April 2003 there were 1119 Palestinians in this situation). The PLO (Ashaf) is always referred to by its acronym and never by its full name: Palestine is a word that is almost never used - there is a Palestinian president but no president of Palestine.

'A society in crisis forges a new vocabulary for itself,' David Grossman wrote in The Yellow Wind, 'and gradually, a new language emerges whose words . . . no longer describe reality, but attempt, instead, to conceal it.' This 'new language' was adopted voluntarily by the media, but if one needs an official set of guidelines it can be found in the Nakdi Report, a paper drafted by the Israeli Broadcasting Authority. First set down in 1972 and since updated three times, the report aimed to 'clarify some of the professional rules that govern the work of a newsperson'. The prohibition of the term East Jerusalem was one of them.

The restrictions aren't confined to geography. On 20 May 2006, Israel's most popular television channel, Channel 2, reported 'another targeted assassination in Gaza, an assassination that might ease the firing of Qassams' (up to 376 people have died in targeted assassinations, 150 of them civilians who were not the target of assassinations). Ehud Ya'ari, a well-known Israeli correspondent on Arab affairs, sat in the studio and said: 'The man who was killed is Muhammad Dahdouh, from Islamic Jihad . . . this is part of the other war, a war to shrink the volume of Qassam activists.' Neither Ya'ari nor the IDF spokesman bothered to report that four innocent Palestinian civilians were also killed in the operation, and three more severely injured, one a five-year-old girl called Maria, who will remain paralysed from the neck down. This 'oversight', revealed by the Israeli journalist Orly Vilnai, only exposed how much we do not know about what we think we know.

Interestingly, since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip one of the new 'boo' words in the Israeli media is Hamastan, a word that appears in the 'hard' news section, the allegedly sacred part of newspapers that is supposed to give the facts, free from editorialising. The same applies to movements such as Hamas or Hizbullah, which are described in Hebrew as organisations and not as political movements or parties. Intifada is never given its Arabic meaning of 'revolt'; and Al-Quds, which when used by Palestinian politicians refers only to 'the holy places in East Jerusalem' or 'East Jerusalem', is always taken by Israeli correspondents to mean Jerusalem, which is effectively to imply a Palestinian determination to take over the entire capital city.

It was curious to watch the newspapers' responses to the assassination of Imad Moughniyeh in Syria two weeks ago. Everyone tried to outdo everyone else over what to call him: arch-terrorist, master terrorist or the greatest terrorist on earth. It took the Israeli press a few days to stop celebrating Moughniyeh's assassins and start doing what it should have done in the first place: ask questions about the consequences of the killing. The journalist Gideon Levy thinks it is an Israeli trend: 'The chain of "terrorist chieftains" liquidated by Israel, from Ali Salameh and Abu Jihad through Abbas Musawi and Yihyeh Ayash to Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi (all "operations" that we celebrated with great pomp and circumstance for one sweet and intoxicating moment), have thus far brought only harsh and painful revenge attacks against Israel and Jews throughout the world.'

Israeli correspondents on Arab affairs must of course speak Arabic - many of them indeed studied it in the security establishment's schools - and they need to know the history and politics of the Middle East. And they have to be Jews. Strikingly, the Israeli-Jewish media prefer to hire journalists with average Arabic rather than native speakers, since they would be Palestinian citizens of Israel. Apparently, Jewish journalists are better equipped than Arab Israelis to explain 'what Arabs think', 'Arab aims' or 'what Arabs say'. Maybe this is because the editors know what their audience wants to hear. Or, even more important, what the Israeli audience would rather not hear.

If the words occupation, apartheid and racism (not to mention Palestinian citizens of Israel, bantustans, ethnic cleansing and Nakba) are absent from Israeli discourse, Israeli citizens can spend their whole lives without knowing what they have been living with. Take racism (Giz'anut in Hebrew). If the Israeli parliament legislates that 13 per cent of the country's lands can be sold only to Jews, then it is a racist parliament. If in 60 years the country has had only one Arab minister, then Israel has had racist governments. If in 60 years of demonstrations rubber bullets and live ammunition have been used only on Arab demonstrators, then Israel has a racist police. If 75 per cent of Israelis admit that they would refuse to have an Arab neighbour, then it is a racist society. By not acknowledging that Israel is a place where racism shapes relations between Jews and Arabs, Israeli Jews render themselves unable to deal with the problem or even with the reality of their own lives.

The same denial of reality is reflected in the avoidance of the term apartheid. Because of its association with white South Africa, Israelis find it very hard to use the word. This is not to say that the exact same kind of regime prevails in the Occupied Territories today, but a country needn't have benches 'for whites only' in order to be an apartheid state. Apartheid, after all, means 'separation', and if in the Occupied Territories the settlers have one road and Palestinians need to use alternative roads or tunnels, then it is an apartheid road system. If the separation wall built on thousands of dunams of confiscated West Bank land separates people (including Palestinians on opposite sides of the wall), then it is an apartheid wall. If in the Occupied Territories there are two judicial systems, one for Jewish settlers and the other for Palestinians, then it is an apartheid justice.

And then there are the Occupied Territories themselves. Remarkably, there are no Occupied Territories in Israel. The term is occasionally used by a leftist politician or columnist, but in the hard news section it doesn't exist. In the past they were called the Administered Territories in order to conceal the actual fact of occupation; they were then called Judea and Samaria; but in Israel's mass media today they're called the Territories (Ha-Shtachim). The term helps preserve the notion that the Jews are the victims, the people who act only in self-defence, the moral half of the equation, and the Palestinians are the attackers, the bad guys, the people who fight for no reason. The simplest example explains it: 'a citizen of the Territories was caught smuggling illegal weapons.' It might make sense for citizens of an occupied territory to try to resist the occupier, but it doesn't make sense if they are just from the Territories.

Israeli journalists are not embedded with the security establishment; and they haven't been asked to make their audience feel good about Israel's military policy. The restrictions they observe are observed voluntarily, almost unconsciously - which makes their practice all the more dangerous. Yet a majority of Israelis feel that their media are too left-wing, insufficiently patriotic, not on Israel's side. And the foreign media are worse. During the last intifada, Avraham Hirschson, then the minister of finance, demanded that CNN's broadcasts from Israel be closed down on the grounds of 'biased broadcasting and tendentious programmes that are nothing but a campaign of incitement against Israel'. Israeli demonstrators called for an end to 'CNN's unreliable and terror-provoking coverage' in favour of Fox News. Israeli men up to the age of 50 are obliged to do one month's reserve service every year. 'The civilian,' Yigael Yadin, an early Israeli chief of staff, said, 'is a soldier on 11 months' annual leave.' For the Israeli media there is no leave."

* Yonatan Mendel was a correspondent for the Israeli news agency Walla. He is currently at Queens' College, Cambridge working on a PhD that studies the connection between the Arabic language and security in Israel.

Friday, March 7, 2008

The Marchian Invasion

By Bassem Hassan

“el barghash…”
From an old Lebanese radio add for an anti-mosquito spray.

To say that Lebanon today is divided, almost broken, between two camps is to most people the very definition of stating the obvious. But the beauty of the obvious- at least in Lebanon- is that it...well…isn’t!

Two camps, to be sure. Two sides with completely different ideological frameworks, political agendas and societal concepts. Two opposing forces with radically different ideas about the citizen, the state and the economy. Two poles pulling Lebanon in two different directions towards two alternative futures. It is vital that we not belittle or brush aside the differences between the two sides. For doing so implies that we look at the essence of the crisis that is Lebanon from a fundamentally flawed perspective, before we have even begun the process of critical analysis.

For one camp- and let us creatively call it Camp 1- what Lebanon needs today is a political identity stripped of the mythologies of the past and of the invented stories about about its geography, history and the sad interplay between the two. Camp 1 believes that this is the time for nation building through a process of true development; one that places the education, health, employment and well being of the citizen as the absolute top priority of the State. This is a camp that considers the citizen, from the newborn child to the aging adult as the building block of the socio-economic dynamic and, as such, desires to build a socio-economic framework- called the Lebanese Republic- whose cohesive vision can be best stated as: how do we as individual equal citizens work to ensure the well being of ourselves and- crucially- one another at the same time? It follows therefore that Camp 1defines Lebanon’s place in the world fundamentally in function of the answer to this question. Needless to say, Camp 1 is composed of people who have an unwavering belief in prosperity through equality all spheres of life.

Camp 2 is basically the mirror image of Camp 1. Its concept or, more accurately, concepts, of Lebanon are deeply rooted in fanatical mythologies, nonsensical historical narratives and a form of communitarian power structure which obliterates the freewill and social responsibility of the citizen. It is a camp for whom, indeed, the ‘citizen’ does not truly exit. It does not understand ideas like development and equality. It is, by definition, anti-progressive because its only interest is to re-create itself ad nauseum!

If you happen to be a Lebanese reading this article, then you have almost certainly guessed by now who Camp 1 and Camp 2 are: Camp 1 is yours whichever side of “Marchian” divide you happen to be on. And you know what? You’ve gotten it completely…wrong! For regardless of what sort of “Marchian” you happen to be, you, my sadly deluded friend, belong to Camp 2. Fortunately for you, however, you are in the vast majority…and you will win.

Alas, we progressive, leftist, secularist, enlightened, liberated and egalitarian earthlings will be defeated by the Marchian invasion. Our last hope is to be resurrected someday after you Marchians have finished destroying each other.

Istanbul, Saturday 23 February, 2008.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The “Gaza Holocaust” and the Israeli “Hot Winter”

By Bachir Habib
Picture: Associated Press

Do the calls for peaceful resolutions and accountability change anything in Middle East? Is anyone able to stop the cycle of violence hitting the Palestinians both internally and externally? Once again, Israel is violating the principles of proportionality and distinction in International Humanitarian Law. So what? May respond the Ministry of Defence, it has always been the case and so it will remain. We live in a time where Arab pressure is unrealistic if not surreal while the maximum we can expect from the United Nations is a weak call for both sides to end the hostilities.

Unfortunately, Israel chose the ideal timing to carry out its operation “Hot Winter” in Gaza. And neither the Arab regimes nor the allies of Hamas outside the Arab World succeeded or even tried hard to make Israel miss the chance of starting what the Israeli defense’s minister deputy proudly described as the “Gaza Holocaust”.

On one hand, Iran’s Ahmedinejad is busy paying a US protected visit to Iraq and calling from there to the withdrawal of American troops! Syria is busy dealing with two potentially embarrassing situations: First, denying the meeting held in Washington between its US ambassador Imad Mostafa and an Israeli official in Washington which resulted in a leak that suggests Syria is willing to resume peace talks with Israel. Secondly, fixing the damage done to its relations with other Arab states over its role in Lebanon and the Arab League Summit planned in Damascus late March.

On the other, Hezbollah, another ally who succeeded back in 2006 in easing the Israeli military operation on Gaza by opening the Lebanese front, finds itself in a very different posture and facing a number of problems. Imad Mughniyeh, described as Hezbollah’s military brain, “chief of staff” and architect of Hezbollah’s resistance during the 2006 July war was assassinated in the Syrian heartland just a few weeks before “Hot Winter”.
The Southern Lebanese front is more difficult to access for Hezbollah due to the implementation of Resolution 1701 and the presence of around Fifteen thousand UNIFIL troops south of the Litani River. The latest bad news for Hezbollah is the deployment of the American warship USS Cole in the Eastern Mediterranean, a military maneuver with a highly loaded American political message to the allies of Hamas.

This is the tragic political and military context in which the Gaza population is trapped. The result so far is 120 Palestinians, including many women and children, killed in just six days while the world sits still. Abu Mazen’s decision to suspend all contacts with Israel, and some NGO’s accusing the Jewish state of violating International War Conventions will unfortunately lead nowhere.

This intricate political and military context is not a coincidence; it is a puzzle where each and every political actor in the region fits and shares its part of responsibility in drawing that new framework:

Hamas failed to capitalize on the move to throw Fatah out of Gaza.

Iran is busy dealing with Iraq and the pressure on its nuclear program.

Syria has been hit twice in the past few months (The Israeli raid on its territory last September and the assassination of Mughniyeh in Damascus) without the hint of a response.

Hezbollah is still celebrating the Winograd commission report which confirms its claim that Israel was defeated in 2006.

Israel is comfortably operating its “Gaza Holocaust” …While the Arabs are still wondering whether they should hold a summit.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Let's talk about Sex!

By Joseph El-Khoury

And why not? After all we are a bit fed up of politics. Lebanon is a mess, Iraq is a mess, Palestine is a mess, Sudan is a mess, and our discussions seems to lead nowhere. So why not turn our attention to an issue on which we can actually have an impact at least in our immediate surroundings.

About a year ago, a column written by a British Psychoanalyst for a National newspaper following the foiling of a terror plot targeted at nightclubs and young women in skimpy outfits caught my attention. Muslim and Arab men she claims are not having enough sex. This frustration fuels their hatred of the west and its sexually liberated society. This amazing statement was not backed up by any scientific evidence of any kind. In my humble and neutral opinion whether a typical Pakistani male has less frequent or less satisfying sexual interactions than your average white Caucasian Anglo-Saxon remains to be shown.

Whatever the case, we can now reassure this lady, that Arab men are getting a healthy dose of sexual activity. Or at least showing enough interest in the subject .The Arabdemocracy team noticed that, following our publishing of a story which included ‘Sex’ in its title (Sex Trade: Iraqi girls who become prostitutes in Syria) our Site meter recorded a surge in referrals to the site through Google using search terms with sexual connotations. These ranged from ‘Sex in Kuwait’ to ’9 years old girls in Iraq’ passing through ‘Syrian Lesbians’ and ‘Lebanon sex film’ but also included a number of more exotic queries that we will not reveal out of decency.

I find this strangely refreshing. Not that I am condoning the exploitation of men and women' sexuality for financial gain but because it is expected and contradicts the myth circulated in official and religious circles as well as on the blogosphere that the interest in sex is specific to western society. Some might still argue that, even if Arab men are looking for excitement through accessing pornographic material on the net, this phenomenon can be ascribed to the corruption of Arab society by these same imported western values. Abu Nuwas and other historical figures would disagree. There never was a pure Arab society, free of sin, and there will never be. Humans are humans after all and whatever the bigots say Sex is a natural human behaviour that we should be able to discuss without shame and fear.

I am hoping that next time someone enters ‘sex’ as a search term that Arabic Google will lead them to this post instead.