Friday, December 10, 2010

A Scandalous Lack of Scandal: Why Wikileaks failed to impress in Lebanon

By Karl Sharro 

Republished with permission from Karlremarks

First things first: the attacks that brought down Al-Akhbar newspaper’s website today are a despicable action that is as pointless as it is stupid. Firstly, any hope of stemming the flow of information on the internet is a delusion and secondly those attacks will only reinforce the idea that the leaked information that Al-Akhbar published should be repressed. To me, freedom of speech in the Arab world is much more important than political disagreements and we should all support Al-Akhbar against those attacks.

Many people got really excited when Al-Akhbar started publishing the material it obtained from Wikileaks, predicting ‘catastrophe or even worse’ as I read somewhere. Such predictions reveal the astounding level of naivety that characterises many ‘commentators’ today, particularly the younger generation of bloggers who seem to be far more immersed in the online world that nurtured Wikileaks than in Lebanese politics. The real surprise is that some seasoned observers would make the same mistake of transferring the Hollywood world of Wikileaks to the Lebanese context.

For example, the general director of Al-Akhbar Ibarhim Al-Amin ‘wondered critically why Hezbollah has been silent regarding the scandal of Ilyas Murr in Wikileaks’, as As’ad Abu Khalil put it. If you have been living in a nuclear bunker for the past few weeks, the documents published in Al-Akhbar revealed that the Minister of Defence and Deputy PM Murr had given advice to Israel through American representatives on how to conduct an upcoming confrontation with Hezbollah, in addition to several other ‘juicy’ revelations. Al-Amin picked up on Murr hinting to the Americans that Imad Mughniyeh, a Hezbollah military leader who was assassinated in Damascus, masterminded the political assassinations of March 14 members. Al-Amin ended his article with a pertinent question about Hezbollah’s position regarding the leaks.

But what are the revelations exactly? Lebanese leaders conspire against each other with foreign powers? Big surprise! This has been going on since the country was established, and everyone knows it. In fact, given the routine accusations of treason and the usual conspiracy scenarios, some of the politicians came out looking a bit less conspiratorial than the public would have normally assumed. The suggestion that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon is politicised? Did we need the leaks to figure out that it was designed as a tool for political revenge and a stick with which to beat Syria?

But the real surprise to me is that so many observers still fail to comprehend the nature and limits of sectarian politics in Lebanon. The confessional system is based on mutual mistrust, it’s predisposed a priori towards the institutionalisation of suspicion. This is expressed in all the arrangements that mediate the relationships between the large confessions and that control power-sharing. But the system can only function under a veneer of politeness that decrees that these antagonisms should never be expressed in public and should always be referred to metaphorically. Thus, we must all pretend that the May 7 events were not a blatant sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shiites, as you could easily find out on Youtube, but a ‘political’ conflict.

These well-nurtured relationships of mutual suspicion have always served to reinforce the power of confessional leaders, bringing them to the surface would in a curious way undermine this form of authority. Once the masks fall, there would be no way of managing those relationships through politics and the only option becomes war. Thus, when Al-Amin asks Hezbollah to recognise the leaks and act on them he’s asking for Hezbollah to wage war. Thankfully, Hezbollah’s leadership has the wisdom to avoid such a prospect.

Furthermore, those who expected the leaks to have a bigger impact have underestimated the extent to which the ‘solution’ to the STL indictment dilemma has now been handed over to the Saudis and the Syrians. The Lebanese factions have little control over this process now, aside from their ‘wish lists’ that they have left with their guardians in Damascus and Riyadh. Nothing else can explain the complicity of both political camps to maintain the current internal inertia in the face of the pressing urgency of this political impasse. We will no doubt a new distribution of roles once the dust has settled, ushering in a new era of externally-sponsored coexistence. The scandal here is not the leaks, but the miserable inability of Lebanese leaders to sort out their own problems.

But there’s a wider problem here that concerns the leaks themselves. Despite all the excited buzz we’re hearing about ‘the truth’, the leaks are not the truth. They are how American diplomats view the world. That in itself is not the truth about anything. Information on its own does not become a truth unless placed within a coherent narrative about what their meaning and significance is. Such narrative has been remarkable in its absence in this case. This is not to say that they should not be made public, but the mere fact of making them public on its own does not make them relevant without a coherent narrative.

And it’s in this last aspect that Al-Akhbar has failed to use the leaks in a meaningful way, it merely replicated what Wikileaks did on a smaller scale. Even the layout of the leaks page on Al-Akhbar resembled a shopping website instead of a newspaper: masses of data categorised for easy consumption. In its eagerness to modernise, Al-Akhbar has tended to replicate uncritically trends in the Leftist Western press at the expense of engaging with the Lebanese political context. It would do well to question its political affiliations in this scandal-resistant nation and perhaps look more critically at the events of the last few years. We have enough information to make judgements about Lebanese politics; what we lack is the principled stance not the data.

In solidarity, critically, with Al-Akhbar.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

"اتركوا شجرة واحدة لحبل مشنقتكم"

داليا عبيد

"اليوم حريق وغداً غريق والحكومة في إجازة شهود الزور" هو أحد الشعارات التي رفعها صديق عزيز لي على صفحة الفايسبوك. أول عبارة قالها لي عندما سألته عن أحواله: انه بخير، ما زال صامدا في لبنان ويستخدم هذه الشبكة الالكترونية "لفشّ الخلق". لم أريد أن أتطفل عليه أكثر وأسأله عما يدور في باله من أفكار تضعه في دائرة المتأففين ولكني فهمت الجواب من العنوان ورسمت له صفحة أسباب تقهره بسبب تماسه المباشر معها وتقهرني بسبب بعدي عنها والتماسي اليومي لها عبر صفحات الصحف الصادرة في بيروت.

سوف يبدأ صديقي من أخبار اليوم الطازجة ليخبرني بأن لبنان كله كان على موعد البارحة مع الحرائق الطبيعية التي حرقت قلوب الناس على رزقهم وعلى المواسم الضائعة أصلاً. سيضغط على أحرف حاسوبه ليقول لي بأن الغصة عمت في قلبه على "ذهب" لبنان الأخضر الذي يقضم سنة بعد سنة وبأن دموعه جفت في عينيه وهو يبتهل المطر الذي تأخر. سيفكر قليلاً ويعود ويقول لي بأن كتاب التاريخ اللبناني لم يكن الوحيد المخيب لأماله المتسعة بل انضم إليه اليوم كتاب الجغرافيا الذي خذله وتمرد على معلوماته حول مناخ لبنان وطبيعته ومياهه العذبة !

سأسأله عن دور الحكومة، سيجيبني بأنها غاشية وغائبة في كوما القرار الظني وبأنها غير مبالية حتى بيومياتنا. ومن ثم سوف يبدأ ليقول لي بأننا تحولنا إلى أشباه أحياء، بأن المسارح والمقاهي وصالات السينما وملاعب الفوتبول قد أسقطت من ذاكرتنا ومن حساباتنا، بأننا لم نعد نخرج حتى للعشاء في الخارج لأن القدرة الشرائية قد هزلت مرة واحدة، بأننا ما زلنا نشم رائحة الشعر المحترق كما شممناه منذ عشرين عاماً عند انكبابنا على احد الكتب للدراسة أو للقراءة على ضوء الشمع الأبيض ذاته الذي نعرفه منذ أيام الحرب الأهلية، بأننا ما زلنا نخرج لشراء المياه المعبأة للشرب وبأننا عدنا لشراء مياه الاستعمال أيضا، بأننا ما زال نقدم الشهداء بالرغم من الاستقرار المؤقت، نقدمهم ذبيحة لإله السرعة والتهور، بأننا ننتظر حرباً وبأننا اعتدنا على تجهيز أمتعتنا فقط في أوقات الحروب أو في الساعات التي تسبقها. سأسأله إن كان بخير، إن كان يشكُ من أمراض، سيقول لي لم نعد نعرف ماذا نأكل وماذا نشرب وماذا نتنفس ولا أريد أن اعرف إذ كنت بخير أو لا، لا أملك مالاً كافياً لهذا النوع من الكماليات! سأسأله عن أخبار الأصدقاء المشتركين، سيقول لي بأن الطريق إلى مطار بيروت سالكة حاليا وبأنه يودع يومياً الطامحين إلى النفاذ بجلدهم، كما فعلت أنت تماماً، وقد اعتاد على ذلك منذ سنوات مراهقته .

سأسأله عن الناس وعن الأفراح والأعياد، سيقول لي بأنه احتفل بعيد البربارة مؤخراً وبأنه "هشل" مع الناس مقنعاً بوجوه الرؤساء والوزراء والنواب.

سأسأله عن صديقته الجميلة وعن علاقتهما وعن زواجهما المحتمل، سيضحك كثيراً ويقول لي أن بمقدورهما شراء حائط أو أكثر بقليل، وبأن "الموعد مرجأ كالمطر" يا صديقتي.

سأتوقف، سأتنهد، سوف أحزن وقد لا تجف دمعتي. سوف أعود واكتب له واسأله عن أخبار الحرائق المائة والعشرين، لن يجيبني مباشرة بل سيكتب شعاراً جديداً على حائطه المجاني يودعني به قبل أن يخلد إلى النوم في هذه الليلة السوداء. باحتراق متجدد وبصرخة مبحوحة تصل اليَ، حيث أنا في هذه البلاد الباردة، سيقاوم نعاسه ويقول لي ولجميع الرواد على الصفحة الالكترونية:

"اتركوا شجرة واحدة لحبل مشنقتكم".


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Should we be happy that Qatar won the world cup bid?

By Lama Bashour

 Republished with permission from Lama's scrapbook

As soon as the announcement that Qatar will host the 2022 World Cup was made, I tweeted that I had "no clue how I feel about this". A few days and articles later, I think I have a clearer assessment. There were so many pro and con arguments made that it was quite difficult for me to filter out the pettiness and fake pride. But all in all, the discussion centered around 4 main issues that I will briefly describe.

Human rights: Some claimed that Qatar does not deserve to host the World Cup because they have a lousy human rights record, and even called on its boycott. Homosexuality is illegal. Gender equality is far from achieved. And it is illegal to drink in public (I don't know why people use this argument here.) The counter-argument, well-made by Brian Whitaker, is that things are not as bad as described and to be fair, homosexuality was illegal in the UK when they hosted the World Cup in 1966. Now of course the last statement is no excuse and I personally have zero tolerance for any kind of discrimination, be it sexual preference, gender or race. However, it seems to me like a double standard to be using Western moral criteria in this context. Just because Qatar has not reached the level of development that Britain has, it should not preclude it from participating in international activities. If this really was a big deal to the world, why not stop all diplomatic ties with Qatar, or at least stop buying their gas?

Environment and sustainability: This is a very relevant issue for me and to be honest it was the first thing I thought of when I head they the Qataris were bidding. I mean seriously, sports in 50 degree weather! Do we need more air conditioning in our world? And what are they going to do with all those new stadiums? What a waste! I guess that's a pretty good argument, on the surface of it. But you know what? Cold countries use underfloor heating in their stadiums. So what's the difference? And Qatar has promised carbon-neutral technology, as well as modular stadiums that will be given to developing countries after the tournament. Now whether they actually fulfill this promise or we end up with another Masdar initiative is besides the point. We are not in a position to judge.

Corruption: I am not gonna go too deep int that. So far all I am getting is hearsay with no conclusive evidence on what actually happened. Do I think some Qatari officials used back-doors to get this vote? It's very likely. But I believe that this is purely a FIFA problem. If they want to improve their reputation, they need to re-evaluate the way they process their bids. Maybe even give a justification of their final selection, instead of simply announcing a name.

Political stance: Now this is the trickiest one, at least for someone like me, who takes things very personally. Qatar's political manoeuvrings have been less than principled, especially in the past few years. Qatar is home to the Arabic satellite TV station most critical of the west, yet it hosts a US military base on its soil. It gives unwavering support to Hizbullah and plays the peacemaker in times of trouble, but has diplomatic relations with Israel and is not too shy about it. It claims to be home to all Arabs (in competition with Saudi Arabia) but has the audacity to shun an entire population of Arab Jordanians because of petty differences with their King. Who still does collective punishment these days? Oh right...

So basically, and in short, Qatar hosting the World Cup is not a sign of the apocalypse. It is no the worst thing that ever happened to football or the world. I say, good for the Qataris. But as a conscientious Arab woman, I say this: It means nothing to me.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Citizens on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown

By Joseph El-Khoury

This statement could apply to many citizens across the Arab world. It could apply to the Egyptian voter who is contemplating a 97% domination of parliament by the political party affiliated to the Mubarak presidential monarchy. It could apply to the average Iraqi who had to wait 8 months for the formation of a government that looks suspiciously similar to the previous one. And so on and so on...

But closer to my heart and to my immediate concern, the Lebanese ‘citizen’ is facing a catch 22 situation like never before. For those who are not familiar with the expression it refers to a famous book by American writer Joseph Heller first published in 1961, which uses the context of military bureaucracy to denounce the absurd and irreconcilable choices inherent to modern humanity. The catch-22 (or double-bind) faced by the Lebanese relates to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, set up by the UN to investigate the murder of former PM Hariri and other politicians. I have been trying to sum up the latest on the subject in one paragraph, as deconstructing complex subjects into meaningful digestible parts is the best way to approach them.

To sum up, a tribunal is set up and is accepted, with some reluctance, as legitimate by all major political forces. This tribunal works painfully slowly for over 3 years to deliver ‘the truth’, which is sold to us as some Holy Grail that once found would herald an era of reconciliation and stability. The opposition in the meantime goes about its usual business dropping occasional platitudes on its support for justice in its broadest sense. Early in 2009, information starts leaking over the direction taken by the investigation and its potential findings. Some Hezbollah members are apparently implicated. We are reassured initially that these are rogue individuals with a heightened sense of personal initiative. We then find out that there are quite a few of them. The Party of God’s response is to condemn en-block the tribunal, the investigators, the witnesses, the backers and funders, the UN, its Lebanese proponents and lately everyone who cooperates with it. Even more recently we are told that whatever the content of the indictment, it is void and null. In essence, Hezbollah and a large proportion of the Lebanese official power structure no longer recognise it as a judicial authority.

The speculation over the indictment is probably not baseless and the frustration sensed following the release of the BBC Documentary and the CBC piece on it indicate that the rumours are not far from the truth. And here are the possible scenarios from this point onward, not in any particular order:

-If the tribunal does indict these so-called Hezbollah members and the Party of God chooses to sacrifice them in a Syrian-Saudi brokered deal, the accumulating clouds slowly dissipate and we remain stuck in a chronic instability over the essential issues facing the country (The Resistance, Israel, the relationship with Syria, Palestinian settlement)

-If the tribunal does indict these so-called Hezbollah members and the Party of God chooses to launch a civil disobedience movement followed by military escalation, the accumulating clouds thicken and the country faces bloodshed that will be mitigated by the absence of a counter-force to Hezbollah’s military superiority. Follows a de-escalation process brokered by Syria and Saudi-Arabia that results in the same chronic instability mentioned earlier

-If the tribunal does indict some random characters, possibly a radical Islamist group not linked to Hezbollah or Syria, we move on to the next contentious issue and remain in chronic instability.

-If the tribunal chooses to disband itself, having wasted millions and kept us on edge for years, we remain in chronic instability

-If the actual killers, motivated by a crisis of conscience, surrender themselves to the authorities to face justice and thus saving us the suspense of the trial proceedings, we remain in chronic instability.

So where does this leave this average Lebanese citizen...

With a massive headache and a case of severe neurosis reminiscent of the 1981 play by Ziad Rahbani “Film Ameriki Taweel’ (Long American Film). As for defense mechanisms, in the absence of a defense strategy, Unconscious Displacement is a possibility. This could come in the form of a tactical but costly war with Israel, which might seem a lesser evil to some than a full blown intra Lebanese implosion...while real solutions are pending.

Monday, November 22, 2010

In defence of elitism: the American University of Beirut

By Karl Sharro

Published with permission from Karlremarks

I was amused to read this philistine attack on the American University of Beirut by Jana Nakhal in Al-Akhbar newspaper, The AUB and Beirut: One Side Love. Nakhal, 'an urban-planning engineer' (sic), subjects the AUB to a shrill anti-colonial examination uncovering it in the process as an 'accelerating factor in the popular acceptance of colonial ideas, tastes and concepts'. (Presumably things like engineering, medicine and architecture which colonialism forced us to accept).

Nakhal is upset that the AUB seems to be cut-off from its urban context and is not interested in having any meaningful interaction with the areas that surround it. Its students apparently impose their tastes on the areas around and 'take nothing in return'. The proof? None of the students pick up the distinctive local accent of the area! The irony of course is when the AUB was established in 1866, the neighbourhoods around did not even exist. The construction of the university campus in what was then a forested area sparked off the urban development of the neighbouring areas.

The wall that surrounds the campus irks Nakhal, it is a physical barrier between the university and the city but, aside from security, the wall has an important symbolic role. It marks a space that is dedicated for learning and the pursuit of knowledge and one in which a different set of rules apply. This separation does not imply lack of concern for the preoccupations of the city dwellers but it creates a distance necessary for critical examination.

Higher education thrives on challenging students’ assumptions and worldviews and on providing them with the critical tools to develop their own thinking and ideas. The contemporary obsession with relevance self-reinforcement is patronising and ultimately counter-productive. Nakhal is echoing not only this contemporary bias but also a certain mindset in Lebanon and the Arab world that is deeply suspicious of ‘alien’ ideas. This rhetoric has traditionally relied on pseudo-Marxist and anti-colonial ideas to justify the insecurity brought about by exposure to modernity at the end of Ottoman rule.

I was not surprised then that Nakhal quoted Frantz Fanon to expose the AUB as the guardian of imperial values: ‘The colonial-bourgeois thinkers in universities persistently uphold essential Western values’. I am not quite sure what those values are, but I think she might be talking about Western concepts like gravity and the laws of thermo-dynamics. They always sounded suspiciously ethno-centric to me. It’s also amusing to hear the resonance of Radio Moscow in the mindless repetition of words like ‘bourgeois’ and ‘colonial’, but let’s not forget that Al-Akhbar’s dedication to the cause of international revolution dictates certain stylistic preferences.

But why the AUB and why now? Why subject the most successful academic institution in Lebanon to this rabid attack? The AUB throve despite severely adverse conditions because of its independence and its dedication to excellence and academic rigour. It works precisely because it was not swallowed up by the Lebanese system and because it managed to fend off the intrusions of the Lebanese ‘groups’ and their lumpish presence. It is elitist in the best sense of the word, creating a space for critical thinking and debate that thousands have enjoyed and benefited from.

Back in the early 90s when I was a student at the AUB, I had to watch the sad spectacle of the great historian Kamal Salibi being rudely forced out of his class by an Amal movement ‘operative’ who was a constant presence on campus. That, and the many assassination and kidnappings that took place on campus, was the consequence of subjecting the AUB to the power of the Lebanese ‘people’ or the thugs that represent them at any rate. Salibi’s fault was that he wasn’t sufficiently moved by whatever grievance that Amal deemed we must all commemorate to stop his class.

But Nakhal seems to be oblivious to this troubled history; if the AUB doesn’t embrace Uncle Deek then it’s committing a sin against our folk. She is particularly affronted that an AUB student mispronounces ‘keshek’, that staple of Lebanese diet that embodies our identity and our customs. I was reminded of the diatribe at the end of Ziad Rahbani’s Shi Fashel in which the folklore creature chides the Lebanese for their sentimental attachment to their traditions and rejection of modernity. Ziad’s sentiments are of course unapologetic: he is against the backwardness represented by this sentimental attachment to our rural past.

Three decades later, Nakhal wants us to embrace this backward heritage and undermine the independence of our greatest seat of learning. Time to celebrate the keshek.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Lebanese Sexual Revolution: Work in Progress

Joseph El-Khoury

In her Nowlebanon article ‘Dangerous Liaisons: Lebanon’s culture of adultery’ Aline Sara seems to hint at some social phenomenon unique to Lebanon. This is in line with the conviction that many Lebanese hold in the uniqueness of their country in both positive and negative terms. Adultery is most likely to be as old as marriage itself and as ubiquitous. The visibility of the act and the consequences attached to will vary between cultures and within cultures, depending on the social or religious context. What many agree on is that post civil war a particular section of the Lebanese population has ceased to treat the issue as taboo. In contrast to neighbouring Arab countries, adultery has become a casual topic in stand-up comedy shows (chansonniers) and a subject of open conversation in trendy salons. This new state of affairs does not extend to the majority of the Lebanese but is most likely limited to the elite that dominate the cultural and financial landscape, occasionally dragging those who operate on its periphery. These ‘westernised’ elites have tended to acquire what they consider to be Western habits without necessarily accepting the wider context. One cannot speak of the evolution in sexual behaviour in Europe and the rest of the Western world without referring to 1968 and the social revolution that shook the establishment and challenged the moral order inherited from the 19th Century. Sexual liberation was only part of the picture and a natural consequence to the rise of the Individual whose priority is to satisfy his basic needs, whether through consumerism or the constant seeking of pleasure (Which in its extreme form was labelled the Sex, drugs and Rock’n Roll lifestyle). In parallel, long established dogmas on gender, class and race were also challenged shaping the way to the postmodern world we currently live in.

Now going back to the Lebanese. Most seem to have remembered from that era the Bellbottoms trousers and mini-skirts, while others briefly dabbled in drugs and/or progressive ideologies only to quickly revert to the most conservative of attitudes personally and politically once the streets had been taken over by gunmen in 1975. The rest of the 70s and 80s were spent surviving rather than in self-actualisation and self-discovery (refer to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs). This in my mind explains why the Lebanese seem to have undertaken their sexual revolution, albeit an amputated one, in the late 1990s. The loss of direction on so many other levels since 2005 and the feeling of stagnation that will invariably lead to a back to the future scenario have led to a nihilistic, short-termist approach to living and loving where hedonism features heavily. While it shares many features with the global ethos of the 1960s, this nihilistic hedonism is not liberating but auto-destructive. The people of this small disorientated nation are bound on making Love and War... while maintaining the veneer of traditional respectability.

In the article, the author further seeks the opinion of a local Psychoanalyst who claims that “Experts will tell you that presently, Europeans are increasingly returning to conventions and a traditional view of marriage, with more awareness of the damage of divorce, risks of AIDS and STDs, as well as the effects of a failed marriage on children.”

It is unclear who these experts are as the statistics on marriage in developed societies are alarming (that if you do believe that marriages are essential to a functioning civilisation) with consistently dwindling numbers over the past 40 years. In addition the latest research emphasises that the damaging effect on children is less the consequence of divorce than of  the conflict that accompanies the process, whether parents remain together or not. As a fellow professional, I would not have chosen to impose my moral views in formulating an expert opinion by misquoting research. I would argue that the problem here goes beyond marriage and adultery. The fact is that relationships in general, whether romantic or not, have been damaged in Lebanon and come to mirror the rotting political situation. This is a society  going through a painful transition with all the upheaveals involved. Nonetheless, I would invite the Lebanese to complete their sexual revolution as going back is rarely a viable option in human behaviour. Maybe something good would come out of it in breaking the psychological chains that have kept the country in a state of crisis since independence.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

ميشال هولبك: كتابة الكراهية

خالد برّاج

كانت الصدمة كبيرة هذا الصباح عندما علمت أنّ جائزة غونكور للأدب قد مُنِحت هذا العام إلى الروائي الفرنسي ميشال هولبك عن روايته الجديدة " الأرض و الخريطة ".

صحيح أنّ الفرصة لم تسنح لي إلى الأن بمطالعة الرواية الجديدة لكِني أكاد أجزم و وفقاً لروايات ميشال هولبك السابقة (الجزئيات البدائية, الرصيف و غيرها) و أرائه أنّ الكاتب الفرنسي سار على نفس المنوال ببث الأفكار العنصرية تجاه الأشخاص من أصول أفريقية و الحضّ على كراهية المسلمين و السخرية من الدين الإسلامي و إستعمال أبشع العبارات فيما يخصّ نضال الشعب الفلسطيني و حضّ الحكومة الإسرائيلية على التخلُص من هذه " القاذورات" وفقاً لتعبيره.

لم يكتفِ الروائي الفرنسي بنشر أفكاره الفاشية في روايته فهو غالباً ما ظهر خلال برامج حوارية على شاشات الفضائيات الأوروبية مبدياً أراء عنصرية تجاه شعوب و أديان منتقِداً جوهر الدين الإسلامي واصفاً على سبيل المثال الأشخاص من جذور أفريقية " بقرودٍ و سعادين بقضيبٍ كبير!

يقول الكاتب جيل بيرول (و هو من أصدقاء ميشال هولبك): " لا ينبغي أن نعطي أهمية سياسية لما يكتبه هولبك لسبب واحد وهو أنه ليس كاتبا سياسياً، بل يتفاعل مع المجتمع بتلقائية، مشيراً في نفس الوقت إلى أن سلين (بالإشارة إلى الكاتب الفرنسي لوي فرديناند سيلين) كان هو أيضا كاتباً معروفا وكبيرًا جدًا، بالرغم من أنه يعتبر من أكبر المنتقدين لليهود".

لكن جيل بيرول على خطأ فلا يوجد هنا فصل بين الإجتماعي و السياسي و المحتوى الأدبي لروايةٍ معيّنة, إنّ الروائي الذي ينشر من خلال روايته أراءه و رؤيته للمجتمع و الإنسان على شكل صورًا مختلفة وفقاً لطبيعة الرواية الأدبية و لمحتوى القصة يُصبِح أشبه بداعية أفكار لا يُمكِنه التنصّل فيما بعد من تلك الأراء الواردة في نصِه الأدبي.

إلاّ أنّه لا بدّ من التفريق بين المشهد الروائي و التصريح الوصفي ضمن الرواية في النصّ الأدبي , في المشهد الروائي يقوم الكاتب بإستعراض أفكار و أراء أبطال روايته ضمن مستلزمات الرواية (مثلاً: رجل عنصري يُبدي أراء متطرِفة تجاه أديان أو مجموعة من الأشخاص من ضمن شخصيته الروائية) أمّا في التصريح الوصفي يستند الكاتب إلى شخصياته الروائية ليضيف و تمرير أراء شخصية لا صلة لها بالمشهد الروائي (مثلاً: القول على لسان الكاتب و ليس على لسان أحد شخصيات الرواية أنّ الدين الإسلامي هو دين همجي و أحمق).

التصريح الوصفي واضح بشكل جليّ في مُجمل أعمال ميشال هولبك و من هنا لا يُمكن وصف هولبك بأنّه روائي فحسب بل أيضاً أرائه الصريحة من خلال روايته تعطيه طابع كاتب سياسي تُضاف إليها أرائه و نظرياته خلال البرامج الحوارية التلفزيونية.

و لهولبك نماذج أخرى مشابهة في عالمنا العربي نجدها غالباً في مواقف و تصاريح التنظيمات الإسلاموفاشية و هي كما هولبك (الذي يسخر من الدين الإسلامي) تسخر و تحرِض على الدين المسيحي و تدعو إلى الإقتصاص من المسيحيين أينما وجدوا.

لا أعرف كيف تُوصف روايات تحرِض على الكراهية و العنصرية بأعمال أدبية و تُعطى شهادات و جوائز لأشخاص مثل لوي فرديناند سيلين, ميشال هولبك و غيرهم من الكارهين للإنسان و الإنسانية, إنّ الأدب يفقُد قيمته عندما يُصبح منبراً لنشر الكراهية و الحقد و العنصرية بين البشر.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Hariri Pop Idol

By Joseph El-Khoury

Yesterday night I came face to face with Saad Hariri for the first time. I had shaken hands in a past life with his late father more than 12 years ago and was looking forward to draw a comparison between father and son. The Lebanese Embassy in London provided the backdrop to an evening reception where the banking industry was overrepresented. Having sampled the canapés and exchanged opinions on the resilience of the Lebanese economy, they laid down their glasses to clap in their hero as he appeared past a group of heavily botoxed ladies. A friend pointed out that Saad Hariri looked a defeated man. Perhaps I thought! I rather found that his tone, posture and demeanour still revealed a degree of discomfort in his role, despite the 5 years of experience as heir to his father’s political legacy.

There is no doubting the young prime minister's accessibility. A credit to someone raised in the ivory towers of wealth and in a region where leaders’ interactions with the common people is rehearsed up to the smallest handshake. As the ceremony was coming to an end, we had full access to the figure if not the man. The bodyguards lay off a bit as he was allowed to bathe among the small crowd of socialites. Some chose to immortalise the moment by posing with him to which he complied with ease. Another friend initiated an absurd conversation in English. The choice of language and topic was probably triggered by nerves but Mr Hariri failed to pick up on it in any way, shape or form. In keeping with the overall evening, his performance remained as flat as a half full can of fizzy drink. Neither the cliché reference to the Lebanon of brotherly love and chic restaurants could turn things around or the lacklustre use of colloquial Arabic to establish rapport with an audience unsure of its own values. In my mind, the unavoidable comparison was one between Hariri and his archrival (in a comic book superheroes kind of way) Mr Nasrallah, who also falls back on colloquial Arabic to emphasize his well-articulated points. The difference being that Mr Nasrallah manages to be entertaining in his sarcasm, buoyed by the confidence of those who are driven by ideology and have the means to implement it. Mr Hariri could be excused for failing to motivate a haphazard group not necessarily committed to his political vision when Mr Nasrallah commands blind authority among hundreds of thousands. This has not always been the case and yesterday’s interaction highlights the breakdown in the contract between the March 14th leaders and their former power base: A contract that was laid down in 2005 and undermined through errors, retreats, betrayals and inconsistencies for which Hariri and his band of courtesans share responsibility. The lack of vision and the absence of a consistent message might explain why the claps were half-hearted and the eyes firmly on the trays of Lebanese delicacies being passed around by oblivious waiters.

Monday, October 25, 2010


خالد برّاج

مضحك و مبكٍ في آنٍ معاً عندما تستذكِر القيادات اليسارية و الشيوعية الحالية في المهرجانات الحزبية و المؤتمرات التضامنية المتنوعِة المشارب و الأهداف المثقّفين و المقاومين الشيوعيين و اليساريين الذين سقطوا غدراً على أيدي التنظيمات و العصابات الإسلاموفاشية في الفترة الممتدة بين 1985 و 1988 في كلّ من بيروت و الجنوب.

المضحك في الأمر أنّ هذه القيادات الحالية من أمناء عامين و أعضاء مكاتب سياسية و لجان مركزية و مجالس وطنية لأحزابٍ و تنظيمات (و التي أصبحت عملِياً فارغة من محازبيها و مناضليها) تقف الأن في صفّ هذه التنظيمات الإسلاموفاشية و تدافع عنها و تبرِر لها أعمالها من تهديدٍ دائم لسياسيين و أحزاب و صحافة مكتوبة و مرئية وصولاً إلى الغمز الشبه اليومي لجهة إستمال "السلاح الميليشيوي" لفرض الرأي بالقوة إذا لزم الأمر.

و المضحك الثاني في الأمر هي كمِية المعونات المادية الشهرية و الموسمية التّي يتمّ توزيعها على بعض الأحزاب و القيادات اليسارية من قبل تنظيم إسلاموفاشي شهير لكي تقوم هذه الأحزاب و القيادات و عبر الإعلام بشتم و تلفيق إتهامات كاذبة و الإفتراء على كل من يعارض أو يختلف بالرأي مع هذا التنظيم الإسلاموفاشي "صاحب المال الطاهر و القرار الحرّ ".

أمّا المبكي في الأمر هو ذكر أسماء هؤلاء الشهداء الأبرار خلال المهرجانات اليسارية و خطب الأمناء العامين الرنّانة في إطار مشوّه للحقائق و التنكُر للظروف و الأسباب التي رافقت عملية إغتيالهم و تحميل مسؤولية الإغتيالات لأطرافٍ أخرى ليس لها علاقة لا من قريب و لا من بعيد بهذه الإغتيالات و تبرئة المرتكب الحقيقي و إعطائه شهادة حسن سلوك وطنية و قومية و أممية.

نصيحة صغيرة للقيادات اليسارية و الشيوعية اللبنانية الحالية المتحالفة (أو العميلة – تعبير أدقّ) مع التنظيمات الإسلاموفاشية ضمن "جبهة مواجهة الهجمة الإمبريالية الأميركية الصهيونية على لبنان و المنطقة العربية" أن تراجع تاريخ بلد إسمه إيران بُعيد الثورة الإسلامية عام 1979 التي أطاحت بنظام دكتاتور إيران الشاه محمد رضا بهلاوي و أتت بنظامٍ رجعيٍ/ظلاميٍ كان أول مآثره تأسيس عصابات مسلّحة إسلاموفاشية شبه حكومية/رسمية (أصبحت فيما بعد رسمية) قامت في المرحلة الممتدة بين 1980 و 1984 بالملاحقة و الإقتصاص من المناضلين و المثقّفين اليساريين و الشيوعيين الذين ساهموا وكان لهم الدور الرئيسي بنجاح الثورة الإيرانية.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Immigration and Integration: European Dilemma

By Khaled Barrage

"The approach of multi-cultural society has failed totally; immigrants should integrate and adopt Germany's culture and values"

Angela Merkel – Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany

Back in the 1970's France and Germany actively encouraged the immigration of mostly North-African (France) and Turkish (Germany) workers in order to provide the manpower for their booming construction and manufacturing sectors. This was out of necessity, faced with on-going crisis in the availability of local qualified workmen and the cheap cost of foreign labour compared to local wages. Both governments at the time and even later on did little to set any socio-cultural vision with regards to the integration of the new minorities within their respective societies. Instead, the focus was on short term benefits while big factories exploited a workforce eager to work and poorly aware of its rights. (long working hours in contradiction with the regulations/labour laws - insignificant salaries - poor housing conditions etc...). This state of affairs led to a voluntary self-isolation and a re-adherence among this group to the cultural/social/religious values of their country of origin. This phenomenon was transferred to the second generation immigrants in the form of relatively stronger adherence to these ‘traditional values’ (mostly those born in the 1980s).

Today, although the main issues and problems regarding the integration of the immigrants and their descendants are focused on the main cities and suburbs (Paris/cites; Berlin and its suburbs etc...), the various election results since 1986 in France and mid-nineties in Germany reveal a sustained progression in the percentage of the vote acquired by right wing and far right wing formations in rural areas where the issue of integration is a theoretical one, far removed from local concerns. The number of votes obtained by these same groups is on the other hand shrinking in the main cities. More recently the French right wing UMP lost all the major cities in the latest regional elections after losing the municipality of Paris more than 10 years ago.

How to explain this voting behavior?

The Conservative Right and their more extreme counterparts are known to emphasize the importance of the ‘traditional’ values of the nation. They also warn of the influence of these minorities that bring their own cultural values and develop an environment incompatible with the notion of a liberal republic. This discourse is strongly supported in the rural zones where the population is more traditional and conservative in outlook compared with the urban, more mobile and exposed population.

Nonetheless the impact of this voting pattern is felt nationally as it consistently ensures a large number of votes during the various elections (parliamentary elections – municipality elections – regional elections etc…) without too much effort. Suggesting serious solutions to the problem of minority and integration in the European society was never really on the agenda of the mainstream European Right. (No need to mention the extreme right wing formations here since their wish is the expulsion of most immigrants "legal and illegal" from the country). The intentional absence of concrete plans and solutions combined with the xenophobic speech orchestrated by the right will always be profitable in terms of votes at the end of the election day.

On the other hand, the continuous self-isolation policy conducted by minorities and the antagonism shown to the central authority in response to years of negligence by the European governments since the 70s were fertile grounds for the emergence of societal violence in the form of:

• On-going acts of violence in the main cities: violent demonstrations, burning and cracking stores, attacks on public facilities and institutions. (We should point out here that the security forces arrogant /traditional xenophobic attitude against the minorities is a factor too).

• Large number of immigrants/immigrants descendants joined Islamofascist European cells or at least sympathized with their cause. (Keeping in mind the impact of Western policies in the Middle East and their unconditional support for Israel).

The problem of minorities in European society requires a thoughtful and clear solution that takes into consideration on one side their current social situation and their cultural/religious background and from the other side the need to develop an integration plan based on human rights principles and the respect by the immigrants of the laws and regulations of the republic and its social contract.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The nastiest game of CLUEDO

The Special International Tribunal for Lebanon, now infamous for its procedural flaws and inability to maintain any useful public legitimacy, has focused the minds of the Lebanese on the assassination of former Prime Minister Hariri in 2005 and the ones that followed since that date. We tend to forget that political assassinations of major figures had become a cultural characteristic soon after independence (the assassination of PM Riad El-Solh). The Golden Age was to come in the civil war of 1975-1990.

Many would be familiar with the boardgame CLUEDO where players are invited to solve a crime riddle by a deductive process and identify the perpetrator, the weapon and the location. Needless to say that our real life Lebanese game is open ended with the perpetrator (or perpetrators) remaining unidentified decades later.

I believe that unresolved crimes of that magnitude and impact cannot just be dismissed and relegated to history books. Riddles and mysteries are not conducive to reconciliation and the forging of a national identity. Whether we are facing one all-mighty perpetrator or a number of competing ones, finishing this game of CLUEDO is essential for our national closure.

Following is a list of the most notorious unresolved crimes where due judicial process has been absent or incomplete...

Round 1

Who Killed Kamal Joumblatt on March 16th 1977 in The Shouf mountains by shooting

Round 2

Who killed Tony Frangieh on June 13th 1978 in Ehden by shooting?

Round 3

Who killed Salim Lawzi on 9th March 1980 in Beirut by shooting?

Round 4

Who killed Ryad Taha on 23rd July 1980 in Beirut by shooting?

Round 5

Who killed President Bashir Gemayel on 14th September 1982 in Beirut by improvised explosive device?

Round 6

Who killed Prime Minister Rashid Karame on 1st June 1987 over the Mediterranean by improvised explosive device?

Round 7

Who killed Mufti Sheikh Hassan Khaled on 16th May 1989 in Beirut by detonating a car bomb?

Round 8

Who killed MP Nazem El Kadri on 22nd September 1989 in Beirut by shooting?

Round 9

Who Killed President Rene Moawad on22nd November 1989 in Beirut by detonating a car bomb?

Round 10

Who killed Dany Chamoun on 21st October 1990 in Baabda by shooting?

Round 11

Who Killed Elie Hobeika on 24th January 2002 in Hazmyeh by detonating a car bomb?

This list is far from exhaustive and many others figures but also ordinary Lebanese with or without political affiliations fell victim to this obsession with the board game. We also owe it to them to improve our completion rate.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sects and the City

By Karl Sharro
Republished with permission from Karlremarks

In my post ‘Hariri / Hezbollah: in search of a new division of labour’ I argued that the climate of fear being created in Lebanon today is a noisy background for the upcoming deal that will seal a power-sharing arrangement between the main political camps under a renewed Syrian patronage. I closed that post by saying ‘we, as always, remain as spectators in all of this.’ This isn’t a call for disengagement and cynicism about politics; on the contrary it’s a call for the Lebanese people to reject all the secret deals being made without our participation. But how can we express our political will in this crucial period as we watch the blatant abdication of responsibility by Lebanese leaders?

Firstly, we need to recognise that our current predicament is a product of our inability to banish sectarianism from our political interactions. Sectarianism is not a secondary feature of the Lebanese political system; it’s the main constituent that manifests itself in confessional arrangements. And five years on from the ‘Cedar Revolution’ we need to recognise that the events that followed it have contributed to the strengthening of sectarian leaderships.

It might have seemed at the time that seeing Samir Geagea and Walid Jumblatt together meant that we’ve opened a new chapter in our history. Far from it, the alliances that were created after the assassination of Hariri were explicitly set up as coalitions between sectarian groups. This is as true of the Geagea – Hariri alliance as it is of the Aoun – Hezbollah front. The cumulative effect of all those sectarian arranged marriages was a further erosion of any potential for secular politics. It’s not by coincidence that the assassinations that followed targeted some of the leaders that did not have sectarian affiliations.

Given the centrality and importance of Beirut to national politics, it has increasingly become the main battleground for sectarian confrontations. I don’t mean by that only the skirmishes in ‘mixed’ areas such as the Burj Abi Haidar incident, but the whole range of political manifestations starting with the March 8th and 14th demonstrations to the Riad El-Solh camp to May 7 events. It’s time that we see all those events for what they were: displays of the sectarian power struggles that further eroded any possibility of national unity.

Today we are astoundingly still being asked to choose between the two camps that have contrived to create and sustain a poisonous atmosphere of mistrust and animosity over the past five years. In other words, we are being asked to contribute to our own self-destruction and supply the fuel for the battles that precede settlements between sectarian leaders. Isn’t it time that we reject those offers for assisted suicide?

As a reader observed on my previous post, we should learn the lessons of our history of power-sharing arrangements which had devastating consequences at every juncture. She reminds us that the nation came into being in 1943 on the back of such an arrangement and set a precedent that still prevails until today. She however chose to close with a pessimistic message: “In the midst of this turmoil I prefer to stick to this anecdotal rule -- better bear the repercussions of a divorce rather than live in a household of quarrelling parents.”

But I would rather be optimistic, there’s no point to politics otherwise. Had I been a fan of political theatre, I would have called for us to marsh on Beirut and protest against the cynical attempts at creating an atmosphere of fear and against the deal that will be agreed without our approval. This would be one way to reclaim Beirut and challenge the sectarian hold over our national politics. But I fear that the sectarian machines are much more adept and prepared for those mass displays than the rest of us.

The end of this era of Lebanon’s history is an opportunity to develop alternative forms of politics that are grounded in secularism and aspirations not sectarianism and fear. But while we organise and prepare for that, we should realise that any choices we make between the two camps are inevitably choices between sectarian coalitions. Let’s start by rejecting the calls to choose the least disagreeable option. And, for God’s sake, let’s stop believing the fear scenarios that come straight out of 50s B-movies. You have my personal guarantee; there aren’t 3000 members of Hezbollah with ‘long beards and long nails’ hiding in chalets in Christian areas.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

رجل الأمن

خالد برّاج
في روايته بعنوان "سيرة رجل حقير" يستعرض الكاتب الفرنسي ديديه داينيكس حياة رجل أمن فرنسي عاصر مراحل و محطات أساسية من تاريخ فرنسا الحديث.

فمن زمن الإحتلال النازي خلال الحرب العالمية الثانية مروراً بقيام الجمهورية الخامسة و ثورة الطلاب عام 1968 وصولاً إلى إنتخاب الإشتراكي فرنسوا ميتران رئيساً للجمهورية عام 1981 يظهر كلمان دوبريه (بطل الرواية) كموظّف عادي, لا تعنيه السياسة لا من قريب و لا من بعيد يضع في خدمة مرؤوسيه في مختلف الإدارات و الحقبات ذكاءه و دهاءه الخارقين للحفاظ على النظام السياسي القائم, فهو رجل بوليس في الوحدات الخاصة خلال الإحتلال النازي لفرنسا مهمِته الأساسية إلقاء القبض على اليهود و أعضاء المقاومة الفرنسية و تسليمهم إلى السلطات الألمانية و هو أيضاً المحافظ على أسس و إستمرارية الجمهورية الخامسة خلال سنوات حكم الرئيس شارل دوغول من خلال ملاحقته الشيوعيين و أعضاء جبهة التحرير الوطني خلال الثورة الجزائرية و صولاً إلى قمع ثورة الطلاب عام 1968 و التضييق على الشيوعيين و الإشتراكيين خلال السبعينات بعد توقيع إتفاقية البرنامج المشترك بين الحزبين الشيوعي و الإشتراكي عام 1972.

يستخدِم بطل الرواية (كلمان دوبريه) جميع الأساليب المعروفة (تعذيب – ترغيب – رشوة – إغتيال إلخ...) لإتمام مهامه كرجل مخابرات يحاول الدفاع عن النظام السياسي في شتّى المراحل و هو لا يشكِك بالنظام القائم لأنّ فلسفته نابعة من أنّ رجل الأمن يُنجِز مهامه بمعزل عن السياسة فالأمن في خدمة النظام السياسي القائم, فإن كان نظام الماريشال بيتان يوصي بإلقاء القبض على اليهود فيجب تنفيذ ذلك و إن كان النظام الجديد فيما بعد يضمن الحرِية الدينية للأفراد و المجموعات فيجب العمل على المحافظة على هذه الحرِية.

لكنّ كلمان دوبريه رجل مخابرات فريد من نوعه إذا ما قارنه مع رجال مخابرات آخرين لا سيّما في دول العالم الثالث و بالأخص في العالم العربي, فهو بالرغم من سطوته, إجرامه و سيطرته الأمنية لم يلجأ إلى الإنتفاع المادي من خلال وظيفته, ظلّ مردوده المادي الوحيد خلال عمله في مجال المخابرات راتبه الشهري و هو يفتخِر بأنّه خلال 40 عام من العمل البوليسي/ الإستخبراتي لم يستغِل منصبه لتحسين وضعه المادي أو الإجتماعي و هي صورة مغايرة لرجال المخابرات في عالمنا العربي إذا ما أردنا المقارنة مع بطل الرواية, فالبرغم من وجه الشبّه الخاص بأساليب المخابرات القمعية و الوحشية و التي هي مشتركة بطبيعة الحال بين بطل الرواية و معظم رجال المخابرات فإنّ الفرق الأول أنّ كلمان دوبريه " رجل الأمن" كان في خدمة النظام القائم و السياسة العامة المتبّعة بينما في معظم دول العالم الثالث و العالم العربي النظام السياسي هو في خدمة الأمن و تُبنى الأنظمة (و قد بُنِيت) بالشكل المعكوس: الأمن أولاً – الدستور ثانياً – السلطات الدستورية في خدمة الأمن ثالثاً – المجتمع المدني رابعاً ممّا يعطي مجالاً واسعاً للأمنيين (العسكر و المخابرات إلخ...) للتدخُل في الحياة السياسية و فرض رؤيتهم على المجتمع و على المُنتخبين وصولاً إلى السيطرة الكلِية على الحياة السياسية من خلال الأمن.

أمّا الفرق الثاني فهو الإنتفاع المادي من المنصب الأمني, كلمان دوبريه لم يستغِل منصبه الرفيع ليزيد من حجم مدخوله الشهري و هو لم يبتزّ أو يهدِد رجال الأعمال و التجّار و الإقتصاديين ليشارك في صفقة هنا أو هناك أو التطفُل على مشروع تجاري مُربِح, ظلّ كما هو خلال فترة عمله يحافظ على النظام القائم بإستخدام الأساليب المخابراتية القذرة و الحقيرة (و لذلك هو رجل حقير) لمنفعة إستمرارية النظّام السياسي القائم دون التفتيش عن منفعة شخصية سوى ترقيته الطبيعية في السُلَم الوظيفي خلال فترة عمله.

لا تختلف أساليب رجال الأمن (خصوصاً المولجين الحفاظ على الأمن الداخلي للبلاد و ليس الخارجي) عن بعضها البعض في مُعظم أقطار العالم و هي أساليب رخيصة و حقيرة و وحشية مُبررها الدائم الحفاظ على الأمن و إستمرارية الدولة (أو النظام؟) لكن الفرق شاسع بين رجالنا الأمنيين (أي في العالم العربي) الذين ينتفعون مادياً (صفقات بأرقام خيالية, إبتزاز لمشاركة رجال أعمال بمشاريع تجارية إلخ...) بحكم موقعهم و معظم رجال الغرب الأمنيين الذين يخدمون النظام كموظفِين حكوميين مرادهم الوحيد الحفاظ على النظام القائم و الإنتفاع بالترقية الوظيفية و تعويضات نهاية الخدمة.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Coffee with Jameel El Sayyed

Jameel El-Sayyed may have the right to be angry if he was indeed framed for the assassination of Rafik Hariri. He has the right to express his anger in private and in public while seeking appropriate retribution through legal means; a process he had anyway initiated through Syrian courts.

What is less acceptable is for him to turn his vendetta into the main flashpoint for further conflict on the Lebanese scene. His unrelentless confrontational campaign to drag humiliating concessions out of Hariri  can only lead to one outcome: further sectarian bloodshed. General Sayyed is no Hugo Chavez and will not be spontaneously carried on the shoulders of jubilant youths whatever the efforts of Hezbollah and their compromised allies.  His adoption of of a Mother Theresa stance while he claims the status of 'special victim' to the 'special tribunal' is of bad taste at best.  He accuses his tormentors of the 'political use of the judiciary' when no individual symbolised the paranoia of the post-war years (1991-2005) better than him. His name was synonym with the style of intimidation and manipulation nurtured by the Syrian apparatus in Lebanon. 'Having Coffee with Sayyed' or one of his subordinates was understood by every Lebanese as one invitation to avoid...if at all possible.

Now on a personal level, I have reached a point where I am no longer least interested in who did kill Hariri. How could I, when his own son exonerated the same people he initially accused; when the proceedings are yet to produce any results; when the credibility of most witnesses has been questionned and when numerous gratuitous killings have marred the last 5 years without any significant manifestation of justice.  The responsibility for the confusion generated by the tribunal should be equally placed at the doors of the ineffective PR machine attached to it and the incredible stupidity of the March 14th sycophants bankrolled by Hariri who have failed miserably at projecting a consistent message to the Lebanese public. These same characters now specialise in the exchange of vile language with the likes of Kandeel, Wahhab and Michel Samaha.

The heightened anxiety is now over the future of the country amidst growing signs of an unbridgeable Sunni-Shiite rift. The Christian figures' main role is one of surrogates when things get too heated and the need to reestablish a semblance of political legitimacy for the hatred is acutely felt. Their absence from the recent efforts at calming the tension, which exclusively involved Berri and Jumblatt is the latest sign of a waning influence over the course of events. This state of affairs seems to have been best picked up on by Suleiman Frangieh who is determined to rebrand himself as a moderator with the hope of emerging as a safety raft for the Christian community in the face of looming regional monsoons.

All in all a bleak picture for the months to come. Unless for a radical regional shake-up, we might soon reminisce with affection over the days of the Pax Syriana and 'coffee with Sayyed'.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Pastor, the Book and the President

On 18th November 1978, a 'Pastor Jones', Jim Jones this time, led 909 indiviudals to their death, by self-poisoning in the jungle of Guyana. These events shook the US and raised questions over the danger of extreme religious cults and the risk of them drifting into tragedy. But America is America and religious freedoms are sacro-saints, except maybe when it involves a Muslim praying centre in the vicinity of the World Trade Centre site.

In 2010, a Pastor Terry Jones, who manages to get 50 people to attend his sermons on a good day (12 on a bad day), made the headlines around the world as he threatened to burn the Koran in public. It prompted reactions from Western leaders, calls for the Catholic pope to interfere and then negotiations involving a muslim cleric who turned up at the site of the 'Dove World Outreach Centre' and smiled uncomfortably in front of makeshift banners cursing his religion. The US President looked even more uncomfortable as he spoke sheepishly to Terry Jones through the media asking him ro refrain from carrying out his threat.

And Threat it is! While maybe not an act of violence in itself, the burning of a book deemed Holy by millions across the world at a time of conflict of tension carries in it an inherent symbolic violence and the potential for the loss of lives through international repercussions, as highlighted by Gen. David Petraeus.

Many commentators have questionned how such an insignificant, most likely unstable character, managed to effectively hold the world at ransom. The answer is multilayered  and once scrutinised Terry Jones and his group become irrelevant. Successive US administrations have failed to engage the 'other' effectively and to inform their own public of the nuances in Islam. The media, right wing or other, have built a paranoid vision of a world populated by unruly barbarians with a completely separate set of values inconsistent with the modern world.  There has been no shift in the understanding of long-held grievances in the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Israeli perspective is still accepted as fact in the circles of power and arguably beyond them. Iraq and Afghanistan figure in the American unconscious as dirty smelly deserts where 'our boys' get killed by faceless terrorists. In essence, Samuel Huntington's clash of civilisations has been manufactured where it failed to materialise spontaneously.

On the other hand, The main tool in Terry Jones's new found influence is the risk of indiscriminate violence from some Muslim fundamentalists in response to his action. These groups maintain a firm grasp over the imagery associated with Islam and that is projected to the rest of the world. Their resorting to violence at the first hint of an external insult to their belief system seems tolerable or at least excusable to many moderate Muslims (See the Cartoon affair a few years back). Many fearing the repercussions branded Jones a 'Zionist' who is  deliberately trying to create a rift between Islam and Christianity. This type of rationalisation is unhelpful as it again gives political weight to the  action of an eccentric individual and shifts the blame onto a third party. The responsibility on Muslims to also try and understand the place that such man has in the so called Christian realm is brushed aside. Some raised the question: Would the Catholics threaten mass murder in response to the burning of the Bible. A fringe element might consider and act upon justifiable anger and outrage but the wider community would reject it outright.  This discrepancy shows that Muslim societies are yet to confront their own demons but the politico-religious leadership is lacking in the context of internal divisions and the use of devoutness as an indicator of righteousness in an otherwise bleak social, economical and political horizon.

The Terry Jones affair is not yet closed. The risk of copycat behaviour is highly likely and the blackmailing of an already embattled Obama can only herald the return of an intolerant America that never really went away. Jones should be allowed to burn any books he likes in his backyard with his group of misfits and suffer whatever consequences in this life or the other. This should have never become an issue for the rest of us. Unfortunately we are now past that point.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

'Sorry' seems the easiest word

Another cycle in the betrayal of the Lebanese people is underway if we are to believe the media reports.

In undermining further the credibility of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), Hariri junior is revealing a steady learning curve on the Lebanese political gameboard. His prime mentor and advisor is no doubt the Lebanese Machiavelli himself,  Mr Walid Joumblatt. The latter had laid the foundation for this turnaround by reflecting a few weeks back on his handling of his own father's assassination back in 1977. He regretted the dozens of Christian casualties sacrified in order to appease the grief of the Druze community and indirectly praised his own wisdom in taking the conciliatory approach towards the Syrian regime. The fact that his ultra-pragmatism did little to shorten the civil war or reduce its devastating effect is brushed aside in favour of a rose-tinted assessment of the Beyk's  political performance thus far.

Apologies are warranted. (For once I agree with Michel Aoun). Some still have flashbacks of the Cedar revolution with its scarves and flags, its hugs and handshakes, its speeches and anthems. Now, the tenors of the March 14th coalition are urging their audience to relegate these images to the the status of historical archive. The sum result is another generation sinking into the mindset of cynicism and the rejection of politics.

Hariri did not have to take this course of action. He would not be blamed for having a suspicion even if he and others have failed to prove it to the Lebanese people. His father's assassination came at a time of conflict with the Baath regime. The operation was well-planned  and professionally carried out. It was not the fruit of some unstable mind and the fact that five years later no obvious leads have been identified only confirms this point. Of course Syria is not the only possible perpetrator, but would rationally be included on the list of 'usual suspects' given its past record in Lebanon. The accusation levelled at Syria was political but the first-hand rejection of it is also a political one.

What puzzles me is the insistence of some on claiming an empty victory and rejoicing that Hariri now joins the camp of  the 'we have no idea who killed a prime minister and a number of public figures since 2005'. We live in a country where politicians get assassinated for their opinions and where others spend incredible time and energy on clearing a past occupier of any responsibility.  I can only describe this state of affairs as the communal praise of ignorance. There lies the real tragedy of Lebanon!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The politically incorrect necktie: on boycotts and secular coercion

 Republished with permission from karlremarks.blogspot. Click on the link for the original article.

Karl Sharro

A Lebanese friend recently revealed on a social networking website that he had bought a tie from Marks and Spencer. This otherwise insignificant revelation provoked a tirade of angry comments from Lebanese vigilantes that chided the irresponsible tie-wearer on his unpatriotic choice of neck wear. Even though I was aware of the M&S boycott policy as being one of the cornerstones of anti-Zionism among the Arab Diaspora, I was taken aback by the intensity of the reaction and people’s willingness to publicly chastise someone simply because of their fashion choices. This militant censoriousness is chiefly practiced by people who regard themselves as ‘secular’, and even liberal, making it much more problematic. It points to the disturbing emergence of a secular piety that is far more insidious than one stemming from a religious worldview.

Before I left for Britain several years ago, I was instructed by several Lebanese friends on the necessity of boycotting M&S because of its ‘support for Israel’. Some assured me that all the profits that it made on Saturdays went directly to the IDF. The blunt way of phrasing the argument insisted that every pound spent in M&S translated into bullets fired at the Palestinians and the Lebanese, and no one would want to live with this burden on their conscience. But aside from the veracity of the claims, which I will come back to, this argument fails to comprehend the reasons for Israel’s military superiority. This superiority is not attained through private and public foreign aid but because Israel is an advanced industrial economy that is capable of developing advanced weapons through a combination of industrial and technological development.

Although Israel receives a large amount of military aid from the US annually, in percentage terms, this aid amounts to just 15% of Israel’s military expenditure. But in parallel, Israel is now one of the largest weapons exporters in the world, with up to two thirds of its weapons production made for export. In fact, Israel exports more than double the amount of US military aid it receives. It’s worth noting that Israeli weapon exports span the full range of military equipment from ammunition to advanced warning systems and drones. By contrast, Arab countries have a very small share of the production and sales of weapons globally, despite the fact that some of them have very large defence expenditure. (Saudi Arabia had the 8th largest military expenditure in the world in 2009 for example.)

Of course the large difference in weapons production between Israel and Arab countries reflects the overall difference in levels of industrialisation and research and development capabilities between them. The notion that Israel’s military capability can be damaged through consumer boycotts in the West is misguided. Of course, most advocates of such boycotts are aware of this, that’s why boycotts are not intended as practical measures but as largely symbolic actions. A consumer boycott can be an easy and convenient way of appeasing one’s conscience and, but it is not a serious political act. But once such behaviour becomes imperative and social pressure is applied to monitor adherence to it, it becomes a form of grassroots authoritarianism that is fundamentally undemocratic in nature. The irony is that the same people who would normally oppose other forms of conformity in Arab societies would voluntarily act as social enforcers in the case of boycotts.

Going back to the claim that all the Saturday takings at Marks & Spencer tills go to the IDF, there is certainly no record of it anywhere. However, activists insist on boycotting Marks & Spencer because it trades with Israel, although its historic position of supporting Israel has been altered in recent years. I am not interested in defending Marks & Spencer, but I find the idea of promoting the Palestinian cause through consumer boycotts in the West seriously flawed. Aside from all arguments on the effectiveness of such boycotts, pretending that complex political problems can be solved through altering consumer behaviour is a perverse notion. The most dangerous aspect of this is that it turns people from active political actors into passive consumers, both of products and of political/ethical choices that are distributed via ‘trusted sources’.

Solidarity has of course played a vital role in the promotion of political causes historically; this is why it is important to understand how the expression of solidarity has altered in recent years in parallel with this shift from active political subjects to passive observers. The international volunteers that participated in the Spanish Civil War left their families and friends behind and fought alongside their republican comrades against the Fascists. This was a conscious and active political choice as opposed to the mundane consumerist choices that we are now told are legitimate expressions of solidarity. I am obviously not asking for people to volunteer in global conflicts today, but asking for a reassessment of what forms of solidarity are politically meaningful. Where you buy your underwear is not one of them.

Beyond solidarity, there is a further dimension to global boycotts that is particularly pertinent to Arab countries. Not doing business with Israel is one thing, but boycotting companies purely on the basis that they do business with Israel is a luxury that the developing economies of the Arab world. The list of companies to be boycotted because of links with Israel has Intel among many others; the consequences of boycotting Intel products will certainly have a severe impact on Arab societies. (That’s why it’s much easier to focus on Marks & Spencer, much like animal rights activists direct their energy against fur instead of leather, on the basis that it’s easier to harass rich old ladies than biker gangs.)

Taking the boycott argument to its logical conclusion reveals the arbitrariness of singling out specific companies. Should we boycott the Western countries that support Israel financially and militarily? Would anyone seriously propose not studying in the US or going on a holiday in the UK? Should we stop using American textbooks and boycott all German cars? If boycotts are not about the actual economic impacts but represent a moral imperative as some insist, then where do we draw the line of responsibility? Why is boycotting Marks & Spencer more morally pressing than the US? It seems to me that pro-boycott activists have taken their cue from another UK retailer: their message seems to be every little helps.

Like it or not, global trade links are so wide and complex today that singling out companies to boycott is impractical. But more importantly, as long as Arab countries remain as net importers of industrial products, as well as technology and knowledge, such boycotts will definitely harm Arab societies more than the intended companies. The international economic sanctions on Iraq that followed its invasion of Kuwait were a stark example of the devastating effect of disengaging from the global economy. I witnessed firsthand the deterioration in Iraqi society during the 90s as a result of the sanctions. Within the space of a decade, one of the most advanced Arab societies was set back several decades. Boycotts are in fact a form of self-imposed economic sanctions.

The advocates of boycotts are of course aware of this. They are not interested in implementing wide-ranging boycotts but in altering individual behaviour and maintaining conformity to a ‘shared’ idea. They insist on those meaningless symbolic gestures as a way of showing commitment to The Cause. But boycott vigilantism is only a symptom of widespread intellectual intolerance. By volunteering to behave like secular coercers, educated and politicised individuals are only contributing to this problem. No just cause will thrive on a climate of intellectual repression. And while we’re at it, let’s keep where we buy our underwear out of public discourse.

Monday, August 30, 2010

!بدعة لبنان: عدم التضامن الوزاري

خالد برّاج

لا زال السياسيون المنتمون إلى هذا الفريق أو ذاك إضافةً إلى الصحافيين و المحلِلين السياسيين (و ما أكثرهم) يُتحِفونا كل يوم بإستعمال تعابير و مفردات هي على الأقل هرطقة من الناحية القانونية و الدستورية و أبرز هذه العبارات التّي نسمع تردادها بشكل يومي على لسان "كبار القوم" من نوّاب و وزراء إلى رؤساء و أمناء " الدكاكين الحزبية " (و هو الوصف المنطقي و الفعلي للحالة و الجسم الحزبي في لبنان) هي عبارة " الموالاة و المعارضة ".

فعن أيّ موالاة يتحدّثون حين تكون غير قادرة على الحكم بمفردها بسبب طبيعة النظام اللبناني الطائفي المذهبي و منطِق القوّة الميلشيوي و عن أي معارضة يتحدّثون حين تُصبح هذه المعارضة شريكاً أساسياً في حكومةٍ تُفترض أن تكون حكومة وحدةٍ وطنية, فمنِ الغير المنطقي (في بلدٍ غاب فيه المنطق منذ عقود) تصنيف الأفرقاء السياسيين المشاركين في الحكومة كفريقٍ موالٍ و فريقٍ معارض لأنّ الجميع و لمجرّد المشاركة في حكومة وحدةٍ وطنية أصبحوا بالعرف السياسي و الدستوري موالون و عليه فإنّ وزرائهم المعيّنون أصبحوا مُلزمين بمبدأ التضامن الوزاري.

إنّ المعارضة لا تكون من ضمن الحكومة بل هي تأخذ طابع معارضة شعبية في بعض (أو كثير) من الأحيان أو معارضة برلمانية في مجلس النوّاب عملاً بدساتير معظم الأنظمة الديمقراطية (يُستثنى من ذلك بطبيعة الحال النظام العربي الرسمي بشِقيه التقدمي و الرجعي أو بتصنيفه الجديد بين ممانع و معتدِل) لكن بمجرّد دخول حزب معارض (أو عدّة أحزاب معارضة) إلى حكومة وحدةٍ وطنِية فإنّ صفة المعارضة تسقُط عن هذا الحزب أو ذاك و يتحوّل الحزب إلى حزبٍ موالٍ يُوافق و يطبِق من خلال وزرائه سياسة الحكومة الرسمية من الناحية السياسية, الإقتصادية, المالية و الإجتماعية.

 لكن هامش الإعتراض موجود من خلال تحفظّ وزير على قرارٍ أو مرسوم خلال جلسات مجلس الوزراء و هو تحفّظ يحصل أيضاً في حكومات من لونٍ واحد لكن مهما كانت درجة التحفظّ أو الإعتراض فإنّ ذلك يجب أن لا يمسّ بمبدأ التضامن الوزاري و هو مبدأ أساسي و مُلزِم من الناحية القانونية و الدستورية و في حال الإخلال بقواعده فإنّ ركائز الحكومة (من لون واحد أو وحدة وطنية) تُصاب بالخلل و تدخل البلاد في أزمةٍ لوجود تعارض علني داخل الحكومة ممّا يهدِد إستمراريتها (إستقالة رئيس الوزراء – إستقالة الوزراء المعترضون إلخ....)

طبعاً الوضع في لبنان مغاير تماماً, فعدم التضامن الوزاري هو السائد و التصنيف الخاطىء لفرقاء في الحكومة الحالية (أو أي حكومة وحدة وطنية) على أساس موالاة و معارضة أصبح عادياً جدّاً حتّى أنّ بعض رجال القانون المنتمون إلى الأحزاب (أو الدكاكين الحزبية كما يحلو لي أن أصف الواقع الحزبي في لبنان) يطلقون تلك الصّفات على فرقاء الحكومة الحالية في البرامج السياسية على مختلف المحطّات اللبنانية.

إنّ عدم إحترام مبدأ التضامن الوزاري و خرقه بهذا الشكل الفاضح كل يوم من قبل وزراء حكومتنا الحالية يُبيِن لنا مدى هشاشة و رجعية النظام اللبناني , لا شكّ أنّ عدم إحترام مبدأ التضامن الوزاري يستمِد قوتّه من الخلل البنيوي للنظام اللبناني الذي أعطى كيانات و جماعات طائفية و مذهبية أفضلية و أحقِية على النظام العام المدني, إنّ الوزير الذي يخرق مبدأ التضامن الوزاري من خلال تصريح أو موقف إعلامي غالباً ما يفعل ذلك ليس دفاعاً كما هو ظاهر عن مصالح المجتمع إنّما دفاعاً فقط عن مصالح الطائفة التي ينتمي إليها.

إنّ إطلاق صفة موالٍ و معارض على وزير في حكومة وحدة وطنية هو بحدّ ذاته خرق لمبدأ التضامن الوزاري, فكيف لشخصٍ (أو حزبٍ) أن يكون معارضاً لحكومة هو مشارك فيها ؟؟؟ بدعةٍ أخرى من بدع نظامٍ طائفي مذهبي زبائني مهترء.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Moronic responses to moronic behaviour: Burj Abu Haidar 2010

By now, everything that needs to be said about the 'spontaneous' 'non-sectarian''non-political' 'isolated' clashes that took place in Beirut on the night of Wednesday 25th August has been said. No matter the level of outrage, sadness and despair expressed by the Lebanese, they will all calmly get back to their Iftars and their cocktail parties while avoiding Burj Abi Haidar for the next 48 hours. What grabbed my attention in the meantime were the stale stock phrases used by a number of politicians that seemed to echo the discourse of the civil war we thought had long been buried. The lowering of expectations is now in fashion across the board. Fares Soueid led the way with his call for a ' demilitarised Beirut' , a slogan popular circa 1987, as if the rest of the country deserved being turned into a shooting range. MP Houry, a shining bright light of the Future movement, tended to agree. He came short of calling for an Afghan approach to security, with Verdun functionning as a provincial capital (read Kandahar without the British). Khodr Habib, another Hariri invention, would like to add Tripoli to the list, supposedly with a direct naval link to the capital manned by Sunnis for Sunnis.

But the biggest lowering of expectations came from an unusual source. In his address yesterday Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, better known for raising Adrenalin levels, refused to blame minister Gibran Bassil for the electricity crisis. He went even further and also absolved his predecessors from any responsibility adding philosophically that we (the people) needed to be patient. Patience is not a Lebanese virtue, but short-term memory is; something the SSNP excel at. This self-labelled Social Nationalist party (not be confused with National Socialism) called on all factions to uncouple socio-economical and political issues, because politics should only be concerned with important patriotic issues. It is worthwhile mentionning in passing the usual crowd who accused Israel of instigating the in-fighting between the two pro-SYRIAN factions. At this rate I predict that one day all the Lebanese (and some Syrians) will wake up and find themselves agents of Israel through some unconscious process. Bring on the therapists!