Saturday, May 31, 2008

Opinions on Syrian-Israeli Peace Talks at Creative Syria

Alex at Creative Syria has managed to get a good mix of Syrian and Israeli opinions on the recent announcement of Syria-Israeli negogitiations. Here is my contribution.

(Photo: Fraom Carter Center website)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Disagreement Among Brothers...No Longer

Every year, in Spring, my brother, who lives and works in Beirut, comes to the United States for a professional meeting then swings by to spend a few days with us. This year his visit coincided with the latest spasm of violence in Lebanon and so he was stuck here for an extra week.

He was, of course, worried about his family back in Beirut; but the upside was that I and the kids got to spend more time with him. There was however, palpable tension between us whenever we discussed the politics of Lebanon. My brother got quickly wound up and passionate during these discussions especially when I disagreed with him. Once an admirer of Rafik Hariri, he has, over the past few years, come to unconditionally support the opposition; and that is where we defer. My brother's politics are gut level and emotional and are molded mostly by his visceral reactions to a certain segment of Lebanese society.

He hated the way the Beirut Spring demonstrations of 2005 turned into an open ended slur of everything Syrian as, once again, the Lebanese blame someone else for all their shortcomings. But what gets my brother really angry is the deep seated arrogance, hypocrisy and hateful sectarianism manifested by a not insignificant number of Lebanese. Add to the mix a screwed up sense of identity, and you get the psychopathology encapsulated by this statement he overheard recently at a dinner party: "Ya'ni moi, je ne peu pas vivre avec les Shiites". Mind you, this statement, in perfect Franbanais, was uttered by a Sunni from Ras Beirut! Go figure!

Although I share his revulsion of certain -many- aspects of Lebanese society, I fail to understand his complete and uncritical support of the opposition. I listened and learned from him but failed to alter his views. It is easy for me to dispassionately analyze Lebanese politics from a distance. But for him, stuck in the middle of the overheated and poisonous cauldron of Lebanese politics, he feels forced to take sides.

His departure yesterday left me a little sad as we were unable able to bridge our differences. But overnight, our differences have become irrelevant. Before he landed back in Beirut, the Lebanese politicians had finally managed to do the right thing for their people and not only themselves. Moreover, and the timing is hardly a coincidence, Syria and Israel announce that they have been talking peace.

May 21, 2008 is a day to savor. I will, for the moment, purge any last vestige of skepticism and cynicism from my being to enjoy a day when sanity and hope, commodities nearly extinct in our corner of the world, seem to have taken hold... at least for a day.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Best Sign of the Week

I couldn't agree more with this message from members of Lebanon's Association for the Disabled to their leaders as they left Beirut airport for Qatar. This sign cuts through the mountains of manure that each side heaps on the other and gets down to the heart of the matter.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Hizb Should Disband its Militia

I do not typically feel the need to make any disclosures before I speak my mind, but when it comes to discussions about Hizbullah, many otherwise reasonable people have rigid, unchangeable impressions that defy what the facts actually reveal. My older brother and I generally agree on most political issues but we diverge radically when it comes to the issue of Hizbullah. I am a Sunni Muslim who despises sectarianism in any form. Having lived in Lebanon for years, I am also fully aware of the historical disadvantage of the Shia when it comes to the established Lebanese social and economic pecking order. I used to cringe when I heard a Lebanese Sunni or Christian refer to Shia in a derogatory manner. But I also know very well that sectarianism cuts both ways, especially when one particular sect feels it has the upper hand; all you have to do is look at Iraq.

I have little sympathy for most of the March 14 politicians but my anger today is directed squarely at Hizbullah and Nasrallah. Many of us, because Hizbullah managed to deliver a black eye to the Israeli army in the summer of 2006, seem to be willing to overlook their transgressions or question their political motives. But I cannot escape the fact that, no matter how you slice it, the presence of an independent militia, armed to the teeth, that is accountable to no one is an unsustainable and destabilizing situation in a sovereign state. The repeated claims, that the arms are only for protection against Israel, ring hollow, especially in the last twenty four hours with Nasrallah’s bombastic threats of civil war if he does not get his way. What has become abundantly clear is that the arms and the militia are to be used as leverage for Hizbullah's political aspirations. The formula is clear: We will ask softly but if you don't do as we say, we'll bring our men into the streets. Moreover we will sack and burn the media outlets that we don't like because we think they are lying as if Al Manar is a bastion of journalistic integrity and objective reporting.

Hizbullah got deservedly high marks for its resistance to the Israeli occupation whose withdrawal they forced in 2000. Hizbullah could have leveraged the gratitude of most Lebanese at the time to turn itself into a formidable political machine. Why didn’t they incorporate their militia into the Lebanese Army then and become a purely political party? They would have been in an excellent position to advocate for their constituency and they would have transformed the national Lebanese army into a formidable fighting force truly capable of protecting Lebanon's southern borders. Moreover, they could have diverted their seemingly limitless flow of cash away from supporting and arming a militia to improving the well being of their community. All other militias from the civil war were dissolved following the Taef agreement, why should Hizbullah have a free pass after 2000? Some will dispute that last statement but clearly the recent rearming of some of these militias was in response to the perceived threat from Hizbullah . Besides, as the pitiful showing of Mustaqubal's militia demonstrates, none of these armed groups can compare in scale and equipment to the standing army that Hizbullah has. However, given a couple more years of Lebanese turmoil, the situation will be akin to that of 1975 and a full fledged civil war will be a certainty.

Many non-Lebanese support Hizbullah because of its successful confrontations with Israel . They see it more as an abstraction, as a the bastion of "resistance" against the encroachment of Israeli designs and American Neocon aspirations. They seem to overlook the fact that Hizbullah's existence as an autonomous militia erodes the viability of Lebanon as a state. It is as if Lebanon is a disposable sacrificial lamb on the altar of regional and global power struggles. It is telling that those same supporters of Hizbullah would balk at the very thought of having a parallel autonomous militia within their own country that does not feel obligated to follow the laws of the land. The Syrian government is guilty of this type of blatant hypocrisy. If they were true believers in "resistance" politics, why don't they invite Hizbullah to the Golan Heights?

Lebanon needs and deserves peace after more than three decades of strife. It has, more than any other Arab state, established institutions of a working, albeit corrupt, democracy. There is no reason why Hizbullah with its large constituency and tremendous resources cannot work within the political system to its advantage within the need of a militia. The biggest threat to Israel is not a militia in a weak divided state, but a stable, successful Lebanon capable of defending itself and capable of competing with it economically and intellectually.

What Would Nasrallah Tell Sahar?

I watch neither Future TV nor LBC but listening to Sahar's angry and emotional tirade is heartbreaking. Clearly, there is more than one side to the story but Hizbullah and its supporters have much to answer to regarding what happened in the last several days.

Friday, May 09, 2008


This is the day I had feared for a long time but hoped would never materialize. The images of masked young men all hyped up by the deranged and false ideologies of their leaders, all too eager to sow death and destruction, is like a recurring nightmare from years gone by. Only now, the black and white images have given way to moving images, broadcast in real time and in living color and assault your senses from every TV and computer monitor. The images are depressing, nauseating and fill me with shame and hopelessness.

The images also make me angry. I blame every last Lebanese politician who has willingly played the role of puppet, pimp and whore to one or more foreign master; every last one of them, from Berri to Jumblatt, to Gaegea, to Hariri Jr to Nasrallah, to Aoun. Their primary goal has always been self preservation and the preservation of their power and that of their narrow constituencies. None of them, despite their lofty public pronouncements, ever worked for the interest of Lebanon and the Lebanese people as a whole.

Why did it have to come to this? Why? Have they not learned a damn thing from the civil war? Perhaps if the powers that be had not behaved like the civil war was someone else’s problem and the young generation had been taught about the war in school, they would have realized the civil war’s absurdity and its devastating consequences.

Perhaps then, those masked young men would not be holding on to those Kalashnikovs with such lust, with such eagerness to finger the triggers and draw blood, the blood of their brothers and sisters.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Nakba: In the Words of the Perpetrators

The media blitz to commemorate Israel's 60th anniversary (see previous post) continues without so much as a peep as to what actually happened in 1948. So here is my own miniscule attempt to counter that onslaught. I know that most readers of this blog do not need to be reminded of the tragedy of the Nakba, so this post is for those who stumble onto this blog and who think Israel is infallible. For those folks, please note: these are not the words of some "overheated", "irrational" Arab mind, but the words of the founder of the state of Israel. David Ben Gurion to Zionist official Nahum Goldmann:

"Sure, God promised it to us, but does that matter to them? There has been anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing: We have come here and stolen their country." (as recounted in 1948: A history of the first Arab-Israeli war, by Benny Morris)

(Photo: From