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Our Bastards

I need a one-day break from the doom and gloom of the ongoing Middle Eastern catastrophe. Since I have no affection whatsoever for either American political party, and since bitching about the government is one of our ever-popular past-times, I’m going to indulge in some slightly juvenile behavior today — photo gallery style. Hopefully you will laugh at least once. If not, lighten up!

Here are some pictures of American politicians.

Bill Clinton.jpg

Bill Clinton, Democrat

Alan Keyes.jpg

Alan Keyes, Republican

John Kerry.jpg

John Kerry, Democrat

John McCain.jpg

John McCain, Republican

Nancy Pelosi.jpg

Nancy Pelosi, Democrat

Dennis Hastert.jpg

Dennis Hastert, Republican

Hillary Clinton.jpg

Hillary Clinton, Democrat

Dick Cheney.jpg

Dick Cheney, Republican

Howard Dean.jpg

Howard Dean, Democrat

Donald Rumsfeld.jpg

Donald Rumsfeld, Republican

John Murtha.jpg

John Murtha, Democrat

George W Bush.jpg

George W. Bush, Republican

Teresa Heinz Kerry.jpg

Teresa Heinz Kerry, Democrat

Jeb Bush.JPG

Jeb Bush, Republican

Dennis Kucinich.jpg

Dennis Kucinich, Democrat

Lincoln Chafee.jpg

Lincoln Chafee, Republican

Jimmy Carter.jpg

Jimmy Carter, Democrat

Rudy Giuliani.jpg

Rudy Giuliani, (male) Republican

Iran Wants Lebanon Now

If you have any doubt that Iran and Syria are bound and determined to seize Lebanon and yank it into their axis, take a look at what Ayatollah Khamenei has to say about it. From Lebanon’s Naharnet:

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said the United States and Israel would be defeated in Lebanon, in talks with speaker Nabih Berri, Iranian media reported Wednesday.

Khamenei praised Berri for his “excellent role” in the July-August war between Hizbullah and Israel, and for the “victory” against the Jewish state, in their meeting on Tuesday.

“What led to this great victory was the unity and harmony between Hizbullah and Amal brothers which must go on in future more strongly than before,” said Khamenei.

Berri is the head of the Amal movement that is allied with Hizbullah.

Lebanon “will be the defeat point for Israel and America,” the two-arch enemies of the Islamic republic, Khamenei said.

Iran, along with Syria, is accused of arming and financing Hizbullah. Tehran denies the allegation, insisting it only gives “moral” support to the Shiite group.

“Today it is (America’s) policies in the world and the region that are bound to fail. These opportunities must be exploited with determination and action,” said Khamenei.

Lebanon, tragically, is resuming its historic role as a proxy war battleground for countries more powerful than itself. Just about every group in the country allows itself to be used as a proxy by some nation or other, and so it continues.

Pajamas Media Podcast with Tony Badran

I have been thinking about getting into podcasting for a while now, and I’ve finally done it. My first interview subject is Tony Badran. He works for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and writes the must-read Lebanese blog Across the Bay. Tony and I discuss — what else? — Lebanese and Syrian politics. We taped the interview just before the latest Beirut meltdown began, so it couldn’t be a more timely subject.

The interview is available at Pajamas Media. I’m new at this, so please let me know what you think.

UPDATE: Don’t miss Tony’s fisking of a recent New York Times article by Michael Slackman. “Lebanon is probably the most misrepresented and misunderstood of all the Arab states, but some people aren’t even trying.”

At Last

I’ve been waiting for someone from Lebanon to finally say it: Abu Kais, a Shia from the South, accuses Hezbollah of treason.

A Perfect Storm?

A perfect storm may be brewing in Lebanon.

I’ve been under Tornado Watch probably ten times or so in the American Midwest. Not once did a tornado touch down anywhere near me while I was on alert. Several tornadoes, though, blew through the area out of the blue with no warning on different days. So consider this a storm watch weather forecast for Lebanon with that level of built-in unpredictability.

The Lebanese government says Syria and Iran aim to overthrow the elected government in Beirut and reconquer the country. Whether they are actually trying to do this right now or not is unknown. There should be no doubt, though, that if they don’t have a plan to execute now it’s because they want to do it later instead.

Meanwhile, a group that calls itself “Al Qaeda in Lebanon” appeared from Lord-only-knows-where and directly threatened to destroy the March 14 government. “Al Qaeda in Lebanon” may or may not exist as a wing of bin Laden’s Al Qaeda. If they do, they’re serious. If they don’t, they’re a Syrian proxy. Either way, it doesn’t look good. This is not a prank phone call.

These threats to Beirut’s elected government are concurrent with Hezbollah’s and Amal’s resignation from the Lebanese cabinet. Hezbollah and Amal quit for two reasons. The first is that the March 14 bloc refused to give Nasrallah and friends who lost last year’s election more power in a “national unity” government. The second is because it was time for the cabinet to move ahead on the Hariri tribunal. Hezbollah will not tolerate the prosecution of their patron in Damascus.

Once again, the country is bracing itself for sectarian war in the streets. Charles Malik says Christians may sit this one out for the first time in Lebanon’s history. Whatever fighting there may or may not be will likely involve Sunni and Shia.

If this isn’t gruesome enough, Syria and Iran have reportedly replenished all Hezbollah’s destroyed arsenal stocks. Hezbollah, according to the Times of London, now has more rockets than they had before the most recent Israeli invasion. If this is, in fact, true, UNIFIL ought to just go home right now. These foreign soldiers are useless except as human shields.

Israelis need a new Lebanon strategy. Now. But they are not likely to get one, at least not until Ehud Olmert takes his rightful place among the losers of Israeli prime ministers. He’s threatening to invade Lebanon again as early as this coming Spring. So far there is no talk whatsoever of doing anything to Hezbollah’s logistics hub in Syria. Hebollah is nothing but a protest and charity movement without its supply train from Tehran through Damascus.

Instead, Israel pinky swears to leave Bashar Assad alone even though he, more than anyone else, is responsible for turning Lebanon into an engine of chaos. The Israelis even phoned Bashar while bombing Beirut and the Bekka. They told him to sleep tight because he is not on their list. So of course he went and rigged up Round Two.

In the meantime, though, Round 1.5 may (or may not) break out at any time.

UPDATE: A friend and trusted source emails from Lebanon with an update on what’s going on in the Dahiyeh south of Beirut, the capital of Hezbollah’s state-within-a-state.

My friend __________, an American who used to live down there, just visited his old apartment, which was right next to the al Manar Building. It really spooked him. There are massive buildings missing all over the place. There are still heaps of trash and rubble all over, but the streets are all navigable. Of course, the Shia down there don’t seem to mind. They’re all outside smoking argile in front of the buildings like they used to. Most of his old neighbors are still there. However, Hezbollah is all over the place. The area is completely monitored.

During the war, Hezbollah’s full control of Dahieh became 100% apparent to even the most pro-Hezbollah, Lebanese-American-French-Saudi hating idiot. To even get into the area, foreigners had to present their passports, which Hezbollah photocopied. After the war, they first approved who could and could not enter the area, even amongst Lebanese.

Now, their surveillance is everywhere, even though they have allegedly moved their bases of operation. They still have deep tunnels under their, but Dahieh has also become a bit of a trap. Anyone looking for Hezbollah will go there – even though it’s no longer the heart of their operation, thus they’ve set up their surveillance systems to see who’s looking for them and what they are doing. If they see those same people at any of their other locations, those people will be ever more closely monitored.

A paranoid organization is now paranoid beyond belief. Allegedly, Hezbollah surveillance is extending further and further than it was before. They are watching everyone, to an even greater extent than in the past. And this has become easier because many moderate Shia who are integrated into the non-Shia communities have now become complete Hezbollah supporters.

Even supporters of Michel Aoun are suspicious of the Shia who joined the FPM, now. The FPM members know the Shia only support Aoun because he’s allied with Hezbollah. If there isn’t Hezbollah support, those people will be gone. So, it’s assumed they are working for Hezbollah and reporting everything back.

According to a graduate computer science student at AUB, the English speaking and moderate Shia are now monitoring websites. He told me to be careful about what I write. I don’t take that too seriously, but I wouldn’t doubt that they are watching to an ever greater degree.

UPDATE: Don’t miss my Pajamas Media podcast interview with Lebanese blogger and political expert Tony Badran.

Hezbollah Quits the Government

Hezbollah and Amal resigned from the Lebanese cabinet after the majority March 14 bloc refused to surrender to their undemocratic demands for more power. I will not even guess what might happen next.

UPDATE: Charles Malik has some thoughts on this at the Lebanese Political Journal.

He phoned the (Sunni/Hariri) Future Movement Youth Organization office and got the following (paraphrased) response: “Too hell with Hezbollah. They dragged us through a mess this summer. They’re trying to do it again, but this time we are determined to stop them. We’ve got plenty of Shia we can appoint to fill their positions, and we’ll give Aoun positions in the government if he wants them. That way, it will be the entire nation against Hezbollah and Amal.”

A Few Final Words

Yesterday I published an argument between myself and a member of Hezbollah that was generated in the comments.

I regret being less polite than he when we first encountered each other. By way of explanation, I will say this. During my time in Lebanon I was treated viciously by Hezbollah officials because I cracked a joke on my blog and because they suspected a colleague of mine was a Jew. This, of course, is a trifle compared with what Hezbollah has done to others less fortunate than myself. But my history with them is what it is, and they made it personal.

I also am furious at Hezbollah for starting a war that brought air strikes and bombs to my old neighborhood, that killed innocent people — many of them children — in two countries. I lashed out at the first Hizbullahi I encountered after that war.

It may seem ridiculous to some of you that I would concern myself about something as trivial as online etiquette with a man who self-identifies as an enemy and who says the phrase Death to America comes from his heart. But I did meet supporters of Hezbollah who were nice to me despite our vast political differences (to put it lightly). I have spoken to members of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt who lied and dissembled, but who at the same time treated me decently and with at least formal respect. Arabs, for the most part, are courteous people. I admire that trait in their culture. Americans and Europeans can and at times do learn courtesy from the Arabs. Mr. Al Ghaliboon has conducted himself politely in the comments here, and it was fascinating to watch how almost every Westerner who interacted with him, myself included, became more polite over time.

None of this means those of us who participated are going to become Hezbollah supporters any time soon. Al Ghaliboon will not join Lebanon’s March 14 Movement (ie, the Cedar Revolution) because of anything he might have learned here. Nor is there any middle ground we can work toward. I strive for moderation in my American political views. That’s because Americans have common ground and common values to build on. Most of us agree on the basic political questions.

It is possible for mainstream Americans and mainstream Lebanese to find some common ground even though there are also vast political and cultural differences. Lebanon is an ally of sorts of the United States, and not in the corrupt and degrading way that Egypt and Saudi Arabia supposedly are. It’s a tense alliance, and it is severely strained — more so than you probably think — because of the war in July and August. The alliance is not supported by every group in the country, and perhaps never will be. But it’s something.

Hezbollah, though, remains on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. Al Ghaliboon is an enemy. I do not mean to insult him by calling him this. It is simply the way things are. He self-identifies as an enemy, and it only takes one side to define that kind of relationship. As far as I am concerned, he is welcome to transform that relationship into something more productive at any time. Americans forgive more quickly and easily than he thinks, I suspect.

Anyway, I’ve given a lot more time and space to a member of Hezbollah than I ever expected I would or even probably should have. I’d like, then, to promote what I think is one of the strongest responses from this fascinating discussion to the main page. I don’t agree with everything written below, but it’s engaging and powerful and I do agree with a lot of it. It is an unabashedly hostile reponse. It is also, at the same time, a calm one.

I image Al Ghaliboon is at least partly interested in this discussion in the spirit of knowing one’s enemy. He is free to correct me if I am wrong. Either way, Al Ghaliboon, here is your enemy:

Let us speak for a moment of practicalities. Of realpolitik, if you will.

alGhali, my name is Ric. I understand that means something amusing to you. I urge you to suppress that reaction.

I am, more or less in order of importance, an American, a Christian, a Texan, a military veteran, a Republican, and a descendant of American Indians. Whatever your goals are, you must convince me, and others like me, not to oppose them, or you don’t have a hope in Hell.

The reason that is so is that you produce nothing for yourself. You and your people do not even make the explosives you kill people with; you must buy them from the West, or from the Persians. You and your people don’t make the televisions you watch Nasrallah speak on; you must buy them from the Japanese and the Koreans. You don’t make the studios or their equipment; you must buy them from us, or from the British or French. You don’t make the cell phones you use as triggers for booby traps; you must buy them from the West, or again Japan and Korea. You don’t make the pickup trucks that transport your “soldiers” to battle. You don’t even make the guns you brandish so forcefully, or the ammunition you waste spraying at the sky. The rockets? Russia or Eastern Europe.

You don’t even earn the money you buy those things with. You must depend upon the largesse, the generosity, of others, and if you believe that generosity is genuinely in your interest you are too stupid to take seriously, or else you depend upon Western desire for the oil, which was put there by Allah with no effort on your part; you did nothing to earn it.

We, on the other hand (and by “we” I mean the West and those who have copied us) make all those things. It is for this reason that we are strong. We learned, with the most painful lessons coming in the century just past, that both Mao and Machiavelli were wrong. Good soldiers may well get you gold, but for us gold is useful stuff for electronics and not much more; our wealth is elsewhere. The sort of power that flows from the barrel of a gun is transitory and not a little illusory. If you have the power of wealth, guns are so cheap they can be handed out to the likes of you for our entertainment. What we have learned is the deep truth of another aphorism: When you are strong you can forgive your enemies. When you are weak you can only kill them.

You, sir, are a weakling and a coward, and as such we will never support you. You prove yourself a weakling by announcing your intention to kill, thereby establishing that you are too weak to forgive. You confirm that by never producing anything of your own, only demanding that others provide your support. You have no strength, no power. You are not a slave, and we have no desire to have you as a slave — a slave must at least be able to hew wood and carry water, and you have established that you have not the strength for that even on your own behalf, by demanding that others do it for you while you arm yourself to kill.

Therefore you have failed in your aim. You have not come close, with your glib recital of past vilenesses, to convincing me to support you. I mentioned that I am a descendant of American Indians. A century and a half ago, the invading whites ripped some of my ancestors from their lands, forcing them to walk almost three thousand kilometers to a a desolate untamed land where they were “resettled”, and took the ancestral lands for their own. But I am a Westerner. That is in the past, and the reality for today is that if I wish a redress of those grievances, first I must amass the power — and I understand that wealth is power, and all else is weakness. If I will not build real power I am simply a murderer if I seek to drive the descendants of the robbers from my ancestors’ homeland. And, strangely enough, I find that as I amass real power the issue recedes. One bit of land will do as well as another. Speaking of “homelands” is simply an excuse for tyrants to gather political power from lazy people who are wistful for past glory but unwilling to make new glory.

The guns, the rockets, the bombs, all the warstuff you amass is worthless so long as you must get it by trusting the largesse of others. It will never gain you the strength you want. The ability to kill is not power. The ability to build is power, power we can respect. If you have real power, the warstuff is toys and bagattelles.

And if you are seeking “honor” from us, you have failed again. “Honor” as you understand it means that we recognize your ability to kill or damage who or what you like, when you like, without effective reprisal. We call that “bullying” and consider it the behavior of jackals. By insisting upon it you class yourself with those.

Save your rhetoric. You have failed, and will continue to fail. Your every presentation that you consider as influencing the West to favor you instead reminds us of what we consider our dishonorable past; you disgust us because you remind us of our primitive origins, which we have done our best to suppress. Even the word “jihad”, which you use among yourselves and in your propaganda as a term of approbation, for us is quite different. An attempt, by military or other violent force, to extend the reach of one’s beliefs or religion is a crusade. That’s what the English word means. The fact that today’s Crusaders wear a crescent-and-star instead of a cross makes no difference. Hassan Nasrallah, and you, are Crusaders. You should change your name to Geoffrey.

It’s fun to read your apologias and what you consider to be your arguments, but I am one of the ones you must convince, and you have not only failed to advance that cause, you are farther from it than you were when I had never heard of you. If you want my support — and you cannot come close to your goals without it, and you know it, or you would not make the attempt — you must change your tactics. I don’t care to advise you on what tactics to use, except to let you know that several others upthread have offered useful hints, because frankly you disgust me. Your presentation has made it more likely that I will shoot you or your followers when I encounter you, not less. You are a failure. Accept that and learn.

Regards,

Ric Locke

An Argument with Hezbollah

Hezbollah Flag.gif

A member or supporter of Hezbollah who calls himself Al Ghaliboon appeared in my comments and completely dominated the thread. Normally I don’t let somebody show up and do that, but it’s not every day that a group of Americans gets to argue with someone like him.

I’ve argued with several members and supporters of Hezbollah in Lebanon, and my personal experience with them runs the gamut. Many are perfectly friendly and pleasant. Some of the higher-ranking party officials are unbelievably vicious and nasty. (If you want to read the uncut version of my experience with nasty Hizbullahi, you can read an account in the pamphlet Adam Bellow and I published last month.)

Al Ghaliboon is somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. As I figured out that he is interested in talking rather than in fighting or screaming, I toned down the temperature of my own responses. Here is my dialogue with him as it originally appeared in real time.

You can read the entire thread here if you want the whole thing.

AG: Mr. Totten,

Regarding your cheap shots at Mr. Fisk, I presume your hero is Mr. Friedman? In which case may I encourage you to actually go beyond the Orientalist perspective, to gain at least an ounce of credibility amongst your wider (non-Orientalist/non-fascist) readership?

Regards,

A Hizbullahi from the South.

MJT: It takes a lot of nerve for a Hizbullahi to call me a fascist.

Get a life, buddy. Or do you enjoy getting bombed halfway to the moon by the Israelis?

Yes, I prefer Tom Friedman to Robert Fisk. He’s not a fascist, he’s a liberal. Unlike yourself.

AG: Unlike you, I have not painted anyone with blanket statements.

I would say that it is a bit childish of you to make such statements about being bombed to the moon by the Israelis, given that the primary victims of the Israelis have not been the Hizbullah fighters, but rather the babies, women, the elderly, and in general civilians. It is a shame that your so-called liberal hatred has blinded you to the facts, that while we have fought with honour on the battlefield (and the ratio of Israeli civilians to soldiers killed is testimony to that), the Israelis have attempted to take out their anger at their inability by bombing our people, our bridges, our homes, basically everything BUT us. However, if you choose to present the 500 dead figure that Israel claims it achieved (notice how Israel phrases its achievements – in terms of kills and amount of territory occupied; which indicates what they really are after), at least give us some proof of this; I remember during the war they were constantly repeating this figure, and the other 50% figure of rocket launchers destroyed. Tell me, Mr. Totten, since you insist the Israelis bombed us halfway to the moon, what did this bombing-to-the-moon campaign achieve? What achievements can one speak of, at least without sounding as laughable as a clown (or Tzipi Livni apologizing for the Beit Hanun massacre and claiming it was unintentional – I wonder, how many mistakes can one make in the span of uhh, let’s say 2 months?) would sound. But since your liberal self chooses to brag about the bombing-halfway-to-the-moon, I presume you are also bragging about the similar bombing to the moon of the 4 UN officers? Or is human life valuable depending on where they hail from, and what colour their skin is, or which God they pray to?

MJT: Yo, Mr. Hezbollah. You don’t know who you’re arguing with, so I suggest if you want to have that fight you go somewhere else.

How dare you complain about the Israelis bombing civilians? I get to complain about that. You don’t. You bombed Haifa and bragged about it. You are an apologist, and perhaps even a perpetrator, of war crimes.

AG: I am really amazed at your usage of fallacies to divert from the point I raised; Regardless of who I am and how hypocritical I might be, your response still constitutes a fallacious diversion.

As for accusing me of bombing Haifa – that got you a bit distressed, didn’t it? – that’s a bit of an assumption, isn’t it?

An apologist – how am I justifying anything? I did not even raise that point. If you choose to forge your arguments based entirely on fallacies of attack on the person, that’s an entirely different matter. However, again, it shows more about your standards, than mine.

I am here to discuss respectfully; if you cannot place your biases behind you for a moment, then that says quite a lot about your tolerance and alleged liberal values.

MJT: Al Ghaliboon, if you’re here to discuss this respectfully then you can start by not throwing “Orientalist” and “Fascist” around. That is not a way to get on my good side.

Also, if you are looking to argue with someone who thinks Israel did a good job in Lebanon, you’re on the wrong blog.

AG: Let me be incredibly honest; I have read your blog for some time, but have refrained from commenting. I can say that I find your views abhorrable, in so far as they (more often than not) justify murder based on Israel’s right to self-defense. Mr. Totten, if Israel wanted to defend itself, if Israel believed we were on an equal footing as human beings, if Israel believed in human rights, if Israel believed in the real rules of war, let it fight on the battlefield, let it invade and snatch our rocket launchers from us. To hide behind F-16s and then make unsubstantiated accusations that we hide amongst civilians to justify the kill-of-the-day, is not my idea of fighting like real men. Thus, I consider your views as justifying Israel’s attitudes, which do not abode well for human rights (disregard the fact that I might be a hypocrite; this does not make the argument invalid). Moreover, you imply that Israel did not do a good job in Lebanon. What do you mean by that, and would you have said the same if Israel had gone in and practically eliminated us (and killed just as many civilians, let us not say more, to make the comparison on an equal footing)? Kindly elaborate.

MJT: Al Ghaliboon, if you have been reading my blog for a long time then you know that I think Israel’s invasion of Lebanon was stupid. More stupid, though, is Hezbollah’s war against Israel and Hezbollah’s claim of “victory.”

If you are tired of war with Israel (maybe you aren’t, maybe you like war, but I know some moderate Hezbollah supporters who are tired of the whole thing) you need to realize that it is possible for you to resolve the outstanding issues without getting thousands more Lebanese (and Israeli) people killed.

I know you don’t believe me, and I won’t be able to convince you, but let me give you some honest advice: Read Ha’arertz every day for a year. It’s an Israeli newspaper with an English edition. You won’t like everything you read there (obviously), but at the end of the year you will know and understand your enemy far better than you do now.

Here’s some more advice. If Hezbollah wants to be respected by Americans, stop saying Death to America. When you declare yourselves our enemies, we will treat you accordingly. Americans have short attention spans and do not hold grudges. We can change the terms of the relationship any time you’re ready.

Final advice, Al Ghaliboon. If you don’t like getting bombed by Israelis, stop shooting and kidnapping Israelis. They will bomb you again if you keep that up.

Do you ever wonder what it would be like to live in a normal country that doesn’t explode?

AG: You and I both know that what Israel did was more than just invasion; in fact, it was not the invasion itself that we have an issue with (we welcome anyone who wishes to fight us face to face on the battlefield), but the aerial attacks that Israel was waging, which did not harm us at all, but killed a significant number of our civilians – reminding you, our families (yes we do have loved ones too, Mr. Totten, so I say as a friendly comment, please think twice before you paint us as monsters and brag about bombing our families to the moon).

What we did was merely what we had promised to do; we had warned of it time and time again, because the understanding that we had arrived to in the previous negotiation was not respected, and our prisoners remained in Israeli jails, and our people continued to be maimed and killed by mines.

Mr. Totten, you underestimate our intelligence. We read Ha’aretz, and we read much more than Ha’aretz, and much more than the English versions of the Israeli press. We read much, much more than that, I can assure you.

Our enmity towards America stems from our hatred of its policies, which have left our people everywhere, in Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, and elsewhere among ruins. We hold no grudges towards the average American citizen, but towards the general American policy, which treats us as unimportant, as merely puppets and machines to be manipulated for their interests. We reject and fight any attempt to subjugate us and take our dignity and honour away. You will find that we are not much different in that respect from nations that take pride in their history and civilization, and aspire to practice and maintain their sovereignty. We want and demand treatment on equal terms, not as inferiors. That is the root of our struggle against America.

I have lived in many countries – countries that would fall under the categorization of “the west” and “the first world”, countries that don’t explode. Countries that don’t explode because they export their explosions to my country and bring death and destruction to my people.

However, in my dealings with these people – Americans, and yes, even Israelis – I have felt the arrogance and their feelings of superiority, and their condescending attitudes towards my peoplel – Arabs and Muslims. I chose to leave exactly because I found it unbearable to live in a country that looks down upon us in this manner, although again I tell you, I have nothing against the average American or westerner. You will find that many, many of us, have lived and experienced the west in 1st person, not through the accounts of others. And we have chosen this path exactly because of it. We have come to be convinced that our people’s dignity must be raised from the ground, our culture, traditions, religious beliefs revived, if we are to have a chance of demanding our rights as human beings. We stand for justice. Our past notwithstanding, we have shown that we are willing to take a logical path based on free will rather than imposing anything on others, including our fellow Lebanese.

MJT: We want and demand treatment on equal terms, not as inferiors.

You’ll get it, at least from me, when you no longer start wars and kill people because you have emotional problems.

My West Beirut landlord lost tens of thousands of dollars in his restaurant business because of that war you and Nasrallah started. Are you going to tell him that this is the price he must pay for your pride? What about his pride? What about his need to take care of his children and provide for them? Doesn’t he count, too? He’s not a Zionist or an imperialist. He’s a middle class Lebanese guy who owns a restaurant and wants to live in a country that doesn’t explode.

Look. I’ve spent a lot of time in Lebanon. I love that country as much as anyone who is from somewhere else and spent only seven months there possibly could. If you want my respect, that’s easy. Join the Lebanese project. Choose to build instead of destroy. Don’t start wars that get little girls in two countries — one of which is your own — killed.

The reason pretty much nobody in this discussion thread respects you is because you choose war over friendship and peaceful coexistence. We can change the terms of our relationship whenever you’re ready, but it is you who must change. Americans are not going to side with or respect people who scream Death to America and fire missiles at cities because they lack pride.

AG: First of all, we do not have “emotional problems”. Second, we did not start a war; in fact, our very raison d’etre was the Israeli occupation. Nor have we ever started wars; we have conducted operations and these operations have been with the purpose of getting our rights from a country that otherwise refuses to even recognize our legitimate existence.

It is not so much about pride as it is about sovereignty, freedom, and honour – in my opinion honour and vain pride are two different things. When America was hit by terrorist attacks, did it fold its arms and wait for them to hit again? Notwithstanding that the whole Iraq war is a sham. Why did USA react? Why don’t we have the same right to react to an equally tragic sequence of events? When we were fighting and dying for liberating the south, they all called us terrorists. But liberation only came through our struggle and martyrdom, not through a set of statements that leaders in Damascus and Ramallah make without even wanting to see the plight of their people. As for your middle-class landlord, what makes him and his plight any more important/valid than the more than 1 million lower-class, unemployed Lebanese?

We do not wish to have anything to do with Israel. At the same time, we do not accept that anyone dictate to us that we should make peace with it. We will make peace with it when the time is right for our people to come to terms with the crimes committed against them, and when we get an apology and reparation from Israel for its crimes against our people (we have all lost people in our conflict against Israel; myself/my family included). Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the war drummers in Tel Aviv who come up with massacre after massacre out of the blue.

MJT: Okay, Al Ghaliboon, I appreciate that you’re willing to put up with an online forum where you have no friends and where you face dozens of people who hate your guts and wouldn’t weep if a bomb dropped on your head.

I hope you notice something else, too, though, while you’re here. All of us think the Arab-Israeli conflict is stupid. No one here wants to see it continue. We all want Peace Now. Even the most flaming right-wing nutjobs in America would rather see a peaceful Middle East than a Middle East that explodes. Have you noticed that a lot of people in this discussion have tried to persuade you to give up the fight for your sake and for the sake of your children rather than for our sakes or for the sakes of the Israelis?

I’m sorry you had a bad experience in the West. And I mean that sincerely. If you were treated badly because you’re an Arab, a Muslim, or both, that was wrong. It was wrong. Period. Full stop. That does not, however, mean it is okay for you to join a “resistance” movement that fires missiles at random strangers in other countries who have never met you.

Most Lebanese are lovely people. Some members of your party, though, treated me monstrously. But you will not find me joining a Death to Lebanon movement as a way to get over it.

No one wants to enslave you. Americans fought a civil war with each other 150 years ago and we settled the issue of slavery forever. All we want you to do is stop fighting your neighbors. That’s it. And the reason we want you to stop fighting your neighbors is because we’re tired of getting dragged into your wars.

You do have emotional problems. You, personally, have emotional problems. You said so yourself. Resistance heals your wounded pride.

Obviously resistance pays off for you in some way or you wouldn’t do it. If all you got out of it was bombs for breakfast, you would find something a little less destructive to do.

You aren’t winning the war against Israel in any militarily objective sense. You can’t conquer their territory, and you can’t repel an invasion. You couldn’t even hold your own ground on the fence. Israel could flatten every last house in Lebanon and you couldn’t stop them. The reason they don’t do it is because they don’t want to. On some level, I think you know this. It took the Israelis a month to kill 1,000 Lebanese. If their objective was simply to kill people they would kill 1,000 an hour and no one would be able to stop them.

Anyway, the Israelis and the Americans are not who you need to worry about. If you keep dragging your country into destructive wars against the will of the majority, you may find yourself lynched in the streets. I try not to predict Middle Eastern politics and events, but I have met quite a number of Lebanese Christians and Druze who would love to strip you of your shirt and strap electrified jumper cables to your chest before dragging you through the streets by your nose. And this was before you blew up the country again. One of the reasons I opposed Israel’s invasion of Lebanon is because I knew it would make this horror show all the more likely to play itself out.

I don’t think you have any idea just how nasty the animosity toward you is in your country. If you think we Americans are giving you a hard time on this blog, try pretending you’re a Maronite who hates “dirty Shia” and hanging out in Jounieh and Achrafieh. I’ll tell you what you can expect. One Lebanese guy I know (he reads this blog and he might even show up to say hi) told me he thought the American invasion of Iraq was stupid as hell but is glad it happened anyway. The reason he’s glad? Because Zarqawi (he said this last year) is now free to run around Baghdad and massacre Shia. It can get that bad in Lebanon. It was that bad in Lebanon when I was two-thirds finished at my university. I’m only 36 years old. It is not ancient history.

If Geagea and Jumblatt give the orders to fight, you’re really screwed. All of Lebanon will be screwed. They, personally, have given orders to fight before. And their orders were carried out. If I were you, I would quit while I was “ahead” and not mess with them anymore.

You don’t have to live with Israelis. But you do have to live with Lebanese. What you do affects them, and your “resistance” means they get killed, too. They don’t want to be “martyred.” They’re trying to get something productive done in Lebanon, and you guys are running around the south like a street gang with a foreign policy.

Some Americans like to egg these people on. They want to see the rest of Lebanon rise up and resolve the Hezbollah problem once and for all. That is my Lebanese nightmare. You know as well as I do how bottomlessly dark a place Lebanon is when it breaks.

If Lebanon explodes again, as it did in 1975, don’t expect the international community to come in and save you. Hardly anyone will want to go there after what happened last time and after what’s happening now in Iraq. Lebanon will be dismissed as a terminally deranged country, another Gaza, another Somalia, another nation murdered by hate.

I’m impressed with the political progress made since 1991. Most Lebanese really do want to put that behind them. For various reasons, though, your group is the last to progress and figure out that violence will not solve your problems. Whether you realize it or not, and whether you want to or not, you are teaching your countrymen that they may have taken the gun out of politics too quickly.

Believe it or not, I wish you well and hope you find a way to make peace with your country and with your neighbors.

UPDATE: The discussion continues in the comments (of course), and it is more civil today than it was yesterday.

“I Need Some Mental Help is What I Need”

Evan Coyne Maloney crashes Joe Lieberman’s campaign headquarters with video camera in hand, demanding that they help him get Joe’s too-catchy theme song out of this head. Hilarity ensues.

For the Record

From Lebanon’s Naharnet.

U.N. experts have found no evidence to support a press report that Israel used depleted uranium (DU) munitions during its July-August offensive on Lebanon, the U.N. Environment Programme has said.

“The samples taken by the UNEP scientists show no evidence of penetrators or metal made of DU or other radioactive material,” UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said in a statement in Nairobi Monday.

“In addition, no DU shrapnel, or other radioactive residue was found. The analysis of all smear samples taken shows no DU, nor enriched uranium nor higher than natural uranium content in the samples.”

In October, the British daily The Independent said samples of soil taken from two bomb craters in Lebanon showed high radiation levels, suggesting that uranium-based munitions had been used.

UPDATE: As it turns out, Robert Fisk made the original hysterical bullshit claim. Big shocker, that. It could have been an innocent mistake, in theory. Fog of war, and all that. But Fisk makes his living off hysterical bullshit claims. So he gets no pass. If I believed half of what that man writes about Israel and America, I’d hate us too. (Thanks to Charles Malik in the comments.)

UPDATE: Hezbollah showed up in the comments. O joy.

The Case Against Killing Saddam Hussein

Christopher Hitchens says don’t kill Saddam. I argued with him about this in Washington last year, and he very nearly convinced me. He very nearly convinces me now.

Darkness Everywhere

“This is the new Middle East. Not the new Middle East of Ms [Condoleezza] Rice. Darkness everywhere.” — Lebanese Druze chief Walid Jumblatt, August 2006

Syrian soldiers occupied Lebanon the first time I went to Beirut. They left before I did, as I figured they would. The Lebanese project was the best thing going in the Middle East at the time. Baghdad was burning. But look at Beirut! Modern. Prosperous. Liberal. Arab. And free.

Bashar Assad threatened to “break Lebanon” if his troops were forced out the country. A wave of car bombs, assassinations, terrorism, and sectarian incitement began immediately.

But there was a lull there for a while. Only one person, An Nahar newspaper editor Gebran Tueni, was assassinated during my six month stay. Assad’s terror campaign didn’t work. Little did most of us know that a terrible war hatched in Tehran and Damascus was gearing up at that time. It looked like Israel was the target, but make no mistake: Lebanon was targeted, too. The Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah war against Israel isn’t over. And the Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah war against Lebanon is not over either.

BEIRUT: Washington warned of “mounting evidence” Wednesday that Iran, Syria and Hizbullah are “preparing plans to topple” the Lebanese government. White House spokesman Tony Snow said in a statement that “support for a sovereign, democratic and prosperous Lebanon is a key element of US policy in the Middle East.”

“We are therefore increasingly concerned by mounting evidence that the Syrian and Iranian governments, Hizbullah and their Lebanese allies are preparing plans to topple Lebanon’s democratically elected government, led by Prime Minister [Fouad] Siniora,” Snow added.

“Any attempt to destabilize Lebanon’s democratically elected government through such tactics as manufactured demonstrations and violence, or by physically threatening its leaders, would, at the very least, be a clear violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty” and UN resolutions, he said.

Hizbullah’s leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, warned late Tuesday that Hizbullah and its allies will take to the streets “for as long as it takes … to either topple the government or hold early and new parliamentary elections,” if consultations to form a national unity government should fail.

The Syrian ambassador to the US said this is “ridiculous.” Pay him no mind. He also said “We, in Syria, respect the sovereignty of Lebanon.” Syria won’t open an embassy in Lebanon. That would force the Baathists to admit that Lebanon does not belong to them.

Street demonstrations by Hezbollah may not sound like that big a deal. Street demonstrations are a part of the democratic process, after all. They certainly are preferable to a coup or a violent insurgency.

Hezbollah, though, is a terrorist army as well as a political party. We’re not talking about a Free Mumia rally or a Million Mom March here.

Nasrallah is threatening “street demonstrations” because the state won’t reward his minority Hezbollah bloc with more power in a “national unity” government. They lost the election, but Nasrallah thinks that shouldn’t count. They “won” against Israel. That’s what he thinks should count.

Most Lebanese fear and loathe Hezbollah precisely because they fear Nasrallah points his guns at Beirut and Tel Aviv at the same time. Nasrallah’s current belligerence proves they’re correct.

Lebanon’s Defense Minister Elias Murr — who luckily survived an assassination attempt last year — takes seriously Nasrallah’s threat to flood downtown with angry Hezbollah supporters from the dahiyeh and the south. He deployed 20,000 troops of his own into the streets of Beirut. Beirut is less than three miles wide. You can walk across downtown in five minutes. Imagine 20,000 troops in that small an area.

Lebanese Forces political party leader Samir Geagea says if protests degenerate into riots “we will be there to back up the security forces anywhere and we put ourselves under their command.”

They are right to be worried. Recent “street demonstrators” in Beirut burned the Danish embassy and violently tore apart the U.N. building downtown. Shortly afterward someone fired rockets at a nightclub across the street from the U.N., most likely to demonstrate that even the most “secure” part of the city built and all but owned by the Hariri clan can be assaulted with impunity by shadowy forces. During the war against Israel Nasrallah threatened his political opponents with violence. Defense Minister Murr would be derelict in his duty if he did not send in the army. Even Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, Nasrallah’s closest Lebanese ally, is worried now about what Hezbollah will do.

The Israelis may have temporarily depleted Hezbollah’s arsenal stock, but it makes little difference. Syria and Iran are arming them all over again. (For God’s sake, didn’t the Israelis know that would happen?)

Someone most likely from the Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah axis attacked an army barracks with hand grenades twice in the last three weeks. Charles Malik says sectarian clashes are a routine occurrence and are rarely mentioned in local or international media. I’ve received anecdotal messages by email that suggest this may be the case.

If Israel is almost back to Square One — they’re at Square Two at best — Lebanon is at Square Negative Three.

British military historian John Keegan says another war in Lebanon is inevitable. I fear he must be right. The last one, in hindsight, was inevitable. I should have known that at the time when I went to the Hezbollah dahiyeh south of Beirut. Their state-within-a-state reeks of fascism, terrorism, and war. The next round is just as inevitable as the last one. Hezbollah was finally thrown off the fence, but none of the war’s principle causes have been resolved.

There’s a case to be made that Lebanon is at war even now, not only with Israel and Syria but with itself. As Bart Hall put it at Winds of Change: “Peace is the absence of threat not the absence of conflict.”

Saddam Sentenced to Hang

Saddam Hussein has been sentenced to death by hanging for crimes against humanity. He is also on trial, separately, for genocide against Kurds.

I’m against the death penalty, almost categorically. But not in this case. Anyone who has murderous fans running loose in the streets is dangerous even in a cage.

I hope they put his execution on TV. I might even watch.

My Last Domestic Politics Post of the Election Season

Yesterday my conventionally liberal wife spoke to the leftist minister who married us a few years ago.

“Shelly?” Joe said and sighed.

“Joe?” Shelly said.

“What are we going to do about John Kerry?” he said.

Iran’s “Nuclear Facilities” Open to Tourists

The Iranian regime is just brilliant. Taking their cue from the Soviet Union’s “potemkin village” tours, they have just opened their nuclear facilities to tourist groups.

Under a scheme to encourage more tourists to visit the country, a tourism official in this western province on Tuesday announced that visas may now be issued through the Internet starting Tuesday (today).

Iran Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization (ICHHTO) Deputy Mohammad-Sharif Malekzadeh told IRNA on the sidelines of a local gathering here that tourists from any country of the world may now apply for and receive visas to enter Iran via the Internet.

He said that the process of visa issuance will be carry out through an Internet site recently opened.

Malekzadeh said the scheme has been made possible through a clear order of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who last month invited foreigners to come and see Iran’s nuclear sites.

Nuclear tours are now part of the country’s tourist attraction program and foreign scientists, elites and intellectuals can visit these sites anywhere in the country anytime, said the official.

He added that various foreign groups, including a group of British tourists, have so far announced their desire to joint tours to Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Absolutely brilliant. Some people might actually be convinced by this scheme. Plenty have been fooled into believing Iran is a “democracy.”

What do you think? Should I pretend to be a “useful idiot” and tour Iran’s nuclear facilities? (The ones they let tourists, see, that is.) It should be fun interviewing people who choose this for their next holiday.

Should I go on Iran’s Propaganda Tour?
Yes
No, go somewhere else in Iran
No, go back to Beirut and South Lebanon instead
No, go to Baghdad instead
No, go to Afghanistan instead
Free polls from Pollhost.com

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