Weekend Reading

I’ll have more original material from Lebanon on Monday, material that got put into deep freeze for too long. In the meantime, Alan Johnson interviewed Paul Berman for Democratiya. It’s loooooong, but it’s the weekend, so read the whole thing.

People with views like mine tried to say, ‘OK, Bush is screwing things up, and we must warn against what might be the results. But, meanwhile, we want to propose actions of our own. We don’t want to just say “no.”‘ In Terror and Liberalism I tried to revive the idea of Leon Blum, the French socialist, from the 1940s. He proposed what in the US would be called cold-war liberalism, but was in his case cold war socialism – my grandfather’s position, by the way. Blum wanted to resist the Communists but he wanted to do it from the left not the right, in the belief that a leftwing opposition was bound to be more effective. Therefore he supported the socialists, and the social democrats, and the trade unionists, and he opposed Communism by being in favour of democratic reforms. My effort in Terror and Liberalism was to revive that sort of idea, in regard to the Ba’athism and Islamism of our own time. People who criticised this idea described it as a ‘liberalism for Bush,’ but that was never the idea.

In our version of the Third Force we recognised that the Bush administration was not going about things correctly, and so we called for an alternative. Totalitarian movements are fundamentally ideological movements — they are driven by ideas. The ideas they are driven by are modern ideas, even if they are presented as exotic and are clothed in seventh century Muslim robes. If the ideas are modern we can argue against them, just as we could argue against fascists and communists. Winning the argument is actually the only victory that can be obtained. We are facing a mass movement with a huge number of adherents. There is no way we can defeat such a movement with Police or Military force. The only way to defeat such a movement is to convince its adherents and sympathisers, and potential sympathisers, that the ideas of that movement are wrong and ought to be abandoned in favour of better ideas. Now this sounds preposterous to some people who can’t imagine that anything can be won by force of persuasion. But what finally caused Communism to collapse was that the Communists themselves recognised that they were wrong and that their own ideas were not worth defending.

In the present case it’s more difficult still because these movements are not dependent on states, and the ideas can be held by people in civil society. The possibility of crushing these movements by force does not exist. We have to win by persuasion. That means the central thing that should be going on is a war of ideas – even if, at times, there is also a need for a war of weapons.

The left and the intellectuals in the Western countries ought to throw themselves into these debates and criticisms. But look what has happened. The left, in its great majority, has remained unengaged. It conducts itself as if the only struggle is between Bush and his enemies. You can see this in the last couple of months in the rise of tensions over the Iranian nuclear programme. The more Ahmadinejad threatened to obliterate Israel and build nuclear weapons the more people around the world wrote about…Bush! ‘Oh, no! What is Bush going to do?’ As if the problem here was Bush! Bush may well be a problem, but the first problem has surely got to be Ahmadinejad. A great campaign should arise to persuade the Iranians and their supporters not to think along these lines. And this is what should have been done with the Islamists and the Ba’athists. But it has not been done.

The crucial place for this war of ideas, by the way, is Europe. In so much of the Arab world, and Iran, it is very difficult to have a serious debate because the conditions don’t exist. In Europe they do. And in Europe there is a vast Arab and Muslim population. In fact many of the deep underlying ideas of radical Islamism, Ba’athism, and radical Pan-Arabism were European ideas to begin with. Not all of the ideas, but some of the crucial ones. So the debate should be taking place in London and Paris and Berlin and Madrid. It should be a very forceful debate. We see a right-wing version of it in which there is prejudice and racism against Muslims and against an ancient and noble religion, Islam – which only bolsters the Ba’athist and Islamist arguments. But the left-wing antitotalitarian contribution to this debate we hardly see. It’s like a unilateral disarmament on the part of the liberal left and the intellectuals has taken place.

Bush isn’t going to do it. He does not want to do it and even if he did, he does not have the talent. It should be done on the left. It should be done by us engaging our fellow thinkers in the Arab and Muslim world (who are becoming ever more visible) and by arguing against the various champions of what I call the Muslim totalitarian idea in its different forms. A Third Force should put its greatest emphasis on that. Military actions and police actions may well be necessary. But they should be put in their place. They are ultimately less important than this battle of ideas.

Totalitarian movements have regularly been greeted by the blindness to which liberalism is prone, and even by apologetics. Hitler, and not just Stalin, had his apologists. Without these apologists neither one of those dictators would have been able to get as far as he did. And what we are seeing now is something exactly parallel. There are only a few screwballs defending Al Qaeda, or Zarqawi in Iraq, or applauding Saddam. But the people who really matter are those (many more numerous) who find some way to say either that these totalitarian movements are normal, natural, rational, or, in any case, that they should be ignored because we should focus our attention on defeating Bush. In these ways, the adherents of the totalitarian movements are not given much opposition and sometimes are even given a back-handed support. So, naturally, the movements prosper.

Alan Johnson : In the meantime, the Muslin democrats who desperately need our support are often ignored. There are very few solidarity movements with the beleaguered Muslim democrats.

Paul Berman: Exactly. And you and I both know that there is nothing more fashionable than to look at some Iraqi liberal democrat and sneer.

UPDATE: Nouri, the Moor Next Door, adds in the comments:

That bottom exchange is so true. I have observed this many times. For instance, I live about 5 minutes away form Yale University by foot, and most book stores in town are frequented by Yalis. I was at the Yale Barnes and Noble one day and overheard a discussion about Islam and democracy and women between several students, one was wearing a keffiyeh the others were average looking college students. The keffiyeh wearing one went and on about how Arabs are mad because they’re not united (ha!) and the other nodded noting that Muslim women are not oppressed at all and how culture is relative. I approached them and asked where they got this drivel (more like “Who told you this?”) and they said it was obvious from how Arabs have flocked to Iraq, and that pan Arabism is alive and well, blah, and how they heard it (gasp!) from their professor. I said that I, as an “Arab” did not agree and they basically began to yell at me, “no” “no” “no”. The one in the keffiyeh called me a “fake Arab” because I was not some semi-totalitarian Baathist. I challenged the idea that Arabs “don’t want democracy” using classic liberal arguments, to which they responded were “right wing junk”. I told them that Saddam was a prick, that he was a thug, a creton, and that he disrespected minority and majority rights. They wouldn’t have it, because you know, Saddam’s regime handed out PhDs like there was no tomorrow. I have an aunt (in law) that works at the State Department who tells me that this attitude is really prevelent among diplomats and analists because they deal mainly with elites that are hostile to any sort of democratization. It’s a real bougie type of attitude, that I still don’t fully understand.

Hang On

I’m coming back soon, I promise. When I get here I’ll have a story from the Lebanese mountains. I intended to publish it months ago but it got bumped and put into cold storage. You will, I hope, find it entertaining as well as revealing of a certain mindset.

In the meantime, here is something from the AP worth noting:

BAGHDAD, Iraq – American and Iraqi forces have carried out 452 raids since last week’s killing of terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and 104 insurgents were killed during those actions, the U.S. military said Thursday.

Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said the raids were carried out nationwide and led to the discovery of 28 significant arms caches.

He said 255 of the raids were joint operations, while 143 were carried out by Iraqi forces alone. The raids also resulted in the captures of 759 “anti-Iraqi elements.”


I have been dealing with non-stop Middle East related bureaucracy for two days (even at four in the morning, for God’s sake) and I’m mentally exhausted. It has just been one of those weeks so far. Can’t blog properly. Sorry.

This partly explains my lazy post yesterday, written in haste as filler. Now you get this thrilling post as filler part two. (Is filler better than nothing? I don’t know. Maybe!)

I do have more Middle East material from my notebooks that never got turned into proper articles. As soon as I am able to recharge myself I’ll see what I can do with it.

If you feel like hanging out in the comments section lounge, consider this an open thread. Just be nice to your fellow humans. I don’t need any blog world screaming today. And neither does anyone else, really. It’s bad for you.

Okay, So I Guess He Existed

A few days ago I was invited on to a radio show to discuss the hit on Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. I tentatively agreed to be interviewed with the caveat that I had visited parts of Iraq where Zarqawi used to live and, um, work, but that I have never been to the places Zarqawi had terrorized lately. I didn’t want to be asked any questions from an interviewer who thought I knew more than anyone else who followed the Zarqawi story from far away.

Some people are experts, but I’m not. Thing is, neither are some of the experts. Some “experts” have a real command of the factoids but have a hard time with the basics.

Take Juan Cole, for example. He’s supposed to know everything, at least compared with those of us who can’t read Farsi (etc.). But he recently said he doubted Zarqawi even existed. (See also here.)

IraqPundit, an Iraqi living in exile, sends him up:

In the wake of the news that Zarqawi had been killed, something that everybody on all sides agreed was accurate, Cole seem to have decided that previous to his death, Zarqawi must have existed after all.

I did not have to visit red zone Iraq to know that Zarqawi existed. Some things you can just trust. I never trusted the existence of Zarqawi quite the same way I trusted the existence of, say, Nebraska. But it never occured to me that Zarqawi might be the Loch Ness Monster or the Bigfoot of the Terror War.

Lebanese-Israeli Dialogue

Quite a few Lebanese and Israelis have been arguing amongst themselves in my comments section. I’m happy to host this discussion, and I want to encourage more of it. It doesn’t take place nearly often enough (thanks to reactionary laws against such “fraternizing” behavior), and I think many mainstream Lebanese and Israelis would discover they are natural allies if this could somehow continue on a mass scale and it certain outstanding issues could be resolved.

Considering that the two peoples are still formally at war with each other I’m impressed with the quality of dialogue – especially considering how hyserical and extreme so many people are about the Arab-Israeli conflict in general. (I know of no subject in this world more likely to make an otherwise reasonable and intelligent person plunge head-first into a fever swamp than this one.) The arguments here are considerably more civil and worth reading than, say, the vast majority of arguments in the blogosphere between liberal and conservative Americans. Whether this speaks well of the Lebanese and Israelis here, or whether it reflects badly on the abysmal quality of American political discourse, I’ll leave for you to decide.

Anyway, I’d like to republish a letter to Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah (it first appeared in Beirut’s Daily Star) that Lebanese blogger Lira posted in my comments section for Israelis to read. I find that Lebanese public opinion too often gets unfairly lumped in with the unhinged points of view found far more often in the West Bank, Gaza, Egypt, and Syria. Americans (and Israelis?) left and right still have a hard time believing that Hezbollah has been marginalized by the majority. Hopefully this will help. If you don’t believe me, listen to them.

Dear Mr. Nasrallah,

I am a Lebanese citizen with no affiliation to any political party.

What have I done for Lebanon: I have served for 18 months on two World Bank & IMF development projects aimed at restructuring the Lebanese State Administration.

I have no relations with any embassies or ambassadors.I have no relations with Israel nor with any Western country.

I hope that my credentials fit the profile of whom you deem acceptable to criticize the Hezbollah.

Mr. Nasrallah, I would like to tell you that myself and thousands of other Lebanese do not believe that in 2005 with all that has happened in Lebanon from 1975, we do not believe that violence is the best solution with an entity like Israel.

We would like to ask you to refrain from trying to capture any individual, be it a civilian or a military, be it an Israeli, a Westerner or anyone for that matter.

We understand the plight that we have with Israel’s detaining of several Lebanese prisoners, we are facing the same with Syria which is politically detaining many Lebanese in its jails. We however do not believe in kidnapping Syrian soldiers or civilians to force the Syrian government to release the Lebanese that it detains. We know that such a move will bring severe military and economic retaliation from the Syrians and prefer to act in peaceful and diplomatic venues.

We hope that you understand that doing the same with an entity like Israel will cause severe military and economic backlash to the whole of the Lebanese Republic. I must stress also that our demands should cover Lebanese citizens per se, since nationals of other Arab countries should be recovered by their own governments, would you not agree? Would you not agree that Lebanon, as a small country, should relatively follow up on his own citizens and that other Arab nations which are stronger and more resourceful, that they should seek to get back their own nationals? Where is their duty towards them?

It is good to know that your orders are coming from Beirut, but are they coming from the Lebanese Republic? Are they coming from Mr. Sanioura or from the Commander of the Lebanese Army? If so, the Lebanese Army is never issuing any statements on your operations, they never claim to coordinate with you on your attacks, who is issuing your orders in Beirut?

We do not believe that the Syrian Baathist regime “freed” us from occupation. In fact more than 1.5 Million people believe that the Syrian army was occupying us.

We would like to remind you that International Law is above everyone. That the United Nations, while far from being perfect, are still the one and only institution recognized by all countries of the world, including Iran and Syria that are both cooperating with the UN on a number of issues.

We understand your enmity with Israel but could not accept the fact that you call death to the United States of America. You can show your hostility and disagreement with the policies of the United States Government but for the sake of international accountability, do not call for death on any country on our behalf or in the streets of our beautiful country who has given you the freedom of speech.

While the world is not perfect Mr. Nasrallah, we Lebanese deserve to live in peace after all this time. Your weapons and your aggressive policies are preventing us from doing so.

We do not believe that you are able to defend the country against a major Israeli offensive.

We do not believe that you are able to prevent Israel from destroying Lebanese infrastructure.

We do not believe in your claim that the Shebaa Farms are Lebanese.

Please respect our diverging points of view and refrain from using any military means that should be limited to the Lebanese National Army. We would highly appreciate it if you could comply to Lebanese laws and hand your weapons to the Lebanese authorities.

Thank you

I should add an update so she won’t get pounced on in the comments. I asked her why she criticized Nasrallah’s “Death to America” slogan but not his “Death to Israel” slogan. Here is her answer:

I am a supporter of a 2-state solution in Palestine; my own convictions about whether the state of Israel is rightfull or not will not influence my decision to have peace with this country, this is what’s best for Lebanon and we need to communicate with the Israelis in order to reach such a solution.

Criticizing the “death to Israel” slogans would also have been too much in a reply such as mine tipping the balance to a pro-Israel article that would be viewed negatively by many readers at a moment where the memory of Israel’s crimes in Lebanon is still very vivid in their memories.

America has not and is not administering death to Lebanon in the same manner Israel did and still are in some sense. Regardless of the views of Hezbollah militants, they remain Lebanese and I understand where they come from while being a staunch critic of many of their antics. The leadership of HA and its allegiance to the Syrian and Iranian regimes is an entirely different ballgame.

Finally, maybe when Israel’s name and existence stops being so synonymous of death and violence, I might criticize those who call “death to america” in the same manner than those who say “death to israel”….the intensity of objection is different.

Lest you think Lira represents only a miniscule minority of public opinion in Lebanon, here are some things to consider:

In a online poll at the Web site of the Free Patriotic Movement (the most popular Christian movement in Lebanon, but also fairly inclusive of disgruntled Shia who can’t stomach the Amal and Hezbollah parties), 78 percent voted for peace with Israel under certain conditions.

In another online poll at the Web site of the Future Movement (the most popular Sunni political party in Lebanon headed by Saad Hariri), respondents answered this way on the question of peace with Israel:

Yes and Now: 34.38 percent

Yes but after israel get out of shebaa valleys: 37.50 percent

Yes but after palestinian case is solved: 12.50 percent

No peace with Israel: 6.25 percent

Israel should be erased from the world: 9.38 percent

These polls are obviously not scientific. But I think they show that Lebanese public opinion isn’t some monolithic anti-Zionist hate machine. Dialogue with Lebanese is possible. One of these days it can and probably will take place beyond the comments section of blogs.

In the Footsteps of Zarqawi – From the Archives

While Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is still just barely in the news cycle for the last time in human history, here’s a piece of mine from the archives (in case you missed it) where I followed his footsteps to Biara, Iraq: Zarqawi Was Here.

Mister Zarqawi, He Dead

The world reacts:

Zoloft Pony: “Two 500lb bombs right on his safe house. NOT SO SAFE NOW, IS IT, BITCH?!”

Roger L. Simon: “Goodbye, good riddance, you human nightmare!”

Atrios: “I’m supposed to give the obligatory “YAY USA!” cheer here, but while it’s good to get the bad guys I don’t really think it’s going to improve much. Hopefully I’m wrong.”

Christopher Hitchens: “Zarqawi contributed enormously to the wrecking of Iraq’s experiment in democratic federalism. He was able to help ensure that the Iraqi people did not have one single day of respite between 35 years of war and fascism, and the last three-and-a-half years of misery and sabotage. He chose his targets with an almost diabolical cunning, destroying the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad (and murdering the heroic envoy Sérgio Vieira de Melo) almost before it could begin operations, and killing the leading Shiite Ayatollah Hakim outside his place of worship in Najaf. His decision to declare a jihad against the Shiite population in general, in a document of which Weaver (on no evidence) doubts the authenticity, has been the key innovation of the insurgency: applying lethal pressure to the most vulnerable aspect of Iraqi society. And it has had the intended effect, by undermining Grand Ayatollah Sistani and helping empower Iranian-backed Shiite death squads. Not bad for a semiliterate goon and former jailhouse enforcer from a Bedouin clan in Jordan.”

Will Collier: “Rest in pieces.”

Loast at Fark.com: “Ok, so I’m a communist totally opposed to the US foreign policies at the moment with the exception of genuine humanitarian aid. BUT, Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi was a farkin’ animal. Murderer, reactionary, fanatic, what you will. Good riddance, that man was a cold blooded killer with no allegiance but his own cult. No shedding tears over a cold-blooded psychopath with hints of a messiah complex. That is, if he really is dead, which is only what the US states, and we all know how truthful those bastards are.”

Scorpinoc at Fark.com: “How about we start a “head on pike” collection in the White House mens room? One head on a pike per urinal. Get some video of the US Presidential staff pissing on the heads of dead terrorists and circulate that through the middle east.”

Caller on the Diane Rhem Show, in tears: “I woke up this morning and learned my country had dropped a bomb on someone’s head….”

Tony Blair: “Every day we hear of the death toll through the fomenting of civil strife: a campaign of murder, and kidnapping and brutality — all of it designed to stifle Iraqi democracy at birth, and al-Zarqawi was its most vicious prosecutor.”

Iraqi blogger Hammorabi: “There were celebrations going on now in the holly city of Najaf and Kerbala. On the other hands there are sadness and shock among his allies in the region and abroad like Al-Jazeera Qatari TV and other Arab pro-terrorists thugs.”

Official statement of Hamas, ie the Palestinian government: “With hearts full of faith, Hamas commends brother-fighter Abu Musab … who was martyred at the hands of the savage crusade campaign which targets the Arab homeland, starting in Iraq.”

MarcC in my comments section: “To paraphrase Jacques Chirac, Hamas missed a perfect opportunity to shut up, when they instead publicly mourned the death of Zarqawi at the hands of the savage crusader campaign aimed at the Arab heartland. And just when everybody was starting to forget the image of the Palestinian fatmas flashing V signs and tossing candies on 9/11. What a bunch of assholes.”

Beirut Daily Star Editorial: “In what now appears to have been his last audiotape, he unleashed a torrent of slurs against Shiites, hopefully revealing to a great many Iraqi Sunnis that his real purpose was not their welfare but rather their cousins’ subjugation and extermination. Without the presence of Zarqawi as a driving force for the perpetual acceleration of the conflict, it might be possible to engage hard-line Sunnis and convince them that their best interests lie in seeking an acceptable compromise that would permit all Iraqis to at last put conflict behind them and get on with the business of rebuilding their shattered country.”

One of Big Pharoah’s Egyptian Colleagues: “Man it’s all a conspiracy. The Americans killed him after he became useless to them. Just like Saddam.”

Egyptian Sandmonkey: “Ding Dong the asshole is dead! Zarqa is dead (He got killed on 6/6/06 nonetheless, anyone else noticed that?). The bloodthirsty Jihady fuckhead is no more, and is hopefully rotting in hell as we speak! Good-bye douchebag, it couldn’t have happend to a more appropriate person!”

Karim Elsahy, One Arab World: “Death aint never been prettier.”

Nouri Lumendifi, The (Algerian) Moor Next Door: “Is it bad that I am happy?”

Got the Motherfucker

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is dead.


UPDATE: A Kurdish Iraqi friend sent me the following email from Erbil.

Yes, Zarqawi was killed and sent to the dustbin of history…

Congratulations to all the Iraqi people…

Congratulations to the families of Zarqawi victims, civilians, children, Iraqi army and police…

Congratulations to the families of the fallen brave American GIs and multinational forces helping transfer Iraq from dictatorship to democracy…

Congratulations to all the gallant Peshmerga forces who are actively participating in hunting down Al-Qaeda and Zarqawi’s mercenaries…

Congratulations to all freedom and peace lovers all over the world…

To hell Mr. Zarqawi …

May Bin Laden be next…Amen…

“They Call Us Cockroaches”

I mentioned before that I interviewed Hezbollah’s Mohammad Afif in the suburbs south of Beirut and that he had almost nothing to say that wasn’t boilerplate propaganda. It was boring and useless and I saw no point in publishing it. But he did say two interesting things. The first I quoted here. And here is the second:

I asked him what he thought of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, Zarqawi’s head-chopping mosque-burning faction in Iraq. I knew he would condemn them, of course, but I didn’t expect to find his condemnation convincing.

But I did, as it turned out, find his condemnation convincing.

“We hate them,” he said. “They call us cockroaches and murder our people.”

It’s hard to think he came up with that answer just to assuage me. Hezbollah is Arab and Shia just as many of Zarqawi’s victims in Iraq are.

Mohammad Afif’s opposition to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is instinctive. Nouri Lumendifi, an Algerian Shia who blogs at The Moor Next Door, is a little more (actually, a lot more) liberal and thoughtful about it. “I hate Islamists,” he says. And then he says more.

UPDATE: From Instapundit:

HEZBOLLAH hates Zarqawi. Overall, his popularity seems rather low.

UPDATE: And Zarqawi hates Hezbollah!

Is it just me, or is the Middle East a lot like 7th Grade with RPGs?

It’s also a bit like a loony bin with RPGs. I mean, for God’s sake, Zarqawi is accusing Hezbollah of being a cover for Israel. He would be hilarious if he weren’t a psychopath.

UPDATE: Got the motherfucker. He’s dead.

“Face to Face with My Occupier”

There are more closeted Israel-supporters in Lebanon than you think. (And by “supporter” I don’t mean Zionist partisans, but those who want the cold Lebanese/Israeli war to end and a normalization of relations.) I met quite a few in Beirut, two of whom were – counterintuitively – Shia, the most vehemently anti-Israel sect in Lebanon. There might be even more on (Maronite Christian) Mount Lebanon, but I didn’t look for them there so I don’t actually know.

That said, Israel is emphatically not the average Lebanese citizen’s favorite country. I find the prevailing attitude about Israel in Lebanon painfully reactionary. It’s treason to wave hello to an Israeli civilian on the border, for instance, and you cross a “red line” by even having this conversation in public.

Still, having said that, Lebanese do not think of Israel and Israelis the way people in other Arabic-speaking countries do. There is relatively little of the Jew-hating poison typical of Egypt in Lebanon. I did not hear a single Lebanese say they wish to destroy Israel utterly, although I know some do think that. (I never heard anyone say they wish to destroy Syria, either, and probably none of them want to.) Most Lebanese, at least most of those I talked to and argued with about this, ground their grievances in what Israel actually did and does rather than in anti-Semitic hallucinations. (“The Joooos sent us the AIDS virus” is a popular one in Egypt.)

The Lebanese do have a case. (Most Israelis are themselves well aware that the invasion and occupation of Lebanon was a disaster for everyone involved.) There isn’t much sympathy for this point of view in the U.S., partly I think because Americans assume the Lebanese point of view is akin to that of Hamas and the Iranian mullahs. But it isn’t, and I think their point of view (whether you can ultimately sympathize with it or not) should be understood for what it is rather than imagined as something else.

Perpetual Refugee is still writing about his clandestine visits to Israel as a Lebanese citizen. In his latest essay on this subject he writes about meeting a former Israeli soldier who was stationed in Lebanon.

Here I was. Staring at him. Face to face with my occupier.

There he was. Staring at me. Face to face with his sniper.

Go read. And try to understand. Understand how raw and traumatized Lebanese people still are, not only from their rough encounters with Israeli soldiers but from their rough encounters with each other. Understand how contact with average Israelis can soothe that trauma, just as contact with former internal enemies in the post-war era soothed the trauma of their civil war. That’s one reason among many the border needs to be open and the “treason” laws need to be scrapped. Everyone involved in that conflict, foreign as well as local, needs to make their peace with it so it doesn’t start up again. That war ended 16 years ago. But it reverberates more powerfully in present-day Lebanon than the wider Arab-Israeli conflict, with which it should not be confused.

(I should point out that Perpetual Refugee’s essays are getting a very favorable response from both Lebanese and Israelis. See the comments thread.)

Why Hezbollah Circles the Drain

Lebanese reader Omega80 left a comment here that deserves to be promoted to the front page since the problem of Hezbollah has come up again. He does an excellent job explaining how they are viewed by most Lebanese today and why. He says he’s going to tell you how it is. And I agree with him. This is pretty much how it is.

For all those that want to know, i’m going to tell you how it is:

Most Lebanese, I included, supported Hezbollah to a certain extent up until Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000. For a while after that we also felt that maybe Hezbollah should stay armed, just in case. However, it has been 6 years since Israel withdrew from Lebanon, at it is quite aparent that they will leave us alone as long as we leave them alone.

On top of that, with the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon more than a year ago, new forces came into play. Namely, the fact that Hezbollah is a sectarian group that is armed, the only group in Lebanon that is armed. Thus, it is not about Israel anymore, but rather, about internal Lebanese dynamics, namely, that one community armed while others aren’t tips the delicate balance in Lebanon’s confessional system.

Since having all groups armed is not the way to create a country, and we all have seen the effects of this, the only solution is for Hezbollah to disarm. Israel will leave us alone as long as we leave them alone, so that aspect is covered. Now mind you, that’s not to say that Israel is not a threat, however, any disarmament of Hezbollah would go hand in hand with security guarantees from the U.N. and the U.S. that Israel will not bother Lebanon anymore.

The fact of the matter is that Hezbollah is going to disarm sometime down the road, sooner rather than later. The only other alternative in the long term is civil conflict in Lebanon again. Everyone is being patient now because they KNOW that Hezbollah will disarm. However, if it does become fact that Hezbollah is not going to disarm, over the long term other Lebanese groups and communities will eventually do the same to rectify the balance. Also, we all know that Syria would want nothing other than to see a civil war in Lebanon again, as a prelude to them reasserting themselves in the country.

However, even Shias in Lebanon would not be willing to have another Civil War in Lebanon just so they could stay armed, because that means more death, destruction, and poverty for them as well. To put it in basic terms, everyone in Lebanon wants Hezbollah disarmed except Syrian stooges and Hezbollah themselves. That includes right wing Maronites, left wing Maronites, socialist Druze, urban Sunni, and many Shia as well.

22nd Century Arabia

I did not meet a single person, foreign or expat, in Beirut who has been to Dubai and had much nice to say about it. Most described it as a culture- and history-free shopping mall on the Gulf, an Arab Las Vegas which can’t hold up to Beirut’s authenticity. Maybe they’re right. I don’t know. I haven’t been there. But check out what the skyline will look like after the Burj Dubai skyscraper, the soon-to-be tallest building in the entire world, is finished. (Hat tip: One Arab World.)

dubai tower.jpg

Big mall on the Gulf or not, that skyline looks like the 22nd Century. Heck, that could be a model city in a Star Trek movie. And Dubai has little oil. The place is built to last.

Michael Yon was there recently and was very impressed, although he did see it through Iraq-colored eyes. He had this to say, which is worth pointing out:

It was embarrassing when the United States erupted a month ago over the port security issue, and in so doing hurled insults at our friends in the UAE. I know nothing about port security and so cannot comment on that issue. I can, however, attest that the UAE is a strong, intelligent and reliable ally, very pro-West and pro-American, and before we reflexively stone our friends, it would be wise to remember that good friends are hard to find. It’s too bad no one in a position to know had the foresight to let the average American in on that. This is a part of the world most people know very little about, and the little they do know makes them anxious about knowing much more.

Our friends in the UAE want the Coalition efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan to succeed, and they are vocal about it. While much of the west, including many of our oldest allies, postures on about how the war on terror is a horrible mistake, the sentiment in the UAE is that it would be a horrible mistake not to face the facts about our common enemy, an enemy that might be just as happy to destroy the UAE as America. The people of the Emirates that I asked about the port security issue merely politely shrugged it off, but our loosely flung words did land here, with a big, dull thud…

There are not hundreds of giant cranes working in Dubai, but thousands. Where is all the money, water, and power coming from? What will happen a decade from now? Is this a bubble? I do not know. But I do know that the leaders here are thinking about and planning for a peaceful and prosperous future, a future not dependent on oil or war or terrorism.

Leave Beirut Out of It

Yesterday I wrote “The UN blames Lebanon for starting the latest round of fighting [on the Lebanese/Israeli border], which is dumb.” I am slightly surprised that only two people argued with me in the comments, but I’ll explain what I meant here in any case.

If the UN were somehow forced to blame either Lebanon or Israel for the recent clashes on the border, of course Lebanon should be blamed. Shots were fired from that side first. But Lebanon/Israel is a false dichotomy. Hezbollah physically exists within the borders of Lebanon. But Hezbollah’s capital is Tehran. Its sidekick capital is Damascus.

Lebanon is a sort-of democracy. It is also, in some ways, a failed state. As recently as 1990 it was the Somalia of the Levant. The government existed in name only. The country was carved into de-facto cantons ruled by local warlords and foreign occupation forces. Most Lebanese militias were disarmed at the start of the 1990s. But Israeli occupation forces remained in the south until 2000. Syrian occupation forces remained until 2005. Hezbollah, forged in Lebanon by Iran during the chaos of war, has yet to be disarmed despite the fact that most Lebanese fear and loathe them. Lebanon is not yet a sovereign country. The Beirut government has no writ in Hezbollah-occupied territory, and the military is not allowed to enter those regions. One of those two regions is the Lebanese/Israeli border. (The other is in the suburbs south of Beirut.)

Lebanon cannot disarm Hezbollah alone. Any attempt to do so will restart the civil war. And Hezbollah would win. It is insanely not in Lebanon’s interest to do this.

Hezbollah would win for a host of reasons. They are better armed. They are better trained. They are battle-hardened after slugging it out with the Israeli Defense Forces for years.

Lebanese army soldiers are bored conscripts who receive almost no training. Most would rather drink beer and chase girls than stand around all day at checkpoints and on street corners with machine guns trying to make Lebanon look like it’s an orderly place. (It isn’t.) The last thing they want to do is shoot at Lebanese and be shot at by Lebanese.

Hezbollah fighters are fanatics who can’t wait to die. They are supported by governments far more powerful than the one in Beirut. And they are supported by at least one government that is violently hostile to the one in Beirut.

The UN and the US brokered a ceasefire after Israel threatened to bomb Beirut if Hezbollah’s katyusha rocket attacks didn’t stop. I have my doubts that Israel would actually bomb Beirut. The IDF officer I spoke to in Israel knew full well that Beirut has no control over Hezbollah. But it’s not his decision, and I don’t know what his higher-ups know and don’t know. If the threat was an empty one designed to bring on a ceasefire, it worked. If Israel actually intended to bomb Beirut, the Middle East might get a lot more dangerous in the near future.

Most Lebanese supported Hezbollah when Israel occupied South Lebanon. They didn’t appreciate Israeli occupation any more than they appreciated Syrian occupation. Now that Israel is out, Hezbollah is rightly seen as a throwback to the hated era of war. The quickest way to undo that progress is to make the Lebanese people fear Israel more than they fear Hezbollah and Syria. Neither Israel nor Lebanon would benefit from that scenario. But it would suit Syria and Iran perfectly well.

It isn’t fair that Israel has to endure missile attacks because the Beirut government is too weak and divided against itself to take on Hezbollah. It isn’t Israel’s fault that the Lebanese army is a pipsqueaker compared with better-armed, better-trained, battle-hardened foreign agent militia. But that’s how it is. And that’s how it will be while the Baathists rule in Damascus and the mullahs rule in Tehran. If Israel must use military force against a foreign capital, rather than against Hezbollah directly and strictly, those are the addresses.

I Am Here

A year or so ago a number of people posted photos of the places in their homes where they blog. Here is the place where my posts are made when I’m not in a wi-fi café:


Photos can be odd. Somehow the disorganization on the bookshelves is more noticeable in this picture than in real life. (You can tell which books I’ve been reading because they’re stacked sideways.) My office looks smaller, too, although this is only one-fourth of it. And the wall color is off. Is it me, my camera, or does photography always distort interior rooms one way or another?

What Now?

Lebanon.Profile writes in my comments section:

You might want to blog for two months about quirks. They don’t have to be serious.

Remember trying to send the fax, find the post office, getting pulled over at the checkpoint by the cop who wanted to see your passport (that really upset me), your neighbors, conversations with Wissam, servis, Brooks, L’O (you really should have gotten pictures of that place – it would totally surprise your audience), Patchi (although, I don’t know if you remember heading over there during your first trip).

You really should write a post about all the oddball Westerners running around. Their strange need to live in Hezbollah occupied areas. Their complete lack of understanding of their milieu, and their anti-Christian sectarianism.

Most importantly, I think you should write a post on how you saw Lebanon change over the period you were there. Your understanding of the country increased greatly, but the country changed a lot: from 14 March spirit, to despondence, to building frenzies, to the party scene losing passion in coordination with political spirit.

He’s right that I could spend quite a lot of time writing about this sort of thing. Do you all want to read about it?

By the way, the Lebanese/Israeli border blew up again just as the Lebanese army and the IDF told me it would. The UN blames Lebanon for starting the latest round of fighting, which is dumb. If you’re going to blame a country for the behavior of locally despised street gangs with foreign policies (that would be Hezbollah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command), blame this one and this one.


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