Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Archive for October, 2006

“Murderous religions”… the article

Posted by worriedlebanese on 31/10/2006

figaro.jpgIn this weekend’s edition of the Figaro, Marc Dugain in his editorial comments on a book written by the former Israeli embassador to France Elie Barnavie titled “Religions meurtrières” (Murderous religions)…

The columnist doesn’t say much about the book. He only borrows form it a couple of ideas and refers to it in order to back his opinions. He doesn’t even try to present the book’s possible background that is most likely both European and Israeli, two very different settings.

In Europe, the whole religious issue is mostly raised by Muslim immigrants, or their offspring. Christians, Jews and people of other faiths are not really challenging the secular consensus. They have generally adapted to it, as it has often had to adapt and compromise with them. This is not due to any intrinsic quality that they share and that Islam lacks. It’s largely owes to their evolution in the same environment as secularism; they have interacted with it for centuries and they have probably marked it as much as it has marked them. For certain, this interaction was often highly confrontational and sometimes quite brutal (most of the violence coming from the secular side these past centuries). Nevertheless, western secularism and western religiosity have grow accustomed to each others and respect a certain consensus that gradually came about through compromises from both sides.

Islam was neither part of the consensus or the compromise for a very simple reason; it wasn’t evolving in the same environment as western secularism. That was also true for Muslim populations living within the western empires, for secularism was never exported to the colonies, quite the contrary, Republican France, for instance, was combating the Catholic Church and catholic education at home, and encouraging it in the colonies.Marc Dugain makes a very silly argument when he says that there is no Arabic equivalent to “laïcité”. Actually there is and it’s 3almanyyat. It might not have the same etymology as “laïcité”, but that’s not important. One must keep in mind that the French word has a religious history and past. It’s part of the catholic terminology that refers to laity. Does that make it less republican or secularist?

In Israel, the situation is quite different. The religious issue is not linked to recent emigration or a group that is still perceived as being foreign to the polity. Quite the contrary, the challenge is coming from one of the groups that were part of the national consensus. Most Jewish religious groups were part of the Zionist consensus. And several compromises were made to keep the consensus alive. But in the recent years, religious Jewish groups have been challenging the very ambiguous and particular secular consensus Israel enjoys. We notice a growing rift between secular and religious Jews on major political issues and a mounting radicalization of some religious groups (and some secular groups) as their numbers and support base expand. These religious groups are coming to represent roughly a third of the Israeli Jewish population.

Dugain’s text is actually quite horrific and it’s closer to an anticlerical republican pamphlet to anything else. He’s approach to science is dogmatic quasi-religious. He doesn’t seem to believe in scientific conjectures but of undisputed truths. He cannot refrain himself from sallying the Pope in his only reference to Catholicism. He even speaks of caricature when referring to Benedict XVI’s lecture in Regensburg and puts it on the same level as the scathing attacks against the Prophet Muhammad and Islam carried out by Robert Redeker in the Figaro last September. Why didn’t he bother to read the Pope’s lecture before referring to it?
But his worst argument (that he claims to borrow from Elie Barnavi) is that “what distinguishes Muslims is their inability to practice their faith in the long run outside the State”. What he is actually referring to completely escapes me. He unfortunately doesn’t expand on it.

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Posted in Identity, Israel, Politics, Religion, Secularism | Leave a Comment »

How to reconcile Lebanon’s mutliple faces

Posted by worriedlebanese on 30/10/2006

That’s what I call a million dollar question. Lucky Janus, he had only to faces to keep up with.

Here are a few of the most dominant (and attractive) faces Lebanon is showing these days. They are obviously clichés, contradictory, questionable in many ways. Each has its negative side (or is seen negatively by the proponents of another face and its audience), but they’re all true, especially when taker together.

Open & diverse society: multicultural, liberal, democratic, cultured, Mediterranean… This attracts a Western audience. It’s strongly promoted by a cultured and cosmopolitan Lebanese diaspora which is envolved in the cultural and intellectual scene with good links to the media. It is mostly based in France and other western cultural capitals (London, New York, Berlin…).

Home of the Resistance: radical, proud, critical, controversial, tough, revolutionary… In the 1970s its two stars were Yasser Arafat and Kamal Jumblatt. Today the role has been taken over by Hassan Nasrallah who has gained the respect and support of a much large audience than the other two. This face appeals to many different kinds of radical groups: antiwestern, islamists, antiglobalisation, radical leftists, ex-communists… 

The Nightclub: free, year-round party, feisty, entertainment oriented, land of leisure and other earthly distractions… This face draws many tourists especially from the Golf area.

Lebanon has obviously other faces, it’s equally creative, dynamic, open to change, conservative, religious, consensualist…

This summer war has shown that these faces can help create a very large international support for Lebanon in the worst of circumstances. The help, assistance and backing the country received and is still receiving owes much to these multiple faces Lebanon has and its communitarian diversity. Would Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Kuwait have helped Lebanon if it didn’t have a strong Sunni community? Would they have assisted the country if it weren’t their elite’s playground? Would they have been able to do so if their countrymen didn’t see in Lebanon the home of the Resistance to America and Israel?
Would Iran have contributed so massively in the reconstruction if Lebanon didn’t have a large Shiite community and if this community wasn’t the promoter of the resistance image?
Would the West have been so favourable to this small country with no resources if it didn’t show such a westernised and cosmopolitan face that is much indebted to its old Christian elite?

Lebanon suffered for a month what the Palestinians have been suffering for months now but benefited from a support that they can only dream of. This is certainly due to the countrie’s multiple faces that brought the support of many different sides. But how can we continue to benefit from this support in times of Peace? How can 

Posted in Democracy, Hezbollah, Identity, Lebanon, Peace, Pluralism, Politics | Leave a Comment »

A stroll into the Lebanese blogosphere

Posted by worriedlebanese on 30/10/2006

comments on a couple of featured blogs:

(will be added on Wednesday)

http://thethinkingleb.blogspot.com/

http://stuckinbeirut.blogspot.com/

http://globallebaneseflagproject.blogspot.com/

http://exeuntblog.blogspot.com/

http://lebanon.rampurple.com/

http://lebanonheartblogs.blogspot.com/

http://lebanonesque.blogspot.com/

http://openlebanon.org/

http://mayamb.spaces.live.com/

Posted in Blogosphere | Leave a Comment »

Peace workers on the net

Posted by worriedlebanese on 29/10/2006

http://www.shemesh.org/

http://www.hope-flowers.org/intro.html

http://www.ppu.org.uk/learn/peaceed/index_pe.html

http://www.teachkidspeace.com/section.php?id=1

http://vispo.com/PRIME/

(will be worked on this Wednesday)

Posted in Blogosphere, Middle East, Peace | Leave a Comment »

Hay al-Tamir & Sunni Islamist trends in Lebanon

Posted by worriedlebanese on 28/10/2006

In today’s edition of l’Orient-Le Jour, Patricia Khoder wrote a very good article on Hay al-Ta3mir, a neighbourhood in Saïda adjacent to the Palestinian camp of Ain el Heloué. This neighbourhood has been making headlines lately because the Lebanese army will be taking position in it soon.

This announcement didn’t please some very vocal inhabitants of Hay al-Ta3mir who threatened to cut to shreds any soldier who ventured into their neighbourhood. In this lawless area, there’s more than distrust of the army, there is an open hostility towards it or any symbol of the Lebanese State.

To understand this reaction one has to look closer at the recent history of this neighbourhood and its social fabric.

(this posting will be completed on wednesday)

Posted in Journalism, Lebanon, Palestinians, Security, Violence | 1 Comment »

Remembering Lebanon’s 17th community

Posted by worriedlebanese on 27/10/2006

magen-abraham-synagogue-9.jpgI’ve been wanting to write an article for some time now on the Lebanese Jewish community, its growth in the 1940s, its decline in the 1960s, and its near disappearance in the 1980s. But I’ve never found the time to finish researching the topic and to initiate the writing process.
While working on the preceding post, I was wondering if something positive can come out of this joint suffering of the Mizrahi Jews and the Palestinians. One should also add that of the Lebanese Shiites who were dragged into a conflict that wasn’t theirs eversince their homes and villages became one of its main battlefields.
This joint suffering could create empathy, but at first the grievances should be expressed publicly.

In Lebanon, the Jewish community has ceased to exist. Probably less than a hundred Jews still dwell in Lebanon with no Rabbi, no open Synagogue, no Religious Tribunal… The most active Jewish institution is certainly the cemetery, for those who remain are ageing.
Those who remain have chosen transparency. In this multi-religious society, their voice is never heard. I wonder if there’s a way to make it audible again. To acheive that, they should be made comfortable about it. They should be publicly acknowledge as being part of the nation, encouraged to come back, like all the other Lebanese who have emigrated. To say that in Lebanon, the State never persecuted or discriminated against the Jews is not enough. What the State actually did was erase their presence from the public sphere.

Portrayal of Jews on Manar (Hezbollah TV)

Lebanon has since the 1940s been defining itself as a Christian-Muslim country. Where does that leave the Jewish community? The constitution talks about parity between Christians and Muslims. What about the Jews? There are no official Jewish holidays (even public holidays in Lebanon follow the parity rule: they’re split evenly between Christians and Muslims). Hezbollah and the programs its television airs confuse very readily Jewish and Israeli, although the law protects the Jewish faith and the Jewish community from defamation. But the government has done nothing about it.

There is a shared belief in Lebanon that defending Jews means siding with Israel in the Israeli-Arab conflict (or what remains of it). I wonder how this belief can be changed, through what actions.

Posted in Identity, Intercommunal affairs, Israel, Judaism, Lebanon, Middle East, Peace, Pluralism, Reconciliation, Religion | 8 Comments »

Jewish claims in relation to Arabic Countries

Posted by worriedlebanese on 27/10/2006

mizrahiHaaretz pubished a couple of days ago an article on Jews from Arab States campaigning for recognition… as refugees. This article had unfortunately escaped my attention. Luckily taltalk reproduced it on his blog and this enabled me to read it. Its main focus was a campaign spearheaded by two groups for the recognition of Jews from Arab countries as refugees in the Middle East conflict. Their other motives are reperations and, with the help of the Israeli Justice department, these two groups are collecting and registering testimonials, affidavits and property claims for future claims.
These two groups are:
The World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries (WOJAC)
Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC)

I hope the Justice department isn’t forwarding this issue in order to support the idea that there was an exchange of population between the Arab world and the Jewish state, and then argue that the losses on both sides are equivalent. The Israeli government would probably then argue that they are even larger on the Jewish side. The WOJAC evaluates Jewish losses to mount to over $100 billion in personal and community assets. Could the Palestinians top that? Would the Arab countries accept these claims and pay reparations? Almost certainly not, they’d rather settle for a deal, and so would the Israeli government. In other words they are likelier to sacrifice the individual rights of their citizens and refugees then risk any measure that could hurt their interests.

This would be scandalous, because loss and suffering are not simple equations that could annul each others and that they could be subtracted from one another. When they are put together they can only add up. And they should be put together because they are linked, nevertheless one doesn’t make the other less of a victim. News of these claims will probably inspire anger in the Arab countries. People would object to them, say that the departure of their Jewish communities was voluntary, that it was organised by the Israeli government, that there was no anti-Semitism in the Arab World… Some of their arguments would be false, other short-sighted and some even right. But hopefully that will remind them that there was a time when their were thriving Jewish communities in their countries, a time when that community was considered to be the oldest (as in Alexandria) or one of the largest (it seems that in the 19th century, a third of the population of Baghdad was Jewish).

This campaign is obviously based on grievances, which is absolutely normal and expected. Their departure from Arab countries was quite traumatic. They were facing growing hostility in their countries because of their religious faith which linked them to Israel; they left very hastily abandoning a lot (not only their belongings, their livelihoods, but their history, their language, their heritage). And they had to start anew, in a country that was foreign to them, designed by European Jews and where anything Arab had to become alien (except for the food).
Here is Linda Abdel Aziz’s testimony, she fled in 1971 at the age of 21: “We did not interfere in politics but we were persecuted. We are all haunted”. Her father, Jacob, who stayed behind in Iraq disappeared in 1972, and family members believe he was executed by the ruling Baath party regime for being a Jew.
One could only imagine her suffering and her rancour. Through her testimony and claim she’s expressing her pain, she’s able to make her voice heard.

There is a positive aspect in these campaigns. They recreate a connection between the Mizrahim and the Arab states they originated from. It is true that the connection here built is based on legal claims and grievances. But it is a link nevertheless. They will have to put forward their past identity, plunge back to an earlier period where they were Arabic speaking Jews interacting with other Arabic speaking groups. That will awaken the curiosity of the third generation Israelis of Arab origin, to their specific heritage, to these ancient lands that their forefathers lived in for centuries and sometimes millennia.

Posted in Identity, Intercommunal affairs, Israel, Lebanon, Middle East, Peace, Pluralism, Reconciliation, Religion | Leave a Comment »

Betting on Berri

Posted by worriedlebanese on 26/10/2006

BerriFor the past two weeks, Speaker Nabih Berri has been promising the Lebanese a surprise, one he revealed yesterday… only it wasn’t much of a surprise and it certainly didn’t catch anyone off guard. What he was proposing was to resume the National Dialogue round table (see October 16th Post: Lebanese idiosyncrasies 3: “National Dialogue”). He was recycling an old idea, an old formula that had failed in achieving results the first time.  But Berri’s unsurprising surprise is not surprising at all. The only things that he has proven up to know are his skills in enriching himself, becoming the largest patron in the public service, and surviving politically without much of a political base.  So who is actually betting on him, and why? Surprisingly enough, during the election period, it’s Hezbollah that supported him in the quadripartite alliance of which he was the weakest constituent. They knew that he wouldn’t have much leeway because of his dwindling popular support, and they thought that he could be useful as an intermediary between them and those who refuse to acknowledge them. That was their bet, and that’s why they imposed him as Speaker claiming that refusing him would be opposing the will of the Shiite community. After the elections, the former Bristol Gathering started betting on him, hoping to break the alliance between him and Hezbollah. If he joined them, they would be able to claim Shiite backing and pressure Hezbollah into decommissioning. So they recognised him as a political arbitrator between them and Hezbollah and reinforced his prestige in encouraging him to start and chair the National Dialogue round table. This way, they thought, he’ll become a neutral party between them and Hezbollah, he’ll distance himself from Hezbollah, and this will be a first step in getting him to side with them.

The July war proved their bet wrong: Berri fulfilled his promise, becoming the official representative of Hezbollah, at a time when the party’s politburo was in hiding or working on the ground. After the war, the former Bristol Gathering resumed its previous bet. Is it that they do not learn from their mistakes or could it be that they’ve given themselves no other alternative?

Posted in Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Politics, Reconciliation | Leave a Comment »

The Intifada’s new stones

Posted by worriedlebanese on 25/10/2006

Intifada2In the 1980s, stone-throwing children became the symbols of the Intifada. The contrast between their harmless weapons and the sophistication of the Israeli military hardware was striking and played in favour of the Palestinian cause. This made the popular rising appealing to westerners and Public opinions who had been repulsed by the PLO’s radical tactics (hostage taking, hijacking, warfare…).

The complete lack of balance between the two sides forces made the Palestinian uprising seem almost like a non-violence revolt, which it wasn’t.  But stones were the only means Palestinian in the Occupied Territories (most of which were born under the occupation) had at the time to fight the Israelis. They had no military training, no contacts with groups abroad that could support them financially, train them and give them military equipment…The Israeli government could have responded to this Intifida differently before things slipped out of hand: it could have entered talks with grassroots movements and representatives of these Palestinian, accorded them civil rights… But the government preferred to follow another road, quite an absurd one if one comes to think of it. Instead of granting these territories some autonomy, they chose to integrate them by starting new settlements situated between Palestinian villages; getting the Israeli population physically closer and closer to the Palestinians. Instead of starting talks with representatives of these territories and of the Intifada, the Israeli chose the PLO as their sole interlocutor. Instead of bringing the stone throwers to administer the affairs of the Palestinians living in what was left of the land grated to the native Arab population of Mandatory Palestine, they chose a radical armed movement who had proven elsewhere its incompetence in handling Palestinian affairs other than through violence and indoctrination. The French call that bringing the wolf into the sheep barn. And this after trying to immunise the Territories of the PLO’s by supporting the Hamas (an Islamist ideology that could oppose a nationalist one). It’s as if the successive Israeli governments were following a recipe intended to spark violence, a new and intense one that could go out of hand.

Today, Palestinian radical groups are throwing rockets across to Israel from Gaza strip on almost daily basis.  Actually they are so rudimentary that they hardly qualify as rockets, they are sort of amateurish flying objects who do not cause much harm. These home made rockets are commonly referred to Qassam, a name that makes them sound much more threatening than they really are. I think they have killed one person up to now. But they are probably terrorizing the Israeli Jewish population and making it feel vulnerable. And there are fears that these rockets will soon be replaced by Katyushas (one was launched from Gaza last March) or Ra3ds which have longer rages and are more destructive (they carry a larger charge of explosives, but their technology is Soviet WWII).

QassamBy saying that these weapons are rudimentary and not very destructive, I’m not in anyway trying condoning their use and justified them. Nor am I saying that their launching is unimportant and should be discarded. I condemn their use and believe that they do not even help alleviate the plight of the Palestinians or bring it to an end, quite the contrary. Qassam launching should be seen as an escalation, an increase in violence that could go further. These rockets are taking the Palestinians on the wrong path and their launching should be condemned, unconditionally. This condemnation shouldn’t be seen as a justification of the brutal and disproportionate response of the IDF. It should be condemned as well because all it does is bring more misery, radicalism and suffering to the Palestinians.  

Posted in Israel, Middle East, Palestinian territories, Politics, Violence | Leave a Comment »

Displaced and returnees, the saga continues – 2

Posted by worriedlebanese on 24/10/2006

projoumblattIn the preceding post on the displaced (October 17th), we saw how a political actor uses this issue in relation to national reconciliation so as to assert and reaffirm his power both locally and nationally. The reader might be interested in getting some background information on the controversy surrounding the displaced of the Shouf and Aley districts.

The civil war and the military interventions of the Syrians and Israelis had resulted in the displacement (through expulsion or heavy destruction of the livelihoods) of several hundreds of thousands of Lebanese. There were four main areas which suffered the most from displacement: Beirut and its suburbs (Christian fleeing or being pressured to leave for the eastern parts and Muslims fleeing or being expelled to the western parts), Southern Mount Lebanon (that was cleansed of its Christian population), the South (mostly Shiites leaving because of the intense Israeli bombing and occupation), the Northern and Eastern peripheral regions (mostly Christians leaving because of  political reasons, or being expelled from isolated villages).

In 1992, the Ministry of Displaced was created to grant rights to citizens and protect them in order to guarantee the return of the displaced according to all relevant national and international laws. It estimates the number of the displaced population to be 800 000. For the funding of their return to the towns and villages they had left during the civil war, a Central Fund for the Displaced was established.As for those who are displaced as a result of recent military attacks (by Israel), they are cater for by the High Relief Commission.The management of the displaced files was controversial from the very start.

The most contentious element was the naming of Walid Jumblatt, a warlord responsible of much of the displacement, as the first minister of the displaced. Since then, this ministry has been held almost disruptively by an MP from Jumblatt’s bloc (and the region he controls) that he has named to the post.  More recently, two elements brought the controversy around the displaced back to the forefront.

         A conference organised by the FPM on the ‘Right of return’ where the ministry’s handling of the issue was criticised (September 30th).

         The allocation of 80 million LP to those who were hit by this summer’s Israeli attack, while the other displaced are granted by the Ministry of the displaced the sum of 30 million LP (October 16th).

Posted in Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Politics, Reconciliation | Leave a Comment »

Pro-anything-but-Israel?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 23/10/2006

A reader told me yesterday that I was pro-anything-but-Israel… This sentence has been going around my head all day. And I wonder why. I’m obviously not pro-Israel. How could I be otherwise after what I lived through this summer? From
Lebanon, all we see of Israel is its arrogance, its acts of provocation, its victimisation, its military strength and its force of destruction. And this perception doesn’t come from our ignorance or prejudice. This is the face that Israel chooses to present to us (maybe not to us per se but to Hezbollah, but this lives amongst us and the only way you can get a message across to them is by sending the message to the whole Lebanese population.

Israel’s ambassadors to Lebanon are its army, its navy and its aviation. And they’re no ambassadors of good will. They are here to build fear, to seek and destroy, to terrorize all opposition to Israel. They’re telling us Lebanese “we are stronger than you”, “we could destroy you”, “take you twenty years back”. And these are words we heard from the Israeli government and the acts that followed proved that they were not just words. The only “good will” the Israeli government showed during the war was the dropping of paper messages or the message recordings we got on the telephone. And this seemed to us like little more than a clumsy propaganda.

Normally, if the Lebanese want to see Israel, they drive south towards Fatima’s gate. Only they do not have to do that. They could see it from their homes. Israeli planes fly over the Lebanese capital regularly (and sometimes quite low). And for over a month, I could see the Israeli battleships off the coast of Beirut, all in a row, crisscrossing menacingly. Obviously, one could argue that the Lebanon is the last front of the Arab/Israeli conflict; that in times of war, one always sees the other through its army; that Israel was exercising it’s right of ‘self defence’ (even if that means the destruction of it’s neighbours infrastructure, the use of cluster and phosphorous bombs, the whipping out of entire neighbourhoods and villages…).

So how can one expect a Lebanese to be pro-Israel? Well, one can try not to be anti-Israel. And that’s not always very easy. One can try to understand the “other’s” point of view, the Israeli people’s perspective, insisting that what he sees are the government’s policies and the army’s actions, not those of the “Israelis”… One can try to empathise with them and play it fair, condemning violence against civilians, combating the hate that is filling people’s souls… That’s what I try to do. I might not be pro-Israel, but I don’t believe I am “pro-anything-but”. I try not to be anti-Israeli. and many of my views are actually considered to be pro-Israeli in Lebanon, because I defend the right of the civilian Israeli population, consider them as being now part of the socio-political fabric of the Middle East (but do they consider themselves to be part of it, I sometimes wonder), and do understand and support their right to be a sovereign nation. But I certainly do not think that this right can limit those of other nations in the Middle East, and up to now this has been the case.

One thing’s for sure, I do not use this blog to wage war in another way, through other means. I am pro-Peace. But as the Israeli are not finding a Peace partner in Palestine, I believe there is no peace partner in Israel today, at least not on the governmental level. But on all other levels, probably… So maybe with good will from both sides of the divide something can spring up. One cannot blame me from hoping.

Posted in Israel, Lebanon, Peace, Politics | 7 Comments »

Reading Haaretz in Lebanon

Posted by worriedlebanese on 22/10/2006

HaaretzI have no statistics under hand, but it seems to me that more and more Lebanese internet users are becoming regular readers of the Israeli daily. This certainly says something about the quality of the paper, but also about the awakening interest of Lebanese in  Israeli affairs. These are the reasons I check the Haaretz site almost every day.

I felt the increase of the Lebanese readership through reading the posts on the “talkback” section of the internet site. More and more Lebanese are participating in the online debats. I’ve noticed at least 4 regulars that post comments underneath articles pertaining to Lebanon,  Palestinian issues, the IDF and Israeli-diasporic relations. They are now actively participating in these sections more than any other Arabic speaking group.

They are not really entering into dialogue with Israelis. The interaction is mostly polemical. But this isn’t due to the Lebanese participants but usually to international hardliners who use this section to criticise the Haaretz journalist for trying to be open about “Arab issues” and comprehensive in their approach. Reading talkback is becoming more and more tedious for me because the same ideas, the same arguments come back all the time. People are aggressive and assertive, throwing arguments at each others and loosing track of what the article is about.

The Lebanese participation could come from the growing interest of the Lebanese media in the Haaretz.  Some articles published in the Daily Star are written by journalist for the Haaretz, and this is mentioned in the English language Lebanese daily newspaper. The Safir, a Lebanese daily pubished in Arabic (which has a Muslim conservative readership)  also translates and publishes articles from the Haaretz. And the Israeli paper is quoted regularly on the Lebanese television (even on the Manar, Hezballah’s television).

I wonder if this is the case in Egypt and in Syria, two countries that have signed a peace agreement with Israel, but honestly doubt it. I think this shows how curious the Lebanese are to things that effect them, and how ready they are to interact, speak up, and discuss issues they find important, even with their enemies and rival. All you have to do is give them the opportunity to do so.

So one can only imagine the interaction there will be oncr a peace treaty is signed between the two countries. Withstanding the antagonism, I beleive interaction between both societies will be intense (and at times fierce).

There is a very popular expression in Lebanon that says “there will be no war between the Arabs and Israel without Egypt, and no peace without Syria”. I think the Lebanese have proved this saying wrong. War has continued between the Arabs and Israel through Lebanon in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and in 2006. And only Lebanon can play an effective role in Peace because of its open society and the willingness of its people to discuss publicly the most contreversial topics, even with their ennemies.

I think it’s now quite obvious, the road to war and peace between Israel and the Arab speaking nations passes through Lebanon.

Posted in Israel, Lebanon, Middle East, Peace | Leave a Comment »

Weighing victimhood and competing suffering

Posted by worriedlebanese on 21/10/2006

At a conference/Forum I attended today on NGOs working on migrant rights, I went to talk to a woman to get more information on an education kit on tolerance she had mentioned in one of her interventions. Upon learning that I was Lebanese and that I had done volunteer work (related to Peace education) during the war on Lebanon this July, she told me that she had family in Israel and that she was in Netanya during the war. And from there she started telling me how much solidarity she found in Israel, and how very little of that she saw in Lebanon. She said that something had to be done with Hezbollah and that Israel didn’t want to start a war but had to defend itself from the shells Hezbollah was sending on it… She then started explaining to me how people had to hide because of the shells that were intended on killing (isn’t that what shells usually do?)… She also told me a Lebanese friend of hers had written her thanking the Israeli government for doing the “cleaning up”…

And she went on talking for twenty minutes uninterrupted on her family’s history in suffering (that actually was very touching) and then tried to convince me how much Israel is tolerant and how much relations between groups are good (between Jews of all origins and even Jews and Arabs…).

I would have interrupted her were it not for her age (74 years old I think she said, but god knows her secret because she looked much younger). I will be seeing her tomorrow and I still wonder if I should answer her,  tell her how arrogant she was, how biased… That there is another side to the story; that her approach is a bit rosy, that Israel isn’t the dream country she thinks it is. That I am a peace seeker and that I do not identify with Arabs, but I do support Israeli Palestinians and non Israeli Palestinians in their struggle, even if I do not condone most of their actions (I actually condemn most of them). I do that as a humanist. Should I tell her that I consider Israel to be democratic but racist and I believe the system it has established nourishes racism within the Israeli community, but that I think racism is also a problem in Lebanon that should be tackled? Should I tell her that I do not see a difference between the logics of the IDF and that of Hezbollah, that I think they share the same language of hate and destruction? Should I tell her that I see no point in going into a competition on who is suffering the most… that this is a futile exercise because it’s not about quantity.

But I started thinking about the whole situation and saw how tragic the whole situation in the Middle East is. Tragic like in the ancient greek plays of Sophocles and Aeschylus. War between the Arab States and Israel was inevitable in 1948. The Arabs could have never accepted the creation of Israel. So to exist, Israel had no other choice but to impose itself through military means. War, destruction, death, displacement were inevitable.

Maybe one way out of this is for all parties to recognise that the 1948 war was a tragic affair, and so were the following wars. The different actors couldn’t have really acted in another manner. They were positioned in a way to make war and violence inevitable. By recognising it, they can maybe start asking the right questions on how to escape from this logic: How to make violence avoidable and irrelevant.

Posted in Hezbollah, Israel, Lebanon, Peace | 8 Comments »

The Mecca document, what reconciliation between Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 21/10/2006

The media reported today that Sunni and Shiite clerics had signed a declaration in Saudi Arabia, pleading for national reconciliation in Iraq between all groups, especially the Sunnis and Shiites.How effective can that be, I asked myself.  Are such agreements supposed to be directly effective or are they only meant to give moral support to concrete political steps?  Either way, they should have a strong moral weight. This is brought by the influence of its signatories and the way it addresses moral issues.  So what was exactly agreed on and by whom?

Mecca meeting

I search the internet for the complete text (here enclosed, with a link to its Arabic version) only to be disappointed by the content and the signatories to it.Neither Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani nor Moqtada al-Sadr were present or represented. But they both declared their support to it after its publication.If one looks closer at the document, one notices that its signatories are not prominent clerics.  But the most disappointing thing about it is its content. It’s only positive feature is that it treats Shiites and Sunnis as equals. However, it does that by pretending that the differences between them are minor, instead of celebrating difference and saying that it enriches the Islamic faith.

Furthermore, there is no general condemnation of violence. It only insists on the fact that Muslims should not shed Muslim blood and that God abhors those who harm Muslims in any way. The only “universal” or ecumenical element in this declaration is its stand on the safeguard of holy places whatever faith they belong to. One finds no mention of the new Iraqi power sharing system or any element of its political system. The only political element present is the principle of unity which is expressed in the most tradition of ways with an exterior party working on annihilating it and creating a “fitna”.  In other words, political divisions and disagreements become source of a conflict and violence brought about by foreigner forces. This is a very popular idea in the Islamic and Arab speaking part of the world.

Most surprisingly, the document ignores the American occupation, and says nothing on acts of violence against the Americans or those who work with them, in the name of resistance. Is that the price of concensualism?

The Mecca Document

A scanned copy of the document (in arabic) can be found on the Organisation of Islamic Countries’ site. http://www.oic-oci.org/

Posted in Intercommunal affairs, Iraq, Middle East, Peace, Pluralism, Reconciliation, Religion | Leave a Comment »

ASILES, a French NGO working in the Palestinian camps

Posted by worriedlebanese on 20/10/2006

Asiles is a French NGO for intercultural action and solidarity. It has been working since 1998 on a programme in Beddawi, a Palestinian Camp in Northern Lebanon (next to Tripoli). Its members organised a meeting today in Paris to present their activities to friends and acquaintances who could be interested in their works and be of some help (give them ideas, suggestions, feed-back, contacts…).

I was quite impressed by their work. They have created and help sustain a Franco-Palestinian Friendship House (MAFPA) that has ongoing year round activities with a local staff.  And they organise every year, wit the help of French and Palestinian volunteers a three week programme for children which has for a main focus the teaching of French but in link with other activities such as theatre, mime, video, puppets, journalism… Their work is really interesting and very professional, and they are evolving very quickly, learning from their experience, successes and failings.

For more info:  www.asiles.org

Posted in Lebanon, Palestinian territories, Peace, Pluralism | Leave a Comment »