Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Archive for July, 2008

Reaching out to the devil, or coming to terms with Zionism

Posted by worriedlebanese on 25/07/2008

It’s comes to no surprise that the Lebanese consider “zionism” as the vilest words in the dictionary. They find it so offensive and derogatory that they use it to silence their opponent when a discussion becomes heated (just as Europeans would use “fascist” or “nazi”).  

I did exactly that a couple of years ago when someone was advancing a certain electoral law for Lebanon. “But that’s a zionist strategy to eliminate minorities, that’s why it’s only found in Israel”, I told him.

The first time I met and listened to a zionist, I cannot tell you how suspicious I was of every word he said. Many ideas crossed my mind when I heard him speak: “This guy is up to something”, “he doesn’t want Peace, he just wants to get rid of the Palestinians”, “Peace Now should be rebranded “Jewish majority now and forever”… It took me almost a year to overcome my suspicion.

How did I do that? I started reading zionist literature. I tried to understand their outlook, why they were writing what they were writing… I also tried to see what the word (and concept) meant to Jews and Jewish-Israelis. I started discovering that all zionists do not think the same. Some are religious others are secular, some are leftists other are rightists, some were conscious of Palestinians others were oblivious to them…. And then I realised that zionism was just like any other nationalism:
It’s not necessarily bad. It’s not necessarily good either. It’s true that any nationalism runs the risks of turning xenophobic, chauvinistic, supremacist… especially in times of conflict. But that doesn’t mean it’s intrinsically evil.
So instead of denouncing zionism, which has proved to be counterproductive, why not accept it like a form of nationalism, and instead focus on denouncing its racist or exclusionary expressions.

Understanding is not approving.


Posted in Israel, Lebanon, Political behaviour, Politics | 7 Comments »

Battling God-fearing combattants 1

Posted by worriedlebanese on 23/07/2008

As I skimmed through the international press looking for some information about the two bulldozer attacks that hit Jerusalem, I stumbled upon a very interesting article in the Israeli daily Haaretz titled “Religious Zionists / Not by chance“. The article deals with three men who shot (and killed) the three Palestinians who carried the last three attacks in Jerusalem; they were all religious zionists.

Here are the arguments that spoke to me the most:

“Many religious Zionists carry guns because they live in or frequently visit the West Bank. Many are well trained in the use of weapons because a relatively large number serve in combat units and tend to keep up their shooting skills afterward. Above all, however, education and life circumstances both play a significant role in the willingness of those who don knitted kippot to kill terrorists.”

Although stated in a very matter-of-fact manner, this information shows a very important trend in Israel, one that is rather reminiscent of two situations in Lebanon, one concerning the Christian nationalist movement the 1970s and the other concerning the Shiite “resistance” movement in the 1990s. In both cases, a group that defines itself in religious and national terms invests itself with the mission of defending its country, finds a way to collaborate with the official armed forces and then proves to be more efficient on several grounds, notably moral and military.

The Christian militias in the 1970s aimed at proving that they defended Lebanese sovereignty better than the Lebanese Army. Since the 1990s, Hezbollah wants to prove the same thing. In the last battle, they showed that they resisted the Israeli Army better than any conventional army ever had.

Moreover, they choose to fight on several fronts, and one of their battles is undoubtedly moral. They want to prove that they are morally superior to the IDF and to the Israeli society and institutions. This is very obvious in their political communication. They also try to show their moral superiority on the battle ground displaying courage, selflessness, sacrifice and generosity. These are exactly the same values that the religious zionists aim at displaying.

The above mentioned article reminds us that the jewish religious-zionist sector in Israel came out from the “July  war” (2006) with a hero: Ro’i Klein (pictured above) who threw himself on a grenade to protect his comrades.

Posted in Israel, Lebanon, Values, Violence | Leave a Comment »

Political classifications in Lebanon: What’s in a name?!

Posted by worriedlebanese on 21/07/2008

My apologies to the readers (am I over-blowing it with the plural?). Terminology surely is an occupational obsession in most academic circles, but in the real world, it’s seems like a rather tedious and ineffectual business.

In politics, I believe, terminology is very important, especially in a logocracy. A logocracy is a system of government based on words (i.e. political discourse). The system is fundamentally ideologic and is governed by the official discourse (the official truth) made up of slogans and political prophecies. Language is no longer a simple tool aimed at naming things and giving their meaning, but rather an instrument of power and the means of domination. Logocracy is usually equated with authoritarian and totalitarian regimes. But Lebanon is in no way authoritarian or totalitarian. Politics like everything else is fragmented. So unsurprisingly, its logocracy is fragmented.

Interestingly enough, the political actors in this fragmented logocracy spend a lot of time labelling themselves and labelling others. These labels serve to guard each fragment’s borders and obscure the most descriptive label (the confessional label) that is actually taboo.

This is equally true for today’s labels as they were true for yesterday’s.

In the 1970s: Rightist or conservative parties/leftist or progressive parties: even though most would have been classified in Europe as centre parties supporting either limited liberal or social policies, and upholding a conservative view on moral affairs).

Today we have the Anti-Syrian vs Pro-Syrian: even though most of the political groups concerned by the first category are simply hostile to Bachar el-Assad’s regime. And the latter category includes people who are close to the Syrian regime, and many others who are simply hostile to the “anti-syrian” groups.

Opposition vs Loyalists (pro-government, or governing parties). Withstanding the fact we now have a national coalition government, some analysts still insist on dividing the political parties into two categories, the opposition and the loyalists.

Posted in Discourse, Intercommunal affairs, Journalism, Lebanon, Political behaviour, Semantics | 2 Comments »

Monster and Angels?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 17/07/2008

 I just did a little research on the net to see who this “Samir Kuntar” is. The Lebanese press and politicians call him a hero, the Israeli press calls him a monster.  The Lebanese talk about him in general terms, describing him as a resistant (not to confuse with freedom-fighter… in the Middle East, it’s never about freedom, it’s about pride and survival), and counting the years he spent in an Israeli Jail. 

The Israeli press on the other hand unanimously describe him as the monster, a cold-blooded assassin who brutally murdered a 4 year old girl and is responsible for the death of a 2 y/o sister (who was accidentally killed by her mother). They also talk about him in general terms and are only interested in the drama that he and the commando he was with triggered. The only details you get are on his victims.

I couldn’t help but search the internet to find some details about this person. I honestly didn’t find much. But I realised that on April 22 1979, the day he disembarked on the shore of Nahariya, he was only 16. This hero/monster was a teenager, caught up in a violent secular group which boasted that its actions were aimed at terrorising its enemy. On april 22 1979 this indoctrinated teenager was caught under fire. He was vulnerable and all powerful at the same time. He had complete power over the two israeli hostages he had. They represented the enemy in his eyes; the group he perceived to be responsible for his country and the region’s plights. His camarades were being shot down around him. He could have fell at any moment. Imagine the odd mix of emotions rushing in his head: fear, hate, excitement, panik, anger…

In such dramatic moments, people act in ways that they can later regret, they act without thinking, relying on their instincts. On that beach, Samir Kuntar brutally killed Danny and Einat Haran, by instinct, to show his enemy that he is vulnerable, to be remembered and celebrated as having incurred harm to his enemy. At the same moment, Smadar Haran accidentally took away her two y/o daughter’s life while trying to muffle her cries. She acted by instinct, to save her own life and that of her daughter.  

What Samir Kuntar did that night in Nahariya is beyond doute criminal. But instead of looking at him through war-faring eyes, why not situate the whole dramatic event in its hate structured context. Over 1000 civilians were killed in Israel’s “Second Lebanon war” (July 2006), many of them children. Does anyone in Israel see the IDF as a criminal organisation? Does anyone condemn the soldiers who shot at Lebanese civilians, shelled their houses, destroyed the bridges they were using to flee the region that was under fire?There is no empathy in war, unfortunately. Only fear and loathing. You can’t accuse the other for having no empathy when you are deprived of it.

Samir Kuntar is no monster, he is no angel either. But neither are Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. They are victims of waring structures that crushed them as they have crushed many others. 

Posted in Hezbollah, Israel, Lebanon, Values, Violence | Leave a Comment »

Prisoners and corpses: First values in the Middle-East stock exchange

Posted by worriedlebanese on 15/07/2008

It seems that Israel will be releasing its Lebanese prisoners (amongst them a dangerous criminal who massacred an Israeli family in the name of resistance)  tomorrow , in exchange for two soldiers (probably dead) held by Hezbollah and some information on Ron Arad (an Israeli aviator who probably pulverised many innocent Lebanese in the name of self defense).  

And all the Lebanese politicians are bikering about is why the Lebanese government wasn’t part of this deal. Some Lebanese politicians (close to or part of the Hariri-Jumblatt alliance) are publicly wondering why!

The reason I find is quite simple. Hezbollah and the IDF speak the same language. They play in the same market and find it normal to trade in human lives, livelihoods and corpses. And if the government wanted to be part of the talks, why didn’t the Prime minister ask Hezbollah to hand in the Israeli POW. Instead of making this issue one of national sovereign (which it really is), they preferred to bicker about the Hezbollah telephone lines (which is everything but a question of national sovereignty).

Posted in Hezbollah, Israel, Lebanon, Political behaviour, Values | 2 Comments »

What does Lebanon’s new government say about Lebanese politics?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 14/07/2008

For the past three days, the Lebanese press and television have been continuously commenting on the composition of the country’s new government. Here are a couple of political observations that seem to have escaped almost everyone 

1- There’s no such thing as accountability. PM Siniora is back in office, after having failed to resolve a year and half long political crisis: equating stubbornness with political courage, prolonging a very distructive “status quo”, refusing to admit political responsibility when half of the “quadripartite alliance” broke away from the coalition that brought him to office while refusing to accept the resignation of the Shiite ministers for over a year.

Hezbollah and Amal are represented in the new government even though they engaged in street combats that terrorised the population of Beirut. 

Hariri’s Mustaqbal and Jumblatt’s PSP are equally represented, even though the street combats clearly showed that they had constituted their militias. While the first failed to hold more than a couple of hours in Beirut, the second fared quite well in the mini-war. 

2- Violence is the only deadlock breaking mechanism. For over a year and a half Lebanon lived through a major political crisis that split the country in two. The Hariri-Jumblatt alliance had ruled the country without any Shiite partner and after having dismantled the Constitutional Court, while Hezbollah occupied Solidère’s parkings and Speaker Berri blocked the Lebanese parliament. After May’s lethal showers, the deadlock broke and the Harri-Jumblatt alliance accepted to form a new government, one in which the dominant shiite political groups took no extra seat.

3- The Christians are back. Divided but independent. For over a year, the media was focused on the “Aoun phenomenon”, either portraying him as the solution to Lebanon’s woes or as the reason for the country’s hardships, even though he had absolutely no power to speak of, and the real crisis was elsewhere, it concerned the quadripartite alliance that brought together the only real political players in Lebanese politics and who happen to be the dominant leaders in Lebanon’s three largest muslim communities. The alliance secured each one’s monopoly over his community (except for the Shiites who suffer from a duopoly). And the breaking up of this alliance pitted the Shiites against the Sunnis and Druze. In this crisis, the Christian leadership was split in two, and it did nothing more than talk and comfort each side by showing it that it was not isolated and surrounded by enemies. 

Quite surprisingly, the deep divisions within the Christian leadership and population payed off. Since the Taef agreement in 1989, never has the Christians been so well represented in the government. All Christian ministers are either truly independent or they belong to a representative Christian party or political block, and the Muslim leaders had to abandon most of their Christian pawns so as to show that they are truly respectful of the Christian’s political choices.

ICG report on The new Lebanese equation

Posted in Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Politics, Violence | 2 Comments »

How many wrongs make a right? part 2

Posted by worriedlebanese on 11/07/2008


What kind of cumulative effect can inaccurate, flawed, biased information have on the long run?

The first effect, I believe, is very simple. It cristallises a certain approach, a certain way of framing events (as Baruch Kimmerling would have put it).  This is quite obvious with the anti-communal bias one finds in Lebanon. Even though it gives you a very distorted view of Lebanese history and politics, this view is very robust and dominant, and it’s very hard to work outside it. 

The second effect is even more perverse. When the approach is dominant and robust, it works like a self-fulfilling prophecy because it changes the perception political actors have of themselves and the political game they’re in, and they start acting accordingly.

Posted in Discourse, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Political behaviour | 2 Comments »

How many wrongs make a right? part 1

Posted by worriedlebanese on 10/07/2008

Undoubtedly, my words will come across as pretentious, and in many ways they are: I believe I haven’t read a single analysis on the Lebanese situation that wasn’t either heavily biased or totally wrong.  And I’m not talking about predictions, but plain analysis. Everywhere, either some facts are wrong, or they were methodically selected to suite a purpose (while well-known contradicting facts were systematically discarded) or the whole analysis was badly framed. 

This is true for every single lebanese political issue. To illustrate my point, I’ll take the government formation affair. Every single day, every single lebanese daily paper prints a sensationalist article about it. The whole treatment of the information is framed by political considerations set by the Lebanese politicians Not only each paper chooses some facts and discards others according to its political affinities, but they only mention the issues raised by the politicians (either collectively or by each political bloc or groupement) in the language used by these politicians. For instance, the pro-Hariri politicians had been vociferating for over a month that the whole government formation process was taking too much time and that this is causing instability to the country. And all the editorialists I have read have been saying exactly the same thing. No one has mentioned how difficult it is to form a grand coalition government in general, and even more in a country where the conflicting parties have recently turned their struggle into a military one and where they haven’t worked on a political understanding between them (other than safeguarding the status quo).

Posted in Discourse, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Political behaviour | Leave a Comment »