Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

A very revealing affair (2): Gad Elmaleh & the Lebanese Media

Posted by worriedlebanese on 02/07/2009

Now let’s look at the facts:GadElmaleh02

  1. Beiteddine Festival, operated by Nora Joumblatt (Walid Joumblatt’s syrian born wife) programs French stand-up comic and actor Gad el-Maleh in this year’s edition of the Festival.
  2. Manar TV station, that’s nothing less than a mouthpiece for Hezbollah, airs two “reports” claiming that Gad el-Maleh has fought in the IDF (Israeli army), denounce his participation in a Lebanese summer festival and pronounce him unwelcome in Lebanon.
  3. Tourism Minister Elie Marouni (Kataeb), Information Minister Tarek Mitri (Future Movement ally), Culture Minister Tamam Salam (pro-Future Movement ally), and Beiteddine Festival President Nora Joumblatt (oligarch’s wife) speak out against al-Manar’s reports and denounce them as unfounded.
  4. Gad el-Maleh cancels his three shows for security reasons
  5. Pro-March XIV media, March XIV politicians and the above ministers launch a campaign against Hezbollah’s “Censorship”, “Intellectual terrorism”, “Cultural hostage taking” and (my personal favourite) “bringing the image of Lebanon into disrepute”,  and for maintaining the show (or having it “videoconferenced” from Paris).

Then let’s get to the analysis:

A rhetorical battle. Up to now, the whole “Gad elmaleh affair has been a “rhetorical battle” between el-Manar on one hand and some March XIV politicians and media mouthpieces (Hezbollah’s allies, most notably the FPM, have remained completely silent on it). As you have noted from fact #5, the accusations brought against el-Manar can hold no legal ground (except for the fourth one). This “detail” is quite important. Why have the accusers chosen to attack Hezbollah on charges that hold no legal ground?

No charges have been pressed. Well, the matter is quite simple. Under lebanese law, there actually are several grounds for legal charges against el-Manar and Hezbollah. So why sticking to polemical accusations, when there are three accusations that actually hold.

  • El-Manar is accused of either disinformation or basing its reporting on dubious sources. Why doesn’t the Minister of Information press charges (instead of giving a press conference)? What are you waiting for M. Tarek Mitri?
  • El-Manar is accused of attacking Gad el-Maleh on the bases he’s Jewish. Now Lebanon doesn’t have a specific law against anti-semitism, but it does have a law against inciting confessional hate, and Judaism is one of Lebanon’s protected faiths. Now El-Manar has been doing it for years. Why hasn’t anyone pressed charges against that? Why hasn’t the Interior Minister pressed charges against tmhat (instead of giving a press conference)? What are you waiting for M. Ziad Baroud?
  • El-Manar is accused of tarnishing Lebanon’s image. I personally find the concept absurd and totally illiberal and antidemocratic (it’s no coincidence that it is mostly used by authoritarian regimes). But it holds under Lebanese law. Why hasn’t the Minister of Justice acted upon it?

Silly yet revealing accusations. el-Manar and Hezbollah have been accused of “Censorship”, “Intellectual terrorism”, “Cultural hostage taking”. Let’s take one accusation at a time and see in what way it is revealing.

  • Censorship. My dictionary defines censorship as “the practice of officially examining books, movie, etc. and suppressing unacceptable parts”. The most important element in this definition is obviously “Officially“. Censorship is practiced by an authority that holds power. Hezbollah shares with Walid Joumblatt’s “Democratic Gathering”, the position of fourth largest bloc in Parliament (less than 10% of MPs). It has one minister in the current government (out of 30). Now that doesn’t really put it in a position of power institutionally. And the “anti-Gad Elmaleh campaign” was launched by one of Lebanon’s medias, not by an official media. Sure, Hezbohallah is armed and could endanger Gad Elmaleh’s life were he to come to Lebanon. But it’s not the only armed side in Lebanon, and a security arrangement could be found with it, like it has been found on so many other matters. So why do people feel cornered by Hezbollah?
  • Intellectual terrorism. Here’s wikipedia’s definition (my translation): “the practice which aims at intimidating or silencing people by submitting them to arguments and intellectual pressures through publications, media interventions (etc) so as to prevent them from formulating perturbing ideas (regardless of their validity, falsity or disputability)”. What is interesting with the concept of “intellectual terrorism” is that it doesn’t have to be “official”, it can be operational as long as the people exercising it hold the upper hand in the specific field they are operating in. Now Hezbollah surely doesn’t have the upper hand in the communication field or the cultural production field. Truth to tell, its cultural influence is rather limited (and so is its participation in cultural production). So why do people feel cornered by Hezbollah?
  • Cultural hostage taking. The charge is quite meaningless. It assumes that Hezbollah has a dominant position in the cultural sector and can define Lebanese cultural expressions or at least censor them, which bring us back to the first two “charges”. So why do people feel cornered by Hezbollah?

So why is the Gad Elmaleh affair just another rhetorical battle, and in what way does it reveal that people feel cornered by Hezbollah? You can look at the way some bloggers (Jester, Now Lebanon, Khaled Barraj) or journalists (Daily Star’s Michael Young, Orient-Le Jour’s Michel Hajji Georgiou) have been dealing with this issue. My answer comes tomorrow.


9 Responses to “A very revealing affair (2): Gad Elmaleh & the Lebanese Media”

  1. Jester said

    I look forward 🙂

  2. Paul said

    I am not a fan of censorship but the issue is much more complicated that it has been presented by Orient Le Jour, which is a snobbish sectarian rag that would have disappeared years ago were it not subsididized by foreign countries.

    The French comedian is talented, but he is a zionist sympathizer who supports an association called “Association pour le Bien être du soldat israélien” (association for the well being of the Israeli soldier). Even after the July 2006 war, he wrote a statement supporting the Israeli army in no uncertain terms.

    Hezbollah exaggerated the whole thing and said that he was also a former Israeli army recruit. This is not true, but he did write the statement supporting the so-called IDF.

    Are we supposed to roll the red carpet for him in the name of “tourism” and “culture”? Have we no dignity left ? We lost 1350 of our countrymen just 3 years ago and he should welcome someone who praises their killers in the name of “seeming civilized” ? Boycott is a perfectly legitimate form of nonviolent resistance. Doesn’t the French rag L’Orient keep talking about “cultural resistance”. Well, to me, boycotting Gad is a form of cultural resistance.

    We did not even request the cancellation of his shows. We just said the truth about him. He decided on his own to cancel the show, because he knew what he was guilty of.

    But some stupid sectarian journalists want to show that they are “civilized” so they started this whole campaign, and they did not even tell their readers the truth about El Maleh’s association with Israel.

    • Dear Paul,

      Before answering your comment, I’d like to say that I really appreciate your take on l’Orient Le-Jour’s Cultural Resistance . I think that your displeasure with the paper’s editorial line is a form of cultural resistance. But boycotting Gad Elmaleh’s show is simply a boycott. I believe cultural resistance should go further than that. It should propose a different approach, break the rigid frames in which public discussion is trapped.

      I understand your disapproval with l’Orient-Le Jour’s editorial policies. And this weeks 5 or 6 editorials on the Gad Elmaleh affair are simply ridiculous. Every editor in the paper seems to want to state his position on the affair (and they happen to be the same). It’s all part of this Mawaqef culture we are living in. I personally find it quite representative of the current Lebanese-Christian intellectual regression. But I find some of your comments on this newspaper libelous and unfounded. From what I know about l’Orlent-Le Jour’s finances, they are quite bad. The paper does not enjoy subsidies from foreign countries but lives on the “generosity” of its millionaire owner (Michel Edde).

      As for Gad Elmaleh’s zionist sympathies, I think it’s virtually impossible (and economically and socially ruinous) for a Jew living in Western Europe not to be Zionist (see my previous posting for more details). Knowing the staunch jewish support and mobilisation in favour of Israel, sustaining an anti-zionist boycott amounts to severing links with most Jewish communities and individuals. This is obviously not our aim. So I think we should revise our strategy.

      A for the media campaign, you justly accuse both sides of being guilty. Al-Manar launched a campaign on improper grounds, and March XIV mouthpieces didn’t go further than denouncing those unfounded grounds.

  3. Paul said

    Thank you for your thoughtful answer. I think we agree on the fundamental issues.

    But regarding L’Orient, it does not rely exclusively on Michel Edde’s generosity. He is not that rich to support a newspaper for years. As you know, in today’s world, all newspapers, in the West, and even more so in Lebanon have difficulties finding a viable business model. The price readers pay does not suffice to pay 30 % of the cost of the paper the news are printed on. All Lebanese newspapers are financed by foreign countries. How else would you explain that in a tiny country, we have 17 daily newspapers while in the US, major newspapers are closing, like the Boston Globe, and in France, there are no more than 4 national newspapers left in business ?

    I know for a fact that the French government subsidizes L’Orient, supposedly as part of an effort to support francophonie, but also for political reasons. And I would not be surprised if L’Orient also gets a hefty subsidy from KSA like other Lebanese papers in the past four years. They played an instrumental role in mobilizing the Christian electorate.

    Besides, you’ll notice that there is discrepancy between Michel Edde’s own views and those of the paper. Michel Edde is a staunch antizionist and he is also a closeted antisemite. He is a frequent guest on al Manar, always bashing Israel. He is also a conspiracy theorist. In his private circles, he claims that there were no jews in the WTC on 9 / 11, that they were informed the day before by the Israeli government. He said so openly at a dinner party at Talal Salman’s house. Many guests were offended and reported on this, including the crazy but well informed angry arab blogger. Michel Edde is a buffoon masquerading as an intellectual. His cousin Raymond used to call him “le hâbleur”.

    Most journalists at L’orient are pedantic scribes who think they are heroic resistants because their wrote some lyrical editorials denouncing so-called “intellectual terrorism”, while they never have the guts to condemn the current economic policies or to denounce real life corruption and patronage.

    • Hey Paul,
      You’re right, we do seem to see eye to eye on many fundamental issues. I also agree with you that times aren’t easy for national papers. But you forget other source of income that are quite common in Lebanon:
      – Commercial Ads: Choueiry seems to channel ads and pays more than what is justifiable by readership.
      – Politicians pay to have some info on them published (I don’t have any other explanation for why a politician such as Nassib Lahoud for instance, who has failed twice in reclaiming his family seat in parliament, gets so much coverage in some newspapers and not others).
      – Necrology and Birth announcement.
      And as you said, L’Orient-Le Jour does benefit from the generosity of the French government. And I also know for a fact that it benefits from the generosity of Michel Edde.

      But these financial considerations don’t explain the passion in which journalists defend some politicians and their ideas, and attack other politicians and their ideas. I know several journalists at l’Orient Le Jour, and I know that they are not corrupt. I also know that they believe in the arguments they publish. And this is what worries me. And I think it is important to try to find out why this is the case.

  4. Luc Hansen said

    After what Lebanon has suffered at the hands of Israel, I don’t think being unwilling to host a Jewish pro-Zionist comedian who waxes lyrical in praise of the IDF is unreasonable.

  5. Hey Luc. welcome to my blog.
    Your one line comment is extremely dense and points out the many difficulties raised by this affair.
    – You claim that unwillingness to host him is not unreasonable. But it is actually the other way round. There is someone who is willing to host him. Is this unreasonable?
    – In your description of the artist, you point out at three different characteristics: being jewish, being pro-zionist, and praising the IDF. Which of these characteristics suffice to make him a persona non grata? And what would the effect (or consequences) of imposing such a criteria to the “hosting” of people or artists have on Lebanon?

  6. Luc Hansen said

    Certainly, his being Jewish is irrelevant and I could have worded my post better.

    I think being willing to host a pro-Zionist IDF supporter is entirely reasonable, too, depending on one’s point of view.

    There is merit to both approaches, as is so often the case.

    Congratulations on your informative and challenging blog.

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